Wry & Dry

Centenary of communist government: a failed, tragic experiment

Communism's Centenary

Readers will, of course, be aware that 2017 is the Centenary of the founding of the world's first communist government (Russia).  As a student of history, W&D feels compelled to briefly review this failed and tragic experiment.  And in so doing, W&D asks for the indulgence of readers: W&D is not perfect (even if Mrs W&D so thinks) and some errors of fact or interpretation may arise.  In which case, please do not throw food.

Communism is a complex subject, but essentially it is an economic model (government ownership and central control and planning) that to be effective has to have a political model (one-party state, political repression, cult of personality). It has taken a number of forms, with theorists and academics endlessly arguing over the various 'isms': Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc, and the nuances of each.  And with much retrospective historical revisionism.   

Whatever its guise, in the end communism has failed tragically, impoverishing its subjects and slaughtering millions.  It's only success was to overthrow corrupt, indulgent and autocratic regimes (Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba).  But sadly to replace them with equally corrupt, indulgent and autocratic regimes, and to multiply them (East Germany, Poland, Romania, etc).  

The slaughter statistics are staggering, even allowing for the usual historical exaggeration.  The conservative estimates start at a total of some 65 million for Russia, China and North Korea and approach 85 million.  The slaughter is made up of political repression deaths and those by economic policies (such as Mao's 'Great Leap forward').

The journey toward the slaughter of millions and the impoverishment of many more millions began with the Russian Revolution, arguably an event the practical impact on the world of which was far more profound and global than any other non-divine event.  Only the French might argue that the French Revolution was of higher significance.

But within 40 years of Lenin's arrival at Finland Station (today St Petersburg–Finlyandsky) in Petrograd (St Petersburg), as many as one third of humanity was living under his inspiration.    

A brief timeline

1917    

Russian Revolution, overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II, opportunistically Lenin eventually seizes power, in denial of Marx's orthodoxy.

1946-8

Russia forces communism on its puppet states of Eastern Europe: including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Romania.  Yugoslavia and Albania become communist, but outside Russia's control. 

1948    

China becomes a communist country, under the control of Mao Zedong.

1948

North Korea becomes a communist country under the control of Kim Il-sung.

1954

North Vietnam becomes a communist country, under Ho Chi Minh, to be unified with South Vietnam in 1975.

1965

Cuba becomes a communist country, under the control of Fidel Castro.

1975

Laos becomes a communist country.

1989-90

Collapse of communism in Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Albania.

Today

The one-third of humanity that was once living under the yoke of communism has shrunk. There are effectively only five communist countries remaining: China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea and Cuba.

But China and Vietnam have, to a greater or lesser extent, abandoned a pretext of communism as an economic system, and have adopted many of the elements of capitalism for economic survival (and some prosperity).  But each retains the political elements (one-party state, political repression) of communism.

Cuba and Laos retain the political elements of communism and most of the economic elements.  But fiscal reality means an increasing loosening of centralisation.

North Korea remains the only surviving (just) pure economic and political exponent of communism.  Although it has considerably worsened its economic circumstances by a weird policy of self reliance.     

The future of communism

Communism has a past.  But not a future.  One of the greatest problems confronting communism today is that its Marxist roots proclaim that the workers had only their labour to sell.  Today, that is demonstrably not the case.  In Australia today, for example, most of whom Marx would describe as workers (or more accurately as the 'proletariat') effectively own the largest companies via superannuation funds, including industry superannuation funds.  

For adherents to Marx and his legacy, the only attraction remaining is a disdain for free enterprise, or capitalism.  And these adherents acknowledge the importance of a 'brand', hence their brand may no longer be communism or a communist party.  Readers will have seen the various far-left-wing groups that violently coalesce when a cause arises; for example 'Occupy Wall Street'.  But it is difficult to see how these adherents have suffered under the yoke of capitalism.  And hence their passion for revolution is as artificial as it is both marginal and transitory.

What is the W&D takeaway?

The lessons of communism are in each of it elements. 

An economic model

An economic model that takes away freedom of choice and the reward for successful endeavour, but doesn't provide the basic care for those unable to look after themselves will eventually fail.  Unless there is an external bulwark.  This is why North Korea survives, just: China desperately needs a 'buffer state' between it and South Korea.  And the North Korean people are the victims of that political imperative. 

A political model

The only way the communist economical model could work is with a one-party state, with political repression, censorship and the attendant rise of largely sociopathic leaders. But such regimes are not only exemplified under communism.  Examples range from the various autocracies that failed in the last decade: Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, etc; as well as those that continue (Syria, Zimbabwe, Angola, Kazakhstan, etc) and those emerging (Russia, Turkey).

Epitaph

In the end, the epitaph of communism is that nothing fails like failure