Emmett vs the Red Menace
Well, after last post’s debacle, I think it’s time for a little more intelligent discourse. Say, who likes economics?
Well, I don’t. The sum total of my knowledge of economics comes from books, the internet and general knowledge. I do know history pretty well, if by ‘pretty well’ you mean ‘enjoys it, but does not have a university education in it’.
I would like to think, though, that I have enough common knowledge to take on blatantly obvious bullshit. And one of the most blatantly obvious bullshit claims I’ve run into as a fledgling university students is that touted by goatee-trimming, tight-jeans-wearing, coffee-drinking Arts students everywhere: “The Soviet Union wasn’t really Communist.”
That claim just irks me, right in my old-fashioned, true blue values. And I’ve been exposed to it repeatedly and intensely, in common conversation, on the internet, and in a particularly unfortunate law tutorial; here comes my long-winded, not particularly funny rebuttal.
Now, if you actually read Marx and Engels’ manifesto (and I have), and you define communism as ‘something that looks very very similar to what Marx describes as the ideal state’, the bullshit becomes pretty obvious. But that certain law tutor, who for privacy’s sake we shall name ‘Gobblecock Catdick’, offers an alternate argument, one that is often championed by USSR-denying communists. In honour of Mr Catdick, the rest of this seething, pointlessly angry rant will be addressed to him.
You keep saying, Gobblecock, that ‘there has never been a truly communist government’. You supported this assertion with your own little definition: socialism is where the state owns the means of production, and communism is where the people own the means of production.
I won’t debate whether your definition is the ‘correct’ one, because I am a generous and loving soul. I won’t even touch the socialism part of it. I will just explain why the idea that ‘communism is where the people own the means of production’, as a practical, descriptive, useful definition, is tongue-in-a-toilet retarded.
Alright. “The people own the means of production.”
By MoP I assume you mean all primary and secondary industries for non-luxury items – things like factories, packaging plants, farms, supermarkets, power stations, mines and telecom companies.
By ‘own’ I assume you mean ‘create, control and reap the profits of’. I assume that this is pretty non-controversial so far.
But what then, what the heck does ‘the people own the means of production’ mean?
An individual human can’t manage hundreds of industries simultaneously – societies have to specialize, to give individual people different roles. So clearly you don’t literally mean that ‘everybody simultaneously works on everything’, because outside groups of like five or six people, that’s retarded.
So do you mean that individual groups of people run each industry, and everybody receives the profits from all, equally, without the use of an individualistic trade system?
Okay… Everybody goes to work in their own industry, all profits from all industries are ‘harvested’ and redistributed to everyone equally. Cool. But there’s a problem – that sounds exactly like Soviet communism. And you specifically said that that system – where the state owns the means of production – is socialist, not communist.
Your idea of ‘communism’ is one where the state has no ownership or control over the economy, correct?
Well then, in this ‘true’ communism of yours, who the flippin’ heck harvests and redistributes the wealth?
The state, obviously – or at least the de facto state, if not the official government. Any organization that COMPLETELY controls the internal cash flow (and by default, the citizens) of a nation is that nation’s ruling body.
So please, please tell me just how the heck the state doesn’t thus own the economy.
Are you splitting hairs here, Gobblecock? Do you think that ‘controls every bit of wealth that moves in and out of an industry’ is not the same as ‘owning an industry’? Do you think that in true communism, the state does control the money but the citizens ‘own’ it on an intellectual or philosophical level? Because if so, your treasured difference between true communism and Soviet communism comes down to mere semantics.
Or maybe – terrifyingly – you’re not splitting hairs. Maybe I’ve been barking up the wrong tree, and you honestly believe that in a communist economy, there IS no wealth harvesting and redistribution system. Maybe you think that there’s no need to gather up all the profits via tax and then spread that around in an organized manner.
Maybe – and your favourable mentions of anarchy lend credence to this – you think that in true communism, if you want something, you just go to the relevant store and grab it yourself. Maybe everybody goes to work, makes things, transports them to the shelves of stores and then forgets about ’em. There is no currency, no measure of work or profit – everybody makes stuff, gives it away for free, and if they want something, they know that their compatriots will give away THEIR stuff for free as well.
My goodness. You absolutely believe that. All your throwaway comments and snide remarks have fallen into place, Gobblecock. Your idea of communism is a state without any economy or measure of work whatsoever – without any economy-managing state-like apparatus (emsla).
Let’s list all the problems with that.
People will be lazy. In your system, there’s nothing (other than the disapproval of your reighbours) to prevent you from not doing a day’s work in your life, but having the exact same standard of living as everyone else. Even if you have the most unbelievably sunny (and inaccurate) picture of human nature ever, you must acknowledge that there will be some people who won’t work at all, and most people will work very little. There is simply no motivation whatsoever, other than love of your job and a desire for respect, to work, and neither of those desires will result in people working 9 to 5 shifts. You will have a CRITICAL labour shortage, followed by a starving population (sound familiar?)… UNLESS you have some means of motivating people to work. Either by continuous brainwashing during childhood, or by an emsla such as a Soviet-esque taxation/reward/currency system.
People will be greedy. Say you work at/manage a supermarket, or factory, or warehouse or whatever. You’re supposed to take only what you need from the fruits of your labour, and leave the rest for everyone else. But what’s to stop you just taking as much as you want? What’s to stop you from living in absolute luxury? Without an emsla (or aforementioned brainwashing), nothing. The richest people would be the ones who greeted the delivery trucks. Come along a few days since the last shipment? Sorry, you’re riding a bicycle while the lucky few drive Porches.
People won’t do the hard jobs. Being a scientist, a pilot, a doctor, a commander of men, an oil rig driller, a miner, an engineer… All these things require years of education, unbelievably hard mental or physical work, or both. Why bother, when you don’t get anything out of it for yourself? All your personal prosperity comes from how quick you get in the bread lines, not from how hard or smart you work. Why do anything hard at all, when you get the same results from being a checkout chick, a waiter, a basketballer or an academic? Sure, there’ll always be some people who work hard regardless of the reward, but without an emsla, you are still going to be STARVED of any advanced industries or sciences. Assuming your society doesn’t collapse entirely, you’ll be left decades behind the rest of the world.
How are you going to trade with other nations? Does your government do it? If so, how do they determine what to trade and how much, without becoming an emsla? Does the government just drive past the local depot, grab a bunch of stuff, and truck it off towards the border without any explanation or guarantee of recompense? What do you have to trade, if you’ve removed most motivation to work hard or smart? Countries don’t survive well in isolation, it’s the whole reason the UN does that ‘sanctions’ thing and it helped kill the USSR. Without an emsla, your trade will be no more sophisticated than a thousand ad-hoc, personal bazaars set up along the border.
What about state necessities, like a ruling body, an army, a justice system and a healthcare system? How do they fund themselves? Who determines how much they get paid? You know how loyal your soldiers are going to be when they realize their families could be much better fed if they quit and just lined up bright and early at the factory outlets every day? You realize that this state could just take as many goods as they want from the common people without actually having to provide reciprocation of any kind?
That’s just off the top of my head. If one thing’s clear, it’s that for a nation-sized group of people to function, they need an emsla. They need some way to measure work, by currency or tax grades or government allowance based on profession or whatever. They need some incentive to work, some incentive to work HARD, and some means of regulating how much wealth people earn or dishonestly gather for themselves.
An attentive soul will notice that a lot of the problems I mentioned above – technological inferiority, bread lines, an uneducated population, an easily corrupted army and political structure – sound suspiciously similar to problems experienced by the USSR, Cuba, North Korea, and even the not-very-communist-any-longer China.
You see, while these supposedly ‘fake’ communist states DID have an emsla, the simple fact is that a single, bureaucratic controlling organism is going to be less efficient than the best possible emsla, the free market. The USSR may have seemed unstoppable once, but looking back at the problems they encountered with their state emsla, it’s a wonder they lasted so long. If China hadn’t become effectively capitalist, they would probably have joined them (I think we can all agree that China prospered pretty hard AFTER Mao’s death).
When it comes right down to it, Gobblecock, your ‘true’ communism seems like a less organized, less planned, more chaotic version of regular, USSR communism. It relies on not just some, but the vast majority of your citizens working extremely hard for no other reason than job satisfaction. It relies on nobody wanting to live better than the average, to improve their material lot. It relies on a nation not needing large-scale trade to develop. It relies on a government populated only by incorruptible, highly moral people. It relies on everybody being concerned not with how good their own lives are, but about whether they’re producing enough to keep their reighbours happy. It relies on nobody feeling envy, or feeling angry that their reighbours work much less hard then they do, but have just as many possessions (and, because of their free time, probably a much happier life). It relies on complete and utter selflessness, to the point of depriving yourself and your family for the nebulous, unmeasurable ‘good’ of a vast nation of strangers.
I just don’t see it.
Actually, that’s a lie – I can pick a few situations where this would work quite well.
In small groups – say two to twenty people, where you know everybody very closely. If you actually know and care about the people around you, you’re much more likely to work for them rather than yourself. In fact, in small communal or family groups like this, it’s probably more efficient than a capitalist trade system – think monasteries, or isolated jungle tribes, or survivors in a zombie apocalypse, where you know and care for everyone around you.
The trouble is, you can’t run a nation this way. You can’t even run a village this way – there is simply a limit to the number of people an individual can know and care about, and thus there is a limit to the amount of manpower and specialization your effective communist society can have. I suppose, by dividing the population into tiny communes and farms, you could have a pretty functional communist nation – but it would never ever progress beyond the agricultural stage.
The only other route I see to effective communism is, basically, to change human nature. I’m not exactly sure how – extreme, continuous brainwashing, for one (‘re-education’, ‘hypnotic conditioning’, whatever). Genetic or cybernetic meddling with the brain’s hardware. Some kind of empathic telepathy, like peer pressure across an entire nation. Or maybe it’s as simple as a really, really persuasive and pervasive religion.
Whatever it is, it would be hard to make it stable and sustainable, and the only methods to do so require technology far in advance of the present day.
I guess I may have judged you too harshly, Gobblecock. You’re not really RETARDED – or at least, not in the same way I assumed you were. You’re just incredibly, idiotically, insipidly idealistic. You honestly believe that human nature is incredibly good. You think that every baby is born a selfless, wondrous being completely dedicated only to the good of its fellow man. You think that the only reason people are selfish, lazy, corrupt, jealous, prideful, small-minded or unable to see the big picture is because that’s the way society has made them. You believe that every person has a utopian, selfless angel inside them, one that has just been suppressed since childhood by the artificial impositions of capitalism.
As sweet as that is, it’s wrong. I’m not a total cynic, so I’m not going to say something unappetizing like ‘all people are inherently bad’ or ‘we’re just animals and nothing more’.
But I will say this, Gobblecock Catdick. If you can look at the sum total of human history, at all the different regimes, societies and methods of government, at all our leaders, heroes, faiths, wars, famines, golden ages, civilizations, urges, artwork, evolution, cultures, genocides, crimes, moral codes, philosophers and lifestyles, and HONESTLY say that ‘every human is not just inherently good, but inherently godlike, and it’s just our upbringing that makes us at all flawed’… then you, sir, are a BATHTUB-SHITTING LUNATIC.