Friday, 31 July 2009

What Makes a Communist?

Almost whenever the term "Communism" is mentioned, many people tend to think of a secret police force, labour camps, repression...but what does it mean to be a Communist in the 21st century?

Several decades ago, Liu Shaoqi had written an essay entitled How to Be a Good Communist. Although written many years ago, certain parts of his work could still be relevant to our times. Take a look at the following excerpt:

"What is our most fundamental duty as Party members? It is to achieve communism. As far as the Communist Parties of different countries are concerned, in each country it is for the Communist Party and the people there to transform it by their own efforts, and in that way the whole world will be transformed step by step into a communist world. Will the communist world be good? We all know it will be. In that world there will be no exploiters of oppressors, no landlords and capitalists, no imperialists and fascists, nor will there be any oppressed and exploited people, or any of the darkness, ignorance and backwardness resulting from the system of exploitation. In such a society the production of both material and moral values will develop and flourish mightily and will meet the varied needs of all its members. By then all humanity will consist of unselfish, intelligent, highly cultured and skilled communist workers; mutual assistance and affection will prevail among men and there will be no such irrationalities as mutual suspicion and deception, mutual injury, mutual slaughter and war. It will of course be the best, the most beautiful and the most advanced society in human history. Who can deny that such a society is good? But can this good communist society be built? We say that it can and will be. Marxist-Leninist theory has explained this scientifically and beyond all doubt. A factual testimony has been provided by the victory of the Great October revolution and the successes in socialist construction in the Soviet Union. Our duty is constantly to advance the cause socialism and communism in accordance with the laws of development of human society, so as to make socialist and communist society a reality as soon as possible. This is our ideal."

When looking back at what happened in Russia and in Eastern Europe during the existence of the Soviet Union, there is no doubt that many mistakes will be identified. Having said this, it is important to bear the following points in mind:

1.) A top-down approach to doing things was very common for a fairly long period of time in human history and certain changes in one's behaviour do not happen overnight;

2.) Russia and the Eastern European countries spent decades living in a state of siege (one should not forget the fear of a nuclear war during the times of the Cold War). When a population lives under such conditions, there tends to be a certain degree of paranoia.

3.) The construction of Socialism on the scale witnessed during the 20th century was unprecedented. Of course, when you are trying to do something for the first time, you are bound to commit a number of mistakes.

The mistakes committed by various Communist parties during the 20th century might have discouraged many potential Communists from joining such organisations. A 21st century Communist will admit that several mistakes occurred in the past, but he/she will criticise those errors so that they will not be repeated in the future.

At this stage, it is very important to note that just because one or more Communist parties committed numerous errors does not mean that the whole Communist belief system is wrong and that it should be discarded in favour of....neoliberalism?? Superstition? Communists have traditionally attached a great deal of importance to scientific thinking. Unlike the typical religious fanatic, a Communist knows that what might seem good today might need to be revised tomorrow. Marxism-Leninism was never intended to be a dogma.

So, what makes a Communist in the 21st century? I would say that the defining characteristic of a Communist is their strong desire to put an end to the capitalist economic model in order to replace it with a much fairer system. A system whereby resources are shared and distributed according to need.

The past should be discussed and analysed, but it is important to be able to move on in a constructive way. As stated in an article published by the Progressive Labour Party, "The working class has no reason to hang on to outmoded ideas, refight old battles, or embrace errors made by our heroic ancestors in the communist movement." It is essential to identify other groups in society that have had enough of capitalism so that more attention could be given to what unites such groups rather than what keeps them apart. At the end of the day, capitalism enjoys the support of several millionaires and billionaires; without a strong opposition, it would be extremely hard to do much in terms of social justice.

There are many parties that do not call themselves Communist, but which offer many interesting arguments when discussing the struggle against capitalism. Taking the Socialist Workers Party as an example, this organisation does not describe itself as a Communist one and it is very critical of the events that took place in Russia and in Eastern Europe during the existence of the Soviet Union. This does not mean that whatever they say is incorrect. I believe that the 21st-century Communist should be able to identify those points where it is possible to agree and to also employ rational arguments to criticise any assertions that might not appear to be factually correct.

I have recently borrowed a book entitled Anti-Capitalism: A Guide to the Movement. Published in 2001, the book contains numerous articles written by members of the Socialist Workers Party. Although I did not agree with the contents of every article written by the representatives of this party, I found myself agreeing with many of the points mentioned by Colin Baxter, one of the contributors to the book. I think that few Communists would disagree with the following words penned by Baxter:

"Those who hope to change things by persuading corporate bosses to behave morally are genuine utopians." (p. 330)

"Capitalism depends on an ever-expanding class of workers. Each, to live, must enter into a contract of unfreedom, agreeing to obey their employer. Each must compete with other workers for the privilege of being bossed and exploited. Each, to eat, must spend her wages on goods produced, not for need, but for profit. Workers for Ford, Nike, Safeway and McDonald's don't simply make cars, shoes, groceries, hamburgers; through their effort and weary sweat they reproduce and fatten the corporation bosses and their system." (p. 330)

"The capitalist system absolutely dominates the world, shaping everything humankind does." (pp. 330 - 331)

"So far as the working class is concerned, the argument goes, surely it's not the force it used to be? It's shrunk, it's defeated, it no longer has the capacity to change the world. But what's the working class? It's not confined to manufacturing. It's not confined to manual jobs. It's composed of everyone who, in order to live, must depend on earning a wage. In those terms, it's still growing. Shop assistants in supermarkets, computer technicians, teachers, nurses, bank and insurance workers and the like are, in the proper sense, workers...Today the majority of the world's population are workers - or would-be workers, the unemployed." (p. 332)

"A strategy for changing the world that doesn't directly involve that majority will always fail. Socialism has to speak to every facet of people's lives, and not least their working lives. It has to be about the majority empowering themselves, taking control of their workplaces themselves, putting themselves as people before profit..." (p. 333)

"Socialists have to change: they must be more open to impulses from without, more discussive in style, more able to relate to a multitude of new issues and arguments. They need to learn new ways of uniting in agreed common action with people who agree with them on many things but not all. Socialist organisations need, of course, to be inwardly democratic." (p. 335)

As more time goes by, it is hoped that more people will learn about how destructive capitalism is. Hopefully, more people will also learn about the possibility of building a much better world by embracing Socialism. There is no time to waste. As long as capitalism is allowed to reign, thousands of people will continue starving, losing their jobs, losing their homes, and seeing the environment around them being destroyed in order to generate huge profits.

A Sad Conversation

A few days ago, I received a call at work. The person had applied for a post and he was calling to enquire about whether the vacancy was still open following his interview. The caller had apparently been unemployed for over a year.

When he called, I already knew that the post was no longer vacant. I told him so. He thanked me for the answer. As he did so, I could sense a certain degree of sadness in his voice.

When I put the phone down, I felt angry and sad. What has happened to the right to work? Why can't the government do more to eliminate unemployment in this country? Given that Malta is supposed to have the highest inflation rate in the EU, could you imagine what life might be like for a person who has been unable to find a job in over a year?

A Visit to the Public Library

Last Saturday, La Delirante and I visited the public library at Belt is-Sebh. This library had been built for the masses by a Socialist government in the 1970s. It is important to remember that back then, a relatively small percentage of the population was able to buy books on a regular basis. The library was, therefore, an excellent place for a person to visit in order to borrow a book and acquire knowledge without paying anything.

One of the most interesting things about the aforementioned library is that it has several books that are no longer found in local bookshops. For example, I borrowed a book entitled The Marxist-Leninist Teaching of Socialism and the World Today. Published in 1978, the book was printed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Such books are extremely engaging because they reveal several thoughts that were popular during a specific period of time.