The Achievments of Communism in the 20th Century

Modern liberal and nationalist narratives of capitalist triumphalism are founded on the incorrect premise that in the battle between capitalist and communist societies, liberal democracies have emerged the victor. Human nature has defied utopia, the West has defied the East, capitalism has defied socialism, and the Velvet has defied the Red. For 20 years this has been the standard orthodoxy within bourgeois circles. Indeed, anti-communist aphorisms have become so commonplace in conversations and commentaries on politics that they have gone beyond something to be argued or questioned, simply accepted as a-priori points. The alleged failure of communism is given a cosmic status in this mythology, with political dictatorship elevated to “totalitarianism”, a term which signifies to the bourgeois intellectual what “Lucifer” must have to a 12th century French peasant. The contrary position is that communism was not primarily a totalitarian nightmare, but one of the most progressive forces in human history. While certainly not achieving the standard of perfection put forward by its utopian vision, it created better and more humane societies wherever communists seized power.

Communism is the politics of the workers and oppressed which seeks to abolish all forms of exploitation and oppression of and build a society without class, status, or privilege, based on human need. Communism’s most immediate antagonist is capitalism, a social system in which the means of production are operated towards profit at the expense of the laborer. This relation of profit on the one hand and impoverishment on the other is what Marxists identify as the exploitative core of capitalism finding its most barbaric form in imperialism where the masses of the third world are plundered by the wealthy in the first. From this relation, the antagonizing classes form, the bourgeoisie whose interests lay in the continuation of the system and the proletariat whose interests lay in abolishing it. The proletariat must overthrow the bourgeoisie in a revolution and expropriate them through the abolition of private property. From these foundations, a communist society can be built.

The purpose here is not to provide the reader with an expansive indictment of capitalism, imperialism, or class society, but the poverty, inequality, war, oppression, and sheer deprivation that has emerged around the world as the result of these systems is enough to warrant its death knell. The current economic crisis that has ravaged the world, producing an almost humanitarian crisis in Greece, the suffering spawned by imperialist and annexationist wars, from the Iraq war to the Ugandan-Rwandan invasion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the sheer misery of the masses of proletarians and peasants of the world are all condemnation enough. Class society, capitalism and their wretched handmaidens, imperialism, racism, and national oppression, have produced a hell on earth for the vast majority of the population and this provides the impetus behind communism.

The response of the many liberals and certain leftists to communism is that the theoretical and moral drive behind it is justified, but the practical result always results in the same oppression that it sets out to eliminate. That communism doesn’t work, because of human nature or utopian ambitions, is a truism in contemporary political discourse. The evidence however, speaks otherwise. It is undeniably true that communists did not build classless, completely egalitarian societies or eliminated all forms of oppression and privilege. That being said, communists did build societies that were overwhelmingly beneficial to the masses of working and poor people. On a theoretical level, these socialist societies were characterized by three primary interdependent social structures: 1) the means of production were the collective property of society rather than the private property of a minority, 2) the planning of production towards people’s needs and wants rather than profit, 3) the working class constituted the ruling class of society instead of a minority of capitalists or landowners.

n order to see the overall progressive nature of these societies relative to capitalism, examine the statistics around the Physical Quality of Life Index. At the level of economic development socialist states were equivalent with middle income capitalist states. At every indicator they proved to be superior to these countries as well as often equivalent and sometimes exceeding the high income capitalist states. According to a 1982 study published in Critical Sociologist examining the averages of the 13 socialist countries during the mid-1970s, the PQLI for socialist countries was 88, compared to the middle income capitalist countries’ 66 and the high income capitalist countries’ 89. Life expectancy at birth was 68 for socialist countries, compared to the 60 for middle income capitalist countries and 69 for high income capitalist countries. Infant mortality per thousand was 41 for socialist states, compared to the 78 for middle income capitalist countries and 31 for high income. Literacy was 93% compared with the middle income capitalist countries’ 62% and high income capitalist countries’ 87%. Secondary school enrollment for socialist countries was 62% compared with the middle income capitalist countries’ 42% and high income capitalist countries’ 75%. Higher education enrollment for socialist countries was 15% compared with the 10% for middle income capitalist countries and 21% percent for high income capitalist countries. Women as percentage of labor force was 44% for socialist countries compared to the 26% for middle income capitalist countries and 33% for high income capitalist countries. The unemployment rate for socialist countries was non-existent, compared to the 7.4% for middle income capitalist countries and 2.3% for high income socialist countries. The annual inflation rate was 2% for socialist countries compared with the 21% for middle income capitalist countries and 13% high income capitalist countries. The Income of the lowest 20% of socialist countries was 9.9% of national income compared with the 4.6% of national income for middle income capitalist countries and 5.1% of national income for high income capitalist countries. Income of the highest 5% of the population was 11.3% of national income compared with the 28.3% of national income for the middle income capitalist countries and 17.7% for high income capitalist countries. The gini index for socialist countries was .244 compared with the .506 for middle income capitalist countries and .400 for high income capitalist countries. A 1988 study published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, showed that socialist countries retained this advantage. This data is even more impressive if one considers that the majority of these states began as lower income societies.

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