Communism: The wrong species and planet
By Samuel Chan
Shockingly, according to recent polls, somewhere between 10% and 15% of Americans think Communism is a better economic system than capitalism. Communism may be a “good” idea--at least in theory. But, it doesn’t work.
What is Communism exactly? Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t total control by the government--that would be an extreme Socialism. Essentially, communism is an ideology that advocates creating a society that is classless, stateless, with common ownership of means of production and equal distribution of resources. In Marxist theory, society evolves from the feudal state to the capitalist state, then from capitalism to socialism, and finally, communism, with each state being necessary for the next state. Thus, the “first step” after capitalism is the establishment of complete government control over all aspects of society. In the final stage of communism, there is essentially no governing body and centralized authority--in fact, even the borders of all nation-states are dissolved. Class distinctions are removed and everyone is essentially equal. It sounds idealistic--and it is inherently and fundamentally flawed. It’s not wrong or evil in certain philosophical aspects--pushing for equality and a society free of coercion or want is not technically wrong, but it doesn’t (and can’t) work for humans, and especially not on our planet. I will expound later in this analysis of the economic and philosophical roadblocks to implementing communism and will be primarily focusing on this concept of communism and socialism. First, I’d like to explore some of the influences and underlying philosophies of Marx’s ideology.
Unlike philosophers Hobbes and Locke, who argued that humans are either by nature in a state of war or chaos, Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that men in the state of nature are “born free” and equal, but that civilization corrupts. Hence, he delineates an ideal society, being one of the first modern writers to attack the institution of private property, bringing people into harmony through the “General Will.” Marx more closely aligned with Rosseau, calling for control of all means of production and property by the people. Marx’s view of the nature of man was that “existence precedes consciousness.” In other words, there is no mold that can fit every being, but that social interactions, centered around the concept of labor, define who humans are. His theory behind this was o
Marx, the worker is controlled by the bourgeoisie (elite), who also control the means of production and direct the manufacture of goods. Labor is consequently dehumanizing under capitalism. Communism, on the other hand, is argued to free workers from violating their own nature, and that labor can be intrinsically rewarding and efficient when pursued without external pressure.
Unfortunately for Marx, this reasoning is extremely unsound. As myrmecologist (ant entomologist) E.O. Wilson said, “Wonderful theory, wrong species.” There are many organisms that have essentially communist systems--where resources and “wealth” is equally distributed. Just take a look at an ant colony or beehive. Then how come it doesn’t work for humans? Because Marx had it wrong. Marx assumes some sort of fundamental difference between the elite and the worker; however, both are equally self-centered and look after their own interests. Humans have reproductive independence, meaning that we thrive by looking after our own survival and offspring. This underlying motive carries into all aspects of our society: in a general sense, if you take away the incentive to work, we won’t work. Communist communities in insects and other organisms work because genetically, the success of the individual in the colony is only capable through investment in the colony/community at large.
Small size communist societies are absolutely possible. A family is a prime example, where resources and work are (usually) distributed equally and everyone is content. The foundation for success in a communist society is that individuals must prize the collective need above their own goals. However, this only happens in communities where these individuals have personal interactions with every other member. Because the Dunbar Number, 150, is posited to be the maximum number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships, communism on a national level will inevitably collapse. A major flaw in communism lies in its lack of scalability.
For a communist society to work, all members need to cast away all their personal beliefs, backgrounds, and ideologies for the common goal of revolution against the “capitalists.” All members must know, in some sort of Rousseauian concept of “General Will,” that they are being used by capitalists and who those exploiters are. After defeating capitalism, the transition to communism must be managed--principally by establishing a collectivized state that would nationalize production and distribute wealth. You need individuals who are not hungry for control and eager to abuse their power to manage the society and implement central command accordingly. Finally, the socialist government must be willing to dissolve itself into communism for the “common good.” These are all extremely tall barriers to overcome.
Principally, concentrating power in the hands of a select few is highly dangerous, as history has shown. “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Communist/central command economies have an extreme tendency to devolve into totalitarianism that is far worse than whatever came before. This is because disagreements about structure and resource distribution will undoubtedly spring up (this is just how humans operate, due to differing opinions, even on little things). Gradually, power, whether political or economic, will condense into smaller pockets of people, which become more and more corrupt and immoral, since those who play by the “rules” will be speedily terminated. After a long power struggle, corruption will be so widespread and freedom so restricted that only force or bribery will allow for anything to be done (whether emergency services, resource allocation, or other services). The people grow tired of such a state, and they allow a strong leader to take the reins of the economy and political system, descending the country into totalitarianism and dictatorship. Flipping through pages in a history book reveals names that can be speedily recognized--Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Kim Il-sung, Enver Hoxha, and Pol Pot. Such is the end of an ideology advocating that “the ends justify the means.”
China, Russia, Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, revolutionary France were all impoverished and desperate countries abused by an elite few, but attempted implementation of communism made it much worse. As examples, my grandparents have spoken to me about the mass abuses and killings in China incurred under Mao (see The Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, among others). Another gentleman I’ve met has told me about conditions in Eastern Europe under Soviet rule. With deaths under communism in the 20th century nearly matching the total deaths in WWI and WWII combined, Communism has displayed a horrible, systematic violence that cannot be ignored.
Some modern Communists whine that so-called Communist countries in the 20th century were not fully implementations of communism. However, when every attempt at establishing communism has failed miserably and has only led to violence and dictatorship, we can only assume that communism is not actually able to be purely implemented. The problem is that it goes against human nature in implementing a completely pure form of collectivism. Saying otherwise would be denialism and inverted cherry picking--rejecting every failed attempt at putting communism into practice.
In the economic sense, communism is a terrible system as well. Extreme consolidation of political and social power in the state allows no room for competition or innovation. In Marxist theory, self-interest is deprecated and class struggle is important. Hence, with the absence of a “bourgeois” class, the passion of the people to work hard slows. People are fundamentally motivated by self-interest. As eighteenth century economist Adam Smith points out, there is an “invisible hand” that leads a market-based economy made of members of society motivated by their own wants, involuntarily making it a positive force for advancing the society as a whole. Collectivism devalues the importance of the individual and puts the community first. Thus, free thinking, ambition, entrepreneurship, and choice--all important elements to improvement--are discarded as not in the interest of the collective.
When the reward is great, people will put in effort, thought, and time to succeed, but when society or government takes away that incentive, no one will try to do so. This concept can be roughly illustrated by a college class. Imagine a professor teaching a class in which every student gets the same score--the class average. In the first test, student scores would probably follow a bell curve, and the score every student receives might be a B. Receiving this demoralizes students who put in a lot of work and encourages poor-performing students to put in the same amount of effort or less. Over time, the test scores would most likely plummet. The second test could be a C and the final exam could be an F. In the end, every student received the same class grade, so everyone would be happy right? Of course not. The trouble here is that communism (hence, socialism) forces equality of condition, regardless of merit or effort. It is a noble cause to advocate for equality of condition, but that merely ensures every person is equally poor.
Marxist theory also ignores the basic economic concept of scarcity. On our planet Earth and in our universe, we have limited resources--capital, natural resources, time, space, air--but unlimited human needs and wants. Communism assumes that we do have “the utmost abundance of material,” but that they are concentrated in the hands of the oppressive capitalist class. Thus, all the workers need to do is to rise up, upturn the social order, seize the goods, and redistribute it to everyone, ensuring happiness for one and all. Not only will this not ever happen, because people are inclined to consider their own interests first, but it is fallacious.
When labor expands at a much greater rate than technology and GDP growth, we will have a decreasing GDP per capita. We have seen this in many countries. Communism’s de-incentivizing of work and labor means there is less opportunity for technological advancements. Technology, accounting for a majority of long-term economic growth, is therefore much less. Workforce increase has a marginal rate of return, and only through more efficient work--upgraded capital or technology--will shift the curve upwards (Figure 1.0). By contrast, movement along the production possibilities curve by increasing population will create little economic growth and have the added side-effect of lower standard of living.
All this is not to say that I advocate anarchism or complete laissez-faire capitalism. Economically speaking, moderate government intervention is sometimes important
in order to incentivize private business, risk-taking, and advancements. As revealed, however, since these individuals are also flawed, they must be reined in by laws. These laws serve as safeguards in case individuals do not act out of enlightened self-interest (self-interest with a side goal of the common good). This is the principle by which the US has been founded on--freedom to explore and invest. It’s equality--not equality of condition, but equality of opportunity. Justice would be a more proper term. This gives incentives for work and ensures that those most qualified and put in the most effort rise up higher in power and influence. Hence, a society based on merit. In effect, the society is continually being pulled upward, instead of dragged down to a stagnant plane as in communism.
It’s only been a generation, but already our culture has lost its sense of reality and its touch with the past. With nearly a fifth of millennials favoring communism over capitalism, and probably many more at least viewing communism positively, it is no wonder that far-left views are increasingly gaining ground. What Communist supporters don’t realize is firstly, their preconception of communism is in and of itself false and more importantly, it has deep-rooted flaws, both ideologically and economically, which prevent it from ever working. According to the Communist Party USA, communism is “an evolutionary outgrowth of a socialist society, where wealth can be distributed according to the principle of ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their need.’” Sounds phenomenal. Sadly for these people and happily for the rest of us, history, anthropology, philosophy, and economics say otherwise. Sorry CPUSA, communism only works for ants and angels.
This is Samuel Chan’s first contribution to Enter Stage Right. © 2016 Samuel Chan