“Communism has been tried, and failed!”

A common, popular line of argumentation against communism (some might say, the end of all discussion about communism) holds that communism has been tried and failed, so we shouldn’t talk or think about it any longer.

I guess what we’re butting against here is good ol’ pragmatism. As for any other pragmatic argument, we must first ask: on what standard(s) are we to evaluate whether it “failed”?

If the standard for “failed” is that it no longer exists, well, communism still exists in some places, therefore communism has not yet “failed.”

If the standard for “failed” is that it does not raise the standard of living for people (by which I mean not just economically but socially as well), then communism “succeeded,” because it did raise the standard of living in the USSR. Indeed, when communism ended, the standard of living dropped.

If the standard for “failed” is that it has killed millions of people, then capitalism and democracy have also “failed.” The Black Book of Communism states that 94 million people died due to communism (a questionable claim in itself); the estimates of capitalism’s death toll is estimated at one billion plus, not counting all the deaths caused by neo-liberalism around the world. But who’s counting?

Is it that communism was “defeated”? Well, democracy in Ancient Greece was defeated by the Roman Empire, so democracy is a “failed” system and we should not talk about it any more. We should immediately replace all democratic governments with autocratic governments. Right? Well obviously that doesn’t work, because democracy is “good.”

What about Christianity? Christianity is responsible for countless deaths, including the Inquisition, the native american genocide, and the persecution of the Jews. Christian doctrines were used to fight against measures which raised the standard of living for all, including abolitionism, feminism, gay rights, abortion, and so on. Christianity, as an ideology, reforms itself very slowly and is always behind the times.

Granted, Christianity has not been defeated yet. It is still very much a force for evil around the world. But it will not survive forever (unless we exterminate each other in the centuries to come).

The fact is that no system of thought is eternal. And how do we deal with transformation and renewals? Capitalism and democracy have both gone through a number of iterations, adapting to the exigencies of successive eras (e.g. classical liberalism, imperialism, fascism). So has anarchism, for that matter.

Anarchism of course has been suppressed by States on many occasions and therefore has “failed.” But it still exists, has raised the standard of living for people whenever it has been put into operation, and has not killed as many people as either capitalism or communism. So by these standards, anarchism is more “successful.”

But either way, what does it matter? Pragmatism is not a fair standard of evaluation of anything, because, as in this case, it is based on some implicit, unquestioned standard of “working.” People want to talk about communism being a “failure” as a way to shut down discussion about it. It connects with our mainstream desire for “success” in all domains: who wants to be associated with “losers”? Radicals are less likely to care about “success” or “failure” and to care more about ethical principles.

I would go beyond the principle that no system of thought is eternal, and say that no principle at all (including this one!) is eternal. A principle may be formulated to hold true in a wide variety of contexts, but it is generally not made to be true in all possible contexts. This is true even in science, where even the most stable principles of physics break down near Planck time.

5 thoughts on ““Communism has been tried, and failed!”

  1. Independent Radical October 13, 2014 at 22:30 Reply

    Arguments about the failure of communism also fail to take into account the massive increase in life expectancy which occured in self-proclaimed socialist countries such as Maoist China and the Soviet Union. This means that millions of people can be thought of as having had their lives saved by socialism (meaning they lived a lot longer under socialism than they would have had socialism not been established in their country.) I daresay the amount of people who’s lives were saved by socialism in this sense is much higher than the amount of people who died as a result of Stalin and Mao’s policies (many of which are not even endorsed by socialists, including socialists who support Stalin and Mao generally.)

  2. ellahawthorne100 October 14, 2014 at 09:32 Reply

    The type of communism that was done in Russia and China isn’t what I want. I think we need a type of system that looks more like anarchism, with businesses that are controlled by groups of local people, no one is in charge. In Russia and China the government is in charge, and in most of the world the corporations are in charge. We need there to be NO ONE in charge, we should emphasize cooperation and sharing and what’s good for the group.

    • Francois Tremblay October 14, 2014 at 12:47 Reply

      Absolutely, I’m all for self-government…

    • Heretic October 15, 2014 at 09:20 Reply

      You’ve got the right idea, Ella.

  3. Heretic October 15, 2014 at 09:27 Reply

    All good points. Sometimes I read pro-Communist stuff and I also am friendly with a few Marxist feminists, for the same reasons. Plus there’s the “taboo” of reading anything Communist thanks to the scaremongering that never ended, which makes me want to see what all the fuss is about.

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