Tide Of Times A Century Of Communism In Practice
Marx’s theory of communism was for the first time sought to be put into practice a century ago in not an industrial nation that the revolutionary theorist envisaged but in a basically agricultural Russia that was spawning feudalism at its worst. Serfdom was rampant. In deference to the specific context and situation, Lenin had to modify his outlook and exhorted the peasants with special emphasis against the czar.
The militarily powerful and industrially better-off capital countries in Europe and the United States gravely feared the threat of communism “infecting” their societies. Marxism’s call for workers of the world to unite as “you have nothing to lose but your chains” acquired an instant appeal to the poor, underemployed, overworked and yet half-fed Russians.
Lenin and his troops pressed on with relentless slogans and attacks on the rich landholders who led a life of luxury without working but solely on the vast tracts of lands they inherited or were rewarded by the all-powerful czar. Chronic state of needs breeds the necessity of effective response to address the situation.
Lost in different strands
Czar Nicholas, who inherited the title from his forefathers and carried on the burden of bad management of the national economy from them, was not competent to create conditions for alleviating the plight of the overwhelming majority of his people. The gap between the rich and the poor was so vast that academics assessed it as having led to Russia to only two classes—the rich and the poor. The middle class was too small for any significance to the learned folks.
Exhausted by the staggering number of casualties and economic drain caused by its involvement in World War I, Lenin ordered a withdrawal from the war that was drawing to a steady close. This deprived Russia of the spoils that the 1919 Treaty of Versailles sought to distribute the victorious side. During the “Great War”, Britain ruled over a quarter of world population and basked in the fact that “the sun never sets on the British empire”. The vengeful treaty and arbitrary borders delineated by the victors sowed the seeds of future conflicts and conflagrations, which also proved to be breeding grounds for the exporters of communist ideas to inch their way in different groups all over the world.
The subsequent anomalies, sprouting of communist regimes and their leaders interpreting Marx’s thought to suit their specific state and context resulted in a variety of strands of communism. Communist leaders at the privileged hierarchy of the Communist Party accorded top priority to their own lifestyles, compelling the poorer sections to compare and contrast in the differences in the Union of Soviet Socialist Russia.
Moscow’s thrust on exporting communism and supporting the same under communist banners in various countries, together with expansionist policies in Eastern Europe, terrified especially the capitalist world. The rich had to fear more than the poor who had to lose only their poverty and economic inequality.
Dozens of communist regimes sprouted. Labour international did not work, as nationalism continued to hold strong. Moscow’s policy of dictating orders to communist capitals under its military shadow and extended influence created a dichotomy. Seven and a half decades after the czar was overthrown and killed along with his entire family, communism ended in the Soviet Union, paving way for the empire to disintegrate.
The month of May commences marking world Labour Day, which also inspires one to take a quick stock of the growth, decline and redirection of the communism, as theorised by Marx, Lenin through Mao and various shades and offshoots of socialism down the ages. Borrowing from Marxist theory, Lenin’s own interpretation and Mao’s addition to the philosophy and practice of the ideology, communist leaders at the helm of state affairs or in the opposition in multiparty societies try or pretend having made a distinct headway in terms of credibility.
But are the people getting what their leaders promise them with? The hard core communists with traditional orientation in communism failed and had to give way to some other political system or had to adapt with communist content with a mix of capitalist content.
The rise and decline of communism has also had its effects on the hard core capitalist countries. The US dominance the world over is not forever. When this dawned on American elites, they got jolted into reality. For, the wealthiest 62 individuals on earth today have more wealth than do the entire bottom half of the global population, that is, 3.6 billion! Nearly 47 million Americans live in poverty. In the US, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 per cent of the American people.
In other words, an extremely few are becoming richer by the day. The gap is widening even as the large masses are greatly aware of the disparity, and hence on the lookout for avenues that could alleviate their plight.
A gradual but clear a direct outcome of the thrust of communism in the capitalist world has been social welfare measures under declared socialism and other nomenclature. Communism with reforms has turned out to be socialism that accepts moderation in state control of the economy and promotes social welfare schemes.
If the ideological leaders of communism envisaged in the century from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century were to return, they would not be able to recognise the forms of communism being propagated and practised today. Such being the case and context, champions of communism in the new century are a dramatically different lot, cast as they are as communists in name and slogan but restrained capitalists in orientation and action.
Talk of “dictatorship of the proletariat” is hardly recorded in public statements or party manifestos issued by parties holding on to the communist tag. This is nothing derogatory but an ability to move with the times and asserting that no political ideology is relevant and practical for all times.
Moving with the times is a compulsion. Communist parties in many countries, rejecting the call for a one-party state, and have joined the mainstream of multi-party political culture. Nepal probably provides the most interesting example in this regard, with political parties upholding a persistent “Communist” suffix and installing their leaders to head governments elected by multiparty parliament. There have been as many as six communist leaders heading seven governments starting from the late Manmohan Adhikary through Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Baburam Bhattarai, Khadga Prasad Oli and, again, Dahal.
Times indeed change. Communist leaders do not admit in words but confess in their orientation and actions just as core capitalists pragmatically make concessions under the guise of socialist policies or “welfare schemes”.