Beyond the Cash Economy: a Look at ‘True’ Communism

In a Marxist context, ‘true’ communism is viewed as the final stage of society, where class, profit, government and nationality have all been swept away. By this time, according to the theory, mankind will have evolved beyond hierarchical organisation and will live collectively, meaning that the Soviet Union, China, or any other communist regime does not qualify.

Rather, the socialist countries of the twentieth century belong in the ‘lower’ stage of communism, theorised as a period of transitional socialism whilst some remnants of capitalism remain. Thus, a government exists, albeit a socialist one (a ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’), and a socialist economy is in place, rather than a fully communist one. This, although poorly, is how the People’s Republic of China attempts to justify their market economy.

“…between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the State can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat’ – Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program

Yet it is perhaps because these countries don’t represent the idea (meaning that there are no examples at hand) that ‘true’ communism is rarely discussed. It is often passed off as ‘the communist’s ideal’ or the theoretical utopia which Marxism, as a philosophy, has to offer. This means that the endgame of the international Marxist movement is often only spoken of in contrast to what is seen as communism’s harsh reality, yet few understand that this ideal occupies a hypothetical epoch of its own, one later in time than the stage of development occupied by, say, the USSR. Thus, the theoretical idea is compatible with the practical reality; it is simply a future vision of the modern socialist states.

Nonetheless, the system is often seen as unpractical, because it doesn’t only mean an economic transition, but a complete turnaround in social thought (though if you read my post Naturally Selfish: Does Human Nature Make Socialism Impossible? you’ll see why I think this is possible). Such change is required because the idea it’s centred upon is a communal and essentially anarchistic lifestyle in the modern era; a 21st century attempt at what primitive tribal societies managed centuries ago.

This is by no means an easy feat, and, in theory, can only be done once capitalism has been overthrown worldwide. This presents the first problem: every nation on the planet must no longer exist, meaning that humanity must have not only waged a global war against all existing authorities, but made the collective decision to unify. Therefore, nationalism, even patriotism, must fade into the past. If not, mankind won’t have crossed the first hurdle.

Another problem is that of money, for it underpins every modern economic system, even socialism, and a truly communist society should exist in its absence. This would mean that a method of distributing goods and essential items among the population must be set in place, so that citizens literally work for their bread, and no-one can accumulate excessive capital. The issue becomes more complex, however, when you take into account cars, musical instruments, and various other items of leisure that people may desire.

One way of solving this dilemma would be to allow every person an equal amount of luxury items, giving them the choice of several. This way, everyone would be able to pursue activities they enjoyed, but nobody could accumulate excessively. A difficulty with this method is the fact that it would require some kind of central planning, which is likely a lot less easy in a stateless society, but this could be managed if the political system was structured well.

A final problem, however, is the fact that it’s not only the monetary system that needs to be changed, but the profit-driven mindset of both blue and white-collar workers. In Cuba, certain trained professionals are apparently finding work behind the bar, because it’s easier to earn money that way. To avoid such a tendency, we must change public attitudes towards money, so that, when students train in any professional field of their choosing (none of which offer any special material reward) they do so purely because of their interest in the discipline.

The USSR believed it would reach ‘true’ communism by 1980, yet was proven wrong. China, sixty-seven years after the revolution, still asserts that it’s at the beginning of the road to equality (as if it was ever on it in the first place). This is very much a final conclusion, and will certainly not be achieved with ease. Yet the communist project is not a simple, and often not a glamorous one, but one both inevitable and necessary. In the words of Fidel Castro, ‘A revolution is not a bed of roses. A revolution is a struggle between the future and the past’.

If we applied this reasoning, reaching a completely equal society in the relatively near future may not be beyond our grasp.

Christmas Under Communism

Today being December 25th, it feels very inappropriate to write about anything non-Christmas related, and the ideas I’ve had leading up to this post all seem somewhat out-of-place at this time of the year. Yet nonetheless, I believe I’ve found a way to link the occasion back to the subject of this blog; today I’m asking if Christmas was celebrated in the communist world.

In the Soviet Union, celebration of the holiday was greatly restricted, and it was suppressed as a manifestation of religion. The League of Militant Atheists, an ideological organisation in the country, fuelled the suppression by promoting an anti-religious and anti-Christmas sentiment , and it is perhaps partly due to their efforts that Christmas is still not widely celebrated in Russia today.

The situation is similar in the People’s Republic of China, as the holiday is still not celebrated by many, yet this is less a result of political action as it is of religion; the Chinese Christian population equates to about one percent of the country’s 1.4 billion inhabitants, meaning that few recognise the festival’s religious significance. This is ever more true in the more remote, western regions, where it is likely seen by many as an alien tradition.

Yet despite this, Christmas has increased in popularity throughout China, and whilst suppressed in the Soviet Union, a separate, secular festival on December 31st was celebrated under the socialist regime. This suggests that, irrespective of whatever religious beliefs they may have, humans want to celebrate something this season. In fact, even the modern holiday we call Christmas wasn’t always very Christian; first a week-long Pagan festival concluding on Dec 25, it was adopted by Christians to ‘draw in’ Pagan believers, proving that you don’t need God as an excuse to celebrate..

With this in mind, I wish everyone a merry, secular Christmas Day.

My decoration-of-choice for the tree


The Third ‘Bloc’ That Never Happened: Tito and the Non-Aligned Movement

The idea of socialism outside of the Eastern Bloc has surfaced multiple times in history, perhaps most famously among the communist left, and later the followers of Mao Tse-tung or, to a lesser extent, Che Guevara. It will have undoubtedly intrigued many intellectuals and revolutionaries since the birth of the USSR, one of whom I will focus on in particular…

Josip Broz Tito, the Croatian-born leader of Yugoslavia did something both extraordinary and also somewhat reckless, which, I’ve decided, shall be the subject of this entry: he led the first state in Eastern Europe, then in the grip of Soviet influence, to become ‘socialist, but independent’.

Josip Broz Tito

What relevance does this have? Well, April is the month which, twenty-three years ago, saw the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On April 28th, 1992, Serbia (the last of the Yugoslav republics) became an independent nation, serving as the final nail in the coffin for the great communist federation of South-eastern Europe. This was a country fundamentally different to many others: it was among the first to have been liberated by the Red Army, yet to reject the USSR, and operated under the system that could have been described as ‘council communism’, where worker’s councils and unions would provide the basis for socialist transformation, which could be seen in contrast to that of the Soviet Union.

Yet equally interesting are the social and political ideas of international socialism Marshall Tito upheld, for he was an active member, and later leader, of the Non-Aligned movement. This is an ongoing organisation representing the interests of developing countries, with the founding aim of ‘opposing imperialism and neo-colonialism, especially from western domination.’ Such an idea was most apparent in the Cold War’s polarisation of political identities, with the desire to create an ‘independent pathway’ for these states so that they would adhere to neither the USA nor the USSR.

I’ll say this now: this entry is not an opinionated one; I won’t go into depth about my personal views on the subject or on the political views of Tito generally. Rather, I’m writing discuss this idea of an ‘independent pathway’, and its relevance to both communism and capitalism respectively.

The Movement's Member States

The Movement’s Member States

Coming back to the Cold War, it couldn’t have been a more interesting time to consider a third power arising in the world, combatting both the Eastern and Western Blocs with a newly-developed idea of proletarian internationalism. It would also provide an opportunity to oppose what could have been perceived as Soviet imperialism (a particular criticism which did gain a degree of popularity) whilst remaining true to the principles of communism. In other words, you would no longer have to bear the label of ‘Soviet sympathiser’ to consider yourself a communist.

In the latter half of the previous century, however, history seems to have had other ideas. The two ‘Blocs’, the great realms of power split Europe down the middle similarly to how the Triple Entente once calved Imperial Germany and its neighbours out of the rest of the continent, only such a division was far clearer easily distinguishable now that it adopted political connotations. Yet it was surely obvious that such a scenario, this is to say Europe’s division into a communist east and a capitalist west, could never have been a permanent situation, making the arisal of a third power bloc perfectly possible. Why then, in a climate of hate and tension, when a third way was definitely on the cards, didn’t this new union form?

I’ve been thinking, and here are the reasons I’ve managed to come up with:

Five Reasons as to Why the ‘Third Bloc’ Never Arose

  1. A lack of information of Marxist philosophy or communism as a political theory within these countries (especially in the less-well-developed nations).
  1. A lack of the necessary conditions for communist revolution due to the existence of less-advanced methods of production.
  1. The development of a view picturing both west and east alike as ‘similarly evil’ threats to these nations and cultures, without adequate consideration of the political climate, and thus the demand for the national sovereignty against the two powers compromising proletarian revolution.
  1. The division of these nations by the two powers, directing them against each other and against the respective power blocs, as the west and the east’s sphere of influence adapts the political climate of these countries to their immediate needs, an example of which would the United Kingdom’s influence over the former British colonies.
  1. The tendency of the division separating the capitalist and the communist world to polarise political thought worldwide, rendering the construction of a third power increasingly difficult.

While we’re at it, we may as well look at the collapse of communism in the Eastern Bloc as well:

Five Reasons as to Why the Eastern Bloc Fragmented

  1. The development of nuclear weapons west of the division, and thus the rising possibility that a war may result in apocalyptic outcomes, preventing the socialist states from military advancement.
  1. The general lack of evidence pointing to an improvement in the economic circumstances within the communist world, causing a lack of faith and enthusiasm for communist lifestyle and the idea of reaching ‘true communism’.
  1. The decline of ideological stability among the populace as what have been recognised as capitalist principles, e.g. corruption and inequality, became apparent in communist regimes.
  1. The development of western capitalism to a stage regarded as acceptable by many of the would-be exploited in the west, internally strengthening capitalist society and removing the strong base of proletarian support the socialist states could have relied upon for revolution, or at least sympathy, within these countries.
  1. The struggle for the stagnating autocratic regimes to maintain power over the populations of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the face of modernisation, coupled with the weakening of their authority in general.

I’ll finish with this thought: Tito is long dead, and Yugoslavia dissolved over two decades ago. Yet if such hadn’t happened, that is to say, if the political climate was such that the new state was able to arise, who knows what the result would be. Perhaps the proletariat of these nations would line up under Tito’s leadership, against the troops of the USA, the USSR, Great Britain, the People’s Republic of Poland, France and Hungary; perhaps the task of revolution would entail a struggle against not only the capitalist, but also the communist world.

It’s ironic, when you think about it, and fairly shameful for both sides of the Berlin Wall. Just imagine how Stalin, the man who is quoted to have said ‘I will shake my little finger and there will be no more Tito!’ would have reacted.

Imperialism, Isolationism and Communism

The way I see it, all communist states, (and in fact, all communists) embrace elements of one of the following ideas: isolation or imperialism. Which one exactly depends on the conditions of the state or the individual concerned, yet both can be exemplified, which seems odd, as both are similarly unpopular ideas among the communist movement.

National isolation is an idea which communism has grown to frown upon for multiple reasons. Such a rule cannot be applied to every situation, yet in general, the separation of one portion of the proletariat through the artificial division of states can be seen in contrast to class struggle, especially since Marx himself believed the nation-state was a bourgeois creation. In the Communist Manifesto, it is written that ‘National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster.’

Equally, communism rejects imperialism – the practice of constructing an empire – probably more profoundly so. This can be seen most clearly from a Maoist (Third-Worldist) perspective, known for its fierce opposition to the exploitation of the third world by nations of the first, perhaps even more so than to labour exploitation in general. Even outside of Maoism, one would struggle to identify an openly imperialist advocate of Marxism. Long before Mao’s theories gained significance, Vladimir Lenin referred to imperialism as the ‘Highest phase of capitalism’, probably eliminating all prospects of its official establishment among the communist world.

The prospect is simple: both ideas appear counter-revolutionary in the field of Marxism. Yet, if you examine the communist and formerly-communist world, it appears that every state will have fallen into one of these traps…

The reason for this is as follows: I believe that the following two theories have split communism down the middle more drastically than any others: world socialism, and Socialism in One Country. This division has it’s roots back in the Bolshevik power struggle of the 1920s, in which Trotsky, an outspoken internationalist, talked of spreading the revolution whilst Stalin spoke of cultivating Russian communism independent of the outside world. It appears that Stalin’s ideas proved far more influential, for the majority of socialist states seem to have followed the path of building socialism independently. Thus, as independent communist states in a capitalist world, they took on an increasingly isolationist approach, setting themselves apart from their neighbours. Often, this lead to the rise of heavily nationalistic views within the regime, as has been the case in various communist states across east Asia.


By contrast, the communist world has also embraced ideas of world socialism, which can be seen again in the example of the USSR (prior to Stalin’s leadership) which existed not as one nation, but a network of states bound together by the common leadership of Moscow. Critiques of such a system highlight the fact that this was achieved by the repression of what have become known as the Russian ‘satellite states’, reducing them to mere provinces in the power block and thus robbing them of the national identity they once possessed. This has been criticised as an imperialist idea, for obvious reasons, allowing countries like the early Soviet Union to acquire negative connotations. So there you have it, on one end of the spectrum you have Lenin’s Soviet Union, and on the other, North Korea. As a communist country is, by nature, an enemy of the international capitalist world, a revolutionary state has two choices: they can fight capitalism, or they can hide from capitalism. Either way, it involves going to one of two extremes, for (not including the westernised and, let’s be honest, post-communist nations like China) they can’t just simply exist, but either extreme entails an ugly scenario.

If it Wasn’t for Yeltsin…

Today, (Friday 13th February) according to HISTORYNET ( was the day that Konstantin Chernenko, the second-to-last Soviet leader was selected as the successor of Yuri Andropov, as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s General Secretary, in the year of 1984. To mark the thirty-first anniversary of this date, I thought that rather than focussing on a particular news story I’d write about the past, specifically the last days of the USSR, making it an appropriate time to address an interesting question: what would have become of the USSR if it wasn’t for its 1991 dissolution?

Even after the events of Christmas Day 1991, communism, in the minds of many, hasn’t seemed to have departed. The current president is a former KGB agent, who referred to the Soviet Union’s collapse as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the century. Almost every city has a street named after Lenin, and whilst comparably insignificant to the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation remains strong and active.

In my opinion, the period of thaw under Khrushchev, whilst marking the height of the Cold War, paved the way for the collapse of communism. I’d see this as a result of (I’ll apologise in advance for any Stalinists) Stalin’s reign, which brought famine, terror and repression of a scale incomparable to that under Lenin, the Provisional Government, or tsarism. And given that this is Russia we’re talking about, a country with a long and bitter history of autocratic rule, it definitely says something. Whilst the dismantling of Stalinism did not directly result in what is recognised as the ‘Fall of Communism’ (which, given what Stalinism actually implemented, was likely for the better) I believe it left behind a regime which was naturally inclined to thaw after Stalin’s departure, eventually leading to its collapse.

Additionally, I believe communism is not only dead for the present; it’s remained dead for a significant period of time. The fall of the Soviet Union shortly led to a return of capitalism in its constituent states, proving that communism only survived in the area through the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and thus did so as an idea rather than an actuality. Even Yugoslavia, a country independent (both nationally and politically) of the USSR, fragmented shortly after its dissolution, leaving behind only a select handful of communist countries scattered around the globe.

The coloured states constituted what was recognised as the communist world at its height. Today, only a fraction of red states remain

The coloured states constituted what was recognised as the communist world at its height. Today, only a fraction of red states remain

But what if such hadn’t occurred? What if Gorbachev proved to be unsuccessful in the Soviet Union’s dissolution, say, if the 1991 coup d’état managed to achieve socialism’s preservation? Would there still be an Eastern Bloc, an Iron Curtain, and firm alliances binding the first and second world into militarist organisations? During the extra twenty-four years, would the communist world not have declined but expanded?
To give an answer rather less-dramatic than the question suggests it should be, I think not.

The way I see it, as I’ve already said, the Soviet Union had not seen socialism for a long while. The population may have caught a glimpse, in 1917, of where it may lie, but the efforts to reach it soon translated into bureaucracy, later totalitarianism. This resulted only in an illusion of socialism. In other words, if it weren’t for Boris Yeltsin’s government, I believe that any further efforts made by the Communist Party would be simply buying time. By the 1990’s, the once-so-tightly-enforced infrastructure had grown so fragile that protests and demonstration occurred in Latvia, the fears of the capitalist world so weak that Gorbachev was able to announce the policy of ‘Glasnost’, and still retain power. If a new leader had decided to repress these Latvian demonstrators, or to preserve the hostility with Western Europe, I can’t imagine the population tolerating it for long.

I’ve read that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation now promises Russia ‘Chinese socialism’, highlighting how desperate their situation really is.
In my entry on Cuba, I made it very clear what I believed Chinese socialism, alongside Vietnamese socialism to be: capitalism. If the leading communist movement in a country which was once the world’s first socialist state is resorting to watering down its philosophy in order to obtain votes, I don’t think I need persuading that communism has failed in Russia, and, in this particular format, is not likely to make a return anytime soon.

I conclude on this inglorious note by quoting a cropped version of the poem ‘Goodbye Our Red Flag’, from Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s book ‘Don’t Die Before You’re Dead’.

Goodbye our red flag.
You slipped down from the Kremlin roof
Not so proudly
Not so adroitly
As you climbed many years ago
On the destroyed Reichstag
Smoking like Hitler’s last fag.

Goodbye our red flag.
You were our brother and our enemy.
You were a soldier’s comrade in trenches,
You were the hope of all captive Europe,
But like a red curtain you concealed behind you the Gulag
Stuffed with frozen dead bodies.
Why did you do it, our red flag?

Goodbye our red flag.
Lie down.
Take a rest.
We will remember all the victims
Deceived by your sweet red murmur
That lured millions like sheep to the slaughterhouse.
But we will remember you
Because you too were no less deceived.
Goodbye our red flag.
Were you just a romantic rag?

Goodbye our red flag.
Pry open the fist
That imprisoned you
Trying to wave something red over Civil War
When scoundrels try to grab
Your standard again,
Or just desperate people,
Lining up for hope.
Goodbye our red flag.
You float into our dreams.
Now you are just a narrow stripe
In our Russian Tricolour.
In the innocent hands of whiteness,
In the innocent hands of blue
Maybe even your red colour
Can be washed free of blood.

Goodbye our red flag.
In our naïve childhood,
We played Red Army – White Army.
We were born in a country
That no longer exists.
But in that Atlantis we were alive.
We were loved.
You, our red flag, lay in a puddle
In a flea market.
Some hustlers sell you
For hard currency.
Dollars, Francs, Yen.

I didn’t take the Tsar’s Winter Palace.
I didn’t storm Hitler’s Reichstag.
I’m not what you call a “Commie.”
But I caress the red flag
And cry.

– Thanks to Yevtushenko