Can We Make Communism Work?

Yesterday Interccect hosted a lecture by Jodi Dean over her new book The Communist Horizon. It was my first time meeting Jodi in person after many years of online interaction, but more importantly it was a great lecture.

One thing that came up frequently in the Q&A was the issue of how we can know that advocating communism won’t lead straight to the worst excesses of Stalinism. She had addressed this question already in the lecture — saying, for instance, that the very existence of the question shows that we “know better” at this point and that there’s no reason to assume that history will repeat itself in exactly the same way — but she also admitted that part of her theory is that there can be no absolute guarantees in politics.

As a Soviet Ukrainian Jew, I have to wonder why it is not OK to discuss Nazism in this manner but it is perfectly fine to do so with Communism. This is not some academic question. There are countless victims still alive and countless people whose relatives were murdered by the Soviet, Cuban, Korean, Chinese, Cambodian communists.

How many more of us need to die to prove to you, overfed, spoiled, stupid quasi-academic brats that this fucking system doesn’t fucking work? I am so tired of this condescending “Yeah, Stalin and Co did not turn out to be as completely cool as they could but we are so much smarter than you worthless Russians / Cubans / Chinese, etc. and we will make it work.”

As for absolute guarantees, if you try to install a system in completely different countries, continents, tine zones, climates, cultures, etc. and the result is always – and I mean every single time – starvation, genocide, tragedy and death, then even a brain-dead person starts to realize that probably there is something kind of a little  bit wrong with said system.

All that such pseudo-scholars ever do is intellectual masturbation. They can’t produce anything, can’t create any worthwhile scholarship, so they sit there, engaging in idiotic discussions of “would it or wouldn’t it?”. Idiots.

If you choose to do yourself a disservice and follow the link, I warn you that the rest of the post contains some pretty disgusting jokes about the victims of GULAG. Yeah, I know, those concentration camps and their funny victims always make me laugh hysterically, too.

I can just imagine the post’s author having a good meal (provided by that nasty, evil capitalist system, of course), enjoy a drink, settle down in a comfy arm-chair in front of an expensive gadget, burp in a satisfied way, and then make the day complete with poking some fun at the victims of Stalinism. Oh, don’t you just love these friends of the oppressed and downtrodden!

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38 comments on “Can We Make Communism Work?

  1. For one, they’re not smarter, They’re less intelligent to believe they can make it work. Communism cannot fail in any more of a spectacular fashion than it already has. Even if the state used no force and no coercive means whatsoever, it would fail.

    It’s an idea that never had a place with and among human beings. It could only take root with the soul of a dictator and the heart of a thug.

    Thank you Clarissa for your experienced and erudite insight.

    One of Cuba’s bright spots were the peasants private gardens that the state advised and encouraged them to cultivate and grow. The Cubans managed to eat well when they were allowed to grow for themselves, as opposed to state agricultural enterprises. No need to mention Stalin’s agricultural enterprise, is there?

    However, quite predictably, all state undertakings, save torture and tyranny, had their reliable outcomes.

  2. I didn’t click on the link, so I’m commenting a bit blind. That said, I think that what scholars would like to believe is that socialism can work, but they seem to have a stubborn sense of good faith in humanity. People suck too much for socialism to work.

    I work at a Catholic school, so my students frequently get bent out of shape whenever I say something about the terrible history of the Catholic church. I cover my ass by saying, “The church is run by people. Whenever people are involved in an organization, there is potential for corruption. The truth of the matter is that, as the church says, we’re all sinners. So how can you expect that a faith-based group run by a bunch of sinners will be consistently pure? You simply cannot believe that.”

    Now, I grew up Catholic, but am now an atheist. I don’t believe in the church’s teachings or anything like it, but I do believe that corruption is possible whenever there are people involved. Basically what that means is that it doesn’t matter what your intentions are in whatever form of government you have — if it’s run by people, there will be some corruption. That doesn’t mean I think we should have no government. Not at all. I just think that any ideology that states people will behave fairly, share from a community pot, and do things for the good of the community doesn’t really understand the workings of human beings.

  3. Any one who now believes in communism is either a fool, or hopes to be part of the ruling autocracythat ruthlessly expropriates wealth. In two weeks time, when the seven dwarves who will rule China emerge from their Communist Party Congress, everyone knows that each one is already worth more than $1 billion in expropriated wealth. And that in a country where per capita incomes are less than $5,000 per annum!

    • Any one who now believes in capitalism is either a fool, or hopes to be part of the ruling plutocracy ruthlessly expropriates wealth. And THIS statist communism is the most extreme form of capitalism: rulers expropriates ALL the wealth and all the capital.

  4. Western political formulations are mostly absolutely insane, because people have learned to follow predictable routes when attributing blame of forming solutions. They don’t actually look at the situation as it is. They dare not. Or they would end up having to revise their treasured notions as to who is good and who is evil in the world.

    A case in point. I posted a picture of a leopard cub that had been killed for no reason, in Zimbabwe. (I will post the commentary from the original picture below, as it illustrates what I am trying to say, only more acutely.)

    From my posting on Facebook, I get one Westerner who claims that it’s time to educate the Chinese about the fact that ivory is not an aphrodisiac and it’s time to get the corporations out of the land reserved for animals. I repeated to this poster that leopards do not have ivory. He doesn’t care. A black Zimbabwean guy writes that leopards are considered to be pests, and are thus killed. This liberal guy doesn’t want to hear that perspective either. He wants an international program to educate people in China. He thinks corporations are bad for nature.

    So it goes. Here is the original commentary, which describes how Western post-colonial guilt prevents people from seeing reality as it is:

    This image was taken by a dedicated conservationist in the southern Lowveld of Zimbabwe, in the Chiredzi River Conservancy, which is currently under duress from land invaders and other political morons. The slaughtered leopard is a mere cub, hunted down with dogs and speared to death in a seemingly pointless destruction of yet another life in the sad saga of stupidity prevailing thanks to the shit-headed thinking which creates the philosophy of Zimbabwe’s political elite. This was done purely for fun and to get a hair up the noses of ‘settler’ conservationists who seem to care more about the plight of Zimbabwe’s wildlife heritage than do the indigenous population. No skin was reaped, or trophy taken, nor generally is the meat of carnivores eaten in many cultures, so what was the point? The sad thing is… just too many people are turning their heads the other way… Zimbabweans because they are too shit scared to go up against the dominating ‘force’ and foreigners because they are still suffering pangs of guilt for their colonial past. It terms of wildlife conservation, it is really time that people, especially Zimbabweans, started calling a spade a spade. Fingers need to be pointed, loads of noise needs to be made and those who are responsible for such wanton destruction must now be brought to book. Its a pipe dream, so long as the forces of law and order, the judiciary and all those who should care continue to enjoy the loot and spoils of their patronage. Seems like we are lumbered with this by all accounts of a weakened divided opposition… God help Zimbabwe! Oh, and where is God by the way….

    Here is the picture:

    • I have had many similar experiences of the bleeding heart Westerner who wishes to educate the unwashed masses in African and Asian countries, whether they need any such education or not. My sympathies are with you.

      • My point is they are not actually bleeding heart, at all, although it would be okay if there were. The way to address an issue in Africa is not to address a vaguely related issue in China. Africa requires pragmatism, not ideals that offer to better humankind by implement a long term program for moral edification of people in distant zones of the world. People seem to be allergic to thinking practically, because they don’t want to tackle the fact that Africa is a place of violence, and that people don’t neatly fall into categories of good and evil.

  5. I have noticed, however, that most Russians I know never talk of communism and communists. They always refer to the past evil system as Bolshevism and its supporters as Bolsheviks.

  6. I see communism in much the way I see free-marketeerism or libertarianism – a superficially shiny idea that doesn’t work in practice. Problem is, people get so infatuated with the ‘perfect simplicity’ of the idea that they start to to think that the idea not working is a failure of the world, not the idea, and spend their lives fruitlessly searching for a way to implement it ‘properly’. I think it might be a deep level worldview problem at root, possibly an offshoot of the primal fear that drives the ‘just world’ fallacy.

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  8. I have been mulling this over since you posted it, Clarissa, and I think there is a strong parallel with the history of how people tried to make flight work. Beginning in the late 1700′s with hot air balloons, continuing to today when we have regular flights which can take people anywhere. In 1900 there were lots of people who said that flying could never work. Now we have people saying that communism will never work. There is no reason we cannot take a techno view of our economic system and make whatever we want work, after lots of failed attempts. Capitalism has a lot of problems, but it seems to be tending towards feudalism, where we shall have a small wealthy ruling elite and the rest of us will be able to survive only by swearing fealty to a member of the ruling class.

    Do you really believe that just because something has not worked for a few centuries it never will? Builders of airplanes, as well as people who fly them, might disagree.

    • I believe that individualism and self-interest are a part of human nature. Expecting people to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others on a continuous basis is useless. I have seen communism in action in different countries and I am convinced that the main reason why it fails so spectacularly is that it goes against the human nature. Creating a technological advance does not imply changing your entire way of being to its exact opposite. But that is what communism requires and it has never been shy about admitting it.

      • That is true, but, again, flying is contrary to human nature also, but we have found ways to do it. I have also lived in a communist country, although only for a year, and I agree that, as it was in fact realized, it was unsatisfactory. However, I think capitalism is almost as unsatisfactory, in different ways.

      • This still very much reminds me of the firm explanation that one of my undergrad professors gave me in (I think) 1963 explaining why, of course, we could never own our own private computers. He patiently described to me how foolish and how impossible and anyway how pointless it would be to do so.

      • And how many people were slaughtered in the process of introducing personal computers?

        If one can make an argument that communism might work, why can’t one make a similar argument that Nazism might also work extremely well one day?

      • Well people do die to get a hold of the mad metals that make up the iPads and iPhones. Capitalism is not a system that has an ethic of not doing any harm. it transcends human ethics, and will probably wreck us. To some degree it serves individualism more than other economic systems do. In my view, its principles don’t lead to individualism to more than a minor or moderate degree. We do have a much wider range of products and services than we could imagine without capitalist innovation. But you still need an enormous strength of will to assert your individuality under capitalism, especially if you are born into poverty. Also, the character structure that capitalism tends to reinforce is narcissistic The salesman has to be what you want him to be, in order to sell the most goods.

      • “In my view, its principles don’t lead to individualism to more than a minor or moderate degree. ”

        - I’m comparing it to communism which is, by its nature, anti-individualistic.

      • Thank you. And so do you.

        I used to try to relate what it was like to have to fight for my emotional survival, and people would view this as a sign that I had illusions about myself. I guess it’s hard for people to understand how one can be impressed with oneself for purely subjective reasons. There doesn’t need to be any particular achievement or material value attached to it. So for a long time, I seemed to be speaking a different language from everyone else, and getting penalized for that. Actually, the language of subjectivity seems to be alien to a lot of people. It’s the language of achieved adulthood, but some people take it as a sign of the opposite.

        Those battles, although prolonged, are way behind me now, and I can’t really remember them, except for their general outline.

        Currently, one of the things I’m doing is helping my father write his memoirs. He dictates a chapter to me every so often and I assist by asking questions.

        Here are a couple of paragraphs which indicate, I think, a little of what I was up against. It may be hard to see, but my father had internalized the idea that one should not go against tradition, or change anything, “without a good reason”.


        I had started going to church on a Sunday ever since junior school. I just maintained the tradition. Once you start something, you ought not to stop it without a reason. One of the few things I can remember about it, is that at the turn off, there was a big sign that said go to work on an egg. Then some bloke phoned up the advertisers and said, you can’t go to work on an egg. I tried it. Then he said, then I took the yoke out and now its all white.

        My stepfather was a christian scientist. He went about once a week. My mothers second cousin was also a Christian Scientist, who sang at our wedding. She got cancer and wouldn’t accept treatment. It meant she experienced a lot of pain. She died of stomach cancer in absolute agony.

      • Yes. Or to adopt a psychological attitude that it is wrong to make changes — kind of like if you have a deformed fetus implanted inside you by a rapist, it is wrong to get it removed.

    • If only their were some type of “social windtunnel” that could be used to experiment with different societal outlays in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the lives of millions of unwitting test subjects.

  9. Probably I should have mentioned, Icarus, da Vinci, and a few others also. The history of attempts to make cars, computers, motion pictures, and many other things follow a similar pattern.

  10. Well there are cases of people calling themselves communists and doing a reasonably good job of governing (at least locally) in Italy and parts of India (and maybe elsewhere).

    The difference was they were working within a system where they knew they could be voted out and didn’t have absolute power. Those tend to cause better behavior.

    Small groups of people advocating or working for theoretical Marxist solutions within a framework where they don’t have absolute power is not bad (and they might do some occasional good). Attempts to implement Marxist solutions by those with absolute power will always fail and always create misery for all but the inner party elite.

    Any system where a single ideology holds power will disintegrate into degenerate totalitarianism whether it’s political (like Communism) or religious (like Islamic theocracy). Humans are far too complex for any single system to work. Competition between ideas always works better than ideological monopolies.

    The same would be true of Libertarianism. I’m halfway convinced that a country or two will have to try to implement pure Libertarianism so that people can see that it won’t work in reality as well as it does on paper (and for the Schadenfreude of watching libertarians try to rationalize the failure away).

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  12. I would like to clarify that I strongly suspect that communism will not work, ever. However, as a mathematician, I am very much aware that saying that something never has worked is not the same as proving beyond any possible doubt that it never will. This is a bit of fuzzy thinking that I warn my students about frequently.

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