Thursday, November 12, 2009

Communism revived?

I have friends on both sides of the political fence. My tendency is to automatically take an opposing point of view when discussing politics. Not sure if it is because I just like to argue or I just like to annoy people or, as I will often argue, I just like to be able to rationally discuss an issue from different viewpoints. Well, ok, "rationally" may be overstating it but I try.

In recent months, a recurring subject (oddly enough) has been the benefits of communism. Twenty years after the fall of communism, there seems to be a growing legion of people who feel that communism still has its benefits - it simply was not done correctly in the locations where it was practiced (and failed). I find this belief rather mystifying.

I suppose it is possible, from a certain point of view with limiting blinders, to argue that communism has a positive benefit. Its official definition from

a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.
And that is the most benign version. So, under that premise, private ownership is banned and everything belongs to society as a whole. Of course, society, as communism was previously practiced, was a relative term meaning a certain group of elites. And therein lies the problem with communism. What defines society? And does human nature allow for the communal sharing of all assets and property? In terms of national governance, history has shown that the answers are "the established elites" or "the revolutionary leadership" and "no".

People want to do better for themselves and their families. The incentive to improve their standing in life is predicated upon the ability to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Strip away from them those fruits and the incentive to do well is significantly reduced. Sure, there will always be some who are willing to work for the benefit of society overall (and I suspect those who argue for the benefits of communism are the same altruistic ones) but the tendency to look out for oneself is heavily imbued into human nature. (Of course, it is then worth discussing whether this is a natural human trait or taught through learned behavior, but that is another issue that is external to the more immediate issue of whether communism can actually work.)

A household may be able to practice communism because all assets are held in the family name and the family may share in them equally. Of course, the decision of how those assets are distributed typically will be made by the adults of the household - the elites who are most qualified to make those decisions. In society in general, the same would apply. It is not "society" - as a fully representative entity - that makes those decisions, it is the elites who make those decisions for the rest of society. What inevitably results is an authoritarian form of governance - the more recognized form of communism in practice.

What is perhaps more telling regarding communism is the reaction of those who have lived in communist (read: authoritarian) states when this discussion is raised. While it is obviously not universal - those who were among the elites in communist society will not see the problems with its practice - the feelings among the great majority are against it. Those who were not allowed the opportunity to possess personal property under that economic form (but then allowed to earn it elsewhere) apparently seem to recognize the basic point that the people best able to make the choices for how to earn and spend one's keep is not a formless "society" but the individuals themselves.

The best society is one that is governed by the rights of the individuals to make their own choices, not "society" to make the choices that it deems best. As the saying goes: It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

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