A hundred years ago, a group of Communist revolutionaries stormed the Winter Palace in St Petersburg to overthrow the first democratic government in Russian history. A group of European historians, in a book titled The Black Book Of Communism, estimated that 94 million people have been killed by Communist regimes around the world over the years.
What is Communism?
Communism is a political ideology that believes that societies can achieve full social equality by eliminating private property. It is a theory or system of social organisation in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.
Experiments with Communism –
- The experiments with a more moderate version of Communism—in Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito or during the Prague Spring led by Alexander Dubček—were too insignificant to make a lasting impact.
- The liberal Menshevik regime in Georgia was crushed by an invading Bolshevik army in 1921.
- The spectacular collapse of Communism across Europe as well as the embrace of capitalism by the Chinese Communists destroyed the last remnants of credibility.
Reasons for failure of Communism –
- First, capitalism in the advanced countries softened its hard edges in response to the Communist challenge.
- Second, the industrial proletariat that Marx hoped would be the driving force of historical transformation lost its political clout in economies where services became more important.
- Third, the innate failure of planning agencies to replace the price system as the primary institution of economic coordination amid rapid technological change ensured that Communist countries lost the race for global dominance.
- Fourth, hope of the emergence of a new socialist man driven by political commitment rather than economic incentives such as higher wages or property rights proved to be vacuous.
- Fifth, the totalitarianism of the international Communist movement snuffed out all fresh thinking, and intellectual movements such as the New Left, Eurocommunism and analytical Marxism were treated as heretical.
Relevance of Left Ideology today –
- Any modern society needs a left to articulate the needs of the poorest.
- The liberal consensus that has dominated the world since 1990 is now being challenged by a resurgent nationalism in the developed countries.
- The working class in developed countries has seen its incomes stagnate as industrial jobs were shipped abroad or lost to automation. This working class has veered towards nationalist parties rather than the traditional left to articulate its grievances.
Communism in India –
In India, the left has become a spent force. Its persistent opposition to economic reforms, its failure to grapple with the complexities of caste, its restricted base in pockets of labour aristocracy such as bank unions, its readiness to compromise with Muslim communalism in an attempt to oppose Hindu communalism, its loyalty to Stalinist methods—these are just some of the factors that have sent it hurtling towards irrelevance.
The political philosopher G.A. Cohen used the allegory of a picnic to argue why socialism is desirable. He argued that most people would prefer to go on picnics where everyone shares in a spirit of community rather than one where there is competition. The problem is that what is true of an intimate group of people need not be true of large populations. This is the biggest lesson from Communism after 100 years.