What’s in a name? That which we call Communism, by any other name, would be suppressed just the same.

 

“Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!”  With these words Karl Marx perhaps summarized best what Communism is, succinctly expressing the goals of the communist movement. While Communism is an older and much broader movement than the work of Marx and his followers alone, we are all none the less united around the central idea that our shared productive capacity should be directed towards the common wealth and that each person should have the opportunity to maximize their ability and potential, and to contribute accordingly.

This stands in stark contrast of what might be described as “From each according to their privilege, to each according to there usefulness to the privileged,” otherwise known as “Capitalism” Where a privileged elite produce nothing, yet control the distribution of all wealth and direct our shared productive capacity towards their own enrichment, while everybody else produces everything, yet receives only as much as the privileged give them, according to their usefulness to the privileged, and only infrequently any more than their own subsistence or replacement costs.

Given the choice between a society that allows everyone the chance to develop to their full potential and a society where opportunity is determined by class structure and privilege, in other words a choice between Communism and Capitalism, who would chose Capitalism?

Given the choice between a society that directs its productive capacity towards creating real social value and building common wealth and a society that directs its productive capacity towards the enrichment of the few, in other words a choice between Communism and Capitalism, who wouldn’t want to work towards Communism?

Yet, few people today openly identify as Communists, many even believe that using this word somehow works against them, as if the elite who will resist all efforts to reduce their privilege will somehow be caught off-guard and be tricked into a more equal society if we just outsmart them with some clever new terms.

To paraphrase Juliette, What’s in a name? That which we call Communism, by any other name, would be suppressed just the same.

The fact is that any proposal that seeks to create more equality will be automatically called “Communism” by reactionary forces who who have invested considerable wealth and effort trying to sully the term.

A similar discussion has taken place among members of the Pirate Party. As Rick Falkvinge reports from the the discussion in founding the Spanish Partido Pirata “Either we call ourselves the Pirate Party, and get to define what the name stands for, they reasoned, or we’ll be called the Pirate Party anyway, without control of what the name stands for.”

Those who wish to preserve the privilege of the elite will call us Communists no matter what. If we are timid about being called Communists, and try to shy away from the name, all that will do is strengthen the attacks against us, it will make it seem like being a Communist is somehow shameful, something to be denied, something to hide. It will make it seem that we call ourselves something other than Communists only to keep people from knowing the truth about our sinister Communism.

As in the discussion that Falkvinge reports, we thereby relinquish the ability to define what Communism means, and what it means to be a Communist. We also let our accusers off the hook. By pretending not to be Communists, we allow them to never explain what it is they think is wrong with Communism and why it’s a bad thing. By pretending we are not Communists, we allow them to effectively employ a guilt-by-association fallacy to discredit us as Communists without ever needing to make a logical argument against our views.

We should be under no delusion, the same propagandists that have made communism a bad word in many uninformed minds, will do likewise to any new terms that seek to deny privilege and power to the elite. This is clearly evident in how the words “welfare” and even “liberal” have become terms of derision in US politics, for instance. This is also brought to the level of absurdity when right-wing commentators label even the most timid parliamentarian reformists as “Communists.” Such fallacy is displayed at it’s most vulgar with common feminist-baiting trolls likes “feminism is just Communism in drag.” We have all seen plenty of this.

By saying “Yes, I am a Communist.”, we turn the tables. Not only that, we open the door to a far more interesting and rich discussion, a discussion that is made unnecessarily shallow when we hide our Communism behind neologisms. Communists have been producing theory for hundreds of years, a rich stock of insight where many core questions have been investigated, disputed, and a wide variety of tactics, tendencies and views have emerged, including Marxian, anarchist and co-operative tendencies, which each having quite different views on how communism is to be achieved. Views we do well to consider and contrast.

To be Communist simply means that you believe in equality, that you do not believe that a society that allows one class of people to exploit another is the best that we can achieve, and therefore, that you believe that democracy and equality must be respected in all human relations, not only in government, but also in economic and domestic life as well.

Communists believe we are equals politically, equals in the workplace, and equals in the home.

Communism has never been achieved. So we do not yet know what a Communist society would look like in detail. Even the leaders of so-called Communist countries such as the USSR or China have never claimed to have achieved Communism. They have only claimed to be working towards it. And yet, this is perhaps the most common reason cited to avoid the use of Communism, because many of the attempts to realize it have gone wrong, have failed, and have even produced results directly contradictory to the aims of Communism.

Far from being a reason to avoid it, the mistakes and failures of the past are perhaps the strongest reason why we should continue to use the word. We know that attempts to achieve Communism could lead to negative consequences.

When we pretend that the ideas being explored are wholly new, when we employ neologisms and we make-believe that we have escaped from the political realities faced by those before us, when we allow ourselves the hubris to believe that our own theories and models are so new and novel that they do not have the same limits and risks of those of the previous revolutionaries, we invite failure and disaster.

When we use the word Communism, we do so without delusion, we already know it can go wrong. Thus we can learn from, and build upon the mistakes and failures of the past. Any idea can go wrong, any course of action, no matter how noble its ideals, can lead to unintended consequences. Simply using a different term does not protect us.

Instead of clouding the discussion with neologistic delusion, lets acknowledge the history and embrace the future of Communism. To appropriate the reasoning of the founders of the Partido Pirata, let us call ourselves Communists, and define what the name stands for, otherwise we’ll be called Communists anyway, and give up control of what Communism means.

If you believe in working towards a society where everyone is treated as an equal, an equal under the law, an equal in the workplace and an equal in the home. If you believe in working towards a society where the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all. If you believe in working towards a society that applies it’s wealth to empower the many and not only to enrich the few, join me in standing up and saying “Yes, I am a Communist” and lets work out what that means together.

I’ll be Stammtisch tonight as usual at 9pm or so. See you at Cafe Buchhandlung. Aparently, it’s a Fasching party at Cafe Buchhandlung! Wear a costume if you’re up for it.

- http://bit.ly/buchhandlung

 

 

10 comments

  1. brandendebloem

    I agree with you that saying you’re not a communist will limit you, because a rich source of knowledge would not be at your disposal (even though I only get glimpses of it through you).

    But ….

    From a communication point of view, wouldn’t a term like “equalist” say what it is about much faster. There is something to say for speedy messages these days. Also I think that others will have a hard time disgracing something derived from equality. It’s like freedom, you can’t go wrong with it ;)
    Seriously. Even when you don’t reach your goals it will be clearer what those goals were, and where you failed in, than with communism. In my opinion.

    Still love your work! Thank you for keeping it up!

  2. Dmytri

    Hey, even “equalism” can be attacked, and attempts to implement “equalism” can also lead to negative consequences, ignoring negative outcomes from attempts made towards communism by pretending “equalism” is different may make repeating those outcomes more likely , plus “equalism” has no rich history of theory and practice to draw on.

  3. ChaTo

    I enjoyed reading your insightful article, as usual. I have two comments:

    0. There are many aspects of Free Culture, e.g. intellectual property rights as barriers to free competition, that I think are compelling to the political right. The entertainment lobby is deeply tied to the political center-left and influenced by it. The traditional left considers digital rights, and to a large extent, environmental issues, as bourgeois problems. Hence, the communist identity can alienate some allies that we need.

    1. I think in communism, the practice of redistributing existing wealth is one of the most problematic aspects: “We cannot make meaningful redistribution fast enough to retain momentum politically without applying levels of coercion or violence which will destroy what we are attempting.” [*] In Free Culture, redistribution is feasible because it does not involve coercion and digital goods are non-rival. Hence, in practice it is quite different from communism.

  4. Dmytri

    Hey ChaTo, thanks for you comments.

    1/ Actually the political right is not in favour of competition, they wish to “conserve” the privilege of the elite, but in any case I agree that there is common ground for co-operation, but more in the area of free software, which lowers capital costs. In any case, if pursuing such co-operation requires us to limit ourselves to language and goals that are approved by them, then such co-operation is not worth it, since it would undermine our real goals in the end in the name of some superficial common cause.

    2/ There are plenty of different views among Communists on the distribution of existing wealth, appropriation, etc, as there are quite a number of different views on how communism can be achieved. Hence, what you are referring is not difference between “free culture” and communism, rather differences among communists, free culture can only exists within communism, as I’ve argued numerous times.

  5. Arslan Amirkhanov

    Good points here. It kind of reminds me of how these Trotskyists run around saying, “Oh the USSR and all those other countries weren’t socialist, they were STALINIST! None of those countries have anything to do with REAL Communism.” Aside from the many logical and historical errors in this thinking, what these dupes don’t realize is that according to mainstream bourgeois theory, ANY attempt to build socialism will lead to a “Stalin”(not a real, historical Stalin, but rather the mythological demon Stalin). When have you ever seen an anti-Communist author praise the USSR under Khruschev, or Tito’s Yugoslavia, as though there were some kind of acceptable form of Communism from the perspective of the bourgeoisie?

    Or try reading Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. Nowhere does he say that had Trotsky been in charge, all the arguments contained within the book would be invalid. Bourgeois theory dictates that Communism and socialism are against “human nature”, and that any attempt to move away from a market-dominated society will inevitably lead to “totalitarianism.”

    I have also never seen an anti-Communist say, “Wait, you’re a follower of the 4th International?! DAMN! Now all my arguments are invalid!

    Lastly, if more than a dozen nominally socialist revolutions could take place without establishing real socialism anywhere(according to Trots), then the bourgeois claim about human nature and Communism being impossible would sound pretty damned logical. Don’t expect any Trots to figure this out though. For them it’s all about loyalty to “principle” and not opportunism or kow-towing to mainstream liberals.

  6. Poor Richard

    IMO wanting to impose your own definitions on communism and capitalism is like wanting to impose your own definition on religion or love. The ambiguity of generic labels is a common source of confusion and obfuscation. As soon as you depart two steps of abstraction from “Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!” you are in the weeds, and what you wind up defending maybe isn’t worth defending. As you said, even “equalism” can be attacked, and perhaps rightly so. So how about sticking with “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” and “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Those two sentences alone might golden rule the world.

  7. Dmytri

    Hey Richard, I am using the terms according to there classical usage, and not redefining either. I’m not sure what you are saying here.

  8. Poor Richard

    Dmytri, sorry if I wasn’t clear. Here’s a longer version of the argument I posted in the P2P Facebook group:

    Peers come in many sizes, colors, religions, and political persuasions. None of those things make us peers nor exclude us from being peers. Why should we debate them here? [meaning the P2P group]

    IMO trying to impose our own definitions on words like communism, socialism, capitalism, anarchism, etc. is like trying to impose our own definitions on religion or love. It may be useful or sometimes necessary that we do so as individuals, but our individual results seldom communicate very broadly, especially when we appropriate such old or generic labels for our own subjective ideas.

    Individuals who are attached to labels often believe their own interpretations have the weight of history behind them. Even if it were partially true, they might have the weight of history behind them about like the Palestinians do (i.e., a fat lot of good it will do them).

    IMO the “true” definitions of communism, capitalism, etc. are LOST – not Lost in Space perhaps, but lost in the Time Tunnel or “OUT THERE” as in the X-Files (old US scifi tv shows). Objectively we can’t say the original versions are the “true” forms anymore than we can say the latest versions (or anything in between) are the true forms. The waters of these words are too muddy, too polluted, to swim and fish in anymore, much less to drink from.

    Words like communism, capitalism, etc. belong to an entirely different class of language than “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” The former are academic or intellectual jargon words and the latter is plain, people’s language–the COMMON language. The meanings of that sentence of common language has not changed perceptibly since it was first uttered. OK, some implicit associations with various common words change somewhat histori-culturally; but it doesn’t matter because they change unconsciously and fairly uniformly across whole populations, so very little confusion occurs among cultural contemporaries. The opposite is true of jargon. Jargon seldom has any broad consensus of meaning across class and educational strata, or even within strata, at any point in time. Jargon is only useful within relatively small and coherent groups of contemporary peers.

    The ambiguity, multiplicity of interpretation, and historical baggage of generic labels and jargon is a common source of confusion and dispute among peers. As soon as we take one step of abstraction away from “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” and refer to it as communism we are in the weeds, and what we end up defending probably isn’t worth defending.

    How can we de-emphasize labels and jargon? What if we try expressing ideas about the conduct of peers in a more plain, primal, common kind of language like “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” and “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

    Those two sentences, by themselves, might “golden rule the world*.”

    The Golden Rule is the simplest expression of two primal axioms of sociality, empathy and reciprocity. That is the whole foundation of what we call justice and morality. All the volumes written on justice and morality over the ages almost seem to obfuscate those issues when measured directly alongside the Golden Rule.

    A more extensive argument against ideological terminology is here: Analyzing mixed socio-economic systems

  9. Pingback: Cognitive Dissonance Among Liberals and Radicals « @dmytri - Venture Communist

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