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.