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Tired Old Anti-Communism

For those of us who call ourselves "communist" the problem of failed communist led revolutions, most notably Russia and China, is always something we have to confront.  Or, more accurately, this false dilemma is always something we are forced to confront––raised by those who feel they have some special insight about ideology and history, and that they've caught us in a problem we've never bothered to think about until they brought it to our attention.  It's like they imagine that we crawled out of the end of the nineteenth century and have never heard that the two great world-shaking revolutions failed to establish world communism: "communism was already tried, haven't you heard, and it clearly doesn't work because: [insert some empty platitude, most probably that idiot Winston Churchill aphorism, here]."

To be fair, some self-proclaimed communists have crawled out of the end of the nineteenth century or, at the very least, the beginning of the twentieth.  Missionary marxist sects like the International Bolshevik Tendency or the Spartacists are a symptom of antiquated communism.  More recently the entryist group Fight Back has demonstrating this outdated communism with their Second International politics.  Clearly these communists should be reminded that the great communist movements of the 20th century failed, and then should be forced to study the reasons for this failure (and no it was not because the Soviets or Chinese didn't listen to Trotsky).

I do believe that it is important for those of us who call ourselves "communist" to critically interrogate the failures behind communist revolutions and to not dogmatically apologize for the mistakes, and sometimes serious errors, made by communist parties.  At the same time, however, it is also important for those of us who claim to be historical materialists to interrogate this history in a properly critical and scientific manner rather than brainlessly accept the typical dismissals of communism that, especially in North America, are products of Cold War ideology.

Personally I am now of the opinion that we communists need to stop beating ourselves up over the movement's failures because all we end up doing is apologizing to people who don't really care about understanding what communism means in the first place––and who really know nothing about the history of the movements they're denouncing––and catering to anti-communist ideology.  Why should we have to "apologize" for atrocities that most historians agree never happened, the statistics of which come from dubious sources like Arthur Koestler and Richard Dulles?  Or why should we have to apologize to our anarchists allies about the supposed authoritarianism of "the vanguard party" when it is  usually the case that anarchists have no idea what the vanguard party is and, in any case, have never pulled off a successful revolution in the first place.

Being critical of the failures of the two world historical communist revolutions is important but it is also important to emphasize WHY they were world historical.  To point out that, despite all the problems of the Soviet Union, we should be suspicious of the anti-Soviet propaganda that was most heightened during the 1950s and 1960s and was produced by an America that believed in racial segregation and was trying to smash the Civil Rights movement.  We have to remember that when Black Americans travelled to the Soviet Union (and later China) many of them felt, for the first time, that they were in a context that treated them as human.  Black Panther leader Huey Newton, for example, spoke of his experience of revolutionary China as a "sensation of freedom––as if a great weight had been lifted from my soul and I was able to be myself, without defense or pretense or the need for explanation.  I felt absolutely free for the first time in my life."  Before Newton, New Afrikan radicals and artists such as W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson spoke of similar experiences in the Soviet Union.

And yet, regardless of how these two communist-led nations were once perceived by some of the most oppressed in American society during their existence, the default position in North America is to uncritically side with the propaganda that was produced by those forces who thought that both communism and racial integration (not to mention gender equality) were "against human nature."  Clearly the failure of actually existing communist movements has made it easier to accept the argument against communism and ignore its reactionary source.  But simply because something failed does not logically mean that we should accept the current state of affairs as "natural" and the "end of history"––Alain Badiou once pointed out that if we used that logic in math or science (he speaks of a mathematical theorem that took over three centuries to solve) then we would get nowhere.

Even still, I am shocked by how easy it is for people with no concrete understanding of history (or willingness to have a concrete understanding of history) believe they are experts on the failure of communism.  Most recently I encountered this mindless anti-communist ideology in a novel where, at least in my opinion, discussions of communism and capitalism did not belong.  I mean, it was a bloody urban fantasy novel about gods and demons––the kind of light and entertaining reading that was supposed to be a distraction from my usual dry academic fare.  (Yes I am prone to nerdiness and yes this entry was prompted by my complaints about this book.)  I really hate it when my enjoyment of fiction is ruined by an author's idiotic grasp on politics and history.  It has happened before, and I have even stopped reading a book that I initially liked because the author decided s/he was an expert on an historical event that s/he really had no business commenting on in the first place.

All That Lives Must Die by Eric Nylund, the second book of the "Mortal Coils" series, should in no way speak authoritatively about communism and its failures.  And yet, around two hundred pages to the end, I encountered this gem of banal wisdom: "the Colonel had all those nasty habits––suppression of free speech––communism––a taste for women a tad too young."  So communism automatically means, as we were first informed by American apparatchiks who were also telling us that racial segregation and patriarchy were good things, the suppression of free speech and statutory rape.  (The latter, I suspect, comes from the unsubstantiated and orientalist historical myth, most recently reinvigorated by Chang and Halliday, that Mao Zedong had a harem.)  Then the author, through the authority of his character (who is a god so must know everything), goes on to inform us that "communism… has never worked amongst mortals."

I should point out that Nylund's insights are in a context where a communist dictator is being overthrown in a coup d'etat in some unnamed Latin American country.  The forces overthrowing this dictator are referred to as “revolutionary” and are sponsored by the supposedly “good” gods (this is a fantasy novel, sorry!).  What makes them revolutionary is apparently that they’re anti-communist and that means––and this is so typical of North American ideological discourse––automatically democratic.  Really what the confused author is saying is that these forces are capitalist and that capitalism is the end of history: the most naive, uncritical, and boring belief in the world today.  If I was a minstrel singing songs in the glory days of west European feudalism perhaps I would be writing odes to the eternal nature of feudalism!

Rather than picking apart this author’s unoriginal views about the natural order of capitalism (I have done so elsewhere and, really, Nylund is not an academic authority - when he’s not writing semi-remarkable urban fantasy he is writing unremarkable novels about the XBox game “Halo”) I want to use this as an example of how anti-communist ideology supports despicable activities in the real world.  Earlier I mentioned how the most popular anti-communist ideology emerged in a context of brutal capitalist/colonialist oppression and was used, in part, to justify this oppression.  Anti-communist rhetoric (and pro-capitalist rhetoric in general) still serves the same purpose today.  The fact that Nylund contextualizes his moronic epiphanies about communism within a fictional and “democratic” coup d’etat is reprehensible in light of the very recent US-backed coups in Honduras and Haiti––or in light of the coup that a lot of American hawks want to see happen in Venezuela.  And these were definitely NOT democratic coups, though they liked to pretend they were.

Every time I encounter this anti-communist ideology in novels (it happens more frequently than I would like: why Melinda Snodgrass, oh why did you have to ruin your book with your reification of welfare capitalism?) I find that it is used in contexts that mirror the activities of the US state in our world.  In fact, all of the authors who trot out this tired anti-communism tend to be American: it really is an important American past time, I suppose, to be anti-communist.  Much more so than in Canada where communism is less maligned and more eclipsed by social democratic reformism or and inchoate anarchistic anti-capitalism.  Much more so than in Europe where communist parties still possess a mainstream cache.  And far, far more so in the peripheries of global imperialism where communism is still considered a viable alternative by the most wretched of the earth who do not take the American-centric anti-communist  ideology seriously.

So if the majority of the world's population does not necessarily believe the anti-communism produced by American ideologues, why should we have to take it that seriously?  Why do these [North] American exceptionalists believe that their supposedly "profound" views about communism constitute reality?  Oh, I know why: because they think that their views about EVERYTHING constitute reality and "the American way"––the way that has meant and still means the annihilation for the majority of people living on this planet––is the epitome of freedom and everything good in the world.

In some ways it is heartening––what with the degeneration and subsequent fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Chinese communism after Mao––that these American exceptionalists are trotting out tired anti-communist cliches in their novels.  Maybe it is a good thing because it demonstrates that, despite the failures of the Soviet Union and Revolutionary China, the American ruling class still considers communism a threat and that is why anti-communist ideology is continuously fostered.  I haven’t really encountered many of these novels that spout anti-anarchist ideology, after all.


  1. Oh My God! I just posted on my bf's FB page a rant on the scapegoating of USSR and China as being demonstrative that socialism = dictatorship = mass deaths and suffering!!! I'm reading your post now, but I wish this popped up 6 hours ago when I was writing my rant. I could've just linked your latest fact, I might do that right now! :)

  2. Must be something in the air... I'm sure your rant was just as good as this rant, though, if not better.

  3. Of all your blog posts, the ones I find myself returning to most often to those discussing the subject of anti-communism. It's not just that these posts bypass the usual tired debates among Marxists (Stalin vs. Trotsky, etc.). They also perfectly express my feelings whenever I've spent a long time arguing my perspective to someone who responds with the exact kind of thoughtless, kneejerk anti-communism you describe.

    By arguing a pro-communist viewpoint, one is by definition swimming against the stream. For me, this has been particularly the case in recent weeks as I've found myself defending Stalin in numerous conversations. Thing is, the people I'm talking to don't even need to have good arguments. "Yeah, but didn't Stalin kill millions of people?" It doesn't matter that they can't explain where those numbers come from, or that they know comparatively little about Soviet history. Their work has been done for them by the education system, the media, politicians, etc. -- all of whom are constantly telling them about "failed communism", equating Stalin and Mao with Hitler, and so on -- to the point where anti-communism is seen as simply "common sense." It's a demoralizing lesson in the power of cultural hegemony. :-(

    1. Thank-you. I forgot about this old post.


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