What about one-party dictatorship, censorship and free speech?
Communists, like individuals in every other political tendency, have differing views on different issues.
While any state has to respond differently to different situations as they emerge — wartime and conditions of scarcity are bound to be more authoritarian and centralised than libertarian and decentralised, as we are now already experiencing — my general view (although I agree that almost everything in the capitalist media aims to keep its audience as depressed, desensitised, deceived and ‘dumbed down’ as possible) is that censorship tends to aid and inspires opposition and becomes too costly to enforce; and that reactionary views arise primarily from scarce material conditions (which even the richest capitalists are subjected to since their wealth tends to devalue and becomes harder and harder to sustain).
In the past, the counter-revolutionary press has been censored during revolutions for the purpose of self-defence and then increasingly less so as counter-revolutions have waned. How possible censorship actually is in the internet age is obviously difficult to say. Actual disinformation and hate speech are not forms of free speech, of course, but these should be defined as narrowly as possible so as not to create an unnecessary amount of enemies or close down the free exchange of ideas that are necessary to arrive at correct decision-making.
In the long run, we should be confident that we have the best and most persuasive arguments. We do not need to ban books but perhaps write new introductions to future editions pointing out how their content was once used to justify exploitation, racism, etc.
Once in power, we should trust that the key to overcoming reactionary media is to provide better, more enjoyable alternatives that therefore ‘become mainstream’, pushing the reactionary press to the margins that we presently operate in. Ultimately, reactionary and conservative views will wither away as living standards improve in a way that progressively eliminates inequality and socialises and communalises work, child and social care, etc.
The working class is not monolithic and so freedom of speech is important both inside and outside the party. (The party operates with the principle of democratic centralism — criticism and debate before democratic decision-making followed by adherence to the outcome of democratic decisions.) Social policies and budgets should be voted on in democratic referenda. And there should be absolute primacy of the democratic, publicly-elected legislative power over the executive branch of government.
It should be stressed that we already live with widespread censorship, mostly by omission and through the bewildering amounts of disinformation excreted from the capitalist-owned state and press. Reality is pushed to the margins.
On free speech laws, I would more or less keep them as they are — punish hate speech that is likely to incite violence that isn’t self-defence. I would also advocate an independent judiciary, with the rights of claimants and victims balanced. But all this should be decided democratically in a new constitution.
On the party: there are actually multiple parties in Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and parties do not stand in elections, members of parties do. The communist parties, however, are the biggest parties because they represent the largest proportion of the population: the working class. Just as most people find it pointless to join or vote for anyone outside the Republicans or Democrats in the US (or the Conservatives or Labour in the UK) (since the capitalist class is biggest in those countries), most people in communist countries don’t see the point of joining or voting for anyone outside the communist party.
Communists consider socialism to be ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ (as opposed to the dicatorship of capital/the bourgeoisie). But dictatorship in this phrase merely means ‘rule’.
We already live in de facto one party states under capitalism, since all the main parties are parties of capital, merely representing different factions of capital.
Arguably, when the ultimate role of the communist party is to oversee the withering away of the state, there seems little point in having more than one party.
What is communist ideology then?
Capitalist and communist ‘ideology’ flow from their economic-technical bases.
Capitalist production is mechanistic (mechanical mechanisms) and dualistic (a labour process and an accumulation process/use value vs exchange value/owner-producer vs worker-consumer). It therefore produces an ideology that is mechanistic and dualistic. Capitalist ideology sees ‘nature’, for example, as merely a machine for capital accumulation and somehow separate from the ‘I think, therefore I am’ sentient human, for example. The civilised are pitted against ‘the savage’, justifying colonialism. The reproduction of ‘race’ justifies ‘white’ vs ‘black’ notions serving divide and conquer ruling class objectives, and so on.
In contrast, communist production is automated. Automation literally means ‘one/self action’. It enables, by abolishing the particularity of class, the true self-determination of the universality of humanity. Since the socialisation of production and automation ‘heals’ the divides in production — the source of all division in capitalist society — communism’s ideology is therefore holistic and humanistic.
Nature is not separate from humans but, in all its glorious diversity, one, interconnected whole. Humanity is not really made up of races and nations — all humans are 99.9% genetically identical. There are not simply ‘good’ and ‘bad’ germs, but trillions of bacteria and viruses regulating our immune systems in variable environments and contexts. And so on.
Clearly, during the transition between mechanical and automated production — comprising higher capitalism and lower communism — there is some, on the one side, overlap, and, on the other, intensification, of ideologies. So capitalism is increasingly two-faced, increasingly professing humanistic ideals — as production becomes increasingly integrated and scientific theories in general more systematic and holistic and therefore ‘pre-socialist’ — while throwing more and more of the (human) labour force onto the scrapheap of unemployment, starvation and war. At the same time, communist ‘ideology’ — Marxism is really a science — cannot possibly be so holistic as to include ruling class capitalists in its humanistic project (although Marx did predict that a portion of the ruling class would eventually cross over to the side of the proletariat, just as a portion of the feudal nobility crossed over to the side of the then usurping, revolutionary capitalist class).
Similarly, we do not take a ‘colour blind’ approach to race, and so on. We cannot ignore that capital encourages certain prejudices and discriminations to divide and rule the masses and so we have to take into account that certain races and genders generally face more oppression and discrimination than, for example, white men — not to the exclusion of white men, of course — but then women and black people, for example, make up a bigger proportion of workers than they do capitalists. Nor, like liberals, do we weaponise any type of oppression (‘pinkwashing’, for example, to justify capitalist/imperialist goals).
Ultimately we stress the importance of working class unity across genders, races, etc., with the knowledge that differences must be worked out democratically (i.e. through everyone’s actual democratic participation in policy-making) in the short term and through evolutionary demographic shifts over the coming generations.
We may be very divided now but through division grows unity — humans can only tolerate so much division for so long.
What is the communist attitude towards religion and patriotism?
Socialist states will be secular, continuing a trend already long established under capitalism (since the Church lost exclusive control of information as a result of the the printing press revolution). Religion has diminished throughout capitalist history, especially in the richer countries, as production and consumption have become more abundant and economic independence among women and minorities has increased due to capital’s need to cheapen and expand the labour base. (This may reverse somewhat, of course, as capitalist production breaks down.) Religion and superstition will therefore die out in the future of abundant wealth for all. The miracles of the gods are rendered superfluous by the miracles of industry, to paraphrase Marx (1844).
Communists recognise that religion has been used by capitalists to encourage the working masses to seek ‘salvation’ (justice) ‘in the next life’. Marx saw religion as both the ‘opium of the masses’ but also the ‘sigh of the oppressed’ . Communists therefore treat religion as a private matter. Communists can be religious, and in fact this is quite common in the poorer parts of the world where religion has not died out as much.
Those of us who are athiest tend to believe, however — as communists and materialists — that we all live on both in future generations (epigenetics; the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work); and the earth with which we constantly exchange matter (animism, the long held belief among peasant and indiginous communities that all natural phenomena is animated with life, something now known to be true with regards to the interconnectness of all life on earth and the role microbes play in its regulation and evolution).
Communists stress the importance of international solidarity but realise that a Communist International has to be built out of nations; and that national consciousness varies at different times according to different circumstances and levels of development. We support, critically, the rights of oppressed nations — those dominated by the rich, imperialist powers such as the US and Britain — for self-determination, when they fight for independence, even if that national struggle is led by capitalists. (It is also true, however, that such struggles usually only succeed if those nations struggle for socialism, as in the case of Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh, or Cuba, led by Fidel Castro.)
For our attitude towards patriotism in the imperialist nations, let us quote Lenin (who was based in imperialist Russia):
“We are full a sense of national pride, and for that reason we are particularly hate our slavish past (when the nobility led the peasants into war to stifle the freedom of Hundary, Poland, Persia and China), and our slavish present, when these selfsame landed proprietors aided by the capitalists, are loading us into a war in order to throttle Poland and the Ukraine, crush the democratic movement in Persia and China, and strengthen the gang of Romanovs, Bobrinskys and Purishkeviches, who are a disgrace to our Great Russian national dignity. Nobody is to be blamed for being born a slave; but a slave who not only eschews a striving for freedom but justifies and eulogises his slavery (e.g., calls the throttling of Poland and the Ukraine, etc., ‘a defence of the fatherland’ of Great Russians) — such a slave is a lickspittle and a boor, who arouses a legitimate feeling of indignation, contempt, and loathing.
“Is a sense of national pride alien to us, Great-Russian class-conscious proletarians? Certainly not! We love our language and our country, and we are doing our utmost to raise her toiling masses (i.e., nine-tenths of her population) to the level of a democratic and socialist consciousness. To us it is most painful to see and feel the outrages, the oppression and the humiliation our fair country suffers at the hands of the tsar’s butchers, the nobles and the capitalists. We take pride in the resistance to these outrages put up from our midst, from the Great Russians; in that midst having produced Radishchev, the Decembrists and the revolutionary commoners of the seventies; in the Great-Russian working class having created, in 1095, a mighty revolutionary party of the masses; and in the Great-Russian peasanty having begun to turn towards democracy and set about overthrowing the clergy and the landed proprietors.”
The working class has no (stake in the) nation while it is dependent on the capitalist for a wage and subjected to the whims of capitalist dictatorship and the demands of capital accumulation. Internationalism is put before the nation, but we recognise than an Internaitonal is made up of nations with differing cultures, situations and demands.
Were the Nazis socialist?
No. They used the term ‘National Socialism’ to dupe bigoted workers, but they privatised everything and were funded by capitalists (in the US and Britain and elsewhere as well as Germany) who needed a mass party to roll back the huge gains made by the working class in the wake of WWI.
Controversially, Stalin signed a peace pact with Hitler to buy the Soviet Union time to prepare for Nazi invasion after his approach to the US, France and Britain to sign an anti-Nazi pact was rejected. The pact with Hitler was for 10 years but the Nazis broke it after only two.
Is China socialist?
In my view, no, not anymore. China has the same problem as the US and Europe, a massive overaccumulation of capital/debt crisis; a growing housing market and financial bubble; and falling interest rates. It is in a potentially healthier state than the US, but only because its capital is younger/its overaccumulation of capital is relatively smaller than the US.
The Communist Party of China claims to be taking a ‘capitalist road’ to socialism. While it is unsurprising that social democratic liberalisers rose to the top of the party in the face of the US’s monopolisation of raw materials in the surrounding parts of South-East Asia, the only capitalist road to socialism is that of breakdown and barbarism. In 2020 alone, Chinese billionaires reportedly doubled their share of Chinese GDP from 10 to 20%.
Cuba and North Korea are arguably the only two actually socialist countries left, although even they may have been colonised by China to some degree. Again, this is unsurprising given their isolation and need to trade.
What is the communist position towards vaccine mandates, lockdowns and vaccine passports?
Revolutionaries in capitalist countries oppose mandates, ‘lockdowns’ and other forms of isolation (‘social distancing’) — de facto martial law and acute atomisation/enclosure and ‘austerity’ (plundering) — as they serve to increase capital’s power over the masses in the most profound ways, including in terms of employment and privacy rights.
Mandates in capitalist countries heap debt onto the backs of the public to subsidise pharmaceutical capital and therefore cannot be supported as public health measures since they make the masses poorer, which makes people sicker. Instead of wasting time campaigning for ‘vaccine equity’ (when the working class is generally the most ‘vaccine hesitant’ class across the world, particularly in countries suffering from an ongoing history of colonial medical abuse), we are better off redoubling opposition to the accelerating privatisation of health and social care and making demand publicly-owned health and social care (along with the requisite funding), plus universally subsidised nutritious (non-processed/toxic) food and clean drinking water.
Communists certainly should not call for punishing people who decide not to have a covid-19 vaccine. Socialist Cuba has not had a mandate for its covid-19 vaccines and has used traditional vaccinations and therefore avoided the controversy over mRNAs.
Instead of wasting time campaigning for ‘vaccine equity’ (when the working class is generally the most ‘vaccine hesitant’ class across the world, particularly in countries suffering from an ongoing history of colonial medical abuse), we are much better off making tactical demands for universally subsidised nutricious (non-processed, non-toxic) food and well oxygenated, non-toxic drinking water.
Whether vaccine mandates would be introduced under socialism would have to be decided by referenda from country to country. Personally, I would vote against such a policy as mandates violate bodily autonomy and tend to generate opponents, who are made to feel obligated to do something they may have been more likely to do if they had felt free to choose.
Communists also oppose inherently discriminatory vaccine (read domestic) passports, yet another ploy to subsidise capital with public debt, with the added bonus of divide and conquer potential.
In general, we cannot be anything other than highly sceptical of ruling class crisis-hyping narratives that distract from the crisis of capital accumulation per se. To meet the demands of accumulation, the ruling class needs to induce i.e. manufacture increasingly larger crises (production shutdowns) to cheapen labour, production, innovation and mergers, to restore accumulation on a higher level. We must also reject the capitalist state’s pseudoscientific versions of data modelling (having long been used in the field of economics, just as it has — also for a long time now — in the field of ‘disease control’ (to centralise agricultural capital into fewer hands).
How can the masses be convinced to fight for socialism? Won’t revolutions be extremely violent?
Through class struggle. This starts with the capitalist class’s continual attacks on wages (which includes ‘benefits’/social security and pensions), working conditions and living standards increasingly going into overdrive — up to and including sending more and more people to their deaths in wars — along with anything else that eats into profit margins or slows down the centralisation of capital into yet fewer hands (meaning that (violent) competition between capitalists also intensifies, both domestically and internationally). Most of the working class and other oppressed peoples will then be increasingly compelled to fight back just to survive, firstly through protests, strikes, etc.; but, probably once the economy collapses altogether, or to prevent or end wars, by building ‘dual power’ (a national network of workers’ councils (soviets), effectively a competing state).
Every pound/dollar/euro etc. spent on the attacks on democracy, competitors and the working class is one that cannot be put towards capital accumulation, so the capitalist state will eventually exhaust its ability to go on the offensive — the economy will collapse and the state’s ability to buy fuel, or pay and feed its police, soldiers and state officials will dry up. At that point mass defections may become possible (as happened with the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, when even many high-ranking imperial officers defected to the side of the revolution; although many had been promoted from the lower ranks to replace their slain seniors, of course). The greater and swifter the number of defections, the quicker and more peaceful revolutions will be. The Bolsheviks had only 8,000 members just four months before they seized power — anything is possible when the stars of history align.
When this could happen exactly is impossible to say, and there is some chance governments will be able to temporarily fire and rehire police and soldiers on reduced wages to a limited extent once states default on their debt; but there is already a long-term trend in states cutting the numbers of their police and soldiers significantly (CCTV, digital scanning and AI drones are cheaper and therefore eat less into taxes that eat into profits), especially relative to population size, so this trend is likely to accelerate greatly.
Communists have to respond to spontaneous demonstrations etc. by helping to turn them into well organised movements with clear demands and capable of defending themselves. Since most workers are presently pro-capitalist reformists to one degree or another, communists must use the ‘united front from above’ tactic of addressing reformist leaders in calls for joint action in order to most effectively address the rank and file members of reformist parties. By supporting and fighting for reforms that improve the conditions of workers and/or ‘minorities’ (most of whom are working class) or at least limit the brutal and anti-democratic potential of ruling class attacks, communists give themselves the best chance of winning over reformist rank and file by showing the latter that they are the ones willing to fight hardest for their rights and conditions. The more communists do this, the more they will expose the reformist leaderships as capitulators, and the larger their ranks will grow.
It is highly possible that communist parties will need to give critical support to the most ‘left-wing’ social democratic governments without entering them at some point to prove to the people that even this solution cannot resolve the crisis in their favour. (Before even this, many liberal workers are likely to defect to social democratic parties; and then both will defect to communist parties.)
(The united front ‘from below’, where reformist leaders are not addressed, has always had far less success. Recommended reading: The Lost Revolution by Chris Harman.)
As outlined above, communist parties should also keep decent compensation packages on the table for expropriations of the last capitalists (most will have gone bust by then, anyway), and allow them to keep their houses in order to minimise conflict as much as possible. Given that communism will build abundant material wealth for all, confiscating personal property would be a waste of time and effort. Another way of minimising conflict as much as possible will be through truth and reconciliation amnesties and rehabilitation programmes.
There is no such thing as a pure revolution. Given the reckless viciousness of the capitalist class — see what they have done just recently to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, for example — and the general lack of understanding about the approaching historical situation, protracted wars, although preferably avoidable, certainly cannot be ruled out.
Because of the bind capital is now in, the ruling class will try to prevent or limit high/hyperinflation by curtailing demand — that is, by slashing capital’s overall outlay on wages, welfare and public services. This cannot be done by simply cutting production, since this effectively raises demand per unit produced and therefore prices — although this is, of course, a limited option, since inflation has the advantage of centralising capital into fewer hands and torching wages, debt and taxes. That means the capitalist class must pursue an intertwined strategy of, on the one hand, justifying publicly/tax-funded enforced (at least through manipulation) consumption (since capital needs to increase the number of commodities it makes and sells and increasingly via state contracts); and, on the other, increasingly immiserating and culling the masses (through as deceptive and ‘gentle’ means as it can possibly manage, of course — see, for example, ‘austerity’). This is a recipe for state medical abuse on an even — much greater — scale than, for example, the US opioid epidemic.
The ruling class will resort to all sorts of ‘psycological operations’ such as manufacturing the perception of spikes in violent crime in order to create a public clamour for handing the (capitalist) state more power at the expense of civil rights and liberties; and to justify de facto segregation and martial law for the purposes of divide and rule in anticipation of mass revolt.
Capitalists will likely start to resort to commodifying the human body (on a much greater scale) — human trafficking, chattel slavery, concentration camps, etc. This will fail for the same reasons as in Nazi Germany: the resistance and lethargy of slaves makes them very unproductive; and the costs of transporting, housing and exterminating slaves becomes the opposite of profitable. The market for selling slaves is also very limited — slavery can only serve to centralise capital into yet fewer hands.
Capitalists also use the destruction of war to create new profitable opportunities. Hence the post-WWII productivity boom — it was only the destruction of WWII that ended the Great Depression.
This option is increasingly unlikely to work, however, since the building back process would be done with the same, increasingly advanced contemporary technology — which would be accelerated by the capitalist state through the arms race — that produced the crisis in the first place. (Production by the state is cheaper as this removes the burden of upfront costs from capital. Most innovation has long been done by the state for this reason. The risk is socialised, the reward privatised.)
Given that the working class is now billions of times stronger than it was a mere century ago, the relatively dwindling capitalist class will at some point ‘bite off more than it can chew’. Once the masses, in sufficient numbers, find the courage and gumption to unite, fight and commit to winning, they will win. But people tend not to be radicalised en masse until they have experienced the violence and oppression inflicted by the ruling class en masse to a particularly intense degree.
So a world war is a real threat, a really increasingly likely possibility?
Afraid so. I’ve written about why capital accumulation is increasingly dependent on warmongering in a bit more detail in a separate post.
Ted Reese is the author of: Socialism or Extinction: Climate, Automation and War in the Final Capitalist Breakdown | Humanising Production: The Second (Not Fourth) Industrial Revolution and The Bio-Economic Necessity of Socialism | The End of Capitalism: The Thought of Henryk Grossman (out May 2022). linktr.ee/grossmanite