A Brief Evaluation of Communist Ideology

The core idea of communism has influenced many scholars, philosophers, writers, and intellectuals throughout the twentieth century. From the beginnings of the Marxist/Communist ideal from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, to American writers like John Steinbeck, the impact of a utopian mindset has been the subject of many confrontations, debates, and ideas. To say that communism is a perfect notion to try for or say outright that communism is inherently evil, the true nature and description of communism becomes lost. Therefore, I will try in no small measure to outline exactly what communism entails, how scholars and intellectuals become intrigued by the thought of it, and whether we can see it as a solution or menace to our society.

Various Communist Symbols

 First, we must lay communism out in its purest, idealistic form. This is the only way we can understand how the thought of it has shaped the minds of those who study it. The idea of Marxism was born through the intellectual minds of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels during their time in France and then in Brussels, where Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848. The central philosophies, if we can truly call them that, in the Communist Manifesto were a mixture of German philosophy, the political theories of the French, and British economics.1 Marx drew many of his philosophical ideas specifically from George W. F. Hegel. Marx identified his own area of philosophy as “dialectical materialism” or “historical materialism”. He believed political and historical events directly resulted from social impact and he saw them as a series of contradictions and solutions. This conflict, he said, resulted from material needs. According to Marx and Engels, everything in the world was in the process of becoming and ceasing to be, nothing remaining permanent2. Marx saw the Industrialist Capitalist society as one day falling to a conflict-free society no longer controlled by the bourgeoisie (ruling class). The core of Marxist ideals were that goods and means of production would be in the hands of the working class. Karl Marx saw his ideas as absolute certainty and scientific rather than merely opinion.

The notion that working-class citizens could be in control of their own fate and destiny makes Marxism so appealing, at least in theory, in today’s world. It drew intellectuals throughout the 20th century to the idea of Marxism because it has an almost religious quality to it. It instills a form of human hope that we can reach wondrous achievements by banding together for the betterment of all peoples. The slogan of the communist society is in fact, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.3 Imagine a world in which everything remained truly equal and misery was almost non existent. You would then, at once, be correct in assuming that it is too good to be true. This unachievable utopia is a fixed point which many have sought after, either to understand or implement.

While Marxism delights in its grandeur of a perfect society, it has remained a failed endeavor that is unattainable in this world. Political leaders like Stalin and Mao have attempted to take the idea of Marxism and implement it onto the political spectrum. The result of these Communist movements has not given individuals power or prosperity. Instead, it has crippled them with poverty and tyranny. The failure of statewide implementation of Communism has not swayed artistic minds away from the notion, though. As far back as Ancient Greece, the idea of a utopian society has inspired intellectuals, philosophers, and artists alike. In The Republic, Plato mentions the idea of a theoretical ideal utopia. Marx and Engel’s perfect society was nothing new to the philosophical conversation. By incorporating science and modernization, they increased the appeal that achieving such an idea may be possible. We often refer to this type of merging of scientific principles to human behavior as dialectical materialism, the type of principle envisioned by Karl Marx. Czeslaw Milosz discusses the idea of dialectical materialism in many facets throughout the course of The Captive Mind. He describes dialectical materialism, when used by the Russians, as “nineteenth century science vulgarized to the second power. It gives the illusion of full knowledge; it supplies answers to all questions, answers which merely run around in a circle repeating a few formulas”.4 This perversion of both science and the history it attempts to analyze creates a foundational framework with which to build Communist ideas upon.

Yet another aspect of Communism is its appeal to a broad variety of social classes. In Masters of Deceit, former F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover listed “fellow traveler” as one of the five types of subversives he believed could promote an overthrow of the United States government by the Communist Party.5 The five types of subversives that he discussed were the card-carrying Communist, the underground Communist, the Communist sympathizer, the fellow traveler, and the dupe. We can describe the card-carrying Communist as one who openly supports the Communist Party. An underground Communist would be one who is subversive in their ideas and hides their affiliation with the Communist Party from the public. The Communist sympathizer is someone who may be a potential Communist due to holding Communist views. A fellow traveler simply agrees with some views of Communism, but is not a Communist or a Communist advocate. Even those who did not openly support Communism in the Soviet Union were sometimes sympathetic to the party idea. This type of person is a “fellow traveler” to the Communist Party.

Last, the dupe is a person who is a puppet for the Communist party. They are not supporters of Communism, but they can use their views to further the agenda of Communism. An example of this would be a preacher who calls for peace and prosperity. Although this is not necessarily a strictly Communist idea, the person’s views can be used to promote Communism. Again, Czeslaw Milosz addresses this issue with his portrayal of Delta, the Troubadour. He describes Delta as a poet who sparked controversy with his publications in magazines, and they saw his poems as propaganda. Those who were serious supporters of the Marxist movement saw him as a nuisance and questioned why the Communist Party would even tolerate a man like him in a Marxist society. The Communist Party needed men like Delta, and he was useful to their agenda. Milosz describes the work of Delta as helping to create an atmosphere of patriotism, and his work showed a façade that even rightists and Catholics had joined forces with the government.6 He was necessary to create the illusion of mass support for the Communist Party.

 Thus, the Communist Party was adept at using all the subversives to push the agenda of the Communist party. Whether or not intentional, all the different types of Communism and Communist supporters can have long-lasting effects that ripple throughout any society. The appeal of peace and prosperity for the working class has helped to increase the stronghold of Communism in certain countries throughout the world. Despite the stigma against Communist ideals, younger generations are turning to the Communist Party in Russia. Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party has been slowly losing traction in Russia. Many youths in Russia feel that the idealistic views of the Communist Party would better serve everyone. The United Russia Party has seen a fall in support from 64 percent to 49.5 percent from 2007 to 2011.7

The idea of Communism as a type of saving grace has often catapulted people into dangerous territory, and it is no different in the modern generation of this century. The adage is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Communism may appeal to some, but it is necessary to ask ourselves the cost of idealizing the core tenants of socialism that often lead to untethered Communism. There are no quick answers and there is no simple way out of the various slumps created by socio-economic or political problems in this world. However appealing the idea of Communism, we must understand that once controlled by a state political party, the idea becomes perverted and dangerous to freedom and prosperity. The idea of Communism offers the illusion of protection from the harsh realities of the world that lurk upon our doorstep. Generations now and past have struggled with how to combat the idea of Marxism and Communism. For all the strategies used to combat an idea, though, it seems the monster created by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels may be here for the long haul. Our society must now instill the principles of critical thinking and analysis so that the youth may peel away the false glory of Communism in order to see its true face. The path ahead may be dark, but it is not void of hope.

  1. Bryan Magee, “Marx,” in The Story of Philosophy (New York: DK Pub, 1998), 164.
  2. John McCarthy, “What Was Attractive About Marxism? (10-May-2005),” Formal Reasoning Group, last modified August 25, 1997, http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/marxism2.html.
  3. “Dialectical Materialism | Philosophy | Britannica.com,” Encyclopedia Britannica, last modified January 27, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/topic/dialectical-materialism.
  4. Czesław Miłosz, “Man, This Enemy,” in The Captive Mind (New York: Knopf, 1953), 200-201.
  5. J. Edgar Hoover, Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It ([Whitefish, Mont.]: Kessinger Publishing, 2005), 43-44.
  6. Miłosz, “Delta, the Troubadour,” 1.
  7. Alissa M. Carbonnel, “Russian Communists Win Support As Putin Party Fades,” Reuters, last modified December 5, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-election-communists-idUSTRE7B40KL20111205#lBqUwW4PgGPZR25E.97.

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