Archive for March 11, 2018

State Communism was Based in Capitalism and Social Conservatism: 1

March 11, 2018 8 comments

A few months ago, I decided to write a short series about how socio-economic problems which plague post-2008 USA are oddly similar to those which brought down ostensibly “communist” countries in the late 1980s. While I did complete and post the first article in that series, a feeling that I was close to uncovering an even deeper basic similarity between the two allegedly different systems made me hold off writing the second part at that time. While I do plan to finish up that one soon, the topic I am going to discuss today is distinct enough to deserves its own separate post or two.

Let me start by making a claim, which might initially sound rather strange to most of you. It is as follows: ‘State Communism, in both, ideology and practice, is just another flavor of Capitalism in combination with a certain kind of social conservatism’. Some will counter by pointing out that state communism didn’t allow official large-scale private ownership of property or money. Others will highlight that countries under state communism were often socially more progressive than their capitalist counterparts. While both are factually correct, neither one addresses the central reasoning behind my claim.

In my opinion, the key to defining capitalism, state communism, socialism or any other ‘-ism’ lies in observing how that ideology functions in real life and what unspoken assumptions are made by its principal practitioners. With that in mind, let me ask you a simple question- Why was the quality of life for the median person living in countries under state communism in eastern Europe always inferior to those in western Europe? While a good portion of blame can be placed on the design of almost all institutions (functional monopolies) in those countries and “professional managers” who ran them into the ground, it is worthwhile to ask ourselves- How, and why, was all of this normalized and “rationalized” by those in power?

In other words, how did those in power within those countries justify their relative inability to provide their citizens with nice apartments, sweet cars and other consumer goodies? To make a long story short, such glaring deficiencies were usually explained away as being the result of “not enough resources” or “other more pressing priorities”. Oddly enough, this is the same reasoning used by politicians and establishment pundits in USA to explain how the “exceptional” country which spend trillions on useless defense related toys somehow cannot afford to provide universal healthcare, inexpensive higher education and a decent social safety net for its citizens.

So how can countries in western Europe continue to provide all of those goodies to their citizens? Also, why were they generally unable to do that before 1945? What changed? Also, why are public services in first-world countries generally of good quality, relatively inexpensive and universally accessible? Well.. the simple answer to most of those questions is that services which are considered and treated as social goods rather than as opportunities to make ever-increasing amounts of monetary profits end up being inexpensive, universally available and of high quality. Conversely, those treated as avenues for the enrichment of a select few end up becoming expensive, scarcer and of lower quality.

But how does any of this work in systems where official accumulation of wealth and property was banned? Under those conditions, shouldn’t all public services be seen as social goods and be therefore universally available and of high quality?

No.. not really, and here is why. Any official ban on private accumulation of property or money has, by itself, little impact on the practice of capitalist ideology. All laws and regulations will be compromised and circumvented by clever crooks- if they are allowed to get away with it. To understand what I am really talking about, we have to first spell out the end goal of capitalism and the ideology beyond it. The end goal of capitalism and many other -isms is to impoverish others by depriving them of resources while simultaneously accumulating resources created by the labor of others for no reason than to deprive those others.

In that respect, the only difference between capitalism and feudalism is that the later uses overt direct force and appeals to tradition and religion, while the later uses the pretense of “liberal enlightenment”, impersonal violence by a “secular” state appeals to the greed of willing idiots. Have you ever noticed that capitalism did not improve the quality of life for the median person in western countries until after WW1. So why did over a hundred years of unbridled capitalism, “free trade” and the industrial revolution have little positive effects on the lives of most people in the “west”? Maybe we should have given it more time? Perhaps it was not “pure enough”?

And this brings us to why the aftermath of WW1 and WW2 witnessed a lot of progressive and sustained improvements in the quality of life. To (once again) make a long story short, both wars and their aftermath destroyed and discredited old institutions, hierarchies and ways of thinking to the point where a lot of the previous status quo was simply unsustainable. It just happened to be the case that ethic nationalism, “free trade” and laissez-faire capitalism was the previous status quo. And that is also why ‘neoliberalism’ (aka recycled liberal capitalism) did not become respectable till the mid-1980s which is almost four decades after the end of WW2.

But, what does any of this have to do with my claim that the ultimate failure of state communism had a lot to do with it being based in capitalist ideology?

Well.. remember how earlier on in this post, I talked about the excuses used by the elite (1%) in countries under state communism to explain their inability to provide enough quality consumer goods to their citizens. You might remember something about how they justified chronic shortages, shoddy products and general deprivation by invoking excuses about “available resources” and “other priorities”. Now tell me, why did they choose excuses that are linked to cost and utility, when the government in those countries was free to create extra money to fund building of new houses, nice apartment blocks, sweet cars and other consumer goodies?

Isn’t that what China did to build up its industrial and consumer base in the last three decades? How could a country like China see the obvious solution and implement it in a manner that eluded all the countries under state communism in eastern Europe? Why did not Russia decide to do something similar in the 1960s and create enough extra money within its border and utilize that to build nice apartments, modern cars and consumer goodies for its citizens? I mean.. they certainly did that for building lots of modern weapons systems and other prestige programs during that time period.

I think that the reason why 1960-ear Russia did not do what 1980-era China did on a large-scale comes down to that counter-intuitive fact that elites in the former believed in capitalism far more than those in the later. The former could not think in ways which violated the sacrosanct beliefs and assumptions of capitalism. The later simply saw capitalism as another make-believe ideology which could be manipulated to facilitate whatever they wanted. And that is why China was able to seamlessly pull off something which the erstwhile USSR failed at, even though it was a far better position to do so.

In the next part, I will write about my thoughts on how the strong urge to enforce conservatism and traditionalism in erstwhile USSR to maintain social harmony and conformity ended up having the reverse effect and contributed to the ultimate failure of state communism in that country.

What do you think? Comments?