Mr. Lenin’s Democracy (updated 04-14-2016)
They were freedom fighters, and revolution became synonymous with them. But decades later, they became nightmarish regimes that terrified the imagination and subjugated millions. Dystopia and totalitarianism became synonymous with them. What happened? Why did they turn from a beacon of light to the monsters of contemporary times? With this, I present the second installment of my series “Searching for Democracy”
UPDATE 04-14-2016: So somehow I took a look at this article, and saw the bias seeping from it. It wasn’t objected. It wasn’t even coherently organized. I noted that I rewrote Fatal Flaw of Western Democracies in 2012, so it stands to reason that this needed updating to. And a lot of remapping of ideas. I took long enough.
They began as liberators. The American democracy was unmasked as an “imperialist”, “capitalist” dictatorship that ruled over colonies of subjugated cultures, and they became the heroic resistance. They were freedom fighters, and revolution became synonymous with them. But decades later, they became nightmarish regimes that terrified the imagination and subjugated millions. Dystopia and totalitarian became synonymous with them.
What happened? Why did they turn from a beacon of light to the monsters of contemporary times? How did they fail? Or more importantly, did we see them the wrong way? This rewrite seeks to address the mistakes in perception we have of Communism, and hopes to explain as plain as possible its nature and its flaws.
Communism and Democracy have the same ancestors
The first mistake that both the Socialists and the Capitalists make is to pit their respective ideologies as complete polar opposites of each other. The truth, however, actually supports Communist narrative: Communism came from the same progenitor as Western democracy. There were no seeds planted for a socialist utopia in Asia, Africa or the Americas. The kingdoms in those lands were monarchic, theistic and dynastic in character. The first actual Communist experiment could be traced to ancient Greece, when some city-states practiced ideals communal in character.
Modern socialism has its roots in the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution—the same ideological circles that came up with modern Western democracy. Significant to the discourse was the attack on the “decadent” and “outdated” institutions that held a “choking grip” on the populace: along with the absolutist monarchs, there was the established Church, the aristocracy, and the social institutions “propped up” by the absolutists to maintain control of a revering populace. Before Communism was Communism, it had the same liberal ideologies as the Democratists: oppose the conservative monarchies and the monarchic/conservative institutions that defined the establishment.
The revolutionists looked to the models of the American and the French Revolution for their inspiration: two states that were victorious enough that they could propagate their liberal ideology. And that ideology involved the upturning of all the conservative institutions that represented the establishment: this included the monarchy, the landed clergy and the nobility. But whereas the Americans retained their colonial sentiments and applied liberal concepts moderately, the French stuck to their radical aims and attempted to abolish these institutional enemies. The conservatives found unlikely allies: the same populace that helped the liberals to power saw the reality the liberals wanted to enforce. Napoleon was the ultimate antithesis of the liberal ideal, the conservative solution that would have adopted liberal ideas while retaining the conservative institutions the state was founded in.
Though the final divorce between the Democratists and the Socialists was 1848, it was in the American and French Revolutions where the two ideologies diverged paths. The American model created the modern Democratic institution (which as previously discussed had its own fatal flaw) and the French Revolutionary model became the spiritual blueprint for later Communist regimes.
Continuing this train of thought, it can therefore be surmised that Communism is not native to Asian, African or American independence movements, and therefore not nationalistic in character. Its oppositionist character was just malleable enough to be adopted by the different independence movements in those places. Ironically, they used Western ideas to oppose Western colonialism.
A Peasant Rebellion of the Intellectual Elite
The second mistake of the Communists is their continued insistence that Socialism is proletarian in character. While most Communist risings did have popular beginnings, eventually Socialist regimes adopt the French Revolutionary model, a modern reimagining of the Roman model.
Communist revolutions are the classic examples of a previously discussed idea that successful peasant rebellions do not remain in peasant control. The peasants do not have adequate organization, a long-term aim, and a radical demand. Most of the time, their demands involve grievances in their daily lives, the improvement of their living status, and a redress of a personal character. They do not seek to overturn the conservative institutions that make up their society, although at times they could demand the overthrow of their present rulers if only to replace them with someone more acceptable. The peasants merely want to change how they are ruled.
In contrast, Socialist ideologies want to overturn everything remotely related to the previous conservative establishment. Having been born in the ideology of complete opposition, their immediate aim is to abolish everything and start from a clean slate. But initially they do not mention that to the populace who follow them. They do not want to alienate the peasant who has been used to the local priest who blesses him, or the patron/nobleman who takes care of his lands and his home. They don’t want him to think that everything he’s ever thought—from his music, to his culture—was detrimentally opposed to the Socialist ideal. Rather, they promise what would be attractive to the peasant: overthrow the corrupt ruler, fight the imperialists, punish the oppressors. These cut right at the heart of the peasant’s fight. Only once in power do they start to institute their ideology.
The French-Roman Model
There are two stages in the institution of the Communist regime: the French Revolutionary Model, and the Republican Roman Model. The former is the most violent phase; here, all institutions deemed contrary to the regime’s ideology is suppressed or even stamped out. The book burnings. The arrests. The secret police. Pol Pot’s decimation of the Cambodia’s intellectual elite. Mao Ze Dong’s Cultural Revolution. Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge (though he used it to eliminate “shadow” enemies). This is where the peasant that has followed the Revolution throughout its struggle awakens to the nightmare of them in power. The priest he has known for so long: shot. The newspapers and writers who freely discuss gossip and discourse: suppressed, arrested, or shot. Even the faintest whisper of complaint leads to arrest and execution. The vague aim of all this brutal crackdown is to destroy all components of the former regime, and consequently, society.
This period lasts years, if not decades. All Communist regimes—from Asia to the Americas—have committed this “teething” process. The populace at one point realizes that the old regime was more lenient, benevolent than the radical Communists—but nothing can be done.
Eventually, however, with all ideological and cultural opposition stamped out, the Communist regime is left only with itself. They talk often of giving power to the people, and working only for the will of the populace, except they adopt the logic that only those imbued with the proper knowledge to rule should rule. If we look at Plato’s Republic, we can see that there is a social class dedicated purely for rule: the Guardian class. Ideally, the Communist Party monopoly adopts the role of the Guardian class, and subsequent Presidents and rulers would be “elected” from this Guardian class.
In practice, however, the Communist regime adopts the Roman model of rule. As was previously discussed, the Roman model envisioned a Republic where the populace is allowed to vote for membership within the Plebeian Assembly, but only the aristocrats maintain power in the Senate. A variance of this model, power within the Communist regime is centered on the Party, and most of the time the core ruling class consists of the Founding Members of the Revolution, much like the Roman Founding Families. Thus, the main power brokers in Mao’s China were his generals and his staff. The ruling class within the Soviet Politburo consisted of the founding inner circle, or even members of the Secret Police.
And like the Roman model, power gravitated between two poles: the oligarchic rule of the “Roman Senate”-like Politburo/Congress, or the “Roman Dictator/Imperator” model of rule like that currently in North Korea under the informal Kim dynasty or formerly with Mao and China. Remember that the Communist regime began under a Revolution; all Revolutions gravitate towards a spiritual leader, and more often than not, these spiritual leaders seize the reins of power. Lenin-Stalin. Castro. Mao. Kim Il-sung.
So in practice, more often in Communist regimes than in Western democratic ones, it becomes either a Dictatorship of the Elite or the Dictatorship of the Icon. The Guardian Class or the Absolutist Monarch. In the end, the anti-Western revolutionists end up adopting the Western model of rule.
We cannot attribute the concepts of Capitalism and Democracy and its absence as the fatal flaw of the Communist ideology. It is simply part of an ideological transformation that ownership becomes communal, rather than private, or that the markets are seized by the State because it has a better idea of how to guide it. Rather, there are two aspects of Communism that stick out.
First, that like the Western democracies, it remains under the power of the elite. There is not even an expression of the popular will through the vote. For the lower class, there is no promise of advancement if you have no influence or power among the Party elite. This is actually similar to America’s (and other democracies’) continuing problem of the elite controlling Congress, except that in the Western democratic model (the American-Western), there’s at least the chance for the popular vote to overturn the current ruling elite in favor of other members of the elite (Thinking about it, this perpetuates the ideal aims from a peasant rebellion). It can even get worse for Communist regimes: when the revolutionary leader refuses to give way to this oligarchic elite and institute an ersatz-monarchy. Thus, the North Korean Kim dynasty, the Lenin-Stalin dictatorship, the Mao monarchy and, up until lately, the Castro leadership (either from illness or idealism, Castro represents the ideal dictator: willing to give way when the country is ready).
Second, and most importantly, it’s not that Communism wants to stamp out the freedoms that we are used to in the Western democracy: it’s that it tries to suppress, control, and even destroy the institutions that were organic and organically evolved in human society. Religion was not a Western construct, an “opiate” used to placate the masses; it was organic to society, and its continuing exploration of its existence and its relationship to the void. Christianity was Judaic before it was Western—it just so happened that it was identified with the West from its history of its conversion of Rome. In fact, the West did not have any large, institutional religions that did not come from the East (if I’m insulting the Teutonic/Celtic religions, I would stand corrected; also–I seem to have forgotten about the Minoan-Greek system, but its culture is largely Eastern in character, though I could very well be wrong).
Religion is only one example. The Communist regime, at least in its pure sense, wants to coerce and control humanity’s natural process to enforce an artificial “ideological unity of selflessness.” The closest that I can compare it to is the practice of footbinding, a known art in China. Chinese families would often deform their infant daughters’ feet so it would become small, and culturally appealing. Doubtless, it represented the Chinese culture but contemporary ideas have since realized that it is a violation of human dignity. Communism wants to practice the “footbinding” of society.
That, then, are the two flaws I see in Communism. Some may contradict me, and say that they are not flaws but aspects of a grander design towards “utopic” goals. But from a human, natural perspective, at least subjectively, these are its flaws.
A final note: Communism has a malleable aspect. While the Communist regime uses Socialist ideals to stamp out organic social institutions, these in the end are organic institutions that eventually permeate and “seep” back to society even with rigid Communist control. More importantly, the Socialist model is “hollow” culturally, for all its ideological protestations. So, in practice, Communist states sometimes “readopt” the beliefs and mores native to its cultures.
If one reads my articles on Western Democracy and Communism, it becomes apparent that both systems gravitate between two poles: a powerful elite, or a powerful monarch. This is because the two represent the natural state of social politics—people will naturally choose a singular leader to guide them, and that leader would eventually choose a posse that would help forge laws that would guide the populace. I will discuss this in turn.
I also noticed that I had written that there was a third form of democracy—one not as flawed as the other two. For the life of me, admittedly, I don’t remember what I intended to say. However, that idea remains in the corners of my mind, and I will eventually pen it as an alternative to the two discussed democracies.