The recent National Capital Commission’s decision on the use of the word “communism” in a proposed monument to the victims of communism is a reminder of the passionate debates about that ideology during one’s heady university years. They went something like this:
Personal effort and innovation are not necessary in a communist society. It was stressed that communism was an equalizer economically, since the state allocates wealth based on individual needs. (What a crock! It was obvious from the beginning that communism was dependent on a privileged class, dependent on disciplined party functionaries and other members of the “nomenklatura.” And for their service they were able to buy at special stores, live in better accommodation, vacation at elite resorts etc. These were available for the politically trusted. The rest had to fend for themselves. Many consumer items were unavailable. After 70 years of rule the Soviet communists failed to eliminate abject poverty in large sectors of their community; in fact Moscow has yet to cope successfully with it today.)
Under communism one does not have to expend effort to achieve personal freedom and growth. The state nourishes self-actualization. Whaatt? Of all the shortcomings of communism, this is probably one of the most serious. In a communist economy it is actually necessary to deny people the freedom to seek satisfaction in their own choice of a career. Meaningful job choices are made by the state. When the bureaucracy is faced with a shortage, and in communist states these are commonplace, their pavlovian response is to direct more people to fill the gap in achieving the government-set production quota. This is intrinsically tyrannical with control over the details of individual lives set in a distant central command. This in itself violates all that liberty and freedom-loving individuals espouse. It is conducive to massive human rights violations.
And thus the arguments evolved, on campuses in the 60’s and 70’s – detached from reality, highly theoretical, with little input from those actually trapped within the communist system.
Now, after the implosion of the USSR, we may ask why all of the former nations of eastern and central Europe are the most suspicious in assessing the ostensibly “transparent” motives of Moscow. It is obvious that the former Warsaw Pact of nations want to distance themselves from a country that increasingly glorifies in its totalitarian communist past. Even the former Soviet “republics” of Belarus and Moldova, with large Russian ethnic presences, have indicated their ambitions of eventually joining the European Union. Georgia and Ukraine aspire to NATO membership.
University academics of the past encouraged students to believe that it was Joseph Stalin who actively perverted the humane and progressive thoughts of Lenin; that Stalin’s “excesses” made the Soviet version of the ideology repugnant to freedom-lovers. In fact, recently accessed archival documents and secret correspondence debunked the myth of “Lenin-the-good” and “Stalin-the-bad.” Lenin was no less obsessed with the necessity of ruthless control of the population during the inevitable convulsions of the communist revolution. Terror tactics on a massive scale, including the widespread network of Gulag slave labour camps, would keep the people in line.
One cannot be nostalgic recalling the naïveté of the discourse some 30, 40 years ago. The debaters were misinformed, with the realities of the communist societies practically invisible to outsiders. Hopefully the National Capital Commission has not taken a page from the ill-informed and shallow debates of some decades ago.
Communism, pro and con (7)