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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

On Communism

My friend Devajyoti Sharma writes:
Communism is a sociopolitical movement that aims for a classless and stateless society structured upon common ownership of the means of production, free access to articles of consumption, and the end of wage labour and private property in the means of production and real estate.

Saurav Sarmah: But no communist takes this seriously. Almost every scholar I have talked to thinks that communism is a utopia, a desirable goal, but impossible to achieve. If we see the regimes led by the Communist Party worldwide, they are totalitarian in nature, i.e., state is very strong and interferes in every aspect of human life. Moreover, since the failure of the Soviet Union, the weakness of socialist economic policy has been exposed. Therefore, communist regimes like China have adopted slogans like getting rich is great or let some get rich before others.

However, the nature of capitalist society is that it is always leads to crisis. In fact, without cyclic crises, capitalist economy cannot survive. Therefore, Marxist analysis of capitalism will remain valid and inspire sensitive persons to see virtue in its teachings.

The Vedic understanding is as follows:

1. Without a state, the society will deteriorate to matsyanyaya or law of the fishes (the big fish swallowing the small fish). Therefore, the state (which has the authority of inflicting punishment, in other words, coercive mechanism) is established and all the citizens are bound to obey the laws created by the state at the level of secular morality and pay taxes. The state, in return, has to protect the right of the citizens to self-preservation and engagement in activities according to their inclinations.

2. Since every citizen has his or her particular inclination, there cannot be a classless society. There are always four social classes (intellectuals, administrators, producers and workers) and four stations of life (student-hood, family-life, retirement and renounced order). The state has to protect this class division, so that the society remains in equilibrium.

3. Private property is essential for ensuring material happiness, especially for the producer class, viz., merchants, peasants and cow-protectors. They need ownership over these means of production as an incentive to produce enough for the entire society. If there is no profit-motive, then the production will decline like in former Soviet Union and Maoist China. The state has the right to tax them: one-sixth of the produce and one-tenth of the merchandise.

4. As far as free access to consumption is concerned, it depends on one s social status and station in life. The administrative class and the producers (in family-life) have better access than others. In fact, the intellectual class and those in non-family order should deliberately reduce consumption in order to engage in pursuit of right knowledge and spiritual morality. The working class does not have the opportunity to enjoy enough material goods and so, a spirit of contentment is a great virtue in them.

5. Wages are the means of livelihood for the working class, just like charity for intellectuals, taxes for administrators and profit for producing class. However, if there is opportunity to consume without performance of one s prescribed duties, it will lead to moral degradation of the society.

This is the opinion of learned authorities like Manu, Yajnavalkya and Kautilya.

A good debate continued after my reply to Devajyoti Sharma and I would reply to it soon:

Debashish Kaushik: The Vedic scholars were really great. They had such a practical and logical approach to every aspect of life.But now we have a tendency to neglect their views altogether.

Pavel Barman: Communism is not for immature people who would rather be capitalist forever.  One should use one s brain at least once in life and try to understand the basis of communism.

Since the dawn of human race man has tried to find some amount of order and some ways to decelerate the ever spiraling human wants. Some people have come out of their narrow shells and thought about others, rather than think about themselves. 

Like other animals, humans also have a beastly tendency to promote one's own interest. With further evolution of the human brain, refinement of thought occurred. Superego conquered id. Greed was overcome. At this very juncture, when people began to think about others, civilisation started.

Further refinement of this desire to do something for others rather than self, resulted in the birth of a movement, the culmination of century-old desire for equality -social, economic and political. This movement was later on christened COMMUNISM.

Debashish Kaushik: But would you not agree that for communism to thrive in a proper way, each and every member of the society has to be very very honest? Any amount of greed will lead to the collapse of  the system and to a pseudo communism, where instead of a classless society we ll have a ruling class which would consume all the assets and the working class would be completely downtrodden.. And isn t it an impractical idea to expect people to work hard without any ownership or share of profit?

Pavel Barman: @Vedic philosophy as described by Saurav Sarmah... I haven t read the Vedas; so am not qualified to comment. But I would like to say that point no. 2 is the root of all evils in a society based on Vedic principles.

This teaching only led to the present caste system. The thought that a class division is essential and the state should preserve it is truly primeval and seeks to preserve the monopoly of the ruling class and the higher ups of society, i.e., the intellectuals. If a class division is to be maintained then the state would educate only the intellectuals whereas the toilet cleaners would not be educated but would only be imparted some toilet-cleaning skills.

Communism is against this presumed class division, as we are born equal, whether we have a silver spoon in our mouth or not. I, a doctor, don t belong to a different class. I am equal in social status to a farmer. Only our vocation is different. My son would become a doctor only if he has the ability, not because his father is a doctor. A farmer's son would be given equal opportunity to become a doctor. Communism is for equality of opportunity, social justice and against any sort of class. This is the beauty of communism.

Pavel Barman: You are right, Debashish. Communism has its flaws. Greed and selfishness are essential for survival. The basic tenet of life is to survive and propagate by subjugating others; 'survival of the fittest' as they say. Communism goes against this basic human instinct. It believes in 'survival of all', not a select few. It believes in order and control of one's wants and desire and we all know that the very word order is against nature. We may recall the thermodynamic law: 'entropy or disorderliness of the universe is always increasing'. We are progressing towards chaos and COMMUNISM is trying to apply the brakes; but eventually chaos would win. Greed would win. Selfish intention would win. COMMUNISM is just an attempt to delay the inevitable. It is a medicine that prolongs life not prevents death. But we do need medicines, don t we?

A time was there when we lived in a bipolar world: two superpowers were there, Soviet Russia and USA. Russia remained a superpower only during its communist days. As soon as communism fell, it lost all its glory. Now the world is unipolar. Capitalism which is solely based on supremacy of the profit motive is ruling the roost.

Debashish Kaushik: The whole caste system is against the basic teachings of the Vedas. Vedas talk about each and every life in this world being a part of a Supreme Being and in no way better or lesser than anyone else. It actually talks about 4 basic classes, not castes and that all of them have equal importance for social equilibrium. Look at it this way: if all of us try to become administrators and no one goes to the fields for food production what will be the state of the society. These classes exist in every society and civilization and are very important for equilibrium.

Pavel Barman: And who would decide that I would be a doctor and someone else a farmer? Would it be decided on the basis of hierarchy, i.e., on the basis of one's birth? A toilet cleaner's son's only fault would be that his father is a toilet cleaner..

That is when the question of opportunity arises. Give a brahmana's son and a sudra's son equal opportunity to study the scriptures, then see who would excel. Then you decide who should be a brahmana and who should be a sudra.

It should never be based on one's birth, but on one's ability. A sudra can be more brilliant, compared to a brahmana. The main fault of our caste system is that it is based on one's birth.

Debashish Kaushik: Exactly Pavel da. Even I am making the same point and that is the basic difference between caste and class. Class is not decided by birth but by ones ability and no class is superior or inferior to the rest, but all are equally important for a society to function smoothly.

Deepam Pushpam: Lenin's view or Mao's view????

Pavel Barman: Why, Deepam da? Interested in communism?

Deepam Pushpam: I was a big fan of Lenin and Trotsky. Appreciated Mao's agricultural communes, but not his methods nor the Cultural Revolution. Chinese system of agricultural communes is required in states such as Bihar, Orissa and MP. Red revolution is required in hinterlands of India. But I abhor the bloodshed associated with communism. So, currently I am a humanist.

Pavel Barman: That is another drawback of communism. Bloodshed wouldn t have been required, had there been no capitalist stooges who would incite the masses with false hopes and lollipops of globalisation. I also abhor this bloodshed. But all these could be modified. What say?

Deepam Pushpam: Caste is something which has left an indelible print on the mosaic of Indian society. When we are born, we are born in a particular caste. When we write an exam, we write as SC/ST/OBC/General. The most gruesome part is exposed in matrimonials: when people search for sub sub sub caste; even in those of the erudite class, not to speak of Tom and Harry. Even our surname bears the stigma of caste. Many people are baffled when they hear my surname and the next query is what is my caste and community. Is it not enough to be a human being? I wonder.

Even communism cannot break the caste barriers, though it theoretically claims. The Russians, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, etc. never broke their structure. Communism would have succeeded if all the races and castes would have mingled to form a vast sea of humanity. The USSR need not to be split into so many countries. In fact, it would have absorbed all the other nations too. Even I would have forgotten that I am an Indian and would have immersed in the vast sea of humanity and remained only a human being.

I haven t gone through the Vedas but have read the Mahabharat, Ramayan, Purana, a bit of Manusmriti and Gita. There is no uniformity of thought. It was heartening to read Saurav s post as he has highlighted only the good. There are so many shameful things also written in our texts. Better to pick up the good. Personally I feel that rather than arguing about communism and capitalism, let us think it in terms of tools which may be required in different situations for the development of society. Even fascism has done good such as destroying the mafia of Sicily and establishment of Vatican city. So let us celebrate only humanity forgetting caste and community.

Krishna Kirti Prabhu says (in order to inspire me): Sequence: mixed up.

KKP: One question I have of you about China and its present take on Communism. Since Marx himself believed that communism cannot be arrived at by determined effort, as Utopian Socialists believe, could China's present application of communism simply be an implied philosophical position on their part that Chinese society has not yet progressed to the point where communism can be implemented in society? 

SS: You are correct. This position is known as Deng Xiaoping theory (included in the Party constitution in 1997), although it was actually presented by the discredited leader (removed after Tiananmen Movement 1989) Zhao Ziyang in the 12th Party Congress in 1987 as Socialism with Chinese characteristics. He stated that China was in the primary stage of socialism, i.e., although the Dictatorship of Proletariat was established in China on October 1, 1949 and means of production were owned by the society, the forces of production were not developed enough to advance to communism. Therefore, it was necessary for China to follow the socialist market economy or the Four Modernizations (Agriculture, Industry, Military and Science and Technology) under the guidance of the Four Cardinal Principles, viz., the socialist road, people s democratic dictatorship (another construct based on Maoist concept of New Democracy or united front of all revolutionary classes), the guidance of Chinese Communist Party and Marxism- Leninism- Mao Zedong Thought.

KKP: Interesting. I'm glad I asked.

SS: However, the situation changed after the fall of Soviet Union. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping went his Southern Tour and that was the beginning of the present export-oriented economic growth. This is very long story. But, at present, CCP stands for Chinese Confucian Party because communism is an utopia.

KKP: I take it that "Chinese Confucian Party" is a cynical nickname, not something official.

This is not only a very serious academic discourse but also the official position (without changing the name or direct admission due to historical legacy of the Party- State) of the People s Republic of China. Evidences:

1. CONFUCIAN INSTITUTES (one in JNU is not yet inaugurated due to Indian government s security concerns)



SS: It cannot be achieved and they cannot fool the people forever with a post-dated cheque.

KKP: That sounds like your take on it. What do they actually believe? (Or at least say they believe?)

SS: The People s Republic of China officially adheres to Marxism- Leninism - Mao Zedong Thought - Deng Xiaoping Theory - the Three Represents - Scientific Outlook on Development , while the Democratic People s Republic of  Korea adheres to Juche.

1. Marxism-Leninism: Hierarchical/ bureaucratic one-party structure based on democratic centralism. (

2. Mao Zedong Thought: Sinification of Marxism, that is, applying universal truths of Marxism to relative conditions in China and People s Democratic Dictatorship, the united front of all revolutionary/ progressive classes. (

3. Deng Xiaoping Theory: (

4. Three Represents: (

5. Scientific Outlook on Development: (

6. Juche: (

SS: Therefore, they want to establish a Harmonious Society (hierarchical cooperative social order) and a Well-off Society (based on European model of welfare state) by 2020.

KKP: Indeed, in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, Marxist apologists said that it was good that the Soviet Union actually did fall, because otherwise, had it succeeded, it would have invalidated Historical Materialism. In other words, had the Soviet Union succeeded in creating a desirable socialism, the Utopian Socialists would have been right all along and Marxism could no longer claim to be scientific. 

SS: Well, no Marxist believes in the inevitability of historical development of communism.

KKP: Every Marxist believes in it. Otherwise, they reject Historical Materialism and they are no longer Marxists.

SS: I mean they believe in Historical Materialism:

1. Big Bang to Chemical Evolution of Life to Darwinism to Primitive Tribalism to Slave Society to Feudalism to Capitalism in its various phases to an aspired goal of Socialism, but not an inevitable goal (Marxism is a secular ideology).

2. The base is means of production (forces + relations of production).

SS: Why did communism not emerge in industrialized societies in Western Europe or North America? Because the concept is unscientific.

KKP: Antonio Gramsci focused on the question as to why Communism did not emerge in Western societies. In particular, he developed his explanation in terms of hegemony in his Prison Diaries. Briefly, the theory of hegemony follows on from Rousseau's observation that a king cannot rule by force alone, it requires the assent of the governed. Hence, Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony explains that in the Western countries they had advanced and powerful institutions (Church, family, etc.) that exerted a powerful influence over the minds and hearts of people. Therefore, spreading Communism in the Western countries first involved what he called a "war of position", in which communists gradually infiltrate society's institutions and took them over before engaging in a "war of maneuver." Louis Althusser later extrapolated Gramsci's work with his own theory of Interpellation.

SS: Only thing Marx was able to explain was emergence of capitalist economy in Western Europe and its nature in the 19th century. Capitalism is an exploitative system based on ownership of means of production (base) and it uses state, religion, media and education (superstructure)  to oppress the working class. That is all. Why should what Marx said be true? Lenin did not believe it, neither Stalin nor Mao.

KKP: All of these historical leaders have payed homage to Marx and see their own differences with him not as departures but as contributions to the ongoing project to bring about communism. For example, Lenin's contribution was the idea of Imperialism. So the notion that Marxism itself grows in clarity and sophistication with time actually fits nicely with the Marxist idea (but that's pretty much characteristic of all Western thought) that knowledge is cumulative and grows with time.

SS: Why Soviet Union failed? Because Marx was right. Strange argument.

KKP: It's a pretty common one, actually. However, this underlies a long-standing criticism of Marxism's claim to being scientific--that it cannot be falsified. (Marx's answer was that if monarchies are ever reestablished again, then he would agree that his philosophy is indeed false.)

SS: The neo Marxist and post Marxist scholars have abandoned classical Marxism and now, they speak about two Marxs. Another long story.

KKP: I would be interested to know of some references in this regard.

KKP: Thus the present stance of the Chinese Communist Party on economic development does not necessarily invalidate their belief in a Communist society and a commitment to moving toward it. It's just that leaders of the CCP might feel that they need to go first through some measure of a capitalist phase, before moving on toward socialism and then on to communism. And of course, a capitalist phase is best undergone with a socialist government in place, whose leaders understand how society scientifically transforms from one means of production to another and who are committed to the cause of leading society on the right path toward Communism.

SS: We need lot of sophisticated argumentation based by empirical data, logical formulations and scriptural authority, in order to declare war on demonic isms. Lets see when Krishna fixes the date.


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