Almost one hundred years ago to the day, in the former Tsarist hellhole that was the Russian Empire, the Russian Communist Party, led by revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, seized power, toppling the Russian Provisional Government in an event now immortalized as the “October Revolution,” despite the fact that it apparently took place in November.
October November (?) Revolution led to the creation of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (Soviet Russia), which later merged into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (commonly known as the Soviet Union or the USSR), effectively becoming the world’s first self-described socialist state and, later on, the first self-described socialist state to metaphorically eat itself alive.
I did it. I made the hackneyed Rocky & Bullwinkle joke. Only God can judge me now.
The Mid-Fall 1917 Revolution sent shockwaves around the geopolitical landscape, with Western Nations (All of whom were either capitalist states or monarchies. Go figure.) immediately scrambling to try to kill the nascent Worker’s State in its metaphorical (presumably worker-manufactured and worker-owned) cradle during the Russian Civil War (1917-23). Nevertheless, the USSR prevailed, and it’s success served as inspiration for far-left movements in countries the world over, Canada being among them.
While Canadian Communist movements are certainly not privy to the same success as their capitalist contemporaries, the Canadian Communist Party is actually the second-oldest political party in Canada after the Liberal Party and has actually had representation in federal and provincial parliaments. I don’t think it’d be realistic to say that they’ll be getting representation again anytime soon, but the far-left in Canada has had an interesting history that’s worth telling. Especially since Alberta elected a radical communist as their Premier, or so I’ve been told.
введение: What the Hell’s a Communism?
To say that most people have a… Let’s be generous and say LIMITED grasp of what it entails to be a communist or socialist would be an understatement. So we’re gonna have ourselves a quick history lesson. I’m sure you’re all breathless with anticipation.
Communism is a form of socialism which is usually traced back to 19th Century German economist, philosopher, and part-time mall Santa Karl Marx and his friend and partner, Friedrich Engels. With that said, its lineage can be traced even further back. The first known uses of the term “socialism” can be traced back to reformers such as self-described utopian socialist (and father of the cooperative movement) Robert Owen, and the father of anarchism Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who, among countless others, were criticizing the massive inequality and exploitation of workers by the capitalist system during the Industrial Revolution (c.1760-c.1830) while Marx was a heavily-bearded toddler.
However, it was the 19th Century Prussian supergroup of Marx and Engels who were the founders of socialism and communism as we know them today. To go into all of their writings on capitalism would necessitate more time than I have. For the purpose of simplicity, the following pleb-tier definitions will have to do for now:
Marxism: Methodology of philosophical, sociological, political and economic analysis developed by Marx and Engels. Marxism critiques the development of capitalism and emphasizes the role that class struggle has played in human history. Not to be confused with Groucho Marxism, which is, of course, the deification and worship of the actual messiah.
Marxism dictates that every society that has ever existed can be divided into two classes: the proletariat (working class), and the bourgeoisie (capitalists, bosses, etc.). The bourgeoisie owns the means of production and reaps most of the benefits despite the proletariat doing most of the heavy lifting. To sum it up: Marxism studies this dynamic, which it refers to as “class struggle” or “class conflict”.
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” -Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848)
“The gentle labourer shall suffer no more!” -Squidward Tentacles, Spongebob Squarepants- “Squid on Strike” (2001)
Capitalism: Economic system and ideology based on private ownership and operation of the means of production for profit. Capitalism is the predominant economic practice in the world, with just about every country accepting it in some way, shape or form. Capitalist economies (also known as Market Economies, Liberal Economies, Free Markets, etc.) range from:
- Laissez-faire economies that allow for total freedom of the market with no state interference.
- “Mixed” (Or “Social Market”) economies in which the capitalist economy is retained, but restrictions and regulations are imposed, and some services remain public and government-run (usually healthcare, education, etc.). This is the most common form of capitalism today.
- “Planned” (Or “state capitalist”) economies in which the government takes control of the means of production through state-operated businesses. The capitalist system is retained, but the state replaces private business, essentially becoming a giant corporation. This is NOT to be confused with socialism, in which capitalism is abolished and the means of production are usually owned by the workers and/or society, usually through the administration of a worker’s state.
“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.” -Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776)
“What’s MINE is MINE. And MINE and MINE. And MINE and MINE and MINE. NOT YOURS!” -Larfleeze, Green Lantern #20 (2007)
Socialism: An umbrella term for different anti-capitalist economic and social systems that share as a common attribute the social ownership of the means of production (either through worker cooperatives or community ownership), with the goal of establishing what socialists call “democratic control” of said means of production and the overthrow of the capitalist system through a popular revolution.
“The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil.” –Albert Motherfucking Einstein, Why Socialism? (1969)
“Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger. A brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people, sharing all the wooooooooorld, yooo-ooooooouuuu.” -John
Lenin Lennon, “Imagine” (1971)
Variants of socialism include:
- Communism: A philosophical, social, political and economic ideology with the goal of a stateless, moneyless, classless society in which the means of production are commonly owned. This was Marx and Engel’s end goal as detailed in the Communist Manifesto. It has not yet been achieved by a major state. There are many different variations of communism, but we will not be going into them right now because life is too damn short.
- Anarchism: Similar to communism in that it advocates a stateless, collectivist society, but differs in that it rejects the Marxist concept of proletarian control in favour of an end to all forms of perceived “hierarchy”. There are also many variants of anarchism. No, I will not be going into them.
- Democratic Socialism: A term that is growing more and more vague and nebulous by the day. In the most general sense of the term, democratic socialists seek to achieve socialism and the abolishment of capitalism through the electoral system, rather than through, or in addition to, the revolution advocated through Marx and other socialists. Many socialists reject this term on the assertion that socialism is already democratic. That’s kind of the point. However, given the authoritarian tendencies of some self-described socialist regimes, some argue that the label of “democratic” socialism is a way to make the revolution more palatable to a larger audience. Democratic socialism is sometimes used interchangeably with…
- Social Democracy: NOT A FORM OF SOCIALISM. I only include it because it is frequently described as such (“socialism-lite”, etc.). Social democracy is similar to democratic socialism in that it seeks to achieve a reform of the capitalist system, but differs in that it does NOT seek to abolish capitalism. Social democracy instead seeks to achieve social justice and reduce inequality through bolstering social programs like the welfare state, education, healthcare, etc. Social democrats like Bernie Sanders and some members of the Canadian NDP have taken to describing themselves as “socialists”, but while social democrats and socialists frequently fight for the same things (a higher minimum wage being a good example), their end goal is very different.
To be continued…