Communism in the Soviet Union
One of the many critiques coming from economic conservatives and classical liberals/libertarians about countries like the Soviet Union, is how its implementation of Communism is fundamentally anti-freedom and leads to many violations of human rights. The common counter-argument, it seems, from leftist-progressives and Marxists sympathizers, is that no country or nation, has ever been a true Communist or Socialist one. Therefore, the millions of human rights violations cannot be linked to Marxist ideology. How true is this claim, and how much was Vladimir Lenin inspired by Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto?
The Communist Manifesto, first published in 1878 by Karl Marx and his frequent collaborator, Friedrich Engels, laid out the core goals, tenets, and political philosophy of an idealized Communist utopia. While it makes distinctions between the bourgeois and proletariat, socialists and Communists, what makes it important for us is its specific measures it would employ for Communists states that we can directly compare with Lenin’s vision. The ten measures can be listed as:
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
3. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
4. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; …
5. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
6. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
7. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
8. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country by a more equitable distribution of the populace over the country.
9. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.
The purpose of these measures were not only to eliminate the distinction between classes of citizens, but also was meant to pave the way for people to express their creativity. But as is shown later throughout the Soviet Union, very little of this vision was met.
For comparison, I will draw on the first of the Five-Year economic plans, set forth by Lenin, as well as the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism. As the Soviet leadership began to move forward and beyond the troubles of World War I, they sought to implement policies that would take them more toward a Marxist-Leninist ideal. They structured their economic system into five-year chunks, each with a set of goals to be met. Because the Soviet Union was behind many other western countries economically, they focused heavily on agriculture, the military, and specifically industrial development. The proletariat (working class) were thought by the Bolshevik’s to be the backbone of the nation, so in order to meet their needs, many more proletarians were subsequently required. To do this, they enforced a centralized bureaucracy, with top down planning when it came to economics, and followed very anti-capitalist and anti-free market principles.
Work itself became the core philosophy behind achieving the Soviet’s goals, no matter the cost, as it seemed. Many people were forced to move to the cities and work in industrial factories, and massive labor camps, or gulags, were the sites of coal mining and timber production. Because more people had been moved to the cities, much higher food production was required. The peasant agricultural population was forced to produce higher food levels than they were normally capable of, and shared communal lands were transformed into collective farms, with any and all food produced now owned by the state. Things are made worse when, in the early 1930’s, Ukraine experienced a famine, likely due to the cost of collective farming; whether this was made intentional by the Soviet government is up for debate, but Ukrainians have been campaigning for decades for reparations. These effects, caused by the Soviet government, appear to at least be the result of some Marxist tenets, aside from some measures on whether or not all of banking was completely centralized and education became more widespread. Even Engels’ own words about Communism appear eerily prophetic to the outcomes of the Soviet Union, stating “[w]ith the seizure of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with, and with it the dominion of the product over the producers. Anarchy of social production is replaced by conscious organization according to plan.” But how does this shape up with the later code of morals set forward in 1962?
Written down by the Politizdat, the Moral Code follows similarly to the Communist Manifesto and its measures:
Devotion to the communist cause, love toward the socialist Motherland and to socialist countries …
Collectivism and comradely mutual aid; …
Intolerance towards injustices, parasitism, dishonesty, careerism and money-grubbing.
Conscientious labor for the good of society: he who does not work shall not eat.
Humane relations and mutual respect among people; man is to man a friend, comrade, and brother.
Friendship and brotherhood of the peoples of the USSR, intolerance towards national and racial hatred.
Concern for the preservation and growth of public property.
Honesty and truthfulness, moral purity, simplicity and modesty in social and personal life.
Intolerance towards the enemies of communism, peace, and freedom of nations.
High consciousness of public duty, intolerance towards the violation of public interests.
Mutual respect in the family, concern for the upbringing of children.
Fraternal solidarity with the working people of all countries and with all people.
Again, here we see, what I would claim, as the underlying philosophy of what is required by the proletariat, in order to carry out a life dedicated to the Communist cause. As citizens are forced to work, and their individuality stripped away, with the potential punishment being more work, a certain kind of psychology is required in order to persist in this kind of lifestyle; one’s identity becomes inseparable from the State.
So we don’t become fully engulfed in a narrative with some kind of desired outcome, one has to also understand the Joseph Stalin took the U.S.S.R. in a very different direction than which Lenin had originally conceived of taking the country, as he focused mainly on military development, and allowed (to an extent) certain individual freedoms to become more relaxed, such as the arts and film, and consumerism had become much more prevalent as the country moved into the 1970’s. But one could also argue that remnants of Marxist-Leninism still fuel the totalitarian regime that is the Russian Federation today, as its leader Vladimir Putin, being ex-KGB, still runs the nation as if it is still behind the Iron Curtain.
Classes, RHastings. "Lesson 5 PP." YouTube. July 20, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sH1bJQ_0So8.
Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. Communist Manifesto (Chapter 2). https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch02.htm.
"Moral Code of the Builder of Communism." Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. September 01, 2015. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1961-2/moral-code-of-the-builder-of-communism/moral-code-of-the-builder-of-communism-texts/moral-code-of-the-builder-of-communism/.
Raico, Ralph. "Marxist Dreams and Soviet Realities." Cato Institute. May 01, 1998. https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/marxist-dreams-soviet-realities.