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At its heart, the book is a history of the Soviet Union, the most comprehensive reorganization of human society ever attempted by a nationstate. Drawing on much new information, Richard Pipes explains the country's evolution from the 1917 revolution to the Great Terror and ...
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At its heart, the book is a history of the Soviet Union, the most comprehensive reorganization of human society ever attempted by a nationstate. Drawing on much new information, Richard Pipes explains the country's evolution from the 1917 revolution to the Great Terror and World War II, global expansion and the Cold War chess match with the United States, and the regime's decline and ultimate collapse. There is no more dramatic story in modern history, nor one more crucial to master, than that of how the writing and agitation of two mid-nineteenth-century European thinkers named Marx and Engels led to a great and terrible world religion that brought down a mighty empire, consumed the world in conflict, and left in its wake a devastation whose full costs can only now be tabulated.
“The publication of Richard Pipes’ Communism: A History . . . is of signal importance. One cannot put it down without realizing, once and for all, that the road to utopia is paved with the bodies of the innocent—and leads nowhere.” —Baltimore Sun
“I wish every university student . . . would read this grim book.” —Paul Johnson
Communist Theory and Program
The idea of a classless, fully egalitarian society first emerged in classical Greece. Ancient Greece happened to have been the first country in the world to recognize private property in land and to treat land as a commodity, and hence it was the first to confront the social inequalities that result from ownership. Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer (seventh century b.c.), in the poem Works and Days extolled a mythical “Golden Age” when people were not driven by the “shameful lust for gain,” when there was an abundance of goods for all to share and mankind lived in perpetual peace. The theme of the Golden Age resounded in the writings of the Roman poets Virgil and Ovid; Ovid spoke of the time when the world knew nothing of “boundary posts and fences.”
The ideal acquired its earliest theoretical formulation in the writings of Plato. In the Republic, speaking through Socrates, Plato saw the root of discord and wars in belongings:
Such differences commonly originate in a disagreement about the use of the terms “mine” and “not mine,” “his” and “not his.” . . . And is not that the best-ordered State in which the greatest number of persons apply the terms “mine” and “not mine” in the same way to the same thing?
In The Laws, Plato envisioned not only a society in which people shared all worldly possessions, as well as their wives and children, but one in which the private and individual is altogether banished from life, and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, andin some way see and hear and act in common, and all men express praise and blame and feel joy and sorrow on the same occasions.
Aristotle, Plato’s pupil, questioned whether such a communist utopia would bring about social peace, on the grounds that people who hold things in common are more prone to quarrel than those who hold them in private ownership. Furthermore, he argued, the root of social discord lies not in material belongings but in the yearning for them: “it is not possession but the desires of mankind which require to be equalized.”
There exists a widespread but false notion that socialism and communism are merely up-to-date, secular versions of Christianity. As the nineteenth-century Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev has pointed out, the difference is that whereas Jesus urged his followers to give up their own possessions, the socialists and communists want to give away the possessions of others. Moreover, Jesus never insisted on penury; he merely counseled it as easing the way to salvation. Saint Paul’s well-known saying about money is usually misquoted: he said not that “money is the root of all evil” but that “love of money” is—in other words, greed. Saint Augustine asked rhetorically, “Is gold not good?” and answered, “Yes, it is good. But the evil use good gold for evil, and the good use good gold for good.”
The fathers of the church and later Catholic theologians took a pragmatic view of ownership. According to Saint Augustine, a propertyless world was possible only in paradise—that “Golden Age” which mankind had lost because of original sin. Given human imperfection, property is moral if used wisely and employed for charitable purposes. The Catholic Church not only did not preach poverty but disowned and sometimes persecuted those who did. The founders of Protestantism, notably Calvin, viewed wealth as a positive good and a sign of divine grace.
But the notion of the Golden Age never disappeared from European consciousness. The early maritime explorers ventured on their journeys inspired not merely by the quest for Eldorado and other mythical places in which gold was reputed to be as plentiful as dust but also by the desire to find the islands of terrestrial paradise, legends of which circu- lated in medieval Europe. And when they first landed in the Americas and saw naked Indians, they were convinced they had found them: for was not lack of shame the very mark of life before the Fall? If the natives, indeed, lived in paradise this meant also that they knew nothing of property. Columbus on his return reported that the aborigines were “guileless” and “never refuse[d] anything which they possess, if it be asked of them; on the contrary, they invite anyone to share it.” He was uncertain whether or not they knew private property, but noted, “In that which one had, all took a share, especially of eatable things.”
These naive first impressions soon yielded to more realistic appraisals of American Indians, but not before giving rise to a utopian literature that has ever since become a permanent feature of Western thought.* Thomas More’s archetypal Utopia, described in the book of that name he published in 1516, was, some scholars believe, inspired by the travel accounts of Columbus and other early explorers. Far from the happy place that the modern usage of the adjective utopian conveys, it was an austere and regimented community where
* Because the vision of a propertyless society is central to virtually all utopias, it could emerge only in societies in which private property was prevalent: this, until recent times, meant, in effect, Europe and regions populated by Europeans. all citizens dressed alike and lived in identical houses, where no one could travel without permission, and where private discussion of public affairs carried the death penalty. Money was abolished; gold and silver served to make chamber pots. The common theme of subsequent utopias was, as in More’s, both the absence of private wealth and the coercion of individuals by the community at large: utopia both in theory and practice signifies the individual’s subservience to authority, which compels him to do what he is disinclined to do of his own free will.
It needs to be stated at this point that the ideal of a propertyless Golden Age is a myth—the fruit of longing rather than memory—because historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists concur that there never was a time or place when all productive assets were collectively owned. All living creatures, from the most primitive to the most advanced, in order to survive must enjoy assured access to food and, to secure such access, claim ownership of territory. During the aeons before humans settled down to pursue agriculture, when they lived primarily by hunting and gathering, kinship groups asserted exclusive access to their area, expelling or killing trespassers. Property claims intensified after transition to agriculture some ten thousand years ago, because cultivation of the soil is arduous work and its fruits take time to mature.
In the oldest civilizations, dating back five thousand years—pharaonic Egypt and Mesopotamia—agricultural land belonged to palaces and temples. Ancient Israel is the first country where we possess firm evidence of private land ownership. The Lord in the Hebrew Bible casts a curse on anyone who tampers with boundary stones (“Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor’s landmark,” Deuteronomy 27:17), and several biblical books tell of families as well as individuals holding land and pasture in private possession. But land ownership in ancient Israel was hedged by many religious and clan restrictions. It is in classical Greece that from the earliest times agricultural land was privately held. In other words, there is no evidence that at any time, even in the most remote past, there existed societies that knew no “boundary posts and fences” or ignored “mine” and “thine.”
A critical contribution to socialist and communist theory was the conception of human nature formulated by thinkers of the Enlightenment. Traditionally, human beings were believed in the West to be made up of body and soul, both given their shape by the Creator; the soul was viewed as filled with ideas and values implanted in it at birth. This was a conservative notion since it posited the immutability of human na- ture: such as it was, such it would always be. In other words, if man was acquisitive, acquisitive he would remain.
This premise was first challenged by the English philosopher John Locke, who in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) denied the existence of “innate ideas.” According to him, at birth the mind (or soul) is a clean slate: all ideas and all values derive from sensory experience. This theory implies that human nature is malleable rather than constant and hence that people can be shaped in such a manner that their natural goodness—which the philosophes took for granted—would prevail over selfishness. The French eighteenth-century thinker Claude-Adrien Helvétius made the implicit explicit, arguing that proper instruction and legislation would not only enable but compel humans to attain complete virtue. This highly questionable psychological theory became the common heritage of liberalism, socialism, and communism, which in varying degrees rely on instruction andor coercion to achieve their respective objectives. In some respects, the Communist state established by Lenin in Russia in November 1917 was a grandiose experiment in public education, undertaken on the Helvétius model for the purpose of creating an entirely new type of human being, one rid of vices, includ- ing acquisitiveness.
It was French radical thinkers of the eighteenth century who first advanced communist programs, calling for the abolition of all private wealth on the grounds that it was the cause of every misery known to mankind. In the words of Morelly, the author of the influential treatise Le Code de la Nature, published in 1755:
The only vice which I know in the universe is avarice; all the others, whatever name one gives them, are merely forms, degrees of it. . . . Analyze vanity, conceit, pride, ambition, deceitfulness, hypocrisy, villainy; break down the majority of our sophisticated virtues themselves, [they] all dissolve in this subtle and pernicious element, the desire to possess.
Such economically determined psychology lies at the root of every socialist and communist doctrine.
|1.||Communist Theory and Program||1|
|Marx and Engels||8|
|Failed expectations of Marxists||15|
|The Second International and its collapse||18|
|Russia's revolutionary tradition||23|
|Failure of "War Communism"||42|
|3.||Stalin and After||53|
|Stalin takes charge||55|
|Industrialization and collectivization||57|
|The Great Terror||62|
|Stalin exploits Russian nationalism||72|
|Stalin as Lenin's natural heir||73|
|World War II||74|
|Decay and collapse||81|
|4.||Reception in the West||89|
|Western Communists and fellow travelers||97|
|Communism and Nazism||103|
|Stalin's dual foreign policy||107|
|The Cold War||108|
|Post--World War II Communism in the West||110|
|5.||The Third World||115|
|Comintern promotes alliances with nationalists||118|
|Mao and Maoism||122|
|Post-Stalinist Soviet policy in the Third World||127|
|China's "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution"||128|
|Pol Pot's Cambodia||132|
|Inherent contradictions of Communism as cause of its repeated failures||147|
|Role of ideology||155|
|The costs of Communism||158|
|Suggestions for Further Reading||166|
Posted March 22, 2005
Neoconservative Professor Richard Pipes¿ Communism: A History is a 160-page obituary for the Marxist-Leninist variety of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union, but not for totalitarianism by other names. Inspired by Darwin¿s theory of evolution, Marx predicted that Communism would evolve in industrial, capitalistic Europe. Lenin discovered that a revolution against Czarist Russia was as easy as `lifting a feather¿ (page 38). False promises of peace at any price and of grassroots democracy were enough to gain support of peasants in agrarian, feudal Russia. Most of Lenin¿s Communist Party members were illiterate or functionally illiterate. After the death of Stalin, Soviet leaders attacked Stalin, but not Lenin, because Soviet leaders wanted to remain in power. Pipes provided ample documentation of the brutality of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and the other Communist leaders who murdered more than 100 million persons and who destroyed the lives of even more. While Marx and Engels claimed that their views on Communism were based upon scientific theory, Pipes documented that Lenin and later Communist leaders learned quickly that Communism is based upon false assumptions about human nature. Millionaire entrepreneurs live in mansions in Communist China today. There has been no abolition of private property. In 1920, Lenin learned that Marx was wrong about an international brotherhood of workers. The Red Army¿s attack on Poland failed because Polish workers and peasants fought against the Red Army, not against the Polish bourgeois and landlords (page 50). After 1920, Soviet leaders decided it was better to provide financial support to local communists or others in each country rather than to attempt to use the Red Army to extend Communism throughout the world. In Germany, Stalin supported Hitler and the Nazis as the best choice for fighting against Western democracies. Surprisingly, this neoconservative historian mentioned Trotsky only briefly and did not explain neoconservative ties to Communism. Trotsky supported world revolution and opposed any alliances with Hitler. With the collapse of the Marxist-Leninist Soviet Union, Pipes predicted that Communists would turn to ¿¿ an eclectic social democratic platform laced with nationalism.¿ (page ix) The Web site of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and other Web sites list large numbers of Members of Congress who support the DSA. The author¿s son and fellow neoconservative, Daniel Pipes, has been a strong supporter of Marxist terrorists (MEK or MKO or Rajavi cult) who have murdered American military officers, Rockwell International employees, and large numbers of innocent persons in Iran and in Iraq. In 2003, the American military attacked Camp Ashraf in Iraq and killed many of the MEK. Neoconservatives were able to reverse the situation. The American military had to protect the Marxist terrorists. Totalitarians have gained powerful positions in Congress and in Democratic and Republican administrations by modifying some labels and messages. Totalitarians, who cannot win elections by explaining truthfully their objectives, need endless, violent wars under any pretext to impose their views and control of the world.
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Posted April 9, 2002
This is a very nice essay. It spends most of its somewhat limited space on European Communism which, given the author's background, is not a shock. I wouldn't have thought you could do justice to the topic in such little space but the author did a very nice job. A good place to start if you want to learn about the history of communisim and also why it always developed into such a horror.
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Posted June 29, 2012
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