The impacts of Communism on Russia by Sahar El-Zaylaa
Communism is a theory and social practice that was theorized by Karl Marx, a German economist and sociologist, and Friedrich Engels, a German social scientist and journalist, in the 18th century. In order to fully understand the theory and impacts Communism has had on people living under such a state, it is crucial to familiarize oneself with the social context in which Communism derived. After being exiled from Germany because of his controversial writings, Marx fled to London and continued to develop his writing in collaboration with Friedrich Engels. During the 18th century many events took place that inspired the duo to write their infamous document The Communist Manifesto; the world’s most influential political document which explains the philosophy of Communism (Musto, 2008). One of the most important events that took place in the 18th century was the Industrial Revolution that began in London and made its way around the globe. The Industrial Revolution was a new way of producing goods and products that used new technologies to dramatically increase productivity. It had major features including the creation of factories, cities, new technologies and the consumption of more stuff; new technologies mass produced products and were accessible to many people (Engels & Marx, 2007). The Revolution dramatically changed almost every aspect of life by increasing standard of living, giving new roles to women, forming new social classes, developing new ideas and new sources of power for countries. Of these changes, Marx and Engels were mainly concerned with the impacts the Revolution had on the formation of socioeconomic classes and the repercussions that came with it (Kemp, 2008). The economic system that gave rise to the Industrial Revolution was Capitalism; an economic system based on the private ownership and supply and demand. Private ownership and the formation of factories led to apparent social stratification, in other words, it led to a system of social rank where groups of people had more status, wealth, and control than others (Lehman, 2014). This type of hierarchy was not new to Marx and Engels, to the contrary, it was evident throughout history between the bourgeoisie (wealthy class) and proletariat (working class). With Capitalism, Industrial Revolution and social inequalities amongst workers, Marx and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto to influence and create social change with the vision of closing socioeconomic gaps in society. However, is important to note that although Marx and Engels theorized Communism, they never got a chance to witness its application.
As previously mentioned, The Communist Manifesto sets out the goals of Communism. This section will objectively explain the theory according to Marx and Engels. According to The Communist Manifesto, throughout history, there has always been class struggle where the bourgeoisie control the means of production i.e factories, land, agriculture etc. and become the most powerful group and oppress the proletariat by keeping the profit to themselves. In order to stay on top, the bourgeoisie expand across the globe, acquire resources and make the working conditions for the proletariat miserable and unbearable causing conflict between the classes.
According to Marx and Engels, Communism sets out to get rid of private property by putting the means of production in the hands of the community. Communism calls the proletariat to strip the bourgeois of their wealth and abolish inheritance until class distinctions completely vanish. Marx and Engels call to the unification of all workers around the world and criticize other social movements that want to reform Capitalism. Marx and Engels believe that capitalism as a system needs to be overthrown completely and not reformed. The method to overthrow the bourgeois was to be through a forceful revolution. This revolution will end oppression against the working class by destroying anything that perpetuates inequalities amongst classes including: family organization, religion, morality and the like. Communism aims to rid society of family organization because of the hierarchy and oppression found within the system, more specifically the patriarchy; men are the most powerful and rule the family. Likewise, religion and morality are seen as oppressive tools since one gives the ruling class power by promising the poor eternal bliss in the afterlife while the other sets out guidelines and limitations that restricts individuals from climbing the socioeconomic ladder (Engels & Marx, 2007). Other characteristics of Communism includes heavy progressive income tax, free education, and the abolition of child labor. Communism is known for its command economy whereas capitalism is known for its market economy. Command economy is where a central government follows a 5 year economic plan on behalf of the people, the government is the center of all economic practices and owns and controls property and businesses. Market economy relies on supply and demand to direct the production of goods and is open to free choice, self-interest, competition and limited government control (Weeks, 2013).
In 1917, the rise of the Soviet Union, the new Communist state, was the successor to the Russian Empire and the first country to be influenced and based on Marxism. All levels of the government were controlled by the Communist party. In addition, industry was owned and managed by the government, and agricultural land was divided into state-run collective farms. Lenin, the leader of Russia at the time, aimed to rid the country of old symbols and structures that enforced inequalities such as: noble titles, ranks and government departments. Private property was to be abolished. Property that were once owned by rich nobles and landlords , would be given over to the peasants. It aimed towards civil rights and improved conditions for workers. Women were given equality and voting rights, healthcare and literacy programs were to be introduced. These plans stirred optimism among the people. Although Russia's command economy built up the military might to defeat the Nazis, civil war and economic deprivation prevented the Soviet State from fulfilling many of its promises. The State became one of the most oppressive in the world. The government determined the careers of students, assigned housing locations and abolished free markets. This lead to an oppressive state and the deaths of millions due to suicide, starvation and execution. Over 70 years of Communism passed since the revolution, yet people lacked adequate housing, harvest would rot due to a shortage of equipment for harvest and transport and factories were poorly maintained (Maltsev, 2017). Anyone who practiced religion and opposed Atheism and Communism would be killed. The conditions worsened as Communist Atheists began to destroy churches, and valuables within them were stolen and sold. By 1921, 11,000 religious leaders were arrested and 9,000 of them were executed. Following that year, 2000 church hierarchs were shot. By the end of the world war, hundreds of thousands of believers in religion were sent to labor camps. Their children died of starvation and disease due to exile and murder. In 1935, Article 12 of the USSR Criminal Code introduced by Stalin, permitted the imprisonment and death of children twelve years and over. This law was used to rid the nation of the orphans of victims in case the children turned out like their parents. The children who were sent to jail were abused and raped by the guards. Furthermore, individuals such as Nikolai Vavilov were killed because they adhered to the science of genetics (Maltsev, 2017). The dissolution of Communism occurred in 1991, with the crumbling of Russian economy and the state the country was in, the Communist party handed over its power after the declaration of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union.
According to many economists, one of the biggest reasons Communism has failed in Russia and continues to fail elsewhere is because of its command economy. Ludwig von Mises was one of the first people to predict the failure of Communism due to the abolishment of free markets. The abolishment of free market led officials to have no market prices to guide them in planning production (Von Mises, L., & Greaves, B, 2005). Russia’s plan was launched with high hopes, its goal for planning was to be done by a central committee. This way the state would ensure there was plenty for everyone. Mises noted the raw materials, tools, machines as well as the labor used within a socialist production were outside of the market. They’re owned and controlled by the planners within the government. Consequently, the market prices cannot develop because they are not exchangeable. To make any planning decisions, planners would need to know the relative values of products involved. When the factors are solely government owned, there would be no trade, leading to no market prices. Lack of these prices leaves planners clueless about relative values (Von Mises, L., & Greaves, B, 2005). The poor maintenance of housing, harvest and factories was because they were not privately owned. Prices are not able to develop without the offers of private ownership. Furthermore, prices that reflect their relative market values are not able to develop as well. Finally, without the market prices, it would be impossible to allocate production activities so that goods/services will be readily available to consumers. Other factors make Communism more of a dictatorship such as enforcement of ideological beliefs on the people. In order to establish true equality, Communism calls for the abolishment of religion, morality and other belief systems, even scientific ones that individuals may identify with. Forcing a specific lifestyle leads to the oppression of many and execution of those who do not abide with the state (Lehning, 1957).
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