The Pathos of Politics – Communism


Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite. ~ Canadian American political economist John Kenneth Galbraith

Though it flew under a Marxist flag, revolutionary communism – in the Soviet Union and China – was a revival of tyrannical absolutism. Communist central planning was state capitalism under a translucent veil. Its brutal ineptness begat a slow historical grind that exhausted the Soviet Union into extinction, and sent the Communist Chinese hurtling toward an exceedingly corrupt form of capitalism.


Communism is a Russian autocracy turned upside-down. ~ Russian revolutionary theorist Alexander Herzen

The early 20th century was a period of political turmoil in Russia. Conflict with a newly militant Japan led to Russian defeat in 1904, forcing Russia to abandon its expansionist policy in the far east.

Discontent with the autocracy of Tsar Nicholas II forced him to transform the government into a constitutional monarchy. The uprising of 1905 failed to oust Nicholas, but it did provoke extensive reforms, including introducing a constitution and legislative body: the Duma.

The outbreak of World War 1 temporarily strengthened the monarchy, but Nicholas squandered the opportunity. Governmental corruption was rampant. Russian armies suffered catastrophic losses against the Germans. The gulf between the ruling elite and public grew to an unbridgeable chasm.

Riots erupted in St. Petersburg on 8 March 1917 over food shortages. When most of the local garrison joined the revolt, Nicholas was forced to abdicate.

The provisional government appointed by the Duma faced rivalry from Soviet revolutionary forces. Unable to halt Russia’s slide into chaos, the communists (Bolsheviks) took control of the country. At the helm was Vladimir Lenin.

Vladimir Lenin

A lie told often enough becomes the truth. ~ Vladimir Lenin

Russian political theorist, communist revolutionary, and politician Vladimir Ulyanov was born into a comfortable bourgeois family. Both his parents were teachers with progressive views.

All 5 of the Ulyanov children became revolutionaries, but only 1 went to the top of the class. Vladimir’s eldest brother, Alexander, was hanged at 19 for his complicity in an amateurish 1887 plot against the Tsar. This was the 2nd personal incident which informed Vladimir’s political outlook. His father, shortly before his untimely death, had his livelihood threatened by the reactionary government, which had become fearful of public education.

Vladimir adopting the “Lenin” label during his exile in Siberia (1897–1900), after 14 months in prison for subversive activities. Lenin was derived from the river Lena, which flowed through the area where he was exiled.

Marx supposed that politics followed economics: an interpretation that reflected Marx as a 19th-century economic historian. As a 20th-century revolutionary politician, Lenin posited the primacy of politics over economics.

Marx thought that revolution to communism would be an evolutionary development after capitalism matured, presumably occurring first in the advanced countries of Western Europe. Lenin looked at the problem of sparking revolution more opportunistically.

Whereas Marx assumed that workers’ daily grind would sow the ground for revolutionary class consciousness, Lenin had little confidence that workers would develop politically.

As a Russian, Lenin understood the tepid social dynamics of backward nations. Economically underdeveloped countries were a mass of isolated peasants, lacking social cohesion. Lenin figured that the proletariat, through their own economic struggle, might only make it as far as “trade union consciousness”: not enough to unshackle themselves.

A revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, not every revolutionary situation leads to revolution. Sometimes history needs a push. ~ Vladimir Lenin

Hence, Lenin looked to a professional revolutionary cadre: “no less professionally trained than the police.” Like law enforcement, Lenin saw the organization of the revolution as highly centralized, able to supervise and control.

Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only outside of the economic struggle, outside of the sphere of relations between workers and employers. ~ Vladimir Lenin

Lenin’s inclination to concentrate power led fellow revolutionary Leon Trotsky to observe that what Lenin really meant by “dictatorship of the proletariat” was “dictatorship over the proletariat.”

It is true that liberty is precious; so precious that it must be carefully rationed. ~ Vladimir Lenin

In Russia before the revolution, a comparatively small army of police kept control over a vast, disorganized populace. This situation led Lenin to believe that a small but highly disciplined revolutionary force could wrest control of the country. The success of the November 1917 Russian Revolution proved him right.

One man with a gun can control 100 without one. ~ Vladimir Lenin

Joseph Stalin

The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic. ~ Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin succeeded Lenin by eliminating any opposition and taking total control. Political purges progressed from expulsion and exile to execution on a mass scale.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Stalin reversed Bolshevik agrarian policy by seizing land and organizing collective farms. This reduced the peasants to serfs, as they had been during the monarchy.

Stalin believed that collectivism would accelerate food production, but farmers resented losing their land and working solely for the state. Millions starved during the famine that ensued. Millions more were exiled to labor camps or executed for their objection.

Stalin also set in motion rapid industrialization which initially seemed to spawn successes, but the push cost millions of lives and caused vast environmental devastation.

Any whiff of resistance to the regime was swiftly met. And the fumes never seemed to cease – on the farm, in the factory, or among the apparatchiks. 20–60 million were murdered during Stalin’s reign for dissent or simply suspicion of disloyalty. This was on top of the 20 million Soviets killed during the 2nd World War.

Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union. ~ Joseph Stalin

In sum, Stalin was a ruthless sociopath who ruled by terror. His paranoia pervaded the political system. By the end of Stalin’s reign, only fear held the Soviet Union together. When that fear finally dissolved decades later, so too went the political edifice.

The Demise of the Soviet Union

The whole system was penetrated by the spirit of bootlicking, persecution of dissidents, window-dressing, and nepotism. ~ Mikhail Gorbachev

As Stalin lost his grip in the early 1950s, the Soviet Union stumbled into a regime of back-stabbing collective leadership. Out of the murk rose Nikita Khrushchev.

Khrushchev stunned fellow Soviets at the Communist Party Congress on 25 February 1956 by denouncing Stalin in a stem-winding 4-hour speech. He correctly declared that the Stalin era had been built on deceit, torture, false imprisonments, and executions on a mass scale. The audience left the speech in a state of shock.

Khrushchev consolidated his dictatorship in 1957. His reform attempts went nowhere.

In 1964 Khrushchev was ousted. Kremlin leaders were fed up with Khrushchev’s irascibility, and aghast at his foreign policy failures, most notably alienating China.

Successive leaders could not lift the stagnation that pervaded the Soviet system. The last in line was Mikhail Gorbachev, who took power in 1985. Gorbachev got off to a decent start, but then faltered.

By this time, the Chinese had embarked on economic liberalization while keeping a firm grip on political power. Gorbachev did the opposite: allowing greater political liberties while failing to implement any significant economic reforms.

Gorbachev’s efforts to streamline the Communist system ultimately proved uncontrollable. A cascade of events acted as solvent that dissolved the Soviet Union.

The Soviets were trapped in a quagmire war in Afghanistan that sapped military strength and brought home embitterment. This alone might have proved sufficient in time, but internal incompetence accelerated dissolution.

The town Pripyat in the Ukraine was host to the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which was a monument to Soviet modernization. The town’s symbol was Prometheus, the Greek god who created humans and gave them fire, the first technology.

On 26 April 1986, a test of the Chernobyl plant blew the roof off the reactor, releasing 400 times as much radioactive material as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Soviet officials covered up the mishap, as they did any misfortune which cast the country in a poor light.

Firefighters got deadly doses of radiation while heroically trying to put out the blaze at Chernobyl. Children in Pripyat played in the streets and couples celebrated weddings outdoors while an invisible poisonous cloud consumed their health.

The Soviet system disintegrated in the years that followed. At the end of 1991, Gorbachev resigned, declaring his office extinct.

Chernobyl served as a symbol of the toxicity that pervaded a political system built on lies and grasping government officials who served only themselves.

This country was governed and kept together by fear from Stalinist times. Gorbachev put the final blow to the resistance of the Soviet Union by killing the fear of the people. ~ Soviet politician Andrei Grachev


Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy. ~ Mao Zedong

Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong (1893–1976) was born into a peasant family. He took to political philosophy as a youth: devouring translations of Rousseau, Darwin, Smith, Mill, and others at the public library.

As an assistant librarian at Peking University, Mao first read Marx’s Communist Manifesto in 1918. By 1920, Mao thought himself a Marxist.

In 1921 he attended the 1st Congress of Chinese Communists. By 1935 Mao had control of the party, which he maintained until he died.

Without the poor peasants there can be no revolution. ~ Mao Zedong in 1927

Mao recognized early on that the peasantry were the potential Marxist proletariat in pre-communist feudal China. Chinese history was studded with sporadic peasant revolts, most of which had failed for lack of leadership.

Mao’s revolutionary strategy was guerilla warfare from rural bases against the conservative forces entrenched in the cities. Setbacks were met with dogged persistence that finally succeeded in 1949.

Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. ~ Mao Zedong

Unlike the French and Russian revolutions, the bourgeoisie were initially brought into the Chinese communist fold. Mao recognized their managerial skill as critical.

To counter imperialist oppression and to raise her backward economy to a higher level, China must utilize all the factors of urban and rural capitalism that are beneficial and not harmful to the national economy and the people’s livelihood; and we must unite with the national bourgeoisie in common struggle. ~ Mao Zedong

Mao did an abrupt about-face in 1966, when he launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which was a chaotic purge of supposed bourgeois elements, both within the party and without.

Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is the history of civilization for thousands of years. ~ Mao Zedong

Within a few years, Chinese society had descended to the precipice of anarchy. In 1971, the army belatedly restored order. A decade later, the Chinese Communist Party declared the Cultural Revolution as “responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.”

With the Cultural Revolution, Mao had sought to preserve his vision of society from being overwhelmed by industrialization and the consequent bureaucratization that had consumed the Soviet Union. Mao’s ultimate aim was heartily Confucian: to further loyalty to the Party. Mao not only failed, he turned into the most destructive force on Chinese society ever internally generated. Untold tens of millions were killed, and the lives of many millions more ruined – for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Mao’s legacy was respected only with lip service. As soon as he died, Party leadership started moving in a direction he would have never countenanced.

Mao was succeeded by Deng Xiaoping, who introduced market-economy reforms which turned China toward the capitalism system that Mao had so disdained.

It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, if it catches mice it is a good cat. ~ Deng Xiaoping in 1961

Into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist Party has managed to retain power while riding the tiger of a hybrid economic system that blends state and private capitalism. The mercantilist mentality that had taken hold millennia ago now reigns supreme. The Chinese have done well to hide this resolute nationalist bent with humbug and the occasional concession to free trade.

There is a serious tendency toward capitalism among the well-to-do peasants. ~ Mao Zedong

The Party’s biggest problem for decades had been internal corruption. The elevation of Xi Jinping in 2013 as party political leader brought an unprecedented campaign against widespread graft by government bureaucrats at all levels. Xi has gone on to become the 21st-century technocratic Mao in making himself leader for life.

As with other authoritarian regimes, the Chinese government has done its damndest to try to control and suppress information flow among the populace, particularly news which points out governmental mismanagement, of which there is a surfeit. With instant electronic communications and the Internet being a worldwide phenomenon, the government has been fighting a losing war.

The Communist Party is now a conservative force in China, doing its best to maintain the status quo. Whereas Mao exhibited a Confucian streak while ostensibly vilifying Confucianism, the Party now openly embraces the hoary Chinese creed. Since coming to power, Xi has sought to elevate Confucius as the grand progenitor of Chinese culture, with Mao’s rule as a historical blip.