Communism (Part 1)
Small c or big C?
Communism: does it really matter if the initial letter is upper or lower case? “Yes” is the answer - if my interpretation of two pieces of literature on the subject is correct. One is a famous pamphlet first published in 1848, the other a lengthy – and recent - meditation on the financial history of the last 5,000 years.
I begin with the second work which was written in response to the international economic crisis of the early-21st century. The author, David Graeber (1961-2020), was an anthropologist and self-acknowledged anarchist who helped found the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement in 2011.1 So he was definitely to the left of the political spectrum – if that still means anything today!
In his book Graeber argued that “All of us act like communists a good deal of the time”. (Note the small ‘c’.) His examples of what he called “everyday communism” range from the minor acts of courtesy many of us engage in, like giving directions to a stranger on the street, to the informal collaboration that occurs all the time between workers in a factory or office.2 Graeber might also have mentioned the well-known scene in the movie, Witness, when members of an Amish community combine their strength and skills to build a barn for one of their number.
Graeber maintained that those who take part in these apparently selfless transactions do not keep an account because they assume “that the other person would do the same for [them], not that they necessarily will”. His anthropological research told him that these and other kinds of communist behaviour spring from our tribal inheritance. We trust those we believe to be like us – our fellow tribesmen if you will - but we are generally suspicious of strangers.
Of course the person asking for directions will probably be a stranger. However, if he or she is a member - or possible member - of our “tribe”, we are usually happy to engage with them. As Graeber pointed out, this works both ways:
a middle-class pedestrian would be unlikely to ask a gang member for directions, and might even run in fear if one approached him to ask for the time.3
When presented in these terms, Graeber’s case that communism is a natural part of the human condition seems pretty self-evident, doesn’t it? We don’t have to co-operate with or help others but, if the circumstances are right, we give of our time and energy without expecting anything in return. Graeber was so convinced of our species’ innate communism that he described it as “the foundation of all human sociability”. He went on, “It is what makes society possible”.4
If that is “everyday communism”, what about Communism (with a big ‘C’)?
For Karl Marx (1818-1883), Communism and coercion went hand in hand. In his Communist Manifesto published in 1848, Marx expressed his disdain for those likeminded activists who
wish to attain their ends by peaceful means, and endeavour, by small experiments, necessarily doomed to failure, and by the force of example, to pave the way for the new social Gospel.5
Marx did not like “peaceful means”, “small experiments”, or “force of example”, because they were too slow. He wanted revolution now. According to Marx, it was a Utopian fantasy to imagine that the “selfish” rich could be persuaded over time to relinquish their wealth and power in order to bring about a more equitable society.6 He asserted that the elites would never give up their privileges unless they had to. The only response to the injustices of society was Communism.
Marx did not hide the compulsory nature of what he was proposing in his Manifesto. He urged “the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class”, because his Communist ideal could not be achieved “except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property”.7 What might have been natural and organic at a time when people lived in tribal communities would now have to be imposed by force, and that force would lie “in the hands of the State”.8 In short, the State would restore Eden – regardless of its citizens’ wishes.
George Orwell described the practical application of Marx’s theories as “a boot stamping on a human face – for ever”.9 During the 20th century a succession of tyrants, Josef Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, etc., demonstrated exactly what Orwell’s vivid metaphor would mean for us all if we ever fell into their clutches.
Was it foreseeable that Karl Marx’s proposal to create a classless society would translate into state-sponsored terror, exemplified by the Soviet gulags or the Cambodian killing fields? Given the uncompromisingly aggressive language of his 1848 pamphlet, Marx must have anticipated considerable popular resistance. That is why he nominated the “State” as the only power capable of imposing his plan, thus enabling “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions”.10
But that was then and this is now. Since the collapse of the USSR more than 30 years ago, the prospect of otherwise free peoples being frogmarched into Communism against their will is unlikely. When, at around the same time, Communist China developed its own brand of totalitarian capitalism to become the world’s go-to manufacturer of everything from iPods to religious statuary to luxury sunglasses, it was clear that the West had won the Cold War. At long last we could relax, couldn’t we?
However, as the threat of Orwell’s “boot on the face” was receding, Communism was mutating into a new variant adapted to the modern age of PR and advertising. In fact, even before the dissolution of the Soviet empire, a more subtle and sophisticated form of Marx’s “despotic inroads” was in the pipeline. This was the "long march through the institutions” strategy promoted during the 1960s, and which I wrote about here and here. Marx himself might have dismissed it as being similar to the ‘softly-softly’ approach he deplored. Nevertheless the modern Communists behind the "long march” plan have made remarkable progress during the last half-century or so, especially in the affluent West.
Although signs of that success were difficult to detect up to 2020, events over the last two-and-a-half years have revealed just how much our civilisation has been transformed. Under cover of a WHO-declared pandemic, those who used the “long march” to gain control of the levers of power have outdone even Stalin and Mao. We have experienced a degree of state control over the minutiae of citizens’ lives previously seen only in places like the now defunct Soviet bloc. Not only was this revolution launched without tanks and guns, it has proceeded with the consent of citizens around the world.
In Ireland during the covid period, examples of the state’s abusive intrusions were legion. They included quarantining healthy people in their homes or neighbourhoods, banning religious services, and imposing vaccine passports as a requirement to re-enter society – all accepted as necessary by the population.
An example of state aspirations to control everyone and everything can be found in a BBC report about the Irish covid supremo, Dr Anthony Holohan. The British broadcaster stated that Holohan was using data from Apple smartphones “that seemed to indicate an increase in the numbers, driving, walking and using public transport”. According to the article, this information was leading to “concern” on Holohan’s part because it meant “that people were relaxing their behaviour.”11
Perhaps the most audacious aspect of the “long march” plan was the attempt to pervert humanity’s natural tendency to give without expecting an equivalent return, i.e. the age-old communist impulse described by Graeber.
This part of the plan comprised two complementary tactics:
Forbid or discourage close contact between individuals, whether in the form of casual chats in the street or sexual intimacy in the bedroom.
Advocate or mandate the wearing of face masks and getting vaccinated as selfless steps each person should take in order to support their communities.
This heartless perversion of Homo sapiens’ intrinsic communal feelings was pushed by opinion leaders and celebrities across the planet. Countless newspaper columnists, ‘blue tick’ Twitter accounts, and rock stars harangued the public into donning face masks because as one journalist asserted
Pandemics only stop when scientists find a vaccine. Until then it's selfish and unpatriotic to refuse to wear a mask in public, when studies show it's the only tool we have to fight the spread.12
The UK’s Queen Elizabeth II implied that anyone hesitant about vaccination was being selfish, saying that “they ought to think about other people rather than themselves”.13
Social shaming became a widely-used tool in the planners’ bag of tricks. It was cheap and efficient and ensured that most people fell into line with the new “tribal” rules. On its own it would probably engender widespread compliance, as long as the public continued to absorb the propaganda. However, with brute force off the table, a second tool was needed to copper-fasten universal submission.
At the root of the “long march” strategy was an assumption that our dependence on the world’s financial system, on money itself, would render us amenable to whatever the planners had in mind. No one would dare put their income or assets at risk by resisting authority, would they?
More in Part 2.
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David Graeber Institute [https://davidgraeber.org/about-david-graeber/], 29 Sep. 2022.
David Graeber, Debt: The first 5,000 years (10th anniversary edition, New York 2021), pp. 95-100 passim.
Ibid, p. 413, fn. 13.
Ibid, p. 95.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (Penguin edition, London 1985), p. 116.
Ibid, p. 100.
Ibid, pp. 119, 104 (emphasis added).
Ibid, p. 104.
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (Penguin edition, London 2013), p. 307.
Communist Manifesto, p. 120.
BBC News, ‘Coronavirus: Ireland uses earthquake technology to monitor movements’, 24 Apr 2020 [https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52410280], 30 Sep 2022.
Irish Central, 19 Jun. 2020 [https://www.irishcentral.com/opinion/cahirodoherty/mask-pandemic-selfish], 30 Sep 2022.
The Irish Post, 26 Feb. 2021 [https://www.irishpost.com/news/queen-elizabeth-calls-people-who-refuse-covid-19-vaccine-selfish-204778], 30 Sep. 2022.