Communism (Part 3)
A beautiful doctrine?
I encourage those who have not yet read Communism (Parts 1 & 2), and the other articles linked within them, to do so before going any further.
In a recent video available to watch on the Internet one of the speakers declares that “Capitalism as we know it is dead”.
The speaker is not Rudi Dutschke or Peter Camejo, two student radicals who, during the 1960s, advocated the “long march” strategy as their preferred means of turning the world into a Communist paradise. (You can read more about them here and here.)
No, the spokesman in the video is not your typical leftie. He is Marc Benioff, a middle-aged American billionaire who is Chief Executive Officer of Salesforce, a software company employing 75,000 people.In the video Benioff continued his obituary for Capitalism:
This obsession we have had with maximising profits for shareholders alone has led to incredible inequality and planetary emergency.
The video is one of many produced by the World Economic Forum (WEF) to promote its “Great Reset”, and available on its YouTube channel.Although I have not mentioned the term, so far in this series I have been trying to describe the context in which the Great Reset was developed. However, before I examine the WEF initiative more closely, I need to flesh out that context a little more.
In Part 1 I stated that one of the assumptions underpinning the “long march” strategy is that we, the intended targets of the strategy, would do nothing to jeopardise our access to money. As I indicated in that article (and here also), this is true even for those who are managing money that does not actually belong to them.
Apart from money, the “long march” planners subscribe to another important tenet: human beings, Homo sapiens, would never willingly adopt Communism as the guiding principle in their lives. The reason why may be gleaned from this passage. It is taken from an article published nearly a century ago.
Communism would have all men throw their efforts in the help of one another, join in owning all things together, work unanimously for the common good, and ask only that which each needs, according to the means of the entire association. It is a beautiful doctrine; but an impossible one to put into practice, for all human beings are selfish; each, with only a few exceptions, wishes to get all he can and give as little as he can.
Two quite different authors, journalist George Orwell and novelist Charlotte Brontë, might have agreed that “all human beings are selfish… with only a few exceptions”. Their writings reveal the indifference and outright disdain often shown to those on the fringes of society. In Down and Out in Paris and London Orwell described going hungry after one of his English language students disappeared without paying his outstanding fee of twelve francs.Jane Eyre, the starving protagonist of Bronte’s eponymous novel, is turned away by a shopkeeper to whom she offers her handkerchief in exchange for food.
Whatever the authors had in mind when they produced these narratives, one message comes through clearly: no one should even think about heading down the moneyless path alone.
But what if we could be part of a less materialistic society, one that is not focused on individual advancement and economic growth? If the world around us will not change, maybe some kind of alternative sub-group is the answer. There are lots of examples around today and in previous articles I discussed a few, principally the Amish community, the Franciscan order, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP). Each of these groups allows its members to deviate from conventional money-related norms. In the case of the SVP that deviation may last only a few hours per week. For the Amish and Franciscans it is likely to be an all-day, everyday way of life.
However the fact that these organisations have endured for so long, sometimes for centuries, is due to one crucial factor: they have not separated completely from the world’s money system. Their dependence on that system, through trade, patronage, etc., is central to their continued existence.
A few other organisations have aspired to total independence from the world but, unlike the bodies mentioned above, they have not lasted very long. Two examples underline this reality.
Étienne Cabet (1788-1856), was a French-born, left-leaning philosopher who in the mid-19th century founded the Icarian movement. A sympathetic observer explained Cabet’s motivation.
[He] was of the opinion that the cause of failure of Communism in previous times was due to its having been tried under the influences of individualistic conditions. He thought that if he could take devoted men away from the influences of our selfish conditions of society, he could train them to become true followers of Christ’s doctrines of mutual love.
Mainly through the force of his personality Cabet drew a set of idealistic followers around him to help make Icaria a reality. They set up a number of small communities across the United States to put Cabet’s ideas into practice. Although the movement continued for several decades after Cabet’s death, it petered out around the turn of the 20th century. In his study of Cabet and Icaria, an historian of the movement offered this explanation for the group’s demise:
The Icarian communities did not last because they were built primarily upon ideals and morality and only secondarily upon sensible community rules, efficient economic production, and physical well-being.
In other words, Cabet’s Icaria kept going for half-a-century through the sheer enthusiasm of its members - not because its leaders had set up a practical structure everyone could live under. In the end, the Icarians found it impossible to practise communism in a capitalist world.
Readers may recall my observations about D. H. Lawrence and his attitude to money. Like Cabet, he wanted to turn his theories into practice. In 1915, Lawrence described the sort of alternative society he had in mind.
I want to gather together about twenty souls and sail away from this world of war and squalor and found a little colony where there shall be no money but a sort of communism as far as necessaries of life go, and some real decency. It is to be a colony built up on the real decency which is in each member of the community. A community which is established upon the assumption of goodness in its members, instead of the assumption of badness.
Although Lawrence tried to put flesh on these bones by setting up his Rananim colony in the United States, it never got off the ground. Even before his early death at the age of 44, he could see it would not work.
That Rananim of ours, it has sunk out of sight.
Now, in our own time, the WEF and its chairman, Klaus Schwab, are receiving a lot of attention for their launch of a similar undertaking. However they are not interested in sub-groups or alternative societies like Icaria or Rananim. Their ambitions are much greater. They want to transform our entire civilisation into something very different to anything we have seen before. Hence the Great Reset.
What would such a transformed world look like? Another of their videos offers a glimpse:
You’ll own nothing. And you’ll be happy. Whatever you want you’ll rent and it’ll be delivered by drone.
A recent article on the WEF’s web site explains how this might work.
In a performance economy, which encompasses one of the economic principles of a circular economy, a smaller number of asset owners will take custodianship of assets to keep them in use and provide services to many users based on consumption… The advantage… is that the payment is related to the level of consumption, rather than what is being paid to get access to the asset (i.e. the price of ownership).
Customers of Spotify will recognise the model. They can listen to virtually any piece of recorded music on their smartphone - as long as they pay the monthly subscription or listen to frequent ads. However, unlike physical CDs or digital downloads, they will never own any of the tracks.
If this were extended to everyday essentials like transport and clothing, what we once viewed as personal property, like a car or a sweater, would become a service to be rented from one of the “asset owners”, and shared with others.
Were the Great Reset to become a reality the “long march” strategists would have accomplished what Joseph Stalin, Étienne Cabet, and many others failed to achieve: the willing acceptance by everyone (even a billionaire businessman like Marc Benioff!) of Karl Marx’s Communism, now rechristened as something less alarming - like “democratic globalism” for instance.
But if Communism (with a big ‘C’) is the solution offered by the Great Reset, what about communism (with a small ‘c’)?
It is, as the late David Graeber wrote, “what makes society possible”.But communism is much, much more than that. It is so intrinsic to our humanity that, once we rediscover it in all its natural wonder, we will see the Great Reset as the silly counterfeit that it is.
More in Part 4.
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Forbes [https://www.forbes.com/profile/marc-benioff/?sh=6dc6b4bf3ee0]. Salesforce [https://www.salesforce.com/company/leadership/bios/bio-benioff/]. 10 Nov. 2022.
World Economic Forum, ‘What is the Great Reset? | Davos Agenda 2021’, YouTube.
All the articles in History in the Making could be read as commentary on the Great Reset, as well as others I wrote for Na seascaidí.
C.P. Dadant, 2 Oct. 1924, from ‘Documents pertaining to the Icarian Community in Illinois and Iowa, 1855-1942’.
George Orwell, The Non-Fiction of George Orwell (Oxford, 2021), p. 18.
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, in The Bronte Sisters: The Complete Novels (London, 2006), p. 323.
Dadant, 2 Oct. 1924.
Robert P. Sutton, Les Icariens: The Utopian Dream in Europe and America (Chicago 1994), p. 147.
Letter DHL to W. E. Hopkins, 18 Jan. 1915, in George J. Zytaruk (ed.), The quest for Rananim; D.H. Lawrence's letters to S.S. Koteliansky, 1914 to 1930 (Montreal 1970), p. 22 (fn.)p. 22.
Letter DHL to S. S. Koteliansky , 4 Jan. 1926, in ibid., p. 276.
World Economic Forum, ‘8 predictions for the world in 2030’, YouTube.
Dr Mayuri Wijayasundara, ‘How a circular economy could help tackle Sri Lanka's economic crisis’, Jul 5, 2022, World Economic Forum [https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/07/circular-economy-tackle-economic-crisis-sri-lanka/], 11 Nov. 2022 (emphasis added).
Ida Auken, ‘Welcome to 2030. I own nothing, have no privacy, and life has never been better’, 11 Nov. 2016, World Economic Forum.
Alvin Carpio, ‘The answer to nationalist fervour isn't less globalism. It's more’, Jan 16, 2019, World Economic Forum [https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/the-answer-to-nationalist-fervour-isnt-less-globalism-its-more/], 11 Nov. 2022.
David Graeber, Debt: The first 5,000 years (10th anniversary edition, New York 2021), p. 95.