Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and the Soviet Union

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 18th, 2014

History 101

Marx called for a Dictatorship of the Proletariat where the Workers controlled the Means of Production

Karl Marx did not like capitalism.  Or middle class people that used money to make money.  The bourgeoisie.  Who exploit the working man.  The proletariat.  The bourgeoisie used their capital to exploit the labor of the working man (i.e., taking a risk and investing in land, factories, machinery, labor, etc.) to make money.  While the working man slaved away at slave wages creating all the great things we have in the world.  Of course, the proletariat could not do any of this unless others took risks and invested in land, factories, machinery, labor, etc.

This was just not fair to Karl Marx.  Because the industrial bourgeoisie had all the power.  And their exploitation of the proletariat was nothing more than a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.  So Marx created a socio-economic philosophy to address this dictatorship.  Marxism.  And called for a social transformation.  For working men everywhere to unite.  And break the chains that bound them in the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.  Calling for a dictatorship of the proletariat.  For the workers to control the means of production.  In a new system that replaced capitalism.  Socialism.  Until they could usher in the true ideal.  Communism.

In capitalism the bourgeoisie get rich creating neat things people discover and want to buy.  In communism there would be no bourgeoisie using the means of production to make a buck.  Instead, wise and selfless people would determine what was best for the people.  Instead of free markets allocating scarce resources economic planners would.  And they’d do it better.  Because they are selfless.  Creating large surpluses that would go not into some rich capitalist’s bank account.  But they would fairly distribute this surplus among the working class.  So society as a whole would be better off.  Sounds great.  But if the market didn’t make the decisions of what to produce who did?  As it turned out for Marxism that was a very difficult question to answer.

Leon Trotsky was a Like-Minded Marxist and the number two Communist behind Lenin

The Russian people were growing tired of World War I.  And Tsar Nicholas.  In fact they had it with the Russian Empire.  Even before World War I.  Although serfdom was abolished in 1861 the lives of peasants didn’t improve much.  There was still famine.  And the serfs had to pay a lot to their former landlords for their freedom.  So there was revolutionary fervor in the air.  And a few peasant uprisings.  As well as a few revolutionaries.  Such as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.  Who was a Marxist.  His anti-Tsarist political activity got him arrested and exiled a few times.  In fact, during World War I he was living in exile in Switzerland.  Hoping that the Germans would weaken Tsarist Russia enough to kick off a socialist revolution in Russia.

When revolution did break out Lenin was anxious to return to Russia.  But being in Switzerland posed a problem.  It was surrounded by warring countries.  Lucky for him, though, the Germans were anxious to close the eastern front of the war.  And a little revolution in Russia could do just that.  So they transported Lenin through Germany and helped him return to Russia.  They travelled north.  Took a ferry to Sweden.  Then by train to Petrograd.  Formally Saint Petersburg (Peter the Great’s new capital on the Baltic Sea).  Which was later renamed Leningrad.  And then later renamed Saint Petersburg.  Where he would lead the Bolshevik Party.  And the world-wide socialist revolution against capitalism.

Leon Trotsky was a like-minded Marxist.  And an anti-militarist.  He had a falling out with Lenin but eventually reunited.  With Trotsky becoming the number two communist behind Lenin.  Trotsky addressed a problem with Marxism for Russia.  Socialism was to be the final step AFTER capitalism.  Once there was a strong industrial proletariat.  Russia didn’t have that.  For it was one of the least advanced countries in the world.  An agrarian nation barely out of the Middle Ages.  So Russia had to industrialize WHILE the proletariat took over the means of production.  Which brought up a big problem.  How could a backward nation industrialize while having a revolution?  How could they do this without other advanced capitalistic countries coming to the aid of the bourgeoisie?  Which Trotsky answered with his Permanent Revolution.  For the Russian socialist revolution to be successful there had to be socialist revolutions in other countries, too.  Thinking more in terms of a worldwide revolution of industrialized states.  And not just in Russia.  Something another Marxist disagreed with.  Joseph Stalin

Communist States have Guards on their Borders to prevent People from Escaping their Socialist Utopia

During these revolutionary times workers’ councils were appearing throughout the country.  Soviets.  Which helped stir up the revolutionary fervor.  In 1917 the imperial government fell.  The Bolsheviks killed the Tsar and his family.  And Russia fell into civil war.  Which the Bolsheviks won in 1922.  And formed the Soviet Union.  Or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).  That stretched from Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean.  Under the rule of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.  Until he died in 1924.  Then Joseph Stalin took over after a brutal power struggle.  Even exiled Leon Trotsky.  And established totalitarian rule.  Stalin created a planned economy.  Rapid industrialization.  And collectivization.  As well as famines, forced labor, deportation and great purges of his political enemies.  To strengthen his one-party rule.  To protect the socialist revolution from a return of capitalism.

The Russian Revolution was the only successful socialist revolution in Europe.  The dictatorship of the proletariat did not happen as Lenin and Trotsky had envisioned.  So Stalin abandoned the idea of Permanent Revolution.  And adopted Socialism in One Country instead.  To strengthen the Soviet Union.  And not support a world-wide socialist revolution against capitalism.  In direct opposition of Trotsky.  To aid in the USSR’s industrialization Stalin made a pact with the devil.  Adolf Hitler.  And entered an economic agreement that would allow Hitler to build and test his war machine on Soviet soil that he would use in World War II.  Then came the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  And the secret protocol.  Where Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to conquer and divvy up the countries located between them.

Trotsky did not like what the Soviet Union became under Stalin.  An oppressive dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.  Not the dictatorship of the proletariat envisioned by Karl Marx.  And he didn’t like that pact with a militarist Nazi Germany.  He predicted that Stalin’s USSR would not last.  Either suffering a political revolution like Tsar Nicholas suffered.  Or it would collapse into a capitalist state.  Stalin disagreed.  And killed him and his family.  Getting rid of the last of the old Bolsheviks.  Leaving him to rule uncontested until his death in 1953.  Exporting communism wherever he could.  Where it killed more people than any other ideology.  Until the great and brutal socialism experiment collapsed in 1991.  For Trotsky was right.  It could not survive when a better life was just across a border.  Which is why all of the communist states have guards on their borders.  To keep their people from escaping their socialist utopia.

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Communism, Karl Marx, Marxism, Surplus Labor and the Labor theory of Value

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 20th, 2013

History 101

(Originally published December 13, 2011)

Some would call Putting Profits before People Heaven if they had Lived in the Caring Hell of Communism

No ideology killed more people than communism.  In total numbers.  Such as Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union.  Or Mao Tse-tung in the People’s Republic of China.  Or as a percentage of population.  Where Pol Pot’s Cambodian genocide holds this honor alone.  These communist leaders killed their people directly for political purposes.  Or starved them to death because of agrarian reforms that produced famines.  All in the name of freeing their people from the horrors of capitalism.

Heaven and hell.  That’s how a defector who escaped communism and made it to capitalism would describe what it’s like to live under each system.  Capitalism would be heaven.  And communism would be hell.  The problem with communism was that it didn’t work.  Economically.  People lived in want of the basic staples of life.  And often went hungry.  When they didn’t starve to death by yet another famine.  And if they complained or spoke out against the system they risked torture.  Or they simply just disappeared.  Banished to a work camp.  A reeducation camp.  Or killed.  So it’s no surprise that people trapped in these countries tried to escape.  Which is why communist states were oppressive police states.  To prevent people from escaping their horrible lives.

And yet to this day some people still hold up communism as the ideal socioeconomic system.  The one that cares about the people.  The one that puts people before profits.  Unlike capitalism.  Which puts profits before people.  Of course some would call putting profits before people heaven.  Especially if they had lived in the caring hell of communism.

Communism as an Economic System is an Utter and Abject Failure

Those who champion communism don’t blame the ideology.  They say it’s the people.  The few who use the ideology for personal gain.  And by few they mean basically everyone.  But if everyone is doing it it’s not the people.  It’s the ideology.  And it goes back to its utter and abject failure as an economic system.

Communism goes back to Karl Marx.  The guy that coauthored the Communist Manifesto in 1848.  And from which we get the terms Marxism.  And Marxist.  To describe varying forms of communism.  And communists.  He’s the guy who said that capitalism exploited the working man.  Those with money (capital) who owned factories, the industrial bourgeoisie, charged more for their goods than they paid their workers to make those goods.  Because Marx believed the value of any good was the labor that made it (the labor theory of value), this excess value (profit) was a labor surplus.  And belonged to the worker.  So he encouraged class conflict.  For the proletariat (the working class) to rise up and take over the means of production from those who owned it.  These middle class capitalists.  The industrial bourgeoisie.  And establish a dictatorship of the proletariat.  So the bourgeois capitalist pig-dogs couldn’t exploit the proletariat any more.  And everyone would then live happily ever after.

But no one ever did.  Like in capitalism.  Where happiness abounds.  Because, in capitalism, the market determines prices.  Not some bureaucrat counting up labor inputs through the manufacturing process.  From the mining of resources.  To the final assembly.  Which can make things very expensive.  And, worse, unwanted by the people.  Because when the market sets the price and assigns value, the market tells people what to make.  Normally when something is a hot seller it tells manufacturers to make more of it.  To cash in on those high prices.  So they do.  And people tend to buy this surge in products.  But when the market isn’t setting the price and assigning value, the market can’t tell people what to make.  So a bureaucrat must.  Which is what happens in communism.  Bureaucrats decide everything.  From what to make.  To the allocation of resources.  To the selling price.  And the things they decide to make are rarely what the people want.  Explaining why stores in communist countries were full of stuff no one wanted to buy.  And why people had to stand hours in line to get the things they did.  Or paid more on the black market.  Which is why communism as an economic system is an utter and abject failure.  And why people wanted to escape it.  Their only obstacle being that brutal and oppressive police state.  Which was necessary because if everyone left that wanted to the communist leaders wouldn’t have anyone to provide for them.

There are no Such Things as Market Failures under Capitalism

Communism was one of the worst man-made tragedies to ever befall man.  Karl Marx was wrong.  And his asinine theories killed tens of millions of people.  People enjoy life and prosper under capitalism.  Under communism they set records for genocide.  Why?  Because the communist economic model is an utter and abject failure.

The struggle between communism and capitalism was an economic one.  And pitted the market against bureaucrats who thought they were smarter than the market.  But it turned out they weren’t.  Not by a long shot.  And despite this history people are constantly talking about market failures and the evils of capitalism.  Much like Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and Pol Pot.  But for them it was never about the economics.  It was about the power.  Much like it is today.  Because there are no such things as market failures under capitalism.  It’s the bureaucrats who fail.  Not the markets.  At least, based on all recorded history.

Markets fail only when they aren’t free.  They fail when bureaucrats insert themselves into the economic process.  Via regulatory policy.  Or high taxes.  When they try to shape market forces to a political end.  And when they do it is capitalism no more.  It’s crony capitalism.  Or worse.

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Marx, Engels, Communist Manifesto, Capitalists, Bourgeoisie, Proletariat, Private Property, Soviet Union, Iron Curtain and East Berlin

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 1st, 2012

History 101

Nationalism, Socialism and Communism forced a more Fair, Just and Equitable Society onto the People

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto in 1848.  Launching a war against capitalism.  And private property.  Intellectuals and those in academia loved this stuff.  And labor leaders.  Because it was a path to power.  Especially for those who could not create wealth.  Unlike the great wealth producers.  Like the industrialists.  The entrepreneurs.  Small business owners.  The productive middle class.  That is, the capitalists.  Who work hard and achieve success.  By using their talent and ability to create wealth.  Moving up the economic ladder.  Creating income inequality.  The ultimate sin of capitalism.  According to Marx and Engels.  Intellectuals.  Academia.  And labor leaders.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels single out the accumulation of private property as the source of all our problems.  The capitalists, the bourgeoisie, have an insatiable appetite for private property.  They just can’t get enough of it.  And therefore oppress their workers, the proletariat, to maximize their property.  By paying them less and less to maximize their profits.  So they can use those profits to buy more and more property.  Which keeps the proletariat in perpetual and abject poverty.  And concentrates all the wealth into the few hands of the bourgeoisie.  And the only way to correct this great inequity was through a worker’s revolution.  Where the proletariat rises up and takes the private property of the bourgeoisie and gives it to the state.  So it belongs to everyone.  Especially to those who did not create it.  A very popular idea among those mired in perpetual and abject poverty.  Who are easily swayed to support this more fair, just and equitable distribution of other people’s wealth.

These progressive views enthralled Europe.  Especially after the Industrial Revolution created some appalling conditions for workers.  And they took this opportunity to put them into practice.  It was the 19th century that gave us the ‘fair’ political systems of nationalism, socialism and communism.  That began the process of transferring wealth from the capitalists to the anti-capitalists.  Precipitating the economic decline of Europe.  Making America the new economic superpower.  Which still maintained the principles of free market capitalism throughout the 19th century.  Until the anti-capitalistic teachings of Marx and Engels took hold in the progressive government of Woodward Wilson.  Bringing back the federal income tax Abraham Lincoln used to pay for the Civil War.  But unlike Lincoln Wilson had no intention of repealing it.  The federal income tax was here to stay.  As progressives began building that more fair, just and equitable society.

The Soviet Union Depended on the West for Food because their Forced Collectivized Farms couldn’t Feed their People

But the equitable movement in America was not as intense as it was in Europe.  Or Russia.  Which was taking the teachings of Marx and Engels to their logical end.  They had a worker’s revolution.  They became communist.  And forced that more fair, just and equitable society on their people.  Whether they wanted it or not.  And those who objected they systematically killed.  Or exiled to a Siberian gulag.  For Joseph Stalin’s rise to power was brutal.  As was the Soviet Union.  Even making a deal with Adolf Hitler to split Poland after the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland that launched World War II.  Then Hitler double-crossed their Soviet ally and attacked the Soviet Union.  And the Nazis nearly overran them.  The Nazis were in Leningrad (present day St. Petersburg).  At the gates of Moscow.  And in Stalin’s city.  Stalingrad.  The Soviets were unable to resist the Nazi onslaught.  The only thing that saved them was material aid from the capitalist West.  The Soviet T-34 tank (the best in the war).  And, of course, the millions of Soviet people the Soviet generals could throw into the Nazi killing machine to wear the Nazis down.

No one suffered like the Soviet people did during World War II.  The US and the UK each lost about a half million people.  A terrible loss.  The Soviets, though, lost about 25 million people.  A number that just numbs the mind.  This was the second Russian invasion that had brought an enemy to the gates of Moscow.  The first were the French a century earlier under Napoleon.  There wasn’t going to be a third.  Wherever their armies were at the end of World War II they pretty much stayed.  Turning Eastern Europe into a communist bloc.  And to make the Soviet Union a mightier nation they embarked on a rapid industrialization program.  To make it a modern power like those great nations in the West.  But unlike them they were going to do it the ‘smart’ way.  With their command economy.  Where their brilliant state planners would marshal their resources and do what the free market economies did in the west.  Only instead of taking about a century their Industrial Revolution would take only 5 years.

With no industrialists, entrepreneurs, small business owners or a middle class it fell upon the state planners to industrialize the Soviet Union.  As well as feed the Soviet people.  Well, they industrialized the Soviet Union.  But never brought it up to par with the industrialized West.  Worse, they couldn’t feed their people.  Despite having some of the most fertile farmland in all of Europe in the Ukraine.  The Soviet Union depended on the West for food.  Because their forced collectivized farms didn’t work like Marx and Engels said they would.  And they didn’t work in China, either.  Where another brutal communist dictator, Mao Zedong, killed tens of millions of his people by starving them to death.  By forcing a more fair, just and equitable society onto the Chinese.

Time Froze behind the Iron Curtain and People Lived pretty much Forever in the 1940s

At the end of World War II, like at the end of World War I, no one wanted to think about war anymore.  Winston Churchill, though, did.  For he saw what the Soviet Union was doing.  And saw the spread of their communism as a threat to Western Civilization.  He gave a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946.  And said, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.”  There was now an Eastern Europe.  An East Germany.  And an East Berlin.  All behind the Iron Curtain.  All in the Soviet sphere.  All communist.  Where they all suffered under a more fair, just and equitable society.  Whether they wanted it or not.  And they clearly did not.  For the Soviets had to build a wall in Berlin to prevent those in East Berlin from escaping to West Berlin.

The intellectuals, academia and labor leaders loved Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union.  They thought communism was the enlightened future.  Probably because they didn’t have to live in it.  But what is surprising is that a lot of college students have this affection with communism.  To this day they still wear t-shirts emblazed with the beret-wearing Che Guevara.   Who helped Fidel Castro bring that more fair, just and equitable society to the Cubans.  Who have been trying to escape it ever since by practically swimming to Florida and free market capitalism.  But the college students and their professors still yearn for a Soviet-style economy in the United States.  And condemn capitalism as they sit in coffee bars sipping their lattes.  Enjoying social media on their smartphones.  Wearing the latest fashions.  Enjoying the latest movies.  The newest music.  And dream of that more just society.  Where they redistribute wealth fairly and equitably.  And the rich pay their fair share.  Just like in East Berlin.  Where life was fair.  But it was nowhere as enjoyable as in the unfair West.

Time froze behind the Iron Curtain.  When West Berlin enjoyed the best Western Civilization had to offer in music, fashion, food, entertainment, etc., East Berlin didn’t.  For they were frozen in the 1940s.  Western music was decadent.  So instead of rock and pop music you listened to classical music.  Instead of the latest Hollywood movies you went to the ballet.  You didn’t watch Western television.  Read Western books.  Or newspapers.  No.  You only saw things approved by state censors.  And that were patriotic.  Why?  To prevent their people from seeing how much better life was on the other side of the Iron Curtain.  Where they enjoyed the latest and the best of everything.  Whereas inside the Iron Curtain you went to the black market for any real luxuries.  Like a pair of blue jeans.  Which they didn’t sell in East Berlin.  Because they were decadent.  Why, they wouldn’t even sell a t-shirt with a communist icon on it.  Because you just didn’t wear something like that in the 1940s.  But college kids will attack capitalism.  And support the fairness of socialism and communism.  Even though the things they enjoy come from free market capitalism.  And are simply not available in the communist command economy.  Because the accumulation of private property is the greatest sin of capitalism.  And not allowed under communism.

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Market Economy, Command Economy and Market Failures

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 30th, 2012

Economics 101

Money replaced the Barter System making it Easier to Trade Freely and Voluntarily

We did our first economic exchanges in a market economy.  Agricultural advances gave us our first food surpluses.  These food surpluses gave people free time.  To do other things besides growing food.  Like developing an alphabet and writing.  Mathematics.  A code of laws.  And we made material goods.  Like pottery.  Farming tools.  Processing olive oil for lamps.  People who were good at making one thing made a lot of that one thing and traded with other people.  Who were good at making one thing themselves.  These people met.  And traded.  Freely and voluntarily.

Free trade.  A key element of the market economy.  Where people freely met and traded the things they made.  With other people who are freely trading the things they made.  Free trade came before money.  We bartered our first trades.  Trading goods for goods.  We then created money to make our trades easier.  Reducing the search time to find people to trade with.

Money is something that can store value.  Which allowed people to trade their goods for money.  Then they took that money and traded it with someone else.  To get something they wanted.  Money allowed people to spend less time finding people to trade with.  Because you didn’t have to find that one person that had what you wanted AND was willing to trade it for what you made.  Money allowed us to advance beyond the barter system.  Which proved more and more inefficient as we produced more and more goods.

Because of Market Failures the Government taxes to Provide Public Goods and Eliminate the Free-Rider Problem

As we produced more and more goods our standard of living rose.  We had more things in our lives that made that life easier.  More comfortable.  And more enjoyable.  Civilizations with a bustling market economy were great places to live.  Because there were a lot of nice things to make life better.  Which other people saw.  From beyond the civilization.  And they wanted what they saw.  And they took it.  By force.  Raiding parties would enter a developed civilization and rape, murder and plunder.  So to enjoy the amenities of an advanced civilization required the ability to protect your civilization.  Which led to one of the first market failures.  The failure of the market to provide city defenses through the free and voluntary trading of people engaged in economic activity.

We call it a market failure because building city defenses and creating an army are things the market economy can’t provide.  One person can’t make a fort or an army.  And trade it with someone else.  It’s too big.  It takes a lot of people and a lot of effort to make these things.  But it doesn’t take everyone.  If everyone else is contributing one person could skip contributing.  That person would still be able to enjoy the benefits of that fort and army.  Living in safety.  And enjoy living in safety for free.  Something we call the free-rider problem.  The fort and army are examples of public goods.  Things the free market can’t provide.  Or that the free market fails to provide.  Not that the market is broken or operating poorly.  It’s because people rarely act freely and voluntarily to benefit other people.  Because any time and money spent doing this is time and money taken away from their own families.  Which would bring hardship to them.  So the government provides these things that are necessary AND cause personal hardship to individuals to provide.  The government forces everyone to contribute.  Which minimizes the hardship each individual must bear.

Some in power like to take this further.  And call things that people can provide for themselves that benefit only themselves public goods, too.  Such as health care.  Higher education.  Housing.  Food.  Everything the people can buy for themselves by working to earn the money to buy these things.  And when they do they alone enjoy the benefits of these goods.  These goods they incurred hardships to obtain.  By working to earn a paycheck.  Or sacrificing other things to have these things instead.  It’s their call.  Their choice.  A choice they enter freely and voluntarily.  Therefore these things are not public goods.  But that doesn’t stop some people from acting like they are public goods.  Usually to help them win an election to office.  Or to overthrow the government.

A Command Economy reduced Economic Activity and Introduced a Police State

Civilizations with a bustling market economy were great places to live.  If you had talent and ability.  If you did then you could work hard and trade your talent and ability for a paycheck.  That you could use to trade for other things in that bustling economy.  Those with great talent and ability would be able to trade these for great paychecks.  Those with less talent and ability would be able to trade these for lesser paychecks.  Which, of course, caused income inequality.  Which is a handy thing to exploit if you want to seize power.  So you can enjoy the best things the civilization has to offer.  When your talent and ability only can trade for one of those lesser paychecks.

History is full of people trying to seize power.  So this is nothing new.  What was new was the way these people seized power.  By using the teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  As they wrote in the Communist Manifesto.  Who attacked market economies.  And capitalism.  Saying that the new middle class, the bourgeois, maximized profits by exploiting the working class.  The proletariat.  Which they said was unfair.  And that the only way to make things fair was to destroy the very concept of private property.  Because only the bourgeois accumulated private property.  The proletariat had none.  And only got poorer and poorer while the bourgeois got richer and richer.  Under their system, then, nothing belonged to the person.  Everything belonged to the state.  If you created something with your talent and ability it belonged to the state.  And then the state determined how to distribute the fruit of your labors.  Basically according to the rule ‘from those according to ability to those according to need’.  Those with the greatest need got the most stuff.  And those with the most ability worked the hardest.  Well, you can just guess how that worked out.  Everyone tried to show as little ability as possible and the greatest need as possible.

Because people weren’t the masters of their talent and ability anymore they couldn’t trade freely and voluntarily.  Which meant there was no longer a market economy.  Instead there was a command economy.  Where the government made all the decisions.  What to make.  How to use resources.  Where people lived.  Where they worked.  And what prices they paid for the things in the state-run stores.  Which had shelves full of things no one wanted to buy.  And empty shelves where the staples went (soap, toilet paper, etc.).  Because the government decided what to bring to the state-run stores.  And in what quantity.  Not people trading freely and voluntarily.  Which reduced economic activity.  Reduced living standards.  And introduced a police state.  Because anyone who had a chance to escape to a market economy did.  Which is why the East Germans built a wall in Berlin.  To keep their people from escaping their command economy.  And going to the market economy across the street.

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Communism, Karl Marx, Marxism, Surplus Labor and the Labor theory of Value

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 13th, 2011

History 101

Some would call Putting Profits before People Heaven if they had Lived in the Caring Hell of Communism

No ideology killed more people than communism.  In total numbers.  Such as Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union.  Or Mao Tse-tung in the People’s Republic of China.  Or as a percentage of population.  Where Pol Pot’s Cambodian genocide holds this honor alone.  These communist leaders killed their people directly for political purposes.  Or starved them to death because of agrarian reforms that produced famines.  All in the name of freeing their people from the horrors of capitalism.

Heaven and hell.  That’s how a defector who escaped communism and made it to capitalism would describe what it’s like to live under each system.  Capitalism would be heaven.  And communism would be hell.  The problem with communism was that it didn’t work.  Economically.  People lived in want of the basic staples of life.  And often went hungry.  When they didn’t starve to death by yet another famine.  And if they complained or spoke out against the system they risked torture.  Or they simply just disappeared.  Banished to a work camp.  A reeducation camp.  Or killed.  So it’s no surprise that people trapped in these countries tried to escape.  Which is why communist states were oppressive police states.  To prevent people from escaping their horrible lives.

And yet to this day some people still hold up communism as the ideal socioeconomic system.  The one that cares about the people.  The one that puts people before profits.  Unlike capitalism.  Which puts profits before people.  Of course some would call putting profits before people heaven.  Especially if they had lived in the caring hell of communism.

Communism as an Economic System is an Utter and Abject Failure

Those who champion communism don’t blame the ideology.  They say it’s the people.  The few who use the ideology for personal gain.  And by few they mean basically everyone.  But if everyone is doing it it’s not the people.  It’s the ideology.  And it goes back to its utter and abject failure as an economic system.

Communism goes back to Karl Marx.  The guy that coauthored the Communist Manifesto in 1848.  And from which we get the terms Marxism.  And Marxist.  To describe varying forms of communism.  And communists.  He’s the guy who said that capitalism exploited the working man.  Those with money (capital) who owned factories, the industrial bourgeoisie, charged more for their goods than they paid their workers to make those goods.  Because Marx believed the value of any good was the labor that made it (the labor theory of value), this excess value (profit) was a labor surplus.  And belonged to the worker.  So he encouraged class conflict.  For the proletariat (the working class) to rise up and take over the means of production from those who owned it.  These middle class capitalists.  The industrial bourgeoisie.  And establish a dictatorship of the proletariat.  So the bourgeois capitalist pig-dogs couldn’t exploit the proletariat any more.  And everyone would then live happily ever after.

But no one ever did.  Like in capitalism.  Where happiness abounds.  Because, in capitalism, the market determines prices.  Not some bureaucrat counting up labor inputs through the manufacturing process.  From the mining of resources.  To the final assembly.  Which can make things very expensive.  And, worse, unwanted by the people.  Because when the market sets the price and assigns value, the market tells people what to make.  Normally when something is a hot seller it tells manufacturers to make more of it.  To cash in on those high prices.  So they do.  And people tend to buy this surge in products.  But when the market isn’t setting the price and assigning value, the market can’t tell people what to make.  So a bureaucrat must.  Which is what happens in communism.  Bureaucrats decide everything.  From what to make.  To the allocation of resources.  To the selling price.  And the things they decide to make are rarely what the people want.  Explaining why stores in communist countries were full of stuff no one wanted to buy.  And why people had to stand hours in line to get the things they did.  Or paid more on the black market.  Which is why communism as an economic system is an utter and abject failure.  And why people wanted to escape it.  Their only obstacle being that brutal and oppressive police state.  Which was necessary because if everyone left that wanted to the communist leaders wouldn’t have anyone to provide for them.

There are no Such Things as Market Failures under Capitalism

Communism was one of the worst man-made tragedies to ever befall man.  Karl Marx was wrong.  And his asinine theories killed tens of millions of people.  People enjoy life and prosper under capitalism.  Under communism they set records for genocide.  Why?  Because the communist economic model is an utter and abject failure.

The struggle between communism and capitalism was an economic one.  And pitted the market against bureaucrats who thought they were smarter than the market.  But it turned out they weren’t.  Not by a long shot.  And despite this history people are constantly talking about market failures and the evils of capitalism.  Much like Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and Pol Pot.  But for them it was never about the economics.  It was about the power.  Much like it is today.  Because there are no such things as market failures under capitalism.  It’s the bureaucrats who fail.  Not the markets.  At least, based on all recorded history.

Markets fail only when they aren’t free.  They fail when bureaucrats insert themselves into the economic process.  Via regulatory policy.  Or high taxes.  When they try to shape market forces to a political end.  And when they do it is capitalism no more.  It’s crony capitalism.  Or worse.

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LESSONS LEARNED #68: ” Beware the demagogue, the champion of the poor, for he has dictatorial aspirations.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 2nd, 2011

Robespierre used the Sans-culottes

A telltale sign of royalty is a really nice pair of pants.  With a perfect, sharp crease.  But that’s today.  Back in the old days, it was a handsome pair of silk knee-breeches.  The wealthy in pre-revolutionary France all wore them.  I say ‘pre-revolutionary’ because it was not the thing to wear during the revolution.  In fact, a group of people who could not afford these fancy breeches took pride in their plain pants.  The poor working class in the cities.  Artisans and small shopkeepers.  The little guys.  Struggling to make a living.

These people did not wear the ‘culottes’ (French for ‘silk knee-breeches’) of the upper classes.  So they went ‘sans’ them (French for ‘without’).  Hence they were the Sans-culottes.  They were the people without silk knee-britches.  And the mob behind the French Revolution

They were Leftist radicals.  Anti-capitalists.  And the far-Left radical Jacques Roux used them for muscle.  Turned them against the bourgeouis (the middle class).  Caused a whole lot of unrest.  Some food riots.  And a massacre or two.  Roux was becoming too powerful so Maximilien Robespierre, a Jacobin, had him arrested.  Then he used the Sans-culottes to consolidate his power.  With the opportune assassination of Jean-Paul Marat (a Jacobin leader), Robespierre became the leader of the Jacobins and of the Revolution.  For awhile.  With the help of the Sans-culottes, he unleashed the Reign of Terror.  Marat’s assassin was a Girondin.  The Girondins were the political rivals of the Jacobins.  So Robespierre put Marat’s assassination to good use and cleaned house.  And by ‘clean house’ I mean killed as many of his political opposition as possible.  It was the time to kill.  If you didn’t like someone all you had to say was that he or she was a counter revolutionary.  And they got a date with the guillotine.  In all some 16,000 (or more) lost their heads during the Reign of Terror.  Including Robespierre himself.  Live by the guillotine.  Die by the guillotine.  And soon thereafter the Sans-culottes became less of a force as the government pulled back from the extreme Leftist radicalism of the Terror to a more conservative one.

Communist Leaders exploited the Proletariat

Marxism arose as a criticism of capitalism.  Which exploits the working class (according to Marxism).  The proletariat.  Who own nothing but their labor.  And are forced to sell it for day-wages to those who own the means of production.  The industrial bourgeoisie.  The proletariat wants to maximize their pay.  The bourgeoisie wants to maximize their profits.  Of course, one can only gain if the other loses.  Ergo, this is a class struggle.  Between the working majority.  And the capital owning minority.  Which is wrong according to Marxism.  And can only end in a proletarian revolution.  After which everyone will live a life of plenty in a classless, stateless, property-less society.  Because everyone will feel the love and work real hard to produce a lot.  Even though they won’t make an extra dime for all their extra work.  It will be a social utopia where society takes from those according to ability and gives to those according to need.  And they’ll sing workers’ songs as they eat and drink and scratch their fat bellies at the end of the work day.

As a social utopia, it’s a pretty nice one.  Especially to the working class who have worked some pretty hard lives.  So they are quick to show a lot of need.  And little ability.  Because those with the most ability have to work the hardest.  Whereas those with the greatest need get more stuff.  Even if they don’t work.  At all.  According to theory, at least.  The working class may be uneducated laborers, but they understood this.  Especially when a leader came along to lead a proletarian revolution.  I get more for working less?  I’m with you, brother.  There have been quite a few such revolutions.  Though there are some degrees of differences, we can call most of these communist revolutions.  Because communist leaders based their philosophy on some form of Marxism.

Many countries had communist revolutions.  Russia was the first.  It became the Soviet Union.  Then China.  It became the People’s Republic of ChinaNorth Korea.  And Cuba.  To name a few.  And how did the proletariat make out in those countries?  Well, suffice it to say it wasn’t quite the utopia they were expecting.  By fighting for the people, Joseph Stalin became one of the greatest mass murderers of all time.  Beating out Adolf Hitler by scores.  There was no utopia in the Soviet Union.  Unless you liked fear and oppression.  And going hungry and lacking the necessities of life.  Ditto in China.  Only their proletariat wasn’t urban workers.  They were rural farmers and peasants.  Forced into collectivized farms.  Where food production plummeted.  Resulting in one of the 20th century’s most horrific famines.  Between famine, fear and oppression, Mao Tse-tung gave Joseph Stalin a run for his money as the greatest mass murderer of all time.  Not sure who won as records are a little sketchy.  But they probably hold first and second place.  Don’t know much about North Korea because it’s such a closed society.  But they suffer some of the greatest famines of modern time.  And spend most of their nights in the dark as they have little energy (seen from space you can tell North Korea from South Korea by the lights).  And the Cubans have more than once tried to escape their social utopia by crossing the Atlantic Ocean in rickety boats and rafts to reach America. 

Life got worse for the working class in general under communism.  But it got pretty good if you were in the communist party.  It was that ‘from those according to ability to those according to need’ thing.  It didn’t work in practice.  Because it turns out people want to benefit from their labors.  Which is the basis of the proletarian revolution in the first place.  And making them work harder for less just wasn’t going to cut it.  Especially when life was better under capitalism.  For it was better when the capitalist bourgeoisie did the exploiting than the communist party.  And it wasn’t just because of the famine, fear and oppression that came with the communists.  Because the capitalists paid you according to the quality of your labor.  Not by the quantity of your need.  So the harder you worked, the more they paid you.  And that’s the kind of thing that’ll get people to work harder.  Incentive.

Peron exploited the Descamisados

Tim Rice is one of the greatest lyricists in musical theater.  Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s greatest works were those he did with Rice.  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream CoatJesus Christ Superstar.  And Evita.  The story of Eva Perón.  Wife of Juan Perón.  And their rise to power in Argentina.  With the help of their descamisados.  The poor, shirtless workers.  Who loved Eva Perón.  As she loved them.

The musical Evita has a Che Guevara-like narrator named Che who tells the story.  And participates.  He sees the Peróns for who they are.  Sees how they exploit the descamisados for personal gain.  And bankrupts the nation.  Rice does a great job of turning this story into some great songs.  This story of a workers’ revolution is accessible.  And entertaining.  Here are some of the lyrics.  Starting with the workers’ demands.

Nationalization of the industries that the foreigners control
Participation in the profits that we make
Shorter hours
Higher wages
Votes for women
Larger dole
More public spending
A bigger slice of every cake

The hallmarks of any workers’ revolution.  Which of course the leader of the workers’ revolution promises in exchange for their vote.  Even though he would prefer not to have to deal with that pretense.

It’s annoying that we have to fight elections for our cause
The inconvenience–having to get a majority
If normal methods of persuasion fail to win us applause
There are other ways of establishing authority

Then the secret police echo these thoughts.

We have ways of making you vote for us,
or at least of making you abstain

Perón wins the election.  And gives his first speech on the balcony of the Casa Rosada.

Argentinos! Argentinos! We are all shirtless now!
Fighting against our common enemies–
Poverty, social injustice, foreign domination of our industries!
Reaching for our common goals–
Our independence, our dignity, our pride!
Let the world know that our great nation is awakening
and that its heart beats in the humble bodies of Juan Peron
and his wife, the first lady of Argentina,
Eva Duarte de Peron!

Yes, he is just one of them.  Shirtless.  And poor.  Though he says this from the ‘pink’ house.  Which is more palace than house.  Che is in the crowd.  And is not amused.

As a mere observer of this tasteless phenomenon, one has to admire the stage management
There again–perhaps I’m more than a mere observer –
listen to my enthusiasm, gentleman! Peron! Peron! Peron!
Look, if I take off my shirt, will you-

At which point the security police beat him and take him away.  For they don’t like dissenters.  Typical revolutionary stuff.  But in a story told so well.  Thanks to the great lyrics of Rice.  And the music of Webber.  And after Perón gets his power, how does Argentina do?  Does Perón deliver that Promised utopia?  Che explains in a brief but passionate monolog.

What’s new Buenos Aires? Your nation, which a few years ago had the second largest gold reserves in the world, is bankrupt! A country which grew up and grew rich on beef is rationing it! La Prensa, one of the few newspapers which dares to oppose Peronism, has been silenced, and so have all other reasonable voices! I’ll tell you what’s new Buenos Aires!

It’s a story as old as time.  The revolutionary leaders get richer.  The workers get poorer.

(The original Broadway cast recording includes Patti LuPone as Eva and Mandy Patinkin as Che.  Who’ve set the bar for these roles.  You can’t get better.  So buy this recording.  You won’t regret it.)

Famine, Fear and Oppression never take a Holiday

Sans-culottes, proletariats, descamisados or some other poor class of people a revolutionary leader champions, it always ends the same.  The leaders of the revolution always seem to do better.  And the poor class continues to suffer.  Often worse off than they were before.  Some leaders come and go.  But the suffering of the masses usually lingers.  For famine, fear and oppression never take a holiday.  But liberty does.  Sadly.

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LESSONS LEARNED #39: “Socialism is easier said than done.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 11th, 2010

The Bolshevik Revolution Gave Russian Peasants Freedom.  And Famine.

Russia was one of the most backward nations at the turn of the 20th century.  Feudalism was still the economic model.  The only European nation still using it.  There were two Russias.  Hungry and impoverished peasants.  And a rich and well-fed ruling elite.  Then World War I came.  Russia bled on the Eastern Front.  There was a lot of discontent.  Germany took advantage of this by returning the exiled Vladimir Lenin to Russia via Germany.  And it worked.  Marxist revolutionary fervor forced Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate.  Russia pulled out of the war.  Lenin led the Marxist Bolshevik Revolution against capitalism.  White and Red Russia plunged into civil war.  And a few assassination attempts later, Joseph Stalin launched the Red Terror to kill all enemies of the Soviet state.  Including the Romanov family.  When Lenin died, Stalin consolidated his power.  Through terror.  And he would rule by terror.

With capitalism suppressed, Stalin was ready to build the new socialist/communist state.  He industrialized the state (with foreign engineering and machinery).  He collectivized farms to increase output.  Soviet industry made a great leap forward.  But the cost was devastating.  Famine.  Forced deportations.  Terror.  Millions died.  And the quality of life for the common Russian peasant went into the toilet.  Anyone who complained was an enemy of the state.  There were chronic grain shortages.  Which were blamed on farmers hiding grain to force prices higher.  The solution?  Stalin deported or executed these farmers as enemies of the state.  But they never found any ‘hidden’ grain.

Dictators rise to power through terror and violence.  And they hold power by even more terror and violence.  To silence their enemies.  These enemies of the state.  You see, if you disagree with the dictator, you disagree with the state.  For they are one and the same.  So they get a little testy when their policies fail.  They blame others.  Attack those who are clinging to capitalism and liberty.  Who don’t submit themselves completely to the state.  And herein lies their fatal flaw.  Slaves don’t willingly work for the greater good.  They only do the bare minimum to minimize their pain and suffering.  Either the work or the state will kill them.  They know that.  So they work hard enough to keep the state from killing them.  But not too hard that the work does.  It’s a bleak world.  But that is the life of the slave.

China’s Great Leap Forward Resulted in Even Greater Famines

The communist/socialist movement spilled over into China from Russia.  Mao Tse-tung rose to power much like Stalin.  Ruthlessly.  He industrialized China.  And collectivized their farms into giant collective communes.  He forced peasant farmers into these communes.  Which lowered the quality of life for millions.  The result?  China’s industrial output did increase.  But, like in Russia, the cost was devastating.

The Great Leap Forward was their second five-year plan.  The plan was to increase grain harvests by using the power of the state to collectivize and direct giant farming communes.  Party members (i.e., career politicians who kissed communist ass) ran these communes.  They reported to Mao.  None of them were farmers, though.  But they acted like they were.  Trying some screwy new ideas that only reduced the harvest.  But, being good party men, they lied.  They reported record harvests.  As the lying went up the party chain of bureaucracy, party leaders made decisions based on the lie.  They took so much of the harvest for party members, cities and for export that the peasant farmers working on the communes starved in history’s greatest famines.  Note that ‘famines’ is plural.  Yeah, it was that bad.  Tens of millions starved to death.  All in the name of helping the poor and oppressed.

Everyone lives in fear in a totalitarian state.  Even members in the ruling elite.  The communes were supposed to increase the harvest.  So those responsible for that increase lied.  To minimize their own pain and suffering.  For they knew if they failed the greater common good, the state would come after them.  So they protected themselves.  At the expense of the peasant.  The life of the peasant/proletariat only got worse.  The Bolshevik Revolution was supposed to free them from the oppression of the bourgeois capitalists.  It only oppressed them more.

Using Capitalism to Attack Capitalism

The socialists/communists learned some valuable lessons.  Although they may be good at terror and violence, they didn’t have any real talent or ability.  And though they hate capitalism (because they lack any real talent or ability), they understood that they needed capitalists to be their bitch.  They couldn’t kill them.  Because if they did, nothing would get done.  No wealth created.  And they needed these people to create wealth.  Because they can’t take wealth if the wealth creators don’t create it.  With no wealth to take, they have nothing to give the masses.  To keep them dependent.  And subdued.  So this was the next phase in the socialist/communist revolution.  To exploit the wealth creators for state gain.

The social democracies followed the same general plan.  Attack capitalism.  Oppress the poor by making them dependent on the state.  But instead of using physical fear and intimidation, they used psychological fear and intimidation.  At election time.  They, the compassionate state, wanted to give them stuff.  The mean, cold-hearted capitalists wanted to take away their Social Security.  Eat their children.  And other nasty things.  It worked.  It got votes.

The problem they ran into was that populations grow.  And costs go up.  That meant the social democracies had to give more and more people these ‘benefits’.  While at the same time the costs of these ‘benefits’ kept going up.  And herein lies their fatal flaw.  To keep the people dependent (and docile) you have to keep raising taxes.  But if you raise taxes too much, you kill the golden goose.  Because you can push the wealth producers only so far.  If the state makes them work harder for less so others can enjoy the fruit of their labors, the state is for all intents and purposes enslaving these wealth producers.  And what do we know about slaves?  They don’t willingly work for the greater good.  They do the bare minimum to minimize their pain and suffering. 

Communist China Concerned About the United States’ Anti-Capitalistic Behavior

There are all sorts of ways they can do this.  If the cost of hiring employees is too great, businesses will hire fewer employees.  If taxes are too high, people will cut back on their spending and businesses will lay off workers because of the weaker demand.  If the investment climate is too unfavorable (say, because of a high capital gains tax), investors will invest their money where the climate is more favorable (and not create jobs).  If taxes get too high, the economy will go underground where people pay no taxes.  As more of this happens, the government collects less and less in taxes.  They get to a point where they simply can’t raise them anymore.  So they borrow.  And when they borrow to excess and cannot borrow any more, they have to do the unthinkable.  Cut the benefits that have so successfully enslaved so many people to the government.  And when governments try, the enslaved fight back.

Following the financial crisis of 2008, some debt-ridden nations tried to do just that.  Cut benefits to avoid bankruptcy.  Greece tried.  France, too.  Both had riots.  Other nations are at the tipping point.  Great Britain is making draconian cuts that the people aren’t too happy with.  Ireland is staring down bankruptcy and may need a Greece-like bailout.  (Interestingly, Ireland’s problems don’t stem from a fat social welfare state.  Their troubles resulted from a real estate bubble fueled by the European Central Bank keeping interest rates low.  They, like the U.S., saw no downside in cheap, risky mortgages.)  And, of course, Communist China is lecturing the United States about the evils of currency devaluation as a solution to our problems.  Which we’re doing.  In a last-ditch attempt to stimulate our economy.  A weaker dollar would help.  It would make our exports cheaper.  And make our massive debt cheaper to pay off.  Which really concerns the Chinese as they’re holding the majority of that debt.  So they are not going to sit idly by while we slash the value of their U.S. holdings.  They’ll fight back.   And do whatever it takes (capital controls, tariffs, etc.) to protect their investment.

Whether by physical fear and intimidation or by bribery and deceit, socialism ends the same.  In failure.  For it to work people have to work hard so others can live better.  And people just don’t willingly submit to slavery.  When they’re forced into it, they do the bare minimum to minimize their pain and suffering.  And when people do, the economy will never reach its full potential.  Which is why the United States won the Cold War.  Capitalism encourages people to do their best.  Socialism encourages them to do the least they can get away with.  And you just don’t achieve greatness with mediocrity.

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