What is communism?

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Fred
What is communism?
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It seems a funny question for an ICC member to ask, but LoneLondoner did! Is it a trick question? We know what Marx said about this and I paraphrase: communism means, do what you can and receive what you need. That's a materialist point of view. He also said communism is "the negation of the negation" the original negation being capitalism itself. For me this is easier to grasp and respond to. So, if we decide what the most awful thing about capitalism is, then we can be sure that whatever communism may be, it won't include this most awful thing. So in some ways it's very personal.

For me the most awful, terrible thing about life under capitalism is FEAR. At the simplest level, fear of not having a job, or losing the job you've got, or having a job that stultifies. (Dont they all eventually?) This leads to fears about being able to feed the kids adequately, getting them to school and being able to live up to your responsibilities as an adult. So then there's feelings of being inadequate that constantly arise from this; fears of not being sufficiently educated, even by bourgeois standards, to properly compete with the smart guy down the street. Persistent half acknowledged fears about health- what happens if I'm ill, or incapacitated, who'll manage things? Continual worries about money, and what'll happen tomorrow; how is it possible to plan anything when you don't know what unforeseen horrors may turn up unexpectedly out of the blue? It's the total inability to properly plan for and predict the future that renders life under capitalism nothing but a ridiculous gamble; no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you might want to make things better. "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods: they kill us for their sport," as Shakespear put it. Doesn't this sum up life under capitalism? Isn't this why constant fear accompanies so many of us from the minute we wake up everyday till when we finally get to sleep and perhaps relive these fears in disturbing dreams. This all stems from the awareness and the fear that we have no control over anything at all, that life is all chance. And this misery even applies to the bourgeoisie, who also have little control over anything, but assume that this is the nature of human life.

But it isn't! Under communism all this fear disappears; because instead of living against each other in persistent competition for scarce necessities, we will live in communal solidarity - even the solitary will no longer have to live in punitive isolation - and we will work together to produce enough to abolish all kinds of scarcity. Indeed, the identification of all the scarcities we suffer at the moment in silence, and their satisfaction, becomes a major function of communist existence, as we will all want together to develop our potential. Education will become a way of life. The freedom to be our goal. The freedom from fear our task.

Fred
mikail firtinaci wrote:...the

mikail firtinaci wrote:
...the fear of material experience, fear that it may be tainted with earthly limitations is just another expression of the intellectual distrust to grasp the material possibilities or the real material limitations themselves.

Another kind of fear. Afraid of being wrong or afraid of being right! Afraid to speak. Afraid to admit that we need communism.

This quote is from mikail's latest post on the "Beliefs" thread.

Fred
mikail firtinaci wrote:...the

mikail firtinaci wrote:
...the fear of material experience, fear that it may be tainted with earthly limitations is just another expression of the intellectual distrust to grasp the material possibilities or the real material limitations themselves.

Another kind of fear. Afraid of being wrong or afraid of being right! Afraid to speak. Afraid to admit that we need communism.

This quote is from mikail's latest post on the "Beliefs" thread.

jk1921
This question of fear is

This question of fear is interesting. Someone once told me that we are all descendant from forebearers with a very developed sense of fear and anxiety--otherwise our genes would not have made it past the sabre toothed tigers. In other words, fear and anxiety were at one time very functional for humanity (as it is for most animals that might end up another species' dinnner). That of course no longer seems the case, as fear and anxiety are experienced--as Fred points out--as a crippling burden. But if it is true that we have been selected for a tendency towards those things (whether it is biological or not); how will communism alleviate these burdens?

Fred
If we have been selected for

If we have been selected for a tendency towards fear, then I suppose communism will do nothing to alleviate it. Except of course that fears like that of unemployment or not getting decent health care won't/can't exist under communism! But much more interesting jk, rather than taking the wind out of my fear paranoia, would be if you would dare to say what you think communism would be like. I'd love to read that - and LoneLondoner's view too, and any others. But I am slowly beginning to realize it's a topic full of hidden pitfalls.

mhou
I've been partial to the idea

I've been partial to the idea that communism is as you say, "do what you can and receive what you need." or 'to each according to their needs, from each according to their ability', but with no accounting. That last bit impressed me. In the arguments against making democracy a principle or fetish in the organization of communists, Bordiga argued that the root of the bureaucracy in the Party under Democratic Centralism was carrying over democratic mystification into the Party: the vote counting mechanism itself, forming of slates/factions, expulsion of factions (on weak criteria), development of a heirarchical authority over the party members, cult of the leader, etc.

It seems that the idea of accounting commodities in a post-capitalist world is equally dangerous for the same reason: the creation of a new bureaucracy over humankind.

jk1921
Accounting

mhou wrote:

I've been partial to the idea that communism is as you say, "do what you can and receive what you need." or 'to each according to their needs, from each according to their ability', but with no accounting. That last bit impressed me. In the arguments against making democracy a principle or fetish in the organization of communists, Bordiga argued that the root of the bureaucracy in the Party under Democratic Centralism was carrying over democratic mystification into the Party: the vote counting mechanism itself, forming of slates/factions, expulsion of factions (on weak criteria), development of a heirarchical authority over the party members, cult of the leader, etc.

It seems that the idea of accounting commodities in a post-capitalist world is equally dangerous for the same reason: the creation of a new bureaucracy over humankind.

The GIC attempted to deal with this issue of accounting in the Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution, arguing that while communist society would need an accounting unit (average social labor time) that modern accounting methods made this readily transparent such that it could be accomplished at the factory level, and subsequently aggregated at the societal level, without the development of a new bureacuracy. This text has received little critical attention. Comrades will have to decide for themselves if the argument is convincing.

mhou
That sounds interesting. Is

That sounds interesting. Is there a place online that has texts from the GIC, or any published books?

Alf
GIC text

http://www.libcom.org/library/fundamental-principles-communist-productio...

 

 

The ICC's series on communism will shortly resume where it left off a few years ago (ie in the 1930s) and will contain a two part article examining the differences between the Italian left and the GIC on this question.  

jk1921
Hmm, not sure mhou. An

Hmm, not sure mhou. An English translation was published in book format in the early 90s, but it is hard to find. There may be excerpts from it online at the usual places: John Gray page, Collective Action Notes, etc.

jk1921
Voila

Alf wrote:

http://www.libcom.org/library/fundamental-principles-communist-productio...

 

 

The ICC's series on communism will shortly resume where it left off a few years ago (ie in the 1930s) and will contain a two part article examining the differences between the Italian left and the GIC on this question.  

 

Well, there you go....

radicalchains
It's not to the left of

It's not to the left of capital. Food would be of a general greater standard and diversity one hopes because production will be undercontrol of those who eat it - that would make sense wouldn't it? Accordingly I think most food would be regional and much more seasonal and not shipped all across the world at great expense and environmental cost. It would make sense that food will even taste better due to it having less additives, for a number of reasons and not simply made on a mass scale for as much profit as possible.

mhou
I don't think it's possible

I don't think it's possible to accurately predict how humanity, when unleashed from the  bonds of class society, will orient itself regarding everything from international distribution, international production, continuation of culture as we know it, etc. including cuisine, industrial farming methods, and the view of certain kinds of foods as luxuries. I'd guess that there would be a renaissance of 'culture' as an international culture of humanity rather than specific to regions and ethno-identity.

radicalchains
I was wondering how long it

I was wondering how long it would take for someone to chime in with that old chestnut. It kinda goes without saying that we don't know how things will pan out (which I reiterated myself) and that ultimately it's the people currently involved in certain fields will have the greatest knowledge and potential foresight but why is it such a crime to even think about a future communist society? It is hardly ever broached, it's apparently what we would all like and our historical task yet if we dare consider life under such a society we're either clueless or to use an old term, deviationist. 

I think we should all think about it a lot more, a bit like The Zeigeist Movement but without the technocracy!

Fred
This, from the ICC's

This, from the ICC's "Communism isn't just a good idea...." series, part 13, indicates what Bebel and William Morris thought communism might be like.

ICC wrote:
Thus Bebel looks forward to a society which is highly productive but which produces at a human pace: "The nerve-racking noise, crowding and rushing of our large cities with their thousands of vehicles of all sorts ceases substantially: society assumes an aspect of greater repose" (ibid, p 300).

Here Bebel's portrait of the future is very similar to that of William Morris, who also used the image of the garden and who gave his futuristic novel News from Nowhere the alternative title "An Epoch of Rest". In his characteristically straight-forward style, Morris explained that all the "disadvantages" of the modem cities, their filth, their crazy rush and hideous appearance, were the direct product of capitalist accumulation, and could only be eliminated by eliminating capital: "Again. the aggregation of the population having served its purpose of giving people opportunities of inter-communication and of making the workers feel their solidarity, will also come to an end; and the huge manufacturing districts will be broken up, and nature heal the horrible scars that man's heedless greed and stupid terror have made for it will no longer be a dire necessity that cotton cloth should be made a fraction of a farthing cheaper this year than last" ("The society of the future", Political Writings of William Morris. p 196).

We could add that, as an artist, Morris had a particularly sharp concern to overcome the sheer ugliness of the capitalist environment and to remould it according to the canons of artistic creativity. This is how he posed the question in a speech on "Art under Plutocracy": "And first I must ask you to extend the word art beyond those matters which are consciously works of art, to take in not only painting and sculpture, and architecture, but the shapes and colours of all household goods, nay even the arrangement of the fields for tillage and pasture, the management of towns and of our highways of all kinds; in a word, to extend it to the aspect of all the externals of our life. For I must ask you to believe that every one of the things that goes to make up the surroundings among which we live must be either beautiful or ugly, either elevating or degrading to us, either a torment and burden to the maker of it to make, or a pleasure and a solace to him. How does it fare therefore with our external surroundings in these days? What kind of an account shall we be able to give to those who come after us of our dealings with the earth, which our forefathers handed down to us still beautiful, in spite of all the thousands of years of strife and carelessness and selfishness?" (Political Writings of William Morris, p 58).

Here Morris poses the question in the only way a marxist can pose it: from the standpoint of communism, of the communist future: the degrading external appearance of bourgeois civilisation can only be judged with the greatest severity by a world in which every aspect of production, from the smallest household good to the design and laying out of the physical landscape, is carried out, as Marx put it in the 1844 Manuscripts, "in accordance with the law of beauty". In this vision, the associated producers have become the associated artists, creating a physical environment that answers to mankind's profound need for beauty and harmony.

Well said ICC - and Bebel and Morris too. As Keats said: Beauty is Truth and truth beauty. This is all you need to know.... (This is an inaccurate quote, but gets the message.) But is it only possible to say what communism will be like by saying what it won't be like?

radicalchains
Good post, Fred. Maybe I'm

Good post, Fred. Maybe I'm looking at Communism from the wrong angle. Perhaps we should also think about what state of mind, emotions or 'way of life' we would like to experience and not simply logistics, organization and production and so on.

What would I like? (In no particular order) less stress, less fear, less worries. Greater understanding, compassion, opportunity, individual freedom, excitement, to be healthy and live well spiritually (not in the religious sense).

 

 

 

Fred
Good post radicalchains. In

Good post radicalchains. In saying what you would like, you didn't mention sex (probably wise!) unless it's included in "compassion"? But it must also be included under "to be healthy" and, come to think about it,the rest of your categories too. Anyway, here's another quote from the ICC's "Communism a nice idea..." series, part 13, on the question of sex and what Bordiga had to say about this.

ICC wrote:
For marxism, however, just as the political seizure of power by the working class is only the first step towards the inauguration of a communist society, so the destruction of commodity relations and the collectivisation of production and consumption, in short the "economic" content of the revolution, merely provides the material base for the creation of qualitatively new relations between human beings.

In his "Commentaries on the 1844 Manuscripts", Bordiga eloquently explains why this must be the case in a society that has completed the alienation of human relations, not least sexual relations, by subordinating them all to the domination of the market. "The relationship between the sexes in bourgeois society obliges the woman, starting from a passive position, to make an economic calculation each time she accedes to love. The male makes this calculation in an active fashion by making a balance sheet of a sum allotted against a need satisfied. Thus in bourgeois society not only are all needs expressed in money - as in the male's need for love - but, for the woman, the need for money kills the need for love" (Bordiga et la passion du communisme, Spartacus, 1972, p156). There can be no supercession of this alienation without the abolition of the commodity economy and the material insecurity which goes with it (an insecurity felt first and foremost by the female). But this also requires the elimination of all the social-economic structures that reflect and reproduce the market relationship, in particular the atomised family household which has become a barrier to the real fulfilment of love between the sexes: "In communism without money, love will, as a need, have the same weight for both sexes and the act which consecrates it will realise the social formula that the other's human need is my human need, to the extent that the need of one sex is realised as the need of the other. This cannot be proposed simply as a moral relationship founded on a certain physical connection, because the passage to a higher form of society is effected in the economic domain: the care of children is no longer just the concern of the two parents but of the community" (ibid).

"...the social formula that the other's human need is my human need" is well said; but it gets a little spoilt for us moderns does it not by going on to say "the need of one sex is realized as the need of the other..." as if sexual pleasure is strictly limited to the heterosexual procreation of chidren? But then Bordiga was Italian and perhaps influenced by the geographic nearness of Rome and the Vatican! (just joking!) The passage would read better for us if it said: "the sexual need of one person is realized as the need of the other." Or, perhaps, "the need for emotional expression through sex..." but here it begins to get complicated. Because, under capitalism, while sex is completely separable from love, in an entirely respectable but usually secret manner which the bourgeoisie is at home with, and reduced at worse to a pleasurable sort of defecationary relief; it's potential to express and satisfy the exquisite joy of human affection for other people, for oneself(!) for all of human life, and all our planetary expressions of life, this is all downgraded to a nonsense and has even become more or less impossible to discuss. It's a topic for sniggering. We will have to wait for communism to find what human love and sexual expressiveness is really capable of.

Alf
as promised

https://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/201303/6505/communis...

 

Part one of two articles on the differences between the Italian and Dutch left in the 1930s regarding the transition period

red flag
Communism is the abolishment

Communism is the abolishment of exchange value ie commodity and the introduction of use value.  This can only be achieved through the conscious intervention of the global working class through destroying the range of capitalist states and their replacement of a global netwrok of workers councils.