Mr. Barger is Editor of The Flying A, company magazine of the Aeroquip Corporation at
According to an article that appeared several years ago in a popular men’s magazine, a Bret Harte classic was once rejected for production on the Kraft Theatre because the sponsor thought it promoted communism.
The article was an exposé of sponsor control of TV programming. Obviously enjoying his task, author Al Morgan drew an unflattering picture of the average business sponsor. He was timid, petty, narrow-minded, fearful, and sometimes stupid. And since he saw Bret Harte (who died in 1902) as an ally of the Kremlin, he was obviously irrational about communism.
Here is what the sponsor objected to as being communistic, according to Mr. Morgan:
In one scene, a group of miners got together and agreed that they would share equally in any ore that came out of the mine they were working.1
Well, if that was the chief reason for the shelving of Bret Harte’s classic, then the business sponsor did have a lot to learn about communism. And while Mr. Morgan’s example doesn’t prove conclusively whether sponsor control is right or wrong, it does typify a popular misconception about Soviet communism. For despite all the twists and turns communism has taken since 1918, there are people around who still believe that it is essentially equalitarian in the sharing of economic goods, and that this is its chief distinction. Numerous
But a more serious error is present here. For even if the Soviets had been able to follow their original aims on "equal sharing," their version differs radically from that practiced by Mr. Harte’s miners. In every sense of the word, the miners’ collective experiment was voluntary. They agreed that they would share equally of their ore, and presumably any of them could withdraw from the bargain whenever he became dissatisfied with it. Far from being a kind of communism, their mining venture was simply a variation of free enterprise. There probably have been millions of similar group ventures in the
When we turn to real communist theory, we find something far more sinister than Mr. Harte’s amusing example. Another element is added: the iron fist of government police power. Under communism, the collective experiment is no longer voluntary, and the miners are forced to submit to the arrangement no matter how much they might dislike it. And even their right to share equally of their ore has been diluted, for now it has become the property of the state rather than of the men who extracted it.
Early Christian Communities
Let us not, however, belabor Mr. Harte. For, it is not only fictional experiments in collectivism that have been misidentified as communistic. Occasionally one reads, or hears, that the early Christian community of the first century was communistic. We know, for example, that "all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need."2 But no state police power was present to enforce this, and indeed, the authorities of the day used their police power to persecute the community. And it is certain that individual rights were still greatly protected even in this voluntary collective order. It was obviously a free association. Another venture in collectivism was the community established by Robert Owen, a wealthy British mill owner, in
An Inherent Weakness
But collectivism doesn’t fail simply because of betrayal by deadbeats. It also failed in the early Christian community, a gathering of inspired people lifted up by a powerful spiritual idea. There must have been dissension and dissatisfaction even in this saintly group, for the time came when the apostle Paul had to remind that "if any would not work, neither should he eat."5 After that, communal living did not seem to survive for long in the Christian church, although it has been resurrected occasionally by small sects, who have eventually abandoned it.6 The verdict of all these experiments in collectivism is that they do not work, even when their organizers move heaven and earth to make them succeed.
Despite everything the record shows, libertarians who point to these ventures as proof that communism goes against human nature are wasting their time in arguments with disciplined communists. For communists have known this right along, and have never intended to establish a new social order by proving that pilot collectives could be productive. Karl Marx called such utopian experiments (as the
To Karl Marx and his followers, the miners in Bret Harte’s story would have been just greedy entrepreneurs trying to become capitalists themselves. It hadn’t the slightest resemblance to Marx’s concept of collectivism. He advocated, without apology or concealment, a totalitarian doctrine.
1. Al Morgan, "And Now, a Word from the Sponsor," Playboy, December 1959, p. 95.
2. Acts, 2: 44-45.
3. John Chamberlain, The Roots of Capitalism (Princeton, N. J.: D. Van Nos-strand, 1959), Chapter VI. 4 Ibid.
5. II Thessalonians, .
6. The community living of certain religious orders, such as Trappist monks, has no bearing on this subject, since vows of poverty, obedience, and other disciplines prevent possible causes of dispute.
7. Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (Gateway Edition; Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1954), Chapters III and IV.
Karl Marx completely rejected the only economic system on earth under which it is possible for the workers themselves to own, to control, and to manage directly the facilities of production. And shocking as the news may be to the disciples of Marx, that system is capitalism!
They do not have to seize the government by force of arms. They do not even have to win an election. All in the world they have to do is to buy, in the open market, the capital stock of the corporation they want to own—just as millions of other Americans have been doing for many decades.
BENJAMIN F. FAIRLESS, The Great Mistake of Karl Marx