Mr. Chamberlin is author of the definitive two-volume history of the Russian Revolution and numerous other books and articles on world affairs.
One of the most brilliant satires on communism was written by a British radical author who wrote under the name of George Orwell. It is entitled Animal Farm and represents farm animals raising a successful revolt against the tyranny of their owners and setting up an animal agricultural communist state, complete with a declaration of the rights of animals and a revolutionary hymn beginning: "Beasts of England, Beasts of Ireland, Beasts of every land and clime…"
Bit by bit, however, the pigs, the shrewdest and most cunning of the animals, came into control of the situation. Various means were found to punish and liquidate protesters. The original slogan that all animals are equal was modified to read: Some animals are more equal than others. And the disillusioning climax was reached when the "less equal" animals caught sight of the new ruling class, the pigs, comfortably making a deal with the former two-legged "exploiters."
Orwell’s fable is an accurate reflection of what has happened in almost all the communist experiments, big and small, of which history has any record.
From early times, individuals have preached equality in material possessions and standards of living; and small groups have, from time to time, tried to practice it. But experience shows that the practice goes against deep-rooted human instincts, except in societies at a very primitive level, where anthropologists find little resistance to common ownership of land and other forms of property.
But as soon as a tribe begins to emerge from a very simple way of life, improves its methods of cultivation, becomes acquainted with a variety of consumer goods, the instinct for inequality begins to assert itself. Among people who have risen above the primitive tribal state of society, a score of experiments in communal living have failed and broken up for every one that has succeeded.
Some of these experiments have claimed a religious sanction, citing the example of some early Christian converts who gave their money to the Apostles and other texts in Scripture condemning the pride and avarice of the rich. As against this, it should be noted that communism was not part of the everyday life of early Christian congregations; Old and New Testaments impartially condemn sin, regardless of the status of the sinner; and Christianity and Judaism, like all great religious faiths, place their emphasis on rules of right living, not on experiments in social and economic change.
The word communism has been associated with the Anabaptists, the extreme political and theological left-wingers of the time of the Reformation, who were repudiated just as vigorously by Lutherans and Calvinists as by the Catholics.
Under leaders like Thomas Münzer and John of Leiden, the Anabaptists raised the banner of armed revolt and for some time the German town of
There was also a left wing among the British Puritans of the seventeenth century who overthrew the rule of Charles I and followed the lead of Cromwell. Known as Levelers and Diggers (because some of them tried to seize and cultivate unoccupied land), they wanted to push political and religious change into social revolution. But they were put down by Cromwell, and their movement became only a historical memory.
Fourier, Owen, and Others
In the nineteenth century, secular systems of thought began to replace religion as the motivation for communal schemes of living. One of the most ingenious of the early communist thinkers was the Frenchman, Francois Fourier, who wanted to divide mankind into so-called phalanges of about 1,600 persons each, living in common dwellings called phalansteries and cultivating plots of land in common. Marriage was to be abolished and replaced by a system of more or less regulated license in the brave new world of Fourier.
Fourier’s ideas spread to other countries and influenced an eccentric Russian landowner named Petrashevsky, who went so far as to build a phalanstery for his serfs. They did not take kindly to the idea and burned down the common dwelling at the first opportunity.
So long as communal experiments were voluntary, there was no reason to object to them. Some of the members of the Brook Farm community later said it had added to their knowledge of human nature; and this was probably true as regards other abortive ventures of this kind.
Equalizing by State Compulsion
A new element was introduced into the situation in the present century, when the whole coercive power of a dictatorial state was set to the task of enforcing equality and forcing people to live according to communist rules, whether they desired to do so or not. And it is interesting and significant to note that, even when this immense coercive power was thrown into the balance, the attempt to enforce anything like approximate equality of living conditions failed completely.
The dull, repressed, instinctive hatred which the many poor and ignorant in
But the Bolshevik agitators won an immediate response when they told the soldiers, exhausted after three years of unsuccessful war, that if they would only follow Lenin there would be no more war and that they should leave the front, go home to their villages, and pillage the big estates. There was the same response among the workers when they were urged to seize the factories. Just what they would do with them after they seized them was not very clear. But in what conservative Russians often called "the crazy year," 1917, the whole country was in such ferment and upheaval that the most extreme counsels were apt to be followed. And the peasants, the older ones who had remained in the villages or the younger ones who streamed home in disorderly masses from the front, were won over to at least passive acceptance of the new communist-dominated Soviet regime by the authorization from Moscow to divide up the big estates on such a basis that every peasant family would receive a share of land in proportion to the number of its members.
The new Soviet government, during the first few years of its existence, carried out equalization on a scale rarely, if ever, accomplished, certainly not in the life of a large nation. Not only big landowners but medium peasant farmers were expropriated and land was parceled out in minute fragments, depending on the size of the peasant family. Workers were transferred to rich and middle-class apartments. Money rapidly lost all value, and trade relations were put on a basis of requisitioning the peasants’ surplus produce, with distribution of what little was produced in the nationalized factories in compensation. Manual workers and children of workers were given legal preference in admission to universities.
The Fate of Russian Peasants
But this early communist strong medicine figuratively, and in many cases literally, killed the patient, the Russian people. The Soviet government, preaching its demagogic war of poor against rich, succeeded (with the aid of many blunders of its opponents) in crushing the various anticommunist movements which led to civil war in many parts of the country; but
In order to revive an economy that was virtually in collapse, Lenin accepted, temporarily, a large injection of capitalist methods. There was freedom for trade and small industry. Money replaced barter. As the country as a whole moved up from the starvation level, a class of speculator-traders—so-called NEPMEN, from the initials of New Economic Policy, NEP—aroused attention by their conspicuous wining and dining.
However, the New Economic Policy was temporary. By 1929, freedom of private trade was virtually at an end. The peasants were being dragooned into collective farms where they lost individual possession of their land and were forced to raise what the State told them to raise, and on the State’s terms. Great numbers of city traders and peasants who opposed this new order were sent to slave labor concentration camps.
What is truly amazing and deeply significant is that, after all these attempts to employ the power of a ruthless dictatorship to enforce equality, there is more evident material inequality in the
When the industrious reporter, John Gunther, visited Russia in the winter of 1956-57, he found the average worker getting 650 to 800 rubles a month, as compared with the 15,000 rubles for the President of the Academy of Sciences, 8,000 to 12,000 for the rector of an important university, 6,000 for a senior government official, 4,000 for an Army colonel, and the like. This inequality is the more pronounced because the maximum income tax in the
In the first years of the Revolution, when equality was the official ideal, every effort was made to reduce to a minimum differences between officers and privates in the Red Army. The salute was abolished off duty; even the word "officer" was replaced by what was supposed to be the more democratic "commander." Now, differences of rank and status in the Red Army are greater and more harshly enforced than in any democratic army. When American and Soviet soldiers mixed fairly freely immediately after the end of the war in Germany, Soviet privates were amazed to learn that in the American army a private could smoke the same brand of cigarettes as his commanding officer.
The "New Class" in
"Listening to the conversation of well-dressed gentlemen everywhere, at airport waiting rooms, on railway sleeping cars, or in the more elegant coffee houses, one might think that Yugoslavia is in the midst of a powerful boom. There is much talk about investments, export and import business, distribution of dividends, trips abroad, new cars and new houses…. Of course, most of these gentlemen are party members, but in their eyes now socialism means above all a high standard of living…. The Marshal himself sets the example with his personal style of living and everyone seeks to follow him according to his particular possibilities.
"These possibilities remain limited, to be sure, for a large majority of the Yugoslav people."
While members of what Tito’s disillusioned former lieutenant, Milovan Djilas, calls "the new class" enjoy an increasingly luxurious style of living, considerable numbers of Yugoslays continue to flee the country in search of better opportunities elsewhere.
The experience of this revolutionary age has proved conclusively that all the force at the disposal of a modern dictatorship cannot make people live on a basis of material equality. Indeed, both in the
Dictatorship Means Unequal Power
What the Founding Fathers of socialism and communism never faced up to is the simple fact that dictatorship, which means inequality of power, will inevitably, under any social and economic system, bring in its wake inequality of wealth and living standards. Some animals will always be "more equal."
The only kind of communal living on a basis of equality that has any prospect of success is the voluntary association of small groups of men and women, usually held together by some strong bond of religious faith or moral conviction.
But the attempt to shoot, starve, and coerce peoples into communism (if one understands by communism equality of living standards) has proved a pitiful failure. Even if some of the pioneer revolutionary communists are idealistic enough to practice self-denial in the seats of power, this psychology will never carry over to a second generation. The human equivalents of the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm will always get hold of the power machine and see to it that they and the groups whom they favor are considerably "more equal" than the other animals.
As If They Were Wiser than God
"The experience that was had in this commone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos and other ancients, applauded by some of later times;—that the taking away of propertie, and bringing in communitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefits and comforte."
From GOVERNOR BRADFORD’S account of the failure of the early Plymouth Bay Colony experiment in communal living.