Bryan Caplan  

May Day Mourning

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This May Day, the able bloggers of Catallarchy have once again assembled a great line-up of short essays on the dark history of Communism. Highlights include a moving vignette by Polish deportee Romuald Lipinsky on his time in Siberia; Clara Magram on Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle; and Matt McIntosh on quack Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko. And don't miss my humble contribution on the moral equivalence of Nazism and Communism.

On this and every May Day, Catallarchy reminds us to say "Never again."


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liberty writes:

Thank you. Very good and important remembrances.

liberty writes:

Question: is there a German nationalistic day of celebration that was used before, during and after the NAZI party rule; that was used by Hitler as a big propaganda campaign during the genocide days; and that has remained identical in rhetoric and joy by Germans, as if the NAZI reign had never happened?

If so, it would be similar to May Day.

Bob Knaus writes:

What better poet to speak than e.e.cummings, who lived during the horrors?

red-rag and pink-flag

blackshirt and brown

strut-mince and stink-brag

have all come to town


some like it shot

and some like it hung

and some like it in the twot

nine months young

Not so politically correct, by today's standards, but it says what needs to be said.

[Note: The poem is from 50 Poems, E. E. Cummings, 1940, and uses imagery from the Spanish Civil War. There is a helpful comment by Michael Webster, Grand Valley State U., on his Cummings poetry page, note 497 [11].--Econlib Ed.]

I came across a book called "Marriage and revolution", at least that's what it's norwegian title means, in the original german it's "Ehen im Roten Sturm", or marriage in the red storm.

It was written by Alexandra Rachmanova, a refugee from the soviet union, catholic, intellectual (child psychologist) and daughter of a doctor from the noble class, and it's simply her diaries, from around 1920 and to her escape. It is chilling reading, because it gives a personal account of the extreme two-facedness of communism. It's all there: Lenin's corrupt anti-corruption police, the cheka. Insane farm policies causing mass starvation in the most fertile regions of russia. But also the social heritage of communism shows: you did know that the soviet union was the first to instate abortion on demand? It almost had to, with the popularity of free sex in party ranks. That they succeded in bringing these values to the west is a huge tragedy, in my opinion.

That they actually succeded in convincing many women that promiscuous sex = freedom, even though it meant they had to go through several surgical abortions per year, shows just how powerful the ideology was.

I recommend that book, if you can find it. It's easy to get in german, if you read that, but it may be possible to get a translation through antique book stores. It was very popular in its day, translated into dozens of languages, and it influenced many anti-communists, including Hamsun, and also the nazis, unfortunately.

I haven't read all your links, but I think you miss one point with your comparison: Communism is a sympathetic ideal (equality, fairness, peace, women's liberation etc) set into practice in a horribly twisted, immoral way. Nazism is a horribly twisted, immoral ideal, that some people deserve to rule on account of things they can take no credit for - their race in this case. The comparison doesn't stand. May day existed before communism, so it's not suprising that it exists afterwards also.

liberty writes:

>I haven't read all your links, but I think you miss one point with your comparison: Communism is a sympathetic ideal (equality, fairness, peace, women's liberation etc) set into practice in a horribly twisted, immoral way. Nazism is a horribly twisted, immoral ideal, that some people deserve to rule on account of things they can take no credit for - their race in this case. The comparison doesn't stand. May day existed before communism, so it's not suprising that it exists afterwards also.

With respect, I think you have missed what was said about this.

The ideal of communism is not simply "equality, fairness, peace, women's liberation, etc." Those are the ideals of Christianity too, but you would not say that the ideals of communism and Christianity are the same, just put into practice differently, thats far too simplistic. The ideals of most religions and states would be the same then. Ideals are more specific.

The ideals of communism include *economic equality* not just equality before the law; "fairness" imposed by the state not as equality of opportunity but equality of pay regardless of productivity; women's liberation as you point out included the right to kill her unborn child and sexual liberation, it also included equal right to be enslaved by the state. But these were not the implementation details, these were the ideals of communism, as you can confirm by a reading of Marx.

Communism had specific ideals of a non-market society with no money, no private property and a "worker's state" where production was done by the people, for the people: those were its ideals. In practice, it was slavery. But this should not mean that those who dreamt it up should be given a pass because they thought it would be great.

The ideal of NAZIsm included a perfect Ayrian race, strong national pride, equality of the whole people, a pure peaceful fatherhood, employment and prosperity for all, etc. This was similar to the idealized version of communism.

The ideology of the NAZIs alone would not necessarily make it obvious that in implementation, the non-Ayrian people would have to be killed - just as the ideology alone of communism would not tell you that the property owners would have to be killed.

But in each case the ideology should give you some hint as to how society would be made over and what some of the dangers would be. The rhetoric can give you further clues ("kill the Jews" or "Kill the rich"). But it isn't because of implementation, its because of ideology and the plan for society. We must learn this. We must know that a better group of people could not implement either ideology better - the ideology of Marx was attempted in Russia, China, Vietnam and a dozen other places - every implementation was the same because it was the ideology that drove it and the ideology was bad.

As for May Day, it held up many of the ideals of Marx before the revolution and still does today. Some of the people celebrating May Day before 1917 just wanted a raise - some were Marxists. The fact that Lenin organized for the revolution before 1917 on May Day and then forced starving workers to march on May Day after, and this was carried through during the whole reign of communism makes me wonder why anyone would still march on May Day today -- as I said above, would anyone celebrate a day today that Hitler celebrated as a NAZI holiday?

Barkley Rosser writes:

liberty,

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." That is the distributional goal of pure communism. The US tax code reflects this in its deductions, which do not give everyone final equal outcomes. If you have more kids or are sicker, you have more needs and hence get more income. Absolute equality is not the goal.

jaimito writes:

Romuald Lipinsky´s story of potato stealing in Siberia is stupid. But the article on Yefim Lysenko is terrific and terrifying, showing how Communist agricultural policies caused the death of millions of Ukranians, Russians and Chinese.

liberty writes:

>"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." That is the distributional goal of pure communism. The US tax code reflects this in its deductions, which do not give everyone final equal outcomes. If you have more kids or are sicker, you have more needs and hence get more income. Absolute equality is not the goal.

You are technically correct that "absolute income equality" is not the goal of that statement, however that does not change my point. Also: did you ever read the final posts on the other thread (http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=1496)? Your understanding of the Marxist goals was pretty weak on hat thread, you said that Marxists are ok with having a market. They are not. Marx was in favor of abolishing private property - which would mean absolute economic equality, as people would not actually own anything. They would consume according to their needs.
You seem to think that in reality Marxists don't want the full extent of Marxism - however, they do not agree with you, in general.

Liberty, thanks for taking the time (and being polite :-)

You are right that cooked down to one point, the ideals of socialism and christianity and a whole lot of other ideologies (perhaps even including libertarianism?) are the same. That is a point worth making, because there are actually some that do _not_ share this ideals. Some who believe in reincarnation, for instance, believe that if you are e.g handicapped you deserve it. That breaks slightly with this idea, but not quite, since they think that these people did something in their previous lives that made them deserve it. However, the nazis break completely with this idea. They didn't believe in reincarnation, or that they had somehow earned their "aryan" greatness. They just believed, Nietsche-style, that what they could take they had a right to take.

The alarming thing is that some who call themselves Libertarians also break with this idea: they go from saying that letting the strong get rich is a good idea, to saying that it is just, and that the strong deserve greater opportunities for wealth than others.

As to still celebrating May Day, even though Lenin made starving workers march on that day in the name of communism, it has parallells. The germans kept their national anthem (cutting out the first verse, true) and a lot of other national symbols that the Nazis adored. Abandoning May Day because of communism might feel like burning historical viking ships because of nazism to some.

Marx indeed saw his ideas as implementation details to a perfect society. Communism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, forced economic equality, forced labour and so on wasn't supposed to be the end station, it was supposed to be a historically necessary step on the way to true socialism. That theory was and is unbelivably naive and immoral. To think that Marx ridiculed so-called utopian socialists: his idea was both utopian and morally bankrupt.
But social democrats had another idea, and they also celebrated may day. Their idea deserves to be judged on its own merit. Even though they inherited some immorality from the communists, they didn't commit genocide.

(OK, eugenics programmes, but their relationship to communism is more complex).

liberty writes:

Thank you, Harald, for responding.

You say that The NAZI party "just believed, Nietsche-style, that what they could take they had a right to take." -- but I don't think they thought this any more than Marxists thought that proletarians had the right to take from the bourgeois. Marxists thought that the worker had earned his right to expropriate from the bourgeios, but Hitler also thought that the aryan race had earned the right as well:
"Every manifestation of human culture, every product of art, science and technical skill, which we see before our eyes today, is almost exclusively the product of Aryan creative power." - Mein Kampf

I have not read Mein Kampf, but I imagine that Hitler had an ideology to explain why his race was superior, and he had his proofs of it that show why they had earned their place - through technology, civilization, etc and he had ideals of a unified German empire with equal and prosperous livelyhood for all Germans. I think it was a cross between an old ideology of the right of Empire and the superiority of one's own country with a sort of socialist spread of the wealth across that country. I don't think you can say that his was different in nature to the idea of the proletarian having earned his place through work of the down-trodden and exploited. Hitler simply felt that Germans had earned it through work of the superior mind, talent, work ethic and strength. But he did feel they had earned it and proven their worth.

Again, I think that the description of the ideology is too simple. Things like "equality" and "fairness" are broad. Hitler beleived in equality for all Germans, Marx beleived in equality for all communists -- all who are willing to submit to the political ideology which he hoped would spread everywhere. Hitler beleived in superiority of the aryan race, Marxists believed in the superiority of the worker. Yes, one is born (but still has proven greatness and earned the top spot) and the other is not so much born as made, but being born into a proletarian family was always respected, while being born "with a silver spoon in your mouth" was always seen as inferior by all Marxists, from Marx onward. Being born bourgeois was always negative and Lenin hid his own raising because it was too bourgeois.

Barkley Rosser writes:

liberty,

On that last thread I had announced that I would say no more. So, you got the last (two) words.

I will only note that the "rational plan" is not specified in its nature at all. It could be indicative, not command, and all those statements involve "free associations of workers." So, if the plan is general and the free associations wish to trade with each other?

liberty writes:

>I will only note that the "rational plan" is not specified in its nature at all. It could be indicative, not command, and all those statements involve "free associations of workers." So, if the plan is general and the free associations wish to trade with each other?

Communists have tried every which way under the sun to make it non-planned. You cannot have no private property and have any sort of market system. You can't have no market economy and have a non-planned economic system.

How could you have a Marxist system - an economy with no private property - and retain a market system? You suggest that worker coops trade with each other. How do the worker coops know what to produce? Do they produce just for their members and then trade - if so, how is that not private proerty? If it is decentralized and they are producing for themselves and trading as they wish, they own their profit and it is completely a market economy and not at all Marxist. If they produce and do not own the product then they must be told what to produce, otherwise every coop might produce the same thing or produce things that nobody wants. If they are told what to produce, it is a planned economy.

You suggest a "general" plan. The Soviet Union tried that - again, you have the problem of giving the orders of the general plan and then having to take the bulk of the profit - so how do you convince the coop workers to produce as much as you require; how do you allow the coops to trade with other, based on what price? How much can they trade and how much do you need to collect? Each coop will need inputs, if they trade freely, can they keep the profits of the trade?

In order not to allow private property (and hoarding) you must make sure they only trade for required inputs, but that they do get the inputs required, produce what is required and make sure the most high priority coops get the products you produce if they need them for inputs. The central plan is not highly detailed, but it must set the basic plan so that the right things are produced. They cannot simply do as they see fit in order to produce the product because they can't simply maximize profit - they must produce the right amount that the central plan asks for (otherwise all coops might produce too little or the wrong thing, they might not make the inputs required for other coops). So, in order to make sure that each will fulfill its plan quota, they are told both to try to minimize costs (maximize profits) and to fulfill a specified plan.

SO they are told "make 500 tons of silverware and do it with low costs and hire the least number of workers, your reward will be based on fulfilling the plan first and lowering costs second."

So, what they do is arrange for their inputs to be in the heaviest and cheapest metal, so that they can fulfill 500 tons easiest, then they make a really cheap style of silverware, keep it to just one style and overwork all the workers to keep the number low. Next year they change a few things to try to get better output, they say "Make $500 million rubles worth of silverware, based on your input costs." - So now you buy the most expensive metals, hire more workers and make several types, but you only end up making 50 tons of the lighter silverware, which ends up being a lot fewer forks and spoons, so that there is a shortage of the product. etc etc -- it happens because the coop cannot maximize its profit because it must fill a plan and the planners cannot know exactly how to specify to every detail what must be done, but they need to know what will be produced, for an input ...

Anyway, all these countries *tried* to the Marxist no-private-property thing and they did not expect to have to use central planning, and they all expected to be able to stop planning after a while (when they reached communism). Its smply not economically feasbale to have a Marxist economy, no private property, without planning.

Barkley Rosser writes:

liberty,

I will again let you have the last word and declare victory because I am horribly busy (final exams to grade, a journal to edit, and a ridiculous number of other things to do), and we already had a long round of this before, with most of 40 comments being by either you or me.

Part of the problem is that you assume extreme alternatives. Are you not aware that property relations are a complicated spectrum? So, in China right now the state still technically owns all the land. However, peasants have long-term leases (which can be bought and sold) that allow them pretty full usufruct rights. Everyone accepts that they are now operating in a largely market economy, if one where there is still technically state ownership, official adherence to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, but no longer has command central planning. I think that alone blows off most of your impossible antinomies.

I would note that it is possible to have a command economy that is not planned. That is more or less what went on during the War Communism period in the USSR. Of course I suppose you could call the half-baked "deficitsy" orderings that went on "planning," but Engels, who was the pro-planner of the Marx and Engels pair, would not have had much use for it, much less Barone. Ownership during that period was pretty confused also, very mixed. Regarding agriculture, the peasants had been given actual control of the land, but the state officially owned it, a bit like China right now, although China has a mostly market economy, whereas War Communism was not a market economy in agriculture.

I note three things before going out the door. One is that we have had all kinds of mixed systems out there, with China's current one being simply one example. Many of these have been noted before. Of course, when you are confronted with these (such as the indicative planning with lots of state ownership in places like France), you then declare that "well, these are not really Marxist."

Another is that Marx (and Engels) wrote huge amounts. It is not at all hard to find all kinds of strong statements in one place that can be contradicted by other statements elsewhere. Almost all places where there are refrences to plans, most of them vague, are coauthored with Engels. The only place in anything by either of them where there is any serious effort to lay out in more detail what it means to plan is in the Anti-Duhring, written by Engels alone.

Finally, to get back to what was the original issue. You are the one who has kept insisting that somehow Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and the rest were all just perfect manifesters of the ideas and writings of Marx in particular, dismissing complaints by me that his affirmations of democracy meant nothing or were simply the same as the weirdly non-democratic interpretations given by these later folks to justify their horrendous actions. So, for now, I shall simply leave you with this one from the quotations you have been throwing around. Is there any way you can claim that "free associations of workers" were what Lenin, Stalin, and Mao encouraged or approved of? I find that not supportable at all.

liberty writes:

>Part of the problem is that you assume extreme alternatives. Are you not aware that property relations are a complicated spectrum?

No, I am defining Marxism as Marx define it, that's all. Sure you can go part-way, but you are not a follower of Marx if you do, and socialist countries have all tried to fully implement Marxism. Its not me who is "extreme", its Marx.


>So, in China right now the state still technically owns all the land. However, peasants have long-term leases (which can be bought and sold) that allow them pretty full usufruct rights. Everyone accepts that they are now operating in a largely market economy, if one where there is still technically state ownership

Right, they have backed off from complete Marxism. They first tried true Marxism and in so doing killed 20-50 million people. So THEY TRIED MARXISM and found that the economy and political structure had to be planned and totalitarian, then after Mao, they backed off from Marx and reimplemented a somewhat market economy.


>I think that alone blows off most of your impossible antinomies.

Because when you stop being true to Marx you can re-introduce a market economy? How does that refute anything that I said?

>I would note that it is possible to have a command economy that is not planned. That is more or less what went on during the War Communism period in the USSR. Of course I suppose you could call the half-baked "deficitsy" orderings that went on "planning,

It was not completely Marxist as they were still attempting to implement socialism; there wasn't true planning but neither was there order - it was chaos, there was famine, there was some planning in pieces, etc. If you want to argue that you can have chaos instead of planning, I agree. I was simply making the assumption that the people would want to try to resume productivity and continue to move toward a no private property system, as this was the basis for the question. The more that Lenin enforced laws against private property and tried to make the system productive, the closer it went toward a planned economy. He later pretended that it was only due to the war that he moved in this direction.

>I note three things before going out the door. One is that we have had all kinds of mixed systems out there, with China's current one being simply one example. Many of these have been noted before. Of course, when you are confronted with these (such as the indicative planning with lots of state ownership in places like France), you then declare that "well, these are not really Marxist."

They aren't, by definition!

I am not saying that your choices are true free market libertarian capitalism or a planned economy. I am saying that if you follow Marx and hope to achive a no-private-property system, communism, then you will inevitably turn the economy into a planned, totalitarian, command economy. If you drop the whole Marxist thing and re-introduce a mixed market economy - then sure, you can avoid the command economy - but it won't be Marxist. Marx did not consider a mixed market economy to be communism and he was against that kind of economy, so it cannot be called Marxist.


>Another is that Marx (and Engels) wrote huge amounts. It is not at all hard to find all kinds of strong statements in one place that can be contradicted by other statements elsewhere.

Do you really want to dismiss statements made in their central texts- the principles of communism and the communist manifesto???

They never disowned those texts and those were their statement of principles. Everything else was backup economic analysis - that might be more accepted by mainstream economists (God knows why) but which do not state the central thesis of what they beleive. What they believe is laid out for all to see in those central texts.


>Almost all places where there are refrences to plans, most of them vague, are coauthored with Engels.

Once again, it is very possible that Marx did not desire a planned economy. He may have been adamantly against it - I do not refute this. In fact, I think he was against planned economies. He believed that his system would be all voluntary and beautiful and require no planning whatsoever.

But that makes no difference.

If you do what he suggests: make private property a thing of the past, you get a single result: an economy that cannot function at all without planning, and with planning it becomes totalitarian and it has very low productivity and the people are miserable.


>You are the one who has kept insisting that somehow Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and the rest were all just perfect manifesters of the ideas and writings of Marx in particular, dismissing complaints by me that his affirmations of democracy meant nothing or were simply the same as the weirdly non-democratic interpretations given by these later folks to justify their horrendous actions. So, for now, I shall simply leave you with this one from the quotations you have been throwing around. Is there any way you can claim that "free associations of workers" were what Lenin, Stalin, and Mao encouraged or approved of? I find that not supportable at all.

They were true to Marx and Lenin, for one, certainly beleived that when true communism arrived the workers would certainly be in free associations the exact way described by Marx.

" Only in communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes (i.e., when there is no distinction between the members of society as regards their relation to the social means of production), only then "the state... ceases to exist", and "it becomes possible to speak of freedom". Only then will a truly complete democracy become possible and be realized, a democracy without any exceptions whatever. And only then will democracy begin to wither away, owing to the simple fact that, freed from capitalist slavery, from the untold horrors, savagery, absurdities, and infamies of capitalist exploitation, people will gradually become accustomed to observing the elementary rules of social intercourse that have been known for centuries and repeated for thousands of years in all copy-book maxims. They will become accustomed to observing them without force, without coercion, without subordination, without the special apparatus for coercion called the state.... It is this communist society, which has just emerged into the light of day out of the womb of capitalism and which is in every respect stamped with the birthmarks of the old society, that Marx terms the “first”, or lower, phase of communist society.

The means of production are no longer the private property of individuals. The means of production belong to the whole of society. Every member of society, performing a certain part of the socially-necessary work, receives a certificate from society to the effect that he has done a certain amount of work. And with this certificate he receives from the public store of consumer goods a corresponding quantity of products. After a deduction is made of the amount of labor which goes to the public fund, every worker, therefore, receives from society as much as he has given to it.

“Equality” apparently reigns supreme. ...

... But the scientific distinction between socialism and communism is clear. What is usually called socialism was termed by Marx the “first”, or lower, phase of communist society. Insofar as the means of production becomes common property, the word “communism” is also applicable here, providing we do not forget that this is not complete communism. .... From the moment all members of society, or at least the vast majority, have learned to administer the state themselves, have taken this work into their own hands, have organized control over the insignificant capitalist minority, over the gentry who wish to preserve their capitalist habits and over the workers who have been thoroughly corrupted by capitalism--from this moment the need for government of any kind begins to disappear altogether. The more complete the democracy, the nearer the moment when it becomes unnecessary. ... Then the door will be thrown wide open for the transition from the first phase of communist society to its higher phase, and with it to the complete withering away of the state."

That is exactly what Marx meant and how he came to decide that the association of workers would be voluntary. To the exact extent that Marx believed in free association of workers - eg the free association that would come about as a result of the "scientific" dialectic of the transition to communism - is exactly how much Lenin believed in it. Lenin was a true follower of Marx.

Stalin didn't write as much and I have not read as much Mao, but they were true followers of Marx and hence would have agreed.

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