Great Leaps Backward

On a recent trip to the library I picked up a biography of Mao Tse-Tung. Part of my ongoing education of the history of communism so as to be a better communist. What a shocker. Experiencing the socio-political situation in China (1949-1970s) is like being dragged through a plane crash, a slaughter played on repeat.

Recently I made a post denouncing Stalin. Stalin was a tyrant who disregarded the sanctity of human lives to obtain his dictatorship. Mao, on the other hand, flipped those means and ends. For him dictatorship served to destroy human lives. Even garden variety sociopaths show greater empathy. How he managed to rule for decades without being assassinated baffles me.

I’ve always been a conflicted socialist. On one hand I’m gaga and bleary-eyed with Marx and Engels, the American labor movement of the ’30s, the Catholic Worker, Steinbeck’s americana… On the other hand: Stalin, Mao, North Korea. One can draw a clear division between authoritarian communism and grassroots communism without sophistry. Totalitarianism is evil, it was evil in the Communist sphere of the last century, just as it was evil in the capitalist dictatorships of Latin America in the 70s and 80s.

But the fact is, speaking of “communism” always carries the tags of gulags, Cultural Revolution, bread lines and failed states. And what good is being a “communist” if your very name repels people even before they hear you out? I think it boils down to a time-and-place decision. It’s a loaded term but it’s the only one that fits. Re-naming is disingenuous; I’d be a hypocrite for taking on a euphemistic term when I frequently lambast conservatives for trying to replace “capitalism” with “free enterprise.”

Anyway, the name isn’t important. The heart of communism is a theory. It’s the idea that capitalism, class division, wealth inequality, Wall Street causing recessions, unemployment, these things are not necessary evils, that history doesn’t end where we’re at. If you believe it, you’re a communist. Where you go from there is essentially a matter of opinion and taste.

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