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Note that communism is a branch of socialism. This article only discusses criticisms that are specific to communism and not other forms of socialism. See criticisms of socialism for a discussion of objections to socialism in general.

Criticisms of communism can be divided in two broad categories: Those concerning themselves with the practical aspects of 20th century Communist states, and those concerning themselves with communist principles and theory. The two categories are logically distinct: One may agree with communist principles but disagree with many policies adopted by Communist states (and this is quite common among communists, particularly in the case of Trotskyists), or, more rarely, one may agree with policies adopted by Communist states but disagree with communist principles.

In the English language, the word communism and related terms are written with the uppercase "C" when they refer to a political party of that name, a member of that party, or a government led by such a party. When written as a common noun, with a lowercase "c", they refer to an economic system characterized by collective ownership of property and by the organization of labor for the common advantage of all members; or to the position that such a system is possible and desirable. Thus, one may be a communist (an advocate of communism) without being a Communist (a member of a Communist Party or another similar organization). This distinction between communism (lowercase "c") and Communism (uppercase "C") is used throughout the present article.

20th century Communist states[edit]

Communism is a social system that abolishes private property, social classes, and the state itself. As such, a "communist state" would be an oxymoron. No country or government ever called itself a "Communist state"; however, various states gave the Communist Party a special status in their constitution and laws[1], while claiming to be heading in the direction of communism. The term "Communist state" has been coined and used in the West to refer to such countries. It is these "Communist states" (single-party states where the ruling party officially proclaimed its adherence to Marxism-Leninism) that are the targets of criticism presented below.

For related information, see the discussion regarding the definition of a Communist state.

No Communist state claimed to have attained communism, the social system, but all of them planned to do so in the not unreasonably distant future; Khrushchev, for example, forecast that communism would be reached in the Soviet Union by 1980, some quarter century later. The states which no longer exist never did reach communism, and none of the remaining ones seem likely to do so soon.

General critique of Communist states[edit]

Censorship, emigration and foreign policy[edit]

Communist states often practice censorship of dissent. The level of censorship varies widely between different states and historical periods, but it nearly always exists to a greater or lesser extent. The most rigid censorship has been practiced by hardline Stalinist and Maoist regimes, such as the Soviet Union under Stalin (1927–53), China during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), and North Korea during its entire existence (1948–present).[2] Usually, newly established Communist states maintained or tightened the level of censorship that was present in those countries before the Communists came to power; indeed, the Communists themselves had most often been the targets of this previous censorship. As a result, after coming to power, they argued that they wanted to fight the former ruling class using its own weapons, either as a form of vengeance or to prevent it from staging a counter-revolution.

An extensive network of civilian informants - sometimes composed of volunteers, sometimes forcibly recruited - was used to collect intelligence for the government and report cases of dissent.[3] In some Communist states it was common practice to classify internal critics of the system as having a mental disease, like sluggishly progressing schizophrenia - which was only recognized in Communist states - and incarcerate them in mental hospitals.[4] Workers were not allowed to join free trade unions.[5] Several internal uprisings were suppressed by military force, like the Tambov rebellion, the Kronstadt rebellion, and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

The Communist states themselves, as well as their advocates, often argue that censorship and similar restrictions are unfortunate but necessary. They claim that, especially during the Cold War, Communist states have been assaulted by capitalist propaganda from outside and infiltrated by the intelligence agencies of powerful capitalist nations, such as the CIA. In this view, restrictions and suppression of dissent were defensive measures against subversion.

Some have argued that, while censorship was practiced in Communist states, the extent of this censorship has been greatly exaggerated in the West. Albert Szymanski, for instance, in his comprehensive study entitled Human Rights in the Soviet Union, draws a comparison between the treatment of anti-Communist dissidents in the Soviet Union after Stalin's death and the treatment of anti-capitalist dissidents in the United States during the age of McCarthyism, concluding that "on the whole, it appears that the level of repression in the Soviet Union in the 1955 to 1980 period was at approximately the same level as in the US during the McCarthy years (1947-56)."[6] Amnesty International estimated the number of political prisoners in the Soviet Union in 1979 at a little over 400.[7]

Both anti-Communists and Communists have criticized the personality cults of many leaders of Communist states, and the hereditary leadership of North Korea. The dissenting communist Milovan Djilas and others have also argued that a powerful new class of party bureaucrats emerged under Communist Party rule, and exploited the rest of the population. A Czech proverb observed, "Under capitalism, man exploits man; under Communism, it's the other way around." (see also nomenklatura)

Restrictions on emigration from Communist states received extensive publicity. The Berlin wall was one of the most famous examples of this, but North Korea still imposes a total ban on emigration (reported on PBS's program Frontline) and Cuba's restrictions are routinely criticized by the Cuban-American community. During the Berlin Wall's existence, sixty thousand people unsuccessfully attempted to emigrate illegally from East Germany and received jail terms for attempting to "flee the Republic"; there were around five thousand successful escapes into West Berlin; and 239 people were killed trying to cross.[8]

Similar restrictions to emigration have been in force in most capitalist countries prior to the late 19th century. France, Spain and Portugal even limited their citizens' travel to their own colonies.[9] The various German principalities allowed only emigration to slavic lands in the east prior to the 18th century, and many of them banned emigration altogether from the 18th century to the mid-19th. Austrian authorities did not allow commoners to move beyond the empire's borders before the 1850s. While most European states relaxed or even completely eliminated their restrictions on emigration by the early 20th century - largely due to their population explosion - there were some exceptions. Romania, Serbia, and, most notably, Tsarist Russia still required their citizens to obtain official permission for emigration up to World War I. During the war, all European countries re-introduced strict restrictions on migration, either temporarily or permanently.[10]

In China, there have traditionally been severe barriers to emigration. Between 1712 and 1858, emigration was a capital offence.[11]

The restrictions imposed by Communist states on the emigration of their citizens were no more intense than such restrictions that had been imposed by capitalist (or otherwise non-Communist) countries in the past. In Poland, for example, the Communist government maintained the same emigration laws that had been in force in capitalist Poland from 1936.[12] However, Communist states (particularly East Germany, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea) did regulate emigration to a greater degree than most Western capitalist countries in the post-World War II period. The reason given for this was that they needed as much labor power as possible for post-war reconstruction and economic development.[13] They did not deny that better standards of living existed in other countries, but argued that they were in the process of catching up.

Of the Communist states, only Albania and North Korea ever imposed a blanket ban on emigration. From most other Communist states, legal emigration was always possible, though often difficult. Some of these states relaxed emigration laws significantly from the 1960s onwards. Tens of thousands of Soviet citizens emigrated legally every year during the 1970s.[14]

The Communist states were founded on a policy of militant anti-imperialism. Lenin believed imperialism to be "the highest stage of capitalism" and, in 1917, he declared the unconditional right of self-determination and secession for the national minorities of Russia. Later, during the Cold War, Communist states gave military assistance and in some cases intervened directly on behalf of national liberation movements that were fighting for independence from colonial empires, particularly in Asia and Africa.

However, critics have accused the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China of being imperialistic themselves, and have therefore concluded that their foreign policy was hypocritical (sometimes imperialist and sometimes anti-imperialist, depending on their interests in a given situation). Specifically, such critics accuse the Soviet Union of forcibly conquering the newly independent nations of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War.[15] Stalin conquered the Baltic states in World War II and created satellite states in Eastern Europe. China conquered Tibet. Soviet forces intervened on 3 occasions against anti-Soviet uprisings or governments in other countries: the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the Prague Spring, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets and Chinese, as well as their allies, claimed that these were all instances of liberation rather than conquest.

Loss of life[edit]

The most severe accusations made against Communist states is that they were allegedly responsible for millions of deaths. The vast majority of these deaths are held to have occurred under the regimes of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong in China. As such, most critics focus on those two regimes in particular, though others have claimed that all Communist states were responsible for some numbers of unjust deaths. These deaths generally fall under two categories:

  1. Executions of people who had received the death penalty for various charges, or deaths that occurred in prison.
  2. Deaths that were not caused directly by the government (the people in question were not executed and did not die in prison), but are considered to be the deliberate or accidental results of certain government policies. Most of the claimed victims of Communist states fall under this category, and it is this category that is usually the subject of controversy.

Most Communist states held the death penalty as a legal form of punishment for most of their existence, with a few exceptions (e.g. the Soviet Union abolished it from 1947 to 1950 [16][17]). Critics argue that many, perhaps most, of the convicted prisoners executed by Communist states were not criminals, but political dissidents. Stalin's Great Purge in the late 1930s (roughly 1936-38) is given as the most prominent example of this.[18]

A number of Communist states also held forced labour as a legal form of punishment for certain periods of time, and, again, critics argue that the majority of those sentenced to forced labour camps - such as the Gulag - were sent there for political rather than criminal reasons. Some of the Gulag camps were located in very harsh environments, such as Siberia, which resulted in the death of a significant fraction of their inmates before they could complete their prison terms. The Gulag was shut down in 1960.

With regard to deaths not caused directly by government orders, critics usually point to famine and war as the immediate causes of what they see as unjust deaths in Communist states. The Holodomor and the Great Leap Forward are considered to have been man-made famines. These two events alone killed a majority of the people seen as victims of Communist states by nearly all estimates.

Many historians have attempted to give estimates of the total number of people killed by a certain Communist state, or by all Communist states put together.

The number of people killed under Joseph Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union has been estimated as between 3.5 and 8 million by G. Ponton[19], 6.6 million by V.V. Tsaplin[20], 9.5 million by Alec Nove[21], 20 million by The Black Book of Communism[22], 50 million by Norman Davies[23], and 61 million by R.J. Rummel[24].

The number of people killed under Mao Zedong's regime in the People's Republic of China has been estimated at 19.5 million by Wang Weizhi[25], 27 million by John Heidenrich[26], between 38 and 67 million by Kurt Glaser and Stephan Possony[27], between 32 and 59 million by Robert L. Walker[28], 65 million by The Black Book of Communism[29], and 72 million by R.J. Rummel[30].

The authors of The Black Book of Communism have also estimated that 9.3 million people have died as a result of the actions of other Communist states and leaders.[31]

The reasons for such extreme discrepancies in the number of estimated victims of Communist states are twofold:

  • First, all these numbers are estimates derived from incomplete data. Researchers often have to extrapolate and interpret available information in order to arrive at their final numbers.
  • Second, different researchers work with different definitions of what it means to be killed by one's government. As noted above, the vast majority of alleged victims of Communist states did not die as a result of direct government orders, so there is no agreement on the question of whether Communist governments should be held responsible for their deaths. The low estimates may count only executions and labour camp deaths as instances of government killing, while the high estimates may be based on the assumption that the government killed everyone who died from famine, war, or is unaccounted for.

Finally, it should be noted that this a highly politically charged field, with nearly all researchers having been accused of a pro- or anti-Communist bias at one time or another.

Some have argued that, if judged by the same standards, capitalist countries could be held responsible for far more deaths than Communist states. For instance, hunger currently kills 24 thousand people daily in the capitalist world.[32] Colonialism (by capitalist European states) has killed an estimated 50 million people.[33] Whether these deaths can be blamed on capitalism is, of course, a matter of controversy.

Economic and social development[edit]

Yearly economic growth record
of the Soviet Union (source: [34])
GNP GNP
per capita
Annual rate for
the period 1928-1980
4.4% 3.1%
Annual rate for
the period 1950-1980
4.7% 3.3%
Annual rate for
the period 1960-1980
4.2% 3.1%
Annual rate for
the period 1970-1980
3.1% 2.1%

Advocates of Communist states often praise them for having leaped ahead of contemporary capitalist countries in certain areas, for example by offering guaranteed employment, health care and housing to their citizens. Critics typically condemn Communist states by the same criteria, claiming that all lag far behind the industrialized West in terms of economic development and living standards.

Central economic planning has in certain instances produced dramatic advances, including rapid development of heavy industry during the 1930s in the Soviet Union and later in their space program. Another example is the development of the pharmaceutical industry in Cuba. Early advances in the status of women were also notable, especially in Islamic areas of the Soviet Union.[35] However, the Soviet Union did not achieve the same kind of development in agriculture (forcing the Soviet Union to become a net importer of cereals after the Second World War). Other Communist states, such as Laos, Vietnam or Maoist China, continued in poverty; China has only achieved high rates of growth after introducing free market economic reforms[36] — a sign, claim the critics, of the superiority of capitalism. Another example is Czechoslovakia, which was a developed industrial country approaching Western standards prior to World War II, but fell behind the West in the post-war era.

Nevertheless, many Communist states with planned economies maintained consistently higher rates of economic growth than industrialized Western capitalist countries. From 1928 to 1985, the economy of the Soviet Union grew by a factor of 10, and GNP per capita grew more than fivefold.[37] The Soviet economy started out at roughly 25% the size of the economy of the United States. By 1955, it climbed to 40%. In 1965 the Soviet economy reached 50% of the contemporary US economy, and in 1977 it passed the 60% threshold.[38] For the first half of the Cold War, most economists were asking when, not if, the Soviet economy would overtake the US economy.[39] Starting in the 1970s, however, and particularly during the 1980s, growth rates slowed down in the Soviet Union and throughout the Communist world. The reasons for this downturn are still a matter of debate among economists, but there is a general consensus that the Communist states had reached the limits of the extensive growth model they were pursuing, and the downturn was at least in part caused by their refusal or inability to switch to intensive growth.[40]

Technological progress in the Communist states was sometimes highly uneven, in the sense that some sectors surged ahead while others lagged behind. As noted above, the Soviet space program saw remarkable progress; so did pure science, mathematics, and military technology. Consumer products, on the other hand, were typically several years behind their Western counterparts. According to the CIA[41], a number of Soviet products were in fact using Western technology, which had been either legally purchased or obtained through espionage. This situation has been largely attributed to the fact that economic planners in the Soviet Union and elsewhere were accountable to the government, but, in the absence of democracy, they were not accountable to the people. Thus, their plans tended to focus on long-term goals and scientific and military development, rather than the immediate needs of the population.

Yearly economic growth compared
(source: [42])
Soviet
Union
Western
Europe
United
States
Annual GNP
growth rate: 1950-1980
4.7% 4.2% 3.3%
Annual GNP
growth rate: 1970-1980
3.1% 3.0% 3.0%
Annual GNP per capita
growth rate: 1950-1980
3.3% 3.3% 1.9%
Annual GNP per capita
growth rate: 1970-1980
2.1% 2.3% 2.0%

Both critics and supporters of Communist states often make comparisons between particular Communist and capitalist countries, with the intention of showing that one side was superior to the other. Critics prefer to compare East and West Germany; supporters prefer to compare Cuba to Jamaica or Central America. All such comparisons are open to challenge, both on the comparability of the states involved and the statistic being used for comparison. No two countries are identical; the western parts of Germany were more developed and industrialized than the eastern parts long before the Cold War and the creation of two separate German states, and Cuba was likewise more developed than many of its Central American neighbors before the Cuban revolution. Comparison of Cuba to the rest of the Caribbean or Latin America has a special problem: Cuba is the only Latin American country to have been Communist for forty years; it is also the only Latin American country to have been for forty years under embargo by its largest neighbor and geographically natural trading partner.

In general, critics of Communist states argue that they remained behind the industrialized West in terms of economic development for most of their existence, while advocates argue that growth rates were higher in Communist states than in capitalist countries, so they would have eventually caught up to the West if those growth rates had been maintained. Some reject all comparisons altogether, noting that the Communist states started out with economies that were much less developed to begin with.[43]

Life expectancy has increased in fits and starts in the West. The latest of these began about 1970, and largely consists of improvements in cardiovascular medicine. Demographic studies[44] have concluded that the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe did not partake of this increase, as they had in the earlier ones; male life expectancies even decreased by a year - leading to a large gap between East and West by 1990. However, since a market economy was introduced, a sharp decline in life expectancy was noted in the countries of the former Soviet Union. This decline has accelerated in Russia and Ukraine; in the Baltic republics life expectancy may have started to increase. In Eastern Europe, after 1990, the decline continued most notably in Romania, but life expectancy eventually began to increase in many of the other countries in the region. All these developments give information on post-Soviet capitalism, especially the economy of Russia, as well as on the policies of the Communist states.

Supporters of the Communist states note their social and cultural programs, sometimes administered by labor organizations. Universal education programs have been a strong point, as has the generous provision of universal health care. They point out the high levels of literacy enjoyed by Eastern Europeans (in comparison, for instance, with Southern Europe), Cubans or Chinese. Western critics charge that Communist compulsory education was replete with pro-Communist propaganda and censored opposing views.

Arts, science, and environment[edit]

Many Communist states censored the arts for significant periods of time, usually giving preferential treatment to socialist realism. Some Communist states have engaged in large-scale cultural experiments. In Romania, the historical center of Bucharest was demolished and the whole city was redesigned between 1977 and 1989. In the Soviet Union, hundreds of churches were demolished or converted to secular purposes during the 1920s and 30s. In China, the Cultural Revolution sought to give all artistic expression a 'proletarian' content.[45] Critics argue that such policies represented unjustified destruction of cultural heritage, while advocates claim that the new culture they created was better than the old.

During the Stalinist period in the Soviet Union, historical documents were often the subject of revisionism and forgery, intended to change public perception of certain important people and events. The pivotal role played by Leon Trotsky in the Russian revolution and Civil War, for example, was almost entirely erased from official historical records after Trotsky became the leader of a communist faction that opposed Stalin's rule (see Fourth International). Soviet research in certain sciences was at times guided by political rather than scientific considerations. Lysenkoism and Japhetic theory were promoted for brief periods of time in biology and linguistics respectively, despite having no scientific merit. Research into genetics was restricted, because Nazi use of eugenics had prompted the Soviet Union to label genetics a "fascist science" (see suppressed research in the Soviet Union).

According to the United States Department of Energy, the Communist states maintained a much higher level of energy intensity than either the Western nations or the Third World, at least after 1970. Energy-intensive development may have been reasonable. The Soviet Union was an exporter of oil; China has vast supplies of coal.

Communist states often engaged in rapid industrialization, and in some cases this has lead to environmental disasters. The most cited example is the great shrinking of the Aral Sea in today's Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which is believed to have been caused by the diversion of the waters of its two affluent rivers for cotton production. The Caspian Sea has also been diminishing; in addition, there was significant pollution of the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the unique freshwater environment of Lake Baikal. In 1988 only 20% of the sewage in the Soviet Union was treated properly. Established health standards for air pollution were exceeded by ten times or more in 103 cities in 1988. In Eastern Europe, air pollution is cited as the cause of forest die-back, damage to buildings and cultural heritage, and a rise in the occurrence of lung cancer. According to official sources, 58 percent of the total agricultural land of the former Soviet Union was affected by salinization, erosion, acidity, or waterlogging. Nuclear waste was dumped in the Sea of Japan, the Arctic Ocean, and in locations in the Far East. It was revealed in 1992 that in the city of Moscow there were 636 radioactive waste sites and 1,500 in St. Petersburg.[46][47]

With the exception of radioactive waste, all of the aforementioned examples of environmental degradation are similar to what occurred in Western capitalist countries during the height of their drive to industrialize, in the 19th century.[48] Thus, some have argued that Communist states have not damaged their environments any more than the average industrial society. Others claim that Communist states did more damage than average, primarily due to the lack of any popular or political pressure to research environmentally friendly technologies.[49]

Many ecological problems continued unabated after the fall of the Soviet Union and are still major issues today - which has prompted supporters of Communist states to accuse their opponents of holding a double standard.[50] In other cases the environmental situation has improved after a number of years[51][52], but researchers have concluded that this improvement was largely due to the severe economic downturns in the 1990s that caused many factories to close down.[53]

Communist and Left critique of Communist states[edit]

Communist states are nominally based on Marxism-Leninism, which is only one form of Marxism, which is in turn only one school of the Left. Many communists themselves disagree with some or most of the actions undertaken by Communist states during the 20th century. Many of the anti-communist criticisms presented in the above section (for example, criticisms of violations of human rights) are shared by the communist critics.

Other varieties of the Left opposed Bolshevik plans before they were put into practice: The revisionist Marxists, such as Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky denied the necessity of a revolution; the anarchists had differed from Marx since Bakunin, and the anarchist Left Socialist-Revolutionaries under Nestor Makhno were at war with Lenin, forming another of the many sides of the Russian Civil War.

Marx and Engels (like Alexander Hamilton) did not believe that true liberal democracy was a possible form of government, since all states inherently give unlimited power to the ruling class. After the revolution, when all production was securely controlled by the proletariat, the state would eventually "wither away", since it would have no function.

Criticisms of Communist states from the Left began very soon after the creation of the first such state. Bertrand Russell visited Russia in 1920, and regarded the Bolsheviks as intelligent, but clueless and planless. Emma Goldman condemned the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion as a 'massacre'.

One specifically communist critique, however, is the allegation that the "Communist states" of the 20th century grossly violated communist principles, and were therefore only partially communist at best or completely un-communist at worst.

Firstly, all communists agree that democracy (the rule of the people) is a key element of both socialism and communism - though they may disagree on the particular form that this democracy should take. The leaders of the Communist states themselves frequently announced their support for democracy, held regular elections and sometimes even gave their countries names such as the "German Democratic Republic" or the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea". Supporters of Communist states have always argued that those states were democratic. However, critics point out that, in practice, one political party held an absolute monopoly on power, dissent was banned, and the elections usually featured a single candidate and were ripe with fraud (often producing implausible results of 99% in favor of the candidate). Thus, communist critics of Communist states argue that, in practice, these states were not democratic and therefore not communist or socialist.

A lack of democracy implies a lack of a mandate from the people; as such, communist critics argue that the leadership of Communist states did not represent the interests of the working class, and it should therefore be no wonder that this leadership took actions that directly harmed the workers (for example Mao's Great Leap Forward). In particular, Communist states banned independent labor unions, an act seen by many communists (and most others on the political left) as an open betrayal of the working class.

Trotskyists, in particular, have argued that Stalin transformed the Soviet Union into a bureaucratic and repressive state, and that all subsequent Communist states ultimately turned out similar because they copied his example (Stalinism). There are various terms used by Trotskyists to define such states; see state capitalism, degenerated workers' state and deformed workers' state.

While Trotskyists are Leninists, there are other communists who embrace classical Marxism and reject Leninism entirely, arguing, for example, that the Leninist principle of democratic centralism was the source of the Soviet Union's slide away from communism.

Finally, it should be noted that many of these communist criticisms draw counter-criticisms from anti-communists, many of whom have attempted to establish a direct link between communist principles and the actions of Communist states. Ultimately, this comes down to a fundamental disagreement between communists and anti-communists as to what those 'communist principles' actually are. A glaring example is the issue of democracy: Communists claim that democracy is an essential part of their principles, while anti-communists claim that it is not.

In addition to Communism, the names of several other ideologies and political systems have been used by governments or political parties whose policies are widely regarded as being contrary to the basic principles of those ideologies or systems. The Democratic Republic of the Congo or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), for example, are universally regarded as highly undemocratic. Likewise, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia shares virtually nothing with the ideology of liberalism.

Marxist theory[edit]

The following sections of this article deal with criticisms that are specifically raised against Marxist theory, the ideological foundation of most communist thought.

Historical materialism[edit]

Historical materialism is normally considered one of the intellectual foundations of Marxism. It looks for the causes of developments and changes in human history in economic, technological, and more broadly, material factors, as well as the clashes of material interests among tribes, social classes and nations.

Critics argue that it ignores other causes of historical and social change, like biology, genetics, philosophy, art, religion, or other causes that are not "materialist" according to Marxists. Some, such as Karl Popper and others, have also argued that Historical materialism is a pseudoscience because it is not falsifiable. Marxists respond that social sciences in general are largely not falsifiable, since it is often difficult or outright impossible to test them via experiments (in the way hard science can be tested).

Based on historical materialism, Marx made numerous predictions. For example, he argued that the workers would become poorer and poorer as the capitalists exploited them more and more; that differences between the members within each class would become smaller and smaller and the classes would thus become more homogeneous; that the skilled workers would be replaced by unskilled workers doing assembly line work; that relations between the working class and the capitalists would get worse and worse; that the capitalists would become fewer and fewer due to an increasing number of monopolies; and that the proletarian revolution would occur first in the most industrialized nations.[54][55] Several of these were similar to the predictions made by other economists around the same time, such as David Ricardo (although he used a different theory; see Iron law of wages).

Marx himself never placed a particularly strong importance on these predictions, as he believed them to be a form of educated guesswork. A great number of Marxists, however, held them to be inevitable conclusions of historical materialism. Yet many of these predictions either did not come true or came true only in part. This is often cited by critics as evidence that historical materialism is a flawed theory. Communists reply with two arguments: The first is that there were a number of major events and trends over the past century and a half which Marx could not have predicted: imperialism, World War I, the rise of social democracy and Keynesian economics in the West (that introduced the concept of redistribution of wealth, thereby narrowing the gap between rich and poor), World War II and finally the Cold War. In response, critics maintain that if so many unpredictable events have happened in the past, then an equal number could happen in the future, and therefore historical materialism is not a reliable method of making predictions.

The second communist argument is a specifically Leninist one. Lenin, in his book Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, argued that capitalism must be viewed as a global phenomenon, and different capitalist countries must not be treated as if they are fully independent entities. Instead, one must look at capitalism worldwide. From this point of view, Lenin goes on to argue that rich, developed capitalist countries "export" their poverty to poorer countries, by turning those countries into colonies (hence 'imperialism') and exploiting them as sources of cheap unskilled labor and resources. Part of the spoils from this exploitation are then shared with the workers from the developed countries, in order to keep their standard of living high and thus avoid revolution at home. From this, Lenin concluded that Marx was wrong to expect the first proletarian revolutions to happen in the most advanced industrial nations. Lenin argued that the revolution would begin in the countries whose populations were most exploited, namely the underdeveloped agrarian societies like Russia.

The European colonial empires of Lenin's time all dissolved between 1947 and 1998 in the decolonization of the world. Communists maintain that economic exploitation of poor countries continues even in the absence of direct political control[56] (see neocolonialism, globalization and anti-globalization). Many have argued that Marx's original predictions did come true, but on a global level rather than a national one (e.g. that it is the global poor who are getting poorer, rather than the poor in any given country).

Labor theory of value[edit]

Fundamental to Marxist theory is the labor theory of value. It claims that the value (or, to be more exact, use-value) of an item is determined by the socially necessary labour time required to produce it. In other words, the greater the amount of work necessary to produce an object, the greater the value of that object. This implies that value is objective, and that it may not be reflected by the price of the object in question (since price is determined by supply and demand, and is not linked to the amount of necessary work that must be expended to produce the object). The labor theory of value was fully stated by David Ricardo, from suggestions by Adam Smith, and later adopted by Karl Marx. R. H. Tawney derives it, through John Locke, from the scholastic justum pretium.

Jevons and the classical capitalist economists later abandoned the labor theory for the subjective theory of value, which implies that the only value of an object on which different observers can agree is its price on the market (which is based on the subjective utilities of the participants).

Jacques Barzun, Robert Nozick, and other critics hold that the qualifier "socially necessary" in the labor theory of value is not well-defined, and conceals a subjective judgment of necessity. Barzun also claims that the unit of the labor theory is itself ill-defined; that the problem of measuring the increased return of the skilled laborer (or of the laborer with advanced equipment) in manual man-hours was never solved.

Bertrand Russell holds that the labor theory, while a reasonable approximation to an agrarian society, is neither accurate nor normative for an advanced industrialism, whatever its economic arrangements. According to Russell, the labor theory provides a useful polemic as an ethic against a "predatory" group, like moneylenders or capitalists; but it does not indicate any fair proportion between the earnings of two workers at different stands on the same assembly line.

Marxists have replied to these criticisms by refining the labor theory of value in various ways, for example by measuring the increased return of the skilled laborer according to the amount of labor that was necessary to teach that laborer his new skills. The qualifier "socially necessary" usually refers to the amount of labor that is strictly necessary to produce a given result; thus, if labor is wasted (the production process utilizes more labor than necessary), the end product does not gain any additional value.

References and bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Constitution of the Soviet Union". Preamble. Retrieved January 17, 2006. 
  2. ^ "A Country Study: Soviet Union (Former). Chapter 9 - Mass Media and the Arts". The Library of Congress. Country Studies. Retrieved October 3, 2005. 
  3. ^ Koehler, John O. (2000). Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. Westview Press. ISBN 0813337445. 
  4. ^ "The Soviet Case: Prelude to a Global Consensus on Psychiatry and Human Rights". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved October 3, 2005. 
  5. ^ "A Country Study: Soviet Union (Former). Chapter 5. Trade Unions". The Library of Congress. Country Studies. Retrieved October 4, 2005. 
  6. ^ Bibliography: Szymanski, p. 291
  7. ^ New York Times, 30 April 1980, p. 6
  8. ^ "A Concrete Curtain: The Life and Death of the Berlin Wall". Retrieved October 25, 2005. 
  9. ^ Bibliography: Szymanski, p. 15
  10. ^ Bibliography: Szymanski, p. 16
  11. ^ Bibliography: Szymanski, p. 19
  12. ^ Bibliography: Szymanski, p. 19
  13. ^ Bibliography: Szymanski, p. 22-25
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Bibliography[edit]

  • Applebaum, Anne (2003) Gulag: A History. Broadway Books. ISBN 0767900561
  • Chang, Jung & Halliday, Jon (2005) Mao: The Unknown Story. Knopf. ISBN 0679422714
  • Conquest, Robert (1991) The Great Terror: A Reassessment. Oxford University Press ISBN 0195071328.
  • Conquest, Robert (1986) The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195051807.
  • Courtois, Stephane; Werth, Nicolas; Panne, Jean-Louis; Paczkowski, Andrzej; Bartosek, Karel; Margolin, Jean-Louis & Kramer, Mark (1999). The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674076087.
  • Hamilton-Merritt, Jane (1999) Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992 Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253207568.
  • Getty, J. Arch (1993) Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521446708.
  • Khlevniuk, Oleg & Kozlov, Vladimir (2004) The History of the Gulag : From Collectivization to the Great Terror (Annals of Communism Series) Yale University Pres. ISBN 0300092849.
  • Natsios, Andrew S. (2002) The Great North Korean Famine. Institute of Peace Press. ISBN 1929223331.
  • Nghia M. Vo (2004) The Bamboo Gulag: Political Imprisonment in Communist Vietnam McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786417145.
  • Pipes, Richard (2001) Communism Weidenfled and Nicoloson. ISBN 0297646885
  • Pipes, Richard (1994) Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime. Vintage. ISBN 0679761845.
  • Pipes, Richard (1990) The Russian Revolution 1899-1919. Collins Harvill. ISBN 0679400745.
  • Rummel, R.J. (1996) Lethal Politics: Soviet Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1917. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1560008873.
  • Szymanski, Albert (1984) Human Rights in the Soviet Union (Including comparisons with the U.S.A.). Zed Books. ISBN 0862320194.
  • Yakovlev, Alexander (2004). A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300103220.

External links[edit]