Do Republicans know what Communism is?

Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin – not Biden, Harris, AOC or Sanders – are the icons of communism.
Photo: Apic/Getty Images

The day after the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, then-President Donald Trump did something hard to do: he shocked me with intemperate language, in this case referring to Harris as a “monster” and a “communist.” The “monster” affair didn’t surprise me, actually, given Trump’s long history of personally insulting women. But “Communist? Seriously? I hadn’t heard a Republican call a Democrat a coco since the high tide of McCarthyism – and even then the rare insult was coupled with specific (albeit wild) allegations of submission to an international Marxist-Leninist conspiracy operating from Moscow. Of course, for a generation Republicans have been loosely calling Democrats “socialists,” even though no more than a handful of Donkey Party members respond to that label, which in itself is as loose as “conservative” or “liberal.” But “Communist” is actually pretty accurate — and wildly inappropriate for anyone in either major US party.

It’s not just Trump who’s coining the term. One of his favorite Republican cronies, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, calls Democrats — all of them, not just some of them — communists all the time (most recently in her speech to a white nationalist group, in which she referred to as “Democrats, who are the Communist Party of the United States of America”). When Republicans lost two Senate seats and control of the upper house in Greene’s home state in January 2021, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem called the winning Democratic candidates Communists. And another Republican congressman, Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, betrayed a lack of understanding of communism last month by explaining that the Russians were invading Ukraine because, as a communist, Vladimir Putin “couldn’t not feed its people” and needed Ukraine. agricultural land.

So maybe it’s time for a short tutorial.

Socialism is a very broad and diffuse group of ideologies rooted in a post-industrial revolution reaction to economic inequality, the disempowerment of workers, and the consolidation of political and economic power in a class possessing capital. For the most part, the socialists who rose up to challenge capitalist parties and regimes in Europe (and, more gradually, in developing countries) in the 19th century were profoundly democratic and peaceful, even though many thought they could not achieve their goals only through revolution.

Communism is a specific ideology based on the historical teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (influential socialists of the 19th century) as applied by the Russian revolutionary Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin, later succeeded by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, Mao Zedong in China , Fidel Castro in Cuba, and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, among many others. Although communists have varied in theory and practice, they generally espouse the total abolition of private property, the establishment of a dictatorship directed for the presumed benefit of the workers by a vanguard party and an aggressive international movement aiming for world hegemony before a distant phase. of history when the state “withers away”.

Yes, communists consider themselves socialists – in fact, the only true socialists – but after the creation of the Soviet Union and its terrorist tactics against perceived enemies at home and abroad, self-identified socialists (for (e.g., those involved in parliamentary politics in democratic countries) have generally been anti-Communist, often supporting Cold War defense policies aimed at curbing the expansion of Communist countries. Now that communism has been overthrown in the Soviet Union (note to Tuberville!) – and in almost all of its client states – and has morphed into something unrecognizable to Marx or Engels in China and North Korea, socialists don’t no longer really feel the need to prove they are “anti-Communists”. But outside of the remaining enclaves, most “socialists” are “democratic socialists” aiming at public regulation, rather than public ownership, of the means of production and are comfortable with mildly nationalist political cultures – although not belligerent.

Russia remains heavily influenced by its communist heritage, but in most important respects it is one of the least socialist countries in the world, as extreme nationalism, an economy controlled by oligarchic gangsters and a culture touting homophobia and enforcing conservative religious values ​​are incompatible with socialism in any form.

There is not a single Democratic political figure in the United States who espouses anything resembling communism as defined above (note to Trump, Greene and Noem!). “Socialists” in any significant sense are rare and are certainly rare compared to members of the main centre-left political parties in democratic European nations. Whole volumes have been written why socialism as it is generally known, much less communism, has never taken root in this country. One factor was the absence of rigid class distinctions based on pre-capitalist feudal systems; another was the early emergence of democratic habits; yet another was a pluralistic culture in which religion was not identified with state power or coercion. It doesn’t really matter anymore since socialism no longer connotes the red flag of revolution but egalitarian policies aimed at the humanization of societies in which private property is taken for granted.

Perhaps the Republicans rely on so many anachronistic name-calling because they are aimed at immigrant constituencies with recent experience of real communism (like Cubans) or authoritarian societies using socialist rhetoric (like Venezuelans). But it gets ridiculous – as ridiculous as parallel complaints that Democrats (like Joe Biden, a regular, white man) want to abolish religion and hate men. They should cut it.

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