Thursday, October 8, 2009

Communism Is Just Depressing

I decided to supplement this week's readings by perusing the wikipedia articles on Marxist Theory. In my four years of college I managed to never take a class relating to communism, although it was referenced in other classes plenty of times. I guess everyone just assumed that the knowledge of it is pervasive enough that the constant allusions to communism in academia are enough that I should know what it is by now.

Here are the founders of Marxism:

Founder of Marxism Karl Marx and his Very Impressive Beard

Co-Founder of Marxism Friedrich Engels and his Equally Impressive Beard*

*these pictures aren't remotely relevant to the discussion I just wanted to share with everyone the visual joy that depicts Marx and Engels' epic beard-battle that I assume was some sort of contest over who they were going to name the theory after. Engels clearly lost because he just couldn't compete with Marx's nifty tri-color effect in the mustache region.

In high school in tenth grade we had a two-part class called "World History." One part was for half the year and attempted to condense the history of the world in that time span. The other part was just geography. Needless to say, the teacher, Mrs. Lopez, managed to fit in a whole week about Russia before and after the Revolution, and we had something called "Communist Week," in which, basically, Mrs. Lopez would run the classroom like it would have been run in Communist Russia and we had to all wear something red and she taught us about the actual history of Communism. In our tiny rural high school it was the most exciting thing that happened academically in our whole high school career.

Sadly, as "experiential learning" it did not really teach us about communism, only that it was really annoying that we had to actually sit up straight and not lean our arms or our heads on our desks in any way or risk getting "demerits." But this brief lesson did put that one question into my head that have been rattling around in there for a while and I've never really tried to answer in any depth except with the statement "because humans are greedy, selfish jerks.": Why didn't communism work? Why didn't the workers of the world unite and overthrow the bourgeoisie? (fun trivia fact sidenote: I keep copy-pasting that word because I'll be damned if I can spell it remotely right on my own) For that matter, why didn't anyone ever really manage to abolish social class systems?

But really, the more I think about it, any depth of an answer, in all honesty, really just stems off the "humans are greedy, selfish jerks" thing. In any complex political socio-economic system you're going to have a clear divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots." That's just how modern society works. In fact, any modern system practically requires some group of people to be oppressed or subjugated.

For example did you know that pretty much the whole basis of the awakening of "modern thought" was to subjugate women? Millions of "scholarly" articles and essays and books since Ancient Greece were written about the "scientific basis" of women being weak, stupid, gross, and just basically inferior to men in pretty much all ways possible. People like to leave this out of the history books but it's pretty dumb to talk about the oppression of the working class without mentioning that one group of people was being oppressed across all classes in all societies based solely on the fact that they had wombs.

*Ahem.* Sorry. Back to Marx. What I'm trying to say is, knowledge was often used as a weapon. The "bourgeoisie" didn't like to think that the only reason they were successful was because they had rich parents who could afford to pay for their schooling, so they liked to rationalize their success (and to eliminate having to feel guilty by sitting in a cushy desk job while others were dying doing back-breaking labor for them) by saying it was based of Nature, not Nurture, that is, they'd like to think they have literally more brains than the people working in the factories or staying at home cleaning their kitchens, not just that they were lucky enough to be granted better opportunities for them. Thus, peasants were just born dumb, women were born dumb, black people were born dumb, etc.

It's almost impossible to separate nature-from-nurture in these cases, because growing up in an environment that does not foster mental creativity and growth (child labor, no time for learning, malnutrition, mentally-harmful disciplinary techniques from uneducated parents and a whole host of other issues) can actually cause a child born in a lower or working class family to grow up to be "dumber" than a child growing up in a more nurturing, safe, educationally beneficial environment. But, just like health care in America, it developed really quickly so long ago that it's become such a tangled mess that there's no hope of ever fixing it, even though Karl Marx (and President Obama) tried.

So even though the proletariat tried to unite, this was still a group of people who had grown up in an environment where the only way to survive is to just do what you're told, and even if they were smart enough to know that something was wrong and that they wanted change and they wanted things to be better for them, they were still a mostly uneducated mass of people and therefore very susceptible to, for lack of a better word, persuasion. All that greedy leaders like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao really had to do was stir up some strong logic-blinding passionate emotions like anger, pull out a few brainwashing tricks, and recite some fancy rhetoric, and voila! Instant communist-dictatorship using angry workers to further your own goals.

At least, that's my reading of how it happened. But what do I know, I'm just an amateur psychologist.

-Katie Dempsey

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