Why the so-called "Communist" countries of the 20th century failed, and why they ought not be considered as evidence against marxism/communism/socialism.
No doubt we've all heard people say "the USSR was not communist" in retaliation to opponents decrying communism on the basis of totalitarianism. That's an entire different discussion on its own, but what would Marx have to say about this topic?
The first thing you need to know about Marx is that he wasn't some anti-capitalist hippie who opposed modern society and owning things. Nobody admired the creations of capitalism more so than Karl Marx. Marx's critique of capitalism (and society in general under that banner of capitalism) was generally scientific, rather than ethical. Marx stated that the cause for a shift in economic mode of production (the various forms of an economy that we know as capitalism, socialism, communism, feudalism, etc.) was a shift in the means of production (the tools used to produce a commodity, such as the steam engine, the spinning jenny, etc.). Each time that the means of production improved, the economy (and consequently, society as a whole) who advance to meet this new way of creating and producing. Generally, when the means of production improved, a more liberal restructuring of society came along with it, or vice-versa. With the improving means of production also came improved means of communication, improved transportation, greater commercial activity, and through this: spreading ideas of democracy. The result of this was the enlightenment, and the result of THIS was widespread political upheaval against the monarchies and religious aristocracies of the previous centuries. The relationship between commerce and liberalism is best illustrated through this map of the salem witch trials:
We see that the west village did the accusing while the east village played the role of the accused. The west village, which was further away from seaports (and therefore commerce) held more conservative values. Around this time, women had been granted the right to inherit property, church attendence was decreasing (which resulted in lowered standards for membership), and society as it was when salem was first founded was being shaken. The conflict between the older west village and the newer east village resulted in the west village accusing women who came into ownership of their deceased fathers' property of witchcraft (one could draw parallels to this and McCarthyism).
It stands to reason, then, that improved means of production (which include the means of communication and transportation, as these are used in production) result in the spread of democratic ideas. It was only natural, then that the industrial revolution, urbanization, and the rise of advanced capitalism follow the revolutions and civil wars of the 17th and 18th centuries, carrying into the early 19th century. The ability to produce more of a needed product with less work meant that the individual needed less guidance than before, and the authority of the monarch and the church broke down in favor for the authority of the economy.
To dive further into this idea of organization vs. appropriation, look to the fall of rome. After the fall of rome, there was a massive loss of organization in europe and the middle east. Commerce skidded to a halt, communication was silenced, and everything stood still. The Library of Alexandria was lost, hundreds of years of civilization erased, and individuals were forced to collect themselves into smaller, feudal groups. With the loss of the means of production of rome came a less centralized, religiously controlled feudal system with very low standards of individual freedom. Upon recovery through economic means, the feudal system of lords and serfs fell to capitalism, and the less centralized lords became the monarchies of europe.
The common element we see is the ability to appropriate resources efficiently. In pre-historic times, the ability to collect food and other resources was so limited that society had to be organized into tightly-knit hunter-gatherer tribes in which an individual's attempts at personal liberty were met with religious backlash or that individual's failure to gather the required resources for himself. as the ability to appropriate resources became easier, population would increase, tribes would enter into association, nations would be formed, and individual freedom increased ever so gradually. The tribal leader became the king or lord, and the tribal shaman became the priest or pope.
So how does this connect to capitalism? In the 19th century, the unlimited forces of free market capitalism resulted constantly in overproduction. Overproduction was a result of the means of production being improved to the point where efficiency had overcome necessity, and the market becomes saturated. If, for example, all the farms and farming corporations in the country produce as much food as they possibly can to maximize profit, then the means of production will get to a point where they will produce so much food that, in combination with all other farms and farming corporations, they will produce more food than is needed to be consumed. Even though food is a perishable product, overproduction will repeat itself next harvest because the means of production will only improve. Take a nonperishable product, for example (a widget). There is demand for Widgets, so the factory owner produces them. However, other factory owners also produced widgets to try to compete with one-another, and they produce so many widgets that the supply is now greater than the demand, and the product is now nearly worthless. The factory owner will stop production until he can sell off his stockpile of widgets. To stop production, the factory owner must fire X workers and close X factories. After the factory owner sells his stockpile, he re-opens his factories and starts producing more widgets. The problem is so has every other factory owner, and overproduction happens again. This cycle is described by Marx as "boom and bust", and is the prime characteristic of capitalism outgrowing itself. Just as every other economic mode of production and organization of society was outdone by improved means of production, so will, marx argues, capitalism. Taking the overproduction of food, for example, and applying saturation of the market to it, the value of all economic factors drop with such an overproductive bubble. An unemployed family goes hunry at night, and one child asks his father "Dad, why don't we have anything to eat?", to which the father replies "because there is too much food". At this point, the means of production, and the organization of capitalism have come into conflict and must result in the change of one or the other.
hopefully I haven't lost you because here is the central point: Communism/socialism rely on the ability for the market to overproduce. The fact that there is plenty of food to go around result, logically, in questioning why we have to appropriate our resources by the direction of the capitalist. If there is more food than we know what to do with, why do we need direction in appropriating it like we did when there WASNT enough food to go around back in feudalism, or the tribal days? Why do we recognize the authority of money when there is so much food that it's literally worthless, and we could just give it away and there would still be too much? in fact, why DONT we just give it away?
Because of the bourgeois, thats why. The only thing keeping us from feeding every person in the country is these aristocratic fucks who only want more money for themselves, just like the monarchs that we overthrew a hundred years ago, just like the pope who we stopped listening to a while ago, just like everybody else who told us what to do years before.
Here's where we tie it all together: Russia was nowhere near the point of over-production in 1917. Russia was made up of a lot of rural peasantry, and serfdom was abolished in russian only about 50 years prior, whereas serfdom had died out in england in the 15th-16th centuries (Philip Iv, Louis X, and Philip V had de facto ended serfdom in the very early 14th century, and had ceased to exist in france by the 15th century. serfdom was rare in western europe but grew in eastern europe after the renaissance). Russia was nowhere near the ability to, as an entire empire, overproduce products to the point of saturation. As for 3rd world/colonial countries like China, Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia, and the rest of eastern europe, africa, latin america, and the middle east, it needs little explaination as to the state of economics in each region and how close they were to surplus manufacturing.
The result of forced collectivization in countries that aren't economically "ripe" for communism/socialism results in either a semi-democratically run, but completely innefficient beauracracy (Lenin's USSR) or a totalitarian hellhole which appropriates resources at a very high death rate (Stalin's Russia, Mao's China, Kim's North Korea, and above all other examples: Pol Pot's Cambodia.)
Marx envisioned the revolution to take place in western europe in countries like France, Germany, or England. The failures thereof are an entirely different matter which I can go into at a later date.