Mises Daily Articles
The New Communism
The political and ideological forces that gave rise to Bolshevism at the turn of the century are similarly inspiring the movement that looted and burned last month in Genoa, and, before that in Quebec City, Davos, and Seattle. The experience of both causes shows how violent fanatics can gain a political stronghold, and influence the course of history, provided they choose their issues carefully—and just as carefully conceal their ambitions.
From 1916 through 1918, the Bolsheviks engaged in active protest against the Russian war on Germany. They were the party with one unnegotiable demand: peace. The Communists were wrong on everything but that one issue, yet it was the most important to the general Russian population. An entire generation of young men was being drafted by the Tsar and sent to be killed, even as the war was crushing the economy and spreading misery and suffering.
The Tsar seemed impervious to the suffering. Meanwhile, Lenin and Trotsky, maniacal Communists with a lust for blood, said the war was a symptom of capitalism, which makes no sense, but they called for an end to an undeniable injustice that no one else talked about. Not until after they gained power did the Communists' demonic intentions become obvious to most Russians. But once the Reds consolidated their power by murdering their adversaries, their bloody rule lasted 74 years.
The international communism movement didn't disappear after 1989; it just took on new guises and causes. The media like to talk about how diverse the protestors were in Genoa (the whites, pinks, and blacks), but these labels apply only to their tactics and taste for blood.
All but a few agree that capitalism, as embodied in the leadership of industrialized nations, needs to be displaced by a revolutionary anticapitalist vanguard, or, if that doesn’t work, a heavy-handed regulatory and redistributionist regime that would cripple capitalist production.
In these ambitions, the protestors were homogeneous, save for a few straggling libertarians. However, the propaganda strength of the Genoa protestors was also based in genuine complaints about the present state of things. All over Europe, resentments against the consolidation of the international bureaucracies are coming to a boil.
Intimately bound up with this concern is growing opposition to US military imperialism. The US has most of the guns and cares least about the effects of their use. Everywhere on the global map where you find US soldiers (in more than 100 countries), you will also find locals who despise them for their bad behavior and arrogance. US military dominance has given rise to other complaints: that the US exercises undue political influence on governments and international agencies.
In fact, many political trends of our times are best seen as attempts to provide some counterweight to the one-superpower world. Despite assurances, for example, this is precisely what the Russia-China accord was all about.
The protest movement has been emboldened by the Bush administration's resolve to build a nuclear shield—the biggest government boondoggle since the superconducting supercollider, and dangerous in the bargain. In true Marxist fashion, the protestors blame capitalism as the root problem (have they noticed that the military itself is a socialist institution, entirely funded by tax dollars?) and favor some sort of communism as the answer.
And so, inevitably, they lump together good positions the US takes (against the Kyoto treaty) with the bad positions (global military domination). Just as the US military empire discredits its good economic works, the protestors mix their laudable opposition to militarism with a damnable hatred of liberty and property.
But in general these people are long on complaints and short on answers. The stock demand that international agencies do more to protect "human rights" plays right into the hands of the power elite. Thus Jacques Chirac, the French social democrat, made very sympathetic comments toward the protestors. The final statement of the G-8 included all sorts of pious rambling about the world's poor, comments widely interpreted as concessions to the protestors.
The protestors have no principled objection to international agencies as such. Instead, they want to eliminate whatever good they do—opening world markets to capitalist exchange—and expand the bad that they do, which is imposing US-style regulation on the world.
Indeed, a main demand of the protestors is that the international bureaucrats inside be given more, not less, power over economic life. What may look like violent conflict between the plutocrat and the protestor is merely a disagreement between moderate and extreme attempts to subject the world to global economic management.
To understand the extent of the ideological confusion, have a look at the manifesto of the antiglobalist movement. The book Empire is written by would-be Lenins Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, and it is unabashedly promoted as the new Communist Manifesto.
The authors (Negri is in jail in Rome and Hardt is a literature professor at Duke) are economic ignoramuses. They live lives entirely shielded from commercial society. They know nothing of the library of books showing that their Marxoid views are nothing short of lunacy. And yet the book is so much in demand that the publisher (Harvard University Press) can barely keep it in stock. If you are paying tuition for your child to go to college, it's a good bet that he will be reading this book in the next six months.
Here's what the book says, as gleaned from an equally insane op-ed in the New York Times (June 20, 2001). Apart from its arch tone, and cocksure sense that history is on their side, the authors' complaints amount to the usual leftist prattle about racism, sexism, and multinational corporations. But whereas Marx and Engels were specific about what they demanded (the abolition of the family and private property, for example), Hardt and Negri are more circumspect. They merely ask for a "new system" that would "eliminate inequalities between rich and poor and between the powerful and the powerless" and "expand the possibilities of self-determination."
That last point about self-determination could mean anything (I bet not secession, however). But the point about inequality is unmistakable. Think about what it would require to "eliminate" inequality, that is, to make everyone equal in wealth and power. Look it up: equal means the same, as in arithmetic. It cannot happen. The attempt would require a looter state on a scale that we haven't seen since, well, since the early Soviet Union. As F.A. Hayek said, "a claim for equality of material position can be met only by a government with totalitarian powers."
But Hardt and Negri don’t deal with Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, or any serious thinkers in the liberal tradition. Their religion, their lunacy, begins with the premise that Marxism is true, and they ignore or dismiss anything that departs from that premise.
Some may call their followers anarchists, but in fact what these people want is total control. What life would be like under a regime inspired by these people is foreshadowed in the streets of Genoa: looting, burning, destruction, and chaos. The protestors did us a favor in previewing exactly what would happen everywhere on the planet if they prevail.
How can they be beaten back? So long as the academic and welfare classes stay on the public payroll, there will always be those who will protest private property and capitalist economics. But what about their growing popular support, such that 100,000 people showed up to protest in Genoa?
Return to the Bolshevik parallel. What if the Tsar had ended the draft, pulled out the troops, stopped the war, and restored normalcy? He would have strangled the Communist movement by eliminating its whole political basis of support. The Russian people would have been spared seven and a half decades of Hell on earth, and 40 million corpses.
So it is with the new Communists. If we fear them, there is only one path to victory over them: the US military empire. Withdraw the troops. Dismantle the nuclear weapons. Scrap plans to build a provocative shield. Repeal sanctions against Iraq, Cuba, and other nations on the bad guy list. Withdraw from international agencies and mind our own business, while trading with the world.
This is not "caving in" to the demands of the protestors. It is simply doing what is right, and thereby denying them a just pretext for their political activities. To be sure, these actions would not stop the fanatic ideologues behind the antiglobalism movement, and it won’t stop would-be central planners in international agencies from conspiring. But it would take away whatever popular basis of support they enjoy.
To do this now is more important than any of the elites presently know or understand. The New Bolsheviks, already entrenched in academia and NGOs, are a growing force in world politics. Civilization is fragile, and if the protestors get their way, we will find out just how fragile.