Certain people, calling themselves socialist, will claim that communism itself is a perversion of the principles created by Marx and that it has nothing to do with real socialism. However, there is a problem. What exactly is socialism? Much like "liberalism" and "conservatism", the definition of this word seems to change depending on the place or person you label it (this being the primary reason that using "left" and "right" in a political sense is often intellectually dense). However, unlike "liberalism" and "conservatism", which have base meanings (“lefty-loosey; righty-tighty”), socialism has no obvious definition.
The word “socialism” exists in two political names: United Soviet Socialist Republic and Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) Party. What do these have in common, other than political oppression and murder? If oppression and killing were the base meaning of socialism, then we would simply call it tyranny and not add a prettier label to it.
Dictionary.com provided an interesting definition: "A transitional stage after the proletarian revolution in the development of a society from capitalism to communism: characterized by the distribution of income according to work rather than need." So, if this is correct, socialism is the pathway to communism, and has no individual permanence? Is this then a statement affirming that anyone who desires socialism is someone who desires to go on the path to communism? We are still no closer to the meaning of socialism, as dictionary.com prefers defining "socialism" according to Marxist theory. This must be incorrect, as Hitler called his country socialist, and he was not a Marxist. Therefore, the base definition of "socialist" must be broad enough to carry the full weight of those that label themselves that way.
This word is not fully understandable until broken down. What is "social"? This basically means to interact with others. Therefore, socialism must be about groups, for one cannot be social by oneself. Thus, the opposite of socialism is individualism. We can then extrapolate. Individualism is the political view of people as unique individuals working toward goals of their own choosing. Therefore, socialism must be the political view of people as groups or collectives working toward a common purpose regardless of individual characteristics.
That, therefore, becomes the meaning of those words for the purpose of this essay. However, this presents a glaring problem with socialism. It views people as groups. Where have we seen this before? In statements such as these: "all black people are _____ ", "all women are _____", and "all people from this country are _____". Granted, sometimes grouping people together is not necessarily bad, such as in the sentence “all students get bored with high school geometry”, but grouping leads the logical person to wonder if such group statements are universally true. Maybe someone really does like high school geometry, or his reaction is frustration rather than boredom. It is therefore an oversimplification to group people together too tightly.
But can you deny that political socialism does the same? No. Hitler had his "all Jews are inferior" and Stalin his "all criminals are socially friendly". Even considerate socialism is awkward. For example, are soldiers who have PTSD equally needy? No. One may need extensive therapy, but the other a beer and good friends. It would be folly to buy therapy for both, especially when the second soldier might find the therapist invasive and impersonal. What the second soldier longs for is merely normalcy and not the weekly reminder of being an emotional, "broken man". Therefore, viewing people as individuals is the wiser way of looking at things. While it is true groups have similarities because the group is defined by their similarities, each person has different characteristics of culture and personality.
Something strange about communism is that its leaders are anti-religious. Frequently the major spiritual opponent of communism is Christianity. On its face, there is nothing particularly anti-communist about Christianity. Jesus is never political in the Gospels, and emphasizes personal morality and mercy. If communism was as idealistic as many claim, then Christianity and other religions would be merely incidental to the communist nation. Why then where monks and nuns of Soviet Russia persecuted (Solz i326)?
Christianity, and its precursor Judaism, mainly involve personal morals and doing the right thing in whatever situation one finds oneself. Even in times of national immorality, such as just prior to Israel’s conquest by Babylon, God rewarded those that were moral. Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian was rewarded for a simply act of rescuing the prophet Jeremiah. In fact, the Rechabites, a Jewish family, were rewarded for simply obeying their father’s tradition, though at no point did God tell them to do so. Their stand against an immoral world and God’s resulting promise to them showed that God, and therefore Judaism and Christianity, views people as individuals and considers them that way, so that a moral individual is not grouped with an immoral nation. Therefore, these religions are individualist, not socialist.
This however seems a weak excuse, at least to an American, whose culture is a buffet of various ideas. After all, if religion is “the opiate of the masses” as Marx’s mis-quoters say (Cline par. 3), then for what reason does communism care about it? Are not passive citizens better for their purposes? To understand, one must go back to the logical objections to communism: It is the worst specimens of humanity that are going to be the ones that notice that communism allows all power to go to the ones that distribute. Thus, the criminal or self-seeking types in power will automatically be in direct opposition to anyone who stands by morality. So much so, that when Southern comedian Lewis Grizzard once visited Soviet Russia, and he reported that many churches had been seized and turned into “museums of atheism” (35). “In addition, how many kinds of cursed intellectuals there were--restless students and a variety of eccentrics, truth-seekers, and holy fools, of whom even Peter the Great had tried in vain to purge Russia and who are always a hindrance to a well-ordered strict regime” (Solz i28).
Solzhenitsyn is also a confirming source as to why Christians had it hard: Solzhenitsyn explains this phenomenon: “How little was required for struggle and victory—merely not to cling to life!” (Solz ii309). This concept is very comparable to the Bible’s “whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Thus, the value of Christianity in a communist society is its ability to enable a person to resist. After all, if a person will go to heaven when he dies, execution cannot make him afraid.
Something odd I have discovered in studying Cuban communism is that Christopher Hitchens, famed atheist, supports Che Guevara (Fontova 10). One expects a celebrity to know nothing about politics and history, but a man who is celebrated for his intelligence? Surely he would do the research to find out what sort of person Guevara really was, or at least look at the results of Guevara’s actions. The illogic of a highly acclaimed man is dangerous to the unsuspecting mind.
My final reason for engaging in the study of the most poisonous philosophy of our time is that it makes its students feel smart. Quite frankly, making it through The Gulag Archipelago is an achievement in and of itself. I never once felt this way after learning anything in school, because the public school system itself (here I am referring to pre-college education, where I have more experience) is oriented in a way that makes students not want to learn, but rather get through the system with as little effort as possible. It teaches nothing in depth.
Studying this topic opens our eyes to a haunting world that did indeed exist. No one can say that evil is not real. No one can say Communism deserved a chance. There is a mystical layer of speculative philosophy in America and other wealthy countries that rises because we are relatively safe; reality, however, annihilates speculation. That which exists is infinitely more important than theory, and yet theory can manipulate people’s minds such that when reality arrives, the manipulated are deceived into a world they never wanted but brought about with their own hands. This is exactly what Karl Marx did, and why he is guilty of all the deaths done in his name. Ideas are not equals, no matter the intentions of the philosopher in question.
Cialdini, Robert B. Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1993. Print.
Cline, Austin. "Is Religion the Opiate of the Masses?" Karl Marx on Religion. About.com. 2013. Web. 23, Apr. 2013.
De Jonge, Alex. Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union. New York: William Morrow and Company Inc., 1986. Print.
The Economist. "Adios to the Greenback". Economist.com. 28 Oct., 2004. Web. 22 Mar., 2013.
Fontova, Humberto. Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots who Idolize Him. London: Sentinel, 2007. Print.
Grizzard, Lewis. I Took a Lickin' and Kept on Tickin', and Now I Believe in Miracles. New York: Villard Books, 1993. Print.
Loebl, Eugen. My Mind on Trial. USA: Harvest/HBJ, 1976. Print.
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. The Gulag Archipelago. New York: Harper & Row, 1973. Print.
Suvarov, Viktor. The “Liberators”: My Life in the Soviet Army. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1981. Print.