Friday, 26 April 2019

Communism: The Theory

Belloc on Communism


By Hilaire Belloc

Originally published in Social Justice Weekly (June 13, 1938)

Communism, like every other political system, has two aspects: the Abstract and the Concrete. It is based on a theory, an idea: and also it has in real life a certain way of going on, habits and practices, which do not seem at first sight to be necessarily connected with that idea, but which are found appearing in connection with it. In this first article we will go into the idea of Communism and see why it is a false remedy. In the next we will go into the practice and see how abominable in practice Communism becomes.

The economic idea of Communism in itself, that is, the mere plan or pattern, seems at first sight neither good nor evil, any more than a mathematical proposition is good or evil. You can state Communism in this fashion so that it is apparently quite free from any moral taint, and appears as a system which anyone is free to accept or to let alone, according to his inclination. Stated thus, theoretically, the principle of Communism is simply this: that public authority shall not protect the property of any man when that property is used for production, distribution, or exchange. Communism proposes that there shall be no right of property in land or houses or ships or stores of food or machinery of any kind, when those things are used for producing further wealth, because this leads to poor men working the advantage of rich men.

Communism has no objection to a man consuming wealth on a large scale, even luxuriously. If you can earn a large income as a singer, for instance. the Communist state is quite agreeable that you should spend it on anything you like for your own pleasure. But you must not invest any of it. For when you invest you are creating a capitalist function. If you invest in railway shares, for instance, you do so in order to get an income without working for it: an income which is produced by the labor of some other man. In the same way, and for the same reasons. Communism forbids inheritance. You may spend what you earn, you may even spend it luxuriously, but you must not accumulate it and leave it to your children, lest they should use it for the capitalistic exploitation of their fellows.

If I have a fine schooner which my sons and I can sail together, Communism makes no objection to our doing so as an amusement bur it forbids us to use that vessel for carrying goods or for any other useful purpose associated with profit.

Stated thus, the moral argument in favor of Communism seems a strong one. The exploitation of one man by another is not a moral act, nor the forbidding of it, apparently, an immoral act. Moreover, thousands of good men and great numbers of actual saints have lived under purely communistic conditions, for those are the conditions of most religious orders. The Community owns everything, the individual owns nothing, save what he really consumes, and this ownership of all by the community is (apparently) Communism.

So far, so good. And Communism, thus stated as an ideal, appeals to the generous and the simple. Where, then, is the snag in the mere theory of Communism? The defender of Communism will say “No doubt such and such a group of Communists did behave very badly, but that has nothing to do with the Communist theory. The violence and the outrages and the rest of it are not logically connected with this simply conception of common ownership of all the means of production, distribution and exchange.”

There is another cogent argument in favor of Communism which we often hear used, and which seems at first sight irrefutable. It is this: when we are actually using, as a community, goods belonging to the community, when we are therefore acting in the Communist fashion, no suffering results but rather good. In Switzerland, (Switzerland is the freest and perhaps the happiest of all democracies), where the railroads are owned by the community, no one using the railroads feels any different from men using the railroads which belong to capitalist organizations in England or the United States. When you enjoy the amenities of a public park you are enjoying communal property. So your Communist can say again “Where is the snag?” expecting the answer, “There is none.”

Every thing about Communism in theory at least, seems good, and it manifestly gets rid of a lot of evils which accompany private property. But the man who says “Where is the snag” and expects the answer “There is none” is shortsighted. There is a serious and obvious snag indeed, which is this: that though the public ownership of this or of that creates no injustice and does no violence to human nature, the public ownership of everything, the forbidding of the private citizen and his family to own land or house or plough or cattle, means that whoever owns those things—that is, the State—is the absolute master of the dispossessed Communist citizen.

Why that is the very argument the Communists, themselves have used, (just as anybody else has, who has thought at all about the industrial problem) when they condemn capitalism! “The capitalist class,” says the Communist, “by retaining in its power the land and the instruments of production, is the master of the mass of citizens who do not own those things.” Exactly! And the same is ten times truer of universal public ownership. The State (which means, in practice, the Officials) is as much the master of the Communist masses as a slave driver is of his slaves. He may wish the slaves well or he may wish them ill. That has nothing to do with the system. He may be generous or he may be cruel. His absolute power has nothing to do with that. Communism, even as a theory, denies the most elementary right of making: the right of choice, the right of ordering one’s own life.

It is no reply to this major accusation (which of itself damns the whole system irremediably) to say that present conditions are intolerably bad. No doubt they are: but one must not fly to a remedy worse than the disease. There is, indeed, one type of man who apologists for Communism, rather reluctantly, something like this: “No doubt Communism is a bad thing, but it is the only chance we have, for, under the effect of modern machinery, monopoly is inevitable. When monopoly is inevitable it is better to vest it in the State than in a few individuals.”

When such a reply is made we touch on the very heart of Communism. We see its nature plainly exposed. It is the fruit of Capitalist mentality. It is an evil remedy bred of an evil thing. Industrial Capitalism talks in exactly this way of “inevitable monopoly” which is not inevitable at all. Under Communism we should have all the worst spiritual effects of industrial Capitalism extended and emphasized because their tyranny would be universal. It would be the killing of the soul of man and its dignity.

Now it is precisely because of this character in it that Communism only comes into being under conditions of horror. It is because the thing is theoretically inhuman that its fruits are the fruits of inhumanity, appalling cruelty and an appalling contempt for human life.

It is a most superficial, false, analysis which can see no connection between Communist theory and the abominations which accompany Communism in action. When you destroy the family and the sanctity of the individual, when you make war on the tradition of human culture, you are making war on the Image of God. And because you are making war on the Image of God, which is Man, with his human dignity and free will, you find yourself at once at war with God Himself.

It is not an accident that Communism should produce wholesale massacre, arson, torture, and the destruction of all lovely things. A perverse theory produces perverse acts.

The story has been told over and over again but it can never be told too often.

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