Dave, this is a bit off the beaten track for your technical Q&A, but I’m confused by everything I’ve read and can’t figure out who came up with communism, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin or Leon Trotsky? I hear all their names bandied about, but thought maybe you’d be able to shed some light on this topic.
You’re right. Wow, this is pretty far from “how do I get my digital camera to transfer files to my PDA”, but it’s darn interesting so let me take a shot at it, shall I?
Like any form of government, communism actually evolved over many years, but the two philosophers who captured and codified the basic concepts of communism, of a form of government that treated everyone equally, were Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels. Their groundbreaking publication was “The Communist Manifesto” and it may surprise you to find that it has lots of ideas that are popular in our democracy (like schooling for all children, not just the rich). More surprisingly, Marx felt that there was a natural evolution of political systems and that totalitarianism and imperialism naturally evolved into capitalism, and that capitalism was just a step along the way to an even more egalitarian society that was communism.
Zoom forward to the growing dissatisfaction in Russia with the royal family, notably the arrogant and clueless Czar Nicholas Romanov, and in particular with the way that the Russian people were pulled into World War I and then the Russian-Sino War, without any chance of withdrawal. The Russian war on Japan seemed like a slam-dunk, a huge nation going to war with a tiny island people, but it quickly became a debacle, but Nicholas wouldn’t quit. Russians were dying and the economy was going to heck, but still the Russians were expected to support the war efforts and the Czar.
Enter a brilliant speaker and philosopher/statesman called Vladimir Ilych Lenin, and you have the makings of the 1917 revolution. As the leader of the Bolshevik party, Lenin took what he felt was the best of Marxism and evangelized to the Russian people, famously saying things like that the workers should control the means of production and that society in general should be for the proletariat, not the bourgeois (that is, the common man, not the rich). As other demagogues have found, the common person is very susceptible to philosophies that have the common man exalted, and so it was with Lenin. After a terrible war and skirmishes that lasted for years, Lenin was the leader of the Bolsheviks, and, by extension, the head of the new USSR, risen from the ashes of the old imperial Russia.
But while it was easy to formulate five year plans and issue edicts that required worker collectives to meet ridiculously aggressive production goals, it was quite a bit more difficult to actually attain those goals, and by the mid 1920’s, Lenin had introduced more elements of capitalism to the previous pure communism that had been tried. For example, in the late 1910s, Lenin had proposed that money be completely abolished as it was inevitably leading people to a capitalistic value system. In the mid 20’s, though, he reversed direction and allowed free enterprise, stating that farmers and small manufacturers were required to allocate a percentage of their output to The State, but that they could sell the remainder of their production at a profit.
Meanwhile, one of Lenin’s right-hand men was Leon Trotsky, who headed up the Red Army, making him an exceptionally powerful member of the Politburo. When Lenin’s health failed, however, Trotsky was considered for the position of party leadership but was rejected as lacking the necessary vision (and the fact that he was Jewish apparently didn’t help matters either). Trotsky eventually had a falling-out with Stalin and left Russia to live in Mexico, where he wrote “The Revolution Betrayed” about his dissatisfaction with how Stalin had failed the communist ideal. Trotsky was later assassinated by a Russian agent.
Before Vladimir Lenin died, he picked another high-ranking member of the Supreme Soviet as his successor, Josef Stalin. Less of a theoretician than a communicator, Stalin twisted and reformed Soviet communism to meet his ideals, including particularly a famous justification for the suppression of political dissenters, the so-called “theory of the aggravation of class struggle”. As a result, Stalin jailed or murdered millions of Russians of all social classes.
There’s obviously lots more to this brief history of Soviet communism, which is basically what you asked me, but I think that should help clarify who’s who in terms of the ideal of communism. My personal opinion is that Marx and Engels were the founders of communism, and that Lenin went through the difficult implementation process before finding out that it was a long-term unsustainable political ideal. From China to Laos, Vietnam to the Soviet Union, Afghanistan to Cambodia, history shows that communism doesn’t work.