Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What Is Communism?

The following dialogue took place in both sections of my literature course.

Me: This philosopher says that the masses are stupid. In his opinion, the masses are incapable of governing themselves, which is why every society needs a strong governing minority that will direct and guide the stupid masses. How would you characterize the political stance of this philosopher?

Students (in unison): He is a Communist!

Me (baffled): No, actually such views belong on the opposite end of the political spectrum. If we have Communism on the far left, then which political system belongs on the far right?

Students (in unison): Socialism!

Those pesky Communists and Socialists seem to have colonized the entire political spectrum in my students' opinion.

14 comments:

Leah Jane said...

I wonder what they think Franco's political affiliation was then....

Rimi said...

Yeah, what Leah said, and, which philosopher? Not Plato -- that's the most widely-read undergrad philosophical text that espouses this position (with more nuances and subclauses).

Pen said...

If you go far enough in one direction, then you end up on the other. What sounds like two things could actually be both--because meaning occurs where it is assigned.

And "the masses are stupid" reminds me of Animal Farm. I know that's supposed to be a "why Communism cannot work" book, but it can also easily be directed toward other systems as well.

Anonymous said...

In the communists speech the masses were always supposed to have the political power. The funny is that in all so called communist states that never came true, all were/are being led by authoritarian governments that think that the masses are too stupid to make any decisions on their own and need to be fathered. Perhaps, that’s why your students associate communism with these ideas!

Who’s your philosopher? I’m curious. Hegel? Sounds very much like him, but what would he be possibly be doing in your courses I don’t know…

Lear

Clarissa said...

I'm sorry for the confusion, everybody. The philosopher in question is Ortega y Gasset whose ideas do come quite closely to fascism at certain points.

"If you go far enough in one direction, then you end up on the other."

-That was one of the first things I ever blogged about: http://clarissasbox.blogspot.com/2009/04/left-and-right.html

That was day 8 of blogging for me. :-)

Of course, Communism and fascism arrive at the same results, but a Communist philosopher wouldn't openly despise the masses.

V said...

You reminded me of the story I probably told you, but not the readers...

It was still in the Soviet time, in high school... We had a test and one of the questions was "what is Communism". So the girl who was sitting behind me whispered "V, what's communism?", and I whispered back "religion"... And then I had to stop the poor girl, because she took my answer completely seriously, and started to write it down. Of course such an answer would not be very appreciated by teachers in Soviet time...

Clarissa said...

The story is priceless. :-)

I totally need to blog about the religious overtones ofthe Soviet communism.

B. von Traven said...

Perhaps you are referring to “philosopher” Leo Strauss and his accolytes, including the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Bush's neocons:

"[Leo] Strauss was an intellectual aristocrat who thought that the truth could make some minds free, but he was convinced that there was an inherent conflict between philosophic truth and political order, and that the popularization and vulgarization of these truths might import unease, turmoil and the release of popular passions hitherto held in check by tradition and religion with utterly unpredictable, but mostly negative, consequences." –Iring Kristol

B. von Traven said...

Sorry, I intended to leave this link: The few who are fit to receive the message
Of course, Chomsky discusses contempt for the hoi polloi in American democracy, linking it to the rise of advertising and public relations in the early 20th Century. "Consent," of course, must be manufactured. One does not simply lay out the facts to the public. Who knows what they'll make of them!

Clarissa said...

For centuries the Catholic Church prevented people for reading the Bible for the very same reasons.

Lindsay said...

Hilarious.

I can kind of see why American college students might think of Communism, because I think most Americans equate Communism with the (very authoritarian) USSR.

Something like the passage you quote would obviously not be in any actual Communist doctrine, but from the way the USSR was actually run, and from the way we understood the differences between them and us to be (we were the free ones, naturally), I could see someone who'd never actually read much about Communism thinking it was kind of like fascism (in theory, as well as in practice). I could also see them coming up with "Communism" quicker than "fascism," because Communists were The Enemy to Americans for so long.

I think the same goes for socialism, except that American teenagers probably have even less of an idea what it is.

But as the word is currently used by the Tea Party, socialism is any undue expansion of government power. Like income taxes, or pensions, or subsidized health insurance. :/

Clarissa said...

Communism and socialism have now become synonymous with "bad." Like when people say that Obama is a socialist, they cannot possibly mean it. Because he is very obviously not.

Pagan Topologist said...

I have heard both a history professor and an anthropology professor, three decades apart, say that in another hundred years it will be conventional wisdom that Communism was just another Christian heresy. I have never fully understood this opinion, but it has always been interesting to me.

The history professor was an undergrad history teacher of mine who was an ordained Xtian minister. The anthropology professor was and is a colleague of mine here at UD.

Clarissa said...

I promise to write about this as soon as possible since I can see that the subjects is of interest to people.