Leninism, Stalinism, and later, Maoism are three of the major forms of communism that I call Practical Communism, or Applied Communism, as opposed to the Marxist ideal of Pure Communism, which is more philosophical than anything else. These systems of Practical Communism, in many, if not all, cases, diverted strongly from the original ideals of Marxism, except, perhaps, in spirit.
Marxism, at its core, is a philosophical reaction to the alienation and inhumanity of of modern, industrialized society and the capitalism that it embraces. To put it succinctly, in the words of Therborn, “Marxism… [denounces] the exploitation, the human alienation, the commdification and instrumentalization of the social, the false ideology, and the imperialism inherent in the modernization process.” Its goal is a classless democratic economy. But it doesn’t propose a time scale and is fairly clear that communism must happen on its own and that is is the final state in the progression of society. The circumstances must simply be correct, that all things are in readiness for the Proletariat to rise up and take over the means of production but, and this is important, communism is an economic movement, not a political one.
Practical Communism shares this goal. However, it does not attempt to reach it in an evolutionary, organic matter. Practical Communism is a political agenda, not an ideological framework, and politics, at least internally, are not organic, evolutionary systems, they are man-made machines of (partially) forced societal change. Practical Communism attempts to create a state of communism politically in hopes that the economic structures will follow and allow the system to function as prescribed in the Manifesto, in theory, at least.
Practical Communism, aside from being nothing but a faint reflection of its namesake and inspiration, has numerous advantages over Pure Communism; Practical Communism, being a mostly political, rather than ideological, movement is ale to adjust and adapt to new circumstances and retain its identity, something an ideological movement cannot do. This flexibility has allowed practical communism to survive despite the occasionally frightening pace of globalization.
Marxism, as and ideal or philosophy, is all but dead; it has been replaced with various non-Marxist ideologies that have similar goals but are different enough that they have renamed themselves things like left-anarchism and social democracy. And nothing is left of Marxism but a faint presence in the shadowy past of surviving communist nations. They place much more importance in the doctrine and theories of their founding leaders who may, or may not, have read or understood the Communist Manifesto or other works by Marx relating to Pure Communism.
This brings us to China. It, unlike the Soviet Union, is an example of real Practical Communism. It has survived changes that the much more ideologically-intense U.S.S.R. could not weather and has managed to adapt amazingly well to the challenges of our rapidly globalizing world. It has joined the World Trade Organization, which required a review of over 3000 laws and a revision of 800 of them to meet the prerequisites for membership. China has also revamped its Patent and IP laws to the point where they are among the most modern in the world.
China has almost always had a closed, insular society. Outsiders were not welcome and self-sufficiency was very strongly valued. However, this caused the nation to fall into a state of terrible poverty. In the 1970’s China was one of the poorest nations in the world, it contributed less than one per-cent of the global economic output despite its massive population. But now its economy is more open and global than any other on earth and it has made rapid advancements in education and living standards. This ability to change is what has allowed China to survive. Its ability to move towards the openness necessary for effective trade has turned it into an economic powerhouse and it has managed to do it in an astonishingly short timescale.
Due to globalization international relations are more important than ever. No longer can a nation consider itself self-sufficient. Everything we eat and everything that we buy probably has parts in it from any number of far-flung locations around the globe. And when these relations break down between nations it can have disastrous effects both for the nations involved but everyone that is connected up, or down, stream from these nations in the flow of resources and trade. Despite its ancient history of isolation and disdain for the approval of other nations China has been able to coexist with its global neighbors fairly well and has made some efforts to remedy the injustices that have been brought to global attention by the media.
China has become the opposite of what it once was but has retained many aspects of Practical Communism that have allowed it to move as rapidly as it has towards economic competitiveness. Ideologically it is no longer particularly communist but, in the Pure sense, because it has essentially embraced capitalism but the nation is still run in a quasi-communist fashion. Globalization has not killed Practical Communism, it has made it into a smashing success!
- Overholt, W. (2005). China and globalization. Rand Corporation
- Therborn, G. (1996). Dialectics of modernity: on critical theory and the legacy of twentieth-century marxism. New Left Review, Vol. a (1996)