Tuesday, January 04, 2011


I self-identify as a communist. I could just as easily self-identify as a socialist. I chose "communist" for a couple of reasons. Both terms have some unfortunate connotations. Communism, of course, carries the baggage of the errors and excesses of the Soviet Union and China. Socialism perhaps avoids those connotations, but carries the connotation of accommodation with capitalism; many (but hardly all) self-identified "socialists" look more to me like welfare-state capitalists. My decision to self-identify as a communist was finally decided more for social than substantive reasons: "Communist" is a little more shocking than "socialist", and I want to make crystal clear from the beginning of any conversation that I deeply and fundamentally disagree with even the most liberal apologist for capitalism. In any event, If you advocate anything other than the absolute, unqualified economic and political rule of the owners of capital, you'll be called a communist. It's better, I think, to adopt the term voluntarily than have it thrust upon you.

That being said, I consider economics and politics to be fundamentally scientific disciplines; I do not believe they areas merely of competing dogmas. Hence I self-identify as simply a communist, not a Leninist, Maoist, Trotskyite, or even a Marxist. My fundamental, unshakable loyalty is not to any person, party, or ideology*, but to the skeptical inquiry into the truth. Thus, if I agree or disagree with Lenin, Mao, Trotsky, Marx or anyone else, I do so because I think they're accurate or mistaken on that particular point. If disagrees with my evaluation, let them argue the underlying point. Even geniuses make mistakes, some of them profound. Darwin has his "Lamarkian" views on heritability; Einstein his static universe and (despite his seminal contributions) hostility to quantum mechanics; even Newton has his particle theory of light. Science is all about freely speculating, testing those speculations against reality by experiment and observation, and discarding those that do not fit the facts.

*There is a profound difference between having an ideology, which I think no one can avoid, and being fundamentally loyal to an ideology.

My fundamental ethical philosophy is gob simple: I want as many people as possible to be as happy as possible, however each person construes "happiness"; I want as few people as possible to suffer as little as possible, however each person construes "suffering". I see the interesting part of politics and economics to be about how to bring about universal happiness. If I thought capitalism were the best way to bring about universal happiness, I would be a capitalist; I do not, therefore I searched for an alternative and settled — at least at present — on communism.

But in keeping with my scientific views, I have to construe communism in an entirely idiosyncratic way: I must accept only those tenets of communism that my own personal skeptical inquiry finds sound, reject all those tenets that my own skeptical inquiry finds unsound, and remain suspicious of those tenets that I'm unable to skeptically decide upon.

Thus I find the essential feature of communism to be not the "planned economy", an idea which in many senses I find unsound, but rather the social ownership of capital, the means of production. Similarly, I find the essential feature of capitalism to be not the "free market" (I consistently maintain that the "free market" under capitalism is not just a fiction but an outright lie) but rather the private ownership of capital. I believe that once you adopt the first idea — the social ownership of capital — you must call yourself a communist, no matter what else you believe.

You could call yourself a socialist too, I suppose, but too many self-described socialists permit the private ownership of capital, albeit with some degree of social regulation. While there are a lot of things a lot of communists believe that I do not, I know of no communist who permits the private ownership of capital in any sense. So I think I'm justified in considering the social ownership of capital to be an essential feature of communism, while it is an optional but not an essential feature of socialism.

So I'm a communist.


  1. so communist-anarchist, the kind that get executed really fast if a totalitarian regime takes over...

  2. so communist-anarchist...

    Well, I don't self-identify as an anarchist.

    the kind that get executed really fast if a totalitarian regime takes over...

    Guess I'd better make sure a "totalitarian" regime doesn't take over.


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