Allen Small demands that I "show [him] an example where [communism] has worked or even partially worked now or in the past." It's pretty much a stupid demand; at the very least it condemns any sort of novelty or progress. But it got me thinking.
Of course, we have to be a little more explicit about what we mean by "communism", "working" and "partially".
There are three good definitions of communism. First, the "minimal" definition that I use: the social ownership of the means of production. The second is the "Marxian" definition: socialization of capital, participatory democratic government of enfranchised workers (a la the Paris Commune), and central planning of the consumer economy. The third is the "Soviet/Chinese" definition, oligarchical rule of the Communist Party to own and administer the means of production and implement central planning. I personally endorse only minimal communism, but both Marxian and Soviet/Chinese communism include minimal communism.
It's a little more difficult to define "working". Allen has, of course, set me a task that I suspect he considers impossible. He condemns all of Western civilization as "statist" and appears to consider them the moral equivalent of communism and fascism; presumably does not believe that any civilization, society or government actually works or has worked. But of course Allen is that curious rarity, a complete idiot; most sensible people I think will have somewhat less dogmatic and more pragmatic standards of what works and what doesn't work.
I think we can take Fascism — defined as the political-economic and social systems actually in place in Italy, Japan and Germany from the early 20th century until the end of the Second Imperialist War — as near-ideal exemplars of "not working": they ended in the economic ruin, military defeat and unconditional surrender of their respective countries and criminal prosecution and near-complete discredit of Fascist politics and politicians. (Political parties and movements in the West may include elements of Fascism, a worrying phenomenon, but they also fail to include some essential features. And the more features of Fascism present-day political movements include, the more marginal they appear to be.)
I think we can take "Western capitalism" — loosely defined as the international system pioneered in England in the 17th and 18th centuries and finding common expression in most European, North American, (to some extent) Central and South American countries as well as Southeast Asia and (to some extent) the Indian subcontinent — as an exemplar of "working". Which is not to say that I endorse Western capitalism, but it has certainly done the opposite of the catastrophic failures of Fascism.
Taking these as our examples, it is important to note that the presence or absence of horrific atrocity doesn't really distinguish between "working" and "not working". The litany of horrific atrocity in Western capitalism is depressingly long: chattel slavery, genocide, wars of aggression, millions killed in the First and Second Imperialist wars, epidemics and famines caused or exacerbated by societal incompetence and indifference, etc. ad nauseam. Again, to say that horrific atrocity is not a component of "working" or "not working" is not to say that I endorse or even excuse atrocity; I'm saying only that it is not a particularly useful criteria for historical comparison. (Indeed I share to no small extent Allen's disdain for all human civilization. And, like Allen, I think our near-universal history of really stupendous atrocity calls for truly radical societal change. Allen and I disagree only on what kind of radical change to implement.)
If we adopt the minimal criteria necessary to call Western capitalism as working, it straightforwardly follows that communism has at least partially worked in a couple of ways.
First, the Soviet Union and Communist China lasted a lot longer than the Fascist countries. Although communism fell — definitely in the Soviet Union and arguably in China — these countries did not fail in the spectacularly catastrophic fashion as did the Fascist countries. Furthermore, both the Soviet Union and China transformed backwards, illiterate, agrarian countries that were manifestly subservient to Western imperialism into industrialized, nuclear-armed world powers. And they did so in considerably less time than did the Western nations. This is not a stunning success — neither the Soviet Union nor China achieved their greater goal of exporting communism to the world, and they achieved what they did at a staggering cost in human suffering — but I think we are justified in considering them at least partially working, by the minimal standards we must adopt to label Western capitalism as "working".
Second, and perhaps more importantly, all Western democracies have partially implemented components of minimal communism. Almost all features of "welfare capitalism" are direct consequences of communist and communist-inspired political activism in the early and middle 20th century. These features include a dramatic de facto and de jure increase in the political franchise, substantial regulation of the capitalist ruling class, workers' political and economic empowerment through unions, heavily progressive taxation, and one or two orders of magnitude increase in direct government economic participation. And the historical record is crystal clear: The more Western capitalism has adopted communist elements, the better it has performed by every metric — economic, social and political — except the privilege and absolute power of the capitalist ruling; the more Western capitalism has abandoned communist elements, the worse it has done.
If we are going to condemn all human civilization — an exercise I have a lot of sympathy for — historical comparison is irrelevant: We must rely on purely theoretical comparison. If, however, we are going to employ historical comparison, communism seems to come out at least as well as — and on some accounts considerably better than &mdash its antinomy of laissez faire capitalism.