Communism is a form of society where all production is organised and carried out by the voluntary association of free producers.
In today’s society – capitalism – you work because, if you do not, you will starve (or, at best, scrape together enough benefits to keep a leaky roof over your head and fill your stomach with cut-price beans); you work the hours decided by your boss, for the wages decided by your boss, for the same reason. You go to university, at least in part, to put yourself in a slightly better position in the labour market than everyone else. In a communist society, there will be no separate class of bosses and bureaucrats to lay down the law on what we can and cannot do – we will sort things out collectively, and be better off for it.
Communism is also a movement with that form of society as its end goal, which in its modern form was founded by Marx and Engels. For them, and their followers, it was the working class – the great mass of people who own nothing other than their ability to work – that had the power and inclination to do away with exploitation, oppression and the other horrors of class society. Communist Students stands in this tradition.
2. What’s the difference between socialism and communism?
There are a million and one different versions of this distinction. For us, socialism is the transition between capitalism and the communist society sketched above.
Capitalism continues because the capitalist class – ie, those people who own the factories, banks and other means of production – has control over the state, which is designed in every detail to defend capitalist power. When the working class overthrows that state and puts itself in charge, that is the socialist revolution, and the resultant society – still marked by its capitalist origins, but less and less so over time – is socialism. Seeing as socialism is the rule of the working class, and the working class is a vast majority in society, socialism must be democratic in character – far more democratic than what capitalism dares to call ‘democracy’ today.
One other important point. For many Marxists, the word ‘communist’ is simply too tainted by the history of the USSR and the Stalinist ‘Communist Parties’, and they describe themselves as ‘socialist’ instead (Socialist Workers Party, etc). As far as we are concerned, ‘socialism’ is quite as out of fashion, and both words need to be reclaimed by our side. We openly call ourselves communists, because communist is what we are.
3. Didn’t communism fail disastrously in the 20th century?
There is no doubt that the last century must be chalked up as one of defeats and disasters for the revolutionary left. The birth of the Soviet Union in 1917 was a moment of immense promise – it proved that even in the most backward and economically devastated countries, revolution was possible. Alone and under attack from all sides, however, the USSR began very rapidly to look less like a workers’ paradise and more like a bureaucratic dictatorship. Today, all but the remaining deluded followers of Stalin accept that the Soviet regime – and the satellites that sprung up around it after 1945 – was a monstrosity. In the end, such societies just end up returning to capitalism, one way or another – in Eastern Europe, through ruinous ‘shock therapy privatisation’; in China, Cuba etc, through a creeping process of marketisation.
The question is not whether the Soviet Union is a ‘model’ for the future – it clearly isn’t. What we must ask ourselves is rather: is this the natural and inevitable outcome of Marxism and socialist revolution? We in CS believe that it isn’t. The isolation of the young Soviet state accounts in itself for the rise of bureaucracy and – if not the extremes of brutality in the 1930s – Stalin’s regime. Instead of rejecting the communist project, we draw lessons of urgent significance from this experience – mainly, you can’t have a socialist revolution in one country alone, without a collapse into the barbarity of ‘barracks communism’ or the like. We need to take power at least on a continental scale, and clearly say so even now, when we are obviously very far from being able to do so.
There is an enormous amount more to say on this subject than is possible here – but mainly, we design our politics as best we can in order to avoid another Stalinist catastrophe.
4. Isn’t human nature basically selfish, and opposed to communism?
Humans, like other animals, need to breathe, eat, drink and otherwise have their basic physical needs met in order to survive. If you place people in antagonistic competition for the fulfilment of those needs – in the labour market and so on – then selfishness is the ‘natural’ result. But it is not hardwired into human nature as such – the need to compete, exploit and oppress is not equivalent to hunger or thirst; it is historically variable. The quite real existence of egalitarian hunter-gatherer communities is fatal to this kind of perspective; we are all basically the same biologically, so if we are fundamentally selfish and ‘red in tooth and claw’, then these societies simply should not be possible at all.
In fact, if there is one thing that really does separate us from the animals, it’s the complexity of our social interactions, from language to the division of labour (even the most ‘rugged individual’ is reliant on a huge amount of different people, doing different jobs, simply to eat breakfast). Capitalist society is far more collective than it likes to admit; for if it was to admit to that collective dimension, people might wonder why it was so deformed and oppressive. Communism is far more in tune with the collective dimension of human society.
5. How are you different from SWSS, Socialist Students, etc?
Any freshers’ fair in the land will have one, two or more clots of far-leftists competing for what amounts to the same constituency. The very fact of this competition reduces the size of the constituency, of course, by making us all look a bit ridiculous.
All our little groups have a claim to uniqueness. Ours is, first of all, that we openly acknowledge this dire state of affairs, and seek to rectify it by uniting the different far left fragments of the student left into a proper organisation that would not be so easily dismissed.
Secondly: Socialist Worker Student Society, Socialist Students and so on claim, as we do, to be guided by Marxism, but they hide the ‘scary’ stuff about workers’ revolution and so on behind various liberal and left-Labourite positions that they imagine will be more popular among the broader population. Often, two or more of the fragments will get together in a single organisation based on this kind of watered-down political fudge.
This is a technique known to hucksters and con-men in all walks of life as the ‘bait and switch’. We, on the other hand, do not pretend to be non-Marxists to get easy recruits. We want to convince people that Marxism is a viable world view, and socialist revolution a viable political project. Moreover, we want the Marxist fragments to unite to argue for Marxism more effectively.
Thirdly, we encourage everyone to positively engage with our left ‘competitors’ (who are after all our comrades, our fellow Marxists), hear their side of the story and critically judge it against ours. Sadly, the reverse is true of the left at large, which tends rather to dismiss rivals in a cheap, dishonest and sectarian manner. Again, don’t take our word for it: talk to the comrades and see for yourself …
As well as branches in London and Manchester, CS has members across the country. Contact us to see how you can get involved, or for help starting a branch of CS. We welcome contributions to our website; please email reports and articles to the address below.