In last week’s blog post, I introduced the main topic of my independent seminar “Comparative Research on Development of Communism” and briefly explained my passion for understanding reasons behind varying interpretations of Communism in three countries. A theme of my research will be analyzing historical narratives of those people who experienced Communist rule, with consideration of people living under the systems and those outside of the systems. But before starting to examine Cuba, I believe exploring the basics of the Marxist Theory and different Communist ideologies will prepare me for in-depth research on the three countries. This week, therefore, I began to learn the fundamental theories of Marxism, Communism in Europe, Communism in Latin America, and Maoism.
The founder of Marxism is the German Philosopher, Karl Marx, who belonged to the larger group of Western thinkers that brought new, secularized solutions to questions regarding the human prospects. Inspired to initiate progressive changes pertaining to issues within institutions in Germany, Marx was determined to pursue his path in the field of philosophy. While working as a journalist in Paris, a center of European radicalism, Marx began his critique on the revolutionary history of France. He soon discovered the “agent” of revolutionary change that was subjected to economic oppression at the time–the proletariat(working class). Due to the private-property-based economy, workers were unable to achieve satisfaction or attain self-development. Marx criticized this alienation of workers’ products and their producers(estrangement)and integrated this theory to later writings with Friedrich Engels. The video in the link above further explains the working conditions in which the more workers worked, the less they gained. This situation propelled Marx’s desire to unite the laborers for a revolution. Marx and Engels asserted in The Communist Manifesto that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” According to them, historical process is propelled by class struggles through the evolution of modes of production. They together shaped an ideology of a socialist society and fundamentals of a communist society: devoid of a political state, private property, exchange, and an industrial middle class. But, this theory lacked practical accounts of actual operations in such a system.
The establishment of the Soviet regime in 1917 sparked the spread of communism across the European political sphere, forcing nations to decide whether to accept communism. Communism in Europe began to shift away from Marx’s and Engel’s original theory as the German Communist League collapsed in 1850. Non-Marxists include Peter Kropotkin, a Russian revolutionist who advocated for anarchism and elimination of state and Alexander Herzen, a Russian writer who suggested an agrarian form of socialism and galvanized the peasantry.
The rise of Leninism was also a prominent aspect of the development of Communism in Europe. Vladimir Ilich Lenin offered his interpretation of Marxism, considered social circumstances in Russia, and proposed the necessity of a centrally organized party to evoke revolutionary consciousness among the uneducated workers and dedication to promoting active efforts to overturn the capitalist society.
Different from the European historical context, the adaptations of Communist systems in Latin America were caused by severe exploitation of the peasant population and an influx of European immigrants. 1890s Latin America instituted a sharply divided two-class structure, increasing productivity, attracting foreign investment and foreign immigrants. Ideas of Marxism also spread through the continent with the arrival of Italian, German, and Spanish immigrants. Starting from the 1930s, leftists parties that supported anti-American nationalism prospered, leading to U.S. intervention in Guatemala to overthrow lefist rule.
As Cuba successfully became the first socialist country in Latin America following the Cuban Revolution, a “Cuban Model” of Communism was born. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro, the government forbade any political dissidence, endorsed improvement policies in areas of health, education, and social mobilization, and employed Guerrilla warfare techniques. However, it is important to note that diverse forms of Communism existed in Latin America, differing largely because of the various historical backgrounds and level of development in the countries themselves.
Another expression of Marxist ideology is Maoism, which is a broad term that includes Mao Zedong’s ideologies, political philosophy, and vision towards party leadership in China. Born in a peasant family, Mao was intrigued by tales of rebelling peasants against exploitative middle class and bureaucracy. He became a leading force in rejecting the old Confucian norms of the society which were based on set of social relationships that placed high value on age and order. As Mao witnessed the deterioration of Chinese society under Japanese incursions, he joined the Chinese Communist Party(CCP) during his time in Peking University. His northern expedition and defeat of militarist leaders earned Mao a prominent role in the party. Ambitious Mao adopted series of strategies such as mass mobilization, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Mao’s emphasis on upholding the peasant class as the driving force of revolution distinguished Maoism from ideologies of Marxism-Leninism that believed in the strength of the urban proletariat. His personal background, China’s historical context, and Mao’s charisma with his tactics of promoting his theory shaped Maoism.
I discovered through my research last week that various socialists and communist leaders around the world all strived to achieve the “perfect” society proposed by Marx and Engels, but the nature of the societies these political leaders lived under and strategies they adopted were distinct from Marxist communism. For example, Lenin applied the fundamentals of Marxist ideology to Russia and brought forth a system ruled by an active, organized party; Castro utilized his understanding of Marxism in developing his Cuban Model based on a central government against the U.S. and directing movements against a divided class structure; Mao implemented his experience in the peasant class into constructing an ideology mobilizing a revolution. The Marxist ideology is indeed only posed as a general formula and a visionary theory that requires other countries’ own adaptations based on their circumstances. Reading overviews of Communism in different areas this week strengthened my understanding of the reasons behind varying applications of Marxist Theory. I also learned to be more aware of the danger of overgeneralizing the term “Communism” because of the underlying diversity that is often overlooked. With this realization in mind, I would begin my research this week on Cuban Communism and its expression of the Marxist Theory in depth!
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Vladimir Lenin. 31 Aug. 2017. marinaamaral, MARINA AMARAL, http://www.marinamaral.com/blog/2017/8/31/vladimir-lenin. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.
Rott, Ivan. Cuban communists approve landmark econ reforms. Freedom Phenix.com, Ernest Hancock, 18 Apr. 2011, http://www.freedomsphoenix.com/News/088028-2011-04-18-cuban-communists-approve-landmark-econ-reforms.htm. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.
Mao Zedong. Liberapedia, liberapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Mao_Zedong. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.
Karl Marx on Alienation. Produced by BBC Radio 4, 2015. Youtube, 2018 YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZ4VzhIuKCQ. Accessed 23 Sept. 2018.
Jian, Chen. “Maoism.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, vol. 4, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 1335-1341. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3424300450/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=24b05b85. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.
Megill, Allan. “Marxism: Overview.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, vol. 4, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 1357-1364. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3424300454/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=80088e12. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.
Rees, Tim. “Communism: Europe.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 414-421. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3424300151/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=18462c2e. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.
Wiarda, Howard J., and Esther M. Skelley. “Communism: Latin America.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 421-424. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3424300152/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=d26bb6c1. Accessed 24 Sept. 2018.