There’s a divergence in theory and practice of communism

Is communism really a threat to the country? Or is the danger of communism being played up by political parties in the opposition for political mileage?

Or is the move against the communists in the country actually taking the form of anti-Chinese propaganda?

There are two levels to an understanding of communism.

One is at the theoretical level and the other is at the practical level, or the practice of communism.

If we go back to the philosophical roots of communism, as evident in the works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engel, communism is about creating a classless society — a society that will end all kinds of human exploitation and misery through a proletariat revolution.

Of course, from a theoretical perspective, the communist revolution can only occur in a society that has reached an advanced stage of capitalism, a state where human progress comes to a standstill.

So to break the cycle of non-progress, a revolution will have to be organised by the working class, the most advanced and most progressive segment of the society.

Once a communist revolution has been effected, the class basis of society in the capitalist society, under the leadership of the bourgeoisie class, will be eliminated.

The resulting communist society will not do away with private property and the state that protects the capitalist class.

The future communist society would result in a perfect society or a classless one with the elimination of all forms of class exploitation.

The withering away of the state is relevant in the future genesis of a communist society.

Contrary to the prognosis of Marx and Engels, communism took root not in advanced capitalist societies, but in societies that were underdeveloped, like Russia, China, Vietnam and many others.

How to explain this paradox?

Apart from the ideas of the two-class conflict, the elimination of the bourgeoisie, the vanguard of the proletariat and others, the theoretical works of Marx and Engels provide little understanding of how communist revolutions took shape in lesser-developed countries.

VI Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chin Minh and many other leaders skilfully used the ideas of Marx and Engels to suit the conditions of their respective societies that had a low level of material development.

Communist revolutions were not organised in advanced capitalist countries but in countries that were underdeveloped in the capitalist sense, where the bourgeoisie was not sufficiently developed, with a small working class but a large class of peasantry.

The revolutions in these lesser developed countries relied on the mobilisation of a tiny elite, working-class ideology, supported by the large mass of peasants.

For Lenin and Mao, the peasantry, being conservative and reactionary, was supposed to be led by the progressive proletariat. But, in fact, the communist revolution was planned and led by a small group of leaders in control of the communist parties, the vanguard of the proletarian revolution.

For Lenin, it was the fear of the Czarist reforms, that speeded up capitalist reforms in Russia, which prompted him to organise the party, the proletariat and the peasantry to forge a united front to break the capitalist system “at its weakest link”, giving rise to the theory of the weakest link that was repeated in China and many other countries that became communist later.

The dismemberment of China by foreign powers, the Japanese invasion and the failure of the Guomindang administration saw the birth of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to undertake the communist revolution.

Again, in the case of China, it was the Russian revolutionary model that was of practical significance, not so much the theoretical significance of the thoughts of Marx and Engels.

The presence of a large peasantry, small proletariat, comprador bourgeoisie made it possible for the communist leadership to organise a united front under the leadership of the party as the vanguard of the proletariat.

Before World War 2, communist parties were formed in a number of countries in Asia, especially those countries that were under colonial powers.

The revolutionary experience of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China allowed them to think beyond getting rid of colonial rulers, but in terms of creating a future communist society under the leadership of their respective communist parties.

The experience in Malaya

This was what happened in Malaya, but the united front formation directed by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) was unable to give effect to an all-embracing support, given the lack of Malay support.

Eventually the MCP, despite the civil war, could not gain influence among all segments of society.

Further, the MCP’s links with the CCP undermined its popularity as a foreign-directed organisation.

The communist revolutions in the former Soviet Union, PRC or in many other countries did not adhere closely to the communist model as predicted by Marx or Engels.

These communist parties in lesser-developed countries were inspired by the idea of a classless society, idea of progress and the elimination of human exploitation.

But the so-called communism that took shape in the lesser-developed capitalist countries became dominated by the state, powerful party apparatus and the emergence of elites, but hardly made any dent in the reduction of class inequalities.

I am not sure, apart from the label of communist or communism, there was really anything communist about these societies. There was no reduction in exploitation; classes continued in nefarious ways, and the state did not wither way but became stronger and more powerful.

So the recent attacks against the defunct MCP, the controversy about Chin Peng’s ashes, or the issue about the event in Kajang to mark the anniversary of the peace treaty between the Malaysian government and the MCP, are much ado about nothing.

There was no real communism to start in Malaya in the first place, if we understand what the concept means in an actual sense.

The MCP labelled itself as a communist party, like others in other parts of the world, in the most narrowest sense of the term.

I am not sure whether the prognosis of Marx and Engels will ever come true as global capitalism shows no signs of waning.

It seems to reinvent itself under the most trying conditions.

P Ramasamy is deputy chief minister II of Penang.

The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.