|This article covers a topic that, by its very nature, is a magnet for flamewars. Try not to get too assmad at what you're about to read.|
"Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite."
- – Anonymous radio host from Soviet Armenia; also attributed to Yakov Smirnov
"MASH THE DIRTY RED SCUM! KICK THEM IN THE TEETH WHERE IT HURTS! KILL! KILL, KILL! FILTHY BASTARD COMMIES! I HATE THEM, I HATE THEM! AH! AH!"
- – Ordo Xenos Inquisitor John Cleese, responding to the threat of the Damocles Crusade
"Communism is the corruption of a dream of justice."
- – Adlai Stevenson I
Communism can refer to two concepts: the society where the economy is collectively managed and organised government is replaced by local communes (hence the name), and the (usually) authoritarian ideology that seeks to instate such a perfect society. Communism in the first sense had been tried in various villages through the early nineteenth century before fizzling out, but most people are only interested in the second sense, due to its enormous impact on the twentieth century. Communism the ideology is generally associated with oligarchic rule of the "vanguard party" and a degree of central planning; it was the state ideology of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, as well as a few minor powers such as Yugoslavia and Vietnam, during the Cold War. It is still, albeit in a very modified form, adhered to in a few countries today, such as the People's Republic of China, North Korea and Cuba.
The ideology of communism is highly diverse, as numerous thinkers have proposed different definitions and pathways to a communist society, yet most modern communists, in one way or another, derive their ideas from the writings of Karl Marx: hence, it is Marxist communism that will be discussed here. Most non-Marxist communists are more anti-authoritarian (e.g. Kropotkin, Makhno), so they are usually classified as anarchists instead. However, even Marxist communism is not homogenous, ranging from the more extremist (Hoxhaism, Stalinism) to more moderate (Titoism, Kadarism), sometimes mixed with nationalism (Juche), liberal capitalism (Dengism) or - ironically given communism's recurring anti-religion tendency - Catholicism (Liberation theology).
Marxism originates with the work of (newsflash) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Engels was the working son of an industrialist, while Marx got a PhD in law and spent much of his life in academia and radical politics; this arguably makes them the world's first socialist justice warriors. These two developed their economic
theory misconceptions as a response to the effects of the Industrial Revolution. Marx observed that while the mechanization of production was a good thing since it generated a lot of wealth, he believed it was grossly unfair since said wealth was accumulating in the pockets of only a few fucking rich pricks and most other people lived in Victorian poverty.
Marx viewed society as being on a very clear cut path of social evolution with clearly defined phases. Every phase represented a different form of economy and social hierarchy, and, while starting out "progressive", would eventually fall into degradation as it exceeded its limits. At this point, this decayed socio-economic system would have to be overthrown and replaced with a more just and advanced one, starting a new phase: Marx considered the Fall of the Roman Empire (transition from individual slavery to land-based feudalism) and the the revolutions of the 19th century (transition from feudalism to industrial capitalism) to be the moments when such a transition occurred. He believed that Capitalism was rapidly approaching its own collapse and replacement.
The new social order, Marx believed, would be collectivist, atheist and classless: as industrial production required people to work together on a large scale, so too would the new system of government. The new society would start out more authoritarian (socialism) before its government would eventually dissolve (communism proper). Economy would be controlled by workers rather than by individual shareholders, individualism would be discouraged in favor of a more collective-oriented mindset, and religions were to be branded an obsolete "opiate of the masses" and done away with. However, Marx and Engels never gave ideas on how such a society could be created, leaving essentially a blank slate that others have tried to fill in.
Marxist communism is highly skeptical of liberal democracy, which is considered to be corrupt and easily manipulated by the wealthy. In its place, communists propose the "dictatorship of the proletariat", which (in Leninism and its descendants, at least) takes form of the "vanguard party", consisting of the most "class-conscious" individuals, which would be given near-absolute power over society and economy, so that transition towards socialism and eventually communism would proceed properly. As such, most communist states have been dictatorships, headed either by charismatic despot (Stalin, Mao Zedong), or by the party oligarchy (modern China, late USSR).
The major flaw in Communist ideology is that it basically requires rejecting all of real economics. Communism is to economics what young-earth creationism is to evolution and the big bang. Every lesson of economics demonstrates that the way to deliver the highest quality of goods and services to the largest number of people at the lowest cost is via a free market, and that the only time when the government should be given a monopoly on something is when a free market in that product or service cannot exist (a "natural monopoly"), such as with national defense or municipal road networks. However, Communist ideology requires imposing government monopolies on every part of the economy. As a result, it invariably destroys the countries in which it is attempted. In response, Communist governments tend to move further away from the tenets of Marx and Engels, usually leading to claims that it failed because it wasn't true communism.
Because of the legacy of the Cold War, mass famines among numerous communist countries and widespread human rights abuses from the regimes of communist leaders, there's good reason Stalin is occasionally put on equal footing with Hitler in terms of evilness, and Communism is generally poorly regarded at best to say the least.
Of course, the proven failures of Communism do not mean that particular implementations of capitalism, in either the 1860s or today, are without flaws. However, much better analyses of these flaws, and better solutions, have been proposed by people with much better understandings of economics than Marx and Engels had. The most notable is probably Henry George, who identified private ownership of land and other natural resources, rather than private ownership of capital in general, as one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated against humanity, and proposed fixing it with a tax on the unimproved value of land rather than with a global violent revolution and totalitarianism. Needless to say, if the Bolsheviks had read his book Progress and Poverty instead of Das Kapital, history would have gone very differently.
It also is notable that Communist is often used as a Snarl World in modern first world politics against the left wing even when actual communists are a small minority on the fringes. There is also a distinction between Revolutionary Communists like the Bolsheviks and Democratic Socialists such as the German SPD, which have come to power from time to time in political elections without overthrowing democracy.
Communism in Traditional Games
In general there are three ways communism is used in fiction and board games:
1: FILTHY GODLESS RED BASTARDS: Dangerous, faceless enemies, ripped straight from the wettest dreams of the Cold War-era American John Birch society. These communists are the enemy; a vast, brutal, godless horde determined to take over the world that our heroes must resist. Nowadays, this attitude is usually played for comedy, as in Paranoia where Friend Computer's glitched-out personality has made it a paranoid wreck obsessed with a largely-imaginary adversary (while creating some actual communists in the process). By the way, if you want an example of literal CommuNazis, the East German Stasi are a good place to start, although the Nazi part is mostly aesthetic and the Communist ideology is what was dominant.
2: Champions of the Proletariat: The other side of the coin to what is listed above. These are either rebels against corrupt corporate overlords (frequently cyberpunk heroes) or a body of workers and soldiers fighting against fascist invaders (any game from the Russian perspective in WWII will count). Occasionally this show up in Medieval settings as anachronistic peasant revolts or other politically-radical types out to pull down the social parts of Medieval Stasis.
3: GLORIOUS COMMUNISTS: Somewhere between the other two and generally played for laughs. Communist regimes are oppressive and ponderous, but also able to do great things through sheer force of Industrial Might, Soviet Super Science, Stalinist Architecture and Will-Of-The-People and can be heroic just as easily as villainous. See Red Alert-II and III, and to a lesser extent a few parts of the Imperium of Man. As close to real communism as you can get, comrade.
Communism has also provided us with the Russian army, which is an awesome gaming resource and reference, either in a drunken, drown-your-enemies-with-bodies-and-artillery sort of way (World War II), or a send-in-the-hardened-and-manly-Spetsnaz-and-tanks way (Cold War). It is a sacred law of /tg/ alternate history homebrew settings that there must be at least one communist faction and it must control at least 50% of the world's total landmass. Even Khador draws on the imagery of the Soviet armed forces, despite being more analogous to Tsarist/Imperialist Russia politically, aside from their Manifest Destiny "Why can't everyone else just roll over and let us conquer them?!" ideology that has... other roots.
Like all radical ideologies, communists are all over the Sixth World, mostly among the poor and disenfranchised who can't help looking up at the big fancy megacorp enclaves and wondering how that makes any kind of just sense. The Berlin Flux State was probably the biggest and most successful anarcho-communist enclave in-setting for a while, before it became such an embarrassment to the megacorps insisting they should be the only game in town that many of them (including the one run by the great dragon Lofwyr) had it dismantled somewhere around second or third edition.
People like to call the Tau communist. There's some truth to that, given they're a highly-collective society that generally values group achievement over personal accomplishment, but they're also a largely class-stratified society, with only the assurance that their leaders are theoretically cooperating for the Greater Good to keep them from being out-and-out feudalists with castes. This system is actually very similar to Italian and Spanish fascism, where the economy was split between several large trade-based corporations, where the workers and the bourgeoisie were supposed to talk out their issues together (under the benevolent guidance of the party elites of course).
There was also the Gretchin Revolutionary Committee, a parody of the kinds of communist guerrillas of previous decades, who are armed grots out to demand equal treatment from their Ork masters with comical results. The Imperium, being a decentralized feudalistic empire, undoubtedly has many worlds that have communist governing bodies and economies, and maybe even a few where things worked out okay.
Golarion has got a semi-hemi-demi communist nation in-setting: Galt, land of insane, constant revolution where the only winners are the final blades. It represents the "messy revolutionary" kind of communism rather than any of the three flavors above, though there's some obvious mixing with the principals of the French Revolution that was its more-direct inspiration.
Star Trek is complicated. On the one hand, the Federation has essentially a communist economy, but their advanced technology has created a post-scarcity economy, so it can be interpreted that the producers thought this would be a natural product of a society where everybody was self-sufficient. Conversely, their chief rivals, the Klingons and the Romulons, are transparent analogues of the USSR and Maoist China seen through the pre-détente eyes of an American lounge lizard. Similar post-scarcity communists are common in Eclipse Phase, though with a much stronger anarchist bent. They are largely and uncomplicatedly perfect due to the game designers' raging stiffy for that kind of thing.
Any WWII or quasi-WWII game worth its salt will have a communist faction, including the classic Axis & Allies and the modern wargame Flames of War. Additionally, many classic board games have attempted to tap into the forty-five year struggle for dominance between Amurica and the communists. The most famous and best is probably Twilight Struggle. TSR also released an RPG set during the Cold War called Top Secret, though, like most non-D&D TSR products, no one under thirty-five has ever heard of it.
This article has been marked as containing treasonous capitalist road sentiments. Please report to your local commissariat for re-education through labor.
It's the No True Scotsman Fallacy (then there are those that claim the kulaks deserved it). Not featured; Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe, Ho Chi Minh or Kim Il Sung...
- Imperium of Man as it too was based on a revolutionary progressive ideal that gave way to despotism, with the big question being if this was a natural consequence of the ideal or a complete perversion.
- Come to think of it, most failed utopian societies that /tg/ loves probably borrowed from the history of Soviet Russia in some way, especially from the revolutionary to Stalinist era.