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"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 or being suppressed by authorities, 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. Even then, a full explanation is far beyond the scope of this wiki, so Wikipedia might be a better bet if you want to get into the philosophical and economic details.
Most non-Marxist communists are more anti-authoritarian (e.g. Kropotkin, Makhno), so they are sometimes classified as anarchists instead. However, even Marxist communism is not homogenous, ranging from the more extremist (Hoxhaism, Stalinism aka Marxism-Leninism) to more moderate (Titoism, Kadarism, classical Marxism), sometimes mixed with nationalism (Juche), liberal capitalism (Dengism) or - ironically given communism's recurring anti-religion tendency - Catholicism (Liberation theology). Perhaps the reason why there are so many different variations of communism is because Marx and Engels' blueprint is so vague in many places (it didn't help that Marx died before finishing Das Kapital) that it lends itself to a dizzying array of interpretations, for better or worse.
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 theories 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. He further saw this as another step in a long historical trend in which a class that owned the means of production (i.e. factories, land, etc.) exploited and dominated a lower class that had to sell its labor power to survive (by working in said factories, land, etc.) even though they had no say in how the means of production could be used and had a better claim to it on account of being the class that actually used the means of production.
Marx viewed society as being on a very clear cut path of social evolution with clearly defined phases, based on his interpretation of Hegelian philosophy (we suggest you look that up yourself, it's much too complicated to make into a pithy explanation here). 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 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). The economy would be controlled by the workers rather than by individual shareholders, competition would be discouraged in favor of a more cooperative and collective-oriented mindset, and religion (which Marx considered an obsolete "opiate of the masses"- although contrary to popular belief he did not actually oppose its existence) would fade away when it was no longer needed to distract people from the poor conditions they lived in. Most importantly, the new order would end the traditional state of affairs in which one class dominated all others through its control of the means of production and allow for true equality and prosperity for everyone. It is for this reason that no Communist party has claimed it has actually created a communist society, as according to their ideology they are simply guiding society through its socialist phase until true communism can be achieved at an unspecified future time.
However, Marx and Engels never gave a clear outline of how such a society could be created or what it would look like, either because they believed the workers would decide that or they had no idea or plan for how to achieve it. The the first one to put it into practice on a national scale (Vladimir Lenin) gave it a distinctly authoritarian spin which only got worse with Stalin. It should not be surprising that even in Marx's own time there were many opposing views of how a communist society would be created and maintained since he failed to give a method to accomplish it.
As a whole, most forms of Marxism are highly skeptical of liberal democracy (albeit supportive of the democratic process itself and direct democracy in particular), as it is considered to be corrupt and easily manipulated by the wealthy (unlike in direct democracy of course! The media would surely NEVER be owned by the wealthy who...would...manipulate...the masses... oh...); similarly, they dismiss the process of slow reform advocated by social democratic ideology as a mass of half-measures intended to preserve a broken system instead of replacing it. In its place, communists propose the "dictatorship of the proletariat". Before you jump to conclusions, Marx considered all forms of government to be a form of dictatorship in that one class held absolute power over all others; in this case, the class in question would be the workers, who would use the innately authoritarian power of the state to ensure that a worker-controlled democratic decision-making process would not be opposed by reactionary elements attempting to re-establish the old order. According to Marx, this dictatorship would last only long enough to eliminate the differences between classes- as the state's existence is due to said class differences, this would eventually lead the state to dissolve when it was no longer needed...somehow.
One of Marx's most prominent socialist rivals, Mikhail Bakunin, made the prediction that a dictatorship of the proletariat wouldn't "wither away" as Marx expected, but instead would serve as the foundation of a new ruling class that would dominate and exploit the proletariat just like the capitalists did: rather than class differences leading to the creation of the state, it was the state itself that allowed class differences to exist. As a result, using the power of the state to end class differences would only perpetuate them further.
In Leninism, Marxism-Leninism, and their offshoots, the dictatorship of the proletariat takes form of the "vanguard party", consisting of the most "class-conscious" individuals. This party 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 using the Marxist-Leninist model and its relatives have been dictatorships, headed either by charismatic despots (Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot), or by the party oligarchy (modern China, late USSR). While other forms of communism exist that do not follow the vanguard party model, they are too lacking in influence to have ever been implemented on a national scale so we can't really say what they'd be like. It should also be noted that Marx and Engels themselves doubted the idea that a small revolutionary party could represent the will of the working class, an idea originally espoused by one of his other contemporaries.
One of the (many) major flaws in communist ideology is that its economic theories simply cannot be translated into the real world. For all the bullshit and genuine problems that happen in the free market (or the corporation-dominated form that exists today, at any rate), it still has the advantage of being able to rapidly adapt to changing economic demands. Centrally planned economies on the other hand not only fail to adapt in the same way, but don't even live up to Marx's ideals (e.g. the right not to be reduced to "a cog in the machine", the focus on bottom-up organization, etc.). At best, they provide short-term bursts of productivity at the expense of long-term economic decline.
Another flaw that communism cannot overcome is jobs have a range of utility. For example, the 2019-2022 COVID pandemic had "non-essential" business shut down - such as most of the film industry - while essential businesses - such as doctors clinics - remained open; this shows that not all jobs are equally important, so in this at least the equality communism tries to promote is impractical. There's also the fact that human nature is too competitive and/or selfish to allow for the "equal outcomes" collectivism that communism endorses. The communist idea of utopia is also atheistic, and it could be argued religiosity is part of human nature, but anything else on that subject or the subject of gods can either be found here, here or wouldn't be done justice on this site.
Furthermore, Bakunin's predictions about the dictatorship of the proletariat turning into a dictatorship over the proletariat have proven to be consistently correct, with party bureaucracies quickly assuming the same exploitative practices that their capitalist precursors used and claiming the means of production for themselves rather than passing them onto the workers.
Liberal philosophers like Karl Popper on the other hand took a more fundamental approach to their critique; Popper in particular had the major criticism that history doesn't run on predetermined rulesets and laws, like Marx thought, and that such a line of thinking, especially when paired with the promise of a socialist utopia, would ultimately just serve people like Lenin and Mao Zedong, who would abuse this ideology to create authoritarian nightmares that only serve themselves. Seeing how the Socialist dream always ended in stagnation, dictatorship and misery, he was ultimately proven to be right about a lot of things. Sociologists like Didier Eribon formulated another criticism on how Marxism views society; mainly that the working class, especially in our day and age, is not a uniform monolithic block that can be rallied to join a cause or even a revolution. While sharing common interests, how these interests manifest themselves in any individual can range wildly and also how the influence of social background often unconsciously makes people put themselves down.
Even in an ideal universe where the bureaucracy running a centrally planned economy wasn't corrupt or inept, the technology to monitor and plan any sort of national economy has yet to be invented and what we have now can't keep track of everything well enough to make it work; the average economy is incredibly complex and not even the most advanced computers that currently exist can't predict every possible variable that might effect how the economy functions (let alone predict the long term effects of a plan), so mistakes will inevitably occur and snowball with dangerous consequences. As a result, a centrally planned economy invariably destroys the countries in which it is attempted due to drop of quality in consumer products, and eventually, food sources. Countries like China use the international market to get around this, but this is only delaying the inevitable. It gets even worse when you factor in the further increased complexity demanded by globalization. Technological advancements in the future might be able to mitigate this issue or even solve it outright, but they may not happen for a very long time. (Other types of planned economies exist too, but they are much less common and tend to exist on smaller scales so we can't really tell how well they'd work on a national level, let alone an international one. They do seem to function surprisingly well on a regional/municipal scale though, especially those which are decentralized and use little to no top-down authority when making decisions.) The economic failures of Socialist countries can also be found in Communist ideology itself; if your state says that it the heaven on earth, then said state won't do a whole lot to potentially improve things it has apart from occasional repairs or invent new things that aren't necessary for its own survival. The downfall of the USSR and its aftermath is a good example of this; WWII destroyed a lot of stuff in Russia, so the government increased funding for sectors essential to rebuilding the nation. Productivity remained high until the late 70s, when, paired with party cronyism, the job of rebuilding Russia was finished and productivity started to stagnate on a high level. The only sectors that saw regular innovation and new invention were the arms and nuclear weapons industry. So it came to be that the West ultimately shot waaaay past the USSR in terms of productivity and wealth and ultimately defeated it.
That being said, mixed economies combining elements of communism and capitalism (e.g. Keynesianism and the "Nordic Model") have consistently proven to be more effective than either laissez-faire capitalism or centrally-planned communism, albeit these successes have much more to do with cultural factors than with any success of communist ideology, the latter of which has steadily been abandoned over the last few decades. As mentioned above, these mixed economies are typically viewed by socialists to be more closely related to capitalism than communism, and most of them believe that the welfare systems they depend on are likely to be privatized in the absence of a stronger shift away from a capitalist economy. Several of these economies have indeed been abandoning their socialist elements over time in favor of a more capitalistic system, due in no small part to economic stagnation and near-collapse due to socialist economic policies.
Furthermore, Communist governments tend to move away from the tenets of Marx and Engels in an attempt to force their ideas to work in situations they were never intended to function in. Marx believed that the shift to socialism and then communism could only work in an advanced industrial capitalist society with an established working class and that any attempt to make it happen before that point was doomed to backfire (and as Venezuela has since shown us, even THAT prediction was clearly wrong); Lenin got around this by claiming that he could "telescope" the capitalist and socialist revolutions into a single event with the aid of the aforementioned vanguard party and proposing an alliance with the Russian peasantry to compensate for the undeveloped presence of the working class. Even then, Lenin tentatively allowed a shift back to private ownership for the Kulaks just so the Soviet economy could get back on its feet, before Stalin purged them all as class enemies and triggered a widespread famine known as the Holodomor (which the vast majority of historians suspect was intentional on Stalin's part).
Mao Zedong took this to an even further extreme by forcing the revolution in the primarily agrarian China and then trying to kick-start industrialization with the "Great Leap Forward". It was a total failure for several different reasons, and Mao's hamfisted attempt to retain control of the Communist Party afterwards gave rise to the Cultural Revolution and all the bloodshed that came with it. Somewhat like Lenin, Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping ended up implementing capitalist policies (while leaving all the other oppressive elements intact) in response to the earlier economic crises. While it did salvage the economy, it also ended up producing a system that arguably combines the worst qualities of both capitalism and communism that survives only by constant pandering to nationalist sentiments.
Because of the legacy of the Cold War and everything mentioned above, mass famines among numerous communist countries, and widespread human rights abuses from the regimes of communist leaders, communism is about as "loved" as fascism; there's good reason why people occasionally put Stalin and Mao, and communism/socialism, on equal footing with Hitler and Imperial Japan in terms of evilness.
Even the forms of communism that originated independently of the Leninist traditions are generally poorly regarded at best due to guilt by association. This is ironic given that Lenin (and later Stalin) spent a considerable period of time trying to wipe out the forms of communism that diverged from Leninism.
As an interesting closing note, the rise of automation (robotic and algorithmic) has the potential to bringing in a society that resembles what communism tried to achieve. Today (2021) most farming is done either automatically, or by a single dude riding a combine and doing the job of hundreds of farmers in a single day, manufacturing has also similarly gone through a wave of automation which has seen many factories reduce the number of their workers from hundreds to mere dozens, and the recent bastion of human labor - service sector, is slowly seeing the penetration of algorithms and in rare cases robots iNto the fold. What all this means is that humanity needs to do less and less work while the automated systems do it just as well if not better, these 'means of production' can be (in theory) easily nationalized and the usual problems of people slacking off due to everyone being paid equally is eliminated since both the neurosurgeon and waiter who are 'paid the same for their effort' are - robots. Add to that the rise of 3D printing which may act as poor man's Star Trek replicators (eliminating the need to buy a smörgåsbord of stuff) and theoretically we could be on track towards ¨fully automated luxury gay space communism¨, or the 1% who own all the robots can eliminate the 99% Terminator-style and grab it all for themselves, the selfish fucks... then again, Elon "Arch-Capitalist" Musk probably wouldn't. Hopefully... Then again, as all attempts at Marxist ideology have shown, a little power corrupts a little, and absolute power...
It also is notable that Communist is often used as a dismissive snarl in modern first world politics against the left wing, even when actual Stalinist-style communists (or "tankies" as other communists and socialists call them) are a small minority on the fringes. There is also a distinction between Revolutionary Communists like the Bolsheviks and the Democratic Socialists such as the German SPD, which believe that the transition to socialism and then communism does not necessarily require an outright revolution and can be implemented through peaceful means. Ironically, it is the latter that more closely resembles classical Marxism. Democratic socialism in turn is not to be confused with social democracy, which is a form of liberal democracy whose capitalist economic system is paired with regulation and social welfare programs to mitigate the excesses of capitalism (with varying degrees of success).
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). Others have played it seriously, especially in works produced during the Cold War (such as the 1984 film Red Dawn). 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 (for CommuNazis as an ideology, Nazbols are basically that, combining far left economic policy and far right cultural party). Red Alert 1 is a /v/idya example, totally starting with a massive Tabun gas attack on the Polish city of Torun with children being discussed as dying the easiest.
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. Red Alert 3 has this a smidge between the lines, moreso in Uprising where they avenge innocent Russian citizens being frozen and crushed alive for fun by bloodthirsty Allied mercenaries.
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(more of it) and III(less of it), 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.
The Harpers of Faerun are semi-communists in outlook. They strongly favor removing power from single governments and shifting leadership to individual communities. This can make them heroic when unseating despots but significantly less so when assassinating anyone who tries to unite the city-states.
Khador in Warmachine takes the Glorious Soviet Russia identity and wears it like a badge, even though its actual government resembles Tzarist Russia.
Star Trek is complicated. On the one hand, the Federation has essentially a communist economy and they have the humanist element down, 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 Romulans, 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 America 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.
The cure for Chick Tracts
- 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.