"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. 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 usually 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.
However, Marx and Engels never gave a clear outline of how such a society could be created or what it would look like, and 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.
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; similarly, they dismiss the process of slow reform advocated by social democratic ideology as a mass of half-measures that do more to preserve a broken system than they do to replace 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.
Marx himself wrote little about how this would function or how it would come into being, presumably because he believed that it would be up to the workers to decide that. As mentioned above, this would unintentionally give a lot of people an opportunity to present their personal take on it as the way communism would be achieved, and by that time Marx was too dead to disagree.
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 have been dictatorships, headed either by charismatic despots (Stalin, Mao Zedong), 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 contemporaries.
The major flaw in Communist ideology is that its economic theories simply cannot be translated into the real world (as of this writing at least). For all the bullshit and genuine problems that happen in the free market (or its corporation-dominated American form, 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 (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 only a minimum of top-down authority.) 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.
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 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. 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.
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 lassiez-faire capitalism or centrally-planned communism. 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. Only time will tell if their assessment is correct.
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 society with an established working class and that any attempt to make it happen before that point was doomed to backfire; 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 (which many 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, and 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, there's good reason Stalin is occasionally put on equal footing with Hitler 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.
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). 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).
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.
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, 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.
Communism as understood by someone who thinks all communists are Stalinists (not mentioned: those that claim the kulaks deserved it).
- 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.