Barracks Communism

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Barracks Communism

 

the concept used by Marx and Engels to denote the most vulgarized and primitive notions about communism as a system characterized by asceticism with regard to the satisfaction of human needs, by a despotic, thin stratum of “revolutionary leaders,” by bureaucratization of the entire system of social relations, and by a view of man as a blind instrument for carrying out the will of higher authorities.

The introduction of this concept was occasioned by the publication of S. G. Nechaev’s article “The Basic Principles of the Future Society” (1870). In this “future,” cut to Nechaev’s specifications, the ruling principle is to “produce as much as possible for society and to use as little as possible”; labor is obligatory on pain of death, and the discipline of the rod prevails. “What a fine model of barracks communism! Everything is here: common dining halls and sleeping quarters, price-fixers, and offices supervising education, production, and consumption, in a word, all social activity, and at the head of everything, as the supreme leader, stands, nameless and unknown, ‘our committee’” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 18, p. 414). The founders of scientific communism described the methods proposed for achieving this “barracks paradise” as an apologia for treachery, lies, intimidation, and force—as bourgeois immorality carried to an extreme.

This ruthless criticism of “barracks communism” and of Nechaev’s views reflects the profound humanistic essence of Marxism. From his earliest works Marx opposed “crude and thoughtless communism,” which for the sake of illusory rejection of private property negates the personality of man. “The thought of every piece of private property as such,” wrote Marx, “is at least turned against wealthier private property in the form of envy and the urge to reduce things to a common level…. Crude communism is simply the culmination of this envy and of this leveling-down proceeding from the preconceived minimum. It has a definite, limited yardstick. That such an annulment of private property by no means represents the real assimilation of it is in fact proved by the abstract negation of the entire world of culture and civilization, by the regression to the unnatural simplicity of the poor and crude man who has few needs and who has not only failed to go beyond private property, but has not even reached it” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Iz rannikh proizve-denii 1956, pp. 586-87).

This subtle and profound analysis of the roots of “barracks communism,” with its leveling aspirations, has not lost its relevance to this day. Marxism-Leninism links the appearance of such tendencies to certain social and political phenomena, primarily the backwardness, underdevelopment, and petit bourgeois character of a social milieu shaped by centuries of exploitation, humiliation, subjugation, and arbitrary power, a milieu that may survive for a while even after the socialist revolution. The pressure of such an environment and the penetration of its attitudes and prejudices into the psychology of political leaders and into the ideology of political organizations create an opportunity for the rise of various manifestations of “barracks communism” in both theory and practice. An example of this may be seen in the theories and aspirations of certain ideologists in China from the late 1950’s to the 1970’s. In these theories patriarchal, petit bourgeois, and preproletarian perversions of communism were interwoven in a unique and grotesque manner.

The concept “barracks communism” stands in irreconcilable contradiction to the objective developmental tendencies in socialist society, and it is categorically refuted by the theory of scientific communism. Marxist-Leninist parties resolutely struggle against any manifestation of “barracks communism,” both in the theory and the practice of socialist construction.

A. E. BOVIN