There have been many experiments with communism in the manner it was actually envisioned by Marx, even if some antedated his theories, in small, relatively homogeneous communities. Some were religious and others were socialist in formation: New Harmony in Indiana, Oneida in New York, some of the Shaker and Amana Society experiments. They generally failed due to disaster, economic challenges in adequate production and receipts, disaffection from members and maladministration. Certainly Fourier and Saint Simon, so called utopian socialists, who Marx vitriolically denounced due to their lack of understanding materialism, were neverthelss quite creative in their effort to construct communities that could escape from the ruthless exploitation of industrial capitalism. George Rapp left Germany and Robert Owen left Britain to carve out a Zion in the wilderness at New Harmony, Indiana in the 1820s.
Brook Farm in Mass. was a collection of writers and other transcendental thinkers who were to drift in and out but the notion of intellectuals and workers living in a shared state of communal experience was greatly influenced by the French socialist Charles Fourier.
What impresses me is not the failure but the heroic attempts in the 19th century to escape from the vicious horrors of European capitalism and its murderous emphasis on materialism and dominance by the few of the means of production for the many. Little did they know that America, which was then in early industrialisation, would in the late 19th and early 20th centuries replicate the Manchesters of Engels’s day with the New Yorks, Chicagos, Pittsburghs and other places of murderous capitalist exploitation of the proletariat or if you prefer America’s underclass of immigrant and minority labour.
A system that developed without conscience, without responsibility, without a sense of “community” is the opposite of communism. Communism sees the individual as fulfilling her maximum potential within the context of replacing absolute individualism and the adoration of unfettered competition with the notion of cooperation and communal love. The family is not restricted to the patriarchal, two-headed household but the family both sexually and emotionally extends to others who make up the communal unit.
Communism believes that society benefits when there are fewer validations and rewards for those who exercise power over the masses and argues that humankind can be a self-sustaining and mutually supportive collective. Again the communism that must capture America is not to be associated with the state-capitalist models that emerged in Russia and China after their great revolutions. Those societies were not without virtue, despite the obscene Manichaean bipolarity of the Cold War, but I am not recommending those models for America particularly with their emphasis on command economies, at least in the case of the Soviet Union, and the dominance of thought and action by the apparatchik.
Yet we need to transform capitalism which continues to create massive poverty in a land of great abundance. We need to constrain with taxes, confiscation and other methods the tyrannical and obscene wealth of large corporate units with their demigod C.E.O.s whose wealth defies even a modicum of reasonableness. The lack of social responsibility among America’s corporate elites alone would justify the end of capitalism as we know it and the development of a socialist consciousness that would harness the wealth in a more appropriate COMMUNIST manner.
Clearly with poverty spreading, with health care beyond the reach of almost 50 million Americans, with the casualties of war emanating from a working class subject to an economic draft due to few alternatives other than military, cannon-fodder service and the greed in acquiring for only 5% of the world’s population other’s oil and vital natural resources, I disavow the notion that mere tinkering reform is desirable. Only substantive change, a new revolution of values, morals and leadership, can alter this excessively competitive, militant state that America has become and move us toward a path of love, righteousness and respect for our fellow woman and man.