Communism or Communalism?
How does this relate to us today? If we don’t go with Ayn Rand, do we need to revert to the Communist philosophies of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Chairman Mao? Communism had a spectacular rise and fall during the 20th Century. Indeed, the Cold War was pretty much fought between the ideologies of Rugged Individualism versus Compulsory State Communism. Rejecting the former, however, does not necessitate the approval of the latter.
The main problems I have with State Communism are its scope and coercive nature. Communism can– and does– work very well at small scales and voluntary fashion, such as Israeli kibbutzim and in families. Indeed, even most American conservatives will agree that the traditional nuclear family operates as a miniature commune. A man going to work to “bring home the bacon”, and a wife staying at home to tend to an orderly and clean household, while raising their children, follows the basic communist concept of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”. The husband might be stingy, tightly controlling the purse-strings, but most set up a budget with an allowance for the wife to appropriately purchase groceries and other household necessities, clothing for herself and the children, etc…
I’m not necessarily advocating for that specific form of household, however… the “nuclear family” is a relatively recent invention of the 1950s and 60s. Before that, the labor pool for this commune was the extended family, with many adults pooling their financial and personal labor resources together for the ongoing survival and success of their family group– just like primitive tribes. Some of those extended families were willing to engage in illegal activities to support their financial success, and we called them “mafia”.
Besides Marx and Lenin, there were other 19th Century theorists, such as Henry George, who proposed other forms of communal arrangements beyond the family, that didn’t necessarily require State level organization. The Labor Movement of the Industrial Revolution produced certain variations called “syndicalism”, but these were violently opposed by the (individualistic) corporate powers. Indeed, Individualist Libertarianism has been pretty much coopted by Capitalistic Plutocrats, who leverage their wealth to maintain class stratification. In the early days, they hired private security firms like Pinkertons to prevent the voluntary organization efforts by labor. Later, they simply purchased enough politicians that they got the government to do it for them.
Since then, there’s been a certain balance of power between the Plutocrats and the Syndicalists in Western Society. In recent years, however, the power of the Plutocrats has grown to extremes, and Union-busting has been happening in many areas, such as Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker, that were traditionally strongholds for the Syndicalists.
But the 20th Century Labor Union isn’t necessarily the best form of collectivism, either. First off– it often also appeals to government to become coercive, and so does not represent a true Libertarian philosophy. Indeed, they likely created the means of their own destruction by using their strong-handed methods to coerce industry into giving them really sweet compensation and retirement packages. These became unsustainable after heath care costs inflated beyond all reason, while retirees started to live longer and longer, stretching pensions to the point of bankrupting the companies. It got to the point where the price of a new GM vehicle was inflated by $5000 just to pay for the insurance premiums of retired GM workers. They were not able to compete with prices on vehicles from foreign makes, where they have national health care plans.
Capitalism as Neo-Feudalism
We have had about four centuries of a philosophy that worked to break up the old aristocracy, giving power back into the hands of individuals, yet they took that power and turned it back into just another class-based system, where those at the top of society control the lives of their social inferiors. There’s somewhat more social mobility today, due to the sheer variety of ways of achieving wealth for those who are creative and lucky enough. But the primary means of wealth in the agricultural age: ownership of land (aristocracy) has now just been transferred to a world where the primary means of wealth in the industrial age: industrial capital (capitalism) has created a new form of Feudalism.
Instead of Kings and Dukes, we have CEOs and COOs, and they rule over organizations that control resources that rival old-time Imperial powers. We have new “robber barons” of hedge-fund managers. And just as how the Knights Templar built their wealth by creating a system of banking in the Middle Ages, backed by their formidable military might– and lending both, at interest, to the political powers; today we see an unholy alliance between the big banks and defense/security contractors. And, in an era of perpetual warfare, we only have to follow the money to find out that there is one group of people who always profit from them– even more reliably than arms manufacturers– the banks, who not only lend money to governments to buy those weapons, but also finance the clean-ups and “nation building” afterward.
As much as Americans would like to believe that we live in a system of libertarian ideals, we have found ourselves right back under feudal powers, pretending to engage in fair trade market capitalism. The Occupy Movement tried to call attention to that– to proclaim that the Emperor was indeed naked, and that the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz was just a circus charlatan– and the feudal powers aligned behind destroying that movement, with police forces taking orders from their corporate puppet-masters. The Pinkertons now wear combat fatigues, drive armored vehicles, and aim military carbine rifles at civilians– and legitimize it all by calling themselves “police”.