How did the communist state arise and what kind of challenge did it provide to liberal capitalism in the West?

No single idea in the realm of political science has had the kind of impact on large sections of humanity as that of Communism. Right from its origins in the form of an abstract political philosophy in 1847 till its unexpected disintegration in the late 1980s, Communism had been an antidote to Capitalist ideology with its attendant injustices – economic and social. This essay will discuss the rise of the Communist state and the challenges it posed to the laizez faire capitalist societies of the last two centuries.

The question of origins of Communist thought can be traced back to biblical times, when Moses delivered the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples. Marx’s political philosophy attracted as many followers as Moses, but its foundation is secular. Moreover, Karl Marx, having born into a Jewish family, brought to his scientific historical analysis elements of the New Testament, although this might have happened subconsciously. While many historians talk about the “Communist Manifesto” being the first definitive text published on Communism, the translation of the ideas proposed therein into reality involved a lot of struggle. (Shuklian, 1995)

The communist faithful had to wait for another seventy years before their aspirations transpired into political reality. It is in the year 1917, when under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, the first communist state was born – the Soviet. It was in St. Petersburg, the original capital of Russia, on October 25, 1917 that “thousands of mutinous soldiers, sailors and peasants stormed the Winter Palace and seized the country’s provisional government, which had taken over when the Czar abdicated. And so the long and frequently bloody history of Communism was born” (Shuklian, 1995).

The other recurrent theme in the rise of the Communist state is violence. Although violent revolution was not a prescribed tenet in the communist doctrine, the power wielded by capitalist elite is such that peaceful and gradual ascendancy was out of the question. Interestingly, communist uprisings were not the first organized revolutions. That designation would have to go to the French Revolution. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, many uprisings followed, including that of Hungary and Bavaria (in Germany). Here and elsewhere in the world, the people were enthused and inspired by the changes taking place in Russia. (Hobsbawm, 1996)

The Second International was a crucial event for subsequent developments in Russia. Luminaries such as Kautsky, Lenin and Trotsky discussed and debated over the future course of action, which would manifest itself as the October Revolution. In spite of the success of the violent revolutionary approach to the formation of the Russian Communist state, such a model of social change would not be viable elsewhere in the world, particularly in Europe. The third world would have been conducive to such forced social change had communist ideology taken hold at grassroots level there. But, political composition of Europe at the time was quite different. The 1920s was a time when many political ideologies were fighting for ascendancy in most nations of Europe. The communist movement did not gain a strong footing until the emergence of Fascism. As author Eric Hobsbawm notes,

“With some exceptions— Germany, France, Finland, perhaps Czechoslovakia—communist parties were small, marginal and politically insignificant. The Great Depression benefited the extreme Right and not the Left, and destroyed the one European communist party which had carried the hopes of Moscow—the KPD. Conversely, as soon as the communist movement shifted to the strategy of ‘anti-fascism’, European communism began its ascent, which brought all the communist parties of the continent—except the unfortunate German one—to the highest point of their public support and political influence, and, in Eastern Europe, produced a number of regimes dominated by communist parties, some of which were based on home-grown revolutions (Yugoslavia, Albania) or—as the relatively free Czech elections demonstrated—on genuine mass support”. (Hobsbawm, 1996)

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