Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Inequality, Communism, and Civilisation

Historian Will Durant addressed the origin of communism back in the dawn of human time. Communism was one of the original organising principles of human societies. From ancient North America to Peru to India to Borneo and the South Seas, primitive people held land and property in common, except for items of personal use. As long as living was precarious, and wealth scarce, communism proved a viable system for small and relatively isolated groups.

When trade between groupings and geographic regions became more prevalent, shock waves rushed through these placid islands of communist complacency. Trade brought currency and profit, emphasizing the concept of private belongings and properties. The natural inequality between people asserted itself in this new and uneasy economic environment. Some people and clans fell more easily into the role of trader and merchant. Thus the hated bourgeoise was born, and class warfare began. Agriculture likewise introduced the concept of surplus and profit, and different families and clans proved more efficient in the use of land than others--more illustration of natural inequality.

Before trade and agriculture, there was nothing that could be called civilisation. With trade, cities formed, and people specialised into different trades and professions. Priesthoods and nobility arose from questionable foundations, as did the warfare class. Artists and proto-scientists and mathematicians began to fill inevitable needs introduced by trade, and to create new needs. Surplus and profit among one group will breed envy and greed in other groups. Generals and kings wanted to skim the profit to wage wars of conquest or defense. Priests wanted their share for "the gods." Bureaucrats and functionaries of the state needed money to feed their families. Finally, those not blessed with good position, trade skills, merchant skills, and farming skills, resented the growing inequality of wealth between themselves and the rulers, priests, merchants, and tradesmen.

If inequality grew too great, and the deprived peoples grew too large, there was rebellion, or revolution. Rulers promising a more equitable division of resources gained a following, and gained power where they could. The new rulers would attempt to placate the people however they could, but if the society was to survive and not be overrun by more prosperous and ambitious neighbor clans/tribes/societies, even the new populist rulers were eventually forced to allow private property for farmers, merchants, and tradesmen. At that point, natural inequality between people once again asserted itself, and wealth inequality once again grew as large as ever, if not greater.

This cycle has repeated itself many times over the millenia--it did not originate with Marx and Lenin. It will not end with fools such as Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. It is a natural cycle, like the seasons, like the climate.

Wiser people who are not power grabbers will look into the deeper undercurrents of human action, as proven by history, and anticipate the actions of the opportunistic power grabbers such as Castro, Kim, Chavez and the like. Knowing that these greedy but crowd-flattering idiots only sow the seeds of future, greater hardship, sometimes wiser persons will be able to head off the more foolish of the masses. But this is sadly rare.

Communism and equality are compatible with each other, but not with civilisation. This is something the people of Eastern Europe discovered, as did enough of the people of Russia. The rulers of China were intelligent enough to open the doors to trade, allowing civilisation in China to return after the bloody cultural revolution. Their long range intentions are by no means understood by the outside, however.

If you want communism and equality, you had best find an isolated island without very much wealth, and outlaw trade. Your people may starve in bad years, as in politically oppressed regions of Africa, but that is the price to be paid for ideology, n'est pas?

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