Richard Pipes on Communism

 Posted by on 3 April 2004 at 2:25 pm  Uncategorized
Apr 032004

I’m presently reading Richard Pipes’ excellent short history of communism, aptly titled Communism: A History. As people often claim that communism appeals to the poor, I was particularly intrigued to read his comments on that point:

Conventional wisdom holds that poverty breeds Communism. Reality is different: poor countries do not opt for Communism. Nowhere in the world has a poor majority, or any majority for that matter, voted the Communists into power. Rather, poor countries are less able to resist Communist takeovers because they lack the institutions that in richer, more advanced societies thwart aspiring radical dictators. It is the absence of institutions making for affluence, especially the rights of property and the rule of law, that keeps countries poor and, at the same time, makes them vulnerable to dictatorships, whether of the left or right variety. In the words of a student of the Cambodian Communist regime, the most extreme on record, ‘the absence of effective intermediary structures between the people and their successive leaders predisposed the society to the unrestrained exercise of power.’ Thus, the same factors that keep countries poor–above all, lawlessness–facilitate Communist takeovers.

Although my other readings on communism haven’t addressed this question directly, the fact that communist revolutions were instigated and sustained by Marxist intellectuals rather than the proletariat and that Russian peasants resisted collectivization certainly lends credence to Pipes’ view.

The poor lack money and education, but they aren’t morons. (Unlike far too many western intellectuals, I might add.)

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