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YOUNG: States of repression
Contrary to communist theory, freedom withers away, not the state
The only thing "new" in North Korea's new year is that their hell is under new management. "The great leader," Kim Jong-il, has been replaced by Kim Jong-un, "the great successor," but the state that causes incomprehensible misery for its unfortunate inhabitants continues tyrannically along.
Under communism, the state is supposed to wither away; instead, it becomes ubiquitous. Why? The answer is economics.
Frederick Engels, who should know a thing or two about communism, wrote, "the state is only a transitional institution ... as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist."
The reason Karl Marx and Engels believed this is because they saw all preceding history as one of class conflict. Capitalism was the final conflict, with communism its ultimate resolution. Once workers gained ascendancy, the communist society would end all class conflict through complete equality. Thus, the state, heretofore a tool for repressing the subservient class, would no longer be needed.
That was the theory. The practice has been - and continues to be - entirely different. Instead of capitalism producing communism as Marx theorized, communism can exist only by suppressing capitalism.
For the most part, mercifully, communist states are mere remnants from the past century and based on an outdated ideology. Those that have existed have lasted for only relatively short durations. The longest-lived, the former Soviet Union, survived only about seven decades. North Korea is only about 60 years old.
Comparatively young, existing communist states have persisted long enough for generations to have been born into them, knowing no other society. Far from withering away, these states have remained strong and repressive. The one thing communist societies generally do well is repress.
For Marx, the driving force of history was economics. It is paramount now, too - only not as Marx had hoped. Capitalism, the most efficient economic system the world has ever seen, has still not been supplanted. Little wonder, then, that it is so pervasive - not only across the globe, but throughout societies in which it is allowed to exist. Absent barriers to economic freedom, capitalism is the natural state of economic relations.
Rather than being the end of economic conflict, communism is in constant conflict with the laws of economics. Communism, therefore, only exists in conflict with the desire of the majority of the citizens it rules. Because of capitalism's pervasive nature, the state seeking to stop it must be equally pervasive and invasive as well.
Communism's effort to undo the laws of economics is akin to trying to reverse the law of gravity. It cannot be done, any more than Isaac Newton's apple should fall upward. Communist states' only hope - and constant effort - is to try to keep the apple suspended, forever tying them to the tree.
Communists themselves are fully aware of the difficulty of their task. Engels clearly declared the state would continue to exist in communist society. The rest of the earlier quotation reads, "so long as the proletariat still uses the state, it does not use it in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries."
The problem is that communist states can never evolve past this. At odds with the laws of economics, they become equally at odds with the wishes of their citizens. The state continues to become more pervasive, invasive and repressive to the degree it seeks to refute the laws of economics.
Well after everyone else in a communist society has lost all illusions about the nature of the system, the state seeks to continue to enforce the mirage.
The result becomes a caricature that no one believes but few dare contradict. As Anne Applebaum wrote in her book "Gulag: AHistory": "The communist era proverb, 'They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work,' could once be heard in most of the languages of the old Warsaw Pact."
As so many communist societies collapse, rather than disappear, the state as a repressive apparatus is all that remains.
The left have been very evasive about communism itself - for the reason that it sympathizes with many of its goals. Yet leftists have been even more evasive when it comes to the lesson the communist state provides about economics and personal freedom. Under communism, the suppression of economic freedom has led to repression.
The greater the desire to deviate from the laws of economics, the greater is the force needed to preserve the deviation, and the greater will be the need to restrict personal freedom. This is a lesson not limited to communist societies - it is one we would do well to remember in our own.
J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget and as a congressional staff member.
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