Communism, Socialism and Spirituality
I was born in Kerala, the southernmost state of India. Kerala has many socio-economic-cultural peculiarities. It was one of the first instances of a Communist government coming to power through a democratic system. The people of Kerala will forever be indebted to the first Communist government in the state for their legislations and attempted reforms that had far reaching consequences. Instead of ossifying into an autocratic force, Kerala’s communists embraced electoral politics and since 1957 have been routinely voted into power. Instead of being associated with repression or failure, the party of Marx is widely associated with huge investments in education that have produced 100% percent literacy rate, the highest in India, and a health-care system where citizens earning only a few dollars a day still qualify for free heart surgery. This modern incarnation of communism also has produced one of the stranger paradoxes of the global economy: millions of healthy, educated workers setting off to the supercharged, capitalist economies of the Persian Gulf dreaming of riches and increasingly finding them.
Communism is the philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes. In the Principles of Communism, Frederick Engels, said, “Finally, when all capital, all production, all exchange have been brought together in the hands of the nation, private property will disappear of its own accord, money will become superfluous, and production will so expand and man so change that society will be able to slough off whatever of its old economic habits may remain”.
It is based on an analysis that the current order of society stems from its economic system, capitalism; that in this system there are two major social classes; that conflict between these two classes is the root of all problems in society; and that this situation will ultimately be resolved through a social revolution. The two classes are the working class—who must work to survive and who make up the majority within society—and the capitalist class—a minority who derives profit from employing the working class through private ownership of the means of production. The revolution will put the working class in power and in turn establish social ownership of the means of production, which according to this analysis is the primary element in the transformation of society towards communism.
As per the Constitution, India is a Socialist Republic. Many other countries have adopted some aspects of socialism. The United Kingdom provides basic needs like healthcare to everyone regardless of their time or effort at work. In the U.S., welfare and the public education system are a form of socialism. But is this the Socialism in its true spirit? Like communism, socialism’s main focus is on equality. But workers earn wages they can spend as they choose, while the government, not citizens, owns and operates the means for production. Workers receive what they need to produce and survive, but there’s no incentive to achieve more, leaving little motivation.
Present day Socialism, as adopted by many countries, is diluted form of Communism, in principle. May be an oversimplified statement: People who are not courageous to become a Communist will become Socialists ! Both are economic and political structures that promote equality and seek to eliminate social classes. The two are interchangeable in some ways, but different in others. In a communist society, the working class owns everything, and everyone works toward the same communal goal. Winston Churchill told “the inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries”. A distribution of pain and pleasure is better than always the same persons having pain and pleasures. Isn’t it?
The history of socialism has its origins in the 1789 French Revolution and the changes which it wrought, although it has precedents in earlier movements and ideas. The Communist Manifesto was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 just before the Revolutions of 1848 swept Europe, expressing what they termed “scientific socialism”. Through most of their history, movements that call themselves socialist have been focused on changing the economic system of their respective nations from capitalism or feudalism to socialism – social control of the means of production. Modern “socialism,” or social democracy, is therefore a movement to make conditions under capitalism better through government, and not actually make any move toward the original idea of “socialism”.
If you look at the world purely from an economic angle, no other dream is better than a Communist society. In a Communist society, the working class owns everything, and everyone works toward the same communal goal. There are no wealthy or poor people — all are equal, and the community distributes what it produces based only on need. Nothing is obtained by working more than what is required. Even though this principle is noble as a theory, if you look into the history Communism, it resulted in low production, mass poverty and limited advancement. Poverty spread so widely in the Soviet Union in the 1980s that its citizens revolted. I think, the Communists failed to factor-in the human psychology.
As a social structure, both these concepts are the opposite of capitalism, where limitations don’t exist and reward comes to those who go beyond the minimum. In capitalist societies, owners are allowed to keep the excess production they earn. And competition occurs naturally, which fosters advancement. Capitalism tends to create a sharp divide between the wealthiest citizens and the poorest, also, the wealthiest owning the majority of the nation’s resources. The world’s richest 1% own half the world’s wealth, according to recent report highlighting the growing gap between the super-rich and everyone else.
Across the world, Communists have underestimated the resilience of religion, which they maintain is ‘false consciousness’ that is bound to wither away in time under the irresistible influence of progress. In the former Soviet Union and Communist-controlled Eastern Europe, where, for many decades, religion was sought to be eradicated from public life and gradually from ‘life itself’, the spectacular resurgence of religion tells a different story. In a recent survey of 18 ex-Communist countries, huge majorities professed their faith in Religion, from 71% in Russia to 87% in Poland and 88% in Serbia. This profession of faith was also linked with nationalism and socially conservative views.
But what is religion? Now, it is synonymous with nothing but a doctrine, an organized institution, a belief system, a fictitious God, heaven and hell, and a great priesthood which functions as a mediator between you and God and exploits you in the name of religion. If you look deep into the origin and evolution of religions, Spirituality is the true essence, and the true origin, of every such movement. Buddha was not Buddhist; Jesus was not Christian. They were spiritual and had a group of disciples who were also, in great part, moved by a spiritual search.
But as centuries pass, as the groups start increasing and social acceptance grows, people who are not really burning with that spiritual drive start joining in and redefining the movement. Over a period of time the spiritual element of each religious movement gets watered down or distorted, and what is left is a social institution. Teachings become dogmas, principles become moral rules, spiritual practice becomes ritual, experiences become stories—in short, spirituality becomes religion. What was once private and intimate becomes a social institution with human centric philosophies. As Erric Hoffer said, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket”.
Recently I read an interesting article about Christian communism. It is a form of religious communism based on Christianity. It is a theological and political theory based upon the view that the teachings of Jesus Christ compel Christians to support communism as the ideal social system. Although there is no universal agreement on the exact date when Christian communism was founded, many Christian communists assert that evidence from the Bible suggests that the first Christians, including the Apostles, established their own small communist society in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. (Acts 2:44, 4:32–37; 5:1–12. Other verses are: Matthew 5:1–12, 6:24, Luke 3:11, 16:11, 2 Corinthians 8:13–15 and James 5:3.) As such, many advocates of Christian communism argue that it was taught by Jesus and practiced by the Apostles themselves.
Broadly, Communism has three goals. To check the greed of capitalistic society. To check the fanaticism and fundamentalism of religious communities. To care for and share with the needy. Now let us look into the concept of Spirituality as a practice which may have the capability to restructure the world in various aspects. Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, contends that “spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.” While Religion asks you to sacrifice your present attachments for a promised future, Spirituality asks you to let go of your present attachments for a better present. Spirituality is not something that can be defined, is not something that can be answered. It is something that each one of us have to explore. No religious tradition has monopoly over Spirituality or spiritual insight.
Let us look into the meaning of Spirituality in its true sense. Spirituality does not mean looking up or looking down, praying or going to the temple or being part of an organized religion. Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to one another by a higher consciousness, and that connection is grounded in love and belonging. Being a spiritual is synonymous with being a person whose highest priority is to be loving to yourself and others. A spiritual person cares about people, animals and the planet. A spiritual person knows that we are all One, and consciously attempts to honor this Oneness. He is looking up to the very base of every existence – THE INTELLIGENCE – including in himself, all other creatures and the whole cosmos. A true spiritual process aims at the creation of a heightened consciousness at the individual level which must results in social justice, economical freedom, ecological balance and conflict resolution.
Anthony Douglas Williams-Inside the Divine Pattern – says “Spirituality does not come from religion. It comes from our soul. No one is born with religion. Everyone is born with spirituality.”
Mikhail Gorbachev was the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union, having been General Secretary of the governing Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He said recently, “the 21st century will be a century either of total all – embracing crisis or of moral and spiritual healing that will reinvigorate humankind. It is my conviction that all of us – all reasonable political leaders, all spiritual and ideological movements, all faiths – must help in this transition to a triumph of humanism and justice, in making the 21st century a century of a new human renaissance.”
What we can infer from the statement of Gorbachev? Only spirituality can bring fulfillment to communism? Only spirituality can check greed and open up the hearts of the rich to help the needy? There are multiple research reports suggest positive relationships between Spirituality and commitment to social justice advocacy and willingness to take individual action to combat injustice. We need to check the fanaticism and fundamentalism of religious groups and create a sense of belongingness in the whole world. We need to explore whether spirituality can brings up the tendency to care and share in one’s life. It is successful if it can bring about open mindedness and a progressive attitude. I think, Communism cannot fulfill its goals without Spirituality. It is impossible and time has proved it. Spirituality may nourish Communism.