Collective Ownership, Worker’s Control, Autonomy, Anarchism, Communism, the Spanish Revolution, and their Suppression by Capitalist Empires

By the 1950s, America’s corporations and government began to take full advantage of the lack of resistance to their practices. The American government had spread its hegemonic empire to defeated nations from the first and second world war and was using the so-called “threat of communism” as an excuse to colonize more territory and crush unions, worker collectives, and autonomous movements. Because of the nauseating, interminable stream of ubiquitous advertisements, propaganda, and other tools of emotional and physical coercion, many Americans were changing. Many indigenous cultures and generations of disillusioned individuals saw for thousands of years and continue to recognize that the pursuit of wealth by any means necessary is destructive, not only for the individuals who pursue it but for the planet as a whole. But unfortunately most of these people have not been able to organize as efficiently to spread equity. The desire for money, power, control, and the tools and institutions to meet those ends have outpaced the development of defensive tools and organizations to stop them, and many of the latter have been crushed by former.

Many autonomous cultures still function via communal or collective ownership, libertarian socialism, and collaboration instead of capitalism. But these concepts are not widespread in heavily governed regions because their rulers oppose them and often forcefully crush them as the Nationalists led by Francisco Franco supported by the governments of Nazi Germany, Portugal, Italy, and America and the Soviet Union did to the incredible Spanish Revolution of 1936 led by the the Popular Front, CNT/FAI, (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo / Federación Anarquista Ibérica), the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxist or the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification), the UGT (the Unión General de Trabajadores or the General Union of Workers) and others. It is very much worth discussing because it is one of the best examples of anarchism and libertarian socialism in action in an empire and the fact that several empires collaborated together to crush it exemplifies the fact that their goals are all the same, despite their rhetoric.

The Spanish Revolution was catalyzed in part by the so-called “Tragic Week” of 1909, which was a series of confrontations between the army and the working class of the Spain caused by conscription for an unjust war. Premier Antonio Maura ordered a brigade of active and reserve units in Catalonia to fight in the Second Melillan Campaign in the Rif War, a Spanish colonial war in Algeria. 520 of the soldiers called upon to fight had already served 6 years, and they were given two choices: they could serve or they could pay 6000 reales each for someone to replace them. In retaliation a group of conscripts boarded a ship belonging to a Catholic industrialist, disrupting a bourgeois award ceremony filled with ruling elites. To show their disdain, the soldiers threw the war medals overboard. The union Solidaridad Obrera called for a general strike on July 26 1909 in response to the soldiers action and the Premier’s order for more troops. The next day workers halted trains filled with troops and upturned trams in an effort to disrupt the war effort. Riots erupted and convents were burned because the Catholic Church was part of the ruling class and the sons of priests were exempt from conscription. Martial law was declared and troops were brought in to quell dissent. But Barcelonian troops refused to harm the workers so troops from surrounding cities were called in who killed over 100 workers, ending the revolt. This helped slowly set the Revolution in motion as workers organized further, striking the state in several attempted insurrections before 1936.

The Revolution radically changed the nature of just about every aspect of Catalan society. Peter Gelderloos explains in his book, The Failure of Nonviolence,“Workers collectivized their workplaces-everything from the trams to the factories, hotels, fishing fleets, and hospitals-kicked out the bosses and started organizing production on their own, increasing salaries and benefits, lowering prices in the case of public services like transportation, and forming delegations to procure materials and arrange distribution. Throughout Catalunya, [Catalonia in Catalan] the union of medical workers, primarily anarchists, established several new hospitals and health centers, and provided health-care to everyone, including small villages the capitalist health-care system had never bothered servicing. In the countryside of Aragon, Catalunya, Valencia, and Castile, peasants collectivized the land, they kicked out landlords, and priests, and they abolished money. Sometimes, they arranged the distribution of food and other goods with vouchers, applying every family with as much as they needed while also sending food to the workers’ militias on the front, and in many cases they created communes in which people could go into the storehouses and freely take whatever they needed, writing it down in a notebook for the sake of keeping track,” pg 241.

Priests were still apart of the oppressive ruling structure and so they were targeted as well: “….it was common practice for priests to act as snipers and open fire on workers or farmers from the church tower (this was exactly what sparked the burning of churches in Barcelona during the “Tragic Week” insurrection of 1909). What’s more, in the worker’s and peasants’ insurrections between 1932 and 1934 in Casas Viejas, Figols, and Asturias, peasants simply declared libertarian communism, burned the land titles, and informed the priests and landlords that they would be welcome to farm alongside the others and live in peace, but that they could no longer hold onto their authority. When the military came in and brutally repressed the communes, it was those same priests and landlords who gave the military the names of dozens of radical peasants, leading to their executions,” (page 242).

Gelderloos explains not all of the workers engaged in armed revolt during the Revolution and the differences in their fates were all too clear: “In Barcelona, the anarchists were armed and had already decided on a course of insurrection. In Zaragosa the anarchists were generally unarmed and favored a strategy of union organizing to create a larger union that could win improvements gradually. In Barcelona, the anarchists defeated the military and were able to carry out a revolution. In Zaragoza, the fascists triumphed in the first days of the coup and lined up all the radicals and rebellious workers before the firing squad. In a few months, there were no anarchists lefts in Zaragoza.” pg 242.

George Orwell who joined the POUM to fight the fascists in 1936 made similar observations in his book about his experiences, Homage to Catalonia, “Land was seized by the peasants; many factories and most of the transport were seized by the trade unions; churches were wrecked and the priests driven out or killed. The Daily Mail, amid the cheers of the Catholic clergy, was able to represent Franco as a patriot delivering his country from hordes of fiendish ‘Reds’,” pg 37. Orwell elaborates later on in his book why Churches were targeted: “Actually churches were pillaged everywhere and as a matter of course, because it was perfectly well understood that the Spanish Church was part of the capitalist racket. In six months in Spain I only saw two undamaged churches, and until about July 1937 no churches were allowed to reopen and hold services, except for one or two Protestant churches in Madrid,” pg. 40.

The fact that the militias that fought the fascists in the Revolution were voluntarily formed and absent of hierarchy and still were able to make amazing victories is a testament to the utility of horizontal relations and bottom up organization in all aspects of life. Orwell explains of the POUM “if a man disliked an order he would step out of the ranks and argue fiercely with the officer,” page 9. Orwell’s lieutenant didn’t even want to be called sir. “Everyone from general to private drew the same pay, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, and mingled on terms of complete equality…There were officers and N.C.O.S. but there was no military rank in the ordinary sense; no titles, no badges, no heel-clicking and saluting. They had attempted to produce within the militias a sort of temporary working model of the classless society,” pg 22. While state armies that use conscription are funded by extortion (taxes), Orwell notes these voluntary militias fighting in Spain operated better because their members weren’t motivated by fear, hate, and greed but by reason and compassion:“Revolutionary’ discipline depends on political consciousness–on an understanding of why orders must be obeyed; it takes time to diffuse this, but it also takes time to drill a man into an automaton on the barrack-square,” (page 23).

Orwell makes the same observation in his book that Gelderloos does about how the Revolution was sabotaged most by the Spanish Republic and the Soviet Union: “The thing for which the Communists [in power, not the rank and file] were working was not to postpone the Spanish revolution till a more suitable time, but to make sure that it never happened. This became more and more obvious as time went on, as power was twisted more and more out of working-class hands, and as more and more revolutionaries of every shade were flung into jail. Every move was made in the name of military necessity, because this pretext was, so to speak, ready-made, but the effect was to drive the workers back from an advantageous position and into a position in which, when the war was over, they would find it impossible to resist the reintroduction of capitalism” pg 52. Gelderloos notes the Soviet Union “sent planes and tanks only in exchange for Spanish gold reserves and organized the International Brigades more to provide themselves with an underhanded way to kill off Trotskyists, council communists, and dissident socialists, and to suppress anarchist communes than to effectively combat the fascists,” (page 244.)

Francisco Largo Caballero, one of the leaders of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and the UGT was designated the Prime Minister of the Second Spanish Republic on September 4 1936, a few months into the war. Caballero was sympathetic to the workers, instituted an 8 hour work day, and engaged in armed uprisings with other workers in the past. But when Caballero was forced to resign on May 17th 1937, the conservative Juan Negrín took his place. Orwell notes “By the autumn of 1937 the ‘Socialist’ Negrin was declaring in public speeches that ‘we respect private property’, and members of the Cortes who at the beginning of the war had had to fly the country because of their suspected Fascist sympathies were returning to Spain,” pg 43. He further notes “Everyone who has made two visits, at intervals of months, to Barcelona during the war has remarked upon the extraordinary changes that took place in it. And curiously enough, whether they went there first in August and again in January, or, like myself, first in December and again in April, the thing they said was always the same: that the revolutionary atmosphere had vanished,” pg 83.

All individuals who owned guns and didn’t work for the government were ordered by Negrin to surrender their arms, and the Spanish Civil guards were brought back to attack anarchist strongholds like the Customs office in Puigcerda where Antonio Martin was killed. Trade union members were excluded from police forces and huge seizures of arms were made from CNT strongholds. One of Negrin’s other initial acts as PM was outlawing the POUM on June 16th 1937, declaring war on it, and representing it as a “fascist” organization in pay of Hitler and Franco when, in fact, they were fighting the fascists. Orwell recalls of the POUM, “All its offices, book-stalls, sanatoria, Red Aid centres, and so forth were seized…And the most fantastic people had been arrested. In some cases the police had even gone to the length of dragging wounded militiamen out of the hospitals,” page 154- 155. The commander of the POUM militia unit Orwell had joined, Georges Kopp, was also imprisoned. Of the prison Kopp was held in Orwell wrote” The so-called jail was really the ground floor of a shop. Into two rooms each measuring about twenty feet square, close on a hundred people were penned….There were several of the wounded men from the Sanatorium Maurin among the prisoners. Two of them had amputated legs; one of them had been brought to prison without his crutch and was hopping about on one foot. There was also a boy of not more than twelve; they were even arresting children, apparently. The place had the beastly stench that you always get when crowds of people are penned together without proper sanitary arrangements,” page 163-164. Many were arrested without trial. Orwell noted “The jails were places that could only be described as dungeons. In England you would have to go back to the eighteenth century to find anything comparable. People were penned together in small rooms where there was barely space for them to lie down, and often they were kept in cellars and other dark places. This was not as a temporary measure–there were cases of people being kept four and five months almost without sight of daylight. And they were fed on a filthy and insufficient diet of two plates of soup and two pieces of bread a day,” page 162 . La Battala, a POUM publication was raided and seized by the Civil Guards. Orwells notes the paper was “still appearing, but it was censored until the front page was almost completely blank,” page 108. The telephone Exchange run by the CNT was also raided and taken over by the government.

Of course, the corporate media supported Franco and vilified the unions and voluntary militias fighting the fascists. Explaining why, Orwell notes “It hardly needs pointing out why ‘liberal’ capitalist opinion took the same line. Foreign capital was heavily invested in Spain. The Barcelona Traction Company, for instance, represented ten millions of British capital; and meanwhile the trade unions had seized all the transport in Catalonia. If the revolution went forward there would be no compensation, or very little; if the capitalist republic prevailed, foreign investments would be safe….According to the Daily Worker (6 August 1936) those who said that the Spanish people were fighting for social revolution, or for anything other than bourgeois democracy, were’ downright lying scoundrels’.” pg 39-40. Orwell further notes “The Daily Mail, with its tales of red revolution financed by Moscow, was even more wildly wrong than usual. In reality it was the Communists above all others who prevented revolution in Spain. Later, when the Right-wing forces were in full control, the Communists showed themselves willing to go a great deal further than the Liberals in hunting down the revolutionary leaders,” pg 44.

Meanwhile, unions in America have been attacked with about the same fervor as unions in Spain. Even regular workers unions with far less ambition in America have been in incredible decline since the Cold War era’s demonization and criminalization of everything socialist or worker controlled. In 2016 in America, just 6.4% of private sector workers were in unions, down from 20.1% in 1983 and 34.8% of salaried workers in 1954.1 However, state workers are allowed and encouraged to unionize and represent half of the unionized workers in the country, which is not surprising as the government allows itself everything denied to the public. The decline in American private sector unions was largely set in motion by the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 also known as the Taft-Hartley Act, which restricted the power and activities of unions and was dubbed the “slave labor bill” by labor leaders. The Act essentially made unions toothless by outlawing wildcat strikes, jurisdictional strikes, secondary boycotts, solidarity or political strikes, mass picketing, closed shops, and union donations to political campaigns for federal office. The Act also allowed employers to make anti-union statements in the workplace and to terminate supervisors who engaged with unions. It also obligated union leaders to file affidavits with the United States Department of Labor, condemning the Communist Party. President Truman called the Taft Hartley Act a “dangerous intrusion on free speech,” yet he proved to be a lying hypocrite like all US Presidents when he used the Act twelve times in office.

A significant side-note is that there is a large difference between base unions (sometimes called rank-and-file unions) and professional, large unions incorporated into the government. In his book the Failure of Nonviolence, Peter Gelderloos calls trade unions “essentially a pyramid scheme, a mafia, or an arm of leftwing political parties,” whereas base unions are “created in the workplace without paid, nonworking members, and not subsidized by the government,” (Gelderloos, pg 262). Of course, when unions aren’t being demonized and crushed altogether by the government and corporations, they occasionally promote trade unions as an alternative to base unions in an attempt to appease disgruntled workers without significantly improving their working conditions.

Many union members and workers on strike have been killed in the US as well. For example, Union members who worked at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago were locked out of the company in February 1886 for advocating for an 8-hour workday. 400 police were deployed to protect strikebreakers and when the strikers tried to approach the gate of the company to talk to strikebreakers on May 3rd, police killed between two and six workers. (There were conflicting reports about how many were killed). In response anarchists called for a rally to take place the next day at the commercial center of Haymarket Square. At the rally an unknown person detonated a bomb, killing 4 civilians and 7 cops. Despite a complete lack of evidence, eight anarchists were convicted of “conspiracy” in connection to the bombing, 7 were sentenced to death, and one to a term of 15 years to life in prison just for their political affiliations and union activities. Only two of them were even present the rally at the time of bombing. The prosecution argued that because the defendants had not discouraged the bombthrower, they were “conspirators”. This argument, aside from being incredibly weak, is based on the assumption they knew the bomb thrower, which wasn’t proven as the bombthrower was never identified. The jury was almost entirely prejudiced against the defendants and no union members or socialists were allowed to be jurors in the trial.

The Ludlow massacre is an even more horrifying example. Of course, this book doesn’t condone coal mining but what happened to the coal miners’ families in the Ludlow massacre was inexcusable and had nothing to do with environmentally destructive impacts of coal mining. Coal miners had been on strike since 1913 in Colorado prior to the massacre to protest the dangerous working conditions they were regularly exposed to. Many employees had died from collapsing mine walls, suffocation, and explosion and workers fatalities were higher in Colorado than any other US state. In fact, 1700 were killed from 1884 to 1912 from mining accidents. The United Mine Workers of America demanded an 8 hour work day and improved working conditions, which were denied by major coal companies and so a strike was called in September 1913. Strikers were evicted from their company homes and forced to move to tent villages created by the union. Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency was hired by mine owners to randomly shoot the tent villages from an armored car mounted with a machine gun dubbed the “Death Special” by workers, resulting in the maiming and deaths of numerous workers. Miners had to dig pits below their tents to protect themselves from the gun fire. The Colorado National Guard was then called in on October 28 1913 by Colorado governor Elias M. Ammons to harass and kill striking workers and protect non-union workers. On April 20th 1914, the conflict reached its peak when the National Guard set fire to the tent colony. Four women and 11 children hid beneath one tent that was set ablaze and as they tried to escape they were shot by guardsmen who then hacked up their bodies. Julia May Courtney of Mother Earth magazine reported 55 women and children died in the fire. Infants as young as three months like Elvira Valdez were killed in the fire. At least two women and 11 children were killed in one tent alone according to Carl Watner. The Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912, in which 50 miners and their family members were killed and the Battle of Blair Mountain, in which 50-100 union miners were killed are similar examples.

Another example is the Wheatland hop riot in California, which took place on August 3, 1913. The 640 acre Durst ranch in Wheatland was the largest agricultural employer at the time and hundreds of workers were hired in the summer to help harvest. The Dursts were virulently racist and advertised jobs for every white farm worker who arrived by August 5th. Living conditions for the workers on the farm were odious, workers were charged to stay in their tents, toilets were filthy and overflowing, temperatures often reached 110 F during the day, Durst refused to supply drinking water and instead allowed his cousin to sell artificial lemonade on site, and workers were only paid $1 per 100 pounds of hops picked, which were weighed with no workers present. 10% of the workers pay was also withheld until the end of the harvest season and those who didn’t stay the whole season forfeited that portion of their pay. In response workers demanded meager improvements: $1.25 per 100 pounds of hops picked to be weighed in front of workers, free drinking water, an improvement to the toilets, and assistants for the women and children with heavy lifting. Durst refused to increase pay and ordered police to arrest former IWW member, Richard “Blackie” Ford, leading the workers for threatening to strike. When the sheriff and his posse came to arrest Ford, the workers tried to stop him, to which the sheriff responded by firing into the air, instigating a conflict. The district attorney, the sheriff, and two hop pickers died in the fight, and one worker lost an arm and later hung himself in prison. Governor Hiram Johnson called in the National Guard and police arrested 100 workers who were starved, beaten, and threatened with death to coerce them into testifying against the leaders of the strike. Ford and another strike leader, Herman D. Suhr, were inexplicably charged with murder. Of course, the press vilified the workers and the IWW. The Marysville Democrat, for example, condemned them as “venomous human snakes” and “more dangerous and deadly than the wild animals of the jungles”. Both were sentenced to life in prison.

Another example is the Thibodaux massacre, which took place in Louisiana in November 1887. In the 1880s workers on the sugar fields had their pay cut and were paid in scrip or “pasteboard tickets” instead of cash that could only be redeemed at company stores where goods were sold at a markup, making workers dependent on their employers. 80% of the their pay was also withheld until the end of the harvest to force workers to stay. The labor organization, Knights of Labor, organized three-week strikes in response, demanding $1.25 per day distributed on a biweekly basis instead of scrip payments. Sugar plantation owners contacted Louisiana Governor, Samuel Douglas McEnery, who ordered ten infantry companies and a state militia artillery to evict the workers from their houses, make arrests, protect scabs, and suppress the strikes. 20 strikers were killed or wounded on November 5 in Pattersonville alone. Parish District Judge, former Confederate, and former slave owner, Taylor Beattie declared marital law and demanded blacks show a pass to enter or leave. He also recruited 300 whites to round up black workers and their families, as well known and suspected Knights of Labor organizers. At least 35 black people were killed but some historians estimate the figure is closer to 300, putting an end to labor organizing among sugar workers who were forced to continue working on their employer’s terms. Racist Jim Crow laws were passed soon after as well.

As one final example, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 took place on July 14 in West Virginia when Baltimore & Ohio Railroad company slashed wages for the third time in one year. Federal troops and local and state militias were deployed in response to quell the strike, bringing it to an end in 45 days. Railroad workers who were not unionized then went on strike for the same reason in cities across the country. At the request of Baltimore & Ohio Railroad President, John Work Garrett, the Sixth Regiment in Baltimore (now the Maryland National Guard) was ordered by Maryland Governor, John Lee Carroll, to put down the strikes there where they killed 10 civilians. The Marines and federal troops were then sent in. State militias were ordered by Governor John Hartranft to put down strikes in Pittsburgh where they killed 20 strikers. Infuriated, strikers forced the militia to retreat into a railroad roundhouse and razed 39 buildings, 1,245 freight and passenger cars, and 104 locomotives. But state militia members shot their way out, killing 20 more strikers. In Reading Pennsylvania the state militia shot 16 civilians. A city militia organized by the mayor in Shamokin killed 2 and wounded 12. A posse organized by general manager of the Lackawanna Iron & Coal Company, William Walker Scranton, killed 4 in Scranton. And the US army and the Illinois National Guard were deployed to crush the strike in Chicago where they killed 20 men and boys.

Progressive ideas about autonomy, anarchy, workers control, and collaboration are much older than some realize, as is state repression of them. When altruistic groups and individuals try to promote these ideas, their efforts are often crushed too. Many Greek philosophers supported the idea of communal ownership, but the idea did not spread to surrounding areas. Some religious passages also endorse communal ownership and universal equality, but the strongest and largest religious empires that grew over time never had these principles in mind. They were always modeled after colonialism and imperialism, which they helped make so ubiquitous.

In England (once the largest empire on Earth before the US government was founded) various movements arose during its civil war that aimed to separate themselves from the Church of England and great political powers of England. They were called the English Dissenters. One group of Dissenters called the Diggers was agrarian, egalitarian, and socialist in nature and believed in economic and social equality and communal ownership. When they started growing vegetables on common land on St George’s Hill in Weybridge, of course, this was opposed by the powers that be, specifically Lord of the Manor, Francis Drake, who organized gangs to beat the Diggers and set fire to their communal houses. The Diggers then moved to Little Heath near Cobham and started planting and building again only to receive the same treatment from the Lord of the manor of Cobham, Parson John Platt. They were again beaten and driven off. Another colony of Diggers was established at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire where its members were arrested and although they were guilty of nothing, the judicial officer kept them imprisoned anyway. Although the movement was destroyed by the tyrannical, religious oligarchy of England, it serve as an inspiration for other egalitarian and libertarian socialist, money-less communities many years later.

In 18th century France, many other anti-monarchist movements formed, and these movements eventually lead to the French Revolution of 1789. This revolution resulted in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which stated that the “rights of man are universal.” A republic was formed in 1792 and the former King of France, King Louis XVI, was executed in 1793. Various power changes occurred in the following years due to clashes between the ruling classes and the leftist anti-monarchist movements. Freedom of religion was established in France in 1789, same-sex relationships were decriminalized in 1791, and Jews were granted civil rights in 1791. Black people received their civil rights two years later in France. That same year price controls were established for food, and slavery was abolished in French colonies abroad.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, a prominent French thinker who helped spark some of these reforms was another proponent of order through popular sovereignty or direct democracy. Many astute French thinkers echoed support for similar reforms after the Revolutions. But ultimately they were not able to achieve long-term reformation. France reverted back to an imperial monarchy when Napoleon Bonaparte took power in 1799. As a vicious dictator, Bonaparte and his monarchy invaded and plundered many neighboring countries. However, the ideas of the Revolutions did not die and they served as an inspiration for future revolutions like the French Revolutions of 1830 and 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871.

Communal ownership and universal rights served as the foundation for communalism as it was originally conceived. However, communalism never gained quite the popularity that communism did. Communism comes from the Latin communis, meaning common or universal. Karl Marx, (1818-1883) a philosopher and historian, often erroneously credited with the invention of the philosophy of communism (communist movements like the Diggers preceded Marx by many years) was in large part responsible for the popularization of communism. He was born into a rather wealthy family in Trier or formally Prussian Rhineland in Germany, but despite this he publicly advocated for the rights of the poor and the working class for most of his life. However, privately Marx was a very controlling and power-hungry authoritarian. He believed that the state should be replaced by a minority of intellectuals like himself that he dubbed the “revolutionary vanguard,”which would act on behalf of the people as a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Marx advocated state communism rather than libertarian communism (the difference will be explained in the next section) with the state only being eradicated in the “final stage”. However, put into practice a transitory dictatorship of the proletariat will never allow “final stage” to come to fruition.

Marx played a large role in the International Workingmen’s Association, also called the First International, which attracted many progressive thinkers, socialists, anarchists, communalists, communists, and collectivists and helped shape the Paris Commune and later revolutions. But Marx himself expelled brilliant, socialist anarchists from the First International like Mikhail Bakunin and James Guillame who disagreed with Marx that there should be a temporary rule of intellectuals and instead favored anarchy, individual autonomy, and voluntarily formed communities organized from the bottom up instead of from the top down as in a traditional hierarchy. Bakunin warned that a minority of intellectuals in power would replace the Tsardom of Russia and eventually become even more corrupt and despotic, and this turned out to be exactly what happened.

While Marx’s version of state communism spread and led to a number of popular movements and power changes, the authoritarian aspect of his communism was eventually pushed to brutal extremes and the rest of the egalitarian aspects of his communism were all but discarded, first by the Soviet Union and then by many of their proxy governments. Most current “communist” governments are not at all communist, but are rather single-party, state capitalist dictatorships that pretend to endorse the popular idea of common control or workers control of the means of production and distribution to garner public support. The fact that they have a few elements of a socialist system is claimed to be enough to call them “socialist” governments. China stills calls itself a “socialist” republic when virtually their entire economy functions via unequal relations and trade, wage slavery, and the exploitation of the working class and children in their labor forces. America arguably has more socialist elements than China does. Actual socialism and non-authoritarian (libertarian) communism were demonized largely by America’s corporations and government because they are contrary to their economic interests. In fact, they also sought (and continue to seek) to associate all progressive ideologies with the most authoritarian forms of communism, denying there are any other kinds. But Soviet leaders like Stalin were dictators who did not care about collaboration or common control any more than America’s most conservative, capitalist politicians ever have.

Another reason there was so much imperial resistance to communism that remains today is that it encourages secularism and reason over fanaticism, blind faith, superstition, and religion. Marx was a strong advocate for secularism, and many other early communist thinkers were as well. In A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx explains:

[Religion] is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion…[Religion] is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.” – Karl Marx.

Marx was able to recognize why people believe they need religion, and why so many people cling to it, despite its harms. There is still a great deal that is unknown (and much more was unknown when Marx wrote this), so it is easier for some to delude themselves and believe in easy answers that can be temporarily alleviating or numbing like opium because they take away the burden of discovering tangible, scientific answers that may or may not be comforting. For some it’s much more comforting to believe things happen for moral reasons rather than believe the universe is governed by scientific laws indifferent to humanity.

Marx also believed religion and capitalism are very alienating. Religion and capitalism both make their adherents focus less on others and more on God and wealth, respectively, and they can be very isolating in this way. Marx believed these institutions take away our individuality and what little control we have over our lives because as wage slaves we rent ourselves to our employers who act as middlemen when we could be directly receiving the fruits of our own labor, and as religious adherents we give the rest of our lives to some entity we cannot see. No one is supposed to express his or her individuality as a wage slave in an assembly line, and to be capable of doing the same tasks over and over ad nauseam for a meager wage just to survive, you must begin to think more like a machine than a human being. But we never have to subject ourselves to this. We may call these jobs “temporary necessities” or “necessary evils,” but we should never give up our dignity, self-worth, or creativity to survive. We should never be contractually obligated or forced to sell ourselves or our labor and risk death if we don’t. We are so much more valuable than what our employers pay us for our labor and our ideas. Instead of being ruled by pretentious, self-important, greedy managers who use us like tools, we can collaborate in democratic workplaces and collectives with no management wherein everyone gets a vote on how to run the business and everyone gets a fair share, instead of petty wages. We can exchange our labor and facilitate transactions with other workers and consumers directly with no middle-men at all. We can share land, instead of rapaciously scrambling to claim ownership of every square inch of Earth and extracting everything of monetary value, thus preventing those who want to live on and work the land but who don’t have the money to “buy” it. We can barter, create a resource based economy, and a social currency or a credit system measured by good-will, overall efficiency, human and ecological needs, and our abilities. These would be far better alternatives to fiat currency and wage slavery that would allow everyone to contribute to their environments in ways that they are capable so that we could be afforded basic rights. I believe this may be one of the most important revolutionary actions that can be taken to radically improve the human condition and our ecosystems, which can flourish without human interference.

1 Economic News Release: Union Member Summary. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. January 26, 2017. and Gerald Mayer: Union Membership Trends in the United States. August, 31, 2004. Washington, DC. Congressional Research Service. Page CRS-12.

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