Let’s play a game. Scroll through my comments section and take a shot of tequila whenever someone calls me a communist for supporting LGBTQ+ rights, or asking people to be a little less racist, or—and you died of alcohol poisoning. If I mixed my metaphors every time someone on social media claimed to uphold democratic values while conflating basic decency with communism, I’d have thousands of nickels.
Poor analogies are the point.
When the word “communism” is casually wielded like a slanderous cudgel, it’s critical to first define some relevant key terms. (I finally get to use my Poli Sci degree!)
Very, very broadly, communism is an economic and political theory wherein a society’s means of production (factories, shipyards, farms, etc.) and property are communally owned by its citizens. Meanwhile, democracy is a political and philosophical system wherein the people (“demos”) control governmental power (“kratia”). The latter entails, but is not limited to, freedom of speech, assembly, the press, and the ability to elect and remove policymakers.
Now that we’ve defined communism, let’s discuss what it’s not:
- Allowing professional athletes to exercise their democratic freedom of expression by kneeling, sitting, or doing cartwheels during the National Anthem has nothing to do with land redistribution.
- Asking police officers to stop killing unarmed black citizens is wholly unrelated to establishing soviet councils.
- Demanding women be paid the same as men for their work will not nationalize Fortune 500 companies.
- Insisting the LGBTQ+ community has the same rights as everyone else does not inexorably lead to the abolition of private property.
- Acknowledging scientific principles such as vaccine efficacy, climate change, and coronavirus spread is not a Marxist foundational tenet.
- Confronting implicit and explicit bigotry as it happens does not abolish the bourgeoise.
- Maintaining that all citizens, regardless of race, class, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, should enjoy the same opportunities to vote and succeed in their endeavors does not indelibly result in a workers’ revolution.
None of the above are communist concepts. They are quintessential democratic, though that does not stop many in this country from claiming otherwise.
Communism and democracy are wholly independent, as borne out by recent history. The 20th century is replete with countries that were both rabidly anti-communist and anti-democratic (Trujillo’s Dominican Republic, Pinochet’s Chile, Fujimori’s Perú, etc.). Narrowing our focus to the United States, those who use the term “communism” as a pejorative to suppress others’ democratic rights follow in the footsteps of the most anti-democratic leaders in our history (Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon).
Let’s make another important distinction. Anti-communism is not patriotism—especially when misapplied to those seeking to improve their country. In point of fact, this misdirection erodes the democratic principles on which our democracy is built. Anti-communists cannot wrap their views in the Stars and Stripes because opposing an economic theory does necessitate love for or commitment to one’s country any more than my distaste for mayonnaise makes me a national hero.
Anti-communism only communicates one’s aversion to a largely discredited economic system. That’s it. It is wholly decoupled from righteousness, national loyalty, or support for democracy. Oh, and a final word to those who will inevitably post a hearty “Communist!” in the comments partnered with a Trump 2020/MAGA/American flag emoji before rage unfollowing: You’re not a patriot or champion of democratic values. You are simply chronically, willfully, blindly misinformed.
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