History and Historiography

The Myth of Monolithic Communism

This is a classic Murray Rothbard article from 1979 that debunked Cold War mythology regarding the “international communist conspiracy” and so forth. Learning many of these same things in the 1980s (not from Rothbard but from other sources), and learning more about US conduct in the Cold War,  led me to reject Cold War politics and embrace an anti-imperialist outlook.

By Murray Rothbard

For decades it was an axiom of conservative faith that international Communism was and must be a monolith, that Communism in all its aspects and manifestations was simply pure evil (because it was “atheistic” and/or totalitarian by definition), and that therefore all Communism was necessarily the same.

For one thing, this meant that all Communist parties everywhere were of necessity simply “agents of Moscow.” It took conservatives years to disabuse themselves of this mythology (which was true only during the 1930s and most of the 1940s). Tito’s courageous break with Stalin and world Communism in 1948 was considered a trivial exception; and for many years after the bitter China-Russia split, conservatives clung to the fond hope that this split must be a hoax designed to deceive the West. However, now that China has shifted from attacking Russia for not being opposed enough to US imperialism, to urging the United States ever onward to a war with Russia; and now that the Vietnamese Communists have crushed the Cambodian Communist regime in a lightning thrust, this myth of a world Communist monolith has at last had to be abandoned.

Why should all Communist parties and groups necessarily form a monolith? The standard conservative answer is that Communists all have the same ideology, that they are all Marxist-Leninists, and that therefore they should necessarily be united. In the first place, this is an embarrassingly naive view of ideological movements. Christians, too, are supposed to have the same religion and therefore should be united, but the historical record of inter-Christian warfare has been all too clear. Secondly, Marx, while eager enough to criticize feudalist and “capitalist” society, was almost ludicrously vague on what the future Communist society was supposed to look like, and what Communist regimes were supposed to do once their revolution had triumphed. If the same Bible has been used to support an enormous and discordant variety of interpretations and creeds, the paucity of details in Marx has allowed for an even wider range of strategies and actions by Communist regimes.

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