Communism As Capitalism

It struck me today that in general, most communists are pretty good capitalists.

If you go back to even the most zealous of the capitalist theorists, the set of principles they espouse is not large. Solid property rights. Functioning markets. The rule of law. These are the basics, the essentials. And I think I'm not going out on a limb when I say that almost every communist takeover in the last century brought more of these things, not less.

One might say that this is because most countries taken over by indigenous communists in the past century were in such terrible shape beforehand that anything would have been an improvement. Cuba under Battista. Tsarist Russia. Warlord China.

But of course, this is the point. Whatever their ideological feelings about property and individualism, most of the century's communist revolutionaries were determined to have a fair social order, with the emphasis on order. They took over from regimes that were capitalist only in theory. Rampant corruption, runaway inflation, and ineffectual policing were serious problems, but but the first thing the communists would do on taking over a district -- even before redistributing the land -- would be to reestablish basic stability. No more shakedowns by the "police;" no more looting at night.

The results could be dramatic. Farmers unafraid of corrupt checkpoints and bandits are willing to sell their produce in the cities again; food prices drop back to reasonable levels, and suddenly everyone is eating reasonably well again. Friedrich Hayek would have been proud.

I don't think there's an ideological point here. Communists have proven adept at wrecking economies, given enough time, and also at rebuilding them magnificently. Fascists brought Germany out of economic ruins; plenty of post-colonial strongmen have managed to outlive their countries' hopes. There is no obvious pattern. These matters are perhaps less ideological than people want to think. Any formal system of government can be corrupt; any political theory can make the trains run on time. What matters is how much people trust their government to do right by them, how much they can hold it accountable -- and not whether that accountability comes from elections, workers' councils, or the threat of disobedience.