In order to be able to put this discussion into perspective, it is imperative that the central theme of this paper, that is, Communism be illustrated. The illustration will bring clear understanding of the paper details. The term Communism may only be understood while contradistinguished with its economic, political and ideological antithesis: Capitalism.
Capitalism refers to the blend of political and economic system in which, businesses are largely owned, carried out, managed and driven by private individuals, not the state. This ideology has also been described by other authors as referring to the political, economic and ideological system, which relies on private property ownership for the way of production, all together with all, the commodities manufactured from such means. It therefore becomes clear that the distinguishing mark of Capitalism is private ownership of both the production and means of production.
From the foregoing definition of Capitalism, Communism on its part it refers to the economic, political and ideological practice, in which the state, through the government, controls the production of the food and all goods with all property being owned by the state. The system has also been variously defined as a political ideology, deriving from Marxism, which strongly campaigns for the abolition of Capitalism through a ground-roots revolution.
This system, more specifically is a social and political ideology which roots for the complete abolition of private property ownership in favour of mass (common) property ownership. Unlike Capitalism, the hallmark of Communism is that it does not countenance private property ownership of whatsoever kind; both property ownership and the means of their production must be common through the phenomenon of the political entity that is the state.
History of Communism
The ideology of Communism derives from Karl Heinrich Marx, a German philosopher, historian, political theorist, sociologist and communist revolutionary who lived between May 5, 1818 and March 14, 1883. Marx’s penchant subject was the class struggles which he first documented in his Communist Manifesto of 1948. In this document, he propounded this particular theme to illustrate the interrelationship between Capitalism, labour and exploitation.
According to Marx in the Communist Manifesto, the society was headed towards a new phase of world order in which the ideology of Communism was going to surpass the ideological status quo as was then epitomized through Capitalism. The era of Communism was to be heralded by the annihilation of the institutionalized inequality and poverty; an indispensable distinction of Capitalism.
The crystallization of the Communistic ideology, as envisaged by Marx through the Communist Manifesto and as will be illustrated herein later, was only to be at the point when there was created the political institution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). This is a phenomenon that was to come to pass in the early years of the last century, 1917.
Although Marx had predicted that the time for the fall of Capitalism was nigh, a number of Marxist thinkers thought otherwise, or so it appeared. This appeared to the position adopted by Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg who, while building upon Marx’s framework submitted that the time when Communism was to surpass Capitalism was to delay longer than had been suggested by Marx. According to this group of Marxists, while it remained true that Communism was bound to replace Capitalism, this was to be longer than had been anticipated by Karl Marx because of the fact that the Capitalist countries were being sustained by the resources they had plundered from their colonies.
Through his writing works Marx argued that social struggles and inequalities are the direct effects of capitalism. He noted that Capitalism was bound to produce internal tensions and conflicts. In his view, it was the internal tensions and conflicts which were to sound the death knell for capitalism. To advance this particular assertion, he predicted that socialism would later replace capitalism, just like capitalism had replaced feudalism. Upon the replacement of capitalism by socialism, he noted, there would emerge an ideology he referred to as pure communism.
The pure Communism state, he predicted, would be characterized by the society not only being stateless but classless as well. He further predicted that the emergence of the pure communism state was to be predicated upon the occurrence of a transitional period which he referred to as the dictatorship of the proletariats. This period has also been variously referred to as the workers’ state or the workers’ democracy.
Marx proposed that his envisaged societal changes could only occur through organized revolutionary action. He predicted that capitalism would be brought down through the organized actions of an international working class. He opined that communism was not a state of affairs which was to be established, but rather, an ideal to which reality would have to adjust itself. He reasserted his avowed position that communism was the real movement which would ultimately banish capitalism.
The place of a revolution is very central in the Communistic ideology as had once been predicted by Karl Marx. The formal introduction of the Communistic ideology within the economic and political ideology of Russia and the subsequent Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) took the intervention of a revolution. This phenomenon of Russian Revolution occurred in 1917.
The term Russian Revolution refers to a series of revolutions which occurred in Russia and had by 1917 destroyed the then existing Tsarist autocracy and in its stead, led to the creation and establishment of the Soviet Union (Acton, Vladimir and William 1997). The first revolution of February 1917 led to the deposing of the Tsar (any male ruler of Russia before 1917 and a consequent replacement with a Provisional Government. This revolution was largely concentrated around St. Petersburg, then known as Petrograd. The Provisional Government was then led by members of the Capitalist Parliament, Duma.
The success of the Duma in forming the government was primarily out of the fact that the Russian Army leadership had indicated that the army lacked the requisite military means to crush the revolution. The inability of the Russian Army to make an appropriate military response to the revolution made Tsar Nicholas II, Russia’s last Tsar to abdicate. The army’s inability to muscle the requisite military strength to counter the revolution was because the army was experiencing a mutiny out of the serious military setbacks it had suffered in the course of World War I.
This thus cleared the way for the members of the Duma to put in place the Provisional Government. However, the Provisional Government installed with the February revolution was not to last long. This is because a second revolution was to occur soon thereafter in October during which, the Provisional Government was also deposed and replaced with the Bolsheviks, people who supported the Communist Party then.
The inability of the Provisional Government to last long was because they lost the trust of the Soviets, i.e. the elected workers’ councils in Russia then (Bullon 2003). Upon the onset of the February revolution, the radical and fundamentally influential Soviets had initially allowed the Provisional Government to rule. However, the rider to the Soviets’ permission was that the Soviets were to get the prerogative to influence the government as well as having the control of several militias. This obviously became a destabilizing relationship that could not be expected to last long.
The period of October revolution
However, the period preceding October revolution was a very awkward one. A transition period ensued in which both groups exercised an amount of control of the government; the Provisional Government held the State power while the Soviets, led by their socialist leaders, controlled the lower class citizens. During this period, the Bolsheviks formed a militia known as the Red Guards (later to become the Red Army).
However, in the October revolution, the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin in conjunction with the workers’ Soviets deposed the Provisional Government then based in St. Petersburg. The Bolsheviks then quickly appointed the Cheka group to quash any dissent within the country. Subsequent to this, the group entered into and signed with Germany the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk so as to end the War. The treaty was signed on the 18 March 1918.
Initially, it had been anticipated, and predicted by others, that the socialist revolution was to occur mainly in the established capitalist economies. This was out of the reason that it was in such economies that there were too many workers who had been oppressed by the so many industries that blossomed during the Industrial Revolution.Consequently, it was to be expected that the revolutions, that were to come subsequent to the Russian Revolution, were to be concentrated in Western Europe and other Capitalist economies.
The corollary to this expectation was that Communism was to be entrenched into these countries. This expectation was to run counter to the reality, as will be seen herein later. This is because rather than have the Communistic ideology become attractive to the wealthy people in the Western economies; it became a very attractive alternative to the poor, especially those in Asia. This thus made it, Communism, spread rather fast within this particular region.
Although the bigger picture of the Cold War was largely played in Europe, the same was not confined to that continent since Asia, especially in East, did witness a substantial share of the ideological war. The infiltration of the Communist ideology had started in the 1920s but the role of the ideology became only prominent during and after World War II.
The geopolitics of the East Asian region underwent very substantial changes after World War II. Prior to the War, a number of countries had not been created. For instance, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were not separate independent countries as they formed one big French colony known as Indo-China. The Koreas too, were still one state under the Japanese colonial yoke with China then being the only independent country. The Chinese’ political independence was however bedeviled by lots of political instability which had festered since when they had overthrown their Manchu monarch rulers in 1911.
The role of Communism in the World War II
Prior to the World War II, the role of Communism remained largely inconsequential. This is because the priority for the people of East Asia then, was the urgency of the need for their countries to become independent, and not which ideology was relevant to them. Consequently, the favorite political driving force was nationalism and not any particular ideology such as Communism.
The Communist Parties within this region, taking cognizance of the populist wave of anti-colonial sentiments within the countries, became opportunistic and seized the moment. This, they did by adopting within their agenda the popular national agenda. As a result of this smart technique, sympathy started crystallizing for the Communist parties and the Communist ideology within the region.
The allure towards the Communistic ideological alignment by the countries of Asia, it is argued impliedly, was also out of the fact that the epitome of Communism, USSR, witnessed a lot of economic and industrial stability at a time when the West took a freefall nosedive into the Great Depression. The extreme contrasts in the economic realities of the two ideologies made Communism look a much more attractive and viable economic policy to the Asian countries, especially those that lie to the East and hence interacted with the Socialist blocs more frequently.
“Asia for Asians”
Apart from the ingredient of colonialism catalyzing the widespread appeal for Communism, other factors also facilitated this. One such factor was the Japanese’ insistence upon the philosophy of “Asia for Asians”; which philosophy called for the immediate end to the politically chocking arrangement of colonialism then being greatly cherished by the West imperialists. By this philosophy, Japan managed to whip up regional sympathy to weigh in greatly against Capitalism; an ideology that was associated with West.
This tactic favorably played to the regional gallery as it hyped the anti-colonial sentiment while preparing a very fertile ground for the consumption of the Communism. The ideology of Communism, being an antithesis to Capitalism (and colonialism by extension), did thus become a very attractive alternative to the masses within the region of Eastern Asia who yearned for political independence. However, while the Japanese easily used this rallying call to evoke nationalistic emotions within the region, they shot themselves in the foot as well. This is because the rallying call became readily accepted among residents of the region because of their need for independence from all colonizers. The Japanese, having been colonizing Korea, were to be not exempted from having to relinquish their colony.
The theory of Common property
The other issue that has been identified as having been very crucial in enhancing the spread of Communism within Asia was the widespread poverty and deprivation among the masses then. The state of abject poverty prevalent within the region then was attributed to the debilitating effects of Capitalism. The masses of poor people within the countries of the region easily understood the theory of Common property ownership as being the perfect solution to their economic misery. In their understanding, Communism offered them an opportunity to have an equitable access to the wealth that had largely eluded them. Consequently, they saw the ideology as offering to them an array of economic hope; which hope had eluded them all along through Capitalism.
The reasons explored above were responsible for catalyzing the quick spread of Communism within the Asian region. There are also other specific reasons which, while enhancing the spread of the ideology, were however very unique and specific to each of the countries. For instance, for the Koreas, the reason that informed the spread of Communism was the end of World War II in 1945.
Splitting of Korea
Subsequent to the end of the War in 1945, Japan was forced to relinquish its Korean colony. In order to fill the void that was being created by the departing Japanese, another power(s) had to be identified to move into Korea so as to stabilize the country. Of the then world powers, only the Russians and the Americans had the necessary manpower and adequate troops to fit into the vacuum that was being created by the departure of the vanquished Japanese.
On this basis, the Russians and the Americans moved into Korea. The Russians occupied the North while the Americans settled into the South. Like the two powers had split Germany, they decided to split Korea into North and South Korea. This division was carried out along line of geographical latitude, i.e. the 38th parallel. Suffice it to say that the Russians, given their Socialist/Communist orientation, inducted North Korea into its Communism while the South remained steadfastly into Capitalism on the basis of their American Occupier’s Capitalistic ideology.
The end of World War II, which facilitated the Japanese’ exit was thus a fertile ground for the quick spread of Communism within this part of Asia. Unlike East and West Germany which re-united soon after the end of Cold War and fall of the Berlin Wall to found the Federal Republic of Germany, the Koreas have remained distinctly so and remain a tense area with not so few military conflicts occurring between them. The North has continued to faithfully pursue economic policies that are Communistic as the South also remains deeply immersed into Capitalism.
Capitalism in China
For China too, the allure of Communism was equally strong. Although China was not being colonized around the time when the rest of the countries in East Asia were being colonized, China’s progress had all along constantly been held back due to the political upheavals it experienced since when it had overthrown its Manchu monarch rulers in 1911.
Ever since the overthrow, the country failed to stabilize its politics. One other very big drawback on its politics was the bloody civil war just shortly before the outbreak of World war II; war which had pitted the Communist Party against the Nationalist Guomindang Party. Its very different political experiences thus made its people not to readily buy into the Communism theory as was the case within the rest of the region where most people easily bought into the ideology due to the prevailing phenomenon of colonialism as has been discussed hereinabove.
The threat of Cold War between the Soviets and the Americans was not just confined to the two Koreas and Germany. The battlefront between the two Super Powers did not leave out China. Consequently, when the Communists won the war and formed a government on the Mainland (People’s Republic of China), they won the swift support of the Communist Russians. On the other hand, the Americans threw their weight behind the defeated Nationalists who retreated to set up a government (Government of the Republic of China) in the island of Taiwan.
Needless to say, the win of the Chinese civil war by the Communists in 1949 was a very important milestone in the spread of Communism within Asia. Save for other reasons, one very importance that this win brought with it was the huge numbers that it secured into the Communism fold. The huge population of the Chinese within the Mainland, by default, became Communists with this event. Like the case with the Koreas, Mainland China has remained under the tight grip of the Communist government todate, while Taiwan continues to pursue a pro-capitalistic policy. However, mainland China did move in to rein in on Taiwan which it now exercises jurisdiction over as a renegade province.
The spread of Communism in Vietnam
The infiltration of Communism in Vietnam on its part also took the intervention of the Second World War, albeit out of very different circumstances. Unlike the rest of the countries in the region, the experience of the Vietnamese with Communism was out of the need to inspire nationalistic feelings as against the French and the Japanese. The Japanese invaded the larger Indo-China, of which Vietnam was part. They (Japanese) however effected the invasion with the cooperation of the French who were the colonialists of the country.
The consequence of this invasion, coupled with the anti-colonial sentiment prevalent during this period within the larger East Asian region, provided the necessary fodder for the great spread of Communism. This was seen more so when The Vietnam Independence League (Viet Minh) was formed in 1941 by the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh to fight the Japanese invaders as well as the French Colonizers. The stated purpose of the Viet Minh was to bring together the various nationalist groups to fights against the invasion and colonialism.
The defeat of the Japanese in August of 1945 forced them to hand over the country back to the French. The Vietnamese however reacted to this development by organizing a huge popular march into the country’s Capital City, Hanoi. This march precipitated into the collapse of the bipartite power arrangement that the Japanese had made with the French. The figure head leader (Mr. Bao Dai), who had been preferred by the two powers, fearing a revolution, abdicated his duties and invited the Viet Minh’s Communist leader to form a government; the culmination of this was the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on 2 September 1945 by Ho Chi Minh.
The next set of developments while holding up the Communistic advancement had very serious ramifications on the country of Vietnam. The Chinese got involved into the conflict by disarming the Japanese while arming guerillas supporting the Communists. The French on the other hand, reacted by propping up Bao Dai as head of State; this effectively split Vietnam into two competing states. The subsequent activities brought no respite and instead caused a civil war which sucked in a number of countries such as even America.
To wrap up this discussion, it is to be remembered that this paper was to consider one major thing, i.e. the growth of Communism within the Asian continent in the period subsequent to the end of the Second World War. The paper has been able to achieve this through a structure that began by tracing the ideology of Communism from its very source: founder Karl Heinrich Marx. It then followed the history of the process of actualization of Communism in Russia. This has then been followed by tracing the infiltration of Communism, and Cold War, from Europe to the Asian Continent. Finally, it has looked at the various reasons which were responsible for the spread of Communism within this region.
While doing this, it became apparent that the spread of Communism within the Asian continent occurred out of reasons that were largely counter to those which had been advanced by the early Marxists. This is because the Communist revolutions, which had been expected to occur subsequent to the Russian one, were expected within the industrialized countries. This was because it was expected that the oppression witnessed by the workers within the industries was to become the suitable catalyst that was to spur the revolutions. However, it turned out that poverty, rather than wealth, became the engine that was to spur the spread of Communism within this region of the world.