It may come as a surprise to many that I’m a communist. Actually, given my left leanings as of recent, some people may not be that surprised.
I know it’s already too late, but before you start prejudging me, you may want to realize that you probably misunderstand what communism is, and subsequently, you probably misunderstand what it means when I say that I’m a communist.
It all started about 4 years ago.
A close friend of mine perpetrated a violent act—an explicitly violent act—that resulted in the death of four people. I was numb. So were a lot of others I knew who were close to him. I had known him for about a decade and was shocked that he had done something like this. Every word I heard him say and every act I saw him do was antithetical to what he did this time.
As a result, in the period immediately following this event, I became repulsed by the portrayal of violence in the media—the news, television shows, film, video games, and so on. I grew sick inside every time I saw someone killing someone else on the screen.
In addition to fostering a sense of abhorrence toward violence within me, it convinced me that we, the public, are too quick to judge a person based on a single act of theirs.
If the news reports someone having committed theft, we label him a thief. If the news reports someone having lied, we label him a liar. If the news reports someone having killed, we label him a killer.
Pigeonholing people allows us to forget a person’s history, goals, family, personality, talents, accomplishments, and a host of other aspects that go into what makes a person. Reducing someone to a superficial representation makes it easier to judge the person and makes it easier to distance ourselves from the reality of how close we are to being able to commit wrongful acts.
Those two ideas—our culture’s obsession with violence and its tendency to judge others—began to influence my worldview over the next four years.
About a year later, I became a seminary teacher, a position I filled for two school years. A year after I finished teaching seminary, I became a Sunday school teacher. These two positions presented me with great opportunities, as part of the curriculum I was to teach, to study the life and teachings of Jesus.
What became clear to me is that Jesus clearly taught us to abhor violence and to not judge others. He admonished us to love everyone, no matter who they were or what they had done.
Take Matthew 5—the opening of the Sermon on the Mount—for example:
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment . . . Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. . . . Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (vv. 21–22, 38–39, 43–44)
Or his response to the Pharisees when asked what the greatest commandment was:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matt 22:37–39)
Or the new commandment he gave to his apostles during the last supper to love one another as he has loved us (see John 13:34).
These teaching experiences underscored the feelings I had been experiencing, and I found myself drawn toward pacifism. I grew more disgusted with war, racism, and sexism. I had become convinced that as a Christian, I was duty bound to embrace love and equality and reject anything in opposition to that.
As an extension of this conversion to pacifism, I underwent another moral change. Sometime early last year, I noticed an emerging emotion. I began feeling guilt—and ultimately remorse—every time I ate meat, particularly meat that more closely resembled the animal from which it came (roasted poultry, baked whole fish, etc). As the months wore on, the feelings of guilt and remorse intensified, and ultimately culminated in my becoming vegetarian last October, primarily as a result of my opposition to the intentional killing of other people coming to include animals.
Now onto politics.
My feelings toward the importance of increasing our love toward others and decreasing our hatred toward others had continued to grow. As it did, I became disenchanted with the partisanship of the political parties in this year’s provincial and federal elections.
I have long considered myself a non-partisan voter, not finding a party I could closely identify with. As candidates became more partisan this election and bitterness and rhetoric intensified, I began distancing myself even more from the main parties. So I began researching some of the lesser known parties.
One party I came across—and I don’t recall the circumstances that inspired me to investigate it specifically—was the Communist Party of Canada. As I reviewed their platform, I was surprised at how much of it resonated with me, far more than the platforms of any other party ever had.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of some things that stood out to me:
- Guarantee decent benefits for all, including part-time, home-based and contract workers.
- Establish a publicly financed and administered system of universal, quality, affordable childcare with Canada-wide standards.
- Adopt an independent Canadian foreign policy of peace and disarmament, and for environmental sustainability.
- Immediately end Canadian participation in the war in Iraq and Syria, and the internal conflict in Ukraine, and oppose any new military aggression.
- Adopt a People’s Energy Plan, including public ownership and democratic control of all energy and natural resource extraction, production and distribution.
- Reverse the privatization and contracting-out of public programs, services and energy utilities.
- Halt attempts to privatize Canada Post – restore home mail delivery services.
- Reverse the privatization of Air Canada, PetroCanada and CN Rail.
- Expand employment in industry by nationalizing the steel and auto industries, building a Canadian car, and expanding rapid transit production.
- Use tariff, currency exchange and other trade controls, plus plant closure legislation with teeth (including fines or public takeover), to protect jobs.
- Expand the public Medicare system to include universal pharmacare, dental and eye care, and long-term care, home and continuing care.
- Enact progressive tax reform based on ability to pay
- Eliminate taxes on incomes under $35,000/year
- Substantially expand urban mass transit, and eliminate bus and transit fares.
- Oppose all forms of racism and discrimination.
- Ban all discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression
- Rollback and eliminate tuition fees for post-secondary education
- Shift from loans to grants for student assistance
And so on.
This experience prompted me to read The Communist Manifesto. This foundational document wasn’t new to me. I had studied it cursorily for an undergraduate paper I wrote on the effect communism had on Russian theatre. Prior to that, I was only superficially familiar with communism. This second time through the document, so much stuck out to me. Given Marx’s insistence on revolution to bring power to the proletariat, I didn’t see myself as a Marxist (although some historians, such as Reza Aslan, make compelling arguments that Jesus was a revolutionary). Even so, several of his points resonated with me:
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.
. . .
In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed—a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piece-meal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.
But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of the machinery, etc.
. . .
The lower strata of the middle class—the small tradespeople, shopkeepers, retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants—all these sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern Industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialized skill is rendered worthless by the new methods of production. Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population.
. . .
But does wage-labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bit. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation. Property, in its present form, is based on the antagonism of capital and wage-labour.
. . .
Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriation.
. . .
Bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those of its members who work, acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything, do not work.
In short, as Marx said in Critique of the Gotha Program: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
As I mulled over what I came across on the party website and in the Communist Manifesto, I started to realize how my recent paradigm shift aligned with general communist principles.
At this point, I must highlight that what the typical person thinks is communism isn’t. China isn’t communist. Cuba isn’t communist. North Korea isn’t communist. Soviet Russia wasn’t communist. East Germany wasn’t communist.
In fact, technically speaking, “communist government” is an oxymoron. In a communist society, there is no government. Everyone has everything in common, and there’s no need for the government to equalize anything.
As Nikolai Bukharin wrote in The ABC of Communism:
In a communist society there will be no classes. But if there will be no classes, this implies that in communist society there will likewise be no State.
What most people think of as communism is actually totalitarian regimes. Stalinism isn’t communism; Maoism isn’t communism; Trotskyism isn’t communism; and so on. While they may theorize that state control is a necessary component of moving toward communism, such control isn’t actually communism.
I knew that coming out as a communist would be met with eye rolling, misunderstanding, and even derision, so I put it off for a few weeks. I used that time to reconcile my political and religious beliefs.
As I compared principles of Mormonism and principles of communism, I noticed some similarities.
For example, think of the people described in 4 Nephi 1: a casteless society in which no one was poor or rich and no one was bond or free (v. 3); in which they lived in peace (v. 4); in which, despite there being no hierarchy, they still managed to produce, such as through building cities (v. 7); in which there was no contention (v. 13); and in which love dwelled in the hearts of everyone (v. 15). In fact, it wasn’t until this people no longer had common substance (v. 25) and had reintroduced castes (v. 26) that this communal society began to fall apart.
This communal Nephite society had parallels in early Christianity, as seen as Acts 2:44–45:
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
and Acts 4:32–35
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that bought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. . . . Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
Or how about King Benjamin’s counsel in Mosiah 4:26:
I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
At their core, I think the lifestyle Jesus envisioned and the society idealized in 4 Nephi (and to some extent the societies of the early Mormon church, such as the United Order) parallel communism in its strictest sense. After weeks of introspection, I concluded that it isn’t incongruous to be Mormon and communist. In fact, I think being communist is more in line with Mormonism than capitalism or conservatism is.
Even with my explanation of what I actually believe and my dismissal of the myths of communism, I am confident that people will still misinterpret what I mean when I say that I’m communist. People will still think I idolize Che Guevara, favour totalitarian regimes, and embrace atheism. People will still think that one cannot be a Christian (or a Mormon) and a communist. Unfortunately, people will cling to their misunderstandings and refuse to educate themselves.
But there it is. For whatever it’s worth. I’m communist, and this was the journey I took to get there.