When US tried Communism
The Himalayan Times, 24 Jan 2005
I write this especially for our Maoist brothers. While the US is
commonly vilified as the bastion of capitalism, it is little known that
the US too has tried communism. It was only when communism failed that
property rights and capitalism took hold.
Let us go back into history and see what lessons America learned from its
relatively short dalliance with Maoism much before the ‘great leader’
himself was born.
The year was 1607. The first 104 settlers had arrived from Europe in
Jamestown in the Virginia Tidewater region of the US in May. They found
soil which was fertile beyond what they had seen in the lands which they
had left. Fruits were abundant. Wild game such as deer and turkey were
everywhere. There was no shortage of fish and other seafood. And yet
within six months 66 of the original Jamestown, Virginia settlers had
died. Only 38 survived.
Another 500 settlers were again sent to settle in Virginia in 1609 and
within six months 440 of these too died by starvation and disease. This
was called ‘starving time’ and one eyewitness described it in English of
those times, ‘So great was our famine, that a Savage we slew and buried,
the poorer sorte took him up againe and eat him; and so did divers one
another boyled and stewed with roots and herbs.’
How could this be? How could there be such death and starvation amidst so
much plenty of meat, fruits, and fish. The fault as the witness said lay
not in the ‘barrenness and defect of the Countrie’ but in the ‘want of
providence, industry and government’.
What caused this lack of ‘industrie’? Were the Virginian settlers lazy and
indolent? It could not be. People who were sent there were the chosen ones
– the very best of men.
The problem was that all the men who were sent were bonded labourers. They
had no stake in what they produced. They were bound by contract to put all
they produced into a common pool to be used to support their colony as a
whole. This was communism in its purest form. Everyone was supposed to
work according to ability and take according to need.
As so frequently happens with present day government policies, the results
were the opposite of what was intended. Since hard work was not personally
beneficial for the settlers they responded by stopping work.
Phillip A. Bruce, a late 19th century US historian, wrote of the Jamestown
immigrants, “The settlers did not have even a modified interest in the
soil … . Everything produced by them went into the store, in which they
had no proprietorship.” The result as Bruce wrote would be what anyone who
has any knowledge of human nature would expect, men, even the most
energetic, refused to work.
This is what happened in Mao’s China and in Soviet Russia on a grand
scale. In America a few hundred deaths stopped the communist experiment,
in China and Russia, millions had to die before these nations abandoned
the principles of Marx, Lenin, and Mao.
Jamestown changed course just two years later in 1611 with arrival of the
‘high marshall’ Sir Thomas Dale from the UK. He understood the problem,
freed the settlers by abrogating communal ownership. Each man received
three acres of land and, other than a lump sum tax of 2 ½ barrels of corn,
did not have to contribute anything to the common pool. The colony
immediately began to prosper. It prospered because each individual
directly benefited by his labour and knew that he would also bear the full
consequences of any reduction in output. Private ownership and capitalism
Communism doesn’t work because it destroys the reward and work nexus.
Communism doesn’t work because the absence of property rights heralds the
end of all incentive to produce. Communism doesn’t work because humans do
no wish to sacrifice themselves to the common good.
I do not know or care about the political philosophy of the Maoists. I
would, though, like to know what their economic policies are going to be.
Do they want to take back Nepal to what America experimented with almost
400 years ago? Nepal lags behind the US in economic development, but is it
to be put back by four centuries?.
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