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I'm quite a newbie to history and politics so a sentence from Huxley surprised me (it might not be surprising for you). In Brave new world revisited (1958) he writes:

It is a pretty safe bet that, twenty years from now, all the worlds over-populated and underdeveloped countries will be under some form of totalitarian rule – probably by the communist party.

I have three questions:

  • How can communism be totalitarian?
  • Is there any simple way to see how communism leads to totalitarian governments?
  • Was Huxley right (are South American countries mostly under totalitarian-communist governments?)?
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Huxley lays out four terms:

  • over population

  • under development

  • communist party (not communism)

  • totalitarian

We must also add your term:

  • communism

All these terms are politically charged. Their meanings are debated, and the debate has been around advancing current political conflicts.

How can communism be totalitarian?

Communist parties, being in 1958 Stalinist style parties including the Chinese party, were widely believed to be “totalitarian” in Huxley’s society. This meant that people believed the communist party “totalised” all social relationships under party supervision. There are problems with this term, such as “my dictator is merely authoritarian, your dictator is disgustingly totalitarian.” The term is also descriptive rather than theorised. It is a terribly poor match for the way actual party power operated in Stalinist societies, where nomenklatura power was as bottom up as top down.

Communism, being a hypothesised post-scarcity classless society, is not liable to totalisation.

Communism, being the actual societies of the states of Central Europe and East Asia controlled by Stalinist type parties, meets the descriptive term’s meaning adequately—noting again that the term is a poor one.

Is there any simple way to see how communism leads to totalitarian governments?

Some scholars accuse that the project of communism, the project of working class self emancipation, necessarily requires the working class to become a totalising agent: to repress all other classes and to repress itself. This is as speculative as communism itself.

Many scholars claim that historical movements purporting to be communist actually totalised societies. How a minority conspiracy of bourgeois intellectuals are capable of acting as the entire working class is a matter for Leninist apologetics. That communist parties purported to be in favour of communism is undeniable, even if many supporters of working class revolution suggest they were not actually in favour of communism.

It is undeniable that Bolshevik parties destroyed working class and left wing opposition groups. Whether class struggle or party culture caused this is a matter of debate. We don’t know why Bolshevik parties “totalised” societies. The leading arguments are: class struggle was so hard they had to be even harder; that Bolsheviks substitute themselves for the working class at the level of praxis and thus are anti-worker; and, that all communists are evil.

Was Huxley right (are South American countries mostly under totalitarian-communist governments?)?

South American countries aren’t over populated. South American countries aren’t under developed. South American countries aren’t under Stalinist type governments.

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    It would certainly appear that Venezuela is currently experiencing a Stalinist-style Holomodor. Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 3:06
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    Tauger (1991) “The 1932 Harvest” Slavic Review fn 53, p89: despite available grain and state attempts to ameliorate, the destroyed logistics network meant failed subsistence mandated famine. In contrast Venezuela is a non subsistence food importer: there the state has failed to even possess sufficient food for distribution. Bad comparison, Stalinists tried to relieve famine in 1932. Of course they’d destroyed the rural petite-bourgeois who were the logistics network that could have made that desire make any sense. Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 3:36
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    Why would you suggest that South American countries aren't over-populated? The site you link to over-estimates the Earth's carrying capacity by an order of magnitude or more.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 4:58
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    @PieterGeerkens Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. The Venezuelan food crisis is a result of a wrong bet on economic development which hits the whole country equally. The holodomor was a man-made famine with the goal to depopulate a specific area.
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 11:49
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    @Philipp As cited above, Tauger (1991), you might wish to read the FUTON article and apply Hanlon's razor again. Both Tauger and myself appear to believe that stupidity / incompetence does not excuse preventable famine, yet, that it was not an intentional depopulation strategy. The 1931 & 1933/4 extractions ought to be evidence enough of gross culpable incompetence over deliberate depopulation. We might want to posit a question on history.se over theories of Soviet culpability in the 1932-1933 famine's depopulation effects. Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 12:00
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All idea of Communism is to expropriate, take away the means of production (land, factories), making them a shared property of all. It has been obvious that the current owners of this property are unlikely to just give it away, the property must be seized by force. From here comes the "dictatorship of the proletariat", found in the works of K.Marx and V.Lenin.

It was envisioned, that the "capitalistic elements" will remain inside the society for the remarkable time, so the dictatorship may still be required to keep them in check. In Soviet science fiction of Stalin times, "capitalistic elements" are very common narrative, aiming to destroy one or another wonderful machine that has been built by Soviet engineers.

As the resistance fades, the dictatorship no longer would be required. Likely no Communist country evolved till that stage, but early repressions under J. Stalin were way more harsh than that continued under L. Brezhnev, with many returning home from Siberia. Science fiction books that have been distributed in Soviet Union (by J.Jefremov and similar) describe the Communism that is no longer authoritarian.

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As I have pointed out before, Communism is supposed to be a process to achieve the final stage and a stateless, moneyless society.

Marxism is considered a workable system, but people forget that in works like Critique of the Gotha Program and Das Kapital, Karl Marx considered reaching the final stage of communism to be a process. From capitalism, some form of lower stage communism/socialism would form (the dictatorship of the proletariat, Permanent Revolution, syndicalist worker's cooperative, etc.) to guide the common workers towards the final stage of communism & a stateless, moneyless society. As socialist thinker Philip Gasper puts it: "Marx and Engels never speculated on the detailed organization of a future socialist or communist society. The key task for them was building a movement to overthrow capitalism. If and when that movement was successful, it would be up to the members of the new society to decide democratically how it was to be organized, in the concrete historical circumstances in which they found themselves".

Communism is supposed to be an end-goal after capitalism is overthrown and there were many ideas of how to achieve that. One of them was the dictatorship of the proletariat where the state controls the means of production on behalf of the common worker to compete with capitalism and prevent counterrevolution, then have the state erode away through a final revolution or natural human advancement in order to reach a clean, stateless communist society at the end of everything.

The proletariat needs the state, not in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist. - Friedrich Engels in a letter to the socialist thinker August Bebel

So yeah, communism has an authoritarian system in many parts of South America and other countries because they tend to choose the dictatorship of the proletariat method of going from the lower stage of communism in order to compete with real/perceived threats from capitalism and advance in order to achieve communism.

Fortunately, Huxley is wrong and most South American countries are not under Stalinist or authoritarian socialist rule currently. Plenty of S. American nations like Bolivia are democratic nations.

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Communism is used in a variety of meanings. Technically it's the utopian idea of a free and equal society where the means of production are jointly owned by all members of society.

Practically Marx had developed an idea of a historic progression along the lines of classes, masters/slaves, feudal lords/servants, capitalist/workers which progresses via a struggle between these groups and which moves from the rule of the few to the rule of the many and ultimately to no rule of anybody over anybody else. The later stages being called socialism/communism.

Though most of what he wrote about did not concern how that would actually look like, but rather how the current system (emerging industrial capitalism) works and why it doesn't, as well as preparing the proletariat for a revolution to achieve the conditions for the next step in this progression which is something to be determined by those who face the problems of that society.

Yet things went different revolutions were put down, the problems persisted Marx died and industrial countries rather went for a salami tactic of giving out workers rights a slice at a time rather than suppressing them completely and risk a revolution.

Meanwhile in Russia (~1900), there was still a czarist government industrialization was just about to start and democracy was still out of reach. In that context Lenin got the ok of his party to build up a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries to kick start the revolution. He was apparently so thrilled of having gotten a majority once (didn't happen again after that), that he called his groups "bolsheviks" (majority). He wasn't particularly successful and got himself imprisoned and exiled quite some times so that he basically missed all the important revolutions in 1905 and 1917 and only after the last one was allowed to return.

Upon which he tried again to destabilize and use the existing destabilization of a losing WWI to seize power in a second revolution or coup d'etat in that year (1917). He held elections and came in 3rd, claimed power nonetheless and went straight into a several years lasting civil war. Where he not only fought counter revolutionaries but also those other leftist parties more popular than him. Then he died and Stalin took it from there, wrapping up Lenin's ad hoc political activism into a doctrine called Marxism-Leninism, which ended up being the blueprint of a "pre-capitalist socialist revolution" and the playbook of "communist parties" around the globe. It wasn't particularly great and even those who adopted it usually had to amend it to their actual situation. But after all Russia/USSR was the most powerful state level actor in support of communism and claimed the supreme role in that "international" idea. So did China after Stalin's death which led to them not getting along very well.

That their own systems were still far away from that utopian ideal didn't deter capitalist countries from calling it "communism", especially when it was authoritarian and failing.

So when talking about "communist parties" in the 1958 context you're talking specifically about Stalinist (Marxist-Leninist) inspired party systems. Rather than the general communist ideal.

Also after WWI the U.S. and the USSR engaged in a cold war, where Russia tried to erect a buffer zone of countries between them and the west and where the U.S. tried to push back or contain the "spread of communism". So you essentially had 3 blocks:

  • 1st world (U.S. et al)
  • 2nd world (USSR et al)
  • 3rd world (neutral), 4th world (neutral and poor).

This includes borders between states, but also borders within states, like how the U.S. and USSR which had been allies in WWII had split Japanese occupied Korea or former Nazi Germany into 2 parts one controlled by the USSR and one by the U.S. or other Western countries.

And while these blocks avoided to engage each other directly they fought several proxy wars. Like when the North Korean dictator tried to invade the South Korean dictator and each side got support form the U.S. or the USSR.

Meanwhile WWII has left most former European colonial superpower pretty devastated so for example France wasn't able to keep it's rule over Indochina, not even with the aid of the U.S. which then gave rise to Laos, Cambodia and a temporarily split Vietnam which also resulted in the Vietnam proxy war.

So there were plenty of battlegrounds where the USSR offered a newly emerging state or potential candidate for a revolution their "successful" model of a pre-capitalist people's revolution, while the U.S. "bravely defended" the dictatorship of an autocrat as long as that meant that the country would not fall to "communism".

So with respect to Huxley, there was a pretty good chance that the combination of being overpopulated and underdeveloped would lead to internal problems, culminating in societal struggles and revolutions supported by the USSR and geared towards a Stalinistic system or that they would be controlled by a dictator who opens up his resources "to the free market" and erect some kind of banana republic.

Now with regard to totalitarianism. On the one hand it's a fighting term trying to denote the lack of "economic freedom" as the economy is state controlled and there's not much out of state activity. That on it's own however would just be a different system of governance and not even necessarily authoritarian if it were to be bottom up as intended (it more often than not wasn't).

On the other hand the concept of a vanguard revolution, in addition with the ideological commitment to "class struggle" the over interpretation of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and the ideological focus on preparation to fight the counter revolution has contributed to a toxic paranoia giving rise to a terror and surveillance state that had many enemies and due to it's actions probably would have never seized to make new ones.

Also if one mobilizes the entire society towards one goal with no regard for the individual, then it's almost inevitable that some faction of the population will be in a position where this doesn't work for them and where they end up being an enemy not even necessarily by choice, but simply by circumstances. Though again the problem isn't necessarily large scale projects, but how you deal with these complications.

So with respect to overpopulated and underdeveloped countries that revolt because the situation is shit and thus cling to a minority party savior, likely with external support that is not necessarily interested in the well being of that country, is likely going to end bad, because even if they seize power they are likely not going to transform the country fast enough to solve the actual problems that lead to the revolution in the first place and if they can't do that they are almost bound to end up in a cycle of terror and propaganda to uphold their power and the more fragile the system the more it's likely going towards curbing resistance wherever it could start, even if their ability to do so is likely more felt than present.

Now it depends on how you define overpopulated and underdeveloped and luckily that cold war phase has ended or at least taken a pause. Some countries also managed to leverage their support into becoming self-sufficient. Not to mention that some lists even list the USSR as no longer totalitarian after Khrushchev: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_totalitarian_regimes

So he might have lost that bet, but it probably wasn't too far fetched of an idea for the time.

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