A reader of Conservative Central has raised the interesting question of whether communism can really be a form of liberalism.
In his letter the reader claims that communism can't be a form of liberalism as communists believe that people are social by nature, whereas real liberalism is based on individualism.
But is communism really based on the view that people are social by nature? Or does it set out to create, just like other forms of liberalism, a society based on individual autonomy?
If you read through the communist literature, you find that most of the ways that people express their social nature are to be outlawed under communist rule. For instance, there are to be no countries, nor are there to be any families. There are to be no churches, no group identities based on gender, nor are there to be distinct social classes. All that is allowed to remain is the individual and the state (with the state "withering away" at some unidentified point in the future).
It might be true that communists talk at times about people helping each other. But so do mainstream liberals. There is nothing within liberal philosophy to prevent expressions of altruism. The key thing is that liberals don't recognise aspects of human nature which give us a necessary and particular connection to other people.
For instance, communists don't believe that we might be obliged by our moral conscience to help others, since morality is viewed simply as a creation of class interests. Nor do they believe that a man's masculine nature obliges him to fulfil his responsibilities as a husband or father, since sex roles within the family are viewed by communists as an oppressive social construct.
Communists are ultimately individualistic, just like other liberals, because they start out with the view that the individual comes into the world as a blank slate, with no inborn qualities to limit or give a particular direction to an individual's behaviour.
This doesn't mean that there aren't significant differences between communists and more mainstream forms of liberalism. Communism is a kind of left liberalism rather than right liberalism: it is openly statist and doesn't aim at preserving individual economic enterprise. More strikingly communism is a radical rather than a gradualist form of liberalism: it aims to achieve all its aims immediately through a revolutionary programme, rather than working gradually through existing institutions.
Communism, in other words, is at one extreme end of the liberal spectrum: it is a radical form of left liberalism.
(First published Conservative Central 12/05/03)