Communism is a philosophical, social, political, economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a communist society, namely a socioeconomic order structured upon the ideas of common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money and the state. Simply put, communism is the idea that everyone in a given society receives equal shares of the benefits derived from labor. Communism is designed to allow the poor to rise up and attain financial and social status equal to that of the middle-class landowners. In order for everyone to achieve equality, wealth is redistributed so that the members of the upper class are brought down to the same financial and social level as the middle class. Communism also requires that all means of production be controlled by the state. In other words, no one can own his or her own business or produce his or her own goods because the state owns everything. The term ultimately came to be primarily associated with Marxism, most specifically embodied in The Communist Manifesto which proposed a particular type of communism.
Marx described three necessary phases toward achieving his idea of utopia.
- Phase 1: A revolution must take place in order to overthrow the existing government. Marx emphasized the need for total destruction of the existing system in order to move on to Phase 2.
- Phase 2: A dictator or elite leader (or leaders) must gain absolute control over the proletariat. During this phase, the new government exerts absolute control over the common citizen’s personal choices — including his or her education, religion, employment and even marriage. Collectivization of property and wealth must also take place.
- Phase 3: Achievement of utopia. This phase has never been attained because it requires that all non-communists be destroyed in order for the Communist Party to achieve supreme equality. In a Marxist utopia, everyone would happily share property and wealth, free from the restrictions that class-based systems require. The government would control all means of production so that the one-class system would remain constant, with no possibility of any middle class citizens rising back to the top.
Marx also detailed the 10 essential tenets of communism, namely:
- Central banking system
- Government controlled education
- Government controlled labor
- Government ownership of transportation and communication vehicles
- Government ownership of agricultural means and factories
- Total abolition of private property
- Property rights confiscation
- Heavy income tax on everyone
- Elimination of rights of inheritance
- Regional planning
Communism includes a variety of schools of thought which broadly include Marxism and anarcho-communism as well as the political ideologies grouped around both, all of which share the analysis that the current order of society stems from capitalism, its economic system and mode of production; that in this system there are two major social classes; that conflict between these two classes is the root of all problems in society; and that this situation will ultimately be resolved through a social revolution.
Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that frames capitalism through a paradigm of exploitation, analyzes class relations and social conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development and takes a dialectical view of social transformation. Marxism uses a materialist methodology, referred to by Marx and Engels as the materialist conception of history and now better known as historical materialism, to analyze and critique the development of class society and especially of capitalism as well as the role of class struggles in systemic economic, social and political change. First developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the mid-19th century, it has been the foremost ideology of the communist movement. Marxism does not lay out a blueprint of a communist society per se and it merely presents an analysis that concludes the means by which its implementation will be triggered, distinguishing its fundamental characteristics as based on the derivation of real-life conditions. Marxism considers itself to be the embodiment of scientific socialism, but it does not model an ideal society based on the design of intellectuals, whereby communism is seen as a state of affairs to be established based on any intelligent design. Rather, it is a non-idealist attempt at the understanding of material history and society, whereby communism is the expression of a real movement, with parameters that are derived from actual life.
According to Marxist theory, class conflict arises in capitalist societies due to contradictions between the material interests of the oppressed and exploited proletariat—a class of wage labourers employed to produce goods and services—and the bourgeoisie—the ruling class that owns the means of production and extracts its wealth through appropriation of the surplus product produced by the proletariat in the form of profit. This class struggle that is commonly expressed as the revolt of a society’s productive forces against its relations of production, results in a period of short-term crises as the bourgeoisie struggle to manage the intensifying alienation of labor experienced by the proletariat, albeit with varying degrees of class consciousness. In periods of deep crisis, the resistance of the oppressed can culminate in a proletarian revolution which, if victorious, leads to the establishment of socialism—a socioeconomic system based on social ownership of the means of production, distribution based on one’s contribution and production organized directly for use. As the productive forces continued to advance, socialism would be transformed into a communist society, i.e. a classless, stateless, humane society based on common ownership and distribution based on one’s needs.
The two classes are the proletariat (the working class), who make up the majority of the population within society, and who must work to survive; and the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class)—a small minority who derives profit from employing the working class through private ownership of the means of production. According to this analysis, revolution would put the working class in power and in turn establish social ownership of the means of production which is the primary element in the transformation of society towards communism.
Class conflict and historical materialism: At the root of Marxism is historical materialism, the materialist conception of history which holds that the key characteristic of economic systems through history has been the mode of production and that the change between modes of production has been triggered by class struggle. According to this analysis, the Industrial Revolution ushered the world into capitalism as a new mode of production. Before capitalism, certain working classes had ownership of instruments utilized in production. However, because machinery was much more efficient, this property became worthless and the mass majority of workers could only survive by selling their labor to make use of someone else’s machinery, thus making someone else profit. Accordingly, capitalism divided the world between two major classes, namely that of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. These classes are directly antagonistic as the latter possesses private ownership of the means of production, earning profit via the surplus value generated by the proletariat, who have no ownership of the means of production and therefore no option but to sell its labor to the bourgeoisie.
According to the materialist conception of history, it is through the furtherance of its own material interests that the rising bourgeoisie within feudalism captured power and abolished, of all relations of private property, only the feudal privilege, thereby taking the feudal ruling class out of existence. This was another key element behind the consolidation of capitalism as the new mode of production, the final expression of class and property relations that has led to a massive expansion of production. It is only in capitalism that private property in itself can be abolished. Similarly, the proletariat would capture political power, abolish bourgeois property through the common ownership of the means of production, therefore abolishing the bourgeoisie, ultimately abolishing the proletariat itself and ushering the world into communism as a new mode of production. In between capitalism and communism, there is the dictatorship of the proletariat, a democratic state where the whole of the public authority is elected and recallable under the basis of universal suffrage. It is the defeat of the bourgeois state, but not yet of the capitalist mode of production and at the same time the only element which places into the realm of possibility moving on from this mode of production.
Marxian economics and its proponents view capitalism as economically unsustainable and incapable of improving the living standards of the population due to its need to compensate for falling rates of profit by cutting employee’s wages, social benefits and pursuing military aggression. The communist system would succeed capitalism as humanity’s mode of production through workers’ revolution. According to Marxian crisis theory, communism is not an inevitability, but an economic necessity.
Categories of Communism
According to Richard Pipes, the idea of a classless, egalitarian society first emerged in Ancient Greece. The 5th-century Mazdak movement in Persia (modern-day Iran) has been described as “communistic” for challenging the enormous privileges of the noble classes and the clergy; for criticizing the institution of private property; and for striving to create an egalitarian society. At one time or another, various small communist communities existed, generally under the inspiration of Scripture. In the medievalChristian Church, some monastic communities and religious orders shared their land and their other property. Communist thought has also been traced back to the works of the 16th-century English writer Thomas More. In his 1516 treatise Utopia, More portrayed a society based on common ownership of property, whose rulers administered it through the application of reason. In the 17th century, communist thought surfaced again in England, where a Puritan religious group known as the Diggers advocated the abolition of private ownership of land. In his 1895 Cromwell and Communism, Eduard Bernstein argued that several groups during the English Civil War (especially the Diggers) espoused clear communistic, agrarian ideals and that Oliver Cromwell‘s attitude towards these groups was at best ambivalent and often hostile. Criticism of the idea of private property continued into the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century through such thinkers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France. Following the upheaval of the French Revolution, communism later emerged as a political doctrine.
In the early 19th century, various social reformers founded communities based on common ownership. Unlike many previous communist communities, they replaced the religious emphasis with a rational and philanthropic basis. Notable among them were Robert Owen, who founded New Harmony, Indiana, in 1825; and Charles Fourier, whose followers organized other settlements in the United States such as Brook Farm in 1841.
In its modern form, communism grew out of the socialist movement in 19th-century Europe. As the Industrial Revolution advanced, socialist critics blamed capitalism for the misery of the proletariat—a new class of urban factory workers who labored under often-hazardous conditions. Foremost among these critics were Karl Marx and his associate Friedrich Engels. In 1848, Marx and Engels offered a new definition of communism and popularized the term in their famous pamphlet The Communist Manifesto.
The 1917 October Revolution in Russia set the conditions for the rise to state power of Vladimir Lenin‘s Bolsheviks which was the first time any avowedly communist party reached that position. The revolution transferred power to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets in which the Bolsheviks had a majority. The event generated a great deal of practical and theoretical debate within the Marxist movement. Marx predicted that socialism and communism would be built upon foundations laid by the most advanced capitalist development.
Lenin was aware that the upper class wouldn’t willingly give up land or wealth, so he created the New Economic Policy (NEP) to legislate redistributing land — taking it from the nobility and giving it to the poor. Upholding the necessary phases that Marx outlined, Lenin initiated the Red Terror, a threatening fear campaign led by the Bolsheviks. His goal was mass murder, which he accomplished through three main methods.
- Man-made famine was Lenin’s most successful tool. He knew that if he could break the peasantry, he’d have full control. Lenin engineered famines by requiring peasants to sell their crops to him at virtually no profit, using the rationale that he needed the crops to support his army. The peasantry was so indignant that they reduced crop production drastically, leading to a full-scale civil war. The exact numbers vary, but tens of millions of people starved and millions died.
- Lenin also instituted slave labor camps. Anyone who disagreed with Lenin’s rule was sent to work at one of these camps, where millions more suffered and died.
- And, he executed his detractors to silence their voices. During the Red Terror, hundreds of thousands of detractors were put to death. Victims included members of the bourgeoisie, White Army prisoners of war, socialists, Czarist sympathizers and innocent civilians .
Communism has been seen as a rival and a threat to western capitalism for most of the 20th century.
The Soviet Union was dissolved on December 26, 1991. It was a result of the declaration number 142-Н of the Soviet of the Republics of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. At present, states controlled by Marxist–Leninist parties under a single-party system include the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Cuba, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea currently refers to its leading ideology as Juche which is portrayed as a development of Marxism–Leninism.
Communism wasn’t contained inside the Soviet Union. As Marx’s tenets had instructed, it had be to spread worldwide to achieve utopia. Some countries had adopted communism to help realize that goal, including:
- Warsaw Pact Nations: Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland and Hungary (communist from about 1945 to 1991). The Warsaw Pact was a military treaty signed by these countries and Russia. In short, it guaranteed that they would come to each other’s aid if targeted by another country.
- Yugoslavia (1945 – 1992)
- North Vietnam (1954 – 1976, although still technically communist following the unification of Vietnam)
- Yemen (1969 – 1990)
- Somalia (1969 – 1991)
- Cambodia (1975 -1989)
It’s interesting to note that the communist governments in all of these countries (except North Vietnam) collapsed right around the same time as the Soviet Union, which was a huge support to the smaller countries.
Communism also rose to power in the following nations, where it is still alive today:
- China, since 1949
- Cuba, since 1959
- Vietnam, since 1976
- North Korea, since 1948
- Laos, since 1975
Today, China’s government encourages capitalist ventures, which has resulted in a greatly improved economy. China boasts a huge manufacturing industry, churning out toys, furniture, electronics and other products. Despite these gains, the government remains extremely dictatorial in nature, exerting authority over censorship and other basic civil liberties. Human rights activists are regularly harassed, prisoners are detained without a trial and censorship abounds.
What America Needs
Aside from better economic and legislative policies, what America needs is a more intense appreciation of individual freedom and capitalism. Such a crazy idea is not acquired through public schools or becoming a public servant. Young people don’t need more years of schooling with more worthless college degrees and student loans in default. America needs more entrepreneurs and businessmen. It needs more people with drive and ambition, more self-starters, more innovators, more people who are willing to take chances. It starts in our own backyard, in our home, in our small group, in our community. It starts with loving, involved, and dedicated parents who’d instill the values of personal responsibility and delayed gratification in their children. It continues with an education that entails both theory and hands-on practice in environments conducive to learning how to think independently and how to acquire life- and work-skills. It evolves into a purpose-driven life rich in learning and experiences. And this may be just the beginning of attaining the intellectual maturity to perceive the value that free markets and individual freedom afford most of us.
Foundation for Economic Education, “I Grew Up in a Communist System. Here’s What Americans Don’t Understand About Freedom,” By Carmen Alexe; ethics.org, “From Capitalism to communism, explained,” By The Ethics Centre; Wikipedia, “Communism;” people.howstuffworks.com, “How Communism Works,” By Alia Hoyt; indefenseof liberty.blog, “American Supporters of Socialism Don’t Understand What Socialism Is,”By Jennifer Tiedemann;
I Grew Up in a Communist System. Here’s What Americans Don’t Understand About Freedom By Carmen Alexe.
This is an article written by expat from communist Romania. Her story is quite an eye opener. I have copied portions of it.
“Individual freedom can only exist in the context of free-market capitalism. Personal freedom thrives in capitalism, declines in government-regulated economies, and vanishes in communism. Aside from better economic and legislative policies, what America needs is a more intense appreciation for individual freedom and capitalism.
“I was born and raised in communist Romania during the Cold War, a country in which the government owned all the resources and means of production. The state controlled almost every aspect of our lives: our education, our job placement, the time of day we could have hot water, and what we were allowed to say.
“Like the rest of the Eastern European countries, Romania was often referred to as a communist country. In school, we were taught it was a socialist country. Its name prior to the 1989 Revolution to overthrow the Ceausescu regime was the Socialist Republic of Romania. From an economic standpoint, a petty fraction of property was still privately owned. In a communist system, all property is owned by the state. So if it wasn’t a true communist economy, its heavy central planning and the application of a totalitarian control over the Romanian citizenry made this nation rightfully gain its title of a communist country.
“Despite the fact that Romania was a country rich in resources, there were shortages everywhere. Food, electricity, water, and just about every one of life’s necessities were in short supply. The apartment building in which we lived provided hot water for showers two hours in the morning and two hours at night. We had to be quick and on time so we didn’t miss the opportunity. Fruity lip gloss, French perfume, and jeans were but a few of the popular items available only on the black market and with the right connections. God bless our black-market entrepreneurs! They made our lives better. They gave us the opportunity to buy things we very much desired, things we couldn’t get from the government-owned retail stores which were either half-empty or full of products that were ugly and of poor quality. The grocery stores were not any better. I get it, maybe we didn’t need to be fashionable. But we needed to eat. So, the old Romanian adage “Conscience goes through the stomach” made a lot of sense.
“During the late 1970s, life in Romania started to deteriorate even more. Meat was hardly a consumer staple for the average Romanian. Instead, our parents learned to become good at preparing the liver, the brain, the tongue, and other giblets that most people in the West would not even consider trying. When milk, butter, eggs, and yogurt were temporarily available, my mom—like so many others of our neighbors—would wake up at 2:00 a.m. to go stand in line so she’d have the chance to get us these goodies. The store would open at 6:00 a.m., so if she wasn’t early enough in line she’d miss the opportunity. In 1982, the state sent their disciples to people’s homes to do the census. Along with that, food rationing was implemented. For a family of four like us, our rationed quota was 1 kilogram of flour and 1 kilogram of sugar per month. That is, if they were available and if we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time when they were being distributed.
“The one television channel our government provided for us often focused on programs related to crime and poverty in the western world. After all, people were poor and suffering because of capitalism, so we were told, so we needed socialism and communism to solve the inequalities of humanity.
- Socialism: A system that advocates the state’s ownership of land, industry and capital. Communism is a branch of socialism.
- Capitalism: Economic system in which individuals or corporations own land and means of production
- Bourgeois: The middle-class/upper-class, or the owners of land and means of production
- Proletariat: The working-class
- Kulak: Wealthy peasants
- Bolsheviks/Bolshevists: Russian word for “majority.” Also, the political party that spawned the Bolshevik Revolution, effectively introducing communism in Russia
- Mensheviks: By definition, “minority,” although this Russian party had many more supporters than the Bolsheviks when Lenin returned to Russia in 1917.
- Reds: Communist/Bolshevik supporters. Also, “red” is a derogatory term to describe communists.
- Whites: Those opposed to the Bolshevik regime’s takeover
- Gulags: Russian slave labor camps
- Utopia: A perfect place, in reference to social, moral and political issues.
AFTER MARX: OTHER COMMUNIST LEADERS
Dictators have been the driving force behind communism, even from the very beginning. Some of the more influential communist dictators include:
- Vladimir Ilich Lenin: Although Marx is considered the father of communism, Lenin is the one who put his theories into practice, effectively turning Russia from a czarist nation to a communist one. Lenin ruled Russia from 1917 until his death in 1924.
- Joseph Stalin: As Lenin’s extremely powerful successor, Stalin took communism to new heights when he governed the Soviet Union from 1922 until 1953.
- Mao Zedong: Mao founded the communist movement in China and ruled the country for more than 25 years until his death in 1976.
- Ho Chi Minh: Once a covert agent for Moscow, Ho Chi Minh is credited with spreading communism to Vietnam. A devoted follower of Stalin, he is probably best known for his guerilla warfare tactics.
- Kim Il-sung: Father of North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung worked closely with the Soviet Union and China to spread communism. North Korea has always remained very isolated from the rest of the world, often causing panic over the country’s nuclear capabilities.
- Fidel Castro: Castro resigned as president of Cuba on Feb. 19, 2008, concluding a nearly 50-year reign. Castro and his revolutionaries overtook the country in 1959 and began a Marxist communist government. Thus, Cuba became the Western Hemisphere’s inaugural communist state. Power has really been in the hands of Castro’s brother Raul since 2006, when Castro’s health began to wane. Raul succeeded his brother as dictator in 2008.