Please explain communism to me.

Communism is a word tossed around so loosesly by the water cooler, college campuses, dinner parties, and the media to the extent that I’m not even sure if I truly understand anymore what exactly it is.

What are the fundamental idealogies contained within that particular political system? How does it compare to socialism and capitalism? It was touched upon when I was in school as well as college but not without fierce proselytizing. I am getting ready to read The Naked Communist by Cleon Skoussen but would like to broaden my understanding before diving in.

Let’s please remember this is GQ. I’m not looking for debates onto which political system is superior nor am I looking for political swipes of any kind.

Thanks to you all in advance.


The totally watered down version:

To understand communisim, consider the root word - commune, or communal.

Idealy, resources are shared between all members of a society. Those members each contribute to the society in whichever way they are most capable. They draw from the community what they need. (From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.)

On paper, communisim looks like a utopia. In real life, it doesn’t work particularly well, for a range of reason including:

For communism to work, people have to consider people other than themselves, which is not necessarily a natural part of human nature (or many human’s natures, anyhow).

Secondly, it’s impossible to get ahead in communisim - if you work hard, you get what you need. If you work harder, you still get what you need.

Now, some savy politicos can come along and fill in the numerous blanks.

The word “communism” has also taken on more radical overtones than its more moderate brother, “socialism.” Many people have said that “communists” are necessarily violent, which fits what Marx thought would happen.

In (very) short, mostly because my knowledge is limited, he believed that there had to be a bourgeoisie revolution, much like the Industrial Revolution. It allowed industry to build up and the middle class (the “bourgeoisie”) to take economic control. This would create a poor urban working class. Eventually, that working class would get fed up with the factory owners–the middle class–and kill them all. Then, the utopian Communist state would emerge.

He believed this was completely inevitable, but history has shown that it really isn’t. Lenin’s idea, that it needs a strong leader (like him) to rally the proletariat, is more… effective. However, Lenin didn’t wait for the bourgeoisie revolution, and worked with the peasants rather than the urban poor.

In a sentence:

“From Each According To His Abilities, To Each According To His Needs”

Well, that’s marxism, a once popular form of communism.

Communism Communism Communism

Sometimes it’s tossed around loosely. I’ll complain about the UAW and call them all communists, but in the strict sense I’m completely wrong.

To me, Wiki’s general entry seems pretty good and neutrally put.
(though the entry on socialism feels like it was written by a cranky conservative)

Comminism is the last step marx talked about after the fall of capitalism, a government less state of sharing, best exemplified today by a Kibbutz, where everyone takes turn doing virtually everything from garbage man to president. Russia was never communist, they were a socialist dictatorship. Socialism exists in the US (think social security) and works in many democracies, ala sweden.

Marxism was not the first instance of communism, nor the first serious attempt to promote it. As it says in the first sentence of The Communist Manifesto, the idea of communism was already “haunting Europe” for decades beforehand. To that point, however, it had been totally unorganized. There were communes poping up all over Europe and the United States, most quickly failing but a few succeeding in holding together and providing a reasonable standard of living for their members. Then there were workers movements in most industrial cities, but these were usually poorly organized and they faced violent attacks from the governments. Part of their problem, of course, was that they had no clearly defined goal beyond improved conditions for the workers. There were some attempts to organize strikes, particularly in Manchester, England, but they generally failed. And there were attempts to speak to Parliment (or other national governments) about the conditions of workers in hopes that something would be done, but those failed as well due to the working classes having no voting power.

Marx and Engels gave the movement a certain respectability by setting down clear principles, underlying philosophy, and a plan of action for the future. At the same time, they changed the nature of the communist movement. Many branches of communism before M&E were religious in nature, particularly the independent communes. Marx, of course, was entirely opposed to religion, and insisted on an entirely secular and logical basis to the communist movement.

It isinteresting how many take the name of Marx in vain, so to speak. Wellington had it right. I just want to add that Marx didn’t really advocate a revolution by the working class, he thought it would be inevitable. And in certain aspects he was right (as he was about many other things). The voting franchise was extended, though not in the way he predicted. However, the working class an influence many times greater on politics today than they did a century and a half ago. I don’t think the rulers of the era wanted the working class to have that impact, but, as Marx predicted, the force of society brought it about.

Marx had a rather idealized cview of the working class. He never had to work for a living himself, but spent his entire life leeching off others, mainly the family of his aristocratic wife (something he took pride in) and Engels (who embezzled from the family company to keep Marx working on his theories). Marx was thouroughly over class himself with strong ideas about his station in life and what would be needed to maintain that lifestyle, e.g. servants.

His ideas about the commune where evertyone would live happily is quite naive: Go to work in the factory in the morning, work on your own speciality, as a cabinet maker maybe, in the afternoon. I think he would’ve been appalled by the USSR and PRC.

Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Castro, to name a few, used Marx’ writings and twisted everything to suit their needs. Marx didn’t see a capitalist class replaced with a political class.

The fall of the Wall has made many people dismiss Marx and the ideas of communism as something quaint: “On paper a Utopia, in reality a failure, due to human nature”. I’m not sure that’s valid, since there have been very few tries at the type of society Marx thought would come. Also - to dismiss Marx is to deny what’s happened in most parts of the world in the last 150 years. I can’t think of a single person with greater influence on the world during that time - be it from twisting his philosophy to suit the needs of power hungry dictators or as a boogey man used by the rulers on the other end of the political scale, Marx brought about modern democracy, foresaw a lot of the political and economical happenings 50 or a 100 years after his own life.

A phrase that intrigued me is the notion of a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Somehow this rallying cry was supposed to inspire the masses, though I–and countless others–find nothing inspiring about dictatorship of any kind (figurative or no) and cringe at the notion of a revolution or highly technological society guided by the hands of an undereducated, uninformed, and largely clueless boobocracy. For a starry-eyed elitist, Marx had way too much faith in his fellow man.

I’d also say that it’s a leap to credit Karl Marx with the flowering of democracy.

A marxist view of basketball.

I’m not much of a politico, but one blank that hasn’t been addressed and communism’s major practical downfall is that it depends on central planning and prices set by this centralized force, instead of by the free market (since communism is basically a rejection of a free market). The problem is that prices can’t be set that way, because then there’s a disconnect between the supply and the demand - how do the suppliers know how much to make, and at what quality? So you end up with shortages and a general mess.

Not really. Watching what happened in Russia made peaceful democracy a far tastier alternative. The Powers That Were didn’t hand out the franchise from the good will of their hearts.

Sometimes, however, they handed it over to the slimiest people around. Part of Hitler’s platform was his war on Communism.

A good example of this is Bismarck creating in Germany the first european state-organized welfare system in order to counter the appeal of socialist ideas…

My goodness, I hadn’t realized that. Sounds like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a page from Bismarck’s book… when some sort of specter was haunting America.

If you want a good example of how the communist ideal should work, consider the economic model of a family. Families are not based on capitalist economics - nobody thinks it’s unusual that some family members earn a disproportionate share of income yet freely contribute it to the entire family’s use. Nor (other than some sibling arguments) is there a problem with the idea that some family members are capable of doing more work around the house than others and of having extra privileges like later bedtime hours and access to the family car based on their age and behavior. And if one child needs braces or eyeglasses, there’s no economic review to determine if that child is contributing enough to the family to justify the added expense.

A family also resembles the communist model in its political style. While the controlling elements of the family create their policies based on what they think is the best interest of the family, there is no illusion that the family is run as a democracy. Mom and Dad are the ones in charge and what they say goes. They know what’s best and as long as you live under their roof you’ll follow their rules etc.

So communism can work but only in groups where the individuals in the group feel a greater loyalty to the best interests of the group than they do to any individual in the group including themselves.