The “Puritan Work-Ethic,” Profits, and the Decline of Happiness

We all know the famous story of Martin Luther nailing his “95 Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church door.  We know this as the second greatest split in Christendom;  this split marked the moment that half of Europe broke away from the Catholic Church, and formed what would be called the “Protestant Church.” (Which would itself split up numerous times)  What is often overlooked is something far more important:  this split set in motion the creation of an ideology that would be so pervasive that we still live under it today, that even atheists adhere to it, and preach its virtues without even knowing that they are spreading religious dogma.  This ideology is known now as “Puritan Work Ethic.”

At the very beginning of Luther’s “95 Theses,” he makes the argument that repentance for christians is a lifelong endeavor.  Luther believed that Christians must struggle their whole lives against their “sins” and are never free from this struggle.  But he did not deride this struggle, he praised it.  Luther viewed this conflict as a kind of purification, which would ultimately redeem an individual.  Luther also attacked the Catholic definition of “vocation,” which was defined as “spiritual work” at the time, that is; only the work of Priests, Missionaries, and Monks.  Luther argued differently, he believed that God is as pleased by work of the milkmaid as he is the work of the minister; “God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.”  Luther would argue throughout his life that God answers prayer through the work of Christians; “God gives the wool, but not without our labor.  If it is on the sheep, it makes no garment.”  With these ideas Luther laid the foundation for the deification of labor.  Before Luther’s teachings, work was merely a necessity of life, a means to provide sustenance and other needs.  Now, since God was seen to be working through the act of manual labor, work started to be regarded as a religious act.

This religious regard for work really took form with the Puritan Calvinists of England, specifically those who colonized America.  These Puritans sanctified work in the same way Luther had done, but through the lense of their own religious beliefs.  Puritans went a step further with Luther’s belief about the lifelong struggle against one’s own “sin.”  Puritans didn’t just deify that conflict, they deified the very act of suffering.  Puritans glorified “suffering for God,” believing that suffering to advance “the gospel” was the greatest way any person could glorify God.  Since work was holy, suffering in your work was encouraged.  They also believed that a person’s entire life must be committed to glorifying God; everything a person does or says should bring glory to God.  All this created a culture that emphasized never ceasing difficult work.  Because you weren’t working to provide for your needs, you were working as a necessary part of worshiping God. “Laziness” was no longer just refusing to work, it had become a sin that one could commit simply by not working hard enough.  Even if a person was able to provide for all their needs with the work they did, if the maximum amount of effort wasn’t ceaselessly performed, you were regarded as having committed a sin against God!

Do you see the foundations of our modern work ethic?  It’s represented in the smallest details of our jobs.  Cashiers being required to stand the whole time they are working, office workers being required to stay at work even if all their tasks are completed, soldiers painting rocks or raking dirt!  All of these are examples of the Puritan work ethic being subjected upon a secular society.  They are acts which serve no purpose beyond the performance of the act itself.  They better society in no way, yet they are enforced because we still detest the Puritan ideas of laziness; you must not only work as much as possible, you must suffer at that work regardless of if the work needs done that much, performed that painfully, or even if that work needs done at all!

The insidious nature of this Puritan Work Ethic isn’t just manifested in cruelty towards people and it’s general destruction of happiness, but also in the fact that it is a part of the bedrock of Capitalism.  Max Weber makes this very argument in his l905 book: “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”  In this book, Weber argues that it was the shift from emphasizing metaphysical, other-worldly, rituals and devotion, towards earthly “mundane” work which Puritanism brought about that allowed Capitalism to develop.  But it wasn’t merely a change in culture that Puritanism brought which facilitated the rise of Capitalism, it was the material effect, and its usefulness for profit seekers.

Overworking obviously creates an over-abundance of goods, which is a condition that Capitalism requires to exist in order to function.  Capitalists promoted the Puritan work ethic, knowingly or not, because that mindset was required for them to maximize profit.  Because so long as the workers adhere to Puritan ideas of what constitutes “laziness” and good work, they can be exploited.  Think about the very idea of “hard work” being regarded as a positive thing.  It makes far more sense to try and make work less difficult.  But for a Capitalist to maximize profits, the workers must work as hard as possible for no greater reward.  And the workers will gladly do so as long as they believe it is unethical, that it’s “lazy,” for them to do otherwise.

This method of overwork and over-production is not only unethical because of how it needlessly abuses the workers, but because it’s ecologically unsound.  Its very foundation is inefficiency, because it encourages the continuation of work long after there is a need to do so, wasting both resources and labor-power, which should be used to address other needs.  Instead, it’s all wasted on producing more food than can be eaten, more cars than need exist, and a myriad of products that no one even wants, all to be thrown away and add to the degradation of the environment.

As it stands now, society places work before needs, work before happiness.  In fact, you should be happy to work so hard!  How can anyone not see the echoes of the Puritan sanctity of suffering in this?  This moral insanity has to end. There is no morality in suffering and misery, there is no morality in working more than we must.  “But we will become weak!” The Unquestionable-They will cry.  “Haven’t you seen WALL-E?! ”  God help us all, now that we have based our society on the “wisdom” of cartoons.  There is no material basis for the idea that humans become fat, stupid, and incapable of taking care of themselves when not worked to exhaustion day-in and day-out.  If this were true, the owning class should have died out naturally long ago.  “But that’s not true! Owners do work hard!”  The Unquestionable-They is likely saying now.  Pretending this point is correct, then they’ve only proven their first point wrong, because the owners don’t have to work at all.  They can hire managers and accountants to do everything for them.  If they work, they do so simply because they want to.  No more, no less.

The owners allow themselves to live according to more natural laws of work ethic.  Working only when they have to and when they want to, never any more.  This was the state of being for all of humanity (except slaves, of course) until our subjection to Capitalism and the tyrannical Puritan Work Ethic it favors.  Even the serfs of Medieval-Europe had more days off than modern wage-workers!  Hunter-Gatherers work only a few hours a week, and that is the most successful system humanity ever devised.

I can already hear the cries of the Unquestionable-They: “Those were ‘primitive’ societies.  To live in modern society with modern technology, we need to work harder.”  No, we don’t.  I refer you to what we’ve been talking about: over-working, and undue suffering while at work.  Being uncomfortable while working doesn’t even require any serious consideration.  You cannot work as effectively if you are miserable.  As for overworking: at the very base of it, it’s a type of discomfort.  It prematurely wears a person out, wasting their energy that could be saved for that job later, or applied to different meaningful work.  And the products that it produces: tell me, how do the thousands of acres of unbought new cars, that are parked to rot in the deserts of the American southwest, help provide cars for everyone?  How does this even warrant consideration?  It’s literally producing more than is needed.  It does nothing but waste human energy and resources.

The Puritan work ethic is the last vestige of theocratic Medieval-Society, ironically continued often by even atheists.  And like the rule by the priest and the bishop, the domination of the masses by work before need is slowly crushing our species, and bringing the planet with us.  The clergy of Europe began the conquest of the world, and their shadow continues to be cast in every Capitalist workplace, every clearcut forest, every industrial slaughterhouse.  That shadow was felt by the Sioux Nation as it opposed the Dakota Access pipeline.  That shadow is felt in every sweatshop.  That shadow is felt by you, the wage-worker, every time you find yourself forced to endure needless work, and needless suffering at work.  Step out of this shadow, reject this archaic religious dogma, and overthrow the tyranny of the Puritan Work Ethic.  Take back your happiness.

But, you may be wondering, why can’t we end the Protestant Work Ethic now, without instituting Communism?  How does it relate?  That answer is in the need for profits to exist under Capitalism.  We just discussed how this ethic is necessary to maximize profits, but the very act of maximizing profit, which allows Capitalism to have some semblance of functionality, is a flawed design.

Capitalism is a system of endless economic growth.  A business must continually produce profits, it cannot “break even,” and it must always grow, else-wise it will have to close.  And here we encounter perhaps the most damning aspect of Capitalism:  it is inherently unstable, it actually is not a system that can function properly in any capacity.  Capitalism has within it a huge and glaring inherent contradiction between profits and wage-labor, the two defining aspects of it.

The Inherent Contradictions of Capitalism

I’ve discussed the moral problems with Capitalism to some length now, but the problems Communists have with Capitalism are not purely issues of morality.  Capitalism is defined by two primary aspects: wages and profits.  These are the cornerstones of Capitalism, wages are the diesel in the engine of the train, and profits are the rails.  Without these institutions, Capitalism would not exist.  But the relationship between the two is a flawed design, an inherent contradiction.  This system does not run like a well-oiled train, because it can’t.  

As I’ve already described, Capitalism divides society into two primary groups: owners (Capitalists, “the Bourgeoisie.” The people who own the factories, stores, rental properties, natural resources, and other forms of capital: what is commonly called the “means of production.”) and workers (laborers, “the Proletariat,” the people who do not own businesses or other forms of capital, and must work for a wage to survive.)  For Capitalism to function, the workers must be a vast majority, as they are also the prime movers of capital.  The workers build the products and buy them, providing the owners with profit.

In order to make a profit, the owners must sell products for more than what it cost to produce them.  They must maximize their profit and minimize their cost of production.  This means that owners must pay workers as little as possible.  And that, once said, reveals the great contradiction of Capitalism.  The very source of the owner’s wealth must be as poor as possible.  Profits rise as wages decrease.  This decrease can, and often does, exist even as the literal value of wages increases.  Because the prices of goods is increased by the owner in order to offset their risen cost of production which occurred as a result of rising wages.  So now the workers must pay more for goods, and as a result their wages have actually decreased.

There is another way that the Bourgeoisie maximizes profits, a tactic that has become more popular in modern times:  instead of  simply paying workers less, or raising the price of products to offset the cost of production, owners often reduce their workforce.  That is: employ fewer workers who produce more.  Although this has the effect of reducing strikes and the general disgruntled attitude of the workforce, it still has a similar effect on the economy; more workers have lęss buying power.  Once again:  the very driving force of Capitalism is reduced by the owners increasing their profits.

As profits rise, as the economy grows, meaning that all businesses must grow in order to remain competitive and in business.  In order to grow, Businesses must continuously increase their profits.  In order to keep their profits rising, the owners raise prices without raising wages.  Or, they raise wages, but also raise prices, so the effect is negated.  Or, they keep prices the same, and raise wages, but lay off workers and make the remaining workers work twice as hard.  No matter which method the Bourgeoisie use, the buying power of the masses shrinks.  More and more luxuries become too expensive for the workers as a whole, killing those markets first.  This means the workers are spending all their wages only on what they need to survive.  When all of the produce of a worker’s labors goes to make an owner rich, and the worker receives only the minimum of food and shelter they need to survive, this is called slavery.  Regardless of what labels we put to it, or what legal status the worker has, the material effect to the worker is the same as if they were a chattel slave.

Eventually, the contradiction between wages and profits makes it so the workers cannot even afford needs.  They become homeless, destitute, or at the very least dependant upon welfare from the State.  They can no longer move capital by purchasing things.  Thus the engine of Capitalism runs out of fuel and comes to a halt.  Factories close because their owners aren’t turning a profit for themselves.  Workers are laid off, reducing their buying power even further, exponentially compounding the problem.  Depression (Or “recession,” if the political leaders are trying to save face) ensues.

But this floods the market with cheap labor and cheap property, as millions of workers are more desperate for any and all work and many businesses close and sell their factories and other property.  This allows the Bourgeoisie to expand, buying more businesses and hiring more workers for cheaper wages.  Making the economy climb back up.  Round and round it goes, boom to bust and back again. All the while the wealthiest of the Bourgeoisie get more and more wealthy every time, as they expand their Capitalist Empires with each depression and sell-off of businesses.

This is why every period of prosperity in Capitalism is followed by a period of depression.  This was seen in the late 19th Century, the “Great Depression” of the 30’s, the economic slump of the 70’s, the “crash” of 1987, and most recently with the “Great Recession” of 2008.  So, as you celebrate the economy recovering, as you watch profits rise and wages inch upward, or even as you push for a higher minimum wage, remember this: it will only bring another crash.  Chaos is the very nature of Capitalism, it cannot be stabilized nor made ethical.

The only permanent solution is to end this madness.  We must end the pursuit of profit, end competition over the means of subsistence, and instead create an economic system built on cooperation and providing for everyone’s needs.

Of course, the Capitalists are not ignorant of this reality.  Anyone with even the smallest understanding of history can see it.  And Capitalists have developed their own solution for this inherent contradiction:  Fascism.

What Is Fascism?

Today the terms Fascist and Nazi are heard with alarmingly increasing regularity, and clashes in the streets between Fascist and Anti-Fascist demonstrators is an almost daily occurrence.  On August l2th, 20l7, a Fascist demonstrator even tried to kill an entire group of Anti-Fascist protesters in Charlottesville with his car, succeeding in injuring dozens and killing one:  Heather Heyer.  As this conflict grows, it’s important to stop and ask, and to analyze, exactly what Fascism is and why it’s so dangerous.  When you do that, you can also see why Capitalism makes Fascism an inevitability if Capitalism is not ended.

Fascism was born out of the turbulent and economically unstable years of the early 20th century.  It began in Italy during World War One.  During that time the populace was organized into a militaristic group of labor unions known as “fasci,” which simply means “a bundle.”  The separate worker groups aided the Italian war effort, and provided a platform for spreading radical ideologies.  People involved in the fasci began to believe that Liberal Democracy had become obsolete, they could see how traditional Capitalist society was unable to overcome the inherent contradictions of Capitalism.  But they did not advocate for the workers to seize industry and democratize the economy, as the Communists did.

In 1914, under the leadership of Benito Mussolini, these separate fasci were united into a single party called “The Autonomous Fasci of Revolutionary Action.”  This Fascist Party advocated for Italy to join the war on the side of the Allied powers, and used extreme nationalism to advocate for a reorganization of society into a single unit.  The fascists believed that the State should be merged with economic entities, like corporations and business leaders, as they viewed that such experts of economics could create an efficient planned economy to counteract the inherent contradictions of Capitalism and prevent further economic depressions.  (Here we can see, once again, how Economists and Business-Owners have replaced the Priests and Nobles of Feudalism.)  

The fascists admired military organization, and wanted the whole of society to function in this manner, under the direction of the Capitalist leaders.  However, the planned economy advocated by the Fascists was not like the one advocated and created by the Bolsheviks.  The Bolsheviks, being Communists, eliminated private ownership over the means of production and instead consolidated control of it under a Republican Government.  The system advocated, and eventually created by the Fascists, was one that that did not eliminate Capitalism; it maintained private ownership over the means of production.  Instead, the Fascist system brought the Bourgeoisie into Government as heads of the economy in order to plan it.  The Fascists system didn’t just protect the power of the Bourgeoisie, it expanded their power.

This is why, time and time again, we see the Bourgeoisie not only show a lack of concern for Fascists, but they actively court them.  Benito Mussolini enjoyed support from the largest banks in Italy, and even the Pirelli family.  Which even included financial donations.  The Ford Motor Company openly supported Nazi Germany, even going so far as to print this in their official company publications:

“At the beginning of this year we vowed to give our best and utmost for final victory, in unshakable faithfulness to our Fuehrer.”

In 1940 during the “Battle of Britain” and only one year before the U.S. entered the war on the side of the Allies, the Ford Motor Company gave 30 percent of all rubber it manufactured to Nazi germany and other Fascist countries.  Henry Ford himself donated 50,000 Reichsmarks a year to Nazi Germany on Hitler’s birthday.  We can even see this today at times like after the violent protests of 2017 in Charlottesville, where President Trump (the first Billionaire President) called the Fascist demonstrators, one of whom murdered heather Heyer: “Very fine people.”

The other primary aspect of fascism was their belief that society needed an enemy.  The Fascists saw how the nations of Europe were able to mobilize their populations into societies of singular purpose during world war one, due to the great fear of their enemies which was fostered by the different powers (think of the posters and other propaganda that painted the Germans as barbaric “Huns.”)  The Fascists believed that this was the ideal society: one where the whole of a nation works towards a single goal of of fighting its enemies.  They believed it was the only way a nation can progress, and that the greatest technological achievements were made under such a system.  The only way that society could be organized in such a way, the only way to realize its full potential, was through war.  In that belief, the Fascists created their most pervasive ideal: the scapegoat of “the other.”

“The Other” is anyone who doesn’t fit the ideal person of the nation, anyone who is from outside the dominant culture and ethnicity, or deviates from the accepted social norms.  In Europe this is most often the Jews and the Roma people, but Fascists extended their alienation and scapegoating to homosexuals, disabled people, and anyone else that they viewed as either deviating from the norm or unable to perform as a worker, and thus unable (in their eyes) to contribute to society.  To the Fascists, the nation was everything.  One nation, united, working to “better” itself through concerted effort and conflict, guided by the most economically knowledgeable people in a never ending war against the enemies of the nation: “the other.”  This alienation of “the other” kept the population afraid, and thus controllable, and also served to foster a sense of extreme nationalism.  I’ve described before, in previous writings, how nationalism is the new great religion, and that is precisely how fascists used it.

So now we see the pillars of fascism: corporate merger with Government to plan the economy, fostering of extreme nationalism, alienation of anyone outside that nation and scapegoating them for all of society’s problems, and perpetual warfare.  This is what Fascists in 1920 advocated, and it’s what Fascists today advocate.  And it’s no coincidence that Fascism has returned to the mainstream during this economic crisis.

I mentioned before that Fascism was a response to the inherent contradictions of Capitalism, an attempt to counter those contradictions without abolishing Capitalism.  That’s really what Fascism is: the inevitable outcome of Capitalism.  As these economic crises become more frequent, as the flaws of Capitalism become more apparent to all, the Ruling Class take action to avoid losing power.  That action is Fascism.  They take direct control of Government, and distract the masses with warfare and fear of “the other.”

I hope you’ve taken notice of something: that this is what the U.S. has always been. Mussolini and Hitler studied the United States to form their ideologies, and as inspiration for their racist laws.  They sought to duplicate the U.S. ‘s accomplishments.  The U.S. has always been ruled by the Businessman, the Bourgeoisie.  They wrote the constitution, they are always the ones elected to office, the are held up as “the most capable to govern.”  The U.S. has always fostered extreme nationalism, and always alienated and scapegoated minorities.  And the U.S. has always, constantly, made war both to expand it’s power and to keep the populace united behind the Government out of fear of its enemies.  The truth is : The U.S. invented Fascism, the Italians just gave it a name.

Still, even in the U.S. there has been some semblance of Democracy, and at least a spirit of support for it.  But that will die eventually if we do not end Capitalism.  As these economic crises grow in frequency and severity, which is inevitable due to the inherent contradictions of Capitalism, the Bourgeoisie will tighten their grip on political power.  Eventually they will throw back the facade and rule openly as a new Nobility, just as they did in previous Fascist Governments.  We’ve already seen a taste of this.  Both ruling political parties brazenly court Corporate financing and wealthy Business Owners, directly against both the interests and desires of the average citizens.  And in the last two Presidential races both parties have openly declared “the party picks the candidate, not the people.”  This undemocratic system is inevitable under Capitalism.  Because the most economically powerful entities will always dominate the political landscape, and the working class is never, and can never be under Capitalism, the most economically powerful group.

This is why a Democratic Government cannot exist under Capitalism.  The best that it can ever be is a broad Plutocratic-Oligarchy.  Capitalism is the undemocratic control over the means of production, the things we all need and rely on to live our lives.  That system is a very betrayal of Democracy.

Capitalism Betrays Democracy

Democracy is the great imperative, and the triumph of civilization. it is birthed from the principles of the enlightenment age, where our ancestors realized that the only way to advance society and improve life even for a few, was to improve life for all.  It is inspired by and sustained by an ethical system which promotes equality, justice, and prosperity for all, and for everyone to have an equal voice in the systems that affect their lives.  It’s safe to assume that the one thing that I and any reader of this book can agree on is the necessity for a Democratic Government.  What is always baffling to me is how any advocate for Democracy can ever support Capitalism.  How can anyone demand Democracy in Government, and tolerate tyranny over the means of production?  How can we claim equal representation in the system which creates our laws, while subjecting ourselves to dictatorship of the systems which provide all the things we rely on to survive and live a modern life?  Capitalism is a betrayal of the ideas behind Democracy.  For this essay I am going to rely on the writing’s of a colleague of mine, Chris Tumlinson, to argue this point.  As I feel I could not argue it better than he already has.  I am going to quote his essay on this subject in its entirety, which he originally wrote in the form of “memes” to share online.  I highly encourage anyone to visit his facebook page: “Learn Socialism” to read more writings like this one:

“In a Democracy, we expect our leaders to answer to us and we expect to have an equal voice in the day-to-day decisions that govern our lives.  As a worker, does the leadership of the company you work for answer to you?  Do you have an equal voice in the decisions that govern your workplace, where you spend the majority of your life?  Why do we expect Democracy over our political systems , but not our economic systems, which have the most impact on our lives?”

The issue of course is one of freedom. The goal of Democracy can be summed up in this word.  Democracy is meant to increase the freedom for everyone , and the common belief is that collective economic systems, like Communism, stifle this freedom.  Chris Tumlinson moves forward with this theme:

“First of all, what is freedom?  Freedom is the power to act, speak, think, or choose without restraint .  In other words, it is the power to make decisions over one’s own life.  We can all agree that freedom is very important, that all individuals should have the power to make decisions over their own lives.

But is freedom of the individual an absolute?  An absolute is something that can be viewed as existing independently and not in relation to other things.  Unless an individual isolates themselves completely from human society, the freedom of the individual cannot be viewed as an absolute because the freedom of one individual does not exist independently from the freedom of other individuals.

In human societies, where individuals live side-by-side and interact with one another every day, the freedom of any individual to make decisions over their own lives will always have a relationship with the freedom of others to make decisions over their own lives.

For example: if an individual while exercising their individual freedom, decides to dump garbage into a water supply, their decision will interact with the freedom of others, the freedom to have clean and unpolluted water.  If an individual , while exercising their individual freedom, decides to express hate speech towards others, their decisions will interact with the freedom of others, the freedom to live without fear.  If an individual , while exercising their individual freedom decides to build a fence around a natural resource, their decision will interact with the freedom of others, the freedom of access to that resource.  If an individual, while exercising their individual freedom decides to tear down someone else’s house and build their own in its place, their decision will interact with the freedom of others, the freedom to have and live in their own home.

Our freedoms overlap.  Some decisions made by individuals have the potential to affect the lives of more than that individual.  This is the purpose for which Democracy exists.

Democracy is the process of making decisions together so that everyone whose life will be affected by a decision has a chance to participate in making that decision.  When the freedom to make decisions over one’s own life overlaps with the freedom of another to make decisions over their own life, we use Democracy so that each person affected by the decision has a voice in that decision.

Those who are affected by the outcome of a decision should always have a say in that decision.  When determining whether a decision should be made individually or Collectively (through Democracy), the question should be asked: who will be affected by this decision?  If the decision will affect only the individual, it can be made individually by the one who is affected. If the decision will affect more than the individual it should be made collectively (Through Democracy) by all who are affected.  This is how we create fair and equal societies where the freedoms of all are respected, so that the best decisions can be made for the best benefit of everyone. Without Democracy, individuals can make decisions without concern for the lives of others, which limits the freedom of those who are affected by excluding them from making decisions over their own lives

The core of Capitalism is individualism. Capitalism emphasizes the importance of individuals (Capitalists) and the pursuit of their own self-interests (profit) as having a higher importance than the collective interests of others.  Capitalism ignores Democracy and grants decision-making power over the lives of many into the hands of a few.  Under Capitalism individuals own and control the means of production; they dictate all of the decisions of a business in order to pursue their own interests, which is the pursuit of profit.  In pursuing profit, Capitalists make decisions which affect the lives of many others (their employees and their communities) while giving little or no decision-making power to those who are affected.

The core of Socialism is collectivism, Socialism seeks to democratize work, production, and distribution so that workers and communities are empowered to make decisions over their own lives rather than be subjected to the dictatorial decisions of individual owners of the means of production (Capitalist employers.)  In this way, the collectivism of Socialism offers greater freedom than the individualism of Capitalism. When workers come together to make the decisions that affect their lives, they don’t decide to endanger themselves, to eliminate their own livelihoods, to shut down the facilities that support their communities, or to damage the environment in which they and their families and loved ones live.  Socialism emphasizes the shared interests of all workers and the whole of human Society.  Socialism is about real Democracy.”

A Democratic Government cannot exist Within an undemocratic socio-economic system like Capitalism.  We realized this with the system that preceded Capitalism: Feudalism.  Why can’t so many people see that it is the same situation?  We know that Feudalism could not facilitate a Democratic Government because the Nobility held all the real power, they held control over the means of production, the things everyone needed to survive and live a modern life.  And as such the Nobility would simply control any Governmental body as well.  It is the same situation with Capitalism; those private owners over the means of production (the Bourgeoisie) will always dominate Government, no matter how Democratic the Government is structured.  Because the Bourgeoisie control the very systems and resources that we all need and rely on for a modern life.  The means of production has an even more profound impact on our lives than the Government.  It is where we get our food, it is where we get our homes, it is where we get our medical care, it is where we get our education (books and the internet), it is where we get our news and entertainment, and it is where we get our transportation.  As such, it must be Democratically owned and controlled, not privately as it is under Capitalism.

The common theme of today is for people to insist that such radical change is not necessary, that Capitalism can be regulated into an ethical and Democratic system through Social-Democratic reforms and regulation (although they usually mistakenly call this “Democratic-Socialism.”) This is simply a fallacy.  It does not matter how many laws you lay on top of the Capitalist system, how many regulations and social -welfare programs you use to try and force it to be ethical.  The best you could ever achieve by such is a slightly broadened Plutocratic-Oligarchy.  Because at the end of the day, the people who privately own and control the means of production will have to be catered to simply because the real power over everyone’s lives lies in their hands.

Even if it were possible to regulate Capitalism into a solid Democracy and an ethical socio-economic system would it even be desirable?  I do not think so.  For starters, because you still cannot overcome the inherent contradiction between wages and profit, it’s a part of the bedrock structure of Capitalism; Capitalism is an inherently unstable system and it’s preferable to end it simply because of this.  But on top of that, the amount of legal structure and bureaucracy needed to accomplish such a feat would be immense.  Making Government too costly to operate and further alienating the people from it.  Resulting in the very same situation that we started out trying to rid ourselves from.  It’s like trying to modify an antiquated vehicle, like a wagon or a chariot, so that it could travel on modern highways safely.  The weight from the added engine, brakes, lights, drive-train, and safety equipment, would stress the frame, which was never designed for such things, requiring constant maintenance and the ride would never be as comfortable or as safe as a modern car that has been designed from the beginning to drive at current speeds on modern roads.  Capitalism is an antiquated socio-economic system that works against the interests of the majority, against the interests of you and me.  It must be scrapped and replaced with a system that has been designed from the beginning to preserve and facilitate Democracy. Capitalism must be replaced with Communism: a classless society.

As long as one group of society is held above another, as long as society is divided and stratified, the top group or groups will always rule and the bottom group or groups will always be subjugated.  We cannot just hope that the rulers will be benevolent, we must not have rulers.  Society must be Democratic, not Oligarchic.  But society will always be Oligarchic as long as there is class, even if we establish Socialism, the democratic ownership and control over the means of production, and eliminate the class divide of the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat.  Because that wasn’t the first class system to be created, and still isn’t the only class system to exist.  In order for Democracy to finally flourish we must have a classless society.  And in order to have a classless society, we must eliminate Government as a State.  And that is ultimately the goal of Communism.  

Still, I’m sure that word no doubt creates a sense of great apprehension in your mind, and that is understandable given what you’ve been taught Communism is.  But please, now, let a Communist tell you what Communism is.

What is Communism?

I’ve talked at length about the problems of Capitalism, but I’m sure you need to know about the solutions.  It is not enough to Simply point out problems, a person must have an answer to them or else not say anything at all.  Communists have the solution.  Karl Marx famously put it:

“Communism is the riddle of history solved. And it knows itself to be this solution.”

However, Communism likely conjures images in your mind of the Gulags and purges of Stalin’s Russia.  Or the famines of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.”  Or even just a basic image of dictatorship and opposition to Democracy.  I will not waste any time defending nor denouncing the actions of past Communist countries, as such arguments only lead to absurdity due to the massive amounts of propaganda from both sides.  What I will say is: those specific things you fear are not Communism.  These things are neither goals of nor inevitable outcomes of Communism, because Communism is the goal.  These terrible things were done by people following certain ideas about how to achieve Communism.  None of whom achieved that final goal even by their own admission.

Whether or not those actions and ideas were a positive force is certainly debatable, and has been debated ad-nauseum.  The point I am making is: they are not the only Communist ideologies.  Their methods are not the only proposed methods for achieving Communism.  I will cover several proposed methods later, but we must begin with what Communism is now that we have established what is is not.

In the simplest terms possible, Communism is a society that has eliminated class (divisions of society.)  It is a society with no Ruling Class, no Working Class, no Governing Class, no Wealthy, no Poor, no Homeless, no Jobless.  There is some disagreement among the different sects of Communists as to how such a society would be structured to achieve this, but the basic goal, a classless society, remains the same for all Communists.

The other thing in which all Communists agree is that the first thing that must be done to achieve a classless society is to abolish private ownership over the means of production.  In other words: establish Socialism.  Because you will not ever have a classless society so long as the means of production is controlled in an entirely undemocratic way.  This is why all Communists are Socialists.  Private ownership of the means of production facilitates the existence of the most powerful existing class:  the Bourgeoisie.  It reduces the majority of the population into a powerless class: the Proletariat.  By democratizing control over the means of production, both of these classes are eliminated.  There is no longer Bourgeoisie or Proletariat, only one people.  But what then, you may be wondering, is the difference between Socialism and Communism?  If Socialism eliminates Capitalist class society, why have separate terms?  Some Communists argue that there is no difference, that Socialism is the name for the “lower phase of Communism” where private ownership over the means of production is still in the process of being eliminated.  There is some merit to that argument, but I have a different outlook.

The class system of Bourgeoisie and Proletariat is the most prominent and hardest felt class divide, but it is not the only one in existence.  It is, after all, only 200 or so years old.  Society was divided into other classes throughout history.  As Karl Marx famously stated in the Manifesto:

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

Many of these past class structures still exist, and unless opposed directly, they will continue even after the establishment of Socialism.  Indeed, it’s even possible that past class structures which have diminished, or disappeared altogether, could reassert themselves if we do not seek to create a classless Society.  If all we do is build Socialism, democratize the means of production, we will not ever achieve Communism.  For we will still be plagued by wealth inequality (even if we replace existing currency with “labor notes.” We saw this in the Soviet Union), we will perhaps see the re-emergence of religious class divides, and we will beyond a doubt still be divided by the Oldest and first class divide : the divide between the Governed and the Governors.

This is an issue which even Lenin and Engels discussed at length.  As Engels said in his book “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”:

“But in order that these antagonisms, these classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of ‘order’; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state.”

So long as the Government is held above the people, so long as it is constituted in such a way that it is a “State” as Engels and Lenin defined a State, then this class system still exists and Communism cannot be achieved.  And this is the ultimate difference between Socialism and Communism.  A simply Socialist system makes no attempt to eliminate Government as a State.  Under such a system, the people are alienated from the practice of governance and that is a social divide, a class system.  Although there is much argument in Communist circles about how to do it, all Communists seek to end this class system as well , we all seek to end Government as a State and instead make the people themselves the Government (I use “Government” as a kind of shorthand term for “the organization of society.” All society must be organized to avoid chaos.  No matter what that organization looks like, it is still a “Government” even if it is not a “State”)

What I hope I have been able to convey is that Communism is Democracy, but a true pursuit and fulfillment of the promise of Democracy.  Because Communists recognize that so long as a single aspect of society is undemocratic, then it corrupts the whole of society and none of it is Democratic.  And I mean society, not private life.  Communists have no intention of intruding on anyone’s lives in regards to things which have no effect on others.  Your home, your personal possessions, they belong to you and your family alone.  And your religion is your business, so long as you do not force it on others nor use it to bring harm on others.

Communism is “the end of history,” the final form of human society that so many have theorized for so long.  And it is the society that so many have strived to achieve for eons. From ancient Athens, to the Anabaptists of the late middle-ages, to the various Communist movements of the last 170 years.  Humankind has always sought to throw off the shackles of class society and instill true Democracy.  Communism is the Society that all common people want.  The difference between a Communist and the rest of the people is that when a Communist envisions this ideal society, they don’t dismiss it out-of-hand as an impossible fairy-tale.  Instead, the Communist looks at it as the solution to an equation, then seeks to find that equation.

But what is that equation? How can Communism be achieved?  That is truly where the division begins, not only between Communists and the rest of the people, but between Communists ourselves.  Truly we all want the same things, even Communists and the rest of the people.  But we have different theories about how to make them happen.  Let me explain in as concise a manner as possible what the most popular proposed methods are for achieving Communism.  The following posts will all be along this theme, briefly naming and explaining the most common Communist ideologies. 

Socialism

Before we even talk about Communist ideologies, we need to clear up the definition of Socialism, as it has been muddied in recent history.

Socialism is the parent of all Communist ideology.  It was born out of the fires of the many revolutions at the turn of the 19th century.  It has become an umbrella term, as it’s only emphasis is worker ownership and control over the “means of production” (the tools, workplaces, and resources needed to make things.)  Think of a worker’s Co-op. That is essentially what Socialism advocates, except on a national, and even global scale, where private ownership of such workplaces is abolished.

What the term refers to has been confused in recent years, as some people use it to refer to State-Socialism, which is a Socialist system where the state is used to protect common ownership of the means of production. Or even more recently it is confused with Social-Democracy, a Capitalist system with heavy State regulation of business and strong tax-funded social-welfare programs.  But neither of these uses for the term “Socialism” alone is correct.  Socialism only refers to the working class’s relationship to the Means of Production, not any specific system of Government, and it certainly does not simply mean tax-funded welfare systems or Government regulation; any system which still allows private ownership and control over the means of production is not a Socialist system.  Once again, it is Engels who says this so concisely.  From a letter he penned in 1881 to Eduard Bernstein:

“It is simply a falsification perpetrated by the Manchester Bourgeoisie in their own interests that they call ‘Socialism’ every interference by the state in free competition – protective tariffs, guilds, tobacco monopoly, nationalization of certain branches of industry, the Overseas Trade Society, and the royal porcelain factory.  We should criticize this but not believe it.  If we do the latter and develop a theory on the basis of this belief our theory will collapse together with its premises upon simple proof that this alleged socialism is nothing but, on the one hand, feudal reaction and, on the other, a pretext for squeezing out money, with the secondary object of turning as many proletarians as possible into civil servants and pensioners dependent upon the state, thus organizing alongside of the disciplined army of soldiers and civil servants, an army of workers as well. Compulsory voting brought about by superiors in the state apparatus instead of by factory overseers – a fine sort of Socialism! But that’s where people get if they believe the Bourgeoisie what it does not believe itself but only pretends to believe: that the state means socialism…”

This is why every Communist ideology falls under the umbrella of Socialism, as they all advocate some kind of system where those who work the means of production own and control it democratically, and no single person can claim ownership of it.  Because private ownership over the means of production creates a class system.  However, it is important to keep in mind that not all Socialists are Communists, because whether it is out of disbelief that a classless society is possible or lack of desire for it, there are many Socialists who do not seek to create a classless society.

Anarchism

Anarchism is one of the broadest Leftist ideologies, really an umbrella term for many Communist Ideologies.  It’s as old as Socialism, and developed out of the same conflicts in the early 19th century.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is widely regarded as the “father of Anarchism,” as he was the first public figure to declare himself an Anarchist, and is largely responsible for the ideology’s popularization.  He is arguably most famous for his assertion that “property is theft.”  Which summarizes his position that land can only belong to someone as long as that person themselves is able to use it.

Proudhon’s ideals were important in the formation of Anarchism.  However, over the last 200 so years, Anarchism has largely outgrown him through the influence of later writers like Peter Kropotkin and Murray Bookchin.
Modern Anarchism is best summed up through the meaning of its name: Anarchy means “without rulers.”  It’s based on the idea that society can, and should, function without unjust hierarchies.  Because of the common belief in the western world that a land without rulers is one of chaos and disorder, Anarchy has wrongfully become used as a synonym with chaos among non-leftists. But chaos is not the goal of Anarchism, as is testified by its symbol.  The “A” stands for Anarchy, and the “O” stands for Order. It symbolizes the Anarchist belief that order can only truly and permanently be achieved once rulers and Governments as States have been eliminated, and society governs itself through localized Direct-Democracy.  However, most Anarchists do recognize the need for temporary hierarchies and leadership positions for specific tasks.  Such as leading an army in a time of war, or managing a construction project or a research endeavor.  But they believe that these hierarchies must be temporary, have no authority outside their specific purpose, and always be answerable to the people as a whole who can remove the person in charge of the project if they fail in their duties.  Thus making these hierarchies “legitimate.”

The society that Anarchists seek to build is, essentially, Communist.  Which is why they were initially a part of the First International Communist Assembly, organized and led by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  The difference between Anarchists and other Communists is not their goals, but how they believe those goals must be achieved.  I will expand on this point in the next two ideologies.

Anarcho-Communism

This is the most common anarchist ideology.  It has it’s roots in the French revolution, but developed out of the Anarchist section of the First International Communist Assembly.  It was arguably made most popular, and heavily influenced by Peter Kropotkin’s “The Conquest of Bread.”  In which Kropotkin describes how a fully Communist society may be achieved, and how it could work, as well as refuting arguments against Communism, such as the common belief that communism causes people to be lazy or kills creativity.  Kropotkin also diverged from many traditional Anarchists in his refutation of all forms of currency, even the “labor notes” favored by Bakunin.
Anarcho-Communists advocate for communism, just like Marxists, Leninists, Luxemburgists, and other Communists.  However, “AnComs” differ in their rejection of a Transitional-State all-together.  Anarcho-Communists believe that Communism can be achieved directly out of a revolution of the working class.  Like other forms of Anarchism, Anarcho-Communists not only reject the necessity of a Government as a State, they believe that these State-type-Governments actually perpetuate Capitalist systems, and cannot ever lead to Communism.  AnComs do not believe that any State-type-Government will ever, or can ever, “wither away.”  They believe that Government as a State must be deliberately dismantled by the working class instead, and immediately replaced by Governmental systems that are not, to paraphrase Friedrich Engels: “held above the people.”

Leninism (a.k.a Bolshevism, a.k.a Marxism-Leninism)

First, I must be honest about my bias. I am not an adherent of Leninism, and I am even opposed to many of the ideals advocated by Leninists.  So that is important to keep in mind as you read this description.  Although I have tried to give as unbiased a description of Leninism as I can.
Leninism is perhaps the most widespread Communist ideology in the world.  It is commonly referred to as “Marxism-Leninism” by it’s adherents, as they believe it is the continuation of Marxist thought.  It is also often referred to alongside Maoism, as Maoism was largely influenced by Lenin’s ideology, although they do differ in some key points.  Leninism was developed by Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party and largely considered the founder of the Soviet Union.  It was the official ideology of the Soviet Union until it’s collapse in 1991.

The primary difference between Leninism and other communist ideologies is Leninism’s insistence on the “Vanguard Party.”  Leninists argue that the most class conscious individuals should lead the revolution against the ruling class, and build the transitional Socialist-State.  While most orthodox marxists have a far more vague definition of this transitional Socialist-State, Leninists interpret Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” as building a more traditional State-structure, a Republican Democracy, but one that is occupied by members of the working class and defends against reactionary forces that could subvert the revolution and rebuild Capitalism.  Leninists believe that this is necessary, as they do not believe that Communism can be built directly out of the revolution, as Anarcho-Communists do, (although they would perhaps argue that the their “Worker’s State” is a continuation of the revolution) they instead believe that Communism must be built via a Transitional-State that “withers away” as it eliminates private ownership over the Means of Production.  They believe that rather than tear down every Capitalist system, the workers must instead “lay hold of the ready-made State” and replace the former Capitalist Class.

Luxemburgism/Council-Communism

These two Socialist schools are sometimes regarded by leftists as two different ideologies. However, Luxemburgism and Council-Communism advocate the same Governmental system, and both can even trace their origins back to the failed German Revolution of 1918.  Rosa Luxemburg’s “Spartacus League,” and the Trade-Unionists, which attempted that revolution sought to build a system where the Transitional State-Government is composed of worker’s councils from the various workplaces and trades.  They rejected the “Vanguardism” of Lenin in favor of a mass movement composed of revolutionary unions.  These unions would then become the governing councils in the Transitional-State.  Like a Leninist system, the State would be a Republican Democracy which would “wither away” as a State by eliminating private ownership over the means of production, giving way to Communism.