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.