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ISSUES-Communism and Socialism

Communism and Socialism

According to historian Richard Pipes, communism -- a term that was coined in Paris in the 1840s -- refers to an ideal of "full social equality that in its most extreme form calls for the dissolution of the individual in the community." "Inasmuch as social and economic inequalities derive primarily from inequalities of possession," says Pipes, communism's attainment, by definition, requires the "abolition of private property." While this theoretical ideal has an ancient heritage, communism as an operational program is most closely associated with the names of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authors of the famous Communist Manifesto of 1848.

In the profiles and analyses contained in DiscoverTheNetworks, "communism" refers to the revolutionary philosophies based on Marxism, including also Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism and Maoism. When the term “Communism” is used as a synonym for the political system of the old Soviet Union and the Soviet satellite states ruled by various Communist parties, the “C” is capitalized.

Marxist doctrine holds that just as society evolved from feudalism to capitalism, it will inexorably progress still further to socialism and eventually communism. Communists consider socialism to be an intermediary step between capitalism (out of which socialism is said to grow) and communism. That is, communism (whose motto is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”) is deemed a further development, or “higher stage,” of socialism (whose motto is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his deeds”). Communism, in other words, is viewed as the more “perfect” of two systems that both advocate public ownership of the means of production, centralized economic planning, and the widespread redistribution of wealth.

The socialist principle of distribution according to deeds, or the quality and quantity of work that people perform, stands in marked contrast to the communist principle of distribution according to people’s needs. The former, because it accepts deed-based distribution of wealth, is considered easier to implement in a capitalist society without large-scale overhauls of existing political and economic structures. In essence, socialists view capitalism as a viable economic mechanism whose reins must simply be transferred from the currently dominant “oppressor class” that misuses capitalism to exploit workers, into the hands of the “worker class” which could use the system for laudable ends.

Communists, unlike socialists, believe that capitalism cannot be subtly incorporated into a new, egalitarian economic order; that it cannot be used as a convenient means to a more desirable end. Rather, communists call for the annihilation of capitalism by revolutionary means. They exhort the working classes to overthrow the “capitalist dictatorship” and to establish a classless society by force -- using armed strength to utterly vanquish the existing “ruling class.”

Journalist Matthew Vadum offers this explanation of the similarities and differences between socialism and communism:

"Karl Marx thought of socialism as a necessary way station on the road to the supposed  utopia of communism. The question of socialism versus communism is a never-ending debate in academic circles, and it is one that is too involved to get into here. Suffice it to say that socialists and communists all want government or the collective to be master. They all subscribe to bad, un-American ideas, are all in the same ideological camp, and all tend to believe that the ends justify the means. In ideological terms, there is no bright  line or safe harbor that neatly separates socialism from communism. They overlap and blend into each other.

"Communism, according to Marx, was a kind of heaven on earth and he was its foremost proselytizer. He argued that human beings could be changed and made to reject their natural, selfish, family-oriented impulses. When this happened, everything would supposedly change for the better. People would voluntarily work hard for a society filled with abundance so there would be no need for governments, taxes, armies, police, courts, and jails. In such a society the principle of 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need' would prevail.

"But before this (impossible) idealized condition can be achieved, there has to be socialism. The working class, according to Marx's theory, disgusted by the supposed evils of capitalism and the misery they feel it inflicts on them, transforms the capitalist nation in which workers are mercilessly exploited, into a socialist state. Under socialism, in theory the 'means of production' -- factories, raw materials, machines, the labor force and the system by which it is organized -- are controlled by the people through a powerful government. The 'relations of production,' that is, the relationship between those who invest in and control industries and those who work in those industries is forever changed. The government steps in on behalf of the people and imposes what some call 'economic democracy,' theoretically giving workers control over their workplaces."

The RESOURCES column located on the right side of this page contains links to articles, essays, books, and videos that explore such topics as:

  • the worldviews and objectives of communism and socialism;
  • the history and evolution of communist and socialist ideas, as well as the history of the real-world implementation of those ideas;
  • the concept of cultural Marxism, more commonly known as "political correctness";
  • socialism in the United States;
  • the collaboration between American and British intelligence agencies that decoded Soviet spy transmissions during the World War II era;
  • how Hollywood has become a bastion of leftist, socialist, and communist leanings -- a development that has greatly influenced the nature of the movies that the entertainment world's leading actors and producers make;
  • the immense harm that communism has inflicted on the populations living under its rule;
  • important books for those who wish to educate themselves about the history, ideals, and goals of communism and socialism;
  • the text, message, and influence of a number of communism's seminal writings;
  • the phenomenon of "McCarthyism" and its lasting legacy;
  • the extent and influence of Soviet espionage in the American press during the 1940s; and
  • the relationship between communism and the genocidal objectives of Palestinian extremists; and




* For recommended books on this topic, click here.


* For recommended videos on this topic, click here.

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