Communism Explained for Young People

By Guy W

One of the greatest mysteries of life is the observation of workers who are loudly and proudly against communism who also believe in many views that can aptly be described as communist. As communism is a negative emotive word, casual observation suggests many people have developed a hatred for the word "communism" itself without knowledge of what communism really is.

Breaking up the word "communism" reveals the word commune, which is a society, a group of people, or a community. To sum the whole thing up in some simple sentence, communism is concerned with the good of the community and society (collectivism) as a whole while capitalism is concerned with the good of the individual (individualism). This is the broad philosophical angles of communism and capitalism.

When many people refer to communism and capitalism they are referring to economic systems. The economic systems of communism and capitalism illustrate the collectivism versus individualism conflict. Under communist government there are no private companies. Everything is owned by the government for the good of society. The economy is controlled by the government because it is assumed that government knows what is best for society. Under capitalist economies, government only protects the basic individual rights of individuals for property rights and rights to choice, freedom, and so on, and then let them engage in business behavior with freedom. It is clear from this definition that purely capitalist economies are rare. Most economies are mixed economies, have both capitalist elements and communist elements.

Another communist idea is the idea of worker exploitation. Communists believe that all value comes from the worker. The workers are the ones who keep the economy moving. Communist theory states that greedy capitalists exploit the worker by working them and then paying them less than they deserve so that the worker does not see the "fruits of his labor." The capitalist then gains the surplus value. The ruling class (the bourgeoisie) exploits the working class (the proletariat)-this is referred to as class warfare. Communists believe that communism will naturally progress from capitalism when workers realize they are being exploited and then, with this realization, join together to fight against the capitalists and establish a state ruled by workers. Many capitalists, however, claim this is wrong, that the communists don't know what they are talking about. They point out that most workers are pro-capitalism and are virulently opposed to communists. The communists may claim, however, that the working class is not conscious of what benefits them because they are being brainwashed by the ruling class. This is the concept of false consciousness. This criticism of communists by capitalists that they do not understand the working class, the people they claim to be liberating, has led to pejorative terms like "chardonnay socialists," in line with the observation that most of those who support socialist ideas are wealthy and university-educated, making them hypocrites. That the working class overwhelmingly supports capitalist parties (e.g. the working class support Republicans in American and the Liberal Coalition in Australia) is further proof from capitalists that communist theorists are out of touch with real workers. The communists, however, can argue that the working class is deceived.

Communists and capitalists view racism differently. Capitalists argue that racism cannot exist in a capitalist economy because those who discriminate based on irrelevant factors will be uncompetitive and be driven from the market. For example if a company were to hire people based not on skill but skin color or gender (e.g. only hire white people and men) then that company will miss out on talented non-white females. Other companies will hire these females and due to the increased skill this will drive out the irrational discriminatory firm from the market. Communists, however, believe that the ruling class promotes racism to fool workers. The theory states that by promoting racial consciousness among the working class that class consciousness among workers deteriorates. If class consciousness among workers deteriorates, the working class is no longer able to unite to overthrow the ruling class. Communists often point out that capitalist parties often simultaneously pass laws that promote capitalism while at the same time spread fear of terrorism, etc. For example, Australian Prime Minister John Howard spreads fear of terrorism with anti-terrorist hotlines and anti-terrorist laws while introducing industrial relations reforms that will weaken labor unions and will supposedly lower workers wages. In America, communists note that George Bush has weakened American workers more by increasing immigration and outsourcing while at the same time talking bellicosely about war and terrorism to bring them on his side. Capitalists always argue that these capitalist reforms-the Industrial Relations reform, immigration, and outsourcing-are good for the economy as a whole. Capitalists claim that workers are not stupid. They are not deceived but rather simply chose to believe that communism is wrong. Communists argue that promotion of racism and xenophobia by the ruling class through the media fool workers into believing that they are united with the ruling class, that they are one with the ruling class despite conflicting economic interests. This, they claim, is the reason why the working class sides with capitalism.

Globalization is capitalism applied worldwide. A capitalist may believe that there should be freedom for individuals to trade because this is good for a country as a whole. Capitalists have taken this concept a step further and said that trade among all people regardless of nationality or any other divisor of humanity will increase the living standards of the world's population. Pure and hardcore capitalists believe in freedom not only for businesses and corporations to move around and spread their money (capital market liberalization) but they also believe in freedom of migration (labor market liberalization). Has increased globalization led to increased world living standards? The communists might argue that it hasn't because statistics show that during periods of high globalization (i.e. the past thirty years) inequality among nations have increased. This analysis is consistent with communist philosophy in societies and communities because they looked at inequality among nations. Some capitalists might argue that instead of looking at inequality among nations, it is better to instead look at inequality among individuals. Some countries have more individuals than others and as such should be given more importance. Looking at it this way inequality has been decreasing among individuals in the world since the '70s. However, the communists might argue that taking away China and India from the analysis reveals both increasing world poverty and increasing world inequality, which backs up the communist worldview that global capitalism is not for the benefit for everyone but is a simple case of the ruling class capitalists exploiting the poor. Many capitalists point to North Korea versus South Korea. Many historians believe the Korean war was a proxy war between communist Russia and capitalist America. The South Koreans were backed up by the Americans and the North Koreans were backed up by communist Russia and China. The war ended in a stalemate. The Koreans were divided into two, the north being communists and the south being capitalists. Many capitalists claim that the outcome of the two Koreans is proof that capitalism works and that communism doesn't. South Korea's economy grew rapidly. Today it is a fully developed economy with high living standards. North Korea, on the other hand, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Furthermore, communism may have destroyed the Russian economy. Russia too is a poor country. Communists argue though that Russia is poor not because of communism but because the communists who came to power were corrupt and incompetent. Had those in power been better the economy could have been better. Communists also point out that capitalist reforms in Russia have been failures. But this leaves a puzzle. What about China? If China is communist, how do we account for its rapid economic growth?

China during communist/Maoist times was poor. However, after economic reforms in the '70s by Deng Xiaoping, China's economy grew very rapidly. Its economic growth was the fastest ever observed in the world, averaging 9 or 10 percent GDP growth per annum. Today (2005) China is the second largest economy in the world (second to the United States) and if growth rates continue at this rate, economists forecast that in less than ten years (i.e. around 2015) China will be the world's largest economy. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been in power ever since the economic reforms and they are still in power today. So how is a communist country able to grow like this? The answer may lie in the Orwellian idea that names mean nothing. The Chinese Communist Party may call itself communist but that doesn't mean they are. China's economy is a mix of capitalism and communism and many believe it is getting more and more capitalist as time goes by. Some even believe that China is more capitalist than the United States. It should be noted that China is authoritarian while the U.S. is not. Some capitalists believe that as China becomes more and more capitalist then the CCP will lose its power and start to demand their rights, leading to an end to authoritarianism.

13 December 2005