Communism (from Latin communis – common, universal) is a revolutionary socialist movement intended to create a classless, moneyless, and stateless social order structured upon common ownership of the means of production, as well as a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of this social order. This movement, in its Marxist-Leninist interpretations, significantly influenced the history of the 20th century, which saw intense rivalry between the “socialist world” (socialist states ruled by communist parties) and the “western world” (countries with free-market economies).
Notable theorists and proponents include Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Che Guevara.
Communist theory is based upon historical materialism, which in turn takes inspiration from Hegel. Its starting point is that in order for human beings to survive and continue existence from generation to generation, it is necessary for them to produce and reproduce the material requirements of life. In order to carry out production and exchange, people have to enter into very definite social relations, most fundamentally production relations. As society and technology advance, we have the appearance of division of labor, and eventually, some people live off the work of others by owning the means of production. How this is accomplished depends on the type of society. Production is carried out through very definite relations between people. And, in turn, these production relations are determined by the level and character of the productive forces (technology, instruments) that are present at any given time in history.
The people are categorized into classes according to these relations, and engage in class struggle, the change of character in productive forces acting as a catalyst for the relationships between classes to reorganize (for example, the Industrial Revolution brought an end to the old feudal aristocracy). In essence, history is seen as a master-slave dialectic with the masters being those who own the means of production (e.g., feudal lords, bourgeoisie), and the slaves, those who work the means of production (e.g., peasants, proletariat). Communism, with its abolition of private property and class distinctions, is proposed as the endpoint of this dialectic.
Critique of capitalism
Marx considered the capitalist mode of organization (bourgeoisie vs. proletariat) to be the final stage of the dialectic prior to communism. He criticized capitalism for alienating the workers (they no longer find any satisfaction or meaning in their work), and treating them as capital. Furthermore, the capitalist mode of competition puts them against one another and is one of the factors that prevents them from developing a class consciousness and rising against the masters (bourgeoisie). Marx advocated collective ownership of the means of production as a means of overcoming alienation. Moreover, he predicted the fall of capitalism as being inevitable, due to its continuing need for increased profit. In a sense he was correct. Free market capitalism is economically unstable, but has continued to exist despite the increasing frequency of its boom and bust cycles and economic inequality. (The fall of communism “proved” free market capitalism to be the only viable alternative.) It is important to note that capitalism suffered a change of form from its beginnings in the Industrial Revolution. Initially there was production capitalism, aimed at satisfying existing needs and creating sturdy products; however, it was recognized as unsustainable, as Marx predicted, and now we have consumption capitalism aimed more at creating needs, and products with a limited lifespan (e.g., fashion industry, advertising industry, planned obsolescence).
Another change is the appearance of a “middle class” acting as a “buffer” between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie/power elite. This serves to mask the differences in income and opportunity between classes. In general, the proletariat aspire to be the middle class, and the middle class aspire to join the bourgeoisie/power elite. Via this complacency, sociopolitical stability is maintained, despite the increasing lack of social mobility.
(or communism in theory)
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.
(taken from The Communist Manifesto)
Implementations of communism
(or communism in practice)
The ideal of communism is a self-governing “enlightened proletariat”, collectively owning and using the means of production. However, in practice, communism was based on an economic model of an enormously centralized command-and-control system under the charge of a totalitarian, paramilitary political party. Salaries of workers were mainly equal; communists were opposed to salary differentials. Communism was driven out of existence, as the more competitive and dynamic ideology of free market capitalism proved superior.
Relationship between communism and Meritocracy
Meritocracy can be considered a dialectical synthesis, with free market capitalism as the thesis and communism as the antithesis. Meritocrats, however, do not consider property to be intrinsically bad, only excessive property. In the same way, they do not consider capitalism to be intrinsically bad, only uncontrolled free market capitalism. Tenets 3 and 5 are common to both communism and Meritocracy. Tenet 2 is unnecessary, provided salaries reflect merit. That implies a limit to the ratio between the largest salary and smallest salary. With regard to tenet 8, there is no need to force people to work, provided they are self-actualized, i.e., doing jobs and exploring talents that already reflect their personal development. Both communism and Meritocracy are projects of positive liberty.
In communism all means of production are to be collectively owned, yet it is rather vague as to how specifically they are to be managed. A popular motto of communists is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” However, the only feasible way to accomplish something like this, while also optimizing everyone’s “ability”, is to implement Meritocracy. Returning to tenet 1, we reiterate that property itself is not the problem, rather excessive concentration of property and wealth in the hands of a few individuals to the detriment of the many. 100% Inheritance Tax combined with Meritocratic means of distribution must solve the problem. The tax changes the attributes of property, so that, by stretching definitions, we can indeed say that all property belongs to the state, or, more specifically, is subject to the general will. Tenet 10 also has a very important corresponding principle: a varied, psychologically structured and optimized education is key to a Meritocratic state.
Communists speak of the abolition of the family. “Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty.” With respect to the quote we actually agree on many key points. While the family itself is not intrinsically evil, statistically it’s the cause of many of society’s ills. The Meritocratic state must protect the children if a family fails, and provide alternative models (e.g., Fourier’s Phalanstère).
The economic system of Meritocracy is social capitalism. In social capitalism, the most Meritocratic individuals set economic policy according to the needs of “positive liberty”, the doctrine of actively seeking to improve the quality of humanity. All economic activities that seek to degrade, exploit and sedate “the masses” are outlawed. Free markets are fine, to the extent that they support Meritocratic objectives. They are never fine if their purpose is to make disproportionate wealth for greedy capitalists who have no interest in the Commonwealth.
Communists often refer to the idea of equality, and use it to deter any form of capitalism. However, there are two different kinds of equality:
Equality of outcome: Often seen in communism. All workers get the same pay, regardless of the quality of work. Lack of incentive inevitably leads to decline in overall performance and innovation, and often leads to exploitation of the system from the inside in an attempt to gain personal advantages.
Equality of opportunity: All citizens start with the same set of opportunities, and their work, talent and abilities determine their position and ultimately their pay. Highest rewards go to the highest achievers. The most Meritocratic companies have the best performance.
While Meritocrats are supporters and promoters of the latter kind of equality, they stand fully opposed to the former. Meritocracy has, like communism, an understanding of man’s social nature and need to collaborate and form relationships of equality, often overlooked in an increasingly hierarchic world, but also sees the advantages of competition. While the economic macrostructure of social capitalism is socialistic, the microstructure is inevitably capitalistic. Note, however, that it is a “tame” capitalism.
A final word needs to be said about class struggle. Classes differentiate by acquiring significant differences in material conditions and access to means of production. 100% Inheritance Tax gets rid of that. Furthermore, they perpetuate themselves through nepotism, cronyism and discrimination. That explicitly goes against the first three principles of Meritocracy. In a world of equal opportunity, whatever can constitute a class is itself so fluid as to make the very concept of class struggle inconsistent. Thus the dialectic ends.