Communism is both an ideology and a movement that fundamentally centers on the creation and maintenance of a socioeconomic order called a communist society in which there is common ownership of properties and the absence of the state, money, and social classes.
This ideology has been applied in the critique of modern capitalism, other economic systems that promote economic competition, and globalization, as well as in the creation of political and governance systems, social structure, and economic systems.
Several countries had tried to implement communism because of its purported benefits. The political movement gained momentum After the Second World War and during the Cold War. Notable examples include the former Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.
However, it is interesting to note that both China and former members of the Soviet Union eventually moved to a capitalist economic system while retaining some of the principles of a communist society in their political and governance systems.
Advantages: The Purported Benefits of Communism
The benefits or advantages of communism can be understood through the works of German philosopher Karl Marx, as well as Friedrich Engels. Both wrote the 1848 pamphlet “The Communist Manifesto,” which detailed and analyzed the history of the class struggle and the problems with capitalism and the capitalist mode of production.
Under capitalism, Marx and Engels argued that the working class is engaged in a class struggle with the owners of the means of production or the so-called capitalists. The state functions primarily to protect the economic interest of these capitalists.
The creation of a communist society was presented as an alternative to capitalism. Classic Marxist Theory suggests that socialism is the next stage of socioeconomic development after capitalism and a necessary precursor to communism. However, unlike a socialist society, the state ceases to exist with the end of political power under a communist society.
Nevertheless, the promises of communism have attracted thinkers and leaders. For example, it inspired Vladimir Lenin and his people to stage the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia to champion the interest of workers and peasants. The revolution created the Soviet Union.
Revolutionary socialists Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao founded the Chinese Communist Party or CPP in 1921. The CPP was partly instrumental in eliminating regional Chinese warlords. The rise of Mao Zedong in political power marked the early history of communism in China, and an attempt to move China from foreign influence and external pressures.
Hence, in considering its important place in the history of several modern societies, it is important to look further into the advantages of communism as an ideology and a movement, especially its purported features and benefits.
Take note of the following of the supposed advantages:
• As an Instrument of Social Change: Marx and Engels positioned communism as an alternative to feudalism and capitalism. It provided a model for resolving the socioeconomic inequalities in economies based on the feudal system and capitalism by placing the common people at the center of social and political life.
• Employment and Job Security: One of the purported benefits of communism is that the government oversees the entire economy and the creation of employment. A communist society intends to maximize the productivity of its citizenry. Note that in a capitalist society, businesses drive economic activity. Their performance and decisions dictate the rate of employment and the welfare of the working class.
• A Specific Solution to Inequality: Remember that the common ownership of properties is one of the salient features of communism. Private ownership is outlawed. Everyone owns the means of products. There are no capitalists or business owners that stand to gain from the labor input of the common people. Wealth is equally distributed.
• Quick Mobilization of Resources: Furthermore, because the government controls the economy by acting as a central planner, the mobilization of economic resources can be done on a large scale. Furthermore, it can effectively executive massive projects and establish industries. The Soviet Union used this advantage to build up its military capabilities and rebuilt its economy after the Second World War.
Disadvantages: The Major Criticisms of Communism
However, despite the aforementioned advantages, countries that adopted communism had failed. The Soviet Union collapsed and Russia transitioned from a planned economy to a market-oriented economy in the 1990s. China adopted a socialist market economic system. North Korea is the only remaining communist country in the world.
In China, during the height of communism in the country, The Great Leap Forward resulted in widescale poverty and famine that killed millions of people. The Chinese government decided that it needed to open its economy and adopt competition to become efficient.
Polish historian Andrzej Paczkowski explained that the ideology of communism seemed the total opposite of how it was implemented in other countries. Instead of the promises of equality and social justice, the leaders of former and current socialist and communist countries governed using an oppressive and authoritarian style of leadership.
Furthermore, the economies of communist societies had failed due to inefficiency that stemmed from the absence of competition. Renowned economist Friedrich Hayek mentioned that lack of competition leads to imperfection in the market.
In his 1949 essay “The Meaning of Competition,” he explained that in a free-market competitive setting, the situation would be dynamic and multi-linear. There would be no communal or shared goal that would trap people. Instead, they would need to define and create their separate microeconomic goals based on the market direction they choose.
The failure of communism fundamentally suggests that its purported benefits or advantages remain theoretical. In other words, the ideology sounds good on paper but its real-world applications have demonstrated otherwise.
Below are the specific disadvantages and criticisms:
• Absence of Incentive to Innovate: Remember that one of the problems of communism is the absence of competition in an economy. The absence of competition means that there is no incentive for the government or its specific economic units to innovate. Outputs are too basic and become too standardized.
• Incompatible with Globalization: Participation in globalization requires innovation. The entire process of economic globalization is based on competition. Countries need to produce outputs that can compete in the global market. A communist country cannot participate in international trade become its substandard products would not be able to compete in more innovative products and substitutes.
• Renders the People Uninspired: There is also no incentive for people to work harder for their individual goals. They work for the commune and the command planned economy essentially dictates and effectively limits what they can do. They cannot own properties. These leave them alienated and detached from economic participation.
• Tendency For Oppression: Another advantage of communism is that it promotes oppression. Leaders of communist societies had utilized an authoritarian form of leadership that limited individual rights and freedoms. They also tend to be corrupt. China and North Korea have demonstrated this incontestable fact. This runs in contrast with its purported benefits of resolving inequality.
Pros and Cons of Communism: Comparison with Capitalism
Capitalism has been criticized for widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Communism has been positioned as a solution to this problem. The advantages of this ideology center on removing the factors that create socioeconomic inequality. However, as mentioned, these benefits are only theoretical. The ideology is only good on paper.
The main disadvantage of communism is that it does not work in the real world. The experiences of communist countries are a testament to this point. On the other hand, despite the criticisms of capitalism, historical data showed that it actually produced benefits.
Capitalism was instrumental in raising the living standards of the majority of the people. The 1995 paper of American economist Cynthia Taft Morris showed that this has been observed in Western countries such as the Dutch Republic, Germany, and Australia. Note that capitalism is also compatible if not supplemental to the process of globalization.
Globalization has produced numerous benefits. The advantages of economic globalization include expansion of local markets into foreign markets, the emergence of the comparative advantage of countries, and specific macroeconomic and microeconomic gains.
Remember that communism runs in total opposition to capitalism. It is not also compatible with globalization. However, despite the negative effects of communist systems, some elements of the ideology have been borrowed to develop new systems that demonstrate a middle ground between socialist and communist ideals, as well as capitalist and democratic ideals.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Friedrich, H. 1949. “The Meaning of Competition.” Individualism and Economic Order. Chicago
- Marx, K. & Engels, F. 1848. The Communist Manifesto. Germany
- Paczkowski, A. 2001. “The Strom Over the Black Book.” The Wilson Quarterly. 25(2): 28-34. JSTOR: 40260182
- Morris, C. T. 1995. “How Fast and Why Did Early Capitalism Benefit the Majority?” The Journal of Economic History. 55(2): 2110226. JSTOR: 2123551
- Peter, L. & Docherty, J. C. 2006. Historical Dictionary of Socialism. 2nd ed. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. ISBN: 978-0-8108-5560-1
- Samimi, P. and Jenatabadi, H. S. 2014. “Globalization and Economic Growth: Empirical Evidence on the Role of Complementarities.” PLOS One. 9(4): e87824. DOI: 1371/journal.pone.0087824