Communism


Communism
   The term communism is often used as a synonym for socialism and Marxism, and, although most strongly associated with Karl Marx, it has a history pre-dating and independent of Marxism. Marx used the term to refer to both the revolutionary movement of workers in capitalist society, and the future society that would supercede capitalism. For much of the second half of the 19th century, no great distinction, and certainly no systematic or consistent distinction, was drawn between the terms communism and socialism, but after 1917 and the creation of the Third International and sprouting of distinct communist parties, communism and socialism came to acquire different meanings and to attach to different movements. With the advent of Stalinism this distinction was made stronger with communism unavoidably linked to the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union and later its satellites, and socialism claimed as a label by reformist, more moderate and less statist leftwing parties that were committed to democratic structures and processes. The movement by West European communist parties away from the Soviet line and toward a democratic Eurocommunism once again blurred the line between communism and socialism. In terms of a future, post-revolutionary society, the word communism was used by Marx from the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts right through to Capital III, but at no point did Marx describe in detail what the future communist society would look like.
   Nevertheless, from various scattered comments, it is possible to discern a number of features: common ownership of the means of production; an end to the division of labor; an end to alienation and exploitation; no classes; no state; no scarcity; transformed conditions of production; and transformed human beings able to achieve true self-realization. In a society with common ownership there can be no classes, and with no classes there will no longer be a state in the sense of centralized power and a coercive body used by one class to suppress another class. Marx suggests there will be no standing army, no police, no bureaucracy, no judiciary, and no clergy. There will, though, be decentralized public and administrative bodies to coordinate production and distribution. With regard to production, the fetters of capitalist relations of production will be removed allowing for the forces of production to be developed and employed to their fullest capacity, resulting in a massive expansion in production so that there is an abundance of goods. Production will be communal, carried out collectively and in the collective interest, and labor will be free activity in the sense that it will be freely engaged in without coercion or the need for financial incentive. Work will be varied, fulfilling and allow for the development and expression of individuals’ creativity. The selfish, competitive, aggressive nature characteristic of human beings in capitalist society will be replaced by a communist consciousness that will allow people to live in harmony with one another.
   In his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875) Marx distinguished between a higher and a lower phase of communism. In the latter there would still persist certain elements from capitalist society, including payment for work, while in the latter the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” applies, with everyone contributing as they are able and receiving according to their individual needs.
   Vladimir Ilich Lenin in The State and Revolution (1917) used the term socialism to refer to Marx’s lower phase of communism, and reserved the word communism to describe the higher phase. Both Marx and Lenin have been accused of utopianism in their speculations on the future communist society.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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