Communist Society Essay Questions

Communism, in principle, pursues the laudable goal of creating an ideal human society. However, the practice of communism has demonstrated that centralized control and ownership of resources directed by authoritarian rule delivers a situation at odds with the goal of communism. This article reviews the basic ideas of communist theory, as originally articulated by Karl Marx as well as subsequent variations. It covers the impact of the communist economics and ideologies on society and the challenges faced by nations once controlled by communism.

Keywords Authoritarian; Bourgeoisie; Communism; Market Economy; Planned Economy; Proletariat; Socialism

Economic Systems: Communism


Communism has had a profound effect on society in the countries that adopted it as well as beyond those borders. Many millions of dissenters were executed in communist countries for any number of activities, most of which would have been protected by a document like the United States’ Bill of Rights. During the twentieth century, the United States and other capitalist countries took extraordinary measures to counter the spread of communism. United States citizens suffered under the frenzy, fear, and paranoia that Senator Joseph McCarthy caused in the United States during the 1950's with his rabid anticommunism. The country waited gripped with fear and anxiety of nuclear war in 1962 as the United States faced off with Cuba and the Soviet Union to prevent a Soviet nuclear deployment in Cuba. The many billions and trillions of dollars the United States spent during the Cold War arms race with the Soviet Union may have been diverted to other uses. Citizens of the People's Republic of China labored under oppression and drew international attention with the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. A famous photo from those protests captured the image of one man standing in the path of four Chinese tanks and powerfully conveyed the idea of the individual standing against authoritarian rule. The Tiananmen Square Protests are also known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and estimates place the number of injured or killed between many hundreds and many thousands. Since Fidel Castro took power with his communist regime, thousands of Cubans continue to risk their lives on makeshift boats to sail the 90 miles to Florida in search of freedom. The willingness of so many people to risk their lives to escape or defeat communism speaks volumes about its effects on society and the world at large.

The focus of this article is to explore the social effects of the economic system that is created in communist societies. Of course, there are several systems that combine to form the complete communist system. A full throttle pursuit of communism involves an intermediate stage of authoritarian rule as a mechanism to enforce the required redistribution of wealth via police and military institutions. The maintenance of a communist state requires a political organization to plan and distribute collectivized resources. The political organization must also include certain economic planners that determine production and prices. Communist rule also demands party allegiance with all manner of propaganda, coercion, and the prohibition of religion. Of course, there are many other effects of communism, both direct and indirect, that deserve further study.

However, the issue under direct examination here is the effects of the basic communist method of distributing wealth by a method reflected in the statement "from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs." In discussing the distribution of wealth in a communist system, this essay will first define an economic system generally and then communism generally and finally will deal with issue at hand.

Economic Systems

An economic system is the collection of mechanisms that deal with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services in a particular society. Because people require material items to survive, the choice of an economic system is extremely important. All the things that we own, our ability to own things at all, the manner in which they are produced, who produces them, and how producers are compensated for their production are all details of the economic system. Likewise, all services we use every day, from golf lessons to medical services, are a product of our economic system. And it is the economic system that determines whether a college graduate will work, in which field, and how much he or she is paid.

Throughout history, societies have used different economic systems to create, distribute, and reward the productive efforts of its citizens. A useful general economic distinction is whether an economy is planned or market. A market economy is free from government control and sets prices and production according to market forces, such as supply and demand, through the voluntary interaction between buyers and sellers. A planned economy is when a government decides which items to produce and in what quantity. Capitalism is a market economy, and communism is a planned economy. Consequently, the availability and quality of goods and services in a planned economy is a result of the planning authority. Quality planning may lead to adequate goods for the people and vice versa. However, the challenges of planning an entire economy are many; shortages of goods and related limitations of the purchasing power of currency are a couple and have dramatic impacts on society.

Communist Theory

Communism, in broad theoretical strokes, is a governmental system in which the state controls ultimate power, specifically over the production and proliferation of goods, in order to create a classless society in which all goods are shared. In this classless society system, property is communally owned and equally distributed to the people in hopes of providing justice, equality, and freedom for all.

Karl Marx

The ideas of communism are largely based on the thinking of the German philosopher and economist Karl Marx. In 1848, Marx and his collaborator, Friedrich Engels, published the Communist Manifesto, which described their radical left-wing system of social organization. His philosophy, known as Marxism, became hotly debated in the 1870's and 1880's in Europe and czarist Russia while the industrial revolution produced a working class that appeared subservient to the industrial class. In an effort to resolve this class conflict, Marx began to attract followers and gave rise to the socialist and communist parties that largely adopted the Marxist philosophy.

For Marx, social equality and justice would ultimately be realized after a societal progression through various stages from capitalism to socialism and then ultimately to communism. Capitalism, during the industrial revolution, created an exploited working class called the proletariat. The proletariat would revolt to overthrow the exploitive capitalist middle class, called the bourgeoisie. At that point, the proletariat would institute an authoritarian socialist government to nationalize resources and equalize the wealth of society. Marx theorized that after the intermediate period of socialism, marked by communal ownership of productive forces but differentiated wealth, communism would follow as the ideal egalitarian earthly paradise.

The Bolshevik Revolution

Marx's work was largely ignored during his life, and he died in 1883. However, Marxism gained in popularity and had its first major implementation in 1917 with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. With Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution, the ideas of Marx and the system of communism began its first major test as an economic system and a related structure for social organization. Lenin later renamed his Bolshevik party to the Russian Communist Party, which then became the Soviet Union or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Communism also spread to eastern European countries within the Soviet influence, including Albania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany. Communism also established itself in Asia, most notably, in China by 1950 and in the People's Republic of Korea.

Flaws in the Communist Doctrine

Marx and others who adopted his ideas, either in whole or in part, may have envisioned communism as the path to the ideal human society. However, the spectacular collapse of the Soviet Union and the revelations of life under communism demonstrated fundamental flaws in communist doctrine. From an historical perspective, communism had a short life span, proved fatally flawed in practice, and lead to the precise opposite of the earthly paradise it promised. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed in economic ruin. China and other countries that adopted communism, e.g. Cuba, have significantly relaxed the central tenets of communist doctrine to allow for individual ownership of productive capital to encourage economic growth. China's staggering economic growth since selectively adopting capitalism has become a major story in world economics, and the country is poised to become, or perhaps already is, an economic superpower. China is a story of keen interest because the government retains authoritarian control but allows economic activity normally associated with freer nations.

Communist Economics

Communism is based on a specific economic system characterized by the collective ownership of property and organization of labor for the stated purpose of a common advantage for all members. At the heart of communist ideology is the concept of the collective. Collective ownership means ownership by the state and within that collective, a person does not own property and exists only as a part of the whole. Within the communist collective, goods and services are created and distributed according to the concept "From each...

Who is the Communist Manifesto's target audience? What are its aims as a document?

Political reforms cannot eliminate class antagonisms because these antagonisms are due to the basic structure of society. Class is an outgrowth of the means of production. It is this economic structure that gives certain people the power to exploit others. As long as this structure exists, there will be a ruling class and an exploited class. Reforms might improve the standard of living of the exploited class, but it cannot alter the fact that they are powerless socially. Marx refers to the advocates of such reforms as Conservative Socialists. These socialists are misguided because they don't realize that class struggle is integral to history, and is unavoidable in the capitalist system. They represent bourgeois interests, because they are trying to preserve bourgeois hegemony by dampening the revolutionary energy of the proletariat. These conservative socialists will ultimately fail, however, because the revolution is an unavoidable stage of history, and the proletariat will always be a revolutionary class.

Why isn't it possible to eliminate class antagonisms through political reforms that improve the workers' quality of life? How does the Manifesto reply to such reformers?

The proletariat is a unique class in several ways. First, the exploitation it faces is more transparent than that of any previous class. In the past, class relationships were clouded by religious beliefs and sentimentality. People did not realize that their relationships were fundamentally economic and exploitative in nature. Capitalism exposes this exploitation, because it is based solely on ideals of self-interest and money. Thus, the proletariat are uniquely aware of their status as exploited peoples. Secondly, the proletariat are more interconnected than any previous revolutionary class. This is due to improved communication brought about by capitalism's technological advances, and because the proletariat all share an equally miserable existence. They are also the majority in society, whereas previous revolutionary classes were traditionally in the minority. Finally, their historical role is unique. In order to further their ends as a class, they must destroy the entire system of class exploitation. Thus, with their revolution all private property is eliminated and classes disappear.

Perhaps the most serious question about the proletariat, then, is why they will revolt. Marx believes that revolutions are spontaneous uprisings of exploited peoples. He does a plausible job of showing why the proletariat have reason to overthrow the current system, and even why they would eliminate private property if they succeeded. What is less clear is what would motivate the original revolution. There is a jump between historical forces and individual agency that it may be hard to accept. The proletariat are unique in large degree because their conditions are so dire. It is worth considering whether Marx underestimates the power of such conditions to defeat, rather than motivate, oppressed peoples.

How is the proletariat different from past revolutionary classes?

Marx argues that the property rights that the bourgeoisie wish to protect are actually bourgeois property rights. They protect bourgeois interests, as can be seen by the fact that only the bourgeoisie actually own property. Marx further argues that property itself is a social commodity. It belongs to people because of the social structure of society. Thus, changing private property into communal property is really only changing the social character of property. It is not violating a personal claim. This argument about property is similar to Marx's arguments about other rights, as well as about law, philosophy and religion. None of these notions reflects universal truths, valid across all social contexts; rather, they are all ways of protecting the interests of the ruling class. For example, the bourgeoisie make property into a right because they are the ones with the property. We may think that some of these ideas are truly universal, because they have survived across time. However, it is more likely that they have lasted throughout history only because exploitation has lasted throughout history. With an end to exploitation, many of the ideals embraced by modern society would be radically altered.

How does the Manifesto reply to people who complain that the elimination of private property violates property rights? What does this suggest about the validity of rights in general?

Why is it necessary for Communists to call for a worker's revolution, if they believe that such a revolution is inevitable?

How is modern Industrial society self-destructive? Why does Marx believe that the end of modern society will represent the end of all class antagonisms?

What is Marx's theory of history? Use this theory to explain the decline and fall of the feudal era. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this theory?

Despite Marx's predictions, Communism has not emerged out of Industrial society to become the dominant societal system. Is this fact enough to disprove Marxist theory? Speculate on how Marx would explain this fact, in keeping with the general structure of his theory.

It can be very difficult to figure out what Marx believed a Communist society would look like. What hints does he give in the Manifesto about his vision of this future society? How does this vision compare with "Communist" societies that arose in later years (e.g., in the Soviet Union)?

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