geoffrey gauchet

Socialism vs. Communism

A lot of talk is flying around the country right now about Socialism and about Communism, particularly in terms of Obama's platform. First, I want to make a disclaimer that I support neither Barack Obama nor John McCain. I'm a registered voter with no party affiliation, though I have contributed to the Libertarian Party. This article is not about saying whether Socialism or Communism is good or bad, nor is it to say Obama is or isn't a Socialist or has Socialist views. I simply want to clarify the differences between Socialism and Communism. It is often said, and I've noticed in my personal experiences, that most people don't even know the definition of Socialism or Communism, but due to Cold War propaganda, we've been brought up to automatically assume they are one in the same and are horrible ideas.

To be blunt, Socialism is not Communism. Technically speaking, comparing the two is like comparing Capitalism to Democracy—Socialism refers to aneconomicideology while Communism refers to apoliticalideology. However, over the years and in a modern sense, Socialism has become a politic ideology as well, similar to how Capitalism has slowly worked its way into the political spectrum.

A Communist society is a society where class levels and the State (state, in this sense, refers to a governing body, not a territory) has been demolished and the People own all property as a whole. To break it down, it basically means that everything is planned and thought out by a central entity, while essential control is left with the Society. For example, no one would own a factory, but all of the employees of that factory and operate it and decide what to do with it as a whole.

A Socialist society is where all class levels have been demolished, however, the State still exists and there is still a "market" that dictates what happens, however there is a "governing" body that is more regulatory than initiative, whereas Communism is more initiative than regulatory. In the factory example above, someone may own the factory and make all the final decisions, however it would still be operated by the employees.

A nerdy way to look at this is by using file sharing. The old-school Napster that started all of the peer-to-peer file sharing craze that Metallica flipped out over is like Communism. There's free music for anyone and everyone, regardless of your internet speed or the money in your pocket. However, you had to log into the Napster servers that could block you from using the service and also keep you from sharing certain files (e.g., Metallica songs). The upside of this is that Napster had the capital to improve the service and give you faster downloads and improve the service, albeit, tiny improvements here and there.

Then you have torrents, our digital Socialism here. Torrents give access to free music (among other files) to anyone and everyone regardless of internet or money. There is no server to log into and you share a little from everyone. However, the torrent tracker site where you download the torrent can pull the tracker at anytime, but because anyone can start up a tracker site, you can probably get it from somewhere else if you're so inclined.

Vladimir Lenin, the first head of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic, said that Socialism was the bridge from Capitalism to Communism. With that in mind, stating that Socialism is the same thing as Communism is like pointing to a pile of lumber and saying it's a house. While, yes, eventually, with some work and labor that lumber could become a house, in it's current state, it's just lumber.

The thing to remember is that Socialism is a step leading to Communism, but they cannot be used interchangeably. Another thing to remember is that in many Socialists' and Communists' eyes, Capitalism is only one step away from Socialism and only two steps away from Communism.

To say Socialists are the same as Communists is like saying all Christians are Republicans. While it is true that some of the moral issues that have become the crux of Republicanism after the Regan-era Republicans are largely Christian, saying that all Christians are Republicans would be completely irresponsible and flat out wrong, as is the case with saying that all Socialists are Communists.

The next step is understanding that many aspects of our Capitalist society are already quite Socialist. For instance, welfare, unemployment, and even minimum wage are Socialist ideas. Welfare (in theory, regardless of how it's been used or abused) provides money to those who cannot provide for themselves and their families so that they may have healthy, productive lives like everyone else. Unemployment does basically the same by providing a stipend to those who've lost a job and need time to bridge the gap between being fired or laid off and finding a new job so that they can continue to be members of society like the rest of us. Minimum wage makes sure that regardless of your skills or abilities or motivation, you will never make less than a certain amount, which means that no one you're working with will be making less than this set amount, thus, making you more like everyone else and on their level. Where we differ from Socialism here is that if you do work harder, you make more money (theoretically). In a Socialist or Communist society, everyone gets exactly what they need to get by and in theory, that will condition those people to no longer want more than they need making for a happy world where no one covets anything that anyone else has.

While Lenin and Karl Marx felt that we needed to go through Socialism (typically thought as lasting 10 generations) to get to Communism as sort of a weaning of the people so they won't flip out over such a drastic change in mindsets, others feel that to get to Socialism, you need to "shock the system," so to speak, by dumping Communism on the People and eventually scale it back a little until you reach Socialism. It's thought that because of the extremism of Communism that when Socialism is introduced, the People would be relieved to loosen up a bit and Socialism would flourish flawlessly.

So, in summation, Socialism is not the same as Communism, while Communism does use Socialism as a stepping stone. Also worth noting is that our Capitalist society currently contains some Socialist aspects, such as welfare, unemployment, and minimum wage.


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