What is communism?
Just what is communism? Is communism truly bankrupt? Is it a historical failure? Is it true that communists want to take your few personal possessions, like your car or house? We cannot explain everything about communism in this confined space. But we can pose you some critical questions about what you thought you knew about communism.
To understand what communism is, there is no better person to quote than Frederick Engels, the founder of Marxism along with Karl Marx:
Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat.
The Principles of Communism (1847)
So communists strive for the liberation of the proletariat, that is the liberation of the working class. So it was in the 19th century, and this is still valid today.
What, then, should the working class liberate itself from? Don’t we live in a free country? Or do we? We live in a country…
- Where over 100,000 young people are unemployed, even though work is becoming increasingly stressful for those who do have jobs. Where a 15-year-old earns half of what a 23-year-old earns for the same work.
- Where over half of the youth are in precarious work, and young people are 60% of all temporary workers; where more young people spend more years working for minimum wage or less.
- Where the purchasing power of workers and the welfare-dependent keeps declining while big companies are making record profits.
- Where the people have to pay up for armaments and new wars.
- Where the big corporations are practically in charge, while the people are only allowed to give away their vote every four years.
When you graduate high school, your chances of finding a good job suited for your skills are low. There is much insecurity: college debt, low wages, and temporary contracts. You can follow an education that still doesn’t warrant a full income according to your boss; first you must “gain more work experience” at lower rates, or for no wages at all. When you move out of your parents’ house, it is difficult to find a place to live, and then it still takes a big chunk of your income. In school, at work, in all of society, as a young person, you’re not given much of a say in how it’s run. In this country, the big companies and the political higher-ups call the shots. To them, young people are only interesting as a cheap labour force and as a tool for their interests.
Communists say that all this is caused by capitalist exploitation and oppression. Therefore, to liberate the working class is to overthrow the capitalist system.
What is capitalism?
According to some people, a “capitalist” is one who has a lot of money or a big car. If this were true, the working class would also be composed of “capitalist” and “non-capitalist” workers. From the perspective of an unemployed person, anyone with a job could be a capitalist in comparison. This is how division is sown between people who need each other badly, while the real capitalists stay out of view. Communists say that capitalism is a social system based on exploitation. Capitalists are those who own the means of production (the means by which we create wealth, like factories, resources, etc.) and who have the working class working for them. Apart from some personal possessions, the workers only own their own labour power. In order to provide for their daily needs, they have no choice but to work for the capitalists for their wages. They are a class of wage slaves, who live from selling their labour. Without their labour, nothing would get done. But most of the results from this productivity end up in the pockets of the capitalists as profit. Only a part of it goes to the workers as wage.
Why are the rich so rich?
Capitalist exploitation means that the capitalists appropriate the product of the work done by the workers. For the capitalist class, the goal of production is not to meet the needs of the people, but to make as much profit as possible at the expense of everyone else. They wage a life-and-death competitive struggle. This system, in which the capitalists hold all the economic and political power on account of their ownership of the means of production, inevitably causes economic crises. It leads to political and military conflicts between capitalist countries, it causes arms races and the threat of war, the exploitation of nature, and the impoverishment and division of the people. The struggle between the two classes, with contrary interests, is called class struggle.
Socialism and communism
In opposition to capitalist exploitation, communists strive for a new society. A society in which social classes are gone, with no more exploitation or oppression. A society in which there is no more reason for war and arms production. A society where everyone can work and contribute according to their ability, and where the goal of all the work is to provide for everyone’s needs. The foundation of such a society is the common ownership of the means of production that create the wealth, so people can decide collectively what gets produced and how it is divided.
This is the communist perspective for the future, a communist society. To achieve this, the private property of the means of production needs to be abolished by expropriating the major owners of resources and factories. So capitalists are right to feel threatened by communism: it threatens the capitalist system.
The majority of the people, however, are not capitalists. The abolition of private property does not mean taking our personal possessions. It is not communism, but capitalism that threatens our peace and well-being. It is in the interest of all of us to bring about a communist society.