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What is Communism?

What is Communism? Here's Everything You Need to Know

Communism is an economic and political system that has been theorized by certain prominent politico-economic philosophers. What are the consequences of following this system of political and economic governance? Let's find out...
Ishani Chatterjee Shukla
Last Updated: Mar 16, 2018
The seeds of the theory of communism and a communist state were sown much before Karl Marx's voluminous critique on capitalism, Das Kapital, got published in the year 1867. The history of communism can be traced back to the latter half of the nineteenth century. The first published work dealing with the idea of a classless state and common ownership of national property was the Greek philosopher Plato's famous treatise on political governance and social organization The Republic.
Therein, he described ancient Greece, the Greece of his times, as a nation where the means of production was collectively owned by the general public, and it was governed on behalf of them by an elected group of representatives. Such governance of public property by the elected representatives was actively regulated by the opinion of the public at large.
Definition and Meaning
To quote Karl Marx, The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property. To be more elaborate, communism is an economic theory of distribution of national wealth. According to this theory, all properties and resources contained within a society are collectively owned by the people belonging to that society. Such properties and resources include all means of production such as land, natural resources, labor, capital, etc.
This theory was developed as a way to effect abolition of differences (based on wealth, education, etc.) between the various classes of society. Such equality, it was propounded, would enable to equate all classes by bringing up the lower strata of society and pulling down the upper strata, till both sections are at an equal level in terms of possession of wealth, amenities, and other factors of growth and development.
The basic governing principles of the theory of a communist state is founded upon the maxim From each, according to his ability, to each according to his need, implying that, each individual of the society is to contribute towards the economic development according to his ability, and each individual would receive amenities and benefits of being a part of such a state in proportion with his requirements. There have been, and still are, prominent examples of communist states throughout the political and economic history of the world. The Soviet Union is one such example of national communism in the past, and communism in China and North Korea are still prevalent in present times.
Is Communism Good?
Well, despite the fact that communism did not get a very warm welcome on a large scale, there are certain aspects of a purely communist economy, the kind suggested by Karl Marx, that appear really good for the benefit of humanity.
  • The first good thing about a communist society is social equality and the abolition of classes. This means that there is no opportunity for any one section of society to oppress others, as the stronger class-weaker class concept is absent.
  • The next best thing is collective ownership of properties and resources, which translates into avoidance of waste and overproduction.
  • Everyone has access to goods and services that they need in direct proportion to their needs.
  • Despite the fact that every unit of the society is provided for, the incentive to work is still there, as those who work only will get paid. Therefore, financial liquidity will be in the hands of the working class, while others would just be provided for.
  • There is no government as such, as communism is a form of collective self-governance.
Is Communism Bad?
As every coin has two sides, so does every idea―be it in the form of a philosophy, religion or economic theory. Following are a list of the disadvantages of communism.
  • The first and most significant disadvantage is the lack of freedom of speech and action.
  • Without the mechanism of a competitive market scenario, neither can prices be equated based upon demand and supply nor can production achieve any growth or innovation.
  • There is no incentive to come up with new, innovative products. The financial incentive to work hard is absent, as equal work would be paid equally.
  • All products and services are standardized and government-owned. The advantages of improvement and competitive innovation that are present in case of private ownership are lost under communism.
  • Due to lack of market competition, the balance between demand and supply is difficult to achieve.
  • This also affects the value of the money of the economy, as the exchange rates always need to be fixed and regulated by the government.
Communism vs Socialism
Although communism and socialism often come across as similar concepts at the first glance, the difference can be inferred by looking at various points of distinctions.
  • Socialist governments are more liberal than their communist counterparts, in as much as freedom of speech and opinions are concerned. Also, while there is some amount of government regulation of certain public utilities, private ownership of properties is not prohibited under socialism as opposed to communism.
  • The market forces of competition, demand and supply are allowed to a large extent under socialistic governments. Communism regulates everything, and the competitive market scenario doesn't exist.
  • A socialist state allows the exchange rate of currency to undergo the fluctuations brought on by demand and supply mechanisms, to establish itself. The government intervenes only in case it senses a crisis that may surface, say, in the form of declining exports. In such a case, the government may deliberately devalue the currency to revive exports. Such a scenario doesn't exist in a communist state, as it regulates everything from the very beginning.
From this discussion, we can infer that socialism fills up the gap that separates communism and capitalism. It fits in somewhere between these two extreme national economic ideologies.
As a pure theory, it has its plus points in bringing about a social revolution by abolishing the class system, but history holds testimony to the fact that, many a time, communism has been manipulated by many an ambitious individual to impose complete dictatorship upon the nation, and we all know what a bad idea that is.