Communism may be defined as a political and economic system in which the community through the common ownership, collectively controls all the means of production of goods and services, exchange and distribution. Similarly, there is the abolition of class oppression and exploitation and the foundation of the society is based on the common possession of the means of production and the equal distribution of goods, land, resources etc. This is, however, based on the teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their book, the Communist Manifesto.
Karl Marx wrote that communism will be achieved if the state conceived as an instrument of coercion and repression ceases to exist. The slogan of communism is: “From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs.” North Korea, North Vietnam, Cuba, China etc are believed to be communist states.
Characteristics or Features of Communism
- Common ownership: The community, through the common ownership, collectively controls all the means of production.
- The use of force: The state applies the use of force or violence to achieve its goals.
- One party system: Most communist states are one – party states.
- Dictatorship: Most of the communist leaders are dictators, e.g. North Korea.
- Centralised economy: The economic planning is highly centralised.
- Classless society: Class distinction in the system is discouraged.
- Common purpose: Productive activities are meant for common purposes.
- Distribution of wealth: There is equal and just distribution of the nation’s wealth among the citizens.
- Origin: Communism arose as an attack on the evils of capitalism.
- Control of means of production: There exists a gradual take – over of all means of production by the new order.
- Confiscation of property: Private property are confiscated and subsequently re-distributed.
- Universal public education: There is an establishment of a free universal public education.
- Tolerance: Opposition of any kind is not tolerated in the system.
- State Withers away: This is after capitalism is destroyed, the state becomes unnecessary.
- Full Employment: This is because the resources are collectively owned by all.
The Essential principles of Communism
- The materialistic interpretation of history: The communists believe that the mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. In the social production which men are involved in, they enter into definite relations that are indispensable in life.
- The class war: The society has been divided into two hostile economic classes since the establishment of private property. The capitalist class which derives its income mainly from the ownership of property is antagonistic to the interest of the proletariat (workers) class which depends chiefly on the sale of its labour power for its livelihood.
- The theory of surplus value: The primary reason for the antagonism is that the capitalist class, through its ownership and control of the means of production, is able to appropriate the ‘surplus value’ which is created by labour and is supposed to go to labour. The surplus value arises because labour power produces values above the cost of tools, raw materials etc. The workers are therefore being exploited by the capitalist because the state is but a tool in the hands of the capitalist class.
- A social revolution: It is inevitable because the future development of capitalism will take the form of the concentration of capital in fewer hands, while at the same time there will be the ever closer and more elaborate organization of the proletariat class. Therefore, at its climax, the proletariat will arise and overthrow the capitalist class.
- The dictatorship of the proletariat: The dictatorship of the dominant class (the proletariat) will confiscate all private capital and then organise the labour, compel all to work, centralize credit and finance, establish state factories, concentrate means of transport and speed up production.
- The state will wither away: After capitalism is destroyed, the state is unnecessary, for there will no longer be any capitalist, for whose protection it now exists. Therefore, it will ultimately wither away.
Relationship between Socialism and Communism
The difference between socialism and communism is not easily identifiable. Both of them are closely related. According to Karl Marx, communism is the highest stage of socialism. However, the development may not be immediate. Socialism advocates state control of all means of production of goods, distribution and exchange. Communism demands collective ownership of all means of production and distribution. Both communism and socialism operate a one-party system of government. Political power is highly centralised in both systems. The main difference between communism and socialism is in the means or methods used to transform capitalism into socialism.
Communists believe that the change must be through revolution and that a dictatorial government is inevitable at least at the transitional stage. On the other hand, socialists believe that transformation should be through peaceful and democratic means. In fact, it is argued that no country is yet communist. Rather they are still practising socialism. However, some scholars agree that China and Russia are practising communism.
Both concepts (communism and socialism) are closely related in their ideas on economy, politics and private property. However, since the end of the cold war era, Karl Marx and his associates have been proved wrong because capitalism has succeeded in overthrowing socialism which was a reversal of what Karl Marx predicted. Most socialist states have either transformed or are about to be transformed into capitalist system.