Back in December of 2013, I wrote a lengthy (20 page) post concerning Socialism and Communism, A Rebuttal: Socialism, Communism, and Arrogance. The substance of that post was aimed at pointing out the differences between Socialism and Communism, in context of history. In my post, I laid out the reasons why I tend to think that communism has never existed. In critiquing an argument made by another person, I pointed out that he had been using the terms communism and socialism interchangeably. I also, rather emphatically, supported the idea that the two terms are different. This, I now realize, is in error. This post is meant to correct that error. Moreover, I will explain why my critique is still valid.
On the Interchangeability of Terms
Is there a difference between the two terms? Yes, and no. Karl Marx used the two terms (communism and socialism) interchangeably, viewing them as meaning the same thing. So why is it that if you search Google for “the difference between Socialism and Communism”, you land at pages such as Diffen’s page, Communism vs. Socialism, where the two concepts are separated into 17 different categories, from philosophy, religion, to political system. Interestingly, their page differentiates between “key proponents” and “political movements”. It would be difficult to understate the level of confusion that this page my generate, if only due to the fact that it is very much a historically vague, philosophically redacted, and very much a western view of the two concepts.
Then there’s UShistory.org’s explanation of the two, first, their definition of communism is:
“The most important principle of communism is that no private ownership of property should be allowed. Marx believed that private ownership encouraged greed and motivated people to knock out the competition, no matter what the consequences. Property should be shared, and the people should ultimately control the economy. The government should exercise the control in the name of the people, at least in the transition between capitalism and communism. The goals are to eliminate the gap between the rich and poor and bring about economic equality.”
“Socialism, like communism, calls for putting the major means of production in the hands of the people, either directly or through the government. Socialism also believes that wealth and income should be shared more equally among people. Socialists differ from communists in that they do not believe that the workers will overthrow capitalists suddenly and violently. Nor do they believe that all private property should be eliminated. Their main goal is to narrow, not totally eliminate, the gap between the rich and the poor. The government, they say, has a responsibility to redistribute wealth to make society more fair and just.”
If one is to talk about this issue in an honest light, and a correct one, we must understand the two terms to be the same thing. To Marx and Engels, there was no difference between the two terms. As such, we cannot refer to one as meaning the other.
Much of the difference between the two terms is very much thanks to Lenin. It is only until now, that I realize that our modern separation of the two terms is because of Lenin’s forced revolution, as well as redefinition of socialism. Leninism is not Marxism. I made a similar statement in my previous post concerning this issue. To really explain the difference of view, Marx saw socialism as a stateless, classless, money-less society. Lenin, on the other hand, defined socialism as such:
For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly. (The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat it – Can We Go Forward If We Fear To Advance Towards Socialism, September 1917: Retrieved from Marxist Internet Archive)
Lenin, through his redefinition of socialism, as opposed to its original (and at the time widely understood definition), in effect created a literal interpretation of Marxist view of transition between capitalism, to communism. Much of the Western historical view of this transition implies that the political and economic change would go from capitalism, to socialism, and finally to capitalism. This view is false, and not meant to be taken from a literal view if one is to understand Marx’s view of communism.
To this end, I was in my previous post, supporting this distinction, while also using it to attack the notion that communism has ever existed.
To sum up the yes/no dichotomy as to whether or not the two terms mean the same:
The west has greatly succeeded in misrepresenting Marxism, but has also greatly benefited from Lenin’s socialist definition.
Richard Montague said it best, in my opinion:
“The western media, particularly oblivious to the implications of communism even as defined sometimes in their dictionaries, frequently drew attention to the poverty of the Russian workers. Conversely, and correctly, it also drew attention to the privileged and opulent lifestyles of the “communist” bosses. The same media, apparently without any sense of contradiction, was telling the public in the western world what the “Communist”-controlled media were telling workers in the Russian empire: that Russia represented the Marxian concept of a “classless” society.
The litmus test of the existence of “communism” for western journalists was recognition of the claim, by a state or a political party, that is was either “socialist” or “communist”. Similar claims by such states and parties to be “democratic” was never given the slightest credibility. It might be argued that those who rejected the “democratic” claim knew a little about democracy whereas they appear to know nothing whatsoever about socialism.
The contradiction between the views of Marx and Lenin set out above relate to fundamental issues. Inevitably, however, they formed the basis for numerous other conflicts of opinion between Marxism and Leninism. In the light of these basic contradictions, it is absurd and dishonest to claim that there is any compatibility between Marx’s concept of a free, democratic socialist society and the brutal state capitalism espoused by Lenin. Journalists, especially, should be in no doubt about the interests they serve when they promulgate the lie that Marxism or socialism exists anywhere in the world. (Marx and Lenin’s views contrasted, The Socialist part of Great Britain, December, 2001)”
On the Validity of my Previous Critique
In the article for which this post serves as an addendum, I argued that true communism has never existed, thanks much to Lenin’s various changes to the various fundamental principles that Marx laid out. This is still true. Moreover, while my opponent for which that article served as a rebuttal used the two terms interchangeably, he did so in context of the modern western view. He views socialism and communism as meaning the same thing, much the same as Marx did, although he disagrees and rejects socialism (or any other delineation of it), believing capitalism to be superior in every aspect. The unfortunate circumstance of his argument though is that, 1) what we call “socialism” here, is more applicable in light of Lenin’s definition, or “state capitalism.” In effect, his argument becomes a straw man argument.
This post served mostly to point out a philosophical and historical error that I inadvertently supported. To this end, both definitions are true, and it is for this reason as well that I share this information. It is important that when discussing topics, we use the proper definition. It is not worthwhile for political figures, or even every day citizens, to reject a piece of legislation on the basis that it’s “socialism” because that word, very clearly, has different meanings in history and application.
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