Before I discuss how socialism was corrupted, let me first explain exactly what capitalism, communism, and socialism are, because there could not be more confusion about these terms. They (along with many other economic terms) are greatly misunderstood by the general public because their definitions have been changed a number of times and they are also intentionally overcomplicated to create confusion. Stigmas are also attached to certain economic models that are much fairer, while the exploitative, horribly unfair models are often associated with democracy or liberty, so that people will essentially allow and support their own exploitation. When politicians and corporate executives use terms like “economic freedom” they’re usually referring to the “freedom” corporations have to make as much money as possible by any means necessary.
A capitalist economy is one in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit. In a truly capitalist system the government would have no control over the means of production, but this is not the case in any country. No country is a completely capitalist country, despite the fact that many countries identify as capitalist. The government has a tremendous amount of control over the means of production in self-identified capitalist countries like America, which can be a very good thing. The government has to own some of the means of production and not run them for profit because some services and resources are vitally required in order to prevent deaths and suffering, such as healthcare, education, food and water. But the problem is many politicians only want this control so that they can profit from it; they may say they’re not running an industry for profit, but they will anyway.
In a completely capitalist system that lacks any non-profit institutions nothing would be free, including life-saving public services. If your house was on fire and you didn’t have the money to pay the fire department to put out the fire, they wouldn’t come. If someone broke into your house and you didn’t have the money to pay the police station, you would be on your own. As Noam Chomsky says “a true capitalist economy would self-destruct in 5 minutes.” This is because without government intervention corporations would be free to exploit and control everything causing chaos. But the real problem, as stated, is that the types of means of production owned by the government that are not supposed to be run for profit (prisons are the best example) are anyway, (this is called corporate or crony capitalism) and most countries don’t have free healthcare and education and many lack access to clean water, food, and police protection due to the greed of corporations and governments.
In addition, when governments fund businesses they almost never do so to help underprivileged people. The government gives huge subsidizes to the most profitable companies because the government benefits from them. The government also gives bailouts to the largest corporations in order to keep them afloat and, of course, in a true capitalist system, they would not. If governments cut off their support to the biggest companies that exist right now, they likely wouldn’t last very long. For this reason it’s hard to say with complete certainty if a truly capitalist system would self-destruct because there are no completely capitalist countries. Most big businesses only came into power because of the government, so it’s hard to imagine what a real capitalist economy would look like. Without government support it is plausible that big business would cease to be so big. America’s corporations and military may be proof of this.
America is by far the richest country because ithas the most profitable corporations because of its crony capitalism. Not coincidentally it also has the strongest government and military. If crony capitalism didn’t result in greater economic disparity than regular capitalism then corporate powers would have evolved slightly more evenly around the globe in countries with similar crony capitalist governments, but with less strong military force. In other words, big businesses would be just as successful in countries with smaller armies and less powerful governments that also happen to use the same economic system. However, this still does not mean true capitalism is better than crony capitalism or that either are good economic models. Just about everyone in the world can agree that some things need to be free.
Services and means of production controlled by the government and not run for profit are deemed socialist, and almost every government has socialist elements, including countries that identify as “capitalist” systems, which are not truly capitalist by definition. Some countries (all of them rich) have public education, libraries, police forces that serve some purpose, fire stations, some form of assisted healthcare while most of the poor ones don’t. Most poor governments are the least socialist because they don’t have much money for themselves, so they certainly aren’t going to give back to the public because many are as greedy as leaders in rich countries. (They also don’t need to give back because their constituents have little wealth, power or voice, and as I said in the introduction, money affords freedom.)
In a purely socialist economic system, the means of production would be publicly or commonly owned and wage labor wouldn’t exist, which is process in which workers sell their labor to an employer or capitalist for capital, (money). A socialist economy produces what’s needed and will be used by the general population, as opposed to a capitalist economy, which just produces whatever will create the most profit, and unlike a capitalist system an individual’s income is determined by the amount the person contributes, as opposed to how much money they invest into a business. But there are two major kinds of socialism that differ from each other. There is a large difference between public control of the means of production and common control of the means of production.
The way that companies come under by public control is by nationalizing them, which gives the state the power to control them. When a company is nationalized, the government is supposed to represent the workers and their interests. (Prisons are more or less nationalized in most capitalist countries. They’re not supposed to run for profit or be companies because they’re not supposed to produce products, but they do anyway and as stated, some prisons are completely privately owned.) However, workplaces that come under common control are operated very differently. A workplace under common control is either a syndicate, a workplace democracy or worker cooperative in which the workers have direct and equal say over their business. The former type of public control is called state socialism, (again, elements of state socialism are used in crony capitalist systems) whereas the later type of common control is called libertarian socialism, which is closer to communism and anarchism, because it reduces state power. Communism aims to end wage labor and give workers direct control over production like libertarian socialism, but it goes a step further by claiming that the state as a whole and use of violence to control the public isn’t necessary, and that the state should be abolished. This doesn’t mean communism necessarily advocates having no government. It just means that everyone in a society would be a part of the government and that everyone would have a direct and equal say over what rules would exist as in a direct democracy. There would have to be systemic cooperation. This is sometimes called anarchist communism. (Other kinds of anarchism can refer to a system that lacks any type government at all.)
State socialism is fundamentally flawed because the people currently in governments can’t be trusted to represent the interests of the workers or the people. They control business just to profit from it. Many current “socialist” or “communist” state governments are not at all socialist in this sense. They used the name to attract public support, but in reality most are really single party dictatorships, so the definition of the word communism has been changed by the governments who claimed to adopt it, and it was also changed by “capitalist” governments who wish to demonize the original concept of communism, thereby creating a great deal of confusion.
The Soviet Union
Contrary to popular belief, the Soviet Union was never very communist. Vladimir Lenin had some of the most truly socialist principles, and he rose by toppling the very centralized and repressive Russian Empire, which existed from 1721 until 1917 when the Russian Revolution took place. The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) formed in 1898 was one of the first Russian Marxist groups that helped lead to the Russian Revolution. The RSDLP split in 1904 into two groups called the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks because of disagreements between Lenin and Julius Marov. Lenin believed that the working class could be represented by professional revolutionaries and that the Tsarist regime should be overthrown, whereas Mensheviks believed that the bourgeois leaders could be collaborated with. “Bolshevik” is derived from the Russian word for majority, большинство, and “Menshevik” is derived from the Russian word for minority, меньшинство.) Julius Martov led the Mensheviks and Vladimir Lenin led the Bolsheviks.
Before Lenin came to power, demonstrations in February of 1917 (during the first World War) forced the Tsar to abdicate, leading to an uneasy provisional government with many borgueise leaders still in charge.
Lenin was eventually arrested by the Provisional Government and his party was outlawed due mainly to popular uprisings he had spurred. So Lenin fled back to Finland where he decided to take over the Provisional government. He arranged for its deposition, but traveling back into Russia was difficult because the first World War was raging. So Lenin had to ride in a one carriage train car through Germany to Russia with German soldiers on board. When he arrived, he came to power in a relatively peaceful revolution in October of 1917. When in power, Lenin soon nationalized the Russian banks and control of the factories was given to the Soviets. He also passed the Decree of Peace to prevent violence, the Decree of land to give back land to the peasants, and he withdrew troops from the World War. He even established free universal health care and education and was outspoken about his belief in women’s rights.
Much good came from Lenin’s rise to power. He had fought for the rights of peasant farmers most of his life as a lawyer, writer and social organizer. However, some historians criticize Lenin for taking some control away from the working class by establishing government-accountable leaders of businesses. Workers still had considerable say, but leaders ultimately made the major decisions. This could be seen as a pragmatic way to marry socialism with the reality of the fragmented working class. Leaders can be very helpful, of course, but only if they are conduits of the people that internalize and intelligently consider every point of view in order to make a decision that is beneficial to everyone. Lenin’s destruction of the factory councils of the Soviets and the Constituent Assembly was harshly criticized by some of the more traditional Marxists, like Luxemburg, Pannekoke and Borg, but the various aforementioned circumstances should be taken into account.
Lenin could also criticized for ordering the killings of the leaders of the previous tsarist regime. But this was 1918. Such things were not uncommon, and the regime was far from innocent. But a more peaceful approach might been more popularly received. In 1918 Trotsky wrote that you need “a workers army”, which was “submissive to a single leader” and this was in practice what Lenin was trying to do, but only because he was receiving so much resistance from radicals with their own interests, namely from the White Movement, which was a xenophobic and anti-semetic resistance group lacking any concrete ideology, except that they wanted an absolute monarchy like the previous Tsarist Regime. The White Movement used Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan as military zones, and the USSR (formed in 1922) annexed them as a result. Lenin defended these actions by explaining that they were done to protect them from being invaded by imperial powers and transformed into puppet regimes, which was a very real threat for many nations at the time.
After the Civil War in Russia, due to several assassination attempts and following strokes Lenin died in 1924. Unfortunately, Joseph Stalin took his place and he was much quicker to employ violence and centralize power. He became more and more oppressive and totalitarian through his time in power, as did many following Soviet leaders. The Soviet Union essentially took control of the international Socialist movement and turned socialist countries into more of single party dictatorships and today most governments that still claim to be socialist are not socialist in any sense as stated. Current socialist governments still call themselves socialist because “by associating their own destruction of socialism with the aurora of socialism they hope to gain credit with working classes and other progressive sectors.” – Noam Chomsky.
Western governments redefined socialism and communism as well, but they did so for the opposite reason. They wanted (and still want) to demonize the original ideas of communism, Marxism and Leninism by associating them with the brutality of the Soviet Union, and therby reduce public support for any movements that are seen as Marxist or for workers control.
Communist governments are often described as opposed to democracy by mainstream media outlets, but a true communist government would be far more democratic and free than most current self-described capitalist democracies. The word democracy derives from the Greek word “demos,” which means common people and “kratos,” which means “rule or strength.” This is literally the main principle of socialism. It gives the common people control. In a capitalist country, politicians work for a very small minority consisting of the richest and most powerful people while everyone else is largely ignored. In a true communist system, the ruling class is the lower class. The proletariat decides their own future. Therefore, it is capitalism that is at odds with democracy.
Most Soviet leaders were unfortunately as power hungry as American ones. They flexed their military muscle and competed with one another like children. Joseph Stalin was particularly oppressive and violent. He killed many who opposed him and gained absolute power over the country. Almost anyone who showed any kind of distrust or disproval of Stalin was named an “enemy of the people,” and these people were often put in labor camps or sentenced to death. (His policies also helped to create a famine, which resulted in millions of deaths.) Stalin corrupted the original ideas of communism, because inevitably it seems positions of power become corrupted. But the American government’s hate of communism had nothing to do with the Soviet Union’s eventual repression of their people but was rather rooted in greed and their desire for power. The proof of this is that the government far more often criticized the concept of communism itself than Stalin or any of his crimes.
Although Russia and America were justly fighting against a common enemy during WWII, even then there were tensions between them because of America’s hate for communism. And eventually as pro-nazi countries were taken over by America and Russia (controlled by Stalin), they clashed over where borders were to be drawn and which country could have more control. America and Russia both wanted their own respective economic systems to dominate so they could profit, and even after coming together to defeat the Nazis, they were creating tension that would lead to another war. While Russia gained support from countries that believed in socialism and wanted to become socialist, America was trying to make previous pro-Nazi countries more capitalist by funding business leaders. These funds, which came largely from the Marshall Plan, mainly ensured that large business owners stayed afloat, while the poor were left to suffer. Noam Chomsky wrote on the Marshall Plan that it “set the stage for large amounts of private U.S. investment in Europe, establishing the basis for modern transnational corporations.” Russia and America both wanted to dominate the world, but Marxism and the original concept of communism was opposed to centralized power and control of any kind, whereas capitalism was always about control and the accumulation of wealth by any means necessary.
What is needed is a return to the true principles of communism. Workers need to be given back control in every business globally. People need to know exactly what communism, socialism, capitalism are in order to realize how they’re being fooled by revisionist propaganda created by imperial powers and their media outlets in order to keep the ruling wealthy on top of the suffering masses. When enough people understand and there is enough organization and collaboration to give workers control and create co-operative models of business, then trade, development, technology and even self-expression will be transformed and the quality of human life will improve worldwide as a result.