For many Americans, the word “communism” is synonymous with single party rule, and complete top-down totalitarian government control of society. It evokes images of the Cold War and the death and suffering endured under Stalinism.
Memories of the Cold War, the Red Scare, and the Vietnam War color many older Americans' views of communism. Some remember communism as a terrible threat to our nation and still hold it in that regard today. Others remember Vietnam as an unwinnable war that America needlessly entangled itself in in the name of containing communism. These people would see communism as an overblown term used to fearmonger citizens.
Some, focusing on the ideology’s theoretical roots, argue that communism has never truly been tried. This group points to Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto and communism’s core belief that capitalism will eventually deepen inequality to the point that the proletariat — the workers — rise up and seize the means of production — the land, tools, and other capital required for industry. Communism also entails the elimination of all private property, which has never been tried in a modern state. The workers in this imagined communist future would live in an egalitarian manner, since they all know what it means to be oppressed.
The dictatorships of the 20th century justified themselves with the ideology of communism, but, some argue, they practiced authoritarian socialism rather than communism. Stalin and Mao are widely regarded as communist dictators, but some would say that communism and dictatorship are inherently in conflict, and that true communism differs from what these countries have tried historically.
Marxists think of a communist society as achieving true equality for all. They see a system without homelessness or a poverty class, in which workers have equal say in their conditions. While communism and Marxism are ideologies primarily concerned with class, they also promote equality across race and gender lines.
Meanwhile, others, typically those on the right, see communism as a force of destruction, often resulting in famine, murder, secrecy, and dictatorship. When this group hears the term “communism,” they think of a dystopian system of government that is antithetical to human nature and natural order. They believe that by artificially imposing equality or radically redistributing resources in a world that naturally contains inequality, communism creates an unjust, unfair, and ultimately, deadly system with negative material and spiritual consequences for all but those who are in power. Those in this camp think communism is perhaps a nice idea, but one that doesn’t work in reality, and ends up having the result of curtailing human freedom, ingenuity, and innovation.
QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:
-If you are supportive of communism, is there anything about its critics that you agree with?
-If you are critical of communism, is there anything about its vision you resonate with? Is there a type or kind of communism that you think could be positive?