Communism & Capitalism
Plato, in ancient Greece, at around 380bc, talked about a state where people shared all their property, wives and children. The whole state would be like a single body, all men would feel joy and sorrow on the same occasions.
In 1516, Thomas More pictured a place called Utopia in his fiction work; a place where society was based on common ownership of property and where rulers ruled by application of ‘reason’.
This idea came out in full thrust with the 1789 French Revolution which was in essence the first practical application of the idea of ‘power for the common man’. The Revolution is marked by the rise of a few enlightened men called the Jacobins, who were able to gather the ‘power of the people’ under the slogans of equality and reason and sold the dream of over-throwing monarchy by this ‘power of the people’. The Jacobins were a product of a century long phase of Enlightenment, wherein the whole of Western Europe was swelled by the ideas of ‘reason’ and ‘scientific thinking’ prompted by philosophes and thinkers in coffee houses, salons, and masonic lodges, who argued extensively on the need to review the conservative, religious and hierarchic approach to life.
The sad fact about the Revolution was that once Maximillian Robespierre got power, he set on a killing spree, just to ensure his stay in power. And apart from his Reign of Terror, the ruling council, called the Directory, proved to be more corrupt then the previous system.
After Napoleon overthrew the Directory in 1799, France was reverted into an Empire and it cast into the barbaric game of imperialism, vying viciously against Britain and its allies in the desire for global hegemony.
The Industrial Revolution fed on - the Scientific Revolution - the raw material from the slave trade that started in the 17th century - and the masses of factory-workers at home. And all this brought with it a new conscience, with an appetite for reason, free-thinking and questioning the status-quo. People like Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx felt deeply for the conditions of the working class and the unsurmountable gap between the proletariat (workers) and the bourgeoisie (owners).
For Marx the Industrial Revolution had brought about the Surplus Value that became the basis of Capitalism. Before the industries the laborers had an ownership of their tools and owned the products they manufactured, but the industry robbed them of this sense of ownership and now they were just workers getting wages for their work-hours. The profits or Surplus Value was owned by the owner of the factories. This divided the society into two classes the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Communism was the revenge of the proletariat against the ever-growing capital and power of the bourgeoisie. It was the idea of redistributing value and power among the masses.
The system of Communism also has a tenet called the Vanguard Party. Just like the Jacobins, the communist revolutionaries realized that there would not be an ideal state where all the masses would have the same degree of enlightenment required to uphold the communist ideal. To achieve this kind of ideal would require educating the masses, which would take a generation or two to accomplish. This necessitated the existence of a Vanguard Party, which according to Lenin, would be a party of professional revolutionaries, who would hold power post-revolution – thus killing the very notion of returning power to the masses.
The power of the Vanguard Party easily turned to a frantic and proved to be most dictatorial in both examples. The death-count of the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution is estimated to be 40,000, while the same in the Russian Communist Revolution of 1917 is estimated as large as 10million. The Chinese Communist Revolution may have taken as many as 7.5million lives. So the blood of the masses was spill for the sake of protecting and ensuring the power of leaders who were supposed to be the protectors of the masses.
Sadly the communist who were in extreme love of the proletariat, were also obsessed with the idea of mass killing. Marx wrote: "there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror". Stalin wrote: "Terror is the quickest way to new society". Lenin instructed: "It is necessary – secretly and urgently to prepare the terror", "to introduce mass terror".
Yet these numbers do not compare with the death toll caused by wars that have been fought for purely imperialistic reasons, by nations who upheld Capitalism as their ideal way of life. The number of dead estimated for WW1 is over 18million and that of WW2 is above 85million. Apart of these two wars numerous other war have been fought in the last 3 centuries for imperial control on more and more people, land and resources around the world.
In Capitalism the means of production are privately owned, and investment, distribution and prices of commodities are determined mainly in a free market, rather than by the state. Now this Free Market that is in principal determined by demand and supply of a product, should ideally support highly competitive markets. Moreover, individual freedom and open opportunity would encourage entrepreneurship in society and keep the economy busy and bustling. But the factory-owner has open opportunity too, he has the chance to become the industrialist and later the corporate and later a member of a cartel. And with each jump he gains more monopoly over the wages and welfare of more and more people and bigger and bigger profits, with which he can purchase more and more assets.
From the 17th century onwards, under the pressure of revolutionary forces, Western states started dislocating power from the crowns to the parliaments and embraced Democracy as the new way. Democracy is socialist in nature, as it aims to return power to the people by the power of their vote. So what happened was that all the capitalist countries due to their democratization had to spend more on public welfare, public schools, public hospitals and public parks and so on, thus providing community living, which is a Communism thing.
As a result of public spending and higher wages, standard of living in capitalist democracies was raised, this system attracted the world as the ‘success model’. People did not realize that capitalist countries had heavily invested in wars, colonialism and neocolonialism to get hold of raw material, cheap labor and mineral resources. Once they had subdued a country through force or proxy regimes, they legalized their loot under the label of Free Market. So in the global scene Free Market became a market where you are free to oblige the strong party on the terms they choose, and if you choose not to, you face the consequence of your choice. Thus in the international free-market powerful western states despise weaker state’s intervention to try to set a higher price for their produce, because that is what freedom is about – it’s about who has the power to secure the largest freedoms.
Like the Vanguard Party of Communism, perhaps the vanguard of the Capitalist system is the interest-based Banking System, based on the principle of lending money that does not exist. Just so as the Revolutionaries were able to gather the trust of the proletariat, not by delivering their promises yet, but merely by pronouncing their slogans ‘equality’ and ‘reason’, in the same way the Capitalist ad the government that support them create the banking system which gathers the trust of the society with a constant publicity of the banks as the ‘right place for your money and trust’.
One also fails to recollect what history belies behind the success model of a capitalist democracy. The centuries-old plundering of weaker nations that has been a continual and on-going source for accumulation of ‘capital’ in the first place. Critics of Capitalism associate it with Trans-Atlantic Slavery, and it still thrives so well in the form of global corporates, which are in many ways above the laws of their origin countries as well as the laws of the countries they deal with – they have their own sets of law. But global corporates do not just plunder other countries, they do it at home too, so even as we see a higher standard of living in Western countries, the gap between their proletariat and bourgeoisie is also increasing by the day. This was shown by the massive Occupy Wall Street Movement that went on parallel to the Arab Spring, beginning in October 2011 with protests in over 951 cities across 82 countries, and in over 600 communities in the United States. This massive movement was under-reported in the mainstream media and was suppressed by police force.
The Capitalist model also brings with it a culture – that of individualism. This Individualism is the driver behind the American Dream which calls for pursuit of happiness and progress and the seeking of self-pleasure. This indulgence in one’s self-pleasure allows for oblivion to what happens to the ‘other’. Thus as capitalism, which requires continual economic growth, is hurriedly depleting the finite natural resources of Earth and destroying traditional ways of life – many are enjoying its fruits in alienation.
We stand then, at a crossroad where the choice is hard and confusing. Should we support Communism, which is really humanism, calling for shared happiness and rewards of life, or should we go with Capitalism which holds the natural right of all people to produce, sell and buy whatever they want to, however they deem it correct. Or is there place for revision and correction – and for finding the sustainable, just, alternative balance?