Socialism is a political system based on the concept that businesses and industries better serve the people if they are owned and operated by the workers and states. The idea sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, when gross inequalities and hardships caused by private ownership, were plain for all to see. In the 18th and 19th centuries a number of "utopian" philosophers offered idealist views of the world based on socialism. The word "socialism" first appeared in a cooperative journal in 1827.

Socialists viewed the profit motive as something inherently evil and selfish; and saw capitalists as evil people who would do anything to keep the wages of workers low so they could enrich themselves and live comfortably while workers suffered and lived in poverty. Socialists were generally regarded as reformers who made socialist reforms within the frameworks of existing governments, preferably democratic ones.

Communism is a extreme form in Socialism in which workers seize control of the government by revolution, and create a "dictatorship of the proletariat" in which there is no private property and the state (and thus the people) own everything. Workers and farmers are organized into communes or communal work units, hence the tern "Communism."

Marxism is the economic, political, and social theories of Karl Marx, a nineteenth-century German philosopher and socialist, especially his concept of socialism. Marxism-Leninism is the ideology of communism developed by Karl Marx and refined and adapted to social and economic conditions in Russia by Vladimir I. Lenin. Marxism-Leninism was the guiding ideology for the Soviet Union and its satellites. Communism is a doctrine based on revolutionary Marxist socialism and Marxism-Leninism. As the official ideology of the Soviet Union, it provided for a system of authoritarian government in which the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) alone controlled state-owned means of production. Communism nominally sought to establish a society in which the state would wither away and goods and services would be distributed equitably. [Source: Library of Congress *]

According to Marxism-Leninism socialism was the first phase of communism. A transition from capitalism in which the means of production are state owned and whose guiding principle is "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his work." Soviet socialism bore scant resemblance to the democratic socialism that some West European countries adopted in the twentieth century. *

See Separate Article KARL MARX AND MARXISM

Capitalism and Adam Smith

Adam Smith

Capitalism is regarded by Marxists as a phase that society goes through on its way from feudalism to socialism. According to capitalism is “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”

Adam Smith (1723-1790) is regarded as the first person to describe and clarify the basic principals of capitalism and laissez faire (“let it go”) market economics. He "was not spectacularly original," wrote historian Daniel Boorstein, "All his intellectual raw materials were at hand—the ideas, the historical examples, even many of his most memorable phrases. But from our perspective he did more than espouse an economic doctrine. He lifted the vision of European man to a new scene. He saw economic well being not as the possession of treasure but as a process...Adam Smith helped his generation rise above the specious proposition that a nation's wealth consisted of its gold and silver....Adam Smith's extensive views gave his book a book a power surpassed by no other modern book. He was the true discoverer of the modern science of economics.” [Source: “The Discoverers” by Daniel Boorstein]

Smith was described by some local people in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he lived, as a "well-dressed lunatic." His liked to rub his head vigorously against a wall above the chimney piece and talked and smiled to himself as he walked down the street in a "torturous, wormlike manner," as if "he was in deep conversation with an unseen person." Smith drank tar water to relieve his ailments and often went into trances which one biographer described as "thinker's cramp." Once while giving a talk about the division of labor he fell into a tannery pit full of fat and lime. Another time he put some bread and butter into a pot and poured water over it and then complained it was the worst tea he ever had. Smith was influenced by the Scottish philosopher David Hume, the 13th century theologian John Dun Scotus (the source of the word dunce), and Lord Monboddo (who deduced human being are born with tails). Smith never married and once wrote "I am a beau in nothing but my books).

Adam Smith's 700-page “Wealth of Nations,” published in 1776, the same year as the American Declaration of Independence, describes the market economy and capitalism and drew on the works of John Locke and David Hume. Adam Smith was paid £500 for his work by a publisher. That was a considerable sum in 1776.

“Wealth of Nations” begins with a description of the pre-mechanical pin factory. Adam Smith illustrates the division of labor (an advancement from the Middle Ages when many guild members performed a variety of tasks). One man drew the wire, another cut into pieces of equal length, a third sharpened the point and a forth pounded the head (in the Middle Ages one man performed all these tasks in a less efficient manner). The "invisible hand" of large profits for the pin factory owner increases efficiency and guides the process in a way that makes large economies and society function with out a lot of pre-ordained rules. Marx latter argued that class war would ensue when workers alienated by the drudgery of their tasks would rise up against the factory owners. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

Smith discussed the accumulation of capital, the mercantile system, making profits from stock and described the self-interest motive. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner,” he wrote, “but from their regard for of their own self interest". But Smith he did not believe self-interest should be given free reign. He maintained that it should exist with the laws of justice and individual good will. He also condemned monopolies and supported the free trade of goods by removal of artificial barriers.

What is Communism?

Marx and Engels

Dr. Eno wrote: “Communism is a highly optimistic nineteenth century European political theory. When Marx first published his theory it offered the most comprehensive portrait of the past ever developed and, on the basis of that portrait, predicted dramatic changes coming in the future — changes that would benefit all but the wealthiest layer of European society and would, Marx believed, lead to a virtually perfect and lasting world order. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“When communism was adopted as a revolutionary ideology by leaders first in Russia and then in China and elsewhere, Marx’s ideas were reworked to serve the interest of the governing leadership groups of those countries. Because Marxism envisioned both a revolutionary stage and an adjustment period when government would have extraordinary dictatorial powers, these leadership groups were able to manipulate Marx’s ideas to strengthen their powers in arbitrary ways — communist ideas became excellent tools for sustaining totalitarian control by a ruling elite. When people refer to communism today, they usually mean the oppressive regimes that have exploited Marx’s ideas, rather than the ideas themselves. /+/

“We will have ample opportunity in this course to see the way in which communism has been employed as an oppressive force in China since 1949. This reading is intended to help you understand in a little more depth the original nature of Marx’s communism and how the nature of communism changed as it was adapted to the needs of the Soviet government by Lenin, and to the needs of the Chinese party by Mao Zedong. Chinese communism is based upon a three.stage progression of communist ideas from Marx to Lenin to Mao. To understand Maoism and the distinctiveness of Chinese communism, you need to understand the European communism from which it evolved. /+/

Only five Communist countries remain: Vietnam, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and of course China.


Dr. Eno wrote: “Socialism refers to a wide variety of political ideologies which tend to share certain characteristics. These include beliefs that the best societies are those that privilege collective decision making and action over uncoordinated decision making by individuals, that collective ownership of social goods is superior to private ownership, and that in a healthy society, its members care for one another without coercion. Socialisms generally aspire to create a broad community of people in which values and norms of behavior are held by consensus. One strong point of socialistic movements is the impulse to try and create a society that represents and serves all its members equally; one weak point is that the demand for consensus — overwhelming agreement among society’s members — often moves from a “democratic” stage which allows majority rule, to a coercive stage where the majority demands value and action conformity of all its members. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Marx viewed himself as a socialist and a political activist, but he was skeptical about the fuzzy and romantic ideas of many of the socialisms of his day. His goal was to employ Hegel’s models of mankind and history to create a new “scientific socialism,” 5 which could form the practical basis for world revolution and the creation of an ideal world community. Marx wrote many books and essays, but much of his thought can be summarized through a few key concepts.” /+/

Other Revolutionary Philosophers

Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakunin (1814-76) developed the idea of anarchy, as an alternative to Utopian dream of total freedom. Described as the "apostle of universal destruction," he once lauded Satan as the first revolutionary and said, "Even if God existed it would be necessary to abolish him." In his book God and the State he argued for the destruction of the dominate political system and social order.

Bakunin was sentenced to life in prsion while in Germany, was extradited to Austria, amd was eventually given over to the tsar who imprisoned him for many years. After he was released he moved to London. In 1872, then 58, he was expelled from the First International over a doctrinal dispute with he followers of Marx.

Terrorist Sergei Nechaev justified political assassination "for the good of the cause."

Paris Commune of 1871

Barricades in Paris in 1871

After the Franco-Prussian War, many Frenchmen were outraged by concession given to the Germans, namely the transfer of the capital from Paris to Versailles and the ceding of the iron-rich provinces of Alsace and Lorriane to the Germans. They were also angered by the take over of the government in Versailles by monarchists.

Paris Commune Parisians seceded from France and France was divided into two parts: the Third Republic, with the regular army, at Versailles and the Paris Commune, ruled by working people and the National Guard, in Paris. The Commune hoped to join with other French cities and create a French confederation. Members of the Commune were called Communards.

The Paris Commune, which was evolving into a Communist state, existed for only for two months. It came to an end in May 1871 when the regular army entered Paris, while Prussian soldiers looked on from their positions north of the city, and captured the city in a "bloody week" of barricades and street-to-street fighting. The Communards executed hostages, including the Archbishop of Paris and set fire to the city hall, the Palace of Justice, Tuileries palaces and other government buildings.

The Versailles government retaliated and executed an estimated 20,000 Communards and exiled 7,500 others. Reprisals continued until a general amnesty was offered in 1880. The uprising and fighting left Paris a blackened smoldering ruin.

Fighting at the Paris Commune

Fighting at the Paris Commune

Describing the fighting in Paris May 23 after the regular French army entered Paris Archibald Forbes wrote, "The fighting is furious and confusing all around. At the Opera House it is especially strong. I see troops and man after man skulking along the parapets of its roof.".The Federals are now massed at the top of Rue Lafite and firing down towards the boulevards. This must means the Versaillists are on the boulevard below."."They were Versaillists that I saw on the parapet of the New Opera. There is a cheer; the people rush out into the fire and clap their hands. The tricolor is waving on the hither end of the Opera House."

Describing the fighting May 24, Forbes wrote, "The Versailles troops collected about the foot of Ruse Saint-Honoré were enjoying the fine game of Communist hunting." A man is pulled from a carriage. "They yell---the crowd---'Shoot him; shoot him!'.".The stick falls on the frail man in black.".He is down; he is up again; he is down again the thuds of the gunstocks on him sounding.".They are firing into the flaccid carcass now.".His brains spur on my boot."

Describing what remained on May 29, Forbes wrote, "The ghastliest sight" was a hollow "now filled up with dead. One could measure the dead by the road. There they lay.". each successive tier powdered over with a coating of chloride of lime.".Among the dead were many women.

Early History of Communism

In 1889, the International Working Men's Association (also known as the Second International) was held to organize workers in all countries as a way of preventing war. May Day was declared as the international worker's holiday and the red flag was adopted as the worker’s flag in commemoration of those who spilled their blood fighting for labor rights.

Communism developed more as response to social upheaval caused by war rather than industrialization. Social chaos produced by war created a climate in which revolutionary movements such as Communism could take root. Communists came to power in Russia during World War I and came to power in China, Vietnam and eastern Europe in the wake of World War II.

Problems with Communism and Socialism

Communism and socialism : 1) described the shortcoming of capitalism but failed to come up with a workable alternative; and 2) as the situation in Communist countries has shown, society becomes corrupt under Communism and fails to grow, workers become lazy and lack motivation in a system based on equality in which there are few incentives to get ahead in life.

The increased misery that Marx predicted were addressed through education social welfare and humanitarian legislation. Trade unions were better able to addressees the problems of workers than communism and socialism.

In the late 1990s, there was somewhat of Marx revival. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto in 1998, in a essay called the Next Thinker in Next magazine, staff writer John Cassidy commended Marx for predicting things like globalization, monopolistic economies and political corruption.



Dr. Eno wrote: “Marx died without seeing a communist revolution, but the first of these came only 34 years after his death, and in a place where he would not have allowed that a proletarian revolution was possible. In 1917, V. I. Lenin led an uprising in Russia that toppled a newly established liberal government, led by members of Russia’s small capitalist class, which had itself ousted the aristocratic government of the Czar only months earlier that same year. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Lenin had devoted his entire life to the overthrow of the Czarist government, and had for many years lived as an exile in Western Europe. Initially, his revolutionary aims had not been guided by Marxism, but after the turn of the century he adopted Marx’s model and became a leading theorist of European Marxism. /+/

“Lenin’s original contributions to Marxism stem from one key problem that he faced as a Russian Marxist: Classical Marxism held that a proletarian revolution could occur only in an advanced industrialized state where the bourgeois class had long held power — how could Marxism apply to Lenin’s Russia? Lenin responded to this with two key theories, both of which became central to the Chinese communist revolution.” /+/

Leninist Theories

Dr. Eno wrote: “Party Consciousness. Russia possessed only tiny classes of factory owners and factory workers. Russia lacked the social structures that could generate proletarian consciousness..there was no place for the key ingredient of revolution to come from. In response, Lenin claimed that Marx was not entirely correct, productive labor was not the only source of consciousness. Consciousness could also be instilled by education — a person could adopt a class world view through a process of persuasion and understanding. Lenin pointed out that all revolutions are led by some members of a class whose consciousness is more advanced than others. After the revolution, the vanguard simply educates those whose consciousness is less developed. Marx himself had anticipated this in his 9 idea of a post-revolutionary “dictatorship of the proletariat,” during which the new ruling majority class would “re.educate” the members of the other classes to mold them into the emerging communist society. Carrying this one step further, Lenin said that what Russia needed was a “vanguard political party” that would disseminate Marx’s ideas and educate both the small, backward proletariat in Russia and its natural allies in society (such as urban shop workers, street peddlers, beggars, and so forth). The vanguard Communist Party could serve as the source of class consciousness for the revolution. This would allow almost any country to have a communist revolution. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Lenin giving a speech

“Imperialism and Revolution. Lenin also identified a second agent that could hasten the spread of revolutionary consciousness: Imperialism. Throughout the 19th century, European countries had taken possession of non-industrialized regions of the world and transplanted to these African, Asian, and American societies features of European bourgeois culture and a small quantity of industrial enterprise. Lenin claimed that when the seeds of capitalism were sown into “feudal” foreign environments through a process of coercion and conquest, they spontaneously generated two new types of conflict. First, a new class of native capitalists would emerge and challenge the native “aristocratic” class, and second, anti-imperialist class conflict between alien factory owners and exploited workers would make the new proletarian class “revolutionary” from its very beginnings. Under these conditions the entire process of history would be radically accelerated. The emerging native bourgeoisie, becoming aware of earlier European examples, would soon seek to take control of power in the state by overthrowing the old elite class. And then, as society was in a state of general disruption, a vanguard Communist Party could seize the moment to energize a small but revolutionary proletariat and “piggyback” a communist revolution on the bourgeois revolution. The result would be a succession from feudal to bourgeois to communist state. This is, in fact, very close to what happened in Russia in 1917. /+/

“Lenin’s theories were supported by the example of the Russian Revolution and as premier of the Soviet Union until his death in 1924, Lenin became the leader of the world communist movement. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviet Communist Party, claiming the powers appropriate to the period of the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” engineered an economic transformation of Russian society and the Soviet economy by means of convenient emergency measures, such as the sweeping persecution of political opponents, the murder of landowners and wealthy farmers, and the starvation of millions of recalcitrant peasants. These successes gave Lenin’s revisions of Marxism unparalleled influence throughout the world, and in many countries, particularly those which had been subject to the pressures of imperialism, communism was increasingly referred to as Marxist-Leninism.” /+/

Mao Zedong, Maoism and the Revolutionary Peasantry

Dr. Eno wrote: “Mao Zedong, who had been among the founders of the CCP, was one of the few Party members willing to address a central fact about China’s prospects for revolution: in a land of a half-billion people, the proletarian class probably numbered no more than a million and was concentrated in only one or two eastern cities. There was no realistic prospect that such a class could gain control over China — Leninism was simply inadequate for China. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Mao in Yan'an in 1946

“Mao proposed an alternative model of a distinctively Chinese form of communist revolution. Mao’s idea was that the peasant class in China had for so many centuries endured the oppression of a parasitic landlord class, and possessed such a rich store of hatred and anger towards the wealthy landowners of China, that it was a potentially revolutionary class. (Mao was himself from a wealthy peasant family.) Mao’s analysis of China’s class structure did not conform to Marx’s model of history, which was based on European precedents. For Mao, the two contending classes whose conflict would give birth to the next stage of history were not the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, they were the peasant and landlord classes. Mao believed the Party should be serving as the vanguard of a revolutionary peasantry, and should be instilling revolutionary consciousness not in the minds of city factory workers, but in the minds of rural peasants. /+/

“Prior to 1927, the CCP had viewed Mao as an eccentric among its founders. Marx and Lenin had said that the peasants, who worked individually rather than collectively in factories, were invariably a reactionary class which could never be politically mobilized prior to a revolution. Mao’s arguments that the Chinese peasant was a uniquely “blank slate” upon which the outline of revolutionary consciousness could be inscribed with relative ease seemed idealistic and naive to the other founders of the Party. However, Mao had been allowed to experiment with his theories and was dispatched by the Party to the remote hinterlands of Jiangxi to see whether he could mobilize the peasantry.

“Once in Jiangxi, Mao’s method for this was to recruit village peasants into the Party and its military corps until he had sufficient manpower to coerce local landlords — generally wealthy families who owned vast tracts of land that they leased to peasants for generations on cruel terms — into giving up ownership of their lands to the peasants who actually farmed the fields. This process of seizing the lands of the idle landlords and giving it to the peasants was called land reform. It was through his program of land reform — from which peasants benefited directly — that Mao wished to recruit peasant support and build a revolutionary peasant army that would ultimately overthrow the oppressive national “landlord” governments of the Nationalists and the local warlords. /+/

“Mao’s efforts in Jiangxi had not been particularly successful. It was not until later that he mastered the art of conducting land reform campaigns that would yield solid peasant support for the Party. But when the other leaders of the CCP were forced to flee to Mao’s base territory in 1927, Mao’s tactics and his charismatic personality were far more forcefully impressed upon the Party membership than had been the case before. /+/

“This reading will not trace the events that ultimately led to the triumph of Mao’s vision and his ascent to CCP leadership — we will read about that later. But in the end, Mao Zedong did prevail, Soviet Leninist advisors returned to Russia, and the communist revolution that proceeded under Mao’s guidance came to possess the distinctive character of a “communist peasant revolution,” which for Marx would have been a contradiction in terms. It is this aspect of Chinese communist ideology and practice that distinguishes it from Marxist-Leninism, and this is why Chinese communist ideology is called “Maoist.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated September 2016

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