I’m a socialist. People probably know that about me already.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t exactly understand what capitalism and socialism are. There is a lot of disinformation out there and I’d love to clear that up. This is especially true in America where there seems to be a lot of confusion about what “the left” is.
Obviously, I am very biased. However, I will try my best to be factual! I will tell you what I believe, sure, but I’ll focus on what I know about socialism, communism and capitalism. If I tell you which one I think is better, I will try my best to make it very clear that I’m biased. I will also try to link studies and other places where you can get information.
Please feel free to ask me as many questions as you want! No question is stupid!
Capitalism, socialism and communism are all economic systems and forms of government and political ideology. Whether communism is a form of socialism depends vastly on who you talk to, so I’ll explain them all to you and let you choose which you believe.
What Are Socialism, Communism and Capitalism?
I like to take the example of a tree that produces fruit. Let’s say it’s an apple tree. I can’t remember who came up with this originally or how I learnt about it, but it’s so good!
Obviously, we need food to live, so the apple tree has a lot of value to all of the people in the community! Naturally, we need to find a way to get the apples down from the tree and give it out to the people in the society. How the apples are distributed depends heavily on whether the people are in a socialist, capitalist or communist society.
In a Capitalist Society
In a capitalist society, one person (or maybe a family of people) would own the tree. They may hire people to take the apples down for them and pay them a wage. They pay them a wage that is less than the cost of the apples they pick. So, if they pick 100 apples an hour and each apple is worth 0.5 of the currency, that means that each worker would make 50 of the currency for the owner, right? Whether it’s £50, $50 or €50 doesn’t matter for this example.
Well, in order for the owner of the tree to make a profit, they would need to pay the workers less than 50 an hour. They might pay each worker 10 per hour. They could reinvest, say, 10 into the business on marketing, packaging, taking care of the tree, etc. Then, they’d pocket the rest of the money for themselves since they own the tree and they’re the boss.
If the worker owned the tree, they’d make the full 50 per hour, right? But they get paid a wage instead.
What Socialists and Communists Believe
Well, two people called Marx and Engels came along and said that’s not fair. They wrote the Communist Manifesto to talk about this, but Marx was the one who spoke the most about communism, so I’m going to stick to referring to them as just “Marx” from now on.
If Marx saw this apple tree, he’d say that the workers who are picking the apples are being exploited. He’d say that they are being robbed of 40 of the currency that rightfully belongs to them. You see, he thought it was stupid that someone who isn’t even working on picking the fruit gets to keep so much of the money when they don’t do much. He thought that owning things that you aren’t going to use for yourself was unfair on all of the other people who needed it. He saw work this way:
When the apples are stuck up the tree, they don’t have any value to anyone. They’re not worth anything because we can’t eat them! They’re stuck up there! So, in his mind, the thing that adds value to them is people climbing up the tree and picking them so that we can eat them. If they’re worth 0.5 currency, then that’s how much value that the worker added to one single apple by picking it. The owner of the apple tree then steals most of this value for themselves.
Human work is the thing that adds value to something, in his mind. Wood is worth nothing until we chop it up and turn it into something useful. That explains, in a philosophical way, why products tend to get cheaper when they can be made by machines. You get rid of the human element, which drops the price and makes it mass-producible.
With that in mind, Marx and Engels thought that the owner, who is doing nothing for the tree that the workers can’t do, shouldn’t own the tree. If they want to pick all of the apples themselves and sell them all, then they’re welcome to! However, as soon as the owner starts needing help from other people to get the apples, Marx and Engels argue that the tree should be owned by everyone who works on the tree.
This might seem unfair to us in our capitalist world, but that’s only because we’re so used to capitalism! Before capitalism (during feudalism), there used to be something in every country called “common land”. In that land, anyone could pick the apples, drink the water, grow crops, etc for free. No one would own the land. So, if you wanted to sell a product to people for money, you’d need to add value to it by working on it in some way. You would pick apples for other people who couldn’t or didn’t want to pick them for themselves. You wouldn’t own the apple tree. You’d just own the fruit that you added value to by picking it.
The same could be applied to, say, water. No one would own the river. However, if they collected water from the river and sold it to the people who couldn’t get to the river, you weren’t owning the river. You were just selling your time and hard work to them! They could have gotten the water for free themselves, so what they’re paying for is the time and work you spent on the water.
The problem with capitalism is that it creates classes. If a few people snap up all of the apple trees early on, they own the trees and the seeds. They are the only ones who can decide what happens to the trees and also the seeds too! So, even if you wanted to get your own tree, you’d need to buy a seed from one of the owners to plant. They could decide not to sell it to you (segregation in the U.S.) or they could make it so expensive and make your wages from picking the apples so low that you’re never going to be able to afford the seed.
Also, because the owner owns the apple tree and you don’t, you can’t just eat an apple if you’re hungry. You have to buy one from the owner. You could pick 100 apples per hour and only afford to buy 20. It’s usually a lot worse than that, with some people in some countries earning a few cents an hour making clothes that cost hundreds of dollars. So, they can’t afford to use the stuff that they make. If the stuff that they make is a necessity like food or water or shelter, then people will be forced to buy it anyway. Then they can’t afford to buy a seed, to make their own business, right? All of their money is going to the stuff they need!
Then what happens to the tree when the owner dies? Well, it goes to their heir who doesn’t need to work on the tree! So, even if the original owner worked picking the apples, very soon you have a class of people who don’t need to work but just take some of the money from the workers who picked the apples for them.
Marx wants to get rid of owners who don’t work themselves and instead make sure that everyone can pick the apples the same. He wants to stop random owners from claiming some of the money from your hard work when they didn’t do the work.
Obviously, this is a very simplified example.
How Socialists and Communists Differ
So, how do they differ? Well, socialists believe that working on the apple tree means that you get a say in what happens to it.
Communists believe the the apple tree should be owned by the government. Then, the government gets to decide how much the apples are worth and how much the workers get. That way, private owners wouldn’t exist anymore and if the government is exploiting or abusing the system, then people should vote them out of power. The problem is that a lot of communist systems become totalitarian where they start to use the police, secret police, propaganda and the military against the people who disagree with their decisions and ignore elections altogether. Think of an event like Tiananmen Square.
On the other hands, socialists believe that the apple tree should be “owned” by all of the people who work on the tree! If you’re an apple picker, then you should be part of a union or guild that decides what happens to the tree. There are no fees for using the tree and no one takes your hard work. It’s just a democracy where everyone gets a say and everyone gets to keep all of the money that they make from the tree.
In my opinion as a socialist, working for a boss who pays you a wage for your work is like a tax that workers give to their rich bosses who don’t do a whole lot that you couldn’t do yourself. The only difference is that government taxes can give you stuff like healthcare and education if the system is running right. What does the tax the owners take from you do for you? Not a whole lot. They “manage” the business, but socialists believe that we can manage it ourselves!
We also believe that hourly wages go against productivity. If you’re going to be earning 10 currency per hour no matter how many apples you pick, you’re going to probably just stick to the minimum that you can pick and not stress yourself out too much (most people, anyway). However, if you can make more money if you pick more apples, you’re going to pick as many as you can to sell!
Kinda? No communist believes that everyone should get an exactly equal wage no matter how much work they do. Well, no honest or serious communist, anyway. Usually, they have a quota: we expect you to pick 100 apples today and you’ll get this much for it. That way, if you’re fast, then you get more time to yourself! Or you could work overtime and get more money, maybe
Well, that largely depends on the government! Some punish people (but that’s getting into serious dictatorships like North Korea). With others, the quota is for your area and if you don’t fill it then it’s your local area that might not get enough food etc
What about anarcho-communism? Surely that would seem to contradict itself, but many people I know fall in with it? (sorry if this is a stupid question or phrased badly, ive been pretty bad at processing stuff recently)
Hey @ShanniiWrites if you could anwser a few questions for me regarding socialism i would very appreciated it because i don’t understand why socialism would be better then capitalism.
How does that work out right? Wouldn’t people like over produce apples? And wouldn’t that drop the quality of the apples? Not only that what if you had a bad season and dont have a lot of good apples? Now your not getting paid nearly as much simply because you have bad luck?
That’s a very good question! Well, at the moment under capitalism, overproduction is rife and completely unadulterated, so already we’re already at that place. However, with the idea of quotas or some sort of production target, people could simply be told to go home once they’ve completed their work if we have enough apples anyway! Since all of their basic needs like food, housing, education and healthcare are being met anyway, it wouldn’t cost them a great deal if they didn’t get the overtime. Plus, they’re being paid by their productivity rather than being paid by the hour. So, they’d be guaranteed their full amount anyway. No need for them to worry about not being able to survive.
Plus, if you’re done picking apples and you still want to work, there are plenty of other jobs that you can take to fill up your time and earn a little extra – if we even have money in the first place. Some socialists believe there should be no money at all and you should just do what’s needed and then have more leisure time. This leaves more time for people to create art, literature and other non-essential things that enhance our lives! They could make an extra living there or just go on to help with any area of the society that is underproducing a little.
It would actually help us to produce less waste and overproduce far less than we do now. There would be no monetary incentive to produce as much as possible. Instead, people would be encouraged to be efficient with their time and produce what is needed, rather than rushing out more than needed. Plus, we would see a lot less waste for things like throwing away perfectly good apples that just look a little wrong. That happens a lot in a capitalist society! Supermarkets don’t want to take “ugly” fruit and veg.
In terms of how it would lower the quality of goods, I don’t see how it would. People would work as much as they need and they wouldn’t be overworked, which would mean that they have the time to produce good quality products. At the moment, we have stories of people working in Amazon and other big companies with put their health and the quality of the product on the line by doing things like peeing in bottles to meet their ridiculous quotas. That would happen a lot less in a system that values a certain amount being produced and reducing waste.
During the bad seasons, there should always be a backup. We would make sure that we always store a little extra food for any sort of issues that arise. Plus, it is highly, highly unlikely that all kinds of crops fail. So, we could adjust depending on which food is doing better and which is doing worse. If we need more manpower to help pick the apples, we can get it from those people who met their targets in other areas and would like some extra work for extra spending money. If the crop just fails completely, then the apple pickers can be assigned to other food and we’d just have to go without apples that season.
That’s a weird thought for a lot of us because we’re so used to having what we want a the drop of a hat. However, this model is much more sustainable and better for the planet!
Anarchs-Communism is interesting. The political spectrum is very complicated. However, the political compass simplifies it in a way that is limited but makes it easier for people to understand. I’ll use that for now to explain.
This compass is made up of four sides: authoritarian to libertarian on one spectrum and left to right on the other spectrum. Nazis would be far-right wing authoritarian. The people who call themselves libertarian are right wing libertarians. America today is (roughly) right wing authoritarian, too. They’re just nowhere near as far as the Nazis. The Republican party is further right than the Democratic party, of course, and Bernie Sanders is centre-left libertarian. The communists who wanted to control the market were authoritarian left wing. I’m libertarian left wing.
Anarchs-Communists are left wing libertarians like me. I would argue that they’re socialists. However, they call themselves communists for a number of different reasons. For one, they may believe in “communes”. They may think it’s a good idea to organise into communes locally and not have a huge centralised government like the Soviets had. In the USSR, pretty much everything had to run through Moscow, which made progress very slow and meant that the people making the decisions weren’t the ones actually experiencing the issues. That was a huge problem during the Chernobyl disaster. You can watch the HBO series to see that.
Many Anarcho-Communists believe that organisation like that should be local rather than a big government far, far away. They believe in more direct democracy – so like voting in referendums and stuff regularly – rather than chasing representatives. They’re more likely to believe that people have a duty to take part in politics – kinda like in Ancient Rome.
As an Anarcho-Syndicalist, I’m a little different! However, I am much more likely to agree with an Anarcho-Communist than a traditional communist.