Frequently Asked Questions
What is Socialism? How is it different to Communism?
Socialism is the early stage of Communism. Its establishment follows the revolutionary change of society and the economy from capitalism to socialism. Its main features are the taking of state power by the working class, the creation of new structures for the administration of society, social ownership and control of the resources and means of production of the country and a planned, centralised economy.
Socialism is not just the election of a party or coalition promising some progressive reforms. Such governments have existed temporarily all over the capitalist world only to be overturned or undermined by sustained attack from other pillars of the capitalist state. These include the police, the army, the courts, the media-industrial complex, the boards of monopoly companies, the capitalist ideologists directing education, etc. A socialist revolution would seize control of those institutions, break them up and create new democratic ones to serve the people’s needs.
As Socialism develops, becomes more abundant and people adopt a cooperative outlook more deeply, there is less need to control anti-social behaviour. The state and its instruments for control can start to whither away. The distinctions between types of work have been broken down by the application of science and technology and classes have begun to disappear. At this point, humanity has arrived at the doorstep of Communism – a modern stateless, classless society.
Isn’t capitalism more efficient than socialism?
No, it’s not. Capitalism smashed the old feudal society that limited development when modern, large-scale manufacturing arrived but now places constraints on further development. It syphons off huge fortunes produced on a global scale and converts it to private wealth. Many people’s needs are neglected while a tiny minority live in unjustifiable luxury. This is irrational and inefficient.
Capitalism and its need for maximum profit are behind the drive to war for resources, markets and strategic advantage. This has caused countless deaths and the trampling of national sovereignty. This causes many to be sacrificed in conflicts and to suffer super-exploitation and poverty. If the test is human happiness and development, capitalism is not efficient. Socialism needs to defeat capitalism to ensure the peaceful development of society and the most efficient delivery of necessities for people.
People’s experience of privatised enterprises that were once publicly owned makes for a useful comparison. Privatised utilities have been hugely expensive for governments to maintain. They are forced to guarantee profitability and the monopolies have raised prices causing greater hardship and lower quality services. Workers are always worse off under private owners. Capitalism is efficient at producing private profit, nothing else.
Socialist is even more responsive to people’s needs. It harnesses people’s enthusiasm for their own and the common good. The USSR became an industrial giant at a much faster rate than capitalist countries and did so while maintaining full employment, free health care and education and many cultural benefits. It promoted innovation. It was the first country to send a human into space and its advances forced the US imperialists to respond with mountains of public money to maintain credibility as a technological innovator.
Why have so many socialist countries gone capitalist?
The pioneering socialist countries were subject to all sorts of pressure and disruption to stop them building socialism. From the early days of the Russian Revolution, the imperialist countries blockaded the country and 14 major powers invaded it to “strangle the Soviet baby in its cradle”. They failed. The fascists launched the biggest and most ruthless invasion of the USSR in 1941. Over 20 million Soviet citizens died liberating the countries of Eastern Europe.
The Soviet Union and the new people’s democracies rebuilt their devastated countries and made fantastic progress. They were then obliged to join a crippling arms race to defend themselves against the US imperialists and their allies. They never had a minute’s peace to develop their countries or democratic structures.
The Soviet Union and the socialist countries were under constant ideological attack and this was the deadliest blow of all. The leaderships of these countries introduced economic and other changes that undermined confidence in socialist construction. They lowered their guard and weakened their commitment to the state power of the working class. Ultimately, revisionist elements gained dominance and opened the door to capitalist restoration. Most citizens in former socialist countries became much worse off and regretted the dismantling of socialism.
It is a difficult task to rebuild socialism in the former socialist countries and will require a new revolutionary upsurge benefitting from the mistakes of the past.
Doesn’t socialism ignore the fact that people are basically selfish?
Capitalism has conditioned many people to be selfish. This conditioning can be undone by building a society based on solidarity, cooperation and collective ownership. For most of its existence, humanity lived in hunter gatherer societies organised on classless communist lines. Selfishness and dishonesty were largely unknown. Many of those societies succumbed to the march of technology that demanded new, exploitative forms of social organisation.
In capitalist societies, people are encouraged to consume and to be personally acquisitive to achieve a lifestyle and, through that, an identity. They often seek to amass wealth so as to have comfort and security in old age. In building socialism, people will have security from unemployment and in old age, so many of the incentives to be selfish will be removed.
There is some scope for personal, financial ambition under socialism. If your work is harder, requires more training, longer hours, is in a remote location or other demanding circumstance, you are paid more. If you work harder than others you will get a higher income. The adage for reward under socialism is “From each according to their ability, to each according to their work.” Under socialism, this drive is harnessed and delivers collective prosperity rather than private fortunes as under capitalism.
It is interesting to note that, even under capitalism, people reject the selfishness at the base of the system. Many people volunteer their time to serve the community. At times of crisis, whole communities’ capacity for sacrifice and self-organisation comes to the fore. This is the natural, social nature of humans left to develop free from the dictates of class-exploitative society.
What about the millions of people who were killed to build socialism and Communism?
From day one of the triumph of socialism in Russia, the imperialist powers have not stopped their campaign of misinformation against socialism. Many of the “victims” of Communism were actually casualties in the resistance to fascist and capitalist aggression at the hands of invaders. Many supporters of Tsarist and capitalist restoration were purged but the figures quoted by imperialist propaganda are fanciful in the extreme. Many of these supporters of capitalist restoration ended up in camps, the “gulags”. These measures stopped in the 1950s with the closing of the camps.
In the conditions of imminent or actual invasion, many injustices were committed in the understandable haste to defend socialism. But the blame for this must be placed at the feet of the ruthless forces trying to destroy the peaceful construction of socialism.