This is a super easy question to answer. If you’re a Communist, you took power in a vicious, unrelenting revolution that saw the elimination of everybody in your society who was holding the proletariat down. The rich and powerful, the educated elite, the aristocracy – all of them – DEAD. If you were particularly enlightened, you might have given them the chance to run. Certainly if they were THAT smart, they’d have left when they saw the writing on the wall.
If you advocate a widespread revolution – and I’m not just talking philosophical here – to eliminate the bourgeoisie, then you’re a Communist. Otherwise, you’re just a Socialist – a weak, afraid-to-commit Socialist, whether you live in a democracy or not.
Quotes from Karl Marx get thrown around a lot when people start talking about Socialism, but nearly everybody that does this messes it up in a way that’s reminiscent of quoting the Bible (or the Koran) to suit a specific purpose.
Marx saw Socialism not as an end, but as a necessary stepping-stone between Capitalism and Communism. Socialism is a pre-Communist state, one in which the people get used to the idea of little private ownership (or control) of the means of production.
There are some commonalities between the two systems, no doubt, but do not make the mistake of thinking Socialists are committed Marxists, because they are not. They *wish* they were Marxists, because the people controlling a Socialist society still fear the power of the people, which is why they stopped at Socialism.
In a Socialist society, then, most of the means of production are owned and controlled by the state, but among the people themselves, social classes still exist. This is, according to Marx, a lesser form of existence than true Communism.
Marx’s ideal system – Communism – is a utopia. It is a classless, stateless society in which every person contributes as much as they can according to their talents and abilities, and in which every person takes only what they need to serve their basic human needs. For example, if somebody is great at being a doctor, then they’re a doctor and they do doctor stuff all day long. If somebody is great at being a truck battery assembler, then that’s what they do all day long. Nobody needs money, nobody worries about health insurance and nobody is homeless.
Kind of like Star Trek, when you think about it, but that’s a discussion for another time.
As a utopian ideal, though, Communism is not sustainable. First, it is predicated on the idea that there are no social class distinctions. However, humans will always separate themselves into US and THEM groups. We can’t help it. Communism fails simply because we divide ourselves into groups, and we always think our group is better than the other groups.
Second, Communism is built on the idea that everybody owns everything and nobody has to struggle to get ahead. Won’t work. Humans are vain and greedy and we have to get ahead – of our neighbor, of our parents, of our high school rivals. It’s an almost irresistible urge we call “ambition,” and we frown upon those among us without any.
Third, and again because PEOPLE!, there is no motivation to excel. Sure, in any society there will always be people who want to be the best at something and are. Stephen Hawking. Eric Clapton. Wilt Chamberlain. Marie Curie. Gordie Howe. Aretha Franklin. People like that will not be happy unless they are at the peak of their abilities, no whether what those abilities are. They become society’s heroes, its role models, the pinnacles of achievement. Yet most of the rest of us are schlubs. We will only ever do just enough to satisfy the person ticking off boxes on a checklist.
Then we will take absolutely as much as we can get away with.
This is why Communist societies – as we have formed them since the emergence of Marx’s theories – always have over-the-top repressive (authoritarian) governments. Without the boot-to-the-neck and stiff punishments doled out by Communist governments, most people will give little and take much. The only reason the folks running the truck battery factory work as hard as they do is because they know if they don’t produce the 100,000 truck batteries this quarter that the government says they have to produce, somebody will get dragged out of his office, stood up in front of the whole town, and shot in the back of the head. For motivation.
A Socialist government tries to create a classless society in which the means of production are largely owned (and certainly entirely controlled) by the government. It expects everybody to pitch in (often in the form of paying high taxes) and similarly expects everybody to only take out what they truly need. Again, with people being people, most folks will only contribute the bare minimum, yet try to extract the maximum they possibly can. Without the iron boot of the Communist government to punish these people, Socialism is doomed to failure in the long run.
Socialism won’t work forever – not because it’s not a wonderful, utopian idea, but because most people are self-involved, self-interested assholes who will do as little as possible but take as much as they can. There will always be people in society that give the maximum and take the minimum, but these folks make up a tiny proportion of any given society and simply do not pervade the population deeply enough to sustain a socialist system indefinitely.
To add insult to injury, both Socialism and Communism ask people to pretend they’re all equal to each other – and we know THAT will never happen. Ever. Such a thing requires that humanity evolve into a higher plane of social existence.
Socialism is a great idea. Communism is an even better one. The involvement of people, however, dooms each to the great dustbin of human ideas. No utopian ideal is achievable, simply because human nature makes a utopia impossible to attain.