In the United States, there is much confusion over the terms socialism, communism, and fascism. These terms are thrown out seemingly at random by the media, politicians, and the general public. This is unfortunate as it does not allow for a clear discourse on the actual issues.
Recently Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was at the forefront of rigging the 2016 primaries, said in an interview that “Ron DeSantis is running the communist dictator playbook from the get-go.” This was in reference to a Republican bill that would ban abortions after 15 weeks in Florida. She continued:
I have constituents who’ve fled Venezuela and Cuba, and they, what they’re facing now under a governor like Ron DeSantis, is he’s essentially prohibiting protests, is telling schools and teachers what words they can say through the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation. The list goes on.
Marco Rubio has referred to Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan as “Build Back Socialism.”
GOP Congressman Warren Davidson compared vaccine mandates with Nazism in a twitter post:
A woman at an anti-vaccine mandate protest said, “I don’t think it’s communism—I think it’s more like a dictatorship, like we’re living in a Nazi Germany and the only thing that’s missing is the camps and the gas.”
From these examples, it is clear that many politicians, the media, and much of the United States public have no real idea what these terms actually mean. This is largely a failure of the education system which ignores socialism and communism. These words are simply used as scare-words, as Truman said, “Socialism is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years.” In order to better understand these systems, it is important not to listen to ignorance and propaganda, but to look at what they really are.
What is socialism?
Socialism is an economic system. It is defined by worker control of the means of production.
Dictionary.com defines socialism as follows:
a theory or system of social organization that advocates the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, capital, land, etc., by the community as a whole, usually through a centralized government.
The last section “usually through a centralized government” can be dismissed, as this refers to a system of governing, not to the economic system of socialism. Many schools of socialism exist including libertarian socialism, a socialist theory that requires no centralized government. The important part of the definition is that socialism is community ownership of the means of production and distribution. This is a very simple but accurate description. There are many theories of socialism, but they all involve worker control of the means of production. Unless this fundamental change in the economic system is made, it is not socialism. This means that public spending is not socialism because it does not change property relationships.
There is an important additional definition of socialism given by Dictionary.com:
(in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.
While this is presented as an alternative definition, it is actually an important component of socialism. The transition from the capitalist economic system to socialism cannot happen overnight. As Marx explained in his Critique of the Gotha Programme:
Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.
I have covered the topic of the dictatorship of the proletariat elsewhere, here it is sufficient to understand that there must be a transformative period between capitalism and communism. The socialist system is a part of this period and can be considered the lower stage of communism.
Does this mean socialism and communism are the same?
Essentially socialism is an unrefined form of communism. Socialism can be considered communism in its infancy before the growing pains of being developed in a bourgeois society have been cast off. As Marx explains:
But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.
Lenin expanded on this concept in State and Revolution:
The first phase of communism, therefore, cannot yet provide justice and equality; differences, and unjust differences, in wealth will still persist, but the exploitation of man by man will have become impossible because it will be impossible to seize the means of production–the factories, machines, land, etc.–and make them private property. In smashing Lassalle’s petty-bourgeois, vague phrases about “equality” and “justice” in general, Marx shows the course of development of communist society, which is compelled to abolish at first only the “injustice” of the means of production seized by individuals, and which is unable at once to eliminate the other injustice, which consists in the distribution of consumer goods “according to the amount of labor performed” (and not according to needs).
Necessarily, during this transformational stage, the state still exists. As Engels outlined in a letter to Bebel in 1875:
Now, since the state is merely a transitional institution of which use is made in the struggle, in the revolution, to keep down one’s enemies by force, it is utter nonsense to speak of a free people’s state; so long as the proletariat still makes use of the state, it makes use of it, not for the purpose of freedom, but of keeping down its enemies and, as soon as there can be any question of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist.
It is only after the state has ceased to exist or has withered away, that communism can be achieved. This means that the concept of a “communist state” is a contradiction in terms. The state in its modern form is a reflection of the capitalist mode of production and cannot exist under the association of free and equal producers.
What is communism?
While the definition of socialism found at dictionary.com is simple and correct, the same is not true of communism. Dictionary.com defines it as:
a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.
The last statement “or to the state” is incorrect. Communism is a stateless, classless society. In order to understand this definition of communism, it is necessary to listen to the actual communists. At the forefront of the creation of the theory of communism were Marx and Engels. They wrote in the Communist Manifesto:
When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.
In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
Engels describes this new order in The Principles of Communism:
Above all, it will have to take the control of industry and of all branches of production out of the hands of mutually competing individuals, and instead institute a system in which all these branches of production are operated by society as a whole – that is, for the common account, according to a common plan, and with the participation of all members of society.
It will, in other words, abolish competition and replace it with association.
Engels expanded on this in Socialism Utopian and Scientific:
As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a State, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the State really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society — the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society — this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a State. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The State is not “abolished”. It dies out. This gives the measure of the value of the phrase: “a free State”, both as to its justifiable use at times by agitators, and as to its ultimate scientific insufficiency; and also of the demands of the so-called anarchists for the abolition of the State out of hand.
Communism by its very nature is stateless. Through the abolition of private property, the repressive apparatus of the state becomes an anachronism.
To turn once more to Engels:
The state, therefore, has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies which have managed without it, which had no notion of the state or state power. At a definite stage of economic development, which necessarily involved the cleavage of society into classes, the state became a necessity because of this cleavage. We are now rapidly approaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes has not only ceased to be a necessity, but becomes a positive hindrance to production. They will fall as inevitably as they once arose. The state inevitably falls with them. The society which organizes production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong – into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze ax.
Communism is the end goal of socialism. The transitory phase of socialism is the means through which a global communist society can be reached. Once private property has been abolished, the class relations of bourgeoisie and proletariat cease to exist as the means of production are held in common. With the end of this class relationship, the state withers away as it is no longer necessary to enforce the rule of one class over another. Marx describes this final stage:
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
What about Fascism?
Fascism is not simply an economic system like socialism and communism. This makes it more difficult to define as it is an ideology that involves governmental, cultural, and economic factors. The two greatest examples of fascism in history are that of Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. I have written a series of articles on modern day fascism which go into more detail, so I will only briefly describe it here.
Dictionary.com has a very vague definition of fascism:
a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.
Though some of the elements are correct, history tells a somewhat different tale regarding fascism and its relationship with private corporations.
Fascism is a nationalistic form of government that upholds the capitalist system of production. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany both allied with big corporations in order to carry out their agenda. Fascism is not simply authoritarianism or racism or nationalism. It combines all these elements with private ownership of the means of production.
Vice President Henry Wallace described the American fascist in 1944:
A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.
They demand free enterprise but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.
This fits well with William Robinson’s writings on modern day fascism.
The core of 21st century fascism is the triangulation of transnational capital with reactionary and repressive political power in the state and neo-fascist forces in civil society.
Because fascism is a product of the capitalist system, it is by its very nature anti-socialism and anti-communism. Both Mussolini and Hitler targeted socialists and communists first during their rise to power. It was always the communists who were at the forefront fighting against fascism and this remains true today.
Socialism, communism, and fascism are terms that are often misused. Those who throw around these terms rarely understand them. Only by educating ourselves on their true meanings can we begin to understand the important distinctions between them. Socialism and communism are closely related economic systems that involve worker control of the means of production. Fascism is the antithesis of these systems as it supports private ownership and uses the repressive apparatus of the state to enforce the worst elements of monopoly capitalism. Where communism aims to end the state and the class system and their inherent oppressions, fascism relies on the state to carry out exploitation and oppression at home and abroad in service to the transnational corporate class.