Communism and communists are typically looked down upon in America today, but haven't always been. Some of the most worldly and thoughtful people have supported some form of socialism in the past; Einstein, Robeson, Dubois, Russel, Marx, Gandhi. What exactly IS communism though? How is it different from socialism? I'll explain:
Communism is a late-stage form of socialism. Socialism and communism are both characterized by an economy dominated by socialized production. Socialized production means the opposite of private production. It is therefore the opposite of capitalism, which operates with private production. It is the abolition of private ownership of "means of production" (machines, tools, land, etc) and replacement with some form of democratic control by the workers themselves. This only applies to economic produce - circulated goods, not personal land or tools. The difference between communism and socialism is that communism distributes goods based on what is needed rather than what is contributed by working. It is only possible when production is so efficient that it allows for complete freedom of action in life, not being tied down to any job. In other words all people can do exactly what they wish to do, not being tied down to a job in order to survive. Communism is therefore made possible when things like computers and other machines are so good at performing tasks that very little labor has to be added to produce goods. In a situation like this, free time would be spent doing activities for enjoyment and interest (as well as things like probably maintaining machines, which could be shared by everyone in the way that cleaning your house is). Before this point, work is needed, which would be incentivized with pay, as the Soviet Union and Cuba have done, with wages and prices set by union and government agreement. However, because the socialization of production threatens the power of the ruling class, force is needed to depose them, and they will not surrender their power before using that power to preserve their way of life.
The benefits of socialized production are clear. With production no longer geared towards profit, the economy can be directed to meaningful tasks like ending impoverishment of billions in developing countries, developing and distributing technologies to improve the quality of life, or protecting and restoring our environment. Without profits as motive war becomes much more unnecessary, and the need for tribalism vanishes with the opposing forces that divide and exploit; poverty and inequality breed hate. On the other hand, with less wealth inequality and powerful private interest groups, government would have every reason to be more democratic and less corrupted, thereby representing citizens more accurately, allowing government to be a positive force in carrying out the will of the people with the wealth of the people.
"It's only good on paper"
Arguments against socialism range far and wide. Some of these questions require much thought and debate while other are simple. I will address a few basic misunderstandings here with brief answers.
- "Communism destroys individualism." I have been asked about this several times recently in conversation. Let's assume that individualism is the focus on the individual and individual rights. Communism will not lessen individual freedoms unless they interfere with the well being of others. We already have laws against murder and theft, but none against exploitation, which is theft of wealth from workers. The standard of living will be greater for more people, and abundance will allow greater freedom. With higher productivity and profit shared equitably among all people, everyone will have more time to spend doing things they enjoy, and therefore society will be more focused on the individual and the pursuits of the individual. Freedom from economic burdens (economic freedom) AND political representation will allow social freedoms to expand (freedom to live how you want). Some say taxation is theft, but not if it is voluntarily agreed upon by society. If you want free public education and health care, and roads to drive on and the ability to get electricity, you do not want taxes to go away. Therefore under communism, we will have more freedom than we do today.
- "Lazy people make communism unworkable." Most people today go to work to get money in order to live, and some don't work because they have so much money already. In socialism, the first step to communism, people are paid wages, and would be paid higher wages than they are now, because more money would be available for workers instead of hoarded in bank accounts etc. People would have more incentive to work under socialism than now. Under communism, no one needs to work unless they want more money for luxuries, so that laziness is transformed into time spent purposefully doing what you want.
- "Communism in inefficient." The question here is inefficient in what regard, or to what end? Central planning may be inefficient at maximizing profit, but only because it lacks that incentive. Instead, there would be incentive for providing goods and services that are requested by the people, and improving people's lives. Capitalism tends not to do this, but socialism has and can. Another angle in the opposing argument is inefficient production in regards to needs, wants, and demand. This of course depends on how the government operates, the availability of funding, and how well consumer demand is communicated (possibly with feedback and specificity through polling); which, if prioritized by the people within an area, can be democratically assigned with allocated resources. Wealth, rendered useful only by labor, can be distributed to what is seen fit by different populations, if government is organized in a way utilizing democratic control of production.
- "Corruption is widespread in communism." Corruption is already widespread today with campaign financing to lobbying to just bribery and blackmail. Not to avoid the issue though, corruption comes from a need or desire to have more and a separation between politicians and the communities they represent. This is only possible when individuals can exercise unchecked power over others. This problem comes down to the structure of the government; the system of democracy, and the checks and balances that can be applied to give citizens authority over what is being done in their name. In order to establish a strong people centered democracy, the people themselves must establish this new society by means of consensus and will.
- "Communism killed 100 million." That number, usually pulled from the "Black Book of Communism", is completely inflated, as the authors have admitted themselves. Besides the numbers knowingly exaggerated, many of those deaths are contested by historians around the world, especially regarding the "Holodomor" and the "Great Purge" of the USSR. Socialism has actually improved many lives, from Cuba to Vietnam, and continues to persevere in the face of imperialism and warfare.
If you have any questions or want clarification, I'd love to respond to comments!