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Assess the relative merits of communism as an alternative to capitalism.

The debate regarding the relative merits of communism as an alternative to capitalism is a debate which has recently been revived by the apparent failure of capitalism in the latest economic crisis. Similarly, the failures of communism, it is argued were made abundantly clear with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe. Because of these factors, special effort will be made to pay particular attention to the theoretical underpinnings of communism and capitalism, as opposed to their alleged real-world manifestations. This is because, first and foremost, thought precedes action, but also because only via a philosophical understanding, can we begin to dissect the real-world implications of them. Both communist and capitalist systems are rich in theories of economics, human nature, the social realm etc, thus, due to constraints regarding how much should be written, the absolute fundamentals of these theories will be discussed, along with the common theoretical criticisms of each. Also because of the constraints of this work, both systems of society will be treated according to their purest form i.e. capitalism as freedom from government interference, and communism as envisaged by Marx.

In order to gain a clear understanding of the fundamental principles of capitalism, in both an economic and a political sense, one must first look to the philosophical concepts of liberalism. Liberalism offers a view of human nature based upon the autonomy and sovereignty of the individual, both of which must necessarily be free from coercion and restraint exercised by other individuals, or groups of individuals, especially the state. These ideas have been formulated and expanded upon by various authors, perhaps the most famous of which is Locke and his Two Treatises on

Government which outlines a state-of-nature theory in which man is granted by God certain inalienable rights such as the right to property (Locke, 2010). These rights, especially the right to property and freedom from coercion are the fundamental concerns of liberal theory, regardless of its particular deviations. Furthermore, liberalism is committed to the doctrine of individualism. Individualism can be defined as a political and moral doctrine which extols the value of the individual human being. (Vincent, 2010, p. 29). It is within these maxims that we see the blossoming of a capitalist view of economics, as, it is claimed by Fukuyama I n its economic manifestation, liberalism is the recognition of the right of free economic activity and economic exchange based on private property and markets. (Fukuyama, 1992, p. 44). Thus, in a strictly political sense, liberalism offers a view of individual freedom to be the pinnacle of a just and moral society, from which capitalist economics develops its justification and pursuit of a society based upon the freedom of individuals to exchange goods and services at their will.

As previously mentioned, capitalism is as much (arguably more) a set of economic principles, as it is a political programme. Therefore, attention must be drawn to the economic basis of capitalism to better understand its primary functions and weaknesses. The core of capitalist economics rests on a number of assumptions, one of which is the aforementioned importance of individualism, a point emphasized by Halm: The market economy rests on the following assumptions: First, the means of production (labor, land, capital) are owned privately and individually by the members of society. Second, production is carried out at the initiative of private enterprise and is not planned in advance by the government (Halm, 1970, p. 17).

The means of production in a capitalist economy are owned and deployed by individuals in the hope of making a profit from their investments, this is purported to be the most efficient economic system due to the assumption that the profit motive drives the owner to make the best use of the resources and labour at his disposal. Furthermore, due to the competitive nature of individuals wishing to maximize their profits against each other, consumers in the marketplace wield the power to withhold their consumption of particular products and/or services, should they for any reason disagree with the sellers practices.

Thus, it can be seen that the primary functions of capitalism are to facilitate what liberal theory assumes as innate human nature, namely; individualism, competition, the right to and utilization of private property. Such notions are heavily supported by a huge variety of authors within various fields such as law, economics and political science, arguing that not only is liberal capitalism the most efficient method of organizing (or not organizing) society, but also the most just. This latter justification is strongly supported by the renowned libertarian Nozick: a minimal state, limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified; that any more extensive state will violate persons rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified; and that the minimal state is inspiring as well as right. (Nozick, 1974, p. ix).

Criticisms and concerns regarding free-market capitalist economics have abounded and are rooted in several perspectives. First and foremost, the alleged efficiency of free-market principles have been called into question by those that have postulated

that government intervention in the market can and often do facilitate economic growth, as well as assisting those members of society which find themselves in a disadvantageous position. With regards to the most recent world-wide economic crisis, Chang contends that This catastrophe has ultimately been created by the free-market ideology that has ruled the world since the 1980s. (Chang, 2010, p. xiii). Before this period (and after the Second World War), Western governments sought to employ a more direct role in their economic affairs. This role, according to Chang allowed for the government to offer a balance against huge corporations and enterprises which sought to act in their own selfish interests, as opposed to the interests of the society as a whole. In offering a historical comparison, he points out that Virtually all of todays rich countries used protectionism and subsidies to promote their infant industries. Many of them (especially Japan, Finland and Korea) also severely restricted foreign investment. (Chang, 2010, p. 70). Moreover, the aforementioned economic crisis is not a unique phenomenon, but rather a perfectly normal occurrence within a capitalist economy, as Fulcher somewhat flippantly remarks, Crises of capitalism are not, however, exceptional events but rather a normal part of the functioning of a capitalist society. (Fulcher, 2004, p. 104). This, understandably of course, brings into question the very basis of the argument that capitalism is an efficient economic system. For if periodic crises are a natural occurrence, it surely must highlight the systems inherent instability, besides the effects which said crises have on the conditions of the general population.

With the populace in mind, attention can now be drawn to the moral criticisms of capitalism, or more specifically, capitalisms lack of moral concerns. Speaking of the

material conditions of potentially depraved members of society, Halm points out that: Individual freedom in this economy has its negative aspects since no one is responsible for the welfare of his neighbour. If anyone is unemployed or bankrupt he will have to bear the consequences, furthermore it must be stated that the relations between the members of the free market economy are antagonistic rather than harmonious. (Halm, 1970, p. 33). This, however, is something of a necessary evil for those free-market capitalists, due to the fact that intervention in order to assist the unemployed or bankrupted individual implies the seizure of resources (such as wealth) from the wealthier portions of society, by the state, which thus equates to coercion. The perspective is, therefore, that a homeless beggar, free from government interference has more freedom than a millionaire that is taxed in order to provide unemployment benefits. In contradistinction to this perspective, it is argued that government interference in the social realm of society produces benefits for everyone in it. In The Spirit Level (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2010) evidence is presented indicating that the more unequal a society (this research specifically applies to OECD countries), the more likely it is that that society will experience a host of, and higher rates of, a wide range of social problems such as drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, infant mortality etc, including among the wealthy. Consequently, it is their contention that government has a unique and beneficial role to play in the redistribution of wealth, thus enabling the social development of society.

Thus far, considerations have been paid to those criticisms of the capitalist system which highlight its economic inefficiency, as well as its lack of moral considerations.

However, the most damning critique of capitalism challenges its core assumptions regarding human nature, namely, the assumption that humans are innately individualistic and competitive. Whilst philosophers and economists have often assumed a more pessimistic view of human nature, anthropologists and zoologists (among others) have offered a more somewhat relevant view of what it is to be human. In his extensive study of co-operation among animal species (including the human species) Kropotkin controversially claims that though a good deal of warfare goes on between different classes of animals, or different species, or even different tribes of the same species, peace and mutual support are the rule within the tribe or the species; and that those species which best know how to combine, and to avoid competition, have the best chances of survival and of a further progressive development. They prosper, while the unsociable species decay. (Kropotkin, 2006, p. 62). In this vain, he analyses various circumstances in which animals and humans have offered mutual support and co-operation as opposed to competition. It is these circumstances of mutual support, he asserts, that have facilitated the evolution of the vast majority of surviving species. In support of this thesis, groundbreaking research by Waal and Lanting (Waal and Lanting, 1997) present a more detailed view of the behaviours of those primates which are genetically related to humans. Their research examines the differences in behaviour between the chimpanzee and the bonobo, thus introducing a comparative element to human nature. Whereas the chimpanzee is much more aggressive, Waal and Lanting point out that the bonobo, instead resolves conflicts through peaceful social behaviour, in consequence, avoiding competition and existential threats. Overwhelming evidence, therefore, may lead one to consider the social and co7

operative elements of human nature, as opposed to the fallacy of our innately competitive inclinations.

Karl Marx is widely considered to be the forefather of modern communism, and it was his ideas regarding human nature and the contradictions within capitalism that came to shape a number of communist experiments during the twentieth century. Marx was primarily concerned with what he saw as a capitalist assault upon the intrinsic nature of man as a social being. Consequently, a struggle would emerge between the working class (the proletariat) and the ruling class (the bourgeoisie), in which the proletariat would emerge victorious and establish an egalitarian communist society. As with capitalism, Marxs theories offered an ideological and an economic perspective of both the existing societal structure, and of human nature which would come to be the basis of the emergent communist state. First and foremost, Marx argued that Society is ontologically prior to the individual. Furthermore, cooperation and community are superior values to individualism and egoism. (Vincent, 2010, p. 99). As well as the view that man is not competitive, but rather is social and co-operative with a natural propensity to produce and create out of his own free desire. It is precisely this assumption of human nature that inevitably led to a conflict with the capitalist economic order, as noted by Chang: Karl Marx and his followers argued that the fundamental problem with capitalism was the contradiction between the social nature of the production process and the private nature of ownership of the means of production. (Chang, 2010, p. 201). From this starting point, an examination of Marxs principal concerns can begin.

One of the core concepts of Marxist theory is the theory of alienation. This relates to the contradiction between mans social and productive nature, and the unfulfilling task of production within the capitalist system under conditions of wage labour. Accordingly, Marx posits that four forms of alienation are experienced by the modern worker. First, alienation from the product of labour, which belongs not to the worker but to the employer. Secondly, alienation from the act of production within the labour process, since the work is forced labour and is experienced as suffering and weakness. Thirdly, alienation from species-being, a term borrowed from Feuerbach which refers to that which makes us distinctively human and The fourth aspect of alienation is the alienation of man from man. (Wilde, 2003, pp. 407 408). Thus, the productive process advanced by capitalism and facilitated by the bourgeoisie alienates the worker in two fundamental ways (if the four aforementioned forms are to be simplified). The first, highlighted by the first two forms pointed out by Wilde, is alienation from production. The worker produces that which the bourgeoisie wishes, simply because he has no means to produce anything for himself. The second way in which the worker is alienated, if the third and fourth forms mentioned by Wilde are to be simplified, is alienation from human nature. Man is an innately productive and social being, yet capitalism forces him to produce that which he does not wish to produce (thus denying his creative abilities), and to compete against his fellow man, thereby denying his inherent desire for cooperation. The workers alienation from the production process, for Marx, is also an issue of exploitation. This is due to the fact that the worker has no access to the means of production (for he surely does not possess enough capital to purchase the machinery or resources necessary), and must, therefore, sell his labour in order to be

a part of the productive process. The bourgeois employer, knowing this unfortunate circumstance, thus seeks to purchase the workers labour in order to sell the product at a profit, hence not paying the worker what his labour is truly worth.

From his extensive critique of capitalism, and his views regarding historical development, Marx tried to show how capitalism, having fulfilled its historic mission to accumulate capital and to develop new productive techniques, turns into a fetter of production. Then follows a social revolution out of which socialism emerges by necessity. (Halm, 1970, p. 125). Capitalism, therefore, was but an evolutionary stage of historical development, and with this in mind he sought to offer a better society based on communist principles. However, his writings were notoriously vague when it comes to fleshing out his ideas on the nature of communist society and how it might be achieved. (Wilde, 2003, p. 414). Thus, much of his work is open to interpretation. The few aspects of the imminent communist society he did mention though indicate a classless society based on egalitarian principles and the infamous slogan from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. (, 2013). The society established would at first be led by a dictatorship of the proletariat which would oversee a transition phase before true communism could be established. Once the truly classless, communist society had prevailed, there would no longer be any need for bourgeois inventions such as money, the state, rights etc. However, it is due to Marxs vagueness regarding the envisioned communist society that many criticisms can be drawn.

Marxs proscription of a dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessary step toward


communist society has attracted many vocal critics, often pointing to the obvious danger of it falling to totalitarian rule. The most obvious example of this is Lenins development of the notion of a vanguard party, being the Bolsheviks, which would aid the Russians in establishing the communist Promised Land in the (eventual) USSR. Hague and Harrop point out the dangerous irony in this by stating that Lenins proposition was that the Communist Party possessed a deeper understanding of the true interests of the working class than did the workers themselves. Accordingly, the party must place itself in the vanguard of the communist movement, leading the phase of dictatorship while the workers revolutionary consciousness matured under the partys tutelage. Thus we arrive at an ironic position in which an ideology aimed at ending the existence of all classes is held to justify the creation of a new, if supposedly temporary, ruling class. (Hague and Harrop, 2007, p. 65). Consequently, because of Marxs vague ideas concerning the transition phase between capitalism and communism, a philosophical vacuum emerged into which aspiring dictators sought to place their ideas. As well as this, an ascendant political group or party would find it convenient to utilize the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat in order to establish their own version of totalitarian rule, with power over the life and death of all of the countrys citizens. This point was chillingly made the Bolsheviks own Leon Trotsky: In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle, who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat. (Trotsky, 2937, p. 76). Despite Marxs visions of a classless utopia, free of exploitation, his lack of forethought paved the way for a new society based primarily on the class division between party and subject, ruler and


On top of this, liberal capitalists have led the charges against communism by claiming that it is an incredibly inefficient and wasteful system because it ignores basic principles of economics (Hayek, 1960). By ignoring the profit motive, (one of the central components of capitalist economics), it leads to stagnation and deterioration, simply because very few people recognize the necessity of work if they are to gain nothing substantial from it. Hayek offers three inescapable truths regarding the attractiveness of communism in the Western world, asserting that The chief factors contributing to the disillusionment [of Communism] were probably three: the increasing recognition that a socialist organization of production would be not more but much less productive than private enterprise; an even clearer recognition that, instead of leading to what had been conceived as greater social justice, it would mean a new arbitrary and more inescapable order of rank than ever before; and the realization that, instead of the promised greater freedom, it would mean the appearance of a new despotism. (Hayek, 1960, p. 255).

From the analysis presented here, it can be seen that, while Marx himself offered a valuable critique of the capitalist system, his ideas regarding the communist society of the future would likely gain little attraction to those in the Western world that understand them. It has been capitalism that has proved the most adaptable economic system according to the circumstances of the time. As well as technological innovation, the marriage between liberal democracy and capitalism has allowed for social progress of an unprecedented scale. Whilst recognizing the

purpose that Marxs communism has served to Western society (workers consciousness and subsequent trade unionism, bringing the plight of the poor to the forefront of political discussion etc.), it is perhaps more fitting to ask at which point on the scale between capitalism and communism we should aim, as opposed to a zero-sum decision between the two. Or, as Chang succinctly declared: The profit motive is still the most powerful and effective fuel to power our economy and we should exploit it to the full. But we must remember that letting it loose without any restraint is not the best way to make the most of it, as we have learned at great cost over the last three decades. (Chang, 2010, p. 253).


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