Commentary: Redefining communism

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Alexandra Felt

The United States has developed a negative association with the word “communism.”

Over the past few turbulent years in politics, there have been increasing sentiments against socialism and communism from the right.

People are calling policies such as “Medicare for All” or the Green New Deal communistic ideas, calling politicians communists, even calling mask mandates communistic, using the word as a negative descriptor: which poses the question: how many people know the meaning of the word?

Misunderstanding and fear of communism is not a new thing; it dates back to the First Red Scare in 1917 following the Russian Revolution against the monarchy at the time, which established the Soviet Union.

This fear was resparked in the Cold War against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) which brought about the Second Red Scare and McCarthyism and initiated fear of internal threats that Americans perceived to be posed by communists. The fear and opposition to communism comes from here; it was seen as a threat to freedom, a promise for a life lived under the shadow of a brutal totalitarian government, and rightfully so.

This is how countries labeled as communist were and are. However, they have been mislabeled.

For example, North Korea calls itself a Democratic Republic, yet we know it is a dictatorship. In the same way, there is an important distinction between communism and state capitalism. 

Communism, as defined by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto, requires the erasure of private property, money and class and the means of production are equally owned and distributed.

The reason countries have been labeled as communist is for their government control of the economy and politics. 

This leads me to the definition of state capitalism. The state or government itself acts as a private capitalist, having control over the economy. 

The function of government in communism is to distribute the wealth. This is an important point; how is the government fulfilling this role if it acts as a private capitalist and sucks up all the money for itself? 

My mother saw this happen under Nicolae Ceausescu and the Communist party in Romania.

The richest people were the ones with government ties or positions, while everyone else was left behind. Neither of her parents were earning the full value of their labor.

The richest people were the ones with government ties or positions, while everyone else was left behind. Neither of her parents were earning the full value of their labor.”

— Alexandra Felt

Beyond this, ex-communist Romania does not meet so many of the other requirements to be truly communist. 

It is important to point out that none of the requirements of a communist society need to be fulfilled through a dictatorship, or through the loss of any rights of its citizens.

Generally, it’s about eliminating socioeconomic class struggles — none of this has to be synonymous with anything terrible we have seen of a ‘communist’ government throughout history. Point in case, democracy and freedom can still exist under communism. 

It is not inherently evil.

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