Socialism & Communism vs Capitalism & Democracy
The ‘Occupy’ movement, a once popular campaign against corporate greed and the excesses of capitalism, celebrated the one year anniversary of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ on Monday with a small demonstration in New York. Since the occupy movement came about as a challenge to pure capitalism – which many saw as being responsible for the ‘credit crunch’ and ensuing financial crisis and recession – I decided to mark this anniversary myself by sitting down to write an article exploring the possible limits of capitalism and comparing it to the alternatives. So here it is:
Communism vs Capitalism and Democracy
Generally speaking capitalism and democracy go together. The opposite of capitalism is communism. Communist countries are always autocracies. A moderate form of communist ideals, combined with democracy, is called socialism, or social democracy.
Both communism and democracy have the same ultimate purpose: to free the general public from the machinations of a small elite and to create a fairer and more equal society. Communism seeks to free the public from a wealthy elite of oligarchs and to share wealth out more equitably. In doing this it gives power to a small powerful political elite, who are entrusted with enforcing the communist ideal. Democracy seeks to free the public from the powerful political elite and share power out more equitably. In addition to allowing voting, this generally means that democracy leads to smaller government and bigger private sector compared to autocracies and dictatorships. This allows a small powerful economic elite to develop – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
In a communist autocracy there is no way for the public to get rid of politicians who do not represent the interests of the public. Corruption is a big problem within this system, as many career politicians are more interested in taking care of themselves and their families than taking care of the public interest. Democracy solves this (to some extent) by allowing people to get rid of politicians who they don’t like, and allowing a free press to investigate what the politicians are really up to. On the other hand a democratic system leads to major decisions being made by people who have little or no expertise (ie the public). Communist autocracy allows for a degree of technocracy – meaning that economic decisions can be made by economists and so on, rather than forcing the public to make uneducated decisions.
Socialism and the Flaw in Communism
Socialism, or social democracy, attempts to solve the problems above by combining the ideals of equality found in both democracy and communism. It looks at the autocratic communism vs capitalism and democracy debate and concludes that both are flawed, and a new third way is needed. Socialism sets out to offer freedom from an entrenched political elite by allowing people to vote out politicians who don’t represent their interests, whilst also offering freedom from an entrenched economic elite through redistributive taxation. Unfortunately it also introduces some of the flaws from each system. These include the primary flaw which communism suffers from, which is the main reason that people cite for the victory of the capitalist western world over the communist east during the cold war. This flaw is the flaw in human nature. The simple fact is that people are more motivated much more by personal advantage that by universal ideals of the greater good. In a capitalist system people are highly motivated to create wealth, to invent new technologies, and generally to work hard. In a communist system, where people are expected to work for the greater good rather than their own benefit, and where benefits accrue to people from the state regardless of their input, people are less motivated. This means that despite wealth inequalities most regular people would be wealthier in a capitalist system than under a communist system, because more wealth is created as a whole. In terms of redistributed wealth socialism is basically a watered down version of communism, and hence suffers from a watered down version of this same basic problem. The only way to get around this problem would be a wholesale move away from selfish motivations and towards altruistic motivations, so that people would be just as motivated to work to help others and to benefit society as a whole, as for their own personal gain. If this ever happened, it seems to me that people would most likely look after each other because they wanted to and wouldn’t need government to force them to do it through mandatory taxation and spending.
As we have seen, each of the different models of government discussed above are ultimately flawed. On a personal note I would also add the politics in general, being essentially the process of telling everyone else what to do rather focusing on doing the right thing yourself for your own life, family and community, is an unwholesome interest to have and generally extends a corrupting influence. Be nice to each other, value your ideals at least as highly as your own personal gain, and hopefully one day we will be able to govern ourselves.