Communism is a word that’s thrown around a lot, but rarely defined in detail. Today, Emma and Brittany discuss the history of this ideology, and break down why “sharing everything” isn’t as great as it sounds.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Emma: Hi, Brittany.
Brittany: Hi, Emma.
Emma: Today I wanna talk about a term that’s thrown around a lot, but very rarely actually defined in detail, and that is Communism. So I know Brittany and Connor did an episode a while back on the isms like socialism, communism, and fascism and all those great isms. But today I wanna focus specifically on communism because I think it’s really important that we have a good definition of what it is that we know about its history and that we all feel like we are up to speed on it, because it’s something that does pop up in conversation a lot these days. So to get us started, I’m just gonna read a quick definition and then we’re gonna get more into who came up with communism and how it has played out through history. So to define the word communism is a political theory derived from Carl Marx advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs. So that sounds kind of simple and innocent enough, but let’s break that down a little bit. Brittany, first of all, do you wanna maybe explain what class warfare is since that’s a term that we don’t hear too often?
Brittany: Yeah, and you know, if you want like a modern example, I advise you to look at anything AOC has ever posted about, cause she’s really good at this. But class, warfare is the idea that there are two groups of people in the world sorted out by what we call social economic levels. So sometimes you call them the haves and the have-nots. Like that’s a good way of putting it. And the word for this, the bourgeoisie, it’s a French word. And that’s like, that’s the rich people. If you ever heard like young cool people, and I’m not one of them say like, Hey, that’s bougie. Like, let’s go to brunch. It’s bougie. That’s like a nickname for that. and then you have the proletariat who were the workers, right? They’re the working class and those with less property. So Carl Marx was basically the inventor of communism and he came up with these terms.
Emma: And before we get more into communism, let’s actually talk a little bit more about Carl Marx specifically.
Brittany: Which, we could link to an episode cuz we did a whole episode on him too.
Emma: Yes, exactly. Exactly. So quick refresher on him, he was born in Germany in 1818. he’s best known for his book or his pamphlet called the Communist Manifesto, which he published in 1848 when he was 30. And one of the main points in the Communist manifesto was that capitalism could not sustain itself and that it would eventually be destroyed by warfare between the Bourgeoisie rich and the proletariat workers. So again, it’s this idea that these groups of people can’t coexist, they can’t work together, they are just destined to be enemies. And he wanted to encourage that class warfare and replace capitalism with a new system where people aka the government spoiler alert, owned all of the resources and businesses and basically, he called this the means of production. But what that basically means is, energy, resources, factories, manufacturing, those sorts of things, those are the means of production because it’s how you produce stuff for your country. So it’s food, all sorts of industries and different resources. So he envisioned a system where people’s jobs would be assigned to them based on their talents and needs and abilities. And it’s interesting because, you know, that might work on a super small scale. If it’s like a family, maybe you can break up certain chores like, oh, so-and-so is better at doing the dishes. The other kid is better at helping in the garden. Like it works on that level. But once you bring in the government and you’ve got some person who doesn’t know you, telling you what you’re good and bad at and what you need to go do it can actually lead to some pretty big problems. So Brittany, do you wanna talk about, just like a quick rundown on sort of how communism has been tried and maybe we could talk about Russia first?
Brittany: Yeah. And I wanna add on to something you said. It’s, you know, you talked about like maybe someone’s good at the dishes with communism. It doesn’t matter what you’re good at. Yeah. It just matters what they need. And you know, if they need somebody to milk a cow, but you’re a scientist, doesn’t matter. You’re gonna be milking that cow. So it’s not even about Yeah. You know, there’s no specialization as we call it. So as it turns out, obviously, a lot can go wrong with communism. And I think that’s been kind of a theme we’ve talked about on many episodes. But in Russia in 1917, a bloody revolution over through the Russian monarchy, that means like the king and queen system where you have royalty and created the first communist government. And it was run by a new political party called the bolsheviks and their leader was Vladimir Lenin. So after taking control and establishing Russia as this, you know, a red communist country, Lenin started doing some pretty crazy things and pretty cruel and terrible things. So he sent people who disagreed of communism to forced labor camps or the Gulag. And it, sometimes it was people even who were on his side, but if he suspected you were, you know Yeah. Disloyal in any way off you went. The gulags were terrible. I mean, a lot of times too there were like in cold places like Siberia. Yeah. Just awful circumstances. So let’s fast forward a few years. And even worse, you know, the communist leader in charge in Russia, which was then called the Soviet Union was Joseph Stalin. And, you know, he took what Lenin started and showed how bad things can get when the government is too much power. He really escalated it. Yeah. what did they say? Up the ante, as you call it. And you know, it really depends on who’s in office, right? Communism has this rosy view that if you give, you know, the state power that everyone’s gonna be benevolent. Benevolent meaning everyone’s gonna be good and everyone’s gonna have good intentions. But that’s not what happened. So it’s estimated that under Stalin’s rule, 6 million people died because of famine, which is when there’s no food plagues, which is, you know when there’s a terrible disease that wipes people out, government oppression cuz they’re sending people off to these terrible camps and just bloody conflict. I mean, if you look at any history book during this time, constant fighting constant, you people just getting shot for doing silly things like, you know, trying to be like the black market staff. Yeah. You know, trying to sell food under the table. So under the communist Soviet Union, you know, private property was completely abolished. The whole concept didn’t even exist.
Emma: Yeah. It’s crazy too because you can try to outlaw private property. You can say it’s illegal, but you can never actually take away the fact that people are going to have belongings. Yeah. And they’re going to want to keep their belongings. And that’s something that we see every time, communism or Marxism in general, which kind of is like the broader umbrella of socialism, communism, and all of these authoritarian big government ideas. but that’s something that happens is people don’t understand that you can’t just snap your fingers and change the way that humans work and the way that we’re wired and the way that we’re incentivized. so private property, like you said, Britney, there were black markets for things, people trying to meet their own needs that the government wasn’t taking care of them. and private property didn’t completely go away. It just became illegal and it made it so the government could punish people, kill people for trying to trade, or help each other out through enterprise. but people, you have to remember, people up at the top, the government basically became the new bourgeoisie and they were the ones who were living off the fat of the land. They had access to whatever they needed. They weren’t starving, they weren’t dying of diseases and plagues. So that’s another interesting thing is communism. Its whole thing is that we need to end this class warfare. But basically what happens is it just res us into classes of government and non-government. And it’s, you know, that’s one of the reasons that it doesn’t work. So, it wasn’t just Russia that tried communism and failed. There were a lot of other countries that were inspired by the Soviet Communist Revolution and tried it themselves. And some of them were even actually helped by the Soviets. So some of the countries that did that were China with the great leap forward and Maze Dong who did crazy, crazy things, he actually tried to, pay people to kill sparrows because he saw them as pests. And then they, a bunch of people wiped out, almost completely wiped out an entire species in China. And they realized that the sparrows were eating a lot of bugs. And once the sparrows were gone, it, there were like all these problems with the crops. So that’s just one example of how stupid communist government can be and how much advocate can wreak even on nature and on the environment. So that’s one country that tried it. Cuba tried communism, had a lot of bad effects there. They’re still dealing with that. North Korea, we all know.
Brittany: Because we just talked about. Yeah.
Emma: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. We just talked about Cuba, north,
Brittany: Oh, sorry. North Korea. Oh yeah.
Emma: Yeah. North Korea, is also something that’s, you know, they’re still dealing with, people are still dealing with oppression there. Their, country doesn’t even really allow people to leave. There’s one guy ruling everyone, and it’s just a complete, it’s a perfect example of what happens. You give the government too much control. It’s happened in Vietnam, it’s happened in Cambodia and in the, you know, just over a hundred years since communism has first been tried in 1917, it has killed an estimated over a hundred million people. And that is just tragic to think about all those people, innocent people who died because people are obsessed with trying out these ideas that don’t work. And they died through war, through famine, through forced labor, and many other different kinds of tragedies. And this is why people like Brittany and Connor and I are always saying that communism doesn’t work. It’s because we know that it doesn’t work. We have proof. It’s been tried so many times and all it’s done is oppress people and cost us the ultimate price.
Brittany: I think you’re absolutely right on that. And, you know, I do wanna talk quickly about the difference between communism and socialism. We’ve talked a lot, a lot of isms as we’ve called it. And a lot of people try to say that socialism isn’t anything like communism cause they have to sell it to people. Right. Socialism sounds rosy, especially if you call it democratic socialism, and communism. Even though that’s kind of becoming very cool too, for some people, communism is definitely associated more closely with death and destruction. So to try to make communism sound or seem less scary and cleanse these images of the horrible history we just talked about. you know, they call, they say like, let’s do socialism instead, but at the end of the day, you know, they’re informed by the exact same ideas, meaning their foundations are exactly the same. And the biggest part of it is it’s the individual versus the collective. Right? So, socialism and communism, these are things that you have to look at the collective good or the greater good, as we talked about in another episode. So socialists claim that under democratic socialism, and I say that in, you know, scare quotes, people can still own private property, but the government owns large industries and resources. But in reality, you know, and we’ve talked about this before, if you give the government a tiny inch of power they’re gonna take as much as they can. And it’s pretty hard to get them to stop taking our stuff, if not impossible. Even if that wasn’t part of the original plan. That’s just what ends up happening and history tells us this. We have proof of this.
Emma: Yeah, we do. And that’s why, you know, it’s hard because there are a lot of people today who maybe have never learned this stuff. And a lot of times when you learn about history in schools, they don’t really talk about the negative effects of socialism and communism like the new school.
Brittany: Opposite now.
Emma: It’s, actually the opposite, right? And, capitalism is now become the big bad guy where a lot of people, you know, they blame problems on capitalism and, you know, capitalism is not gonna be the way that we end all human suffering. the human suffering is sort of how things started before capitalism. Like capitalism isn’t going to fix everybody’s problems, but it’s the absolute best thing that we have. It’s the best tool that we have to improve our standard of living to make life easier, more comfortable, and safer and capitalism has a pretty good track record. When you look at countries who have embraced it, like the United States, we became a world power. We became this amazing country in just a couple hundred years with this really, almost impossible-looking start where we started as this ragtag country. We had nothing. And we embraced freedom and we embraced economic freedom. And in the times when we’ve really embraced it has been the times when our country has been the most prosperous. So, capitalism, you know, it’s demonized a lot and a lot of people like to blame problems on it that have nothing to do with the free market. But when you actually look at communism and what it is, it’s no better alternative. In fact, it’s way, way worse. So I am going to link a couple of things, a couple of articles in the show notes. One of them is an article. It’s sad, but it’s important to read about that 100 million number that I mentioned, a hundred million people who’ve died through communism. I think it’s important that we understand that. And when we’re talking to our friends or talking to people who maybe disagree with us, being able to communicate these things in a way that’s compassionate and that shows, hey, this isn’t just us, you know, being rah-rah, capitalism is great. Like that’s, you know, I feel that way about capitalism. I love capitalism. But it’s important to actually talk about the human cost of bad ideas. So I’m gonna link that in the show notes. Brittany, thanks so much for chatting with me on this one. And we will talk to you all again soon.
Brittany: Talk to you soon.