It’s difficult to talk about communism today, for the simple fact so many people across the Western world have been taught to have an instant reaction to it: it’s evil. Unfortunately, what gets lost in all of this is an actual understanding of what communism really is.
Two Kinds of Communism
In the simplest terms, there are two kinds of communism. One is a far-left ideology that argues against the pyramidic system of capitalism and the concentration of wealth in the hands of billionaire CEOs (otherwise called ‘the 1%’).
Its goal, put very simply, is better economic equality amongst all the peoples of a country. That extends to free education, free healthcare, free housing, and unionising workers to ensure workers’ rights. Often, to distance this good kind of communism from the other kind, we refer to it more simply as socialism.
The other kind of communism is what we might call ‘capital C Communism’. This is what most people are taught to fear, and rightly so. Because it’s not communism; it’s fascism. You see, after the Russian revolution of 1917 and the First Chinese Revolution of 1912, two ideologists took the stage: Vladimir Lenin of Russia and Sun Yat-sen of China.
These revolutions were, in basic terms, the majority population of ordinary people rising up against the ultimate power of the Crown (in whatever form that took). Lenin and Sun were communists (the good kind), inspired by the writings of German philosopher Karl Marx. They were looking to turn their nations into fairer states of economic and political equality amongst women and men. But, through a lot of trouble and strife, the reins of power were eventually handed over to Joseph Stalin in Russia and Mao Zedong in China. It is these two men – and a few others, such as Pol Pot in Cambodia – who ruined the word ‘communism’.
Stalin and Mao were fascist dictators who began immediately ruling with an iron fist. Their choices and policies led to famines, executions, and countless more atrocities. In an attempt to advertise their regimes as something good, they called themselves communists.
This has caused us in the West to hate the word, confusing fascism and communism entirely, all thanks to some simple propaganda by a handful of corrupt rulers.
Today, people on the left, like Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, who are looking to encourage the spread of fairness and equality through such moves as higher taxes for the filthy rich, better working conditions for the poor, a higher minimum wage, better standards of healthcare, and so on – all good and reasonable endeavours – are often branded by the right as Capital C Communists. Politicians and media leaders who are right-leaning are counting on our misunderstanding of communism in order to vilify those who are trying to do a good thing.
The power of this word ‘communist’ as a catch-all term for ‘bad person’ is a powerful weapon. What is ironic is that those on the right who hold all the power, people like Donald Trump, are the ones behaving like Capital C Communists – in other words: fascists.
For example, Trump praised Chinese president Xi Jinping for reworking the terms of his presidency, granting him power for life. This is fascism.
If you look back at the things that are politically good in the UK, many stem from communism (or socialism, if you prefer). If you love the NHS and believe healthcare should be free and not privatised – that is a communist belief. If you believe schools should be a free and equal human right for all children, that’s also a communist belief.
Many of these rights are in danger of being torn away from us because politicians and the media power players are feeding us rhetoric that slowly and subtly teaches us that these human rights – are bad. That socialism is bad.
It is unfortunate at best and terrifying at worst that many of us in the UK, the US, and several other countries, are won over by the discourse that says human rights are inherently wrong. In the US there is such a pervasive stigma about unions in almost every industry because to unionise is to be a Communist.
When representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others talk about free healthcare and free college tuition, the media frames it as a pipe dream; a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. And yet, Scandinavian countries like Denmark implement socialist and communist practices into their politics and nobody bats an eye. Denmark taxes its people 60% on average and offers free healthcare and college tuition as a result. Its economy is thriving. Joblessness is incredibly low in Denmark. These political decisions stem from communism.
Conversely, many right-leaning voters in the UK praise their proud nation for its National Health Service. Well, to remind those right-leaners that the NHS was created by a Welsh socialist and member of the Labour party.
The bottom line is that there is a misunderstood and unjust fear of, and hatred towards, communism and socialism. Rhetoric from the right has been used to scapegoat the left, tar left-leaning politicians with the same brush as Stalin and Mao, without any truth. It might be worth considering, in 2019, what harm this is doing.
If you want to read more, here are some books both new and old to learn even more on this subject:
- Why Marx Was Right, by Terry Eagleton
- Clear Bright Future, by Paul Mason
- Animal Farm, by George Orwell– The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx (there’s also a fantastic graphic novel version)
- Wild Swans, by Jung Chang
Will is a blogger, freelance writer, and digital nomad from the UK. He runs the books and travel website Books and Bao along with his partner. There, he reviews and promotes translated literature, and explores the arts and culture side of travel across the globe. Will has also written for The Culture Trip, IGN, Tokyo Weekender, and other travel, art, and culture-based publications.