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Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism

Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism

By Dennis Loo (4/25/14)

Editor's Note: This is a follow-up to address a major question from students who attended the Raymond Lotta talk about communism, socialism, and capitalism at Cal Poly Pomona on April 9, 2014. This is Part One.

Anyone who runs for office in the US and claims that they will "make the system work" (to serve the people) is not telling you the truth. A few of those who say this may be sincere but they cannot deliver on this promise. The system is working the way it's designed to work and it's working in a manner that fulfills democratic theory’s assumptions. Democratic theory isn't a fabulous idea that just needs to be implemented properly. Democratic theory is actually an impoverished theory, deprived from its inception of what it allegedly promises to fulfill, authentic popular rule. The problem isn't the practice, in other words; the problem is the theory itself and the conditions that gave rise to it and sustain its prominent place as the governing public theory. I say governing public theory because those who actually run things know very well that behind closed doors is where the real deals are made and that “governance by the people” is a charade meant to deceive the people.

Democratic theory, contrary to its proponents and even almost every one of its critics, rules out of hand from the very start that the people should ever actually come to over time progressively govern every arena of society. Instead, democracy and voting specifically are viewed as the only way that the "ruled" can throw out those who "rule" when the rulers become overly tyrannical. Democratic theory, in other words, provides no means by which the "ruled" can ever become the "rulers" themselves. For a much more developed discussion of these points, see this link where I discuss the crucial difference between treating democracy as an end in itself versus as a means to an end.

What I'm going to focus on here is a different angle from that link's discussion. This angle relates to a question raised by commenters on the Raymond Lotta talk about communism, socialism, and capitalism. The question is: how do you and can you prevent a new set of exploiters from rising to power after a revolution that establishes socialism? This question is actually closely related to the question about democracies and democratic processes because they both bear on the question of the masses of people’s role in relation to leaders and to the exigencies of collective life and organizing that collective life. In answering this question, a whole array of related issues come up.

It is probably helpful in setting the stage for this to begin by pointing out the difference between genuine socialism and social democracy. Many countries’ leading parties tout themselves as socialist. In France, for example, one of the governing parties is the Socialist Party. But they are broadly and correctly derided as “champagne socialists” because their “socialism” is a thin veneer covering a bourgeois party. Their policies are not any more different from that of other bourgeois parties in France than that between the Democratic and Republican Parties in the US, that is to say, not different at all. The only real difference is their rhetoric, rhetoric that is designed to make them more appealing to their primary social base(s). In the US, the Democrats and Republicans sound different from one another. But their actual policies are indistinguishable. Anyone who thinks that they can find a distinguishable difference between Obama’s foreign and domestic policy to that of his predecessor would have to conclude after the end of their investigation that Bush’s policies overall were actually less right-wing than Obama’s. And this is because the party labels don’t mean anything other than as false advertising designed to deceive people.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t real rivalry and acrimony between the GOP and the Democratic Party. They have sharp differences about how best to rule and they contend with one another over that. But in the final analysis, they are both governing parties of an imperialist empire and their decisions are guided and ultimately determined by that basic fact. Their differences, in other words, are over strategy and tactics, not over their goals or over sharply different visions for society.

Social democracy is the ultimate reformist strategy and as such embodies within it the misconceptions that reformist strategies contain. Systems cannot be changed from within and the only way that change can occur is through actions designed to mobilize people in collective action to get rid of the system and replace it with a radically different system under a radically different kind of leadership. Any other actions are futile. When the Bolsheviks as part of their larger political strategy ran individuals for political office prior to the 1917 October Revolution, they did not run on a platform of "vote for me and I will make the system work." They ran on a platform that the system itself is unredeemable and that if elected they would use their posts as a platform to further expose the system’s bankruptcy.[1]

Social democracy has been the ruling paradigm for decades in Scandinavian countries, in New Zealand, and, to a much lesser degree, in Australia. It is highly influential in many other countries. Social democracy does not seek to overthrow and eliminate capitalism. It’s designed to retain capitalism but to render it supposedly more humane by providing more social services and a social safety net for those that capitalism tosses aside in its drive to maximize profits.

While social democrats want to provide a more charitable state and society, communists want to emancipate all of humanity. Social democrats do not think that the people can really run society and they do not believe that capitalism can be or should be abolished. Communists recognize that no one can or should be a condescending savior. Social democracy is an attempt at a middle-ground strategy rather than a revolutionary one. One of the examples of why social democracy is an incorrect approach to the problem of capitalism is that even the staunchest social democratically run countries have bent to the influence of neoliberal policies (free market fundamentalism) and increasingly adopted neoliberal measures over the last three decades. This has sparked riots in places like France.


Capital is not in its essence a thing such as money or assets but a social relation between the capitalist and the proletarian. The essence of that social relation is exploitation. The results of that social relation include things like money and profit for the capitalist class. Under capitalism the means of production have been privatized and are owned by the capitalist class. Since the capitalist class owns and controls the means to life, workers must sell their labor to the former in order to live. The middle class or petty bourgeoisie fill a role in between the bourgeoisie and proletariat as small business owners, professionals, managers, artists, etc. but the defining classes under capitalism are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The capitalist class exploits the proletariat’s labor and this human exploitation (and exploitation of the environment) is the source of surplus value and the capitalists’ profits. Those who aspire to great wealth – or at least a lot of wealth – hope to occupy the position of the big capitalists where they can enjoy the fruits of the work of their employees.

As long as this relationship between the owners of the means to life and the rest of us remains society’s central organizing factor, a relatively small group of people will dominate and control the lives of the rest. You cannot end this relationship through merely redistributing the lopsided allotment of resources a little bit more equally. Even if, hypothetically, you were to completely and equally distribute the material resources of a society to everyone, if you did not address the unequal non-material resources such as differential training, education, and social capital, then within several years time the resources would again become unequal and be moving towards restoring the previously highly unequal situation.

What socialism – real socialism – does is end the private control by capitalists over the means of production and turns it into state property.

Doing this does not abolish classes since you cannot simply abolish classes in one sweeping action and therefore the possibility of exploitation resuming continues as long as social classes and other divisions continue. I’m going to underscore that point because it bears repeating: as long as social classes continue, the material basis will persist for a new group of exploiters to emerge as the personification of those classes’ differences to be a new group of rulers. If those who are now in charge of the state behave as if they are the new capitalist class and lord it over the still existing working class, then they can be the new capitalist overlords, albeit under a different name. The material basis for this to occur and to be an ongoing danger of capitalist restoration is the fact that even with a socialist revolution led by communists, you cannot abolish class distinctions and the legacy of the gap between mental and manual labor in one fell swoop. You cannot undo the fact that whole groups of people have been differentially trained.

For example, people from the most oppressed groups of people who have not been taught and trained in how to read and write or who have been only taught rudimentary skills and have only been treated as those who will end up doing manual work, cannot compete on a level playing field with those who have been exposed to the best that money can buy without being assisted and supported and led in gaining those skills over time. They will be shunted aside and can be readily misled by those who know how to manipulate words and images in order to sound good and to deceive others of their real intentions. Bridging the gaps between mental and manual labor, between town and country, between men and women, between those of privileged racial or ethnic strata and those who are oppressed, and so on, and exposing and uprooting the various ideas that correspond to exploitive relations, is something that would a) have to be addressed consciously under a socialist society and b) require social campaigns organized at the grassroots level that pursue these inequalities with passion and science in order to undo them progressively over time.

Because political decisions must be made all of the time, and because those decisions are deeply consequential, you want to and need to have those who are experienced and/or expert and/or have insight into these questions be a critical part of the process by which you make decisions. But you also need and want for there to be wide and direct engagement and grappling with these questions by the broad masses of people. You don’t want this engagement to be merely window dressing, which is the way things are done now where the masses are presented with the simulacrum of democratic consultation (e.g., town hall meetings and voting). When Mao spoke of the goal of the Cultural Revolution being transforming world outlook he meant that the masses of people in order to become truly the masters of society had to be directly engaged in discussing, debating, and making decisions and carrying out those decisions in order for world outlook to be transformed.

You cannot thoroughly understand anything by merely reading a book or books about it. You cannot thoroughly understand anything by merely practically and concretely engaging in it either. You have to do both. You have to do it and you have to study it and you have to engage in the process in order to learn how things actually work. This is a process that the whole of society needs to be part of in the most direct ways because they cannot learn what they need to learn, they cannot put their stamp on every element in social life, unless they are doing this in an ongoing way. They will always be vulnerable in the meantime and during this transitional period to those who either consciously or unconsciously are moving socialism towards capitalist norms rather than moving it forward towards communist norms. Being able to decipher the real intentions of people is something that people cannot be taught how to do by simply giving them a RAM chip upgrade.

Another dimension to this involves the matter of incentives. All societies that have ever existed and all of them into the future will need incentives to get people to work. In tribal society the incentive was that the tribe had to rely on the work of everyone to survive and there is no such thing as someone deciding that they were going to opt out of that when they felt like it. See this article for a much more developed discussion of the question of material and non-material incentives.

In capitalist society the incentive is supposedly exclusively material. For society to move towards and eventually accomplish a classless society means that over time (probably at least decades) non-material incentives need to eventually replace material incentives. You cannot entirely abolish material incentives in socialism because material incentives will continue to have some ongoing relevance. Those who have spent a great deal of time learning and training in specialized skills will not want to be paid and should not be paid exactly the same as everyone else. If you tried such a policy you would have a lot of resistance and opposition from significant sectors of the society. But what you could and should do is immediately end the extreme distortions of wealth that we find in capitalist society.

Real socialism, in other words, is going to be marked both by the legacy of capitalism and the persistence of both capitalist relations and capitalist ideas in varying degrees and by incipient communism with its respective relations and ideas. These two forces will be in tension and struggle with each other over which will have the upper hand over a long period of transition. That conflict is inevitable and actually occurs hourly and minute-by-minute in our present system but it does so under the overall oppressive rule of the bourgeoisie. New systems do not appear out of thin air but grow embryonically from within the extant system and at some point rise to fight for power.

Under capitalism the higher form of social relations that communism represents must fight uphill tooth and nail constantly and the continued existence of the various horrors of capitalist relations and ideas are allowed to ride roughshod over the interests of the people and the planet. Think what a difference it would make if the oppressive weight of capitalism were lifted because the capitalist state and economy have been overthrown and a socialist state in which all of these problems can now be addressed on a radically different basis and perspective now exists in its place.

If socialism is seen, on the other hand, as the ultimate welfare state the way that social democrats see it, then the struggle to transform society to eventually be able to abolish classes and all of the accompanying ideas such as sexism and racism will not be engaged and those who are oppressed under capitalism and the longer historical legacy of social divisions will not be unleashed to become humanity’s emancipators. Invidious distinctions between people will be allowed to expand rather than narrowed.

There is one final point that I need to make that is enormously significant. Many people when they learn about the possibility of a different system respond by saying: “That sounds like a good idea, but it seems much too far-fetched. It will likely never happen.” This is a view that demands a satisfactory response. That is the subject of part two of this series.


[1] Some very prominent leaders of the progressive Left (e.g., Norman Solomon) in the US literally shut down much of the anti-war and impeachment movements when Obama was first running for the White House in the name of putting all of their efforts into electing someone who they claimed would listen to the anti-war, et al movement. That strategy's bankruptcy is by now clear to all who have been paying attention. As I and a few others warned at the time when Obama first became a national political figure, Obama is not who you think he is and you need to pay close attention to his words and deeds. If you do, you will see that he is not saying what you think he is.


0 # James Dewey 2014-04-25 18:01
I understand that in order for this social upheaval of capitalism in order to be replaced by social democracy there needs to be a shift in the way we approach social issues. Where the motivation behind decision makers would be maximizing social benefits rather than trying to maximize profit.
But in regards to preventing the emergence of a new ruling class I'm still a little confused about. I'm not sure if it is the system which we grew up in or if it is Human nature to have an insatiable thirst for material goods, but as long as material goods are present within a society, wouldn't individuals want to accumulate as much material as possible? The educated would then use their education to obtain the most amount of materials as possible, quite possibly leading to the exploitation of the uneducated, thus another ruling class. If socialism ends the private control by capitalists over the means of production and turns it into state property, then wouldn't the state become the new
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+1 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-25 19:55
Quoting James Dewey:
If socialism ends the private control by capitalists over the means of production and turns it into state property, then wouldn't the state become the new (ruling class)

Yes. That's why I was speaking to the need for a certain kind of leadership in a different kind of system driven by a different logic. The answer is a little complex so bear with me. First, you need to end the state power that the capitalists now hold because in order to move forward to replace $ as the system's logic to social needs as the animating system logic, you need to have a revolution. Second, that revolution needs to be far more than just placing new faces in office. You need to do away w/ the old bureaucracies and entirely restructure what is. Third, those who lead have to be committed to a radically different kind of leadership where instead of trying to maintain and expand the gap btw leaders & led you're constantly working to narrow the differences. Cont.
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+1 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-25 20:00
An ex. of what I'm talking abt is what great mentors such as coaches and teachers do: they draw upon the best in their mentees so that those they lead can become leaders themselves. Fourth, the masses of peo would have to engage directly in every arena in society and strive to bridge that gap from their end as well. This is a protracted process. You have to think about it as that, a protracted and complex process rather than as a static situation. You cannot understand and cannot come to master anything if you're not directly engaged in it and are not being assisted in it by those who can provide genuinely useful leadership. Politics is the same as any other arena in that way, except under this system politics is treated as something that allegedly Joe/Jane Public already know what they need to know - exercising their vote. But that's not real political understanding or exercising real pol power. Again, it's a process.
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0 # James Dewey 2014-04-25 18:02
Continued from previous comment:

ruling class? Rather than it act as a puppet for the bourgeois, as it is today.
As long as possessions are present in society i feel it would be the human nature of the individuals within it to maximize their accumulation of the resources. So in order to get rid of the capitalist system i feel you would have to adress the values of moderation over greed, and common good over individual good.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-25 19:33
Perhaps you meant replaced by socialism, not social democracy, since social democracy doesn't require a revolution to come to power (although there are instances in history when the peo rose up and social democrats did take power in the midst of this). The role of social democrats can be seen in Spain (see article about Pablo Rivadulla Duro).

As for the "insatiable thirst for material goods": a) capitalism didn't arise a few hundred yrs ago b/c of greed. Greed does help capitalism to exist but it's not what created capitalism. Durkheim and Weber - neither of them Marxists - recognized this. For D being human means an insatiable desire for human connection, not things. For W capitalism's fundamental nature involves the endless pursuit of profit, expand or die, but not specifically greed. In fact he thot asceticism was more compatible with capitalism than greed. He points out that many economic systems had greed before capitalism appeared. Cont.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-25 19:41
B) Being social is the essential and necessary human trait for humanity to survive, not greed. Indeed, greed actually tends to undermine social bonds. The two sciences devoted to the study of human societies both find and are founded upon the fact that humans live in social structures/syst ems and that these systems are social, not individual, in nature.

C) If greed for material goods was so fundamental a drive, then car makers and others wouldn't have to incessantly advertise to us and spend billions to get us to buy, buy, buy. Most ads actually try to trigger social needs such as the need to belong and to be respected by others as the hook to get us to buy things.

D) You're right that elevating the common good over the indiv good would have to be key. Communist norms could only exist as the rule if the level of consciousness of peo in gen'l were raised.

E) See
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0 # Daniell Gomezzz 2014-04-27 23:14
Would you say that contradiction lies within things and even that particular thing can be in contradiction with another thing, the 2nd thing also have contradiction? I have trouble with this concept as a universal one. With examples, and certain realms explored i seem to reach an understanding of it, for example the history or revolutions. With socialism and capitalism contending, but the end goal being communism. I feel this should be touched upon in further detail, even amongst revolutionaries . Because it is a foundational philosophy of Marxism, i feel that revolutionaries (not all) will say contradiction or describe contradiction in an extremely simplified way. You, i know, have gone into further detail somewhat, but i feel that there needs to be a more broad and thorough exploration of the concept.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-28 04:15
Dialectics is fundamental to everything in that without the contradiction or the contrast and dynamic struggle between A and not-A, nothing could exist. Everything that exists only does so in relationship to other things that can be distinguished from it. It's not possible to read what I'm writing here unless there is space that is in contrast to the letters that make up the words on this page/screen. It is not possible for there to a left if there is not a corresponding right, an "up" without there being a corresponding "down," an "in" without its reverse of an "out." Likewise, there is no such thing as space without objects in space to contrast with space. So, yes, contradiction lies within all things without exception. And yes, dialectics is universal. The particular contradiction that is key depends upon what one is trying to do... More needs to be said, but that will have to wait for a bigger article. Is it possible for people to be too gen'l when they try to apply dialectics? Yes.
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0 # LA305302 2014-04-28 00:31
If we live in a society where most people are asleep or not thinking "outside of the box," how can a revolution occur towards socialism? Most people do not understand much of it, and if they do it is only spoken of in a negative context because people are not well informed. I do not view it as being "far fetched" because if we have done it in the past and currently live in a society where information easily gets passed as wild fire, I believe something has to be done to engage people into the idea. In terms of the United States, we live in a world where material goods are a indicating marker of who we are as individuals in the public eye. Capitalism is so wrapped up in everything we do, that people do not even question it.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-28 04:20
Quoting LA305302:
If we live in a society where most people are asleep or not thinking "outside of the box," how can a revolution occur towards socialism? Most people do not understand much of it

You have described correctly a problem. The answer that I would give, in the most concise form I can, is that while people in gen'l don't see the reality of the whole box or system, most do see aspects of the truth and the reality. They have, in other words, an embryonic understanding and if you raise that up and concentrate it and bring revolutionary science to it, then many can recognize this in a way that is higher and more comprehensive than what they saw and understood before. That is what revolutionary science does when it's applied appropriately: it takes the raw material of peo's experiences, not just in the present, but broadly historically, and lifts that up in a way that allows people to connect to it and see what was previously mysterious or hidden before.
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0 # MarieB 2014-04-28 05:13
The "ruled" can't ever become the rulers in a democracy because we are only given small and infrequent opportunities to vote. I do sincerely believe that the democrat and republican parties are very similar and are not a very effective way to govern the country's needs. I find it interesting to recall that the founding fathers were not fans of dividing the country based off parties; however they cam about anyway as Federalists and Jeffersonians. I have always been confused on this issue and I'm glad this article clarified it for me.
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+1 # Monique V. 2014-04-28 07:00
You talk about society needing to not only study, but also engage in how things really work to understand what is really going on. I couldn't agree more. Too often people will just accept what's happening right before their eyes because they don't know how, or don't want to look into the deeper meaning of what's in front of them. We will not be able to achieve where we want to be as a society and as a world unless people begin to question and understand and look past the hidden meanings of things. Realistically can this really be achieved? I hope so, but I question if it will ever truly happen.
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0 # Agris 2014-04-29 04:24
feel that the statement ignorance is bliss is best used for those within the lower classes. However when that statement is used to describe the upper classes it is maddening. For the lower classes it is a coping mechanism but when the one you are speaking of is in the upper classes and has the power and ability to make change and holds power... Well it's just disgusting. The people that are in power are ignorant and are blessed by it? How is the country being conducted by such? No wonder there is so much animosity within the classes. The class in power isn't take the time to see what is. To me, that is disgusting.
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0 # ch2782 2014-05-04 02:42
I agree with the statement above, the only thing politicians have no control over is our vote. They cannot determine who would gets chosen in the elections. Our vote is the only thing that people of power cannot overrule; we the people determine who gets elected. Voting is one advantage citizens have to make ourselves heard. It is one of the ways people know about the politicians who run in office, determining their fate and destiny in the hands of the people. Many individuals who run for office try to persuade the public by stating their willingness to help out the community and changing American’s lives for the best, although many of them do not. The public does not know their true intentions of the people who run for office behind close doors. People with authority promise many things they cannot keep, only appealing and advocating what the people want to hear, not what they are actually going to accomplish when they are in power.
To be continued...
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0 # jnandez 2014-05-05 06:36
I agree with you when you say that we do not know the true intentions of the politicians we "vote" for. As for when you say that by voting, we have an advantage to make ourselves heard, I do not think I can agree with you. We can only vote on policies that are written for us. Citizens cannot present policies on their own. If a local community was able to get a bill into congress, the chances of it becoming a law are slim to nothing, unless it benefits the people who rule. So in reality, we are voting on issues that we do not usually even present ourselves. The issues are presented by those who rule and in their interest. And even when we do vote on policies, our individual vote means bullsh&@!t, due to the electoral college. So our vote is only a mere façade so that we can look like a democracy to those countries around us.
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+1 # ch2782 2014-05-04 02:47
Secondly, people cannot change an institution in the inside because the institution might already be corrupt. It takes affirmative action to make a change within these institutions. The system or the policies of corporations make strict rules for people who defy their authority, that’s why it is easier to change a system in the outside than indoors. This leads to people becoming more involved in the system, to make a change for the crime and corruption some corporations make. Even if one cannot change how the institutions run, they hope to make a contribution to society that will set them apart from the rest, to know they tried their hardest to move away from the exploitation and fraud.
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Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12