The Berlin Wall only came down in 1989, barely 27 years ago. The word “Communism” still leaves a bad taste in many mouths. People recall Soviet Russia and the present People’s Republic of China, and use them as examples of why Communism will never work. However, none of these republics were strictly communist. Rather, they were socialist republics.
Where Did Socialism Come From?
The same place Communism came from: from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. According to their theory, there would be a revolution by the proletariat (the workers), overthrowing the bourgeoisie (capitalists; employers under a free-market system). This Communist revolution is the first step towards the communist society, where all property is held communally.
However, communal property, or property jointly owned by every citizen, would not happen all at once. Marx and Engels were both very aware that the bourgeoisie would not just sit down and let the proletariat take over. Therefore, they imagined that the next stage after the revolution would be that of socialism.
What Is Socialism?
Socialism is a state wherein all citizens are active participants in the state’s means of productions (industries, farms, and so forth). However, there is a proletariat central government and bureaucracy. This central institution receives all the results of production, and then redistributes it according to each person’s due.
Marx and Engels saw this as the training-ground, so to speak, for the citizens to acknowledge all property as communal. The Cultural Revolution in China under Mao Tse-tung, and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia (which overthrew the Romanovs), both ended up socialist societies. The acronym U.S.S.R., the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, illustrates that.
Is Socialism Good Or Bad?
Socialism does work in some societies, but it is rarely pure socialism. Finland is the most popular example of a working, borderline-Socialist state. Finland is known for its 100% literacy rate, its free tuition, and even free meals for its students. According to the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom, the country is also strong in freedom from corruption, 89/100.
There is, however, a catch. For the gross income workers receive, 44% of it is lost to taxes. This is necessary for each citizen to receive the many benefits for him or herself, and a family. Finland has also been slowly making it much easier for businesses to thrive and grow, and is beginning to spend less. In other words, this socialist society is becoming more free-market.
How come the Russian and Chinese economies became symbols of the failure of socialism? First, one could argue that they were just too big, and their populations and economic sources too diverse. They could not handle their economies in the amount of time they had.
Second, one could argue that their central governments fell in love with the power they held. In many ways, the Chinese Cultural Revolution led to equality, especially for women. But the Russian society, as political as it was economic, found itself too globally involved (in the Cold War) to focus on its own nation.
What Is Socialism?
Socialism is an idea, or a concept, that looks especially good on paper. After all, each citizen receiving the due according to his or her work, and not according to the free market, sounds like justice to many. However, like any other idea, it needs to be adapted to whatever situation it is put in.