The Meaning of Communism

For most of my life, “communism” has been the name of the enemy. To be communist meant to be hostile to the U.S. The leader of enemy forces was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), that is, Russia. Its satellite nations, under its iron control, were Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany, Yugoslavia, and Albania. Opposed to the communist bloc were the U.S. and its allies, primarily the nations of western Europe—the U.K, France, Western Germany, Spain, Italy, and Belgium among others. The world, in short, was divided between the good guys—the U.S. and its allies—and the bad guys, otherwise known as “communists”—the USSR and its satellites.

Only when the USSR collapsed and the satellite nations turned toward democracy did it become apparent to me that communism’s day had passed. Now we were all good guys. Then Russia (and other nations) became dictatorships that were not communist. I came to understand that the enemy was not communism but totalitarianism. So what does “communism” mean?

According to Wikipedia, “Communism is a philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a communist society, namely a socioeconomic order structured upon the ideas of common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed,” and as “a theory advocating elimination of private property.”

Given those definitions, communism is perfectly compatible with democracy and is the obvious answer to domination by the rich. The nominally communistic states like the USSR betrayed their foundations to become autocracies. I learned that dictators can call their form of government by any name they choose. All that matters is that they alone hold power.

So what we need fear is not communism but tyranny. Only when the people themselves hold the power is the world safe from autocracy.

And it doesn’t matter what name we use for it.

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