Lesson 2: What is Communism?
“I envision a world where water, electricity, food, and education would be for free for everyone on this planet.”
Key concepts in this lesson:
- Communism is an economic system, not a political system.
- Private property is not the same thing as personal property.
- Scarcity has been the most important factor in how societies are organized but this is no longer true. Today the need to distribute abundance is the most important factor.
What is communism? First, it is a system that allows every person to contribute to society. This comes first because self worth, the foundation of happiness, is based on social contribution. Secondly, it is the rational distribution of the necessities of life according to need. Of course, needs are different than two hundred years ago. Then, a person’s needs were food, shelter, and clothing. Today, our necessaries include education, culture, health care, and other entertainment and comforts.
Communism is a social form of organization based on the common ownership of the socially necessary means of production. Throughout most of human history a cooperative, communist society was necessary because the low level of the means of production meant that life was impossible without a collective effort. The greatest part of human history was carried on within some communist form.
Until very recently the world was defined by scarcity. No matter what the economic form of society was, some people were going to do without and some were going to have all they needed. This created constant conflict and reinforced ideas such as “the poor will always be with us.” The incredible abundance created by computerized, robotic production today has put an end to scarcity. The lack of food, water, shelter, and medical care that plagues the world comes from a scarcity that is imposed, not one that is inherent in society. Scarcity can now be overcome by the transition to a communist economic system where things are distributed according to need, not according to who has money and who doesn’t. We have the economic foundation in the United States already so that tonight everyone could live in a nice home, have plenty to eat and good schools to go to.
Living under a system of private property we fight each other over access to resources that are deliberately withheld from us. In a cooperative, communist society there will be no more prejudice, discrimination, or street violence. The underlying cause of it, enforced scarcity, will be gone.
If the worker doesn’t work anymore and the robot creates the commodities how is it possible to sell them? You cannot sell them, and if you don’t sell them how are you going to distribute them? If you can’t sell the cups and everybody needs cups, how are you going to distribute those cups? You’ve got to distribute one cup to one person, two cups to two people and ten cups to a family with eight children. You’ve got to distribute them according to need.
“The third group was the most interesting because they were open minded and wanted information. After a reading or lecture, the first thing they would say is “but I thought communism was dead.” That was their opinion and, of course, they can have no other opinion given the history of the last seventy years. They thought communism was dead because they think communism is a political system. It is very difficult to tell them that it is an economic system and explain that system as such.”
— Nelson Peery
We don’t need a state that is the owner of all the means of production to guarantee their development. The state as we know it today will collapse almost immediately. We need a government that regulates things, but not people.
When we set about reconstructing the earth, for example, reclaiming the earth, becoming part of the earth again, that will be a real accomplishment. The first task of communism is to rebuild the earth, to clean it up, understand its rhythm, and become part of that rhythm. The first part is to stabilize the earth, and consequently stabilize humanity. Happiness will arise in that process.
We have been taught that politics means only elections. Politics is the control of one class by another class. There were no classes under primitive forms of cooperative, communist society and so there were no politics. There will be no classes under an economic communist system based on computers and robotics so there will be no politics then either.
Discussion Question 1: Why is communism an economic system, not a political system?
Private property. Private property is the infrastructure of the economy and the wealth that exceeds any human’s personal needs. Private property arose in history when society developed to a point that communities produced enough surplus (especially food) that one section, or class, of society could be freed from hunting and gathering and live off the labor of another class.
Personal property. Personal property is the things we need to live and function, as individuals or families: Food, clothing, shelter, computers, phones, personal transportation, etc. It is under capitalism, not communism, that the masses are being pushed rapidly from the ownership of personal property.
People are taught to fear a cooperative, communist society so they can be convinced that the abolition of private property means the confiscation of what little they personally own. In a cooperative, communist society the only thing that will be confiscated is private property, including all corporate property, in order that it may become public property for the benefit of all.
In a cooperative, communist society our personal property will be securely in our hands. That will be guaranteed by law, by custom, and by the very nature of a society where there will no longer be any reason anyone would want to take it away.
Under communism there will be no money but not because getting rid of money is a good idea. Money will be gone because money is a medium of exchange. Under capitalism, we exchange our ability to work for money. Then we exchange money for the things we need to live. Under communism, abundance will be distributed to all but not by exchange. Without exchange, there will be no role for money. It will no longer exist.
Discussion Question 2: What is the difference between private property and personal property?
During the era of industrial production, the vision of a world without exploitation, hunger and war galvanized a working class movement for communism. But industrial production was unable to create the material conditions required for a communist economic system. The idea of communism came before the possibility. Today, in this era of electronic production, the reverse is true. Now, the material conditions for communism exist, but the ideas are lagging behind.
Though people may have different ideas about it and different ways of describing it, at this moment in history the essence of every struggle for a better life is objectively the struggle for communism. Communism is not just an idea, but the practical resolution to immediate problems. Nationalization of health care is a matter of survival for millions. The people of Detroit must take over the water corporations or go without water in their homes.
Discussion Question 3: How is communism the practical solution to our problems?
People less than 60 years old have grown up under an unending barrage of anti- communist propaganda. This attack against communism has been powerful because it was linked to a steadily rising standard of living throughout the country. When thinking and activity are linked with rewards, we all become Pavlov’s dog. The physiologist Ivan Pavlov conducted experiments in which he would hit a dog and then feed it. As the dog was conditioned to this process, if it was hit and not fed, it would still go back to be hit again. We also have been hit and then fed by the capitalist system and its leaders. If we get hit and not fed, we tend to go back and to get hit again in hopes of being fed.
Following World War II, the United States entered a long period of economic growth at the expense of the colonial peoples of the world. Full employment and rising wages bribed the American working class into discarding the sympathy for communism that had developed during the Depression and World War II.
Understanding that the fundamentals have changed is of decisive importance. Anticommunist ideology united with a rising standard of living is one thing. Anti- communism linked with a declining standard of living is something else. Since the robot is more efficient than human labor the capitalist must fire the human and utilize the robot. By doing so, they strike at their indispensable base of political support. Our class enemy is losing its decisive advantage.
Discussion Question 4: Why has America been so anti-communist? Is anti-communism growing or shrinking among the people you know?
The material in this lesson is taken from:
The Future is Up To Us by Nelson Peery
Study Guide of the LA Culture Committee of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America