Communism: Values and Attitudes

A system of government brought about by a worker's revolution that would take power away from the middle class. The result would be a government that ran factories and businesses for the benefit of the workers, ending the system of labour for private profit. In its ideal form communism would lead eventually to a state of perfect equality, freedom and self-fulfilment for all people. Communists believe that history is the story of conflict between social classes – each class being a group of individuals with similar economic interests. They believe that there had always been one class that oppressed and exploited the rest of society. Communists believe that capitalist society concentrated power in the hands of businessmen and factory owners. Communists believed that these people built up wealth through exploiting the industrial working class by paying them much less for their work than the things they produced were worth, and then taking the profits for themselves. They believed that this exploited working class was destined one day to seize control of the state, ending the capitalist system of exploitation of the workers by the businessmen and factory owners. Once in power the workers would control the economy and end the system of labour for private profit. Communists believed they would build a world in which everyone was equal and had all their needs fulfilled. Communists believe that no one should own private property and that life should be based on equality, justice and cooperation. A communist society would be one in which no one had more money or property than anyone else. In the ideal communist world, there would be no more need of police, law courts or armies. The collective life of a society is emphasized instead of capitalism's emphasis on the private life of individuals and families.

The 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia set the pattern for the communist style of government. A single political party – the Communist Party – held a monopoly of power in all areas of society. There were no democratic elections. Its mission was to transform society in line with communist ideas. Education, culture and the media were all placed under strict party control and used to provide propaganda for the revolutionary cause. Communists in power in the USSR (the term for the countries of the former Russian Empire living under communist rule) partly achieved their dream. Industry, banking, trade and land were taken out of the hands of the businessmen and factory owners and put under state ownership. Instead of a free market economy, in which goods are produced for profit and sold for whatever price they will fetch, there was a state-controlled economy. Prices and wages were fixed by the state, and resources – labour, capital and raw materials – were allocated as the state saw fit.

Once in power communists succeeded at some things. They ensured everyone received an education and improved health care. They treated women with more equality. They also eliminated the risk of unemployment and ensured that the basics of life were affordable for everyone. However, in other ways they struggled to create societies that lived up to their ideals. Communists created states with immense power over the individual. Citizens in single-party systems had no right to vote for an alternative government if they did not like the one in power, nor did they generally even have the right to protest or argue against the government. This encouraged abuses of power and corruption. Communist governments frequently used the power of the state ruthlessly to crush real or supposed enemies of the system and to control the population. Freedom of thought and expression was limited and religious believers and artists were persecuted. With the state in control of economic life, the lack of a free market led to failing economies. For example, consumer goods such as washing machines were often of very poor quality because the people who made them did not stand to make a profit if they sold more, so could not care less whether customers were satisfied or not. Communist economies struggled to create incentives for workers to be more productive. By the late 1980s the failure of the major communist economies of China and Russia led them to increasingly turn to capitalist systems of government. China remains the last major communist power in the 2000s.