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The last two centuries have been characterized by the emergence of ideologies which have brought about potent political movements advocating for change and transformation of the government systems of the world. While some of these ideologies have been largely ignored and practiced by an inconsequential proportion of the population, there are those which have been widely embraced and used by states all over the world.
These varied political ideologies have differed in terms of their philosophies, policies and agendas. Arguably the most prevalent political ideology is democratic capitalism which is championed by the western world and is currently the most popular system in the world.
Revolutionary communism and democratic socialism are two other potent political ideologies. While communism remains to be a former shell of what it was in the past, democratic socialism still has a significant following though out the world. Both these political systems differ profoundly from the capitalist ideology which hugely favors the capital contributors in the society.
This paper will undertake a concise yet informative comparison between revolutionary communism and democratic socialism so as to arrive at a conclusion as to which of these systems is better off. The political questions on which these two movements agree as well as those which they disagree on will be articulated. A discussion on which of these systems offers a better government will also be presented.
Brief overview of Communism and Democratic Socialism
Communism by definition is a system or form of common life in which “the right to private or family property is abolished by law, mutual consent, or vow” (Woolsey 1). This definition parallels the ideals of socialism which are centered on giving power to the workers who not only form the majority but responsible for the creation of wealth.
Socialism therefore calls for them having an equal share to the profits that they help generate. Socialism and communism share some major characteristics with the major difference being that while socialism is only an economic system, communism is a political system.
Communists advocate for the socialist system which is characterized by centralized planning agencies and the single legal party. Notable Communist regimes are the collapsed Soviet Union and China. In these regimes, the single party is authorized to set goals and organize activities of the workers collectively as well as devise plans that balance the need to reward skilled workers against the need to prevent high income inequalities that characterized capitalist societies (Kornblum 479).
Socialism is regarded as the primitive stage of communism in which public ownership maintains a dominant position in the economy especially in key economic sectors. However, this system does not hold some of the radical views as expressed by the communism ideal.
As such, democratic socialism can be seen to be and evolved or precursor to the communism system which advocated for an absolutely socialist nation. Democratic Socialists believe that “both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few” (DSA). As such, the government structures that are set up under the capitalistic ideology out to be transformed so that the ordinary citizen has a greater say in decision making.
Arguably the most apparent similarity between social democracy and revolutionary communism is that both see capitalism as a grossly exploitative system that results in numerous social injustices (Schwartz and Schulman 4). Both of these political systems argue that capitalism inevitably gives rise to vast disparities of wealth as the working class’s efforts are used to make the wealth industry owners even wealthier.
Both systems blame industrial capitalism for destroying important human values such as compassion, religious believes and altruism among others and replacing them with naked exploitation as everything is based on money (Wren). The two systems also see capitalism as hugely undermining the individual’s sense of personal value since the working class who are responsible for creation of wealth are never paid or valued enough and instead, the wealth goes to the capital owners.
Both social democracies and revolutionary communism praise the efforts of the laborer who turns the raw materials into something of greater value and as such believe that he should play a bigger role in decision making. The very symbols of communism which are a hammer and a chisel reinforce the importance with which the working force is held in revolutionary communism.
Kornblum notes that Karl Marx, the acclaimed “Father of Communism” taught that the socialist state which communism sought to create would be controlled by the working class led by their own trade unions and political parties (479). Social democracies on the other hand advocate for an increase in the power that the worker has as well as an increase in the share that they receive from the profits since they are deemed to be the most important piece in the economy.
Social democrats and communists alike view capitalism as being socially unjust and somewhat undemocratic. While capitalism purports to be democratic in nature, Schweickart questions this proposition by highlighting the enormous role that money plays in contemporary elections and the fact that major media outlets which influx public opinion are owned by and controlled by the wealthy (8).
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As such, capitalism results in the elite being in power as a result of their enormous wealth and vested interests in media. Schwartz and Schulman note that while capitalism proposes an economic and political relationship that is free and private to all; this is not feasible since such a contract is not made among economic equals and as such, only the well off benefit (1).
A significant similarity between communist parties and social democratic parties is their relationships with trade unions. The BBC suggests that communist trade unions played a significant role in government and were used as the “communist party’s transmission belts” which increased the power of the communist regime.
Democratic socialists on the other hand back up trade unions and propose for the incorporation of democracy in industry which results in a situation whereby the workers are not only “drones” but play an active role in establishing their destiny. Democratic socialists continue to enjoy a close relationship with trade unions since they view building of strong trade unions and community organizations as the only means through which the imbalances that capitalism has created can be redressed (Schwartz and Schulman 4).
A significant difference between communism and democratic socialism is with regard to property ownership. In communism, the private ownership of property is abolished in favor of public property which is run by the state for the good of all the people.
As such, changes to communist regimes are characterized by the widespread repossession of land and property from the rich and a management of the same by the state. On the other hand, social democracy does not call for the abolishment of private property but rather believes that the public should have some measure of control on the use of property.
This is in line with the democratic socialism belief that private property may exist at the same time that large corporations are owned by the state and run for the benefit of all citizens (Kornblum 478). Social democracies advocate for the promotion of majority social ownership in which there exists a property-owning working class. Guo notes that social democracies propose a system whereby stock ownership by individual workers is the main form of public ownership in the society (124).
Another difference between democratic socialism and communisms is in their idea of how the change into their political ideals can be made. Revolutionary communism holds it that the capitalism would never let go of their hold on community and political power and as such, only a violent revolution can result in the changes that communism calls for.
The 1917 Bolshevik revolution that threw off the Czar in Russia and led to the establishment of a communism state were marred with violent uprisings. This revolt was led by the workers and the peasants just as the communism mandate proposes that such revolutions would occur. The socialist revolution that occurred in china also had a violent history with little sympathy being shown to the “bourgeois democracy” that had once ruled the nation.
Social democracy on the other hand believes that the changes they propose for the society can occur through an evolutionary process that follows the democratic means that are a part of our modern society. The prevalence for following of democracy by social democrats is evident with most European countries having parties which identify themselves as social democrats.
Social democracy and communism also show huge differences in the economic model that they follow. Communism follows the non-market, centrally-planned economy. Schweickart notes that modern day social democracies have distanced themselves from this economic model and rather follow a post capitalistic economy that “retains market completion, but socializes the means of production and in some instances extends democracy to the workplace” (9).
This difference in their economic outlook can be best articulated in the difference between the socialist principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work” to the communist principle of “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs” (Bornstein and Fusfeld 117).
While both revolutionary communism and democratic socialism continue to play second fiddle to capitalism, both are influential ideologies. The demise of the Soviet Union was without a doubt a major blow to communism and Ziblatt notes that the collapse of communism presented a significant challenge to the ruling communist parties of East Central European as they lacked the central leadership, Moscow (123).
As such, most of these parties reinvented themselves as social democratic parties. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many parties which were once socialist began to distance themselves from the socialism as it was traditionally understood and reinvented themselves as social democratic parties
Guo notes that while the European social democrats have been criticized by most of the capitalism oriented parties, this has changed with time and in the recent years, these former critics are gradually endorsing the ideas of the social democrats (127).
Firm believers of democratic socialism such as Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez hold it that only this political system can solve the world problems and bring about social justice and prosperity for all. This is a sentiment that has sound theoretic backing since social democracy combines the best from the major political ideologies of the world namely; capitalism and communism.
While most people deride communism and social democracies as being undemocratic, the New York Times notes that capitalism as well comes in various forms and in the same manner that a communism or socialist state might fail to be democratic, capitalism is not necessarily democratic as was the case with Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy.
As such, each ideology should be taken on merit and the making of generalizations should be avoided at all costs. The communism ideal has long lost popularity and communist parties remain unpopular in post-communist democracies. However, their significance in certain organizations such as trade unions remains strong and as such; their influence can still be felt.
Inequality has been universally acknowledged as a major roadblock in the way for economic and social prosperity. Political ideologies propose to solve this by coming up with systems that income inequality is diminished or ideally done away with therefore leading to a utopian society. This paper set out to perform a critical comparison of two political ideologies; Communism and Democratic Socialism, both of which propose to do away mitigate social ills therefore leading to a harmonious society.
From this paper, it has been seen that both this systems have a lot of similarities and that communism is in fact a more evolved form of democratic socialism.
From the arguments presented in this paper, it can be seen that at the present time, democratic socialism is not only more feasible but presents the best system of governance. This is because the absolute equality and communal ownership that communism advances may never be achieved in the world but the ideals that Democratic socialists’ advances are achievable in the present time.
DSA. Democratic Socialists of America. 2007. Web.
Guo, Baogang. “Old Paradigms, New Paradigms, and Democratic Changes in China.” Journal of Chinese political science, 2008.
Kornblum, William. Sociology in a Changing World. Cengage Learning, 2007.
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Sackur, Stephen. President Chavez’s socialist world vision. 14 June 2010. Web.
Schwartz, Joseph and Schulman, Jason. Towards Freedom: Democratic Socialist Theory and Practice.
Schweickart, David. Democratic Socialism Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice Sage Reference Project. Sage, 2006.
Woolsey, Dwight. Communism and Socialism in Their History and Theory: A Sketch. BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2009.
Wren, Christopher. Communists Meet in South Africa. 06 Dec 1991. Web.
Ziblatt, Daniel. “The Adaptation of Ex-Communist Parties to Post-Communist East Central Europe: a Comparative Study of the East German and Hungarian Ex-Communist Parties.” Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 119–137, 1998.