HomeArticlesWhat Communists Don’t Know About “Real” Communism
January 3, 2023
What Communists Don’t Know About “Real” Communism
Communism isn’t a complex or esoteric political ideology. The men who quite literally wrote the blueprint for communism, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, were straightforward and open about what their vision for the future was. Despite Engels and Marx clearly writing in plain language what they stood for, modern-day Communists unwittingly rebuff their intellectual predecessors and argue for a world that is more akin to liberalism than the communism envisioned by Engels and Marx. This left-wing cognitive dissonance should be extremely obvious after reading Frederick Engels’ The Principles of Communism, an easy-to-understand and brief catechism that flies in the face of everything modern-day communists think they know about their own ideology.
The Principles of Communism
The main problem with capitalism, according to Engels, is that it leads to cyclical periods of “misery” where wealthy capitalists lay off workers after accidentally producing too much surplus, leading to starvation. As revealed later in the catechism, Engels is a proponent of surplus; here, he is merely arguing that surplus under capitalism leads to starvation and not that surplus is inherently bad.
“With production thus facilitated, the free competition, which is necessarily bound up with big industry, assumed the most extreme forms; a multitude of capitalists invaded industry, and, in a short while, more was produced than was needed. As a consequence, finished commodities could not be sold, and a so-called commercial crisis broke out. Factories had to be closed, their owners went bankrupt, and the workers were without bread. Deepest misery reigned everywhere.”
As anyone who has graduated 5th grade could tell you, it’s true that having a surplus will lead to lower prices and a loss of profit. Of course, this is not a failure of capitalism — businesses who make items that people do not want to buy should not succeed. As businesses sell off their excess supply at lower prices, they start to reach an equilibrium or market price, which will match market demand.
Regardless, it is this “misery” and mass starvation stemming from capitalism that Engels is seeking to eliminate once and for all. After all, “workers were without bread” during these periods of misery. If workers were to have bread, then there really is no other concrete reason for communism. This “misery” described by Engels is the only concrete reason for Communism.
In order to solve this misery, Engels proposed the abolition of private property and a Democratic government that would pursue 12 main measures, with four of them being given extra attention for the purpose of this article:
“Organization of labor or employment of proletarians on publicly owned land, in factories and workshops, with competition among the workers being abolished and with the factory owners, in so far as they still exist, being obliged to pay the same high wages as those paid by the state.”
“An equal obligation on all members of society to work until such time as private property has been completely abolished. Formation of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.”
“Increase in the number of national factories, workshops, railroads, ships; bringing new lands into cultivation and improvement of land already under cultivation – all in proportion to the growth of the capital and labor force at the disposal of the nation.”
“Construction, on public lands, of great palaces as communal dwellings for associated groups of citizens engaged in both industry and agriculture and combining in their way of life the advantages of urban and rural conditions while avoiding the one-sidedness and drawbacks of each.”
Engels added that “when all capital, all production, all exchange have been brought together in the hands of the nation, private property will disappear of its own accord, money will become superfluous, and production will so expand.”
Engels was also clear about the consequences of these measures. He argued that big business will need to expand rapidly once it is in the hands of the people. Engels scorned small businesses and small farms that did not produce enough for the “leap forward” that he envisioned. Family farms will inevitably need to be pushed aside for big business and huge factories.
“Big industry, freed from the pressure of private property, will undergo such an expansion that what we now see will seem as petty in comparison as manufacture seems when put beside the big industry of our own day. This development of industry will make available to society a sufficient mass of products to satisfy the needs of everyone. The same will be true of agriculture, which also suffers from the pressure of private property and is held back by the division of privately owned land into small parcels. Here, existing improvements and scientific procedures will be put into practice, with a resulting leap forward which will assure to society all the products it needs.”
Engels also envisioned a complete end to the idea of specialization and division of labor. Under communism, people will no longer have one job that they love to do. They will be required to learn every facet of the factory that they’re presumably forced to work in. In order for communism to work, Engels argued that people needed to be well-rounded and know “the system of production in its entirety.”
“People will no longer be, as they are today, subordinated to a single branch of production, bound to it, exploited by it; they will no longer develop one of their faculties at the expense of all others; they will no longer know only one branch, or one branch of a single branch, of production as a whole. Industry controlled by society as a whole, and operated according to a plan, presupposes well-rounded human beings, their faculties developed in balanced fashion, able to see the system of production in its entirety.”
In short, Engels envisioned a world of extreme growth and hyper industrialization where humans are meant to be working in commonly owned mega-factories to support this vision of extreme growth.
Nowadays, a person in America working a minimum wage job can buy 10 loaves of bread with just an hour of work even during the worst of times. It would seem like Communism is obsolete since the main material concern raised by Engels has been addressed. But let’s give the modern-day communists a chance to reconcile this problem by taking a look at the official program of the Communist Party USA.
“All working people are affected by the chronic crisis in rural America. Food prices are soaring, while family farmers, farm workers, and workers in food processing who place that bounty on our tables receive a shrinking share of the food dollar. Most of the wealth is flowing into the coffers of ADM, Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson, and other agribusiness giants. These leeches suck the lifeblood out of rural America, leaving farmers and rural communities to shrivel and die while delivering to the supermarkets and fast-food chains modified and processed foods of dubious safety and nutrition.”
That was the problem with food in America according to the Communist Party, and here is their proposed solution:
“We need federal programs that enable farmers to stay on their farms and encourage young people to go into farming. We need programs to stop rapacious real estate developers from gobbling up fertile farmland. The federal government must stop stalling and pay Black farmers the restitution ordered by a federal judge for a century of racist discrimination in farm loans.”
That is pretty much all the Communist Party USA has to say about food. Food security was Engels’ biggest concern, but the topic of food was relegated to a few sentences halfway through the modern-day Communist Party program after dozens of paragraphs about race and diversity and sodomy.
Regardless, let’s take a deeper look at what the Communist Party has suggested. Engels would undoubtedly approve of the criticism of private entities like Monsanto and Tyson, but that’s where the approval would end. Everything else that the Communist Party wrote is a defense of “family farmers,” otherwise known as bourgeoise landowners. According to Engels, the proletarian doesn’t even have “a little plot of land which he cultivated in his spare time,” so someone who makes money off of farming land in which they own is most certainly not a proletarian. Instead, they are bourgeoise.
Engels would also argue that the modern-day Communist Party is looking backward by suggesting landowners should keep their land and resist industrialization. Unlike the modern-day Communist Party, Engels would actually support the seizure of these farms (seizure by the government, not corporations) and would undoubtedly want commonly owned enterprises that are even bigger and even more aggressive than those of ADM, Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson, and others.
The Communist Party USA also touches on topics that were completely absent from the minds of Engels and Marx, such as climate change and environmentalism.
“Climate change is the most far-reaching symptom of the broader imbalance between humanity and the rest of nature. There are many environmental challenges: polluted water, air, and soil; respiratory and reproductive health problems; and disappearing animal and insect habitat, to name but a few. We are facing major adjustments to the balance between humanity and nature, which we can plan to address and ameliorate or suffer the brutal consequences of runaway CO2 levels: rising seas, more frequent and damaging weather events, and more droughts.”
Engels would scoff at this because he was only concerned about human life. According to Engels, humanity was at risk of starvation and misery because of capitalism. The answer, according to Engels, was a rapid expansion and further industrialization. If humanity really were at such a risk from capitalism, then the very last concern would be whether or not “insect habitats” were prioritized. This tacitly proves that communism is indeed obsolete because the very concerns that made communism necessary are nonexistent. If we are squabbling about insect habitats and anal sex, as modern-day Communists do, instead of starvation, then it seems like capitalism wasn’t actually as catastrophic as it was described. Regardless, this is simply not a communist concern and it’s contrary to what Engels envisioned.
The Communist Party USA also explained that they’d like to use “public funding” not for more factories or expansion, as Engels deemed necessary with starvation and misery around the corner, but for “artistic expression” and “demonstrations.”
Public funding can deepen our education about the important contributions of all peoples to our multicultural country. Many forms of artistic expression have a humanistic, democratic content—even some commercial art forms—and can and do contribute to the struggle against the extreme right. Many popular artists support progressive candidates, take pay cuts to appear in humanistic films, volunteer for fund-raising efforts for pro-people causes, make public statements about crucial political issues, and join demonstrations and marches.
Modern-day communists have this dream that under a communist regime they’d be able to make money weaving baskets or “teaching theory” or whatever form of “artistic expression” they want. In reality, communism does not support that lifestyle according to The Principles of Communism. Remember, people will not be “subordinated to a single branch of production” — instead, people will be required to be well-rounded and “see the system of production in its entirety.” In other words, you are not special, and you are not better than your neighbor; you will need to work in the factory and know its ins and outs just like everyone else. Specialization and division of labor are capitalist ideas which have contributed to the “misery” according to the Principles of Communism.
If you are not fond of manufacturing and industry, and you want to spend your free time weaving baskets or preaching theory or painting little pictures, then communism is not for you. Your ideology is actually capitalism. Through capitalism, craftsmen are now able to easily sell their products through services like Etsy, sophists are able to preach their “theory” to simpletons through services like YouTube, and artists able to sell their art to furries through services like ArtStation. Of course, this is not a value judgement on capitalism or an endorsement of those endeavors, but it is the objective truth.
What modern-day Communists want is not communism; they want a form of capitalism with regulations that cater to their vices.
Matthew Townsend is the editor-in-chief of Washington Echo. He's a historian that specializes in American history and political history. Townsend was raised in the Midwest and can trace his ancestry to England, Ireland, and Germany.