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Let's start with terminology. The one thing that defeats any serious discussion, here or anywhere, is different people using the same word to mean something different. Communist is quite likely to fall into the same trap.
I call on one of my few heroes to set the scene. Some people who worked on improving the use of English were organizers like Sir James Murray or Frederick Furnivall but one, H W Fowler, a teacher originally, was predominantly a writer. The first edition of his Modern English Usage has a useful note on the meanings of socialism, communism, anarchism. The note didn't survive any subsequent editor, sadly, but here it is and I commend it to the thread:"socialism, communism, anarchism": The things are not mutually exclusive; the words are not an exhaustive threefold division of anything; each stands for a state of things, or a striving after it, that differs much from that which we know; & for many of us, especially those who are comfortably at home in the world as it is, they have consequently come to be the positive, comparative, & superlative, distinguished not in kind but in degree only, of the terms of abuse applicable to those who would disturb our peace. Little can be done in the short space available in such a book as this to clear up vague notions; but it is something gained if we realize two facts, that we are dealing neither with three degrees of the same thing, nor with three independent parallel terms.
Whatever their relations to one another, all three have in common a dissatisfaction with society as it is, & the goal of equal opportunities for all. The socialist blames our organization into classes (especially those of capitalists & wage-earners), the communist blames private property, the anarchist blames government as such, for what they all alike find unsatisfactory. The anarchist remedy is to abolish the State & leave all relations between persons & groups to be established by maintained by free contract. The communist’s, on the contrary, is, by abolishing all private property, to make the State absolute master of the individual. The socialist’s is less simple; he may accept either of the apparently opposite methods of anarchist & communist as being the shortest way to his own end; that is, anarchism & communism are sometimes forms of socialism; or he may be content with something short of communism - not abolishing all property, but transferring the control of public services & the means of large industrial production to the State or the municipality. And further, it is not a case with him, as with the others, of all or nothing; abolition of the State or of private property is for them the condition precedent of improvement, & is not to be brought about except by revolution; but, for the socialist, every curtailment of privilege, every nationalization or municipalization of a particular service, is a step forward, worth taking for itself as well as for its contribution to the gradual progress; that is, the changes required by communism & anarchism are more abrupt & violent than what socialism need, but not than what it may, be actually striving to effect.
It should perhaps be added that not the comparative merit of three more or less different principles, but only the meaning of three often confused terms, is here in question.I'd be interested to hear Accountable compare his expressed libertarian ideals with Fowler's description of anarchy, I find them close.
What I take from Fowler is that socialism is essentially a process of gradual amendment of society, a chip here and a tap there. Anarchy might tolerate essential centralized functions but unwillingly. Communism has no tolerance for the private ownership of any means of production. I'd go further and say it holds all property in common: what I have I hold for the benefit of anyone who needs to use it. The objective of the anarchist is a society where each individual is untrammelled in the pursuit of the life he desires to live. The objective of the socialist is a society in which no person falls unwillingly below a defined minimum standard of living regardless of their ability or desire to contribute to society. The objective of the communist is to empower each individual to achieve their highest ability within that socialist setting.
The Soviets in Russia assumed that a communist state couldn't be constructed alongside alternative political forms. They built a one-party system and discovered the corrupting consequences such an environment brings with it. Fowler also implies that's the communist approach, too. I disagree. I think communism can be practised regardless of the overarching political environment. It involves a refusal to cooperate or participate with any prevailing capitalist culture, a willingness to share and cooperate with others of a like mind. In my opinion the Open Source movement is a pretty good example of communism in action, for example. I think more people will spend more of their time bringing their talents into that kind of productive setting and less of their time into a wage slavery context and that in a hundred years people will look back at Capitalism in incredulous scorn, embarrassment and contempt.
Who has a spare two minutes to play in this month's FG Trivia game!
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