One must consider communism pros and cons before wading into recent rhetoric around the matter. With some cautioning the Red Scare is back, let’s dive in. To have news and analysis like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, simply sign up for our newsletter.
A Brief History of Communism
Before diving into communism pros and cons, let’s refresh. Communism is a political and economic ideology. It aims to create a classless society where one group owns means of production (land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship). In communist countries, the government represents the group. The government regulates the production of goods and services and distributes wealth based on need. Communism is the opposite of capitalism, which depends on private ownership.
German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels developed modern communist theory during the Industrial Revolution. They believed that poverty, disease, and premature death plaguing the working class were systemic consequences of capitalism. Their Communist Manifesto (1848) called for a revolt and public takeover of major industrial production means for the benefit of all.
Russia became the first communist government in 1917 and teamed with former territories to form the Soviet Union in 1922. Inspired by Russia’s revolution, the Communist Party of China formed in 1921 and took power in 1949. China remains a one-party state run by the Communist Party. However, it has moved toward a mixed-economy that allows for private business but still follows the government’s strict economic plan.
Now, let’s explore communism pros and cons.
First, the pros. One strength of communism is its ability to quickly mobilize a state’s economic resources to pursue a large-scale effort. In a communist economy, the central government sets the economic priorities and allocates resources accordingly. Proponents say that centralized control enables quicker, more coordinated responses to national emergencies, like wars and natural disasters. “Russia’s command economy built up the military strength to defeat the Nazis, and then quickly rebuilt the economy after World War II,” The Balance explains.
Another pro: communist theory prioritizes social welfare. Communist governments distribute resources based on economic and social priorities. As Marx famously asserted, economic output is best distributed “to each according to his need.” In practice, the government sets prices, wages and labor regulations. On the other side of the coin, supply and demand determine prices and wages in pure capitalistic systems. With respect to other matters, the Communist Manifesto called for free public education for all children and denounced the exploitation of women.
Lastly, communist systems are better able to maintain low levels of unemployment — or eliminate it altogether. The central government can reset wages and create new job openings to reach its desired unemployment rate. In contrast, a free market economy cannot be manipulated by a single entity, Investopedia notes.
Now, the disadvantages. First, communist systems discourage innovation. With enterprises facing limited to no competition, economic planners and business leaders are not incentivized to experiment or take risks. Additionally, with the central government asserting economic control, businesses and individuals are not motivated to maximize profits or seek new revenue streams.
Another con of communism: the lack of free market feedback. Without supply and demand highlighting what consumers need, want, and will pay, economic planners are forced to make blind guesses. This can lead to shortages of some commodities, surpluses of others, and missed opportunities. It can also prevent communist economies from competing at a global scale.
A lack of competition and market feedback can also exacerbate inefficiencies. “Production in command economies is notoriously inefficient as the government feels no pressure from competitors or price-conscious consumers to cut costs or streamline operations,” according to Investopedia.
Finally, communism prioritizes the good of the whole over the individual. Communist theory contends that an individual should contribute to society “according to his ability” — not according to personal interest. While supporters celebrate social cohesion within communist societies, they firmly limit freedom of speech, information, and the press.
What Both Sides Say
With communism pros and cons now established, what do both sides of the political aisle think?
Anti-communist hysteria overtook the country during the Cold War. Senate Republicans charged ahead with accusations, viewing Democrats as soft on communism.
Today, Republicans warn of a socialist takeover led by Democrats. Socialism leads to communism, conservatives caution. They call Medicare for All and the Green New Deal clear examples. Aligning Joe Biden with socialism was a key strategy of Trump’s re-election campaign.
Democrats are still on the defensive. While campaigning, Biden vowed to expand Obamacare and threw weight behind the Green New Deal. However, he vehemently rejected claims that his vision for America is socialist. Left-leaning pundits also call Republicans’ attacks a return to the Red Scare.
A progressive minority within the party — Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib — self-describe as democratic socialists.
However, providing welfare programs doesn’t make for a socialist state, one academic reminded NPR. “Democrats have tended, through regulation and other ways, to be more empowering of the federal government and in regulating the economy …” he said. “But in true socialism, “all sorts of other things are in state control, including the large sections of the private economy.”