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Overview of Communism and Marxist-Leninist states. Created by Sal Khan.
Video transcript
Thought I would do a video on Communism, just because I've been talking about it a bunch in the history videos, and I haven't given you a good definition of what it means or a good understanding of what it means. To understand Communism, let me just draw you a spectrum here. So, I'm just gonna start with Capitialism. This is really just gonna be an overview. People can do a whole PhD thesis on this type of thing. Capitalism and then I'll get a little bit more. And then we can progress to Socialism. And then we can go to Communism. The modern versions of Communism are really kind of the brainchild of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. Karl Marx was a German philosopher in the 1800's who in his communist manifesto and other writings, kind of created the philosophical underpinnings for Communism. And Vladimir Lenin who led the Bolshevik revolution and created essentially the Soviet Union. He's the first person to make some of Karl Marx's ideas more concrete. And really every nation or every country which we view as communist has really followed the pattern of Vladimir Lenin. We'll talk about that in a second. First let's talk about the philosophical differences between these things and how you would move. Karl Marx himself viewed Communism as kind of a progression from Capitalism through Socialism to Communism. So, what he saw in Capitalism and at least this part of what he saw was right You have private property, private ownership of land. That is the main aspect of Capitalism. This is the world that most of us live in today. The problem that he saw with Capitalism is, he thought, well look, you know when you have private property, the people who start accumulating some capital and when we talk about capital, we can be talking about land we can be talking about factories we can be talking about any type of natural resources So the people who start getting a little bit of them Let me draw a little diagram here. Let's say someone has a little bit of capital. That capital could be a factory or it could be land. Let me write capital. So let's just say it's land. So someone starts to own a little bit of land And he owns more than everyone else. So you just have a bunch of other people who don't own land, but they need it essentially. Since this guy owns all the land they got to work on this guy's land. They have to work on this guy's land. And from Karl Marx's point of view, he said look, if all of these labourers who don't have as much capital, this guy has this capital. And so he can make these labourers work for a very small wage. And so any excess profits that come out from this arrangement, the owner of the capital will be able to get it, because these labourers won't be able to get their wages to go up, because there's so much competition for them to work on this guy's farm or to work on this guy's land. He really didn't think to much about. Maybe the competition could go another way. Maybe you could have a reality where, maybe you could have a reality eventually you'd have a bunch of people with reasonable amount of capital. And you'd have a bunch of laborers. And the bunch of people would compete for the laborers. Maybe the laborers could make their wages go up. And they could eventually accumulate their own capital. And they could eventually start their own small businesses. He didn't really think about this reality too much over here. He just saw this reality and to his defense, and I don't want to get into the habit of defending Karl Marx too much. To his defense, this is what was happening in the late 1800's. Especially, you know, we have the industrial revolution. Even in the United States you did have kind of Mark Twain called it the gilded age. These industrialists who did accumulate huge amounts of capital they really did have a lot of the leverage relative to the laborers. And so Karl Marx says, look, if the guy with all the capital has all the leverage and this whole arrangement makes some profits, he is going to be able to keep the profits because he can keep all of these dudes' wages low. So what is going to happen is the guy with the capital is just going to end up with more capital. He is going to end up with more capital. And he is going to have even more leverage. And he will be able to keep this people on a kind of a basic wage so that they can never acquire capital for themselves. So, in Karl Marx's point of view, the natural progression would be for these people to start organizing. So these people maybe start organizing into unions. So they could collectively tell the person who owns the land or the factory "no, we're not going to work" or "we're going to go on strikes unless you increase our wages" or "unless you give us better working conditions". So when you start talking about this unionization stuff, you're starting to move into the direction of Socialism. The other element of moving in the direction of Socialism is that Karl Marx didn't like this kind of high concentration. Socialists in general I should say, didn't like this high concentration of wealth, that you have this reality of, not only do you have these people who could accumulate all of this wealth and maybe to some degree they're able to accumulate it because they were innovative or they were good managers of land, or whatever. Although the Marxists don't give a lot of credit to the owners of capital, they don't give a lot of credit to them. Maybe they did have some skill in managing some type of an operation. But the other problem is that it gets handed over it gets handed over to their offspring So, private property you have this situation where it just goes from, maybe, father to son from parent to a child, so it's not even based on any type of meritocracy. It's really just based on this inherited wealth and this is a problem, that you know, definitely happened in Europe when you go back to the French Revolution, you have generation after generation of nobility, regardless of how incompetent each generation would be they just had so much wealth that they were essentially in control of everything. And you had a bunch of people with no wealth having to work for them. And when you have that type of wealth disparity, it does lead to a kind of revolution. Another principle in moving into Socialist direction is kind of a redistribution of wealth. So let me write it over here. Redistribution. Redistribution. So, in Socialism you can still have private property but the government takes a bigger role Let me write this: larger government. And one of the roles of the government is to redistribute wealth and the government also starts having control of the major factors of production. So maybe the utilities, maybe some of the large factories that do major things all of the sudden start to become in the hands of the government or in the words of the Communists, in the hands of the people and the redistribution is going on, so, in theory, you don't have huge amounts of wealth in the hands of a few people. If you kind of take these ideas to their natural conclusion you get to the theoretical Communist state. And the theoretical Communist state is a classless society and in Karl Marx's point of view, and this is a little harder to imagine a stateless society So, in Capitalism you definitely have classes you had the class that owns the capital and then you had the labor class and you had all of these divisions and they are kind of diferent from each other and he didn't really imagine a world where labor maybe could get out of this that they could get their own capital maybe they could start their own business. So he just saw this tension would eventually lead to Socialism and eventually a classless society where you'd have a central, well he didn't go to much into the details you'd have kind of equal, everyone is society has ownership over everything and society somehow figures out where things should be allocated and all of the rest. And it's all stateless. And that's even harder to think about in a concrete fashion. So that's Karl Marx's view of things. But it never really became concrete until Vladimir Lenin shows up. So, the current version of Communism, the current thing that most of us view as Communism is sometimes viewed as Marxist-Leninist State Leninist. These are sometimes used interchangeably Marxism is kind of the pure Utopian, we're eventually going to get to a world where everyone is equal. Everyone is doing exactly what they want. There's an abundance of everything. I guess to some degree it is kind of describing what happens in Star Trek where everyone can go to a replicator and get what they want. And if you want to paint part of the day, you can paint part of the day. And you're not just a painter you can also do whatever you want. So it is this very Utopian thing. Let me write that down So Marxism, pure Marxism is kind of a Utopian society. And just in case you don't know what Utopian means, it's kind of a perfect society where you don't have classes. Everyone is equal, everyone is leading this kind of rich, diverse, fulfilling lives. And Utopia is also kind of viewed as unrealistic If you viewed it in the more negative light, it's like, I don't know how we will ever be able to get there, who knows? I don't want to be negative about it. Maybe we'll get one day to a Utopian society. But Leninist is kind of the more practical element of Communism. Because, obviously after the Bolshevik Revolution, 1917, in the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union gets created. They had to actually run a government. They had to actually run a state based on these ideas of Communism. In a Leninist philosophy, and this is where it starts to become in tension with the ideas of Democracy. In a Leninist philosophy you need this kind of a party system and he calls this Vanguard Party. So the Vanguard is kind of the thing that is leading that is leading the march. So, this Vanguard Party that kind of creates this constant state of revolution. And its whole job is to guide society. It's to kind of almost be the parent of society and take it from Capitalism through Socialism to this ideal state of Communism. And it's one of those things where the ideal state of Communism was never, it's kind of hard to know when you get there and so what happens in a Leninist state is that this Vanguard Party, which is usually called the Communist Party, is in a constant state of revolution kind of saying we are sheperding the people to some future state without a real clear definition of what that future state is. And so, when you talk about Marxist-Leninist besides talking about what's happening in the economic sphere, it's also talking about this party system, this party system where you really just have one dominant party that it will hopefully act in the interest of the people. So, one dominant Communist party that acts in the interest of the people. And obviously the negative here is, how do you know that they are really acting in the interest of people? How do you know that they are actually competent? What means are there to do anything if they are misallocating things? If it is corrupt? If you only have a one party system... And just to make it clear, you know, The largest existing Communist state is the People's Republic of China. And although it's controlled by the Communist party in economic terms it's really not that communist anymore. So it can be confusing. So what I want to do is draw a little bit of a spectrum. In the vertical axes over here I want to put Democratic Democratic. And up here I'll put Authoritarian Authoritarian or Totalitarian. Let me put Totalitarian. Well, I'll put Authoritarian. I'll do another video on the difference. Authoritarian and they're similar. Totalitarian is more of an extreme form of Authoritarian where the government controls everything and you have a few people controling everything it's very non-democratic Authoritarian is kind of along those directions. And then in this spectrum We have the Capitalism, Socialism and Communism. So the United States, I would put the United States some place over here. I would put the United States over here. It has some small elements of Socialism. You do have labor unions. They don't control everything. You also have people working outside of labor unions. It does have some elements of redistribution. There are inheritance taxes, there are... I mean it's not an extreme form of redistribution. You can still inherit private property. You still have safety nets for people. You have MediCare, MediCaid. You have welfare. So there's some elements of Socialism But it also has a very strong Capitalist history private property, deep markets. So I would stick to the United States over there. I would put the USSR, not current Russia, but the Soviet Union when it existed I would put the Soviet Union right about... I would put the Soviet Union right about there So this was the U... I'd put the USSR right over there. I'd put the current State of Russia actually... I'd put the current State of Russia some place over here. Because they actually have fewer safety nets and they kind of have a more...their economy can kind of go crazier and they actually have a bigger disparity in wealth than a place like the United States So this is.. This is current Russia And probably the most interesting one here is the People's Republic of China the current People's Republic of China which is at least on the surface a Communist state but in some ways it's more Capitalist than the United States in that they don't have strong wealth redistribution. They don't have strong safety nets for people. So, you could put some elements of China over here, closer to the left... and they are less democratic than either the US or even current Russia although some people would call current Russia... Well, I won't go too much into it But current China, you could draw it here a little bit So it could be even a little bit more Capitalist than the United States. Definitely they don't even have good labour laws and all the rest. But in other ways you do have state ownership of a lot. And you do have State control of a lot. So, in some ways they're kind of spanning this whole range. So, this right over here is China. And even thought it's called a Communist State, in some ways, it's more Capitalist than countries that are very proud of their Capitalism. But in a lot of other ways, especially with the government ownership and the government control of things and this one dominant party. So, it's kind of Leninist but with less of the Marxist going on. So, in that way it's more in the Communist direction. So, hopefully that clarifies what can sometimes be a confusing topic.