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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. And to understand communism-- let me just draw a spectrum here. So I'm going to start with capitalism. And this is really just going to 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 could progress to socialism. And then we can go to communism. And 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 1800s, who, in his Communist Manifesto and other writings, kind of created the philosophical underpinnings for communism. And Vladimir Lenin, who led the Bolshevik Revolution in the-- 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. And we'll talk about that in a second. But first, let's talk about the philosophical differences between these things, and how you would move. And 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-- is that you have private property, private ownership of land. That's the main aspect of capitalism. And this is the world that most of us live in today. The problem that he saw with capitalism is he thought, well, look, when you have private property, the people who start accumulating some capital-- and when we talk about capital, we could be talking about land, we could be talking about factories, we could be talking about any type of natural resources-- so the people who start getting a little bit of them-- so let me draw a little diagram here. So let's say someone has a little bit of capital. And that capital could be a factory, or it could be land. So let me write it. Capital. And let's just say it's land. So let's say someone starts to own a little bit of land. And he owns more than everyone else. So then you just have a bunch of other people who don't own land. But they need, essentially-- and since this guy owns all the land, they've 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, you have all of these laborers who don't have as much capital. This guy has this capital. And so he can make these laborers 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 laborers 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 too much about, well, maybe the competition could go the other way. Maybe you could have a reality eventually where you have a bunch of people with reasonable amounts of capital, and you have a bunch of laborers. And the bunch of people would compete for the laborers, and maybe the laborers could make their wages go up, and they could eventually accumulate their own capital. They could eventually start their own small businesses. So he really didn't think about this reality too much over here. He just saw this reality. And to his defense-- and I don't want to get in the habit of defending Karl Marx too much-- to his defense, this is what was happening in the late 1800s, especially-- we have the Industrial Revolution. Even in the United States, you did have kind of-- Mark Twain called it the Gilded Age. You have these industrialists who did accumulate huge amounts of capital. They really did have a lot of the leverage relative to the laborers. And so what Karl Marx says, well, look, if the guy with all the capital has all the leverage, and this whole arrangement makes some profits, he's going to be able to keep the profits. Because he can keep all of these dudes' wages low. And so what's going to happen is that the guy with the capital is just going to end up with more capital. And he's going to have even more leverage. And he'll be able to keep these people on 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 strike 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 in 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-- or this is 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 were 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 really give a lot of credit to saying maybe they did have some skill in managing some type of an operation. But the other problem is 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, or from parent to a child. And 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 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 revolutions. So another principle of moving in the socialist direction is kind of a redistribution of wealth. So let me write it over here. So redistribution. So in socialism, you can still have private property. But the government takes a bigger role. So you have-- 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 a sudden starts to become in the hands of the government, or in the words of 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. And then you keep-- if you take these ideas to their natural conclusion, you get to the theoretical communist state. And the theoretical communist state is a classless, and maybe even a little bit-- 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 had classes. You had the class that owns the capital, and then you had the labor class, and you have all of these divisions, and they're different from each other. He didn't really imagine a world that maybe a laborer could get out of this, they could get their own capital, then maybe they could start their own business. So he just saw this tension would eventually to socialism, and eventually a classless society where you have a central-- Well, he didn't even go too much into the details but you have kind of equal, everyone in 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. And so the current version of communism that we-- The current thing that most of us view as communism is sometimes viewed as a Marxist-Leninist state. 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's 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's this very utopian thing. Let me write that down. So 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 these kind of rich, diverse, fulfilling lives. And it's also, utopian is also kind of viewed as unrealistic. It's kind of, if you view it in the more negative light, is like, hey, I don't know how we'll ever be able to get there. Who knows? I don't want to be negative about it. Maybe we will one day get 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 have to actually run a government. They have to actually run a state based on these ideas of communism. And 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. So you need this-- and he calls this the Vanguard Party. So the vanguard is kind of the thing that's leading, the one that's leading the march. So this Vanguard Party that kind of creates this constant state of revolution, and its whole job is to guide society, is 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 it's this Vanguard Party, which is usually called the Communist Party, is in a constant state of revolution, kind of saying, hey, we're shepherding 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 kind of 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 that how do you know that they actually are acting in the interest of people? How do you know that they actually are 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, the largest existing communist state is the People's Republic of China. And although it is controlled by the Communist Party, in economic terms it's really not that communist anymore. And so it can be confusing. And so what I want to do is draw a little bit of a spectrum. On the vertical axis, over here, I want to put democratic. And up here, I'll put authoritarian or totalitarian. Let me put-- well, I'll put authoritarian. I'll do another video on the difference. And they're similar. And totalitarian is more an extreme form of authoritarian, where the government controls everything. And you have a few people controlling everything and it's very non-democratic. But authoritarian is kind of along those directions. And then on this spectrum, we have the capitalism, socialism, and communism. So the United States, I would put-- I would put the United States someplace 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 market, so I'd stick 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 there. So this was the-- I would put the USSR right over there. I would put the current state of Russia, actually someplace 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 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 kind of strong safety nets for people. So you could put some elements of China-- and over here, closer to the left. And they are more-- 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 throw 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 labor laws, 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 though it is 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 with less of the Marxist going on. So in that way, it is more in the communist direction. So hopefully that clarifies what can sometimes be a confusing topic.