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Thread: Communism and Capitalism: True Opposites?

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Communism and Capitalism: True Opposites?

    Just some hurried thoughts in between numerous meetings, so bear with me if this is a bit jumbled.

    I've been listening to a lot of US news lately, owing to the resumption of my long commute and the fact that talk radio is the only bearable option on the dial. One of my local stations does conservative commentary in the morning, liberal in the afternoon. Something has struck me about the way "capitalism" and "socialism" are used in daily discourse, namely that they are entirely inconsistent in their definitions. And I don't just mean the obvious, that the two "parties" interpret these things differently. I mean that even the same speaker will seem to use one of these words differently depending on the situation. Sometimes "Capitalism" is spoken of as a sort of force, for instance, maybe even an agent with a will of its own that defies the expectations or intentions of those connected to it. Other times, it is spoken of as though it were a question of government policy; that a nation-state has to both choose and continually create it in order to exist, and they could change their mind at any time given that they have the desire. Sometimes it is a relational entity, a broker of sorts between socioeconomic classes, while at other times it is a purely material entity, whose relevance is controlled not by class but by individual attainment. Similarly, socialism seems to wear an awful lot of masks, as I'm sure anyone who has read this far into the thread already knows, as we spar about it on this forum frequently.

    But..

    I did notice one extremely consistent semiotic trend, and that is how they are positioned relative to one another. It seems to me that there is a key metaphor, a master plan of economic potential, that is present whenever Americans are talking about money and government, and that is the construct of Capitalism vs. Communism. The impression one might get is that there are essentially two possible extremes into which a modern economy might fall, with CAPITALISM occupying one far end, and COMMUNISM occupying the other. Countries and communities seem to be placed on a sliding scale somewhere in between these two extremes regardless of whether they had either philosophy in mind when their system was designed, or whether it was consciously designed at all. "Socialism" floats in the symbolic space in between the extremes, drifting closer or farther away from the communist end depending on who the speaker is and more crucially what they are talking about. This is treated as a scalar but antonymic binary; while you might not belong to a "pure" category, nevertheless the more Capitalist you are, the less Communist you are, and vice versa, in all possible cases. Socialism from a semantic point of view allows for navigation of the middle ground without violation of the binary, much as we invent new terms to navigate the space between other perceived binaries such as gender or moral conduct. Regardless of political or philosophical sympathy, this basic metaphor seems to be almost universally used.

    Some possible questions for discussion:

    1. What the hell are Capitalism and Communism? Do they exist in tangible, quantitative reality or are they categorical constructs whose purpose is primarily discursive? Is all of this Marx's fault for offering a compelling model for talking about economies?

    2. Am I right about the way Americans tend to construct the key metaphor of economic life? For residents of other places, does this hold true for the way other nations discuss economies?

    3. Are these true opposites? Is one, in fact, capitalist only and exactly to the extent that one is not communist, and vice versa? (examples: Does China necessarily become "less communist" if it encourages free market activity? Does the U.S. become "more communist" every time it introduces a new market regulation?)

    4. What should we do with "socialism"?
    Last edited by Politesse; 08-30-2019 at 04:08 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    1. What the hell are Capitalism, Communism, and Socialism? Do they exist in tangible, quantitative reality or are they categorical constructs whose purpose is primarily discursive?
    That. To properly answer this question you'd need an essay, but in short I don't think the term 'capitalism' actually points to anything besides maybe being a kind of indicator of who we are. People capitalize, the result is often economies where we don't discourage capitalizing. Whereas socialism is a kind of ideal - who we want to be - that's been set forth by the Marxist tradition, reality be damned.

    In practice these terms don't come close to encapsulating what's actually happening, and are usually used politically by people who spend their weekends watching Netflix, and who haven't been in a library since elementary school.

    2. Am I right about the way Americans tend to construct the key metaphor of economic life? For residents of other places, does this hold true for the way other nations discuss economies?
    I'd say yes

    3. Are these true opposites? Is one, in fact, capitalist only and exactly to the extent that one is not communist, and vice versa?
    That seems to be the way the dichotomy is framed, and what exists in the overton window right now. But I'd say the reality is much more complex.

    For starters, communism is a nonsense idea and shouldn't exist in our discourse at all. And the term capitalism needs much more subtlety as to what it actually is, and how it arises, and what genuine alternatives are.

    4. What should we do with "socialism"?
    Not sure what you mean here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post

    1. What the hell are Capitalism and Communism? Do they exist in tangible, quantitative reality or are they categorical constructs whose purpose is primarily discursive? Is all of this Marx's fault for offering a compelling model for talking about economies?
    If we ignore how people misuse the terms:

    ... Capitalism is an economic system in which individuals own and control businesses (means of production according to Marx).

    ... Socialism is an economic system in which all businesses (means of production according to Marx) are owned and controlled by the government.

    ... Communism is Marx's wet dream where socialism evolves into a system where government dissolves and vanishes leaving all means of production to be shared by the people communally with no private ownership and no controlling government.
    Last edited by skepticalbip; 08-30-2019 at 04:57 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skepticalbip View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post

    1. What the hell are Capitalism and Communism? Do they exist in tangible, quantitative reality or are they categorical constructs whose purpose is primarily discursive? Is all of this Marx's fault for offering a compelling model for talking about economies?
    If we ignore how people misuse the terms:

    ... Capitalism is an economic system in which individuals own and control businesses (means of production according to Marx).

    ... Socialism is an economic system in which all businesses (means of production according to Marx) are owned and controlled by the government.

    ... Communism is Marx's wet dream where socialism evolves into a system where government dissolves and vanishes leaving all means of production to be shared by the people communally with no private ownership and no controlling government.
    My qualm with the definitions: yes, these are the meanings of the the terms as usually used, but they're all simplistic, pseudo-scientific, and not representative of how our economies spring forth, what they are, or how they persist. So we shouldn't be debating what these terms mean, we should completely do away with them as meaningful to modern discourse.

    Unfortunately they're what's set the framework on how people normally understand economics, and it's nauseating.

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    On a broader, philosophical level those who like capitalism are actually those who prefer to acquire wealth at the expense of others, those who like socialism are those who prefer to spread resources at the expense of the individual. Both of these philosophies are essential to human nature - on one hand acquiring resources to raise offspring is literally what it means to be a living thing. On the other hand, spreading resources among a community creates the conditions for individuals to excel.

    So there's a tension there and society works the best when both forces are balanced, which is actually what we see in most nations with a normal history.

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    The basic dichotomy is the emphsos on individual rights, ownership of peoperty/goods, and the nature of the economy. There are no black and white examples. In the USA we consider France socialist. Govt is a shaeholer in major business.


    Free market capitalism – Private ownership of propert, manufacturing, busness, and cpital. Individual rightsn over the state. Little govt interferunce in busness.

    Communiam – Common ownership of the means of production. Profit does not exisr. Stae/tribe over the individual’ The Ruddian and Chinese experiments in communism. Production, wages, and prices set by the state. North Korea is a prime economic example.

    Socialism – A mixed economy. China today is more socialist than communist. The state controls the economy with some individualeterprise and ownership of property. International Chinese athlets are not permitted to keep all theur easrnings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    3. Are these true opposites? Is one, in fact, capitalist only and exactly to the extent that one is not communist, and vice versa? (examples: Does China necessarily become "less communist" if it encourages free market activity? Does the U.S. become "more communist" every time it introduces a new market regulation?)
    No, no, yes, and no. Capitalism and communism are just two kinds of economy; there are many others. For example, there are feudalism, other kinds of slave-based production, hunting and gathering, slash and burn agriculture, caste systems, and mercantilism. They all conflict with one another to various extents, so your economy becoming more of type A generally makes it less of type B, but the converse doesn't follow -- becoming less of type A doesn't need to make it more of type B since it might instead be becoming more of type C. When the U.S. introduces a new market regulation it usually makes us more mercantilist, not more communist.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    On a broader, philosophical level those who like capitalism are actually those who prefer to acquire wealth at the expense of others
    This is an insulting story opponents of capitalism tell themselves about those who like capitalism, to justify looking down on us, much like "Atheists are actually those who are mad at God." It has a certain logic to it from the point of view of the accusers' world-view, much as Christians who imagine they see evidence for God everywhere they look are dumbfounded at how anyone could genuinely be an atheist, and therefore need a psychological explanation for unbelievers. The corresponding false premise at the center of many anticapitalists' worldview is the intuitive conviction that economics is a zero-sum game and consequently acquiring wealth is necessarily at the expense of others. This is so subconsciously wired into many people's mentality that they're dumbfounded at how anyone could genuinely disagree with it. So they logically infer that those who like the acquisition of wealth like doing it at the expense of others. But it isn't true. Just as there isn't really evidence for God anywhere Christians look, economics isn't really a zero-sum game. The whole point of capitalism is to invent and implement win-win solutions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bomb#20 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    On a broader, philosophical level those who like capitalism are actually those who prefer to acquire wealth at the expense of others
    This is an insulting story opponents of capitalism tell themselves about those who like capitalism, to justify looking down on us, much like "Atheists are actually those who are mad at God." It has a certain logic to it from the point of view of the accusers' world-view, much as Christians who imagine they see evidence for God everywhere they look are dumbfounded at how anyone could genuinely be an atheist, and therefore need a psychological explanation for unbelievers. The corresponding false premise at the center of many anticapitalists' worldview is the intuitive conviction that economics is a zero-sum game and consequently acquiring wealth is necessarily at the expense of others. This is so subconsciously wired into many people's mentality that they're dumbfounded at how anyone could genuinely disagree with it. So they logically infer that those who like the acquisition of wealth like doing it at the expense of others. But it isn't true. Just as there isn't really evidence for God anywhere Christians look, economics isn't really a zero-sum game. The whole point of capitalism is to invent and implement win-win solutions.
    Ok, I'll grant you this. My 'philosophies' were a bit simplistic, but they point toward a central point that you didn't address.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by skepticalbip View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post

    1. What the hell are Capitalism and Communism? Do they exist in tangible, quantitative reality or are they categorical constructs whose purpose is primarily discursive? Is all of this Marx's fault for offering a compelling model for talking about economies?
    If we ignore how people misuse the terms:

    ... Capitalism is an economic system in which individuals own and control businesses (means of production according to Marx).

    ... Socialism is an economic system in which all businesses (means of production according to Marx) are owned and controlled by the government.

    ... Communism is Marx's wet dream where socialism evolves into a system where government dissolves and vanishes leaving all means of production to be shared by the people communally with no private ownership and no controlling government.
    My qualm with the definitions: yes, these are the meanings of the the terms as usually used, but they're all simplistic, pseudo-scientific, and not representative of how our economies spring forth, what they are, or how they persist. So we shouldn't be debating what these terms mean, we should completely do away with them as meaningful to modern discourse.

    Unfortunately they're what's set the framework on how people normally understand economics, and it's nauseating.
    How so? His post is absolutely correct. How is it "pseudo-scientific"?

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