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Communism and Socialism are misunderstood

Communism: misrepresented and misunderstood. Popularly shared accounts of ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ tend to be straw men which do not adequately represent Leftist accounts of political, economic and social issues in general. The often repeated tropes of “There is no incentive to work within a socialist society” and “All they want is everyone to get the same thing” are delivered via analogies and stories which grossly oversimplify Leftist criticisms. These arguments limit the conversation and perpetuate myths about the current state of affairs, preventing productive discourse even within the main stream about issues of exploitation and inequality.

A story passed around on social media sites is representative of the problem. The story recounts the tale of a professor who seeks to teach his leftist students the error of their ways by showing them the inherent failures of ‘Communism’ or ‘Socialism’ once and for all. The professor demonstrates the ludicrous nature of such groups by proposing to average out the grades of an entire class, such that all his pesky pinko students might be satisfied. Much to their surprise, the overall class grade began to drop from test to test because the lazy ceased to study, presuming that they could rely on the work of others, and soon the number of lazy students increased and all succumbed to the temptation of slacking until the grade of the class dropped to an F. Thus the intrepid professor exposes the foolish enterprise of Socialism for the apathy and indolence inducing ideology it is.

The issue is that the analogy, along with many other purported refutations of ‘Communism’ and ‘Socialism,’ fails to represent the nature of these groups and what they advocate for. This story reflects the persistent fallacies which are perpetuated in discussions of Leftist anti-capitalist ideologies. First, it makes an error by conflating countless ideologies into one vague entity without reference to actually proposed concepts and theory. Such groups, were their voices to be properly heard and conveyed, would talk not of averaging the income of all workers, or the grades of the class, and would instead discuss reorganizing society such that: property and capital could not be accumulated and inherited privately and that workers have a direct relationship to the process of deciding their own working conditions and were in possession of the ‘means’ of production and the products of their labor and so on. As one joke goes, it is not that they “Want a bigger piece of the pie.” but the bakery itself.

With these clarifications in mind it might become confusing to see precisely what it is that the groups in question advocate for in such a hypothetical classroom. How could a classroom possibly convey the relationship between and individual and the economy? This depiction is inconsistent when scrutinized, for one can see plainly that grades cannot be accumulated or inherited. The analogy is, to its core, misleading.

It would be valuable to examine precisely what presumptions are at play in the formation of this analogy, and what flaws in understanding they betray. It is presumed and implied in most retellings of this tale and others that, either, the current system, or the one to which its tellers seek to return to is such a classroom, where there exists equality of opportunity and a direct relationship between work and compensation. This is, of course, not the case. The analogy of the classroom, like other bifurcations of ‘Communism vs. Capitalism’ ignores the reality of exploited groups and attempts to affirm the myth that wealth is afforded to those who work hard, not acknowledging those workers at home and abroad whose exploitation allows for the affordability of consumer products, the productivity of a company, and the profit of those exploiting the labor of others. Nor does it acknowledge the privileges, and consequently, the disadvantages which many are assigned arbitrarily based on gender, race, class, sexuality and so on.

It is precisely these realities which are central to Leftist critiques of today’s global capitalism which are denied in the criticisms like that of the analogy of the classroom. The cost of such mischaracterizations is not only ignorance about a variety of perspectives, but also an inability to recognize relevant criticisms which such perspectives are concerned with and the pressing issues our society faces.

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Communism and Socialism are misunderstood