Capitalism, socialism and communism are not mutually exclusive.

As I have mentioned in the past, capitalism, socialism and communism are words used to designate strategies that the State uses in order to co-opt the rich and/or powerful elements in a given society. These three strategies are:

Capitalism- Work with them. Establish the corporate hierarchies and support them. Finance the intelligentsia so they tell people what you want them to say. Use this financial control to co-opt any opposition.

Socialism (mixed economy)- Control them. Redistribute wealth in accordance with political goals (such as the expansion of the welfare class and the dominance of nationalized industries). This is the ideal of the government as bureaucratic planner of society: man proposes, the State disposes.

Communism- Replace them. Take over the economy and society as a whole by force. Imprison or kill any opposition.

To a certain extent, they do exclude each other. A government cannot be 100% capitalist and anything else, or 100% socialist and anything else, or 100% communist and anything else. But certainly it is possible for a government to use these three strategies in different areas or in different processes. To make an analogy, I cannot try to convert you to any idea by exclusively using physical force, and at the same time exclusively by using lies, but I can scream lies at you while I’m punching you.

No one will disagree that the United States government is highly capitalistic. However, it also has a fairly high degree of communism. If we look at the ten planks of the Communist Manifesto, we can observe that many of them have already been fulfilled in the Western World, in part or in full:

* Abolition of property in land and application of all rents to public purposes. (partially fulfilled- it is certainly true that the government claims to own all the land and acts as such)

* A heavily progressive or graduated income tax. (only partially fulfilled- the government does pretend to impose progressive taxation, but in reality the whole of government taxation is regressive)

* Abolition of all rights of inheritance. (partially fulfilled by inheritance taxes)

* Confiscation of the property of emigrants and rebels. (partially fulfilled)

* Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. (fulfilled completely)

* Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies. (partially fulfilled by coercive unions)

* Free “education” for all children in public schools. (mostly fulfilled- at least the goal of general indoctrination, given that even “private” schools have to follow the government’s curriculum)

So it is quite possible for a government to both use capitalist oppression and communist oppression as strategies, as we observe this in the United States government. Of course, it’s impossible to quantify, but we can say that it has extremely high capitalism, and moderate levels of socialism and communism. Other Western governmens have higher levels of socialism and communism, while not necessarily having much lower levels of capitalism.

In essence the total of all these strategies can be simply called “oppression.” The more oppressive a government is, the higher it will rate on the total of the three strategies. And no government, of course, can exist without any of these three (if only because it needs taxation to survive and force to keep its monopolies).

This analysis leads me to believe that Anarchists need to rethink the assumed exclusive nature of capitalism, socialism and communism. Rather than seeing them as a gradient (this system is capitalist, this system is part capitalist and part socialist, this system is communist, etc), we should regard them as a set of three metrics that are loosely interrelated. In this way, we can better understand the strategies that the State uses to co-opt society, as well as how to formulate our opposition to the general public.

4 thoughts on “Capitalism, socialism and communism are not mutually exclusive.

  1. […] Capitalism, socialism and communism are not mutually exclusive. « Check Your Premises […]

  2. […] Note that I do not exclude either side from this fault. The badly-named “Anarcho-Capitalism” and “Anarcho-Socialism” both suffer from it. Of course, both sides insist that their name means something else, talk about the history of the terms, and discuss what this or that prominent thinker said on the subject. This is all flummery designed to trick you into realizing that they are using the term in a different way than is understood by everyone else. Capitalism and socialism are properly understood as two different systems of State exploitation, and thus can have nothing to do with Anarchy. The Anarchist economic system is radically different from capitalism, socialism and communism, especially when we consider that these are all merely extensions of one another, and co-exist as parts of the statist domination stra… […]

  3. Alderson Warm-Fork April 3, 2009 at 17:26

    “Anarchists need to rethink the assumed exclusive nature of capitalism, socialism and communism”

    You rather seem to be offering fairly new definitions of these three words, and then suggesting that people should re-think their use of the old definitions.

    For example, you define ‘capitalism’ in terms of a strategy by which the state relates itself to elements of society. Traditionally, capitalism has been defined as a social system characterised by (some cluster of) private ownership of the means of production, production of commodities (in a specific sense) for the market, and the presence and prominence of a ‘capitalist’ class, defined in terms of capital, investment, employment, profit, etc.

    Similarly, you define communism not as ‘a moneyless classless society’, or ‘a society without private property’ but by things like ‘the state imprisoning and killing its opponents’, or ‘state direction of the economy’. That last bit is perhaps what many people would understand by the term, but it’s not what most communists would, or what it has traditionally been defined as.

    I may have missed the argument somewhere else, but why should people accept your definitions of these words in place of the (admittedly tangled) meanings that already exist?

  4. Francois Tremblay April 3, 2009 at 17:32

    Yea, I wrote that entry a while ago. I’ve changed my mind since then.

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