If asked, most people would likely declare that they know fairly well what the terms in the title mean. In the heat of the election year political debates, these terms are often used without much thought about their meaning. It happened to me that my opinion was perceived by different people as me advocating for all three of these political concepts. It appears that some people see all the evils in one of these three political concepts, and every time when they disagree with some political view, they label it as capitalistic, socialistic or communist - depending on their bias.
A historic view
Capitalism as a political system gradually has grown up in Europe since medieval times but it was about the middle of the 19th century when many people realized that, despite all of the technological progress, they could not accept the injustices of the social order associated with it. The term "capitalism" was a natural for naming a system where capital and the people enriched by it - capitalists - flourished. "The Communist Manifesto," published in 1848 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, is considered the pivotal moment in people starting to use the terms "capitalism," "socialism" and "communism" as descriptions of diverse political concepts. One should note that from the start, capitalism, as the existing political system, had a bad reputation, and socialism and communism as ideas of a better future were perceived as noble.
Later on, capitalism found its ideological defenders. On the economic side it would be the Austrian School of economic thought; on the philosophical end it would be the writings of Ayn Rand; and the followers of each. Correspondingly, in the 20th century, socialistic concepts were implemented in many countries, mostly with disappointing results. However, the original attitude that capitalism is bad and socialism is good still is lingering around, as all shortcomings of the capitalistic system are often interpreted as the evidence of its inalienable and deplorable faults, but all shortcomings of the socialistic system are interpreted as imperfections in implementations of an otherwise supreme political order.
Most people have only a vague understanding of the differences between communism and socialism and, incorrectly, these two terms are often used interchangeably. Marx and Engels in their critique of capitalism pointed out that ruthless competition and heartless pursuit of money are immoral as they create exploitation of the masses by the very few privileged ones. As an alternative, they envisioned a classless society, without hierarchy, without currency, without personal property, where people would work in harmony, resolve their problems in friendly discussions, produce enough goods and services, and where each would contribute according to his abilities and receive according to his needs. This community-centered form of social order is called communism.
In the classic view of communism, a communist society was the ultimate goal and destination for humankind. Followers of classic communism realized that it would be impossible to switch to communism directly from a capitalistic system they deemed immoral. They believed that society needed time for transition. During that transition, called socialism, the representatives of people should be in charge of the means of production, and guide the society toward communism. This was the essence of the very existence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. They had their Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but the longer they were in power, the less they talked about transition to communism. In China, their communist party ended up leading the transition to capitalism.
Communism as a political system never was implemented anywhere. Cuba was flirting with it within the first few years after the revolution. China tried to move in that direction during the Cultural Revolution. North Korea might make some claims, too. But, in reality, all of these countries always have been socialistic countries. Communism as a political reality existed mostly in the minds of undereducated American politicians and commentators.
It has a tricky legal consequence, as the question 83 on the United States naturalization test is: "During the Cold War, what was the main concern of the United States?" The answer claimed as correct by the U.S. government bureaucrats is "Communism." If they understood the terms and knew history, they would know that communism never was nor should be any concern of the United States, but socialism is and was. Obviously, it creates a dilemma for citizenship applicants who are more knowledgeable than the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials.
With communism being a lofty idea, which one day might come to fruition but most likely never will - presently, capitalism and socialism are the two only practical political concepts competing for the hearts and minds of people in the U.S. and all over the world.
Socialism versus capitalism
Capitalism just happened. It emerged from a spontaneous technological progress and associated with it, social and political developments. Socialism is a human invention; it represents a human desire to take control of the social progress. It is no coincidence that many socialists call themselves "progressives." This approach is sometimes called a "scientific socialism" as it means that for the first time in the history of humankind, people take a systematic critical view of the existing political order and by collective action decide to change it. Socialists take a lot of pride and satisfaction from forming and implementing policies that change the world, presumably for the better. Marx said it the best: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." Critics see this as hubris, as playing god, because humans and societies are part of nature; hence, we have no power to change the rules of nature and we never will know them well enough to play safely with the social order.
The socialistic system as established almost 100 years ago in the Soviet Union was intended as an egalitarian society run by people's representatives in the best interests of all. It does not sound too bad, and has some connotations to the American political system. The difference is in the freedoms of individuals. In socialism, by definition, the good of the society as a whole is collectively defined, and the representatives are given powers to implement it. Those powers imply suppression of the rights and aspirations of individuals who are perceived as not going along with what is believed as the good of the society at the time. In the Soviet Union, the right to own private property was one of these rights not recognized there. The freedom of expression was another one, as it was perceived as disturbing people's minds with obsolete and immoral capitalistic ideas. In capitalism, personal freedoms - in particular, protection of private property, freedom of enterprise and freedom of expression - are essential; people should be free in pursuing their economic interests. In the capitalistic system, the government's role should be solely in guaranteeing safety and equal freedoms for everyone. The concept is that the good of the society as a whole is achieved optimally if people are free from government coercion in pursuing their personal goals, be it economic, ideological, scientific, religious, philanthropic, or any other activity. Government should not be involved in any of these activities. This concept of the free market society (this is how capitalism was labeled before the term "capitalism" came into existence) to a great extent was adopted as the base of the political system in the Unites States at the time of its inception.
Critics point out that the free market system leads to wealth disparity, and then the supposed equality of individuals becomes a fiction, as wealthy people have abundant resources to coerce others, including the government apparatus supposed to protect equality. As a result, the social divide widens, as rich become richer and poor become poorer.
One can notice that in their pure ideological concepts, capitalism and socialism are exact opposites. In socialism, people make collective decisions as to what the directions of the social and economic progress should be, and then empower their representatives to implement them. In capitalism, the sum of the actions of free individuals is considered the best for the society as a whole, and the government should accommodate these private actions and should not have any ideological agenda as to what the directions of the social and economic progress should be. The previously mentioned Marx quote that "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it" is interpreted by socialists as the moral imperative for the organized society to identify the desired direction of progress and forcefully implement adequate policies to achieve this goal. Supporters of capitalism believe that philosophers should not go beyond interpreting the world, and that the organized society should not establish any policies shaping the future, that the progress should be whatever happens as a sum of the uncoerced actions of individuals.
Mixing capitalism with socialism
I observed this first in Poland when it was a part of the Soviet Bloc. As the economy was disintegrating, the Polish government tried to implement here and there a little bit of the free market. It did not work because, as someone observed it then, it was as if the government were allowing some cars under certain conditions to follow the right-hand traffic rule, when all other cars were following the left-hand traffic rule. Capitalism and socialism are not compatible. It does not mean that people do not try tirelessly to prove it otherwise.
It started with Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the united Germany, a conservative strongly opposing socialism but pragmatically acknowledging that "... those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state." Using his influence, he introduced health insurance for workers, disability insurance, and retirement and disability benefits as well. At the same time, by the end of the 19th century, the U.S. was reaching its pinnacle as the industrial power; the wealth was seen everywhere so the extreme poverty. Many among intellectual and political leaders saw this as a crisis and looked favorably on German-style government intervention. The wealth that capitalism created was taken as a given; the disproportions in the wealth distribution were perceived as unacceptable. Capitalism looked obsolete; the idea that society by organized collective actions can better itself sounded progressive and morally right.
The problem was that, at that time, the U.S. government, funded mostly by tariffs, did not have money for social programs. This was fixed by the 16th Amendment, introducing a federal income tax in 1913. Ideas of public health insurance or retirement plans did not get enough support then, but Americans agreed that alcoholism was a plague destroying the lives of many American families and therefore was detrimental to the well-being of the nation as a whole. Prohibition was voted in, with the eventual outcome known. It is less-known that at the same time, following the same line of thinking, Americans reached a consensus that unregulated immigration was not good for the nation mostly because it was bringing too many immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe (Jews in particular) who were perceived as being of inferior stock. Consequently, the Immigration Act of 1924 created an elaborate immigration policy - in its essence, still in force today. Very few Americans recognize that our purely socialistic immigration law never will work because it is as that earlier mentioned left-hand traffic introduced to govern a section of the labor market in a country where the economy follows the right-hand traffic rules. Also, very few American political commentators see the unintended irony when some conservative politicians in the same breath declare support for the free market and our purely socialistic immigration policy.
Today, very few socialists advocate for nationalization of the means of production, as was done in the Soviet Union and many other countries. The mainstream thought is that privately run businesses are more efficient. However, the invisible hand of the free market is not trusted. People tend to believe that without government policies, the merciless chase of profit would bring back the ruthless exploitation of the weak and unprivileged. Proponents of the free market argue that the ever-growing net of regulations cramps businesses to the point that free enterprise is a fiction, as formally private businesses are becoming an extension of the government bureaucracy. In response, proponents of socialism point to the example of the Scandinavian countries, which have a very high standard of living and generous social programs, thanks to the very intrusive government regulations and high taxes imposed on the rich. This argument ignores that Scandinavian countries are small and homogeneous, with traditions of community rule. What works there does not apply in large, diversified societies. Also, one needs to notice that their socialized version of capitalism can prosper only because they tap into the innovation engine of the worldwide free market. It is meaningful that the most successful Swedish entrepreneur, Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, left Sweden for 40 years to build his business. The history of IKEA tells, as well, that the art of avoiding regulations and taxes is now equally important in building the business as providing goods and services that the public wants to pay for. This is part of the experience of many American businesses today as they are moving their operations or legal headquarters to countries with more favorable tax laws. Of course, the question arises: Will we have in the future new businesses such as IKEA, Apple or Google if there will be nowhere to escape taxes and regulations, if there will be Sweden everywhere?
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Smurf Communism - wikipedia article
Smurf Communism refers to a set of theories about the economic and political system in The Smurfs, a popular comic book and animated series originally created by Belgian cartoonist Peyo. According to various observers, many of whom have written essays published on the Internet, there are many parallels between communist ideology and practices and the way of life depicted in The Smurfs, particularly within the American animated television series.
Papa and Brainy [image]
Karl Marx [image]
Papa Smurf [image - hint: papa and karl have similarities...the image below is not from the original article, but one I dug up:]
The theories usually begin by citing what seem to be uncanny aspects of Smurf characters' appearances. Papa Smurf has a wide beard, which some feel looks like Karl Marx's. He also wears red slacks and a red cap, displaying the color of International Communism. Despite the society's communal nature, Papa Smurf does have the ultimate authority, often overruling Brainy Smurf when he oversteps his boundaries. In several episodes when Papa Smurf is not present, the Smurf Village's utopian system destabilizes entirely.
Brainy Smurf, like Leon Trotsky, has round spectacles. There the similarities more or less end, although some see parallels in their position in society. Like Trotsky who felt his intellectual theories of Communist society were superior, he seizes power in several episodes when Papa Smurf is away. Some argue that Brainy was alone in his willingness to question the ideals of 'Smurfism'. This is not supported by the comics, where he definitely does not question the ideals of Smurfism, as he considers himself the strongest supporter or even the disciple of Papa. The rebellion as seen in the King Smurf story is not initiated by Brainy but by an unnamed Smurf.
Nonetheless, Brainy's ideas and remarks at times get him into trouble from Papa Smurf and his peers. He is often isolated, ridiculed or even physically ejected from the village for his never ending rants and condescencion.
Leon Trotsky [image]
Brainy Smurf [image]
The Smurfs wear standard clothing (with the notable exception of Papa Smurf): a simple white Phrygian cap and white slacks. Each smurf has minor accessories that differentiate them from each other. This systematic uniform is argued by some as a representation of the largely uniform style of attire dominant in several early periods of the Soviet Union and The People's Republic of China, including the "Mao suit". On the other hand, standard clothing is common in many isolated communities, and is also common in representation of other mystical creatures like dwarfs and gnomes..
Analogy of capitalist forces
Even though the evil wizard Gargamel and his loyal feline worker, Azrael, are argued to represent an analogy of the forces of capitalism, it would be more correct to say that they represent the forces of reaction. In fact Gargamel desires to capture the Smurfs in order to turn them into gold through a magical process of boiling. His greed drives him to great lengths in what is said to be a parallel of the Cold War and its extreme stuggle. The capitalistic forces want to devour socialism, as the West wanted to do to the USSR and its allies according to Cold War propaganda. Gargamel can be seen as a pure capitalist; he wishes to turn everything into a commodity -- including the individuals of a living society.
Gargamel forces Azrael, his ginger cat, to do almost all of the laborious and dangerous activities in his various plots to catch the Smurfs. Azrael can be seen as the lumpen-proletariat, being exploited by Gargamel, the reaction. Azrael is uncomplaining, or, since he has no voice (i.e. class-consciousness), is metaphorically unable to complain. He cannot negotiate his wage--he eats whatever he is given by his master.
Gargamel could be seen as the physical stereotype for capitalism: a man, totally consumed by greed. Some have noted classic Anti-Semitic stereotypes in Gargamel's appearance: a large hook nose and a bald pate, except for the dark bushy hair sprouting over his ears. The name Azrael also has clear Semitic origins. This could allude to Communism's demonization of rich Jewish antagonists in Russia and the Soviet Union (an ironic practice considering that Marx was Jewish). A particularly strong message on this analogy is conveyed in the story of the creation of Smurfette. Intitially, it is Gargamel who creates Smurfette - a duplicitous creature with short, black hair and a larger nose - as a ploy to capture the Smurfs. When Smurfette is later transformed into a "good" Smurf, this transformation is highlighted by Smurfette becoming a blonde with long hair and a much smaller nose which could be considered Aryan traits.
The Smurfs live in an egalitarian utopia. Each smurf has a particular skill and each performs tasks for the benefit of the community. There is no system of monetary exchange or even barter in the Smurf village. The village is under a planned economy, under the leadership of Papa Smurf, and to some extent, Brainy Smurf.
The food in the Smurf Village was stored away in mushrooms the minute it was harvested and then equally distributed to all the Smurfs throughout the year. No one "farmer smurf" sold his crop to one smurf or another. It was understood that the crop was for the entire Smurf population, not for the sale or profit of one Smurf alone - an example of collective farming.
In the Smurf Comics, Finance Smurf introduced a short-lived system of monetary exchange, based upon the gold standard. He introduces the system after he is exposed to capitalism by trekking to a town in order to retrieve some medicine. He is portrayed as being logically short sighted; the system he introduces leads to corruption, poverty, malnutrition, and general discontent. In addition, the monetary system increased the danger to the village, as Gargamel wished and tried to seize the Smurfs' stockpile of coinage.
Each member of the community is a Smurf, and each has Smurf as a suffix to their own name; this can be seen as analagous to the use of "comrade." The Smurfs have a tendency to use the word 'smurf' as a prefix or suffix to many sentences. This could be seen as an identity to create a strong group identity or a way to eliminate influences from other cultures. This is similar to what was practiced under Soviet Russia.
With the exception of Smurfette, the Smurfs are completely male. Smurfette herself was created by Gargamel using magic in one episode - she was sent in as an evil force to corrupt and infiltrate the other Smurfs. Upon reaching the village, Smurfette had stiff black hair. Using a spell, Papa Smurf broke Gargamel's hold on Smurfette and she became one with the Smurfs--only now she had blond hair. The Smurfs sometimes do treat Smurfette as an object of attraction, but the majority of the time they grant her respect and place her at an equal level. The society must struggle to prevent the potential decadence created by the female allure. Soviet communism also battled the conflicts between the ideological proclamation of women's rights and the potential downsides to a Western-style sexual liberation. On the other hand, feminist commentators has sometimes decried Smurfette's peculiarly idle and image-obsessed presentation on the show.
Smurf society was almost completely male and there was almost no population growth. Like most children's shows of the time, sex and reproduction was something that was simply not discussed. Some views of history claim records show the most sucessful communes are ones that stay small in population. This is aimed to conserve resources, reduce social conflict, and maintain a high standard of life on an egalitarian scale. Smurfs only found problems with each other due to individual character faults: Brainy's aloofness and condescending attitude, Vanity's obssession with his own apperance, etc.
Smurfs are very open to each other's differences. Yet with these differences, there are few cases of taunting at others' expense due to difference in lifestyle. This reinforces the ideals of acceptance in some visions of communistic and utopian socities.
A true Marxist is an atheist. There is no mention of God in Smurf comics, and there is no Priest Smurf. There are only forces of nature and physics, and these are represented metaphorically by the characters of Mother Nature, Father Time, and through man-made creations such as Clockwork Smurf. Of course, there is also magic, as practised by Papa, Gargamel, Balthazar and others, but it is simply another tool that occurs in nature and has physical properties that can be tapped into with the right know-how.
Criticism and difficulties
Marxism is traditionally based on class struggle. It also involves a dialectic of previous systems ending through their own internal contradictions. There is no evidence the Smurfs had a previous system or that it ever had classes. Hence, unlike historical Communist states like the USSR, there is no evidence that the Smurfs formed out of a revolution or an evolution from a previous system.
The Smurf Village could also be argued to be actively anti-revolutionary or static in nature. Unlike Stalinism or Maoism, large scale societal change is usually discouraged. Handy occasionally tried to introduce elements of industrialization, but these were usually rejected. Most Communist regimes strongly encouraged industrialization as in China's attempted Great Leap Forward or Stalin's Electrification.
Papa Smurf could also lack the authority or punitive capability of most historical Communist leaders. There are no real police or prisons in Smurf village. Judging by the reaction to King Smurf the Smurfs could be argued to reject any authoritarian or totalitarian systems. In the cartoon series Brainy declares himself King Smurf. On the other hand, his disapproval of authoritarian rule does not argue against some form of libertarian socialism or Smurf society representing Communist evolution in its final ideal form.
While the Smurfs' rituals and holidays may not fit Western notions of theology, they do have similarities with animistic religion. As in animism there are spirits of nature and forces that must be placated or reverenced. For example, we see the "dance of a 100 Smurfs" which must be done to avoid potential misfortune. Of course, the Smurf universe is one in which magical forces are known to exist, and in this context it is possible that rituals such as the dance do, in fact, ward off bad luck.
A final difficulty is that the Smurfs seem uninterested in exporting their ideals to other peoples. Despite disdain for living under a monarchy, the Smurfs, in fact, have cordial relations with several feudalistic nobles. In fact the Smurfs were introduced in a Medieval series as helpers for a knight named Johan and his squire. These feudalistic characters are not judged as reactionaries as would be consistent with most Communist theories. Instead the Smurfs are generally friendly to them and are uninterested in fomenting any revolt of the peasant or working classes.
Other circumstantial (or coincidental) points
- Communism fell in Russia around the time that The Smurfs were lost from tv syndication and comic publication.
- Some websites have argued that "Smurf" is an acronym for "Socialist Men Under Red Father" or "Soviet Men Under Red Father" as a further argument to strengthen Smurf Communistic theory. This theory is apocryphal, as the word Smurf originally came from "Schtroumpf", an invented French word comparable to the English "watchmacallit."
- It is not uncommon for animators and writers to introduce subtle adult themes in children's shows, like with Disney's frequent use of sexual symbolism.
Characters in the Smurfs
Socio-Political Smurfs [now dead link, but archived here]
Better Dead than Blue [now dead link, available on internet archive here]
The Smurfs were Communists!
Socialist Smurfs [now dead link, available on internet archive here]
The Theory of Smurfian Communism
Smurfs: Aryan Puppets or Harmless Cartoon Toys?
"Sister" on the Sidelines: "The Smurfs" and the Antifeminist Backlash on Saturday Morning (primarily discussing the anti-feminist depiction of Smurfette, but also making some novel observations about the "socialist utopia" of the Smurfs)
Analysis of deletion, for wikigeeks only
The article was created on September 19, 2005 by editor Larsinio, and was only a few weeks old when first nominated for deletion. In that October 2005 deletion discussion, which approximately 70 editors participated in, the article was kept in a landslide. (See deletion discussion.) The discussion allows a fascinating comparison to be made between the average views of wikipedia editors five years ago as compared to today. The editors overwhelmingly voted to keep the article, and many just because they thought it was an amazing piece of work. Only a very few editors raised the issues that would immediately nuke such as article today, e.g., "C'mon guys, this is transparently a personal essay. Sure, it is amusing as hell but is it enyclopedic? No. --Maru"
After that resounding victory for both Ayn Rand style individual accomplishment and the little blue marxists, however, the article remained in danger. The article was moved from "Smurf Communism" to "The Smurfs and communism", surely for some ridiculous but earnest reasons, and was re-nominated for deletion in February 2006. (See Deletion discussion). Again, it was overwhelmingly kept, though fewer editors participated (about 40).
Fast forward one year and eight months to October 2007.
Up for a deletion a third time, this time the Smurfs could not escape the deletionist Gargamels. (See deletion discussion). Only about 14 editors participated in the discussion, and there was not a single keep vote--the best the article could garner was a few suggestions to merge the article elsewhere. It appears that the type of editor who fancied or at least tolerated articles like this in the past had mostly departed the project by this point. In addition, the enactment and enforcement of Wikipedia policies and guidelines such as the policy against original research and the notability guideline clearly had become much more effective at this point.
During its heyday, however, the Smurf Communism article was widely enjoyed and cited on the internet. E.g, noted wikipedian and inclusionist Andrew Lih (May 25, 2006)