“The interference of the state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another, and then ceases of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production. The state is not “abolished,” it withers away.”
– Friedrich Engels
Many present-day socialists/communists deflect criticism of socialism when discussing regimes such as the Soviet Union or Mao’s China by claiming “That isn’t real communism [or socialism]” because Marx’s outline of communism calls for a stateless society and socialism is just the working class seizing the means of production. Some of these same people will swear that Engels or Marx (the founders of Marxism that laid the foundation for Communism) declare that to achieve communism you first need a stateless society. These supporters claim socialism is not giving government power, it’s about giving the workers power. Whether talking about original communism or modern communism (which are virtually identical as a process), this is an inaccurate interpretation of what communism actually is or requires. If you want to argue semantics, it’s a pointless argument. American progressives, communists, socialists, and leftists in general advocate for state power and central planning. This is what modern communism is known as: the collective ideal of government owning the means of production (meaning no private property) while redistributing wealth. It is important to note that the word “socialism” is used more in the Communist Manifesto than the word “communism” itself. Vladimir Lenin, who has his own branch of Marxism, famously explained, “The goal of socialism is communism.” Engels himself desired cooperation with “democratic socialists,” even if they didn’t want communism as an end goal. This is why the Soviets and authoritarians like Mao Zedong called themselves communists, and are now referred to both as communists and socialists by former residents. For example, “The Bulgarian Communist Party” is now “The Bulgarian Socialist Party”. It’s all just rebranding with the same authoritative platforms and members.
As originally outlined, the government was made up of the “workers” that are supposed to seize production. However, if Communism was just about workers owning the means of production, then it wouldn’t have to be forced. It’s perfectly possible to have a voluntary cooperative or employee-owned business, such as Publix Super Markets, Penmac, and Alliance Holdings in a “capitalistic,” free-market society. It’s significant to recognize that dictatorship of the proletariat is explicitly a tenant of traditional Marxist theory. But even if you wanted to ignore all of that, modern communism still has a meaning of state socialism in practice. Communism alone isn’t a government system as much as it is an ideal society. You don’t “implement” communism, you “achieve” communism. This is why people to this day argue how to achieve the ideal. This is why it’s easy to say, “That wasn’t real socialism/communism because it didn’t do this;” nobody can accomplish the ideal, so why take credit for its failed attempt? Criticisms against places like Mao’s China, Chavez’s Venezuela, and Lenin’s Soviet Union are against the policies that aim to achieve communistic ideals. Lenin explicitly expressed his support of a withering state in The State and Revolution. Furthermore, all of these societies aimed to achieve (or got close to achieving) the 10 Planks of Communism outlined by Karl Marx. Fun fact: the 7th plank explicitly calls for “production owned by the state” as the government expands industry and controls the economy.
It’s clear that some of the most horrendous and poorly managed nations of all time have come from people attempting to achieve the “utopia” of communism by significantly augmenting government and central planning services. Communism and socialism require a massive state with coercion to achieve it’s ideal of the state “withering away”, but it is inconvenient for modern leftists to acknowledge that their ideas initially need to be forced to be implemented… and even when that happens, they miserably fail. It’s time for socialists and communists to concede that they desire a coercive, powerful government that has never actually “withered away” which, as a result, has been directly responsible for at least 105 million deaths in the 20th century alone through government-sponsored famines, labor projects, assassinations, and executions. Next time any socialist or communist tells you “_____ isn’t about government seizing the means of production, it’s about the workers,” you know what to send them.