Here's the thing:
It appears that the terms "capitalism", "fascism", "socialism" and "communism" have become so ill defined as to have lost all meaning. It seems anyone can offer up any term, define it however they wish, and then use that definition to bolster their own belief or attack the beliefs of another.
Dictionary definitions are cited, quoted, misquoted, dismissed and ridiculed. Dictionary definitions themselves have subtle but meaningful differences.
Modern day "capitalism" as a political/economic paradigm can be traced to the Roman Empire, but the practice of investment, return on investment, and growth most assuredly existed long before the Romans codified it.
The definition of "fascism" one finds today is substantially different than the definition one finds was commonly accepted in the 1940's and 1950's. Fascism as a political ideology existed long before Mussolini, Hitler and Franco.
The post Marx definition of "socialism" is radically different than it's historic predecessor.
And "communism" is a veritable hornets nest of contention since Marx used the term to define his theory of social evolution.
The fact is that all these terms are latter day definitions of cultural practices that predate written and possibly even oral history.
Despite the many loud, usually arrogant and angry claims made that capitalism is as old as humankind itself, that the first groups of humans or near humans who traded meat for grain were capitalists, such claims are simply wrong, the result of a filtered revisionist history.
The claim that capitalism represents ultimate individual freedom is absurd.
Quite simply, capitalism cannot exist without capital. Capital is money. Money is a place holder for value.
Capitalism is not about fair trade, and those who stridently claim that "pure capitalism" or "free market capitalism" is the willing exchange of value for equal value are mistaken.
What sets capitalism apart from trade is this:
Capitalism, to exist, demands that profit be made. The word "profit" by the way translates from the Latin variously as: usury, booty, loot, to get more, to gain advantage and to prey, among other meanings.
There is nothing in capitalism that represents an equal trade for items of equal value. If you're buying it, someone is getting more value from that transaction. And that value is in the form of money, which is not and cannot ever be value in and of itself.
This is worth repeating: Money is a placeholder for value.
Fascism is the union of wealthy interest and state authority. That is the ultimate definition. As such fascism was the foundation of the oldest known civilizations ever to have existed, Whether it was a king or a god or a priestly class wealth was consolidated and protected by a form of government.
I do not think that the invention of money, the appearance of capitalism- money as a placeholder for value-, and the flourishing of fascism are unrelated. Arguments about fascism being one form of tyranny are pointless in that ultimately tyranny is the use of government authority to protect, increase and maintain wealth and power.
Removed from latter day definitions, socialism is genetic in primates and many other animals as well. It predates even culture or language. Shared effort and shared reward provides a Darwinian advantage for the species.
Socialism, as an economic/political construct is a johnnie come lately, and bears little relationship to the organic practice of socialism.
Ideals of liberty and freedom harking to the philosophies of Rousseau regarding natural law and sovereign individuality fail to recognize the underlying fallacy of such belief.
In prehistoric times the rugged individual who set off on his or her own to keep the fruits of their labor to themselves died and whatever progeny they had died soon after.
Interestingly enough, Rousseau was just one of a number of 18th century philosophers whose thought was informed by 17th century thinkers whose works, collectively, represent what is considered modern day Socialism.
In that time socialism as a codified body of work was a reaction to, and an argument against Monarchy.
And it was 17th century concepts of socialism- shared will, shared destiny, shared effort, shared reward- that fomented both the American and the French Revolutions.
I find a distinct and poignant irony in that.
Somehow, concepts of freedom and liberty are now at odds with concepts of socialism.
Quick- duck! Here comes communism.
Modern day communism begins and ends in the mind of Karl Marx. I doubt that there is a single self professed Communist who would argue that.
I also doubt that there is a single self professed Communist who is not ready, willing and able to argue with another self professed Communist as to which interpretation of Marx, Engels, Trotsky or Lenin is correct. It is not stretching things to say that every Communist is an expert, and every Communist disagrees with every other.
Communism as a codified, self contained philosophy is an economic theory filtered through the lens of social evolutionary theory.
Or it is a theory of social evolution as filtered through the lens of economic theory.
These are not the same thing. The first assumes that economics drives social construct, while the second assumes that society drives economic construct.
Putting that hot mess to one side, communism as a cultural practice has always been with us. At it's simplest, it means community, togetherness, shared values.
Some make the mistake of assuming that communism and socialism are essentially one and the same. Those who reject socialism as "the gateway drug" to communism consistently fail to understand the differences between the two.
Socialism, if one accepts the modern day definition, not only implies but requires some form of regulation in the body of a government.
Communism, if one accepts the larger Marxist definition, not only implies but requires the ultimate abandonment of government.
It is Marx, and only Marx, who states that socialism is a required step toward communism. (Post script added for clarification) A strict reading of Communism vis a vie Marx is that capitalism MUST give way to socialism, as an organ of government, in which there is a period called The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, during which time the government seizes all resource, production and labor. Marx's definition of socialism is the exact opposite of all previous thought and philosophic understanding of socialism. Marx's "socialist government" is meant to seize then steward all resource, production and labor as a sort of absentee landlord for the people. This, according to Marx is a transitional state which is only supposed to last until the "masses" have been educated enough to govern themselves without government. Thus we have Marx to blame for the modern definition of both socialism and communism.
This redefinition of Socialism and Communism has been fodder for Capitalists since the printing of Das Kapital to condemn socialism as an evil communist plot to kill freedom, liberty, and of course capitalism itself.
Lee Burkett is a retired professional actor, a proud former member of the Screen Actor's Guild of America. He has been a social activist and a political commentator most of his adult life. He has a been staunchly anti-war, anti- imperialist since his indoctrination into resistance during the Vietnam War.
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(Supported by Cindy Sheehan)