1990s >> 1995 >> no-1085-january-1995

Letters: Socialism and Communism

Socialism and Communism

Dear Comrades,


It was not Lenin who first claimed any difference between socialism and communism, but Marx and Engels, and the Manifesto of the Communist Party proves this. When written it could not have been thought of as the Socialist Manifesto because Marx and Engels wanted to distance themselves from the utopian socialists such as Fourier and Owen. It was after all Marx and Engels who put the science into socialism with a vision of a much higher phase in human and social development. Also in Engels’s time “Socialism was on the continent at least respectable, Communism was the very opposite” as Frederick pointed out.


Today, the once communist parties in the once socialist countries of eastern Europe now regard themselves as democratic socialists after the counter-revolutions reduced them to kow-tow to the politics of reformism. Add to this the socialist parties in western Europe whose manifestos are about reform rather than revolutionary transformation.


We should recognise that socialism can only be at its most radical in the period of transition between capitalism and communism, in other words the first stage of communism. Finally Marx and Engels knew that the spectre haunting Europe was communism not socialism.

James Nugent, 


Old Coulsdon, Surrey




Your letter confirms what we said: that Marx and Engels used the words “socialism” and “communism” interchangeably to refer to a system of society based on the social, or common, ownership of the means of production, and not, as you imply, to two different stages in the future evolution of society.


In the 1840s, as Engels explained, they used the word “communist” because at that time the word “socialism” was used to refer to the followers of Robert Owen in England and Charles Fourier in France. Indeed, the Owenites actually invented the word (the first recorded use of it was in the London Cooperative Magazine of November 1827) and called themselves Socialists. Marx and Engels didn’t want to be associated with the advocacy by these groups of going to America or into the countryside to establish small-scale communities based on common ownership as the answer to capitalism, as what they advocated was political action by the working class to establish common ownership on a society-wide level. So they called themselves Communists and wrote the Communist Manifesto (rather than the Socialist Manifesto).


By the 1880s, however, these groups no longer existed and the word “socialism” was no longer associated with setting up small-scale communities, and the emerging working-class movement for a society of common ownership and democratic control was able to call itself “socialist”. So, when William Morris. Eleanor Marx and others broke away from the Social Democratic Federation with Engels’s approval in 1884 they called their new organisation the Socialist League. And Engels himself called one of his best (perhaps his best) writings Socialism, Utopian and Scientific (rather than Communism, Utopian and Scientific).


In short, what in the 1840s Marx and Engels had called communism Engels in the 1880s called Socialism.


In the 20th century usage changed again. After the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917 Lenin called his party “communist” to distinguish it from the “socialist” parties of western and central Europe which had been founded in Engels’s day but which by then had become openly and hopelessly reformist. But he also made “socialism” a period of transition, when there would be full state ownership with everyone becoming a state employee, between capitalism and communism (by which he meant what Marx and Engels had called indifferently “socialism” or “communism” and what we call “socialism”, i.e.. a society of common ownership without money, wages, the state, etc). But this was state capitalism, not real socialism.


In 1936 Stalin proclaimed that Russia had become a “socialist country” and when the Russian army overran eastern Europe after the war it set up puppet regimes in the various countries there which, together with Russia. Stalin and his supporters called “the socialist countries”. You seem to have fallen for this myth when you talk about the “communist parties” which used to govern “the socialist countries”. But this — that Russia, etc were socialist — is the Big Lie of the 20th century. They were never socialist: they were always state capitalist.


You are right, however, that, since they were ousted from power by street-level popular action in 1990, these formerly ruling parties have transformed themselves into ordinary reformist parties competing with other parties for the job of running capitalism in their countries. Unfortunately, some of them, as in Hungary and Bulgaria, have chosen to call themselves “the Socialist Party”. Needless to say, as far as we are concerned, they are no more socialist today than they were communist yesterday. They have nothing to do with us and are not genuinely socialist parties.




Swedish Searchlight on Capitalism


Dear Editors,


The Swedish section of Amnesty International has now existed for 30 years. Their general secretary said during an interview: “this means that we are still needed, and at the same time we will continue to throw a searchlight on governments who oppress individuals, collectively and otherwise with torture, deportation, violence and the death penalty. We hope however that sooner or later we will not be needed”.


No doubt a Swedish entry into the Common Market will certainly increase rising racism here. It would be interesting to hear the SPGB’s examination and analysis concerning the performance of Amnesty encased by global capitalism.

Obajimi Holloway, 


Stockholm, Sweden


We don’t want to knock people who are doing something to try to help individual victims of state oppression, but it is clear that what Amnesty is doing is no more than this, carrying a few of the wounded off a battlefield without being able to stop the battle continuing.

We say with absolute confidence that as long as global capitalism is allowed to continue Amnesty’s work will never be done. As long as capitalism lasts there will be states and as long as there are states there will be oppression, since states are by nature oppressive institutions whose job is to maintain the status quo in the interests of an entrenched ruling class.


Blue nose out of joint

Dear Sirs,

Despite being a Young Conservative, I regularly buy your magazine and although I do not agree with much of its content, I read the articles within it with great interest in order to obtain a different perspective on the political issues affecting the world.

It was therefore very disappointing to read the article by Scorpion in the November 1994 issue which revelled in the supposed demise of the Young Conservatives. Surely a party that wishes to put its views over in a democratic setting would welcome the opportunity for young people to take part in political debate whatever their political persuasion.

The article also contained two glaring inaccuracies which require correction:

1. The Young Conservatives are not for the chop; both the Prime Minister and the Party Chairman have pledged their support for the organisation.

2. You do your article no favours by merely repeating the ’’smears” from the left wing press regarding supposed links with racist groups and acts of hooliganism.

Finally the youth wing of the Party will not merely “fade away”. There is to be an “Autumn Offensive” recruitment campaign, which should see the Young Conservatives’ membership increase dramatically. This will lead to more people taking part in political discussion and activity, something which you as a democratic party will surely welcome.

R. M. Lees,




Worthing and Shoreham Young Conservatives.

Our statement that the Young Conservatives were “set for the chop” was based on articles which appeared in the national press.

As for your denial of “supposed links with racists groups and acts of hooliganism”, well, where have you been, because these have been reported in the media many, many times?

For example, a recent TV programme about John Major’s “war on yob culture” showed how young Tory yobs in Oxford had smashed up a posh restaurant there, while a headline in the Tory Glasgow Herald (12 November 1990) read “Punch-up mars Young Conservative conference”.

And you should know about the well-publicised links which such prominent young Tories as John Bercow, Stuart Millson, etc., had with the BNP. Indeed. Millson left to join the BNP.