The public sees communism as a bad and horrendous ideology that was behind the death of millions of people in both Soviet Russia and Communist China. However, communism is not an inherently bad ideology; it just did not have the proper executioner. And it will probably never do.
To understand communism, one must understand first where it came from. Karl Marx and Frederich Engels saw the horrible conditions that factory workers, the proletariat, worked in. They realized that the workers did not have a choice but to work for the capitalists, the bourgeoisie. The capitalists controlled the “means of production” which are non-human resources that contributed to economic input. Means of production include factories, machinery, and capital. In other words, capitalists can pay the workers the very minimum for them to survive, and keep the profits generated to themselves, or “exploit the surplus value of the proletariat”. The choice for the proletariat is simple, either they can work for the minimum payment or starve at home.
That was problematic for the workers (it still is), and Marx and Engels came up with a solution: communism. To summarize in one sentence, communism is the elimination of private property. Everything is to be publicly owned, everything is to be shared. People work to contribute to this public pool of wealth and that pool is distributed according to need. According to Marx, all of the historical conflicts are class struggles. Communism would completely eliminate these struggles. The means of production would be owned by the public, and no one can exploit anyone else. This idea is now commonly referred to as Marxism.
Vladimir Lenin, a Russian Marxist who led the October Revolution in 1917, came up with a practical execution plan of Marxism called Leninism. Together they would be known as Marxism-Leninism. Lenin’s model is that the workers’ state will establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and socialist public policies when it is in power, and the state will then dissolve into a perfect communist society.
Interesting idea, except that it required one critical condition. It required the Communist Party to be the supreme political institution in the state. The party would decide how the country was going to run, and then it would dissolve itself. Well, states in extreme power typically don’t do that; they usually (actually, always) want to stay in power. History is enough to tell that with extreme power comes extreme corruption.
Communism had such a notorious reputation in history because of the abuses of extreme power. Stalin of the Soviet Union tried to establish an extremely centralized state by launching the Great Purge that executed any “opposition” in the party, which ended with millions of deaths. Mao of China was a good militarist, but not a good ruler. Under his reign, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution turned out to be devastating to the Chinese people, and these events also resulted in a devastating number of deaths.
So why does communism have anything to do with the present, when China has turned into a capitalist economy and no pure communist nation actually exists? At the present capitalist society where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, perhaps a lesson or two can be learned from communism. Perhaps there is a better way of dividing income, so the poor can at least get less poor. Perhaps there is a better way of sharing the income, so the rich do not control the means of production fully. Perhaps there can be a better compensation so that the poor can at least be paid fully of the value they produce. Perhaps there can be a better society, where exploitation of the proletariat ceases to exist.
Communism is the ideal version of socialism. For most Western developed countries, a form of socialism must exist to ensure the well being of the lower income citizens. Perhaps the communist model can serve as a guidance in policy making so that the vast majority of proletariats can be better off.