The ideological battle of capitalism versus communism was perhaps the defining debate of the twentieth century.
At the heart of the debate is the question of who owns property and the means of production. Under a capitalist system, property can be privately owned, and pretty much anyone can set up a business and sell their product on what is called the ‘free market. Under a communist system, all property and means of production are (theoretically at least) owned by the people, in the guise of the state.
In a pure communist system, all decisions about what should be produced and what policies should be followed are made by society as a whole, in the best interests of society as a whole. The ideology of Communism was most famously outlined by Karl Marx. In practice, in a country like Russia, with hundreds of millions of people, decisions needed to be devolved to a small, select group of people who acted in the interests of the people. At least, this is the theory. In practice, of course, the communist governments of the 20th century tended to be corrupt and incredibly inefficient in most areas.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Communism is seen a discredited economic model, and capitalism has become the predominant economic model in use today.
Capitalism can take different forms, and no countries in the world currently have what economists would call a pure capitalist system. Perhaps the most capitalist country in the world is the United States of America, and this country was the leader of the Capitalism vs Communism debate of the 20th century.
Today, with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, most countries in the world have a capitalist economy of some form or another.
The most notable communist country was, of course, Russia, in its Soviet Union guise. The Soviet Union was established on December 30, 1922, following the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War – not, as is commonly assumed, in 1917. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union (which many historians now equate in many ways to an Empire), Russia is transitioning to a capitalist economy, a process which is fraught with challenges for the country and its people.
Other important communist countries include many of the countries of Eastern Europe, which were forcibly converted to communism following the second world war, and China, which became a communist or socialist state led by Mao after the Chinese Civil War. China is still nominally a communist country, although in reality, it is rapidly opening up to the free market, while remaining a one party state.
North Korea is perhaps the most well known communist holdout – it’s brand of Stalinism endures, although many will say that it is actually a country under the rule of a dicator.