Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Socialism and Capitalism Around the World
Socialism or capitalism? Which is better? This question has rocked the foundations of countries around the world over the last several decades. Some countries firmly believe in socialism, in which the means of production and benefits of wealth are regulated by the government on behalf of the people. Others believe fervently in capitalism, in which a free market determines the value of labor and products with minimal government intervention. So, which is better?
This debate has raged on all across the world, but that doesn't mean that it's looked the same in all parts of the world. In fact, both socialism and capitalism in their most codified forms are European inventions, a fact not lost on some people outside of Europe. In particular, the Melanesian nation of Vanuatu has contributed to the debate not by siding firmly with a European system, but by suggesting its own. It's called Melanesian socialism.
To understand Melanesian socialism, we have to understand a bit about its history. In 1980, the colony of New Hebrides finally achieved its independence, becoming the Republic of Vanuatu. Vanuatu is an island nation of Melanesia, a region that's situated between Australia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. As it became independent, it was forced to ask questions posed to all new countries, like: What kind of government should we have? What sort of economy should we have? What's our place in the world?
Vanuatu's first prime minister, Walter Lini, had some history to draw on. Back in the 1960s, several African politicians embraced a concept they called African socialism, in which they planned to build upon their recent independence by leaning on traditional African political and economic structures that just happened to most closely resemble socialism. Later, in 1970, Fiji's prime minister (Ratu Sir Kamasee Mara) proposed something he called the Polynesian Way, which encouraged Polynesian societies to reject colonially imposed European systems and build upon their historic traditions.
In 1981, Walter Lini added his voice to the conversation. Rather than formally align with any existing political structure, Vanuatu would attempt to implement a system of Melanesian socialism. Like African socialism, Melanesian socialism was not meant to be simply an imported European-style of socialism. Instead, Lini envisioned an indigenous socialism, built upon the historic traditions and customs of the Melanesian people.
So, what did that mean? Historic Melanesian societies embraced a large degree of communalism, in which resources were shared between people and the distribution of those resources was often overseen by a strong leader, such as a village chief. Those who had more gave more, and those who needed more were supplied with more. According to Lini, these basic structures could be applied through a socialist-like model to national governance, with a centralized power regulating the production and distribution of wealth.
Melanesian Socialism versus Capitalism
Melanesian socialism appeared in a world where communism and capitalism were battling for supremacy, and in which capitalism would soon become dominant as the USSR began to crumble. So, how did Melanesian socialism compare to capitalism?
Let's start with the differences. Melanesian socialism is pretty similar in structure to European socialism (the biggest difference is just in recognizing pre-colonial Melanesia, not Europe, as the foundational inspiration). This means that Melanesian socialism does support regulation and control of the means of production and distribution of wealth, ideas not supported by capitalism. The big difference here is in the role of the central government in regulating economic and social conditions. Capitalism favors a free-market model with little government regulation in either the economy or society, while Melanesian socialism favors a very strong and centralized government. It is worth noting that Lini had clear authoritarian tendencies.
These differences extend to ideas about class as well. Melanesian socialism envisioned what was essentially a classless society, one in which all people shared in each other's resources under government supervision. By contrast, capitalism accepts the existence of class and even encourages it as a byproduct of economic productivity.
So, do these doctrines have anything in common? Perhaps. Capitalism was largely founded by Christians in Europe, and believed by them to be ideal for a Christian population. Walter Lini was actually an Anglican priest, and saw Melanesian socialism as also being a Christian-inspired economic doctrine. He believed it would help Melanesians dismantle colonial structures and build more moral ones. So, although historical capitalism and Melanesian socialism drew on Christianity very differently, the influence was still there. Beyond that, however, each economic system has little in common. They're a world apart...literally.
Melanesian socialism is an economic/political structure promoted by Walter Lini, the first prime minister of Vanuatu. Drawing on examples of African socialism and the Polynesian Way, Lini believed that independent Vanuatu should be based in traditional Melanesian systems. In essence, these systems presented a socialist model of governance, but Lini wanted to stress that Vanuatu arrived at this through indigenous traditions, not an imported European model. Unlike capitalism, Melanesian socialism supports a strongly centralized government that directly regulates means of production and distribution of wealth. They're very different systems of economics and governance, and an interesting twist on a conversation found around the world.
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