Melanesian Socialism vs. Communism

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Socialism and communism are easy to confuse, so why would this conversation change just because we're in Melanesia? In this lesson, we'll examine Melanesian socialism and see how it differs from communism.

Socialism, Communism, and Melanesia

If we're all being completely honest, most of us have confused socialism and communism at some point in our lives. It happens. However, we must remember that they're not the same. Communism is a political/economic doctrine that believes in a classless society, controlled by a single authoritarian party that has complete control over the production and distribution of resources.

Communists see this as the ultimate goal of all human societies, but to get there, they must go through socialism. Socialism is more of an economic policy (with political implications), in which a representative, centralized government has strong control over resource production and distribution, but not total. Communists see it as a transitioning point between capitalism and communism, while most socialists think they're just fine where they are.

Okay, that's easy enough to remember, right? Well, what if we decide to talk about socialism in Melanesia, the oceanic region between Polynesia and Micronesia? Believe it or not, this would change the conversation because the Micronesian island of Vanuatu has proposed its own doctrine known as Melanesian socialism. This is also different from communism. Don't mix them up.


Melanesian Socialism and Communism: Similarities

Melanesian socialism is a type of socialism, in which the government plays a role in the production and distribution of resources. So, does it relate to communism in the same way that other forms of socialism do? Let's start by seeing what they have in common.

The similarities between Melanesian socialism and communism are basically the same as those between any form of socialism and communism. Communist doctrine states that resources ought to be collectively owned and managed by a centralized government. Melanesian socialism agrees with this. Communism envisions a classless society, and Melanesian socialism emphasizes social and economic equality. Communists see capitalism as exploiting the working class and the postcolonial nation of Vanuatu has good reason to associate capitalism with imperialism and the marginalization of its people.

Differences Between Melanesian Socialism and Communism

If those points are shared between Melanesian socialism and communism, then how do we tell these ideologies apart? Let's start with the things that all forms of socialism believe that differ from communism.

For starters, communism relies on a single, authoritarian party to control the government. Socialist systems, including Melanesian socialism, allow for a more representative system of government with various political parties. (It is worth noting, however, that Melanesian socialism's founder had strong authoritarian tendencies.)

Additionally, communism allows for the existence of no capitalist ideas in its economy, including private property. By contrast, Melanesian socialism (and other forms of socialism) do allow for some private ownership of goods and property, and believe interaction with capitalism is possible. That belief has been important in the way that Vanuatu hoped to implement Melanesian socialism while still engaging in the growing global economies of the 1980s and 1990s.

Melanesian Socialism and Non-Alignment

All those traits are shared between most socialist nations, but there's one thing that makes Melanesian socialism entirely unique, and that's its heritage. Socialism and communism both claim their origins in the works of 19th century European thinkers like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Melanesian socialism, however, does not. It claims its heritage in the pre-colonial traditions of the Melanesian people, including communal living, sharing of resources, and egalitarian reciprocity.

Melanesian socialism draws upon the ancestral Melanesian traditions of communalism and egalitarianism

The founder of Melanesian socialism, Vanuatu's first prime minister, Walter Lini, heavily emphasized the indigenous Melanesian roots of his proposed economic structure. Melanesian socialism was not a European model imposed on Vanuatu; it was a revitalized indigenous system that just happened to look similar to socialism. This is the most definitive trait distinguishing it from either standard socialism or communism.

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