Capitalism, communism, materialism

Recent human history has been characterized by an ideological war between capitalism and communism (or its milder cousin socialism). 

Despite their history of confrontation, both ideologies share the common denominator of materialism. Both hold that progress means material progress: the increased provision of material utilities and comforts, as measured through economic parameters such as GDP growth. The two ideologies differ in how material progress is to be achieved. 

Capitalism is materialism in retail — it lets each individual pursue material goods as per their capacity.  In contrast, communism is materialism in wholesale — it centralizes all wealth with the state, which aims to provide for people’s needs equitably. While communism is explicitly anti-spiritual, labeling religion as the opium of the masses, capitalism is more discreetly anti-spiritual. It floods people with so many material allurements that people can’t focus on anything spiritual. 

Our material needs are vital for survival, and society needs to be arranged appropriately for fulfilling those needs. Still, we humans live for something more; we seek meaning and purpose and fulfillment — things that a materialistic worldview can’t provide. The Bhagavad-gita cautions that when we live materialistically, our search for pleasure soon becomes unfettered, eventually impelling self-destructive and world-destructive activities (16.09). This Gita statement is vindicated by recent human history. Communism reigned for seventy years in Soviet Russia and China and resulted in over a hundred million corpses. And capitalism laid waste to our delicate ecosystem, bringing the specter of climate change that endangers our entire planet. 

Gita wisdom provides a spiritual worldview that infuses our life with deeper meaning, higher purpose and greater nonmaterial fulfillment. Being thus internally enriched, we can become sustainable wealth-creators through whichever socio-economic system works in our individual and social contexts. 

One-sentence summary:

Capitalism sells materialism in retail, communism sells materialism in wholesale.

Think it over:

  • How are both capitalism and communism similar?
  • Why do both capitalism and communism backfire?
  • In our pursuit of progress, how does Gita wisdom empower us?


16.09: Following such conclusions, the demoniac, who are lost to themselves and who have no intelligence, engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world.

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