Continuing on with the questions:
What does one need to believe politically to be a communist? and/or
What is socialism/communism?
Another comrade wrote this:
What seems fundamental to me is that a person believe in the desirability, the necessity, and above all, the *possibility* of socialism. Part and parcel of this, on a more personal, ethical level, is holding in the highest esteem the essential dignity of every human being, without exception, and maintaining a profound and unshakeable belief in our fundamental capacity -- and deepest wish -- to live our lives together harmoniously and joyously.
My first claim raises the perennial question: What is socialism? The question is highly controversial even among socialists -- hence its interminable currency. The controversies reflect deep ideological fault lines within the left, foremost among which, in my view, is the division between proponents of socialism-from-above and proponents of socialism-from-below. The classic statement of the difference between these "two souls" of socialism is the 1966 pamphlet by Hal Draper, aptly titled "The Two Souls of Socialism". Aside from the Communist Manifesto, there is no other work that I could recommend more highly for someone who is trying to capture the essence of socialism. Here is a link to the pamphlet:http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1966/twosouls/index.htm.
For now, I could cite another worthwhile -- because disputed -- characterization of socialism, namely, the "from below" definition offered by Max Shachtman in the early part of his argument during the 1950 Brooklyn College debate against Earl Browder. Shachtman states:
"The best way to begin is by defining socialism. Socialism is based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and exchange; upon production for use as against production for profit; upon the abolition of all classes, all class divisions, class privilege, and class rule; upon the production of such abundance that the struggle for material needs is completely eliminated, so that humanity, at last freed from economic exploitation, from oppression, from any form of coercion by a state machine, can devote itself to its fullest intellectual and cultural development. Much can perhaps be added to this definition, but anything less you can call whatever you wish, but it will not be socialism."
This definition becomes the yardstick that Shachtman proceeds to use in order to measure Stalin's Soviet Union; he finds it lacking to an overwhelming degree, and concludes that it cannot meaningfully be characterized as socialist. The debate makes for fascinating and engaging reading, in part because the disputants generally do not mince their words. The complete verbatim transcript of the debate may be found here: