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Blobman's avatar

What's wrong with communism?

Asked by Blobman (509 points ) January 29th, 2013

Know that when i say “communism” that I am strictly speaking of an economic system where the government controls all enterprise, decides upon and distributes pay to its citizens. Assume that all government officials are democratically elected as U.S. officials are. I have argued with dozens of friends, teachers, and family members on whether or not communism is useful or even possible. Most of the time it boils down to two problems of human nature: selfishness (Why work if youll get paid anyways?) and political corruption. I have found many to be somewhat hobbesian natures (having opinions similar to those of Thomas Hobbes, that human beings are inherently greedy, evil, and plain old bad in nature. He believed that humans were unfit to rule themselves and thought that tyranny was the only way to do what is right for the people.) What are your thoughts on and criticisms of communism? Ways to make it work? Is a Marxist path to communism, or Marxism, necessary?

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20 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

It’s dead, I’m afraid.

Try cooperativism or communitarianism.

Blobman's avatar

@wundayatta What makes it dead? If it’s dead what is China doing?

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

Nothing is wrong with communism.

A long time ago, we had distinct differences with the Soviet Union over geopolitics. We had a cold war. Generations were raised to think communism was a bad thing, which completely aligned with the interests of rich people in this country who were anti-union. The propaganda was unbelievable both in the public sector and funded by the private sector.

The truth is, most people in the West accept Jesus as their savior, who had a very communistic philosophy. The propaganda that we have been subjected to makes us identify communism with evil.

ETpro's avatar

Communism as Mars envisioned it has never been tried in modern times. What passed for communism once Stalin came to power in Russia and Mao on China was a system designed to allow party elites to live in opulent luxury while making wage slaves of everyone else so that the elites could be an oligarchy. But however communism is rationalized, there is that pesky human nature problem. Why work if you get the same pay for doing nothing? Why innovate if there is no reward for doing so? How can a central planning commission with no involvement in market forces react to what the market really demands?

There are equally vexing problems with capitalism. How do we avoid oligarchy due to concentration of wealth and the oligarchs instituting wage slavery to further enrich themselves? When profits are king, how do we deal with the fact that means people don’t matter? How do we reconcile the need for ever greater production and profits with the limits of resources on an Earth with a population of 7 billion people and growing?

zenvelo's avatar

The primary problem with Communism is that the government planned economy leaves the economy missing the key to growth, which is innovation. And because of the structure, the economy does not grow but stagnates.

There were parts of the Soviet economy that were very much a product of the planned economy. Consider the choices they faced compared to what was offered in the US in the 1960s.
Soviets: coffee? one brand if they had any in stock.
America: Folgers, Maxwell House, Hills Brothers, Caf? Decaf? Columbian, or Central American. 1lb can, 2 lb can, 3lb can? Instant? freeze dried?

The same thing applied to bread, or toothpaste, or soup, or many other things.

The US produced Buicks, Fords, Chryslers, and other brands with dozens of styles. The Communists came up with the Lada and the Yugo.

ETpro's avatar

@zenvelo The problem with all known systems of government is much deeper than that. It is really how do we innovate for the betterment of mankind? Most capitalist “innovation” is just a tiny, incremental change with a massive marketing campaign to convince us we must throw away perfectly good stuff and replace it immediately with marginally better or even worse-but-with-more-features stuff. In a world with growing pollution that threatens human existence, and dwindling natural resources that also threaten human existence, this is not an inherently superior plan.

Oh, and I didn’t see the typo till it was too late, but in my first answer, “Mars” should have been “Marx”.

Blobman's avatar

@ETpro Exactly. Though I’m not quite a hobbesian, i do think that greed is easy to succumb to. Capitalism rewards greed with money, socialism requires that individuals contribute to society in order to be paid.

phaedryx's avatar

“In market exchanges, prices convey embedded information about the abundance of resources as well as their desirability, which in turn allows corrections that prevent shortages and surpluses.”

ragingloli's avatar

First of all “an economic system where the government controls all enterprise, decides upon and distributes pay to its citizens” is not Communism, it is State Capitalism.

Second, Communism means ownership and grassroots democratic administration of the economy by the people directly, the dissolution of the state as an entity, and the abolishment of wage labour (no currency).

Third, “an economic system where the government controls all enterprise, decides upon and distributes pay to its citizens.” fails because an extremely large, complex system is being controlled by a small amount of people, who do not have the knowledge to effectively do so, both in regards to the know how required for the different fields, and the knowledge about the current states and requirements of the countless subdivisions of the economy, and who, because of the large size of an economy and the small size of the controlling body, are so busy keeping the system together, that they lack the flexibility to effectively handle changes in the system.

Kropotkin's avatar

Communism, the economic system, is almost the exact opposite to what is being described in the question.

Communism is stateless, which necessarily precludes private property. Without a state or state-like institutions, there is nothing to enforce private property.

Economic planning in communism is decentralised, with workers and communities making the decisions themselves on what to produce, build, extract, distribute, etc.

Communism is a moneyless system, and therefore a type of gift-economy.

This isn’t a lot of information, but it’s enough to quickly deduce what communism is not.

Communism has been tried during the early twentieth century, most notably by anarchists in the Ukraine, and later in Catalonia.

cazzie's avatar

True, pure economic models, like capitalism or communism, fails to take into account basic human traits, like greed, laziness, integrity (or lack there-of). Economics, until recently, was pure math, only taking into account models that left nothing to take into account for the fact that humans are NOT logical, nor are we totally compassionate or fair. Feathering our own nests at the expense of others is as natural as being blind to the efforts of others to do so, while being lied to, directly into our faces. Our ability to be taken advantage of is only equalled by our ability to justify what ever ‘politics du’jour’ we are being fed.

Jaxk's avatar

Who gets the caviar and who gets the beans.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@Kropotkin It seems that “Communism” (using the capital “C” to indicate the political system) is indistinguishable in many peoples minds from “communism” (small “c”, the economic model). I guess this is a generational hangover from the Cold War.

zenvelo's avatar

@ragingloli and @Kropotkin Thanks for the clarification on what Communism really is. But in your explanation, you also say what is its failure. There is a reason for money and prices above and beyond a store of value. Price is the most equitable way of discriminating. Money competition for goods, also known as demand, is the only way to fairly determine who gets a portion of a scarce resource. In a stateless economy it is a form of voting for what to produce.

The alternative cannot work because it imposes on everyone an identical basket of goods, whether an individual wants it or not. We don’t all need a clock at the same time. But maybe more of us want a clock than is being produced this month. Who gets to choose a clock this month if I cannot use money to vote?

ragingloli's avatar

“Money competition for goods, also known as demand, is the only way to fairly determine who gets a portion of a scarce resource.”

I disagree that it is fair at all, because money is an extremely unevenly and unfairly distributed resource. Explain to me how it is fair that someone who works 2 back breaking jobs does not get to afford, let us say, a low tier BMW, while a CEO that sits in a comfy leather armchair for 6 hours a day can afford 10 Ferraris?

Also, there are other ways to determine who gets what.
You could operate on a first come-first serve basis.
Or use a “take what you need, within reason”, system. (Take sugar for example. In our local supermarket there is a limit on how much sugar you can buy at once. I think it was 10kg)
For rare stuff you could do a lottery.
Or a democratic vote.
There are alternatives to money, which would be more fair than it, too.

cazzie's avatar

@zenvelo If you think that goods are valued with a price of their intrinsic worth, you are wrong on so many levels. If that were the case, we would have no need for commercials or advertisements or marketing departments or ad agencies (nice thought though). The pricing of goods, even in a very capitalistic based system is very, very fluid. How do you think retailers can take 90% off? How do you think that retailers can suddenly raise the price of a ‘tendy’ product 200%? (lately it has been coconut fat sold in health food stores here or you could insert any useless alternative medicine here, as well.) It is far more complicated than that. Your proposed system for scarce resources also ignores the truly fair determination of a scarce resource. Why do you think there are systems in place for equitable organ transplants based on need and not who will pay the most? Oddly enough, in Western countries, this system is controlled by medical ethics boards, but in China, (communist China, whether you want to put a capital C on communist, I don’t care) prisoners are shot because they are a tissue match. People are stupid. Communism sounds like a damn panacea on paper, but we know, that in practice, it is not. Capitalism sounds glorious and heroic, but we know that it isn’t either.

Another flaw in your proposal is that you say a ‘Stateless economy’, but who issues the money if the economy is stateless? Will each multinational corporation issue their own currency? Will the currency be promissory notes issued by your employer? How will that work?

zenvelo's avatar

@ragingloli You are talking wages, (which is the price of labor). I don’t agree with the way the wages are applied in the current circumstances. But shouldn’t the decision maker and the manager earn more than the factory worker? If you pay only for physical labor, there will be no management.

And first come- first serve was why there were day long breadlines in Russia. Shit out of luck if you didn’t have someone to stand in line for the limited supply. And then you had to stand in a different line for vegetables, and another for meat. How inefficient ! Why not let people choose based on where they want to allocate dollars!

@cazzie I never said goods are priced on intrinsic value. They are priced based on supply and demand. It’s a quick equilibrium! That;s why prices can be cut 90%, Because no one wants to buy them! There is way more supply than demand! Cut the price to get rid of the inventory.

And as to organ donations, society has found it ethical to discriminate based on medical need, rather than ability to pay, because the alternative to paying would be death. But overseas (and I am not condoning this) it is possible in some less developed countries to get a liver or a kidney from the black market.

And, we were discussing the merits of Communism, and it was other posters who said it was a stateless economy. I was pointing out that without money Communism fails.

cazzie's avatar

No, @zenvelo it is not quick equilibrium. You are assuming that people are making purchases with some logic and reasoning. We do not. We are flawed an illogical beings.

The poster… was it @Kropotkin ? he is discussing communism in its utopian ideal where everyone is so nice to each other and looks after each other and everyone works just as hard as everyone else etc…. but that, again, is not how people are, generally, and that is not how communism becomes instituted. Human ego, being what it is, gets in the way. One overthrow of a government and monarchy simply leads to a scramble of power and a desire for more.

If you want a good example of what I consider the closest thing to ‘communism’ that is practised and has been practised since before Marx wrote his silly book, look at successful indigenous groups / nations that need to make the most of their limited resources and survive year after year, decade after decade, century after century. There are nations in the South Pacific that have been cooperating like this. (see the Anuta people Also, groups in Arctic regions. My father in law spent time with Sami people just before the Nazis invaded and he would probably say that his survival during Nazi occupation was due to them and what he learned from them. There are examples of failures in civilisation in the Pacific as well. With the dwindling and poorly managed resources on the Islands of Rapa Nui, their leadership and cultural ideals ultimately led to their destruction.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from these micro-economies. There are now over 7 billion of us on the planet. We are using up resources and dividing up wealth and creating economies and values of trade based on speculation and fictions, simply to support over inflated currency values and speculate on futures, dark or bright. Do we want to be Rapa Nui or do we want to be Anuta?

zenvelo's avatar

@cazzie And your examples of closest things to communism being successful indigenous groups is another example of why it doesn’t work. Those are comparatively undeveloped and primitive economies and societies, and some are actually just above subsistence level.

And people make their decisions based on their own logic and reasoning, not one dictated by you or the vote of everyone else, or the unseen hand of the planning committee. If they don’t like their choices, the only one they can complain to is themselves.

cazzie's avatar

I think it rather offensive to call them undeveloped and primitive. Their economy has been running for 700 years more successfully than that of the USA. How does that make it primitive? Is it their lack of Gucci handbags?

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