Specific flaws in implementing communism?

I say communism rather than Marxism or communist theory
because I’m more interested in the adaptions to real life, and
inherent problems therein.

I have long considered myself to be communist, and have a
pretty solidified rationale/ideology. But there are a couple things that are hard to get past, and I thought I might solicit help from my new e-friends.

#1. This is a question I get a lot…in communism, if everybody is doing what they want, who takes care of the messy stuff? who, for example, decides they WANT to clean shit from the sewers, or take out everyone’s trash. My response, of course, is that the ‘dirty jobs’ (and not so dirty ones like food production) are done by everybody. Everybody does their share to make sure it is done. In theory, perfect answer. But practically speaking it becomes harder.

Judging from what I see as the successful communist countries vs. the bad ones, communism works best in agrarian communities, and in small communities. The specific term is communal anarchism. And this is true for the above question. In a city the size of Chicago, for example, how would cleaning sewers be regulated, and why would people, living in such a big place, even care to do it (as they are not seeing the benefits of their work, nor feeling the satisfaction of helping the community)?

And going from an industrial nation with sprawling cities to an agrarian nation with small communities seems like an impossible step to take. It seems almost impossible to tear up roads and grow vegetables where they were (atleast in the short term). so how (hypothetically) could you switch from being a capitalist industrial nation to a communist nation without compromising the ideals of communism?

And say it is decided that America is split up into millions of autonomous communities as to pave the way for communal anarchism- say the Chicago metroplex is divided up into 10,000 different communities (roughly the size of voting districts)…doesn’t this complicate matters such as commerce? Assuming each district cannot be completely self-sufficient (unless one wants to munch on the same regional, seasonal veggies day in and day out, etc.), won’t the symbiotic relationships between communes be too complex and disparate to be effective? won’t that make it just as easy for power to be abused as now?

Keep in mind that I see true communism as a democracy, and I think the communism of the former USSR and of China and Cuba are reprehensible and against the true spirit of communism. There has to be FULL democratic participation (which I think depends on smaller communities) in order to preserve the equal distribution of power…

THe above may or may not be coherent. I just got off work, and definitely need to relax a bit… but, if indeed thoughts can be salvaged from that, what do you think?

I’d rather not get into an argument about communism vs. capitalism (although I will, and I have volumes and volumes of cites for that shit), but rather talk about the hypothetical feasibility of implementing communism in a country (like the US) that is super industrialized.

peace (literally)

Ok…here it is. Communism, in the utopian anarchist sense is unworkable in modern society. And here is why:

The model for most communist societies is small little communes where everyone pitches in and does their share. Everyone cleans the sewere, picks up the trash, and grows the vegetables. Works fine for a small, motivated, community of a couple 100 people who want a standard of living of turn of the century farmers.

Problem is that that model is not scalable to cities of millions. In our modern society, work is carried out by highly trained specialists like doctors, engineers, machinists, chefs and businesspeople as well as less skilled workers like maids and day laborers. Most professions require a significant investment in time and money so the most efficient use of their time is working at what they’ve trained for.

So the question is now “how do we allocate resources so that we have the right amount of doctors, engineers, and construction workers and so on in the right place?”. The answer in a communist system is some central group decides based on imperfect and delayed information. This is not efficient because no system can transfer supply and demand information as quickly as the free market. So in other words, a capitalist or other free market economy will always produce more efficiently than a communist economy and thus will enjoy a higher standard of living while even the best intioned communist government will be stumbling along, trying to figure out how many loaves of bread vs automobiles should be produced.

Hope that helps.

I lived in Saskatchewan until I was 22, and worked at a feed mill for a while that served the local Hutterite communities. Hutterites are basically communal-living anabaptists who form self-sufficient “colonies” of 60 to 160 persons. They hold all goods in common, according to the early Christian belief; leadership roles are held by those appointed to those roles (e.g., colony manager).

As “intentional” communities go, the Hutterites are astonishingly successful. There are 34,000 of them in North America, quietly living their insular lives according to communist principles, though with a radical Christian foundation.

Part of their success stems from not allowing a colony to get too large. At the point a colony reaches around 150 persons, it splits, with the second group purchasing land somewhere for a new colony. The small size is essential for maintaining cultural discipline, and a high level of peer pressure that acts as a corrective force–everyone knows each other too well for anyone to hide in the barn while the metaphorical sewers are being cleaned. It’s just not possible to be a free rider in their communities. It helps that the nearest colony is hundreds of miles away, and the farm manager has the keys to the truck.

This seems to be the essential problem with communism, as Colinito describes it: past a certain size, social pressure becomes too weak to act as a disciplinary force, requiring a transition to more explicitly forceful social entities like police and the courts.

I think it’s basically impossible to have a nation of communists on this model; if you subdivided Chicago by city blocks into communist communities, the communities themselves would be too densely packed to provide effective implicit social control, since a free rider tossed out of one would land in another just 100 yards away. The simple traffic between communities would destroy any sense of identification with a particular block.

Do you believe, Colinito, that the communists in your nation would be “scientific communists”, like Marx said? As in, someone raised a communist would be a communist for life? Or do you think that a measure of social control would be necessary for the continuation of the community?

I’m curious. Which communist countries do you consider to be successful?

Dang! Truth Seeker beat me to it… :smiley:

Okay, then–“me wanna know, too”.

I’m rather interested myself, simply because at the moment I’m encountering rather a lot of Marxists/Communists/Trotskyists/Anarchists/Whateverists and I’m getting somewhat tired of the “inefficiency of capitalism” arguments that I’m always hearing.

There’s a related question… what’s wrong with the labour theory of value? If there is something wrong with it? The idea that the value of everything is based on the “crystallized” labour that was put into it seems…off…to me somehow, but I’m not quite sure how to deal with it. (Even aside from the implicit “capitalists are parasites on the back of hard-working people” argument that gets tied into that). Since I don’t have a background in economics, it’s rather hard to deal with this sort of thing.

Communism is actually supposed to take place in industrialized societies. It is about factories and mass farming, not little idealist hippie communes. The idea is that capitalism is a neccesary step in history that provides the kind of industrial infrastructure needed to support a large society. The problem with many modern attempts at communism is that they began with starving countries with no infrastructure. It’s not all that surprising that they came up with more of the same.

So who becomes a doctor and who cleans out the sewage? That problem never bothered me much. You’ve got to do something with your life. Would you rather go to sit around on your butt and get so bored you kill yourself, or would you rather go to school and learn how to perform operations, or would you rather build up some muscles digging ditches. I know I’d rather be in school- I like being in an intellectual aptmosphere and digging ditches doesn’t seem very cool. I know other people are sick of classrooms and would like to hang out with their friends doing simple manual labor. Remember, college wouldn’t cost money and it wouldn’t leave you in poverty for the duration, so there would be a lot fewer drawbacks to getting an education. I think surprisingly few people would sit on their butts until they get bored to death. Even the ultra rich in modern American society do labor- they just call it hobbies. They fly planes, build model trains, go to cooking classes- whatever. It’s all work. And it is all work that can be made productive.

Yes, things might get a little unbalanced. But things are plenty unbalanced right now as it is. Everyone wants to be a dot com executive, despite the fact that dot coms arn’t doing much to make anyone’s life better. And nobody wants to be a teacher despite the fact that we need teachers desperately. I think that allocating occupation by personal interest/talent is at least as reasonable as allocating it by ones personal economic ambitions tempered by ones ability to pay for education.

So what about people that take more than their fair share? When you ask a person why they want to be wealthy, the answer is usually security. So what if you knew that you were going to be secure, and that you and your family would never be at risk for starvation or extreme deprivation. Well, you wouldn’t need to constantly seek that security. You wouldn’t need to take more than your fair share. It wouldn’t ever occur to you to horde all the bread or to take more goods than you have use for. It’d be pointless. There would be no reason to.

But human nature is selfish, you say? Maybe. But human nature doesn’t stop us. It is human nature to screw every attractive person of the opposite sex you see, but we certainly don’t do that. One of the great things about society is that it gets around some of the nastier aspects of “human nature”. I’m a little doubtful that selfishness in the form of not working and hording goods is human nature, anyway. We’ve never lived in a non-capitalist society. We only know the current worldview, and while it is hard to picture a different one, that doesn’t mean that a different one can’t exist.

FWIW, I consider strongly socialist countries like Sweden to be examples of ways in which bits of communism can be successful. It’s hard to point out examples of full communism because one has never existed.

The value of something has nothing to do with the labor that went into it. The value of something is exactly what someone else is willing to pay for it - no more, no less.

It shouldn’t take much brainpower to see what’s wrong with the labor theory of value. For example, a highly skilled tradesman can paint a room with much less labor than it takes me, and do a better job. My ‘labor’ actually lowered the value of the room, because I’m not as good as it.

Or, hire two workers to dig a hole. When they are done, hire two more to fill it in. There sure was a lot of labor expended, but nothing of value was created.

The so-called ‘built in inefficiencies of capitalism’ are actually its strengths. When most marxists talk about that, the types of examples they bring up are competing companies making similar products, advertising, etc. But competition improves efficiency. Advertising efficiently disseminates information about products, etc.

But is there an occasional “dead beat” who simply won’t do his (or her) share in spite of “social pressure”. If there is, what is done with that person? What is the degree of coercion involved the process?


Hey, a Communist from Texas. You have got to be from Austin.


You’re starting from the premise that people under communism will always do exactly what they want. How come?


Well now I’m confused. First off I’d like to know which countries you consider successful examples of communism. And how can those be successful examples of communism when communism works best in small agrarian communities?


Keeping a city like Chicago clean is a full time job for many people. The most efficent way of doing it would be to have workers whose sole purpose is to keep the city clean.


How much experience do you have in an agrarian setting?

The whole concept of switching to an agricultural nation seems rather silly to me. With our current technological levels we don’t need to have 60%+ of the population engaged in farming. I don’t have a cite handy but I think today less than 2% of the poulation is involved in growing food. Under your system far more people would be forced into farming and would have fewer choices as to what to do for a living.

And do you really want to live in a society where farming is taken back to the early industrial days? Farm work can be hard enough now but it was much harder back then.


Dude, you already said you wanted to rip up roads and plant vegetables. What are you worried about commerce for?

Fine, hypothetically switching to an agrarian society is silly at best. Suicidal at worse.


Dude, there just isn’t physical room for 10,000 “voting districts” in the Greater Chicago area.

Here’s a map that shows the nine county Greater Chicago area.

The big black squares are “counties”, like McHenry, Kane, Kendall, to give you some idea of the scale of the thing. Now, see the mass of tiny bright blue lines, over to the right? Those are called “Wards” in Chicago, and correspond to “voting districts”. That mass of squiggly blue lines represents 50 wards. Do you see room on this map for 9,550 more of those? And the map covers 9 counties, not the 6 counties that are generally considered the “Chicago metropolitan area”.

Some population numbers.

Number of people living in Chicago proper… 2,896,016

Number of people in all of Cook County, which is Chicago’s “home county” and which includes the 3,000,000 people living in Chicago proper… .5,376,741

Number of people in the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area which includes the 3,000,000 people living in Chicago proper…8,272,768

So you’re talking about over 8 million people, in the 6-county area, who are going to go “back to the land”? Where, exactly, are they going to live?

The six Chicago area counties, including the City of Chicago proper, cover 3,749 square miles.

3,749 square miles divided by 8,000,000 is 0.000468625, or about 5/10,000, or about 1/2000 of a square mile per person.

A square mile would be 5,280 feet times 5,280 feet, or 27,878,400 square feet. 1/2000 of that would be 13,939.2 square feet of land per person. Building lots frequently run 50 feet by 100 feet, which is 5000 square feet. So there’s plenty of room for everybody to have his own house, sure, but how about room for roads? Schools? Factories? Oh, and farming?

So they’re going to have to double up at some point. The only reason that that many people can fit into the Greater Chicago area is because of mass housing, like apartment buildings. So you’re going to have at least some of them living in communal dorms?

And what about what the People themselves want? What about privacy issues? Not everybody wants to live in a dorm. Some people enjoy living in a cozy high-rise condo, working as a lawyer in an office building. Why should the State dictate that they should drop everything and go live in a dorm out in McHenry County and hoe potatoes to feed their Comrades?

And what about the situation when you have most people living in dorms, but a chosen few get to live in their own houses? Are the dorm-dwellers simply not supposed to be resentful? That wasn’t how it worked in the Soviet Union.

We tried this. It was called “the Soviet Union”.

It didn’t work. :wink: And it didn’t work precisely for the same reason that it wouldn’t work to tell all those Chicago lawyers that they have to go hoe potatoes out in McHenry County–it doesn’t take human nature into account, namely things like Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust, Anger, and–especially–Greed.

Things are actually not unbalanced. Everyone may want to be a CEO but not everyone has the skills, training and experience to be one. Market forces effectively keep people out of these rolls and prevent us from turning into a nation of investment bankers and lawyers. Its like the old career service question “what would you do for a living if you had a million dollars?”. The question is bullshit because if everyone had a million dollars, no one would clean toilets for a living or perform the other undesireable jobs.

If anything, your argument supports free markets over communism. Teachers are government employees and in general, the government does not run each department like a profitable business. They set a budget based on expected needs and available finances and work within that budget. To a certain extent, teachers are thus not really subject to the same market forces that private sector employees are. If there is a shortage of engineers, their salaries increase and new workers attracted by the higher salaries enter the field. And vice versus. What happens if there is a shortage of teachers? Nothing if it isn’t within the governments budget plan.

The same thing would happen in a pure communist society. The governing body would have to constantly try and figure out how many of each position to have. Now you may say, “big companies like GE or IBM do that all the time and they employ 100,000s of workers.” Countries are not like companies. They are effectively closed systems 1000s of times larger than the largest company. GE can always lay off unneeded workers, but a communist country can’t simply expell everyone it doesn’t have a use for.

One of the central tenets of communism is “To each according to their needs; from each according to their abilities.” The problem with communism is contained therein.

People are essentially selfish. Communism, capitalism, socialism, fascism, feudalism, anarchism, or whatever else cannot change that fact. So people have to motivated to produce the needs of society. The traditional ways to do this are the metaphorical carrot and the stick. You can also add the metaphorical flag.

In an ideal capitalist system, the more you produce, the greater your rewards. So a person is motivated to produce by their desire for reward. It may not be pretty, but it works after a fashion. (The topic of the flaws with capitalist theory falls outside the scope of this thread.)

In an ideal communist system, however, your needs are met regardless of how much you produce. In fact, in this theoretical ideal communist system, the amount you receive is totally divorced from what you produce.

Having removed the carrot from the list, we’re left with the stick or the flag. The flag (i.e. appealing to people’s social conscience) can work for awhile. In the immediate aftermath of the Revolution or an attack from outside, people are willing to sacrifice for the greater good. In small communities of true believers, this social conscience can be sustained for decades. But in any society that’s ever existed, faith has always worn thin at some point and altruism becomes the exception not the norm.

At that point, you’re left with the stick. The only way to motivate people in the absence of a hope that things will get better is to show them that things will get worse if they don’t do what they’re told. Like capitalism, totalitarianism is ugly yet effective. So far, every known communist system has fallen prey to it, which reinforces the logic that it’s an inherent flaw of the premise.

For starters, Hutterites are born into the colony and raised to the culture, so a lot of (Hutterite) anti-social behaviour is weeded out right there. There are disciplinary measures taken by the community, that are decided upon by the minister and deacons, and carried out by all, that usually involve limited forms of shunning, such as not being allowed to take communal meals, not being allowed to participate in community activities, etc. I’ve never heard of any serious crimes or problems. When your whole world is 160 people living and working together on a farm, shunning is surprisingly effective.

I can’t think of one successful communist society. Depends how you define “successful” I guess… heh.

Don’t confuse communal living with communism. In fact, communism is responsible for more misery and deaths than any form of “government” yet upon the earth. While we are inundated daily with the evils of Nazi Germany on the Hitler Channel here in the US, there is an inexplicable silence when it comes to the horrors of communism.

many years ago i ran across the word STUPIDYNAMICS i must have laughed for 10 minutes after i read it. as far as i know it was invented by Robert Anton Wilson a sci-fi writer. no matter how GOOD a theory is you will never get most people to go along with it, except by force. when you apply the force, the whole theory goes out the window, because people are reacting to the force.

what did Marx say about planned obsolescence of gasoline powered road vehicles. Marx died in 1881, the first cars weren’t built until 1885 or 86. the term planned obsolescence was created in 1940. Marx is obsolescent at best.

Dal Timgar

damn, this message board is intense.
way too many things to reply to in way too little
time. but I will try my best.

First off, I think what I consider to be successful
communist states was of particular interest.

Well, it is hard, because everytime something
‘communist’ comes up, the US or other 1st world
colonialists blow the shit out of them or train troops
to kill peasants on their shores.
The communism of the early Mekong Delta. Late 50’s
to early 60’s. Absolutely beautiful. In “The Vietnam Wars”
by Marilyn Young (great book, must read for those interested in
Vietnam) I read a quote from an American journalist who was
dumbfounded in his praise for the cooperation, industriousness,
and genuine care for eachother and the community that was evident in South Vietnam at that time. Unfortunately, I can’t find
the exact quote or page number (just looked for 5 minutes). I give up on that. But if coerced I will take the time to find the stats in the book marking the tremendous improvement in the livelihood of the people that occured while the NLF/DRV had control over the Mekong as opposed to the 8 or 9 dictators set up by America.
The communism of the Early Christian Church. Although details are sketchy, and I’m an athiest, from what I’ve read these people had genuine concern for every member, and they were well taken care of (for the most part- not including Roman persecution).
-The Sandanistas. All of a sudden all these oppressed peasants were offered universal healthcare, education, guaranteed food and shelter…Of course that didn’t last long, as military force came in and set up a dictatorship.

You know what they say, all the good ones are persecuted…

#2. There seems to be a lot of people thinking I want to go back to agrarian life. Maybe I was too vague, maybe you’re not reading closely enough… At any rate, no. I’m not in favor of ripping up roads for farmland. It wouldn’t even be feasible, as farmland in organic farming (the preferred choice of course) has to be nutrient-rich and untainted. It is hardly feasible at any rate.
There is enough farmland as it is. Especially if we stopped using obscene amounts of land for dairy and meat farming (but that is a different story). The problem that I was referring to is the fact that there are huge amounts of farmland in some places, and little farmland in others. And to be self-sufficient, you really need farmland. But hell no, I don’t want to live isolated from the city life.

#3. Duck Duck Goose (hi again!) contested my hypothetical question concerning districts in Chicago. A) I have lived most of my life in Chicago. In one of the counties you mentioned (Kane). 10,000 was a completely arbitrary number, as it was completely hypothetical (Chicago being my example since I love that city). In that example, I was illustrating the unfeasibility of dividing a city into small, self-sustaining communities. So I guess we agree.

#4. Sam Stone…you mentioned the value of labor, using the example of painting your room. You are right, hiring a painter would be more efficient for us, as Americans in the 22nd century. But, I think it is better to be self-sufficient. Shit, I don’t know how to paint a room, you don’t know how to paint a room. But we should. Why rely on someone else? That is like relying on a frequent heroin injection just to be able to keep on living. I’m not preaching or anything, as I am quite helpless in many maintenance scenarios. But I think being more self-sufficient would be better. In painting a room, for example, I’m sure if someone took you under their tutelage for a couple days, you’d know all the ins and outs of the procedure.
Second, you mention how competition (under Capitalism) improves efficiency. Yes, you are completely right. Capitalism is more efficient. But I for one would willingly give up that efficiency if it meant human life. You must understand that in Capitalism it is efficient to have a poor working class and a rich class. It ensures that jobs like sewer maintenance are done quickly and correctly by someone who does only that. But that disgusts me.
A couple stats:
In 1984 Forbes magazine noted that the top 400 wealthiest people in the US had assets totaling $60 billion. At the same time, there were 60 million people who had no assets. (Howard Zinn, "Declarations of Independence. Pg. 4)
Also in 1984 , a Physicians Task Force “reported that 15 million American families had an income of under 10,000 dollars a year”…“A report by the Harvard School of Public Health in 194 said that its researchers found that over 30,000 people had to beg for food to avoid starvation” (ibid, pg 149)

This is your efficiency. And there are mountains of horrendous facts like these (my cites were easy, as I know this particular book backwards and forward). The point is, I don’t think there should be a few people with money they can’t even begin to spend and millions of people living in poverty. It is disgusting…and it is all perpetuated b/c the people with money can afford the good education and supply the good job references and pass on the big money/capital. In capitalism one needs capital in order to prosper. And unfortunately, this country did not begin on level ground. Yes, some are able to use their intellectual capital (in art of all sorts or ingenuity like early .comers) to become successful. Most don’t.

And finally (as I need to get off this damn computer)
Even Sven:
First off, from Santa Cruz! My favorite juice and two of my favorite bands hail from there. Greetings my pinko friend!

I agree completely on the fact that very few would be deadbeats under communism. People naturally want to do something. I’d like everyone to have a substantial amount of time to do what they want to do. I heard Sweden is experimenting on a 6-hour work day. Now that is up my alley. Do what needs to be done (but still ideally within a capacity that you enjoy) and then do what you want to do. And yes, security. It is like Maslow’s pyramid of self-actualization. First you need survival- a home, food, etc. That is the first step, and until that is complete you cannot go any further in your actualization as a person. Under capitalism, too many people are harnessed to their miserable jobs, because they need them to survive. Not only are they not doing what they want to do, they aren’t even able to truly discover what they want to do, because they can’t focus on the development of themselves.

That said, we definitely don’t see eye to eye on the implementation of communism. While I’m not for reverting to agrarianism, I definitely feel that communism works best in small communities. If I had my choice, I’d start a small commune. Industrial? Yes, we need that to some extent, but to a larger extent industry is part of what has been keeping the common man down for the last 150 years. Polluting our farmland, our lakes… giving workers health problems… making them an expendible part in a machine at their own expense and for the profit of a few fortunate ones at the top… Maybe my definition of industrial is too narrow. I’m thinking of factories and foundries and processing plants, etc. But industry in its broadest sense encapulates much more than that, a lot of it good.

thanks to everybody for the conversation.

Oh, look, a dal_timgar post that brings up planned obsolescence in the automobile industry fo no reason. I couldn’t have seen that one coming.


Incidentally, does anyone remember the thread which had that little diatrabe of mine on how communism can be seen as inevitable? Hail Eris, here I go: Is Communism Inevitable? It did make some assumptions that are possibly unnecessary, but I thought it was a good read, anyway [strokes ego].

Carry on!

The ideal of self-sufficiency really makes no sense. If you are good with your fingers, and Bob is big and strong, it makes no sense for you to haul wood and for him to do fine woodwork. If you concentrate on what you are best at and then trade with him, you both do better. It’s simply much more efficient.

And when people discover that they could build a machine that would return more value than the labor that goes into it, they will develop institutions that allows them to coordinate their actions. Hence we have corporations, stock markets, and other ways that allow us to coordinate our actions and maximize efficiency.

And that’s where the labor theory of value goes wrong, because it neglects to consider that all these other structures and institutions add value. A laborer at Ford can be paid $35/hr because his labor is magnified by the machinery and infrastructure of a modern factory. The extra value this factory creates is shared among the worker, the owners, the managers, and the people who financed it.

That scenario also explains why the Marxist concept of a ‘social surplus’ is bogus. The ‘social surplus’ is just a fair payment for the people who provided the factory AND the person who provided the brain and labor to help run it.