Do/did non-dictatorial Communist societies exist?

  • I've often heard the following two points of view:

    • Communism is a failed philosophy, and it has always failed (e.g. USSR, China, Cuba etc...). Therefore it's simply wrong.

    • Communism has never been applied correctly, but that's for historical reasons and not intrinsic to communism. Therefore it's basically misunderstood.

    Are there examples of societies adopting Communism (or Marxism) and thriving without degenerating in dictatorial Soviet-style societies?

    As a side note: are there good treaties on the subject which are not partisan but strive to give an objective overview of the matter?

    I belive Israeli Kibbutzes are organized around Communist ideals.

    It's relevant that those who claim communism hasn't been applied correctly never are able to explain how to apply it correctly.

    You mention China in your list of failed Communist governments... I'm not sure if that's anywhere near accurate.

    Aren't all political philosophies ultimately failed? All governments come and go eventually. :)

    @DA. until they go you can't really say they failed. There's always the possibility that *some* government will figure stuff out and do things the right way.

    @JeremyHolovacs - it is accurate if you consider China two separate countries, one before Dang Xiaopin (sp?) and one post-, the former being de-factor Marxist, the latter steadily moving towards less-Marxism despite keeping the name and some/many trappings. USSR nearly almost ended up same way, during N.E.P.

    look up the Diggers during the English civil war.

    Worth noting that since the world's communist governments have a Russian parent or grandparent, and that Marxist-Leninism is defined in part by a Vanguard one-party state, it's hard to see how this could ever have led to a government without totalitarian tendencies. Admittedly, you had the Czechoslovakian idea of socialism with a human face. But well... invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

    @Jeremy Holovacs it depends on your definition of success & failure. If you consider totalitarian regimes that murder their own citizens without due process or that have tyrannical control over their people, or that have a history of democide, a failure, then yes China is a complete failure. If your measure of success is simple economic survival or even just not having been conquered by an outside entity, then I would suppose you could say that China is not a failed state.

    @Aporter If we are talking about communism, then we are talking about an economic model and to evaluate it by unrelated metrics doesn't make a lot of sense; it seems pretty clear that China's communism has *not* failed to date, and is not, in fact, presenting indications of failure. Your objections to its laws and philosophies are certainly valid, but it seems clear that China's goals for communism are being sustainably met by its execution.

    @Jeremy Holovacs but the question states: "Are there examples of societies adopting Communism (or Marxism) and thriving without degenerating in dictatorial Soviet-style societies?" Their President is a life-long dictator, does that not fit the parameters of degenerating into a dictatorial Soviet-style society?

    @Aporter I was merely commenting on the statement " has always failed (e.g. USSR, China, Cuba etc..." as if this were axiomatic, and I don't feel there's any evidence to justify that assertion. The question of the OP is an interesting one, and I don't have an informed opinion of it... but in any logical syllogism, if your premises are bad, your conclusion must also be bad. That was all I was addressing.

  • user4012

    user4012 Correct answer

    9 years ago

    Both of your bullet points are correct, and both are wrong.

    • Yes, communism was actually successfully applied. The caveats are that it was only successful under the following limitations:

      1. in an extremely small scale (either geographically - think a single village - e.g. Kibbutzes in Israel are, for all intents and purposes, an example of Communism in action; or professionally - think FOSS and/or FSF as contained systems). Some less "standard" examples would be theology-based communes, from early Christians to late new-age hippies.

      2. in an society which is a part of a larger society - by which I mean that said communist small scale implementation has access to larger demographics (allowing them to draw in fresh members who aren't yet disenchanted with the idea/practice AND to outplace those in the community who are disenchanted; as well as shed excess children so you don't have to grow significantly if your birth/survival rate exceeds 2.1).

      3. In an open economic system. For example, Kibbutzes or hippie communies in California don't need to spend money on R&D in agriculture, or defense, or large scale law enforcement (again, you may have the luxury to exclude 1-3% of psychopaths/sociopaths from a small community, and not worry about said excluded psychopaths attacking you for your communal material possessions from outside since they are dealt with by outside society), or on disaster preparedness, or on medical R&D, or pretty much any other economic overhead of modern civilization.

      4. Possessed economy and quality of life above subsistence-level farming, and did not depend on unusually rich natural resources.

        For example, presumably, you could have a communist community in an area with unlimited energy-rich wild life and vegetation, warm, stable climate and natural places to live such as caves. Basically, where you don't actually need industry or production to live reasonably well).

    • No, there was never a successful attempt to implement communism on large scale (a country with 10+ million population, modern infrastructure, and not dependent in large part on external aid in variety of forms).

      Every time it was attempted, it failed to get to the communist stage, because communism as an idea is very attractive in theory yet in practice incompatible with actual human nature. The main problems of communism without an accompanying authoritarian political regime include:

      • Lack of incentives.

      • Human greed. We evolved this way, so no amount of education will drive it out.

        • In general, Maslow's hierarchy of needs leads to inherent inequalities because their satisfaction isn't always possible without conflict. Yes you can give everyone shelter, presumably. But not everyone gets a "dacha" on a warm seashore or a wonderful lakeside - some people get to either "compete" for those scarce resources (bye-bye communism), OR live worse quality of life.
      • The fact that a fraction of society are always sociopaths/psychopaths; and many of them are smart enough to be able to channel their character "legally", within the system (or around it without being caught).

      • Lack of competitiveness related to other states around you. The only way you can not lag long term and be a communist regime is to not have a competing free system with higher productivity driven by better incentive structures. The only way you can avoid a lot of your own high producers draining to a more competitive system is by threat of force. Welcome to dictatorship (anytime you prevent your citizens who wish to leave for greener pastures from doing so by threat of force, you are a closer to authorian than free state).

    Mao allowed for each farmer to keep 2 of its pigs for themselves... He noted that the Family pigs were always much fatter and healthier than the government pigs.

    The threat of force does not imply a dictatorship. Every government in the world (except for a never-implemented pacifist one) maintains a threat of force to uphold the law, regardless of how that law came to be.

    The advantage of small-scale communities may be that *those who disagree with the system can leave it*, so those who stay are more or less volunteers. (More or less = some people might prefer to leave, but do not want to be separated from their families who prefer to stay. But that would happen with any system.) On a state scale, people who don't like the system, are usually forced to stay. If they try to leave, they are killed. And if they succeed to leave anyway, their families are punished. -- It is easier to keep the system humane if only the volunteers are there.

    @ViliamBúr - yes, that was precisely my point #2.

    @gerrit - none of the democratic societies I'm aware of use force to prevent people from **leaving**, which was the context I was discussing the use of force for.

    Tito's Yugoslavia? The isolated organized society of Saint Helena? The communities of the first christians, who used to pool their goods?

    Tito's Yugoslavia wasn't very communist, nor IIRC very non-dictatorial :)

    Caveat: these small communities are not sustainable. The Israeli government one in a while forces the banks to write off the kibbutzes' debts.

    FOSS is not really Communist. Otherwise you could call any volunteer organization Communist.

    @Lev - true... FOSS is debatable, the economics principles seem communist enough

    @DVK Tenured professors are also employed by Communist principles. Probably they can sometimes work for producing information, as opposed to material goods.

    @Lev - Tenured professors aren't "a society", nor a community, so "communist" would not really be applicable IMHO.

    +1 for the first half, -1 for the second half: **Lack of incentives:** A lot of recent psycological research shows that monetary incentives can actually destroy intrinsic motivation. **Greed:** If one assumes greed is a univeral human trait, isn't especially a society based on private property a bad idea? **Lack of competitiveness:** Measuring physical wealth with monetary means can be treacherous: A thriving 'communist' country would have an abyssimal GDP. Also higher productivity is not *always* better, there is a limit - just imagine everyone would work twice the hours!

    @jdm - the point of greed is that you can NOT base society on lack of private property without suppressing people (thus you have dictatorship). As far as monetary incentives destroying motivation - that's a very complicated topic and not really as simple as your summary. Most people don't work for free. Yes, Cobra effect exists, but it's a problem with poorly structured incentives, not with the idea of rewarding performance.

    @DVK: I wouldn't say lack of private property *period* is desireable (or a trait of communism), but rather lack of private property to the *means of production*. I'd still have my own iPhone, but not my own aluminum factory. The idea is to prevent the derivation of political power from economic power. Now I agree it's not easy to ensure political liberties (in any system), but I think one can't say a priori that it's *impossible* to have a non-capitalist society without suppressing people. Also, there is only so much detail one can put into a comment here :-)

    @DVK I think your answer is not good enough - so I downvoted that.

    @user4012 can you define what do you mean by FOSS/FSF? I'm not sure if that means the free software terms.

    "communism as an idea is very attractive in theory yet in practice incompatible with actual human nature." -- +1 for being so perfectly stated.

    "as an idea is very attractive in theory yet in practice incompatible with actual human nature" Same thing could be said for marriage given rates of divorce, infidelity, and family break downs. I've heard this tired old nonsense time and again, and it's always made without ever evidencing what human nature is, or proving that the behaviours we expect in the west are not just learned. That in itself, like for example a discussion on whether warfare is natural or learned, is a non-trivial task, and to just say "well this is the case" isn't good enough.

    "The fact that a fraction of society are always sociopaths/psychopaths" This could be said to be a flaw with the nation state, in favour of anarchism. It's not specifically anti-communist.

    @inappropriateCode - studies on primates, and on isolated tribes, point to warefare being natural. Not conclusive, but convincing.

    "Lack of incentives" Simply not true, a communist system may have different pay grades based on the stress or skill of a job, and indeed offer bonuses based on performance; which happened in the USSR. For example, in the late 1950s engineering job bonuses were capped at 20% of salary.

    @user4012 which studies? A comprehensive study of known skeletons and burials older than 10,000 years found violence to be vanishingly rare and warfare almost non-existent. That's besides the main point: being that we have to evidence arguments made about "human nature". We can't just say what is obvious to us must be a universal rule.

    I am always careful when "human nature" is used as an argument for or against something. 300 years ago, many educated people would have seen democracy as "incompatible with human nature", and pointed to the large amount of failed implementations of democracy in the ancient world and the medieval ages. The point with the argument "human nature" is that it is typically based on current or past societies, and can't account for future societies, although it attempts to make a prognosis for those future societies.

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution

Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM