A formal definition of communist economy, among other important attributes, posits that tools of production are owned by the state/community, NOT by individual. Even if that individual built said tool of production all on their own.

In practice, it means that said state implementing communist economy requires a mechanism by which an individual who created tools of production is compelled to relinquish them to the community ownership.

  • You don't like crappy communal hammers. You make your own fancy hammer. BZZZT. Not your own. Community now owns it, not you. You can go back to using crappy communal ones.

OK, the valid criticism in the comments is that hammers don't count as real "tool of production" that a communist economy would require to be community owned. Rather than arguing over what is and isn't a tool of production, let's take an example that would certainly fall under that category, because it already practically fell under that category in USSR (which had socialism with only partial communal ownership that didn't go as far as real communism is supposed to. In other words, if something was illegal to own in USSR, it would most certainly be impossible to own in real communism).

  • You invent a new machine to dig potatoes. You spend couple of years building and perfecting it. You almost never get to use it; since it's a communal tool of agriculture (if your village has 200 people, you get to use it as much as everyone else - that is, 2 days out of a year. If you're lucky, those 2 days are during when you actually dig potatoes). So you're back to using a shovel when someone/everyone else gets to use the machine you built.

In a typical "communist wannabe" socialist states, this result was achieved by the government being effectively a dictatorship (or; at least; authoritarian to a large degree) so they compel such relinquishment with a law (such as Article 153 of 1960 USSR criminal code "Private Entrepreneurship") that's backed up by threat of force from the government (see Dekulakization for more extreme version). Or by simply wink/nod/ignoring smaller tools of production - you could make your own hammer but not your own factory.

But that forceful option isn't available to a form of state that's supposed to be more democratic and/or less forceful, such as proposed anarcho-communism, libertarian socialism, etc... yet fully communist.

As such, how do such ideologies propose to practically address this problem?

More specifically: how would a non-dictatorial communist state compel an individual to stop owning (and relinquish into communal use) the means of production that said individual made themselves on their own time?

  • 4
    The premises are "odd", to say it softly. Why wouldn't the creator of the potato machine be allowed its use, if everyone else is using it? And, in any case, why would he need to be the one using it? It is not as if he is going to use it to tend to his own private potato farm, the potatos from which will belong to him and only to him. Even if he is not the one driving the machine, it will be used to produce more potatoes in the communal land, which will mean that the crop will be bigger and so everyone will benefit from it. – SJuan76 Jul 24 '17 at 21:16
  • 2
    In fact, this flies in the face of the classical accusation that communism/collectivism remove the rewards for innovation (because the machine will benefit both the creator but also anyone who did not care at all about the potatoes) and goes straight into "innovation is punished, because I say so.". Could you explain yourself better? – SJuan76 Jul 24 '17 at 21:19
  • 1
    And of course, it ignores the whole thing about what "means of production" means. Capitalism destroys pre-industrial societies because individual workers no longer can get their production means by themselves (because now "production means" are big, very expensive machines) and so they just become "labour for hire". The whole idea of "control of production means" is that the workers now own (collectively, of course) not only the hammers but also the factory. – SJuan76 Jul 24 '17 at 21:33
  • 1
    @sjuan because there exists only one potato digging machine. And many people who want to use it. – user4012 Jul 24 '17 at 21:36
  • 2
    You said that here, @user4012 : "you invent a new machine to dig potatoes. ... You don't get to use it; since it's a communal tool of agriculture. So you're back to using a shovel when someone/everyone else gets to use it." I don't think SJuan is doing much reading into. – AmagicalFishy Jul 25 '17 at 3:46

A non-dictatorial communist society would manage this in much the same way most societies do: by having laws that state the rights and obligations of the individual and the punishments meted out for breaking those laws.

If those laws were made by, say, a democratically elected parliament, it would be hard to argue that they were a product of a dictatorship.

Whether or not those laws would cause resentment or frustration is, of course, a different question. The corollary being, would a non-dictatorial society be able to maintain those laws for an extended period?

I would argue that any answer to the latter question is merely speculation. To my knowledge, there has been no communist society that attempted to run anything other than a dictatorship or a totalitarian state.

My personal view is that it would only be possible in a resource excessive environment i.e. where everyone has plenty, as human nature tends to favour one's self and one's family in extremis. But that's just an opinion.

  • +1 The first thing comes to mind when I read OP question was organized crime – jean May 29 '18 at 16:38

In communism, work tools are considered means of production. According to communist doctrine, means of production should never be private property. The main objective of the communist revolution would be to communalize all privately owned means of production. If anyone in a communist society starts to claim ownership of means of production, they are counter-revolutionaries who try to reintroduce capitalism. This is the one crime even the most anti-authoritarian communist society can not tolerate, because it would be an attack on its basic foundation. It's basically the capitalist equivalent to theft. It would be dealt with like with any other crime: prosecution and punishment via the legal system.

The communist credo "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" means that everyone in a communist society should do the jobs with which they contribute most to society and work as much as they are able to. This requires some flexibility regarding who does what work and when. In a communist society, there is no distinction between "work time" and "own time". The strict 9-to-5 work day is a capitalist concept. In communism, work is work and any work is for the community. If you create means of production, you create them for the community.

When a simple farmer discovers that she has the ability to design hammers and invent potato digging machines, she would stop working as a farmer and start working as an engineer. That way she can not just improve her own productivity but also that of all the other farmers which in the end results in an even greater gain of productivity for the whole society. Far more than if she would keep her inventions for herself.

  • This answer can be summarized as "by outlawing ownership." It doesn't give an answer how the state would enforce that. – Sjoerd Jul 25 '17 at 18:11
  • @Sjoerd It would be considered a crime and dealt with through the justice system like with any other crime like arson or assault. I made that more clear. A communist society needs a system to deal with crime just like any other society. Justice is an orthogonal concept. – Philipp Jul 25 '17 at 19:14
  • But what is "ownership?" If I return it every day to the central depot and take it a minute later, does that count as ownership? If I give it to my neighbor and he returns it to me - repeated for several years - is that acceptable shared ownership between the two of us even though everyone else can't get it? Would I get punished for forgetting to return it? Would I get punished for "forgetting" to return it many days in a row? The theory sounds great when summarized in a short statement, but the grey area in practice is huge. – Sjoerd Jul 25 '17 at 19:33
  • 2
    @Sjoerd Considering that actual communism was never tried on a grand scale in the real world and that there are several competing communist philosophies which disagree on various key areas you can not expect a concrete solution for every small detail. – Philipp Jul 25 '17 at 19:41

First of all, your example is oversimplified. You assume that someone invents a potato harvesting machine because they don't like the existing one. Certainly, that is what fuels some invention, but that is not the source of most novel ideas.

In a capitalist society, the vast majority of novel work comes out of companies who employ people to make things for them. Those people mostly see no benefit from their innovation, other than praise, while the company may make millions or billions.

Nevertheless, let us do a thought experiment:

Dmitri, a potato farmer, sees some obvious problems with the existing equipment. Scrounging together scrap material, he makes an improved machine with what he has. He takes this machine to the state potato machine factory, and an impressed factory manager connects him with the potato machine design bureau.

Since there is no Intellectual Property in a communist state, the design of the potato machine is in the public domain. Anyone can copy it. However, the design bureau sees potential in Dmitri's design, and connects him to a school for mechanical engineering, and agrees to work with him to move his design from prototype to production.

Invention in a communist state can be rewarded, albeit differently. Further, invention in capitalist states is more-often than not, not rewarded.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .