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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?

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    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
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    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
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    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
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    @sjuan because there exists only one potato digging machine. And many people who want to use it. – user4012 Jul 24 '17 at 21:36
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    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
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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.

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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.

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    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
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    @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
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Ownership is a social construct

The question seems to assume that private ownership is an inherent natural concept, and the authorities would need to intervene to change that. However, private ownership as such is a social (and legal) construct that exists only because society intervenes to enforce the concept of ownership.

Take a look at the following situations in modern society, with your example of Bob having made a fancy potato-digging machine:

  1. If Joe comes to Bob's house and takes the potato-digging machine without the Bob noticing and hides it in his basement, then Joe will be treated as a thief by the society, and the society will generally be expected to assist Bob (using violence or threat of violence) in catching Joe, returning the machine to Bob and possibly punishing Joe for the act.

  2. If Joe comes to Bob's house while Bob is here and tries to take the machine while Bob physically resists, then Joe will be treated as a robber, and any violence used by Joe will be treated as an additional crime e.g. assault.

  3. If Joe comes to Bob's house while Bob is here and tries to take the machine while Bob physically resists, then (up to some level) violence used by Bob to prevent that taking will be treated as lawful self-defence and not punished by society.

That is what ownership means - that the criminal law and state monopoly on violence will be applied to ensure the rights of lawful owners. On the other hand, assigning ownership is arbitrary. In most current societies if someone makes something by himself (not as an assignment from an employer) then they would be considered the owner of that thing - but it does not have to be that way. If the state ceases to recognize such ownership and treats "the community" as owner of the stuff, then the abovementioned statements apply in a similar manner if Joe had made that fancy potato-digging machine and Bob is a random member of community that wants to use it.

  1. Joe hiding that machine in his basement and preventing it's use by others is 'theft from the community' - it's not his machine (despite having made it) and Bob has all the rights to use it, and the society will assist Bob in gaining access to this machine.

  2. If someone in the community (i.e. Bob) is using that potato-digging machine that Joe made, Joe has no right to apply violence to prevent that - if he does, that's just ordinary assault against Bob with appropriate punishments.

  3. If someone in the community (i.e. Bob) wants to use that Joe-made potato-digging machine, and Joe physically resists, then it's reasonable by Bob to apply violence - after all, it's not Joe's machine, it's Bob's lawful right to use that machine which Joe is violently preventing.

In essence, it's possible to apply all the same methods of enforcing ownership, simply the owner is not the individual who made that thing or the individual who currently is using it, but the wider community. If you've made a better hammer, it's not yours, it's effectively on a loan from others in your community, and they can "get it back" in the same way as they could in current capitalist society.

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    The problem with this answer is that its examples are all contrived and strictly divorced from all reality — they exist only in the ether of the mind. Whenever these or similar ideas have been attempted in the real world, the results have always ended in catastrophe — with widespread abuses of human rights and mass deaths. – Rain Willow Feb 29 at 23:30
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    @RainWillow - while true, that is kind of beside the point. The question wasn't "does it work", the question was "according to communist political theory, how is it supposed to work". – user4012 Mar 1 at 13:24
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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.

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  • -1 - this does not answer the question at all. It offers a scenario for why someone possibly wouldn't be interested in owning their-built means of production. Whereas the question was handling of situation when someone IS interested in owning their-built means of production (as an prior assumption). Unless you can prove that NOBODY would have such and interest and EVERYONE would be like you Dimitry, this does not answer the question at all. – user4012 Feb 29 at 19:04
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How does a liberal social democracy prevent employers from illegal employment? In a lot of countries, if you employ someone, you're supposed to give them paid sick leave, paid holidays, and so on. What prevents some guy from giving the neighbour kid 10 euros to mow his lawn and refuse him those social rights?

Nothing really. In some countries there are specific laws that make small "jobs" like this an exception, in other countries prosecutors just have more serious stuff to do than prosecute something like this. In case your lawn mowing business grows though (maybe you get paid by other people to mow their lawn and pay your neighbour kid to do the actual work), there's going to be a point where the legal system steps in.

Your example is no different. What's accepted and what isn't would just be decided by a combination of societal norms and laws. If you make one machine, you'd probably get to use it. You're a worker, after all, so why wouldn't you be allowed to own a means of production? If you own ten machines though, and you're starting to let other people use them in return for favours from them (either money, if it exists, or something else), they're the workers and you're the owner of the means of production, so the legal system might start to notice you and might get involved.

From there on, everything would work just like any lawsuit in any democratic country. You would get a lawyer, the prosecutor argues why what you're doing is illegal, your lawyer argues why they're wrong, and the judge decides which one is right according to the law. Then, someone (e.g. the police) would enforce that judgement. This is no different to how legal disputes about ownership are settled in e.g. the US.

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This question misunderstands the intention of Marxist theory. Marxism wants to take the means of production out of the hands of individuals because it takes the view that (in certain kinds of capitalist production) workers become exploited because they do not have control over the productive tools they rely on to do their jobs. In other words, if person A owns a factory, and persons B, C, D, and E work in that factory, then A can effectively enrich himself by forcing B, C, D, and E to work for peanuts; if B, C, D, and E refuse to work for peanuts, they starve, because they cannot engage in productive labor without access to the tool of the factory. Marxism suggests that the factory (the tool) should be held in common by A, B, C, D, and E, so that they can all share in the profits of their productive labor.

In a Marxist society, if person 'A' develops a better tool for digging potatoes, then a likely scenario is that the other members of the community 'A' lives in provide him with the resources and funding he needs to produce more (and better) potato digging machines, which are then distributed to the community. 'A' takes on a different social role: if he needs to build a factory to make his 'potato pickers', then the community builds the factory for him and sets him up as a manager of designer, and the proceeds from that production line are distributed fairly among those who make the production line work (including to him, for his insights and efforts to make this all happen).

If some person 'B' develops a different kind of potato picking device, then likely he would be asked to work with 'A' within the community-owned factory system, not compete against 'A' with a separate privately-owned factory. When two separate, privately owned factories compete on economic terms, the competitive pressures between 'A' and 'B' force them each to drive wages and benefits of their workers down; reducing labor costs is the surest and easiest way to reduce the price of a good. This creates an exploitation dynamic. when collective labor enterprises are communally owned, this pressure to exploit disappears.

This is a mixed bag, of course. Capitalism creates a 'greed' incentive that promotes innovation, but innovation of that sort can lead variously to brilliant technological products and a spew of cheap WalMart crap. Further, capitalism generally produces huge amount of waste because there is absolutely no incentive to take care of waste that can be dumped outside of one's immediate sphere; as we see from modern discussions, privately-owned companies heartily resist expensive controls on emission, sewage, dumping, and whatnot because they don't see why they should spend money solving someone else's problems (e.g., the problems of people downstream, who have to deal with the companies' effluent). Marxist production is slower and somewhat less innovative (its motivation is pride or vanity, not greed; the weaker emotions would mean slower innovation), but it is generally less wasteful, less chaotic, and more in line with the interests of the entire community than of individuals within it.

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  • "Capitalism creates a 'greed' ".... hahahahha. Tell that to the monkeys hoarding fruit – user4012 Mar 3 at 12:47
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    I didn't say capitalism created greed. I said capitalism creates a greed incentive, in which the greed is leveraged to produce competition and innovation. Please read more carefully. Oh, and monkeys don't generally hoard fruit; they tend to share surplus among the troop, albeit with some funky monkey politics. – Ted Wrigley Mar 3 at 14:53
  • How can someone force another person to work for peanuts? Or to do anything for that matter? Are you suggesting A is holding other people hostage or threatening them with violence in order to work for them? Please explain your what you are talking about because there seems to be a serious disconnect between your ideas and objective reality. – Rain Willow Mar 9 at 6:51
  • @RainWillow: Sigh...How long can a person go without eating? If one wants to live, one has to eat, and if one wants to eat, one has to do labor of one sort or another (even if it's just taking the effort to scrounge through garbage bins for tossed food). If other people control the avenues for labor (like, say, putting locks on garbage bins), then one has to do labor on their terms, even if that means accepting a handful of peanuts for a days work. A daily handful of peanuts is better than starving to death, right? Welcome to the dark side of private property... – Ted Wrigley Mar 9 at 10:59
  • @TedWrigley: You just described is a voluntary transaction. Not force. Force is what the government does when it demands you to pay taxes "or else" face the government gun. There is no "or else" imposed by the counterparty to the transaction you described. In a free market economy, every transaction is voluntary. Even in your scenario. Voluntary means both parties must benefit from every transaction. Most government transactions are involuntary because the government uses force. Which means, the government is the only party that usually benefits from transactions involving the government. – Rain Willow Mar 9 at 11:10
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There is no such thing that "non-dictatoric communist state". That is not a communist state. It is like you can say that "warm winter", except that a "warm winter" is not a winter.

Contrary the popular belief, the communists could invent, they did only slower than the capitalists. In very important cases - mostly: military - they solved this problem by re-grouping resources from the basic living of the population. In the lack of a free market, they could do that.

There was no such thing that free market. All the factories was state property, and they produced what the state commanded. More clearly, there was a "National Plan Office", a part of the communist state, which prescribed, what the country needs and where will they be produced. In the lack of a free market, it could have not happened perfectly even if they had goaled the well-beingness of the population (but they had not).

They could, for example, send someone into the space before the USA, and they had nearly 2x more ICBMs than the USA. But meanwhile, they had to enforce war distribution of the wheat, even in peace, because they had not enough agricultural machines to collect / process it.

The whole story of the communism, was full with similar "local hacks" in the everydays, as you describe in your example. Today, if you need 200 piece of metal pucks with 1.8cm diameter, then you dig a little bit the internet and the post sends it to you in some days (or in some week if you rent directly from China). This was behind the iron curtain completely unthinkable. Actually, you had luck if you could have an analog phone line in your home, you needed to wait years for that. The existence of the Internet was only widely known only nearly a decade after the collapse of the communism.

However, the slate roofs of newly built homes missed exactly such a metal puck, which was - by random coincidence - exactly so big than a (nearly worthless) coin of a neighboring (also communist) state. You can imagine, what has happened.

In theory, it was a criminal offense ("destroying the monetary unit of the State", or similar), in practice no one cared. So, using your own metal coins, for any other than buying things from it, was a criminal offense punishable with prison.

This is a funny thing from so many decades in the future, but at the time - particularly that everybody has known, how things are going on the West - it required many weapons and brainwash of the government, to deter the unsatisfied population from revolting.


About such inventions you are talking in your example. They existed, and the inventors were rewarded - but far lesser as on the West. Founding your startup to produce effective potato processor machines, make it succeed and enjoy the lot of $$$, that was

  1. Unthinkable.
  2. Only the State was allowed to found any company.
  3. If you did it "illegally", then it was punishable by prison.

Actually, making money from any other than your job (at one of the state companies) was mostly illegal. There were some exceptions, but the main attitude of the System was that either you are a "worker", working for your monthly wage by one of the companies of the State, or you are a "criminal work-avoider" or "speculant". Both were criminal offenses punishable by prison.

There were some officially allowed exceptions, and the System was so or so hackable, and it also softened a lot in the last decades. But never in the magnitude to change its essence.

Collectivism suppresses the induvidual initiative, that was the ultimate reason of the collapse.

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  • I believe using coins for this kind of purpose on a large scale is also illegal in capitalist countries. – user253751 Mar 2 at 13:07
  • @user253751 Possible, but I believe in practice no one cares, if you only fix your own, newly built home by them. ;-) If you would create a startup to process coins, yes you might end up in prison, but afaik the solution of the state is that the coins does not have enough worthy metal for that. The important thing is, that in the communism, the offense was not that you misused the metal content of the coins, to effectively steal metal from the state, but that you manipulated the monetary units. – Gray Sheep Mar 4 at 13:37
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What is your source? The definition of Communism you gave seems coming from some source fitting the Soviet/Capitalist propaganda. There is no such rule for single means of production in communist or socialist states. Communal ownership means that the enterprises managing the factories are cooperatives. The managers are elected by the workers and all the decisions are submitted to the vote of the workers committees. Since socialism actually has never been implemented the details have never been ironed out.

When you write

USSR (which had socialism with ...

You are wrong. Soviet leaders called themselves socialist to justify their power. But they were not socialist. Workers had no power, all the power was concentrated in the hands of a caste of bureaucrats. The workers didn't even have voice over the management of the factories they were working in. Every decision was taken by the central state and imposed to the workers.

BTW I wrote above Soviet/Capitalist propaganda because it was useful also for the capitalists to associate socialism with the distortion of the USSR.

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  • My source is studying Marx in school. I'm sorry but unless your source is an actual official communist political/economic theoretitian, this answer is just your fanfiction you cam up with and doesn't address the question as it has nothing to do with communism, just your personal fantasies. – user4012 Feb 29 at 21:08
  • Of course. No one ever dared to taint a textbook with propaganda. LOL. – FluidCode Feb 29 at 21:24
  • I'm sorry I don't think you bothered reading the question. It wasn't "what do I think of communism". It was "How do communists - not YOU, communists - propose to deal with this issue". Also, studying Marx involves actually reading what he wrote (at least for me) – user4012 Mar 1 at 4:16
  • The sentence "not YOU, communists" is just a rhetorical trick. You are trying to frame the other person in your stereotypes, so even if I never said anything about me you claim I am communist on the base of few sentences. Then you add that I base my ideas on something unexplained while you are supposed to base your ideas on direct sources, but you know nothing about me and you didn't cite direct sources. And in all of this you concentrate the discussion on the person and avoid checking the facts (argumentum ad hominem). – FluidCode Mar 1 at 11:24
  • @FluidCode "not YOU, communists" is not trying to frame anyone. If the question asks what communists think, and you explain what you think, you either frame yourself as a communist, or you don't answer the question. – user253751 Mar 4 at 13:43

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