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As a consequence of the recent developments in China, I’ve heard a lot of commentary which characterises authoritarianism as an inevitable consequence of a Communist state.

How true is this statement? Is Communism by definition, inherently authoritarian? If not, are Communist states doomed to fall into authoritarianism in practice? Are there examples of Communist states either today or that have existed in the past which escape this definition?

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    Define what you mean by communism. – user76284 Nov 29 '19 at 6:54
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    Also, define authoritarian. – Stig Hemmer Nov 29 '19 at 11:38
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    @Damon Because if one person defines communism as always authoritarian and another defines it as never authoritarian, no meaningful discussion can ever arise between them. In this case, you define communism as being authoritarian and repressive and then use that definition as evidence that communism is authoritarian and repressive. Many people (myself included) would argue that those states are/were not communist. As for your second comment, there's a massive jump in logic between "everything belongs to the people" and the rest of what you claim. – JS Lavertu Nov 29 '19 at 19:04
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    @Damon how does arguing about an exact definition NOT matter? It's literally the minimum baseline needed to have a meaningful discussion. Your claim that communist countries have killed millions of people can be easily disproven by someone who says "China, Soviet Union, and Cambodia were never truly communist countries." Argument over. All you can do is say "Yes they were" and the other guy says "no they weren't" and you're in a kindergarten argument. Utterly unproductive. Clearly defining your terms is an absolute requirement for any and all meaningful discussion. – barbecue Nov 29 '19 at 20:53
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    I'm voting to close this question as too broad as it's unclear what "communism" and "authoritarianism" really are. – JonathanReez Nov 29 '19 at 21:52

18 Answers 18

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It depends what you mean by communism. If you mean what the Soviet-bloc states ended up like then, yes, all historical examples of this communism were pretty authoritarian.

If you want indulge the [far] leftist theoreticians, then no country actually achieved communism. Even the former Soviet bloc countries only declared themselves socialist and on the path to communism, but not quite having achieved it. So it's hard to say what something that never existed might actually be like. Of course, the theoreticians which praised this ideal communism probably would not accept that it has to be authoritarian, despite the "dictatorship of the proletariat" as a necessary transitional phase. As the joke/saying goes, temporary things have a way of becoming permanent...

Now regarding China nowaday, it's even further away from even Soviet (or Maoist) style socialism, let alone ideal communism. Some have compared China to fascism or at least state capitalism, the justification for either being rather difficult on pure Marxist basis.

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    I would question if dictatorship of the proletariat is authoritarian; Marx and Engels gave the paris commune as example (which definitely wasn't), and emphasized the need for democratic participation. The term dictatorship wasn't really used as we understand it today. The state was seen as a mechanism for one class (the bourgeoisie) to oppress another (the proletariat). Dictatorship of the proletariat simply means a switch of these roles, which then may lead to a classless society and dying of the state. – tim Nov 28 '19 at 21:20
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    The actual name of the thing most USsies think of in full is "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics", which indeed was run by communists with their goal of erecting communism as a system. I don't see any change of language in English or Russian for that. Except in fascists denouncing things they don't like as communism, even if it's just a profitable medical insurance scheme within capitalism, or Asian people around Beijing. In China things are indeed like in US fascism insofar as communism lost officially all meaning and communists are now the deviant persecuted resistance… – LаngLаngС Nov 29 '19 at 2:45
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    @DmitryRubanovich - as an Australian, I take great issue with the assertion that, if it's in English, it must use the American meaning of the term. And the fact that Americans don't distinguish between socialist and communist doesn't mean that they're the same thing. – Glen O Nov 29 '19 at 5:43
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    @DmitryRubanovich - can you link me to those rules? It seems like a strange rule to apply, considering that it's an international site for crowdsourcing of information. Also note that the person asking the question is from the UK. – Glen O Nov 29 '19 at 7:01
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    This is just wrong. You're just trying to sidestep the question by saying that Communist states (that is, founded by Communists and adhering, however imperfectly, to Communist principles) simply aren't Communist enough. – jamesqf Nov 29 '19 at 17:34
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+100

First, I wanted to make clear that "authoritarianism" does not mean "enforces rules with some form of force" - if we were to use that definition, then every single system of government is authoritarian (such as when police arrest people for murder). To be authoritarian, it must go beyond simple enforcement of rules with some form of force.


Other answers assert that Communism must be authoritarian because they force participation. This is a misconception. Indeed, voluntary communist societies exist in our world already - in particular, in the Kibbutzim in Israel, where people choose to be part of the Kibbutz. The exact model varies from one Kibbutz to the next, with some being more like socialism, and others having moved into a more capitalist arrangement, but some have retained their communist style. Some are collapsing, others are modernising, and some are simply continuing on in a stable manner.

Of course, these are only small-scale implementations. There's good reason to think that communism can't be implemented successfully on a large scale... but that's a topic for another question and answer.

There have been other instances of it being implemented. For example, Revolutionary Catalonia implemented it, at least in some respects (it was in a combination of anarchism, communism, and some other aspects). It failed due to outside forces.

Suffice it to say, communism is not intrinsically authoritarian. There are a number of models - some are authoritarian, others are anarchic, or are democratic.

What is intrinsically authoritarian is Socialism. And this is where the confusion comes from. Socialism in Marxist theory is a transition phase from Capitalism to Communism. And thus, it is common for "Communist Parties" to implement socialism, with the intent to then transition to communism.

But it turns out that moving from Socialism to Communism is not nearly the simple process Marx envisioned. Most "Communist" parties implement socialism, and then never progress from there... indeed, evidence (see China and Russia for notable examples) suggests that socialism moves into capitalist fascism with a veneer of socialism (we're talking about government run by a single party that refers to themselves as "the people", but doesn't actually include those outside the party in anything).

As a result, all successful implementations of communism (to my knowledge) did so by bypassing the "socialism" step.


Simple summary: Communism can be authoritarian, but it is not intrinsically so. Kibbutzim in Israel and Revolutionary Catalonia are examples of other arrangements, and generally communism that becomes authoritarian also moves away from communism.

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    @user76284 - So what I'm hearing is, now that I've provided examples, there's at least one example that verifies what I've said... so you're moving the goal posts? The question says Communism. I answered about Communism. If the question was about Marxism, it would say so. – Glen O Nov 29 '19 at 6:57
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    I'm not sure what you're looking for. I already explained that I interpreted communism in the standard Marxist sense (i.e. encompassing Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Ho Chi Minh Thought, Hoxhaism, Titoism, Guevarism, Khrushchevism, etc.). That's what most people understand by "communism". You can define it more broadly if you want. That's totally fine by me, as long as it's made clear. – user76284 Nov 29 '19 at 7:04
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    @user76284 - "an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state". That's the definition of the term. Before the 16th/17th century, most systems didn't really fit the definition, at least not enough to be distinctly called capitalism, so you might say that capitalism "rose" in the 17th century, but that's not its definition, and there are multiple types of capitalism in existence today, some of which don't match the 17th century form (like Russia's "State Capitalism"). – Glen O Nov 29 '19 at 7:21
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    @StopHarmingMonica The Nordic Model is capitalism with high, yet flat tax rates and a welfare state. It doesn’t match anybody’s proper definition of socialism, which requires that the state own the means of production. – Joe Nov 30 '19 at 16:52
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    @StopHarmingMonica Umm, no, they self-define as Social Democracy. A subtle distinction that depends very much on who is assumed to own the means of production, which in Nordic countries is private persons and not the state. – Joe Nov 30 '19 at 17:00
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Definitions

Although Marx is generally regarded as the father and inventor of communism, it should be noted that the idea of "abolition of private property" and "common ownership of the means of production" are not strictly limited to Marx's framework. Thus, we should distinguish between "communism", which is a general political framework, and "Marxism", which is a particular kind of communism as defined by Marx.

Marxism

Marx identified the tension between "workers" and "owners" as a fundamental flaw in capitalism, and thus described the "revolution of the proletariat" as the birth of the communist state. Thus, class warfare is a kind of foundational principle within Marxist theory. I would argue that it is also the fundamental flaw of Marxism, as it tends to justify the formation of a police state. Any leaders within a Marxist state can claim that police need authority to root out bourgeoisie enemies of the people, who will naturally try to resist the formation and functioning of the communist state, in preference to the capitalist one which preserves their advantages. This explicit setting of one group within the population against the other is what drives authoritarianism, IMO. To that extent, I agree that authoritarianism is indeed a highly likely, if not inevitable outcome of Marxist states, with the heavy weight of history to support that.

Alternatives

However, Marxism is not the only game in town. First, we must consider that while the historical communist states were generally Marxist, there is much more variability in communist parties. Moreover, the communist parties which exist within a non-communist state are not any more authoritarian than their peers, as far as I know. India has a long history of communist parties peacefully ruling in coalition with other parties; and some of its worst abuses have been under the watch of the BJP, which is decidedly capitalist.

Perhaps a more interesting example is the Israeli kibbutzim. Although they are not independent states, they are quite fairly considered "communisms". There are no authoritarian pathologies noted in the century-long history of the kubbutzim, even if they have declined and changed in recent history.

Or, for an American example, you have the Shakers. They, too, have entered a long, possibly terminal decline. However, they are another "peaceful" example of a fairly communistic society which was stable over hundreds of years.

Note that these examples reject the class warfare notions of Marxism (or rather, simply don't consider them relevant). Also, these communities tend to be small. It may be possible that pure, non-Marxist communism doesn't scale beyond populations of a few thousand members.

Future

Finally, there are lots of folks (besides anarcho-communists) who envision a decidedly non-Marxist communist future, such as The Venus Project. This may be hopelessly idealistic, but at least it is pretty explicitly anti-authoritarian. Thus, I don't think it is reasonable to say that all communistic frameworks suffer from or feature authoritarian tendencies. I believe this tendency is mostly limited to Marxist designs, for the reason described above.

  • I think your objection to marxism is a bit reductive. "Any leaders within [any] state can claim that police need authority to root out [enemies]". Replace enemies with terrorists or criminals (or left-wing groups for that matter) and you have a number of modern-day capitalist states. The important question here is if leaders abuse the power, how they can gain the power, and what controls are in place to rein in abuses. – tim Nov 29 '19 at 20:42
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    All claims about political systems must necessarily oversimplify. The difference is that tension between terrorists and law-abiding citizens is not formulated in the theory of capitalism itself, so any reaction to that event cannot credibly be ascribed to capitalism, per se. But Marx literally defined class warfare as an essential characteristic of his Communism, and Marxist governments implemented purges of the elites with shocking regularity. – Lawnmower Man Nov 29 '19 at 20:50
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    The first problem with your examples are that they are small groups. Certainly "communism" can work if the group is small enough - the smallest example would be a marriage, though divorce rates &c would suggest that even that doesn't work all that well :-) Second problem is that since people can choose to leave such groups (and would be subject to legal action by the larger society if they didn't allow people to leave), they can't be authoritarian. – jamesqf Nov 30 '19 at 18:44
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    The question of communism's scalability is certainly open for debate, but if your argument is that all forms of communism inevitably resort to authoritarianism beyond a certain size, then make that argument in an answer. As to authoritarianism in small groups, I offer the Branch Davidians, Jonestown, NXIVM, and every other small cult in the history of humanity. – Lawnmower Man Nov 30 '19 at 20:49
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    @jamesqf What you say is true only with regard to people joining cults, and only for some members. Cult leaders like Koresh, Jones, and Asahara exercised authoritarian control over their followers BECAUSE they couldn't keep them otherwise. – barbecue Dec 1 '19 at 20:01
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Simple test - which kinds of incentives one uses for purpose of having anything done:

  • market incentives (do it and you'd be rewarded)
  • force (either you do it or you'd be deep in trouble)

[Sure, there could be some social /religious / ideological pressure, but at the end of the day you just do it because you'd gain / not lose your social capital]

As one see there is a big problem from communists' perspective. Sure, one may reward top workers and Party members with ex. access to deficit goods. However, if that is being used on bigger scale, then you start getting for practical purposes, a high level of social inequality. (Sure, everyone can buy a car, just a Party member would skip 10 year queue and actually get it, instead of having it just vaguely promised like the rest of society). Some level of inequality and semi-market approach could be applied without being accused of failing orthodoxy, but still force is necessary.

How can one keep highly skilled and high working labour force, when if they had a freedom they would escape to capitalist countries and earn there more? East Germans at first thought that they can allow an open border, as they would get a safety valve (like losing potential trouble makers) and not a severe brain drain.

Similarly, even kept inside, people may come up with their own business ideas. Either one squash them (or at least cap their growth potential through draconian regulation) or soon you would face nimble entrepreneurs outcompeting government institutions.

So yes, in order to have a communist society, you need to force people to do multiple things that they don't like, including forcing them to stay. Authoritarianism is not a degeneration, but logical choice when you have to force people to behave according to ideological expectations and have limited ability to buy them off.

EDITs:

1) For my defence of having allegedly excessively negative approach towards communism, I'd like to mention that's presumably a result of having a misfortune of actually having to live under communism.

2) Motivation - a capitalist country could recruit soldiers by offering them extra money or by using their patriotism. Nevertheless, when those motivators are exhausted, and there is no one left who would willingly enjoy trench warfare, then it has to resort to conscription. It's not that communism does it, just every system when faces running out of options, has to resort to brute force. The problem is, that by definition any more egalitarian system would sooner exhaust all economic motivations and would have to rely on force more often.

3) I'd disagree with claim that my answer is very ideological. If anything, it could be accused of exactly opposite - of oversimplify reality by ignoring any ideology and assuming simplest (and slightly cynical) motivation of individuals. I mean, yes one can take a like minded group of individuals and create a hippy commune, kibbutz or for more traditionally minded people... a monastery. However, this idea fails to scale up well, as with group size increase social pressure goes down, while heterogeneity goes up which undermines ideological zeal.

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    This is a reasonable answer (+1), but also a very ideological one: it relies on the assumption which is the basis of capitalism, namely that people do things only to get personal benefits from it. It's obviously a big motivation for individuals, but whether this is the only one is debatable. For instance most people agree to give away a bit of their share in order to counterbalance inequalities and live in a fairer society, hence progressive taxation and welfare state. – Erwan Nov 29 '19 at 1:18
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    (-1) Your answer is basically nothing but imposing capitalist reasoning onto communism and concluding that "it's not capitalism, so it's authoritarianism". It's basically like saying that, if it weren't for laws against murder, people would all happily murder each other. Communism is predicated on the idea that you get the benefits of society by participating in it. Nothing says that you have to force people to stay, or to participate... it's just that, if they stay and don't participate, or if they leave, they don't get the benefits. – Glen O Nov 29 '19 at 5:27
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    @GlenO This is like saying every attempt to base an economy on perpetual motion machines has failed. Trivially true, but also telling. – user76284 Nov 29 '19 at 6:14
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    @user76284 - You'd get annoyed, too, if someone insisted on responding to your comments by throwing standard retorts that didn't actually apply to what you'd said. I point out that communism as a concept doesn't require that all people stay, and you respond with assertions about "communist experiments" and what "tends" to happen. I point out that I'm going to provide examples of voluntary communism, and you imply that I'm doing a "Real Communism" comment (which I wasn't). I made clear I'm going to post the examples (again) and you rush to throw another cookie-cutter response in. I'm done. – Glen O Nov 29 '19 at 6:55
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    This answer seems to be based on a classic false dichotomy – OrangeDog Nov 29 '19 at 17:24
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Yes, but only as a consequence of being a utopian ideology whose utopia is unachieveable because many people do not want to live in it

Communism is an ideology that essentially paints a picture of a particular anarchic utopia as its ultimate goal, in which all existing social institutions no longer exist.

The thing about existing social institutions is that they tend to continue to exist because they satisfy people’s needs. So, lots of people are not interested in what communism has to offer them, because they (often correctly) judge that they would be worse off in some way under communism than they are today. Because these people aren’t going to voluntarily choose to go along with a program that is going to demand the end of things that they like, the only way to get from here to the True Communism™️ is through some form of coercion.

Note that, “all institutions” does not stop at things people usually talk about going away under communism, like capitalistic rich people and the things that benefit them. It includes every social institution. To take an example from China because you mentioned it in the question, it would include Islam in pretty much any form, which is why there are lots of Muslims in concentration camps in that country at the moment. If a man derives fulfillment from living according to Allah’s will at all times, he’s never going to go along with a political program that requires he stop doing that. You may replace “China” and “Islam” with “any communist country” and “any religion”, respectively, and you will find ample historical examples to further illustrate the point.

This is the part where people inevitably start to say “well, China isn’t really communist.” Which, is true (especially in the case of China), but is also a cheap way to dodge the inevitable real world consequences of an ideology that demands the end of everything. Because the True Communism™️ is defined by the end state, and because nobody has ever succeeded at achieving that end state, every attempt to get there that inevitably becomes coercive can be excused away as Not The True Communism™️ because it didn’t reach that goal. But there is no other mechanism by which to reach that goal as long as human beings don’t want to live under communism.

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No.

First, let's make it clear that as soon as you talk about socialism, it must be authoritarian (though of course, how authoritarian varies). Socialism cannot ever work without the state, and the more rules it applies, the more authoritarian it must be - even if the authority comes from democratic voting (remember the good old "two wolves and a sheep voting about what to have for lunch"). In the purest economic sense, socialism is a system where the means of production are owned by the state. But even limited socialism (as is rather popular nowadays) needs to use violence to force people to do things they do not want to do, and that directly harm them. Every price control, every regulation, every subsidy, every trade union etc. rely on (usually threat of) violence to be implemented. You may agree or disagree about whether a particular socialist law is good or bad, but regardless of that, ultimately it has to be implemented by force. But let's not get too deep into that.

If you exclude socialist communism (the kind that's actually been implemented in Venezuela, Cuba, the Eastern Bloc etc. etc. etc.), you're left with a simpler idea. The means of production are owned by the community. Now, this is a state that existed for quite a long time on Earth. Tribal economies are usually communist. You have your axe, but the grain stores are communal. You have your bow, but what you hunt is shared among the people. You have your clothes, but... you get the idea. Private property exists, but it comes from "grants" from the community - you do not automatically own the leather you get from killing a deer.

Is this what Marx had in mind? Hell no. Marx had an idea of an inevitable progress from primitive economies to advanced economies. In his view, such "tribal communism" was primitive; feudalism was more advanced, then followed capitalism and finally communism. He expected that it is the most advanced capitalist economies that would result in communism (and wasn't very happy that communism was ever only adopted by the most backward backwater countries in the world, starting with Russia of the time).

How do we get to the authoritarian problem in communism? The central problem of economics is this: some resources are scarce. How do we best allocate these resources in a way that satisfies the most people (or the ruling class, or the priest class, or ...)? And communism's answer to this is essentially "...". In a way, it claims that by the point the capitalist order changes into communism (voluntarily!), this becomes a moot point; the value of a thing will be solely decided by the effort put into making that thing. You might be thinking I'm setting up a strawman here, given how ludicrously naive and simplistic that is, but this is the actual Marxist theory of value! Of course, even Marx couldn't ignore that this is completely wrong, and his solution is well known to every high-school physics student - if the numbers don't fit, introduce a fudge constant. The price of every item is the amount of effort expended, plus a traditional overvalue (different for each product).

Tribal communism works fine, mostly. But it severely limits the opportunities for specialisation, and division of labour. Our entire economic world cannot survive without unbelievable amount of division of labour, which comes entirely naturally, without any conscious direction or state intervention, without any central planning - thanks to free-market capitalism (capitalism didn't even need a name before the socialists came - it's just what humans do if you don't put too many barriers in their way). Of course, when talking about capitalism, you're bound to encounter many capitalism strawmen, both from the opponents and the advocates. Well worn phrases like "people only do things for their personal benefit" are either tautological or nonsensical, depending on how you define "personal benefit", but I digress. The point is, division of labour is why the planet now hosts billions of humans, instead of hundreds of thousands. It's why after a relatively brief dip in living quality in the early days of agriculture, we've been on a steadily rising incline; of course, it's not just monotone growth - there are crests and valleys. But ask a starving kid in one of the places less blessed with free-market capitalism whether he would gladly trade his place with you :)

We can't go back to small scale communism. Of course, you can still form small communities, even limit trade with the rest of the world quite a bit (somewhat like the Amish do - they're not truly isolated, but still get quite a bit of autonomy from the world economy). But you can't do that to the whole world population. The only result of such a thing would be the largest genocide in the history of mankind. You need a way to keep division of labour going. And that's a bit of a problem, because tribal communism depends a lot on how we evolved. When you live in a tribe, there's a certain degree of relatedness between the people. Now, you might have been taught that natural selection benefits individuals that are better at surviving, reproducing etc. But that's subtly wrong - it's selection over genes, not individuals. If you sacrifice your life to save your ten full brothers, it's a loss to you as an individual, but a wonderful trade-off for your genes; on average, each of those brothers shares half of your genes (that is, shares 50% of the variation in respect to a random individual in the species). On average, each of your genes lost one copy of itself, but maintained five copies that would otherwise be lost. Tribes naturally get altruism, merely from biological natural selection, even in the absence of culture.

Of course, you don't have that luxury with the whole world's population. One of the tenets of socialist thought is that human society is consciously shaped by humans; that we're smart enough to realize that cooperation is to our benefit, and act upon that. The natural communist follow up is that all you need is teach people that cooperation is a good thing, and they'll keep cooperating even though they could get bigger benefits from not cooperating. But this is not what you'd call an evolutionary stable strategy; any individual that defects, just a tiny little bit, has a lot to gain. He doesn't even think of himself as bad; you can always rationalize that tiny little bit of defection (human brains are very good at that, since it's one of the big parts of our political instinct, which is a very strong force in the evolution of humans). He believes he's doing the right thing. All the same, the economy of the whole society goes down (just a little bit). Of course, the harm to each individual is smaller than the benefit to the defector. But if enough people defect, even just a tiny little bit, eventually there comes a point where the harm to each individual is larger than the benefit to each of the defectors. Even on the individual level, everyone is hurt by the defection.

But there's no correcting force. The society will decay if left to its devices. Even though the end result is harm for everyone, every individual faced with a decision between cooperate and defect will benefit from the defection. Of course, what most often actually happened in the real world was one of three things - either the communities limited their size and trading with the outside world (i.e. some form of tribal communism), or they adopted private property in the wider sense of free-market capitalism, or they adopted kings - the authoritarian approach. Even a very poor authority can be preferable to a world with no recognition of property. Marx saw communism as more advanced than capitalism; but in reality, it was a return to the complete anarchy of humanity's earlier times.

That's really the crucial social problem with communism. If you could actually educate (or breed; both have been tried by would-be socialists and communists in the past) humans to prefer the long term benefits of a freely cooperating society even though in the short term you could be better off defecting (a tiny little bit) - you could build communism without authoritarianism. It goes contrary to natural selection on genes, but it might be possible to create a cultural environment in which natural selection on memes will overpower that (just like it allowed use to develop contraception and not be replaced by faster breeding stock of humans... yet).

Unfortunately, that's still not the whole story. Maybe we could make a society that has enough of a preference for freedom and cooperation to make communism work like that without violence, even though it's rather unlikely to say the least. But we also need to go back to the theory of value. You need something that tells you how to use those scarce resources. Even if we had a community of people who were very happy about sharing, you still need to decide whether a new winter home should be built in place A or place B. Human labour is still a scarce resource. Land is a scarce resource. Building materials may be very cheap, but ultimately they're still scarce (even if we develop materials that are essentially free, like plastic, you still have cases where a scarcer material would be cheaper in total - e.g. we can't build turbines from plastics yet).

I don't think anybody ever compiled a list of all the commodities in trade around the world. Much less a list of how scarce or useful they are for every given possible economic use of them in every possible region and community. Should we build a new iron mine, or a new coal mine? A coal power plant, or a wind power plant? Which benefits the world community more in the long run? In principle, this is a simple optimization problem - but even the sheer amount of possibilities and alternatives is daunting. And that's before you take into account the preferences of individual humans - some people like cars. Some don't. The first group will benefit from more cars (and roads, and gas pumps) being built. The other will be harmed. And these groups don't agree on anything beyond this one thing - for every question to be decided, you have many different groups, with little overlap of the groups on a different question.

It shouldn't be surprising that one of the things the faux-communist countries did was try to limit human choice. Not only were they usually few or no alternatives to a given product ("why make three kinds of coats, when one will work as well and be easier to produce?"), there was also a push from the authorities to encourage uniformity. If every human wanted the same things, in the same proportions, the idea goes, economic calculation becomes much easier, and perhaps even possible. You may not thing of things like compulsory public education as authoritarian, but in their core, they are - they're tring to build up a culture that benefits the particular arrangement of society. The same goes for media, of course.

But this is already horribly long, so let me spare you the next few pages of deeper digs into how socialism, communism and free-market capitalism work, and just give a quick summary:

No, communism doesn't have to be authoritarian. However, there needs to be something that makes defection worth less than full cooperation. There also needs to be something that allows scarce resources to be allocated. The historical solutions to these have been:

  • Keep the community small. This simplifies economic calculation, and allows the altruism built into us through natural selection to work pretty well. However, individual productivity of labour drops like a stone, and if you do this to a large population, you get massive starvation etc.
  • Let the whole economy be controlled by a central authority. Planning committees will decide what everyone needs, and how to make that. Any deviation must be illegal, and enforced through violence. If you want something else, you must appeal to the planning committees. Everything is controlled politically. The way the authority is chosen can be essentially arbitrary - they may be democratically voted for, chosen by a proxy, picked by some computer algorithm or based on measures of merit etc. Different people may call these different approaches authoritarian or non-authoritarian, but IMO that's a confusion; it certainly matters how the authority is chosen, but the crucial point is that individual choice is removed.
  • Let people own and trade any kind of property. If I prefer beer and you prefer wine, we can trade what we have, and each end up richer. This bartering system tends to over time develop into a money system, and instead of just trading commodities, you'll quickly find people trading tools, machines, land etc. Of course, this isn't communism anymore.
  • Change humans or human culture in a way that they makes them willing to cooperate even when it isn't to their (reasonably immediate) benefit.

The first is pretty stable. But it also puts limits on division of labour, and thus individual productivity. The second can only be stable with routine use of violence (or threat of violence). The third is pretty stable as well, and encourages division of labour to the extent we're familiar with, where there isn't even one person in the whole world who understands everything about making something as deceptively simple as a pencil :) The fourth may be possible to do, but would be horribly unstable - you get a runaway positive feedback loop, where every "mutant" gets advantage that makes the mutation more frequent in the population over time. To be practical, you would need some authority to enforce genetic or cultural purity, to weed out the mutant, the heretic, the unclean. A God Emperor might work :)

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    This post is very long. Could you add some section headlines and perhaps a summary? – gerrit Nov 29 '19 at 11:05
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    @gerrit There's a summary at the end, but I agree it's still a bit too long to really work :D I'll add some headlines later, but unfortunately I have to leave right now, so it'll have to do for now. – Luaan Nov 29 '19 at 11:12
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    ... socialism, it must be authoritarian - doesn't that depend a lot on what your definition of socialism is? And you haven't actually offered one (admittedly, I didn't read all of your post yet) – j4nd3r53n Nov 29 '19 at 12:30
  • "just like it allowed use to develop contraception and not be replaced by faster breeding stock of humans... yet" - good point on "yet". It hasn't been around for long enough to see its effects. But if you compare the fertility rates of westerners vs non-westerner's it's easy to say that it's probably not stable on the long term. Strangely, this is a topic the discussion of which is very strongly shunned (or outright taboo) in western society. – vsz Nov 30 '19 at 11:17
  • @vsz What? Taboo? Huh? Only in the catholic church is birth control taboo. Everybody else encourages it. – gerrit Nov 30 '19 at 15:04
11

No, I don't think so. This is analogous to asking things like "Does Islam automatically lead to terrorism?", or "Does Christian religion inevitably lead to the Spanish Inquisition/child abuse/....?". In each case the answer is "No, of course not" - it is not the ideology, life philosophy or religion that forces people to choose evil over good; people choose to be that way and then they use whichever philosophical framework to justify their choices.

The other angle on this question is whether it is possible in reality to build a successful, Communist state - ie. one that is stable in the long term; and by extension, is it possible to build any society, which is permanently stable? I don't think we have seen any political system that has delivered on that, so far. I think perhaps we need to be more flexible in our definitions, whatever we call our political system - as soon as we put down an immutable definition of what is Communism (or Capitalism, Christianism, Islamism, ...), time will erode its validity; no concept of what is 'right' or 'good' is going to last forever. Just take 'freedom': many in the West think this is the most important aspect of life, but there are societies in which people in general think this is stupid or even dangerous.

So to get back to the question, "Does Communism lead to Authoritarianism?" - or from another angle, "Is it possible to build a non-authoritarian, Communist society?". I would think so - if we choose a more flexible, pragmatic ideology - a sort of "Whatever works for the benefit of all, starting from common ownership of means of production etc...". Say, the state initially owns everything: land, housing, infrastructure, etc, but we allow everybody to start building their own fortunes, probably with some restrictions, so that nobody becomes so powerful that they can work against 'the common good' (whatever that means - this is a tricky one). I think it is possible that this could work.

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    Say, the state initially owns everything: land, housing, infrastructure, etc, but we allow everybody to start building their own fortunes, probably with some restrictions, so that nobody becomes so powerful that they can work against 'the common good' that sounds eerily similar to actual free-market capitalism :P – Luaan Nov 29 '19 at 9:32
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    @Luaan Something else: The thing about the free market is that it will, after a while, no longer be free; without restrictions, some players will assume a dominant position and form monopolies. Small scale capitalism is a good thing, to some extent, but perhaps the state should gradually take over as a business grows too big? – j4nd3r53n Nov 29 '19 at 10:29
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    That's a relatively recent invention, actually. If you look at classical political-economics, free-market capitalism must exist within a framework that enforces a certain set of rules - in particular, the respect for private property. Anarcho-capitalism is different from free-market capitalism in this important regard. As for monopolies, it's telling that almost any monopoly you look at is formed through government intervention. There's one very big confusion at the heart of anti-capitalism - the idea that capitalism is good for capitalists. It's not. Capitalists want socialism. – Luaan Nov 29 '19 at 11:04
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    Capitalism benefits consumers, not capitalists. Socialism benefits capitalists, because it allows them to grow without limit, exclude competition, and in the extreme (that's realised every day, sadly) outright government subsidies and unfair taxation. It's easy to see corporations and governments at odds, but that's a very surface competition - they benefit each other, at a cost to the taxpayer. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that either politicians or CEOs are evil. The regulation can be meant to help people, but doesn't explore the actual consequences. – Luaan Nov 29 '19 at 11:08
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    There's plenty of assertions that don't hold water that are often thrown around, things like "monopolies will happen in a free market and have unlimited control", but if you dig a bit deeper, there isn't really much justification to that. It assumes that bigger is always better, which obviously isn't true at all. Every venture has an optimal size. Bigger steel mills don't mean higher efficiency. There's a sweet spot. At some point, a big corporation would greatly benefit from splitting in two (and if they don't, they're less competitive than smaller companies). Standard Oil was such a case – Luaan Nov 29 '19 at 11:11
7

A communist society, loosely defined, is basically a society where a gift economy is the norm ("from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs"). In such a system, people freely contribute to the well-being of the community without expecting direct rewards for it and anyone is free to enjoy the fruits of the labor of the community as a whole.

For such a society to work, you need high trust between all the parties involved. Every member of the community must be able to trust every other member. Trust is needed because there's always the threat of a free-rider enjoying himself at the expense of others while contributing nothing, and if such behavior becomes widespread your community will collapse.

There are a handful of examples that communists love to give as proof of the viability non-authoritarian communist societies: primitive communism (the way hunter-gathering tribesmen work together), Kibbutzim, the Amish, the Paris Commune, and Catalonia. I'm no communist, but I'll add another: nuclear families. Now, if all these examples are meant to work, they need to be societies united by a sense of trust and some common ground. In the case of primitive communism and nuclear families, it's kin altruism. In the case of Kibbutzim and the Amish, a common religion. In the case of the Paris Commune and Catalonia, a war enemy to unite against.

Now, if you'll notice, none of these common grounds are either scalable nor sustainable. You can't treat a stranger as if he were as close to you as a family member - no matter how much you've been inculcated to consider him and everybody else a "comrade". Religion produces as much unity between its believers as it produces conflict between believers and unbelievers, so it's untenable to use religion as a common ground in our religiously heterogeneous modern societies - most communists are atheists, anyway, and they have always been notoriously anti-religious (if there's one thing you'll see both Bakunin and Lenin agreeing with, it's this). And finally, as for war... well, who wants to live in a state of perpetual war? But it's no coincidence that Marxists preach the doctrine of class struggle and Trotsky desired a perpetual revolution for socialism to work, their goal was to provide a way of continually stoking the fire of the people, as to furnish them always the passion of the revolutionary.

The problem of Communism as a political movement is that it has no way of generating the scalable and sustainable level of trust needed for their goals. But they try. The totalitarianism that almost inevitably always emerges is always as a means to trying to enforce trust that wouldn't normally emerge in the large-scale societies that communist dictators try to manage. It may sound paradoxical to enforce trust by sowing distrust, but it's precisely what has always been done. "Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil." Since there's no family or religion to appeal to, there must always be the threat of the "class enemy" for the "comrades" to remain united. If you're with us, you're a comrade - if you're not with us, you're a fascist/capitalist/reactionary/counterrevolutionary/kulak/what have you. Witch-hunts are always inevitably present in the communism program, because communism can't survive otherwise. It's not an exclusive feature of Marxism-Leninism and derivates - you'll find this behavior even [if not specially] in anarchist communities.

In conclusion, communism in the loose sense isn't necessarily authoritarian. Then again, those examples of communism hardly ever are the kind of society that communists really want to accomplish. Communism, as the secular and cosmopolitan political movement propounded by communists in general, will always have to recourse to authoritarianism in order to stay afloat. If not authoritarianism by the rule of a vanguard minority, then authoritarianism by Orwellian groupthink it will be. And hey, at least the latter is decentralized!

5

We don't know what is intrinsic to communism since communism has never been achieved.

(At least not the way I understand it, which is why @user76284's comment got so many upvotes. This is also an answer to @MSalters'comment.)

Not even close. Socialism has not been achieved either; not even close, at least not on a more than local level. Obviously, mere labeling does not make anything real. East Germany, the GDR, labeled itself "democratic", the main party was labeled "socialist", they performed "elections" and had a "parliament"; all this make-believe was a mixture of cargo cult and a conscious smoke screen. Of course this applies to all the "socialist" countries.

You cannot draw conclusions about socialism from this "socialism" any more than you can draw conclusions about parliaments from their "parliaments".

  • What definition of socialism are you using? – Peter Mortensen Nov 29 '19 at 17:22
  • @PeterMortensen The one which would be the precursor to communism. The one which could only emerge in countries with an advanced industry because socialism is the cultural superstructure which would necessarily emerge from such an economic base. So, in particular, I'm not using the definition of Soviet, Chinese or Cuban "socialism". These were authoritarian regimes emerging not by proletarian revolutions but by coups. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Nov 29 '19 at 17:28
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    @PeterMortensen As I said, something does not become a proletarian revolution because you name it so and make a famous movie about it. Maybe I can quote a famous political scientists' joke: "The Glorious Proletarian October Revolution was not glorious (Lenin hid in cattle wagons traveling through Russia); it was not proletarian because it was run by educated middle class people); it was not a revolution but a coup; and finally, it was not October (because most of the rest of the world used the Gregorian calendar, in which it was already November). – Peter - Reinstate Monica Nov 29 '19 at 17:35
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    but you can draw conclusions to the probability of the next crop of Communism being authoritarian, as Venezuelans can probably attest to. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Nov 30 '19 at 5:55
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    @ItalianPhilosopher The probability that in the future somebody will come along, stage a coup and call their authoritarian regime "socialism" is very close to one. ;-) – Peter - Reinstate Monica Nov 30 '19 at 9:08
5

Engels had this to say in On Authority:

Why do the anti-authoritarians not confine themselves to crying out against political authority, the state? All Socialists are agreed that the political state, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming social revolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society. But the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?

  • I thought of the same essay and wrote an additional answer quoting from it, focusing more on the theoretical underpinnings with respect to industrial labor. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Nov 29 '19 at 17:18
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    That is a wall of text. Can you break it down? And even provide a single statement / sentence in your own words to summarise it? – Peter Mortensen Nov 29 '19 at 17:25
4

The theory of communism, is that the state owns and runs everything. Planned economy, planned growth. Theoretically, none of the abuses of capitalism and personal greed, as Marx and Engels were likely motivated by the excess greed of the industrialists prevalent in the 1800's.

The flaw in this logic is that it depends on the people in power having and maintaining an altruistic nature.

As we've seen with every nation that adopted some form of communism, that doesn't happen. The people in power end up serving their own needs, especially the need to remain in power, so the theory didn't stop that particular form of personal greed.

So while communism itself doesn't have authoritarianism as a goal, it makes an authoritarian state very easy to establish, what with the state being in control of the land, the economy, and whatever communications media may exist. Basic human nature does the rest.

Ironically, the capitalist states that have been the most successful, also have mechanisms to facilitate dissent, and to prevent the people in power from getting too much power: independent judiciary, separation of executive and legislative branches, frequent elections, and a strong constitution clearly stating citizen rights and limitations on government authority.

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    Your first sentence is literally 100% factually incorrect. Communism is defined as a stateless and moneyless society: A state that doesn't exist cant own and run everything. Communism is the end goal, you're talking about a certain (failed) mean to get there. – JS Lavertu Nov 29 '19 at 19:33
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    @JSLavertu Stateless? Hah! In almost fields of endeavor it is useful to distinguish empirical, factual, findings from theory. This is true in engineering, it is true in science, it is true in programming and likely many other fields. Whatever political theory "definition" you came up with here lines up very badly with actual observed Communism, where the wants and needs of the, very much present, State are very much put above the liberty and choices of individuals. Look at transcripts of Communist speeches and pamphlets and check how often the word State appears. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Nov 30 '19 at 19:42
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    @ItalianPhilosopher Again, you can certainly say that the means of getting to communism are flawed (which is certainly true for USSR-style states), but that doesn't mean they are/were communist. As for me "coming up" with the definition: I did no such thing. – JS Lavertu Nov 30 '19 at 19:46
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    ah, another one of our "it wuzn't really communism, guv", apologists. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Nov 30 '19 at 19:47
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    @ItalianPhilosopher As for the word state in communist speeches... People calling themselves something doesn't mean they actually are. Just like North-Korea claiming they're a democracy doesn't make them one. – JS Lavertu Nov 30 '19 at 19:57
4

tl;dr: In Engels' opinion

any industrial society would exert a "despotic" authority on its members.

Between Marx and Engels there was a certain division of labor: While Marx laid the theoretical foundations, Engels was more concerned with organizing the labor movement and fending off competitive ideological currents, especially anarchists. In doing this he focused on organization and doctrine.

In the essay On Authority which @svenper already quoted, Engels on one hand claims that

All Socialists are agreed that the political state, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming social revolution [...].

It would be replaced by purely administrative functions, what we would call "public services".

But in the same essay he was very adamant in stressing that authority will still be needed, even after the revolution.

One of his most famous quips, to which probably everybody can relate, is

What would happen to the first train dispatched if the authority of the railway employees over the Hon. passengers were abolished?

He then expands the argument more theoretically. He argues that the state of production means, namely large industry, required an interlocking division of labor, and that this necessarily required a substantial authority over the individual. His pessimistic conclusion is a textbook example of Hegelian dialectic (emphasis by me):

If man, by dint of his knowledge and inventive genius, has subdued the forces of nature, the latter avenge themselves upon him by subjecting him, in so far as he employs them, to a veritable despotism independent of all social organisation. Wanting to abolish authority in large-scale industry is tantamount to wanting to abolish industry itself [...].

4

A brief argument in the affirmative, which I believe I first encountered in the Wall Street Journal, is that it's very difficult to imagine a state that could confiscate private property without due process (or abolish private property in principle), which would nevertheless leave other liberties intact. That's a property-centric perspective from an avowedly capitalistic source, but I think the argument has merit.

4

The accepted answer and several others provide a definitive answer to the original question. However, it's useful to add another perspective.

This is about the plan adopted by Lenin and the Bolsheviks that followed him for achieving a communist society. It can be summarized thus:

  1. Win the revolution, and the ensuing civil war
  2. Set up a despotic state
  3. Build a socialist economy
  4. Nurture a communistic populace
  5. Create a communist society

The theory is that you can't build a communist society using people who have grown up in an environment where people compete for resources. They will put in less than they are able to and they will take out more than they need. There are plenty of examples to support this. The early experiences in Plymouth and in Jamestown in America are examples. So you need an environment where competition has been rendered unnecessary before you can have people suitable for communism.

You can't build a socialist economy without a despotic state. (I've used the word "despotic" rather than authoritarian" because it corresponds with the literature at the time.) If you try, you will find that people create a large underground economy and propagate ideas that threaten the stability of the regime.

You can't build a despotic state without a revolution, unless you use the existing state as a base. The rule of the Romanoff dynasty had been nearly despotic, but it wasn't egalitarian at all. And the interim government that had been set up after the czar abdicated was not conducive to socialism.

Hence the program outlined above. Some of this was known at the outset, and some of it evolved as time went on.

In reality, the society that emerged in the USSR in the years from 1970 to 1989 was not the kind of society you could build into a communist one. The people were sullen and cynical rather than idealistic and collectivist. There were other factors that led to this outcome, such as the arms race with the USA and the war in Afghanistan. But fundamentally, it was the failure of the socialist economy that resulted in people unsuited to communism.

I would offer the suggestion that this is not something that went strangely wrong, but what you can expect if you implement the Bolshevik plan outlined above.

China has gone in a different direction. The Communist party and the Red army maintain a monopoly of power. And threats to stability are dealt with harshly in Hong Kong, in western China, and elsewhere. But the socialist economy has been largely replaced by state capitalism. What kind of people grow up in such an environment remains to be seen. I predict that it won't be the kind of people you need to build a communist society.

3

Every economic system is fundamentally an allocation algorithm. Somehow it must be decided what is produced, and who can use/consume that. If you specify such an algorithm, you can make statements about the result.


For example, Capitalism:

  1. Start State: Everyone starts with whatever they "own" currently, and is free to decide what do do with it (including their time).
  2. Everyone has the option to trade if both parties agree. Continue trading until no such trades exist anymore.

You can then show, that the result of this algorithm is pareto optimal.


The problem with Communism is, that it is an under-specified algorithm. You only state that everyone owns everything. But the question who gets to use/consume these things at any time, and who should work on what thing is not specified. So this "planning" has to be done somehow.

And since there is no mechanism which would do this decentrally like in Capitalism, it usually ends up being a centrally planned economy. And that requires a planner. The issue here is, that a group of people will never agree on what is best to do for the group. Even if the entire group is completely altruistic. The reason for this is, that no-one knows how other people feel about certain things.

Example: Consider a post-scarcity society of Alice, Bob and Charlie. They have housing, food and all the basic necessities. Now they have to decide what to do with their time.

  • Alice is very curious and wants to explore space. So she wants the group to build a spaceship.
  • Bob likes to relax, so he wants the group to build a swimming pool.
  • Charlie is philosophically minded and wants the group to discuss the meaning of life.

So what should the group do? None of them is egoistical, alice and bob would be happy to share the spaceship/pool with the group. The issue is, that they simply do not want the same things. But if one of them would be the planner, then they would simply decide to do whatever they want to do and impose it on everyone else. You could of course vote on this issue, but if you even manage to get a majority for something, it would still result in the majority imposing their will on a minority. Essentially forcing them to work on something they are not interested in.

So you might think, that everyone should just work on their own project. But this is a very capitalistic outlook on things already. Since you essentially say: Everyone owns their time and they can do whatever they want to do with it. If you then introduce different skill sets, then it might stop making sense, that people work on their own projects. And suddenly you would have to introduce some form of "exchange system". So you would likely end up with the second part of capitalism as well.

So I wouldn't necessarily say, that Communism is authoritarian, but that Communism isn't actually an economic system. And this vacuum is usually filled with a planned economy which is inherently authoritarian, since the priority list of the planner will never coincide with the priority list of every individual. So it imposes priorities on other people.

In some cases this imposing of priorities might be acceptable. Most people would probably agree, that enough food and housing for everyone should be top priority. So you can artificially move these things up the priority list (generated decentrally by the capitalism algorithm), by guaranteeing them with unemployment help or universal basic income.

China ultimately decided to use the "Capitalism Algorithm" for most of its economy, letting it deal with the details. But they then modify the result by heavily subsidizing certain sectors. So they essentially plan certain things centrally, while leaving the details to the capitalism algorithm.

  • "The problem with Communism is, that it is an under-specified algorithm." That's just about the best wording I've ever seen to demonstrate the consistent utter failure of Marxism to work in the real world. – Just Me Dec 2 '19 at 17:27
  • @Just Me Communism isn't a failed economic system, Communism isn't an economic system. 😛 – Felix B. Dec 3 '19 at 13:42
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    I didn't limit the scope of Communist failure to economics. ;-) Its failure in economics is just a symptom of its fundamental failure. – Just Me Dec 3 '19 at 13:44
2

ANY ideology is intrinsically authoritarian.

Left alone, most people don't care much about how the world or their society works. It takes either a gifted charismatic leader or a force, to make them move in some direction. In most cases, it works sequentally - first the charismatic (may be just well-marketed) leader, then (when they notice that something is wrong) the force.

When I was a kid, our own society (Bulgaria, 1980s) was alreay used to the fact that something is wrong, but as the technological progress almost outpassed the social degradation, things were considered acceptable. Almost. It was, of course, pretty bad compared to other countries around, but it was rarely compared (few people traveled and they were cherry-picked). The charisma of the leaders was long gone, the economy went down and down and the force was gradually applied wider and wider.

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    It looks like the first paragraph of a good answer but you must focus on the question at hand and elaborate a bit more. – jean Nov 29 '19 at 15:29
  • most people don't care much about how the world or their society works is an incredibly bold assertion which requires a citation. – iono Nov 30 '19 at 11:21
  • Downvoted because the first sentence is obviously incorrect. Pacificism is an ideology that is not authoritarian. – Joe Nov 30 '19 at 16:47
  • Pacifism may be a good counter-example, depending on definition of "authoritarian". In any case, you need some means to impose it over other people. – fraxinus Nov 30 '19 at 17:50
2

I am very interested in this topic and actually asked a related question last year on how China managed to modify state communism in ways that allowed it to survive the global communist crisis of 1989-91 and actually become a major economic power while remaining a communist state -- less authoritarian, in effect, or just much better at concealing its authoritarianism from even its own people?

Communism is essentially authoritarian in both theory and practice through most of the stages leading up to the establishment of a perfect "classless society", which end product of the revolutionary struggle can however be construed as no longer necessarily authoritarian, in that no more coercion shall be required to maintain socialist order and the people shall voluntarily dedicate themselves to working for the common good, creating a utopian society.

In Marxist, Leninist and Marxist-Leninist theory, the most important feature that makes communism inherently authoritarian is the concept of "dictatorship of the proletariat" which is covered in this Wikipedia article:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dictatorship_of_the_proletariat

According to Wikipedia,

In Marxist philosophy, the dictatorship of the proletariat is a state of affairs in which the working class hold political power. Proletarian dictatorship is the intermediate stage between a capitalist economy and a communist economy, whereby the government nationalises ownership of the means of production from private to collective ownership [...]

Marxism–Leninism follows the ideas of Marxism and Leninism as interpreted by Vladimir Lenin's successor Joseph Stalin. It seeks to organise a vanguard party, as advocated by Marx, and to lead a proletarian uprising, to assume state power on behalf of the proletariat and to construct a single-party "socialist state" representing a dictatorship of the proletariat, governed through the process of democratic centralism, which Lenin described as "diversity in discussion, unity in action". Marxism–Leninism forms the official ideology of the ruling parties of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam, and was the official ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from the late 1920s, and later of the other ruling parties making up the Eastern Bloc [...]

Lenin argued that in an underdeveloped country such as Russia the capitalist class would remain a threat even after a successful socialist revolution. As a result, he advocated the repression of those elements of the capitalist class that took up arms against the new soviet government, writing that as long as classes existed a state would need to exist to exercise the democratic rule of one class (in his view, the working class) over the other (the capitalist class). He said:

[...] Dictatorship does not necessarily mean the abolition of democracy for the class that exercises the dictatorship over other classes; but it does mean the abolition of democracy (or very material restriction, which is also a form of abolition) for the class over which, or against which, the dictatorship is exercised — Vladimir Lenin.

Dictatorship of some kind is thus necessary in theory to maintain the balance of power in favor of the proletarian class. However, in practice, looking at how communist states have tended to operate, a high degree of authoritarianism has also proved necessary to "keep the people on the right track", both because not all sections of society have subscribed equally to the communist ideology, and because State Communism has tended to mistrust political pluralism and maintain a high level of paranoia about counter-revolutionary tendencies that can weaken and defeat the revolution from without and even from within, seeking to regress society towards pre-socialist social systems, so that a high index of both suspicion and state control is necessary to sustain the revolution.

In theory an altruistic one-party rule led by the "vanguard party" was considered necessary to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat and forcefully lead the drive towards a classless society, because communism did not trust the common people to initially possess the political consciousness required to voluntarily make the concessions and sacrifices necessary to achieve the revolution's stated societal goals. In practice, however, the vanguard often became more concerned with using authoritarianism to maintain Party power, so that the revolution could survive in some form and remain temporarily and indefinitely dominant, even if it did not enjoy the voluntary support of the majority of the people, and was not really achieving its principal aims. The same Wikipedia article observes that

Despite the principle of democratic centralism in the Bolshevik Party, internal factions were banned.

[...] the rising Stalinist clique [...] took the line that since they were the vanguard of the proletariat, their right to rule could not be legitimately questioned. Hence, opposition parties could not be permitted to exist. From 1936 onward, Stalinist-inspired state constitutions enshrined this concept by giving the various communist parties a "leading role" in society—a provision that was interpreted to either ban other parties altogether or force them to accept the Stalinists' guaranteed right to rule as a condition of being allowed to exist.

This justification was adopted by subsequent communist parties that built upon the Stalinist model, such as the ones in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba (initially the 26th of July Movement).

Such discourse in effect accuses the "common people" of lacking the political consciousness possessed by the "vanguard" (read Communist Party) which therefore needs to "guide" the people with an iron hand in order to "protect the revolution", at least until the common people develop an acceptably high political consciousness and begin to voluntarily strive towards realising that perfect, utopian "classless society" -- in short, the Party will need to impose its will upon the people in one way or another, overt or subtle and with varying degrees of coercion, for quite possibly a long evolutionary period, even in modern day China, and that's authoritarianism.

1

Fundamentally, it doesn't have to be, but it seems like it always will. At the core, Communism is Messianic, like religions can be be when left to their own devices. In many developed countries, the notion of religious leaders deciding for everyone what to do, how to behave and what to say are alien concepts. But it's not always been that way - many wars and much political jousting were waged to put the Churches in their place, they did not go willingly. When you just know you're right, it becomes tempting to just impose your point of view on others, just for their own good.

This is where Communism often seems to be stuck at. Radical disruption and uprooting is deemed necessary to achieve its Nirvana. If the people can't see that, they have to coerced. Add to that that people, even when they are not being plain greedy, generally hold the idea that people should be gain from their industry and that shirkers should not benefit (I suspect even egalitarian hunter gatherer had ways to prod really lazy people into work). Communism does away with that and substitutes for the good of all, which is is a really aggravating concept when in fact some are first among equals, work less and can coerce others. So, again, you have to push them to behave correctly.

(apologies, and +1, to Mutoh, who better articulated what I felt was missing with my original answer).

Ultimately, a successful implementation of Communism relies on the permanence of generalized altruism from 2 different constituencies: the leaders/decision makers need to only act in the best interest of the masses and the masses need to be constituted of individuals all selflessly laboring for their society as a whole. Humans can be surprisingly altruistic at times, but the expectation that this level of altruism will spontaneously become a stable dominant norm amongst a large number of people who don't know each other runs against what we can observe of normal people and what evolutionary theory predicts. So, the, admittedly somewhat seductive, ideal Communism is predicated on an innate misunderstanding of human psychology. Attempts to "correct" that result more often than not in dictatorships.

Communism, like theocracies like Iran, will only go along with the popular mandate as long as it keeps them in power. Or at least that has mostly been the case to this date. It's a nice sounding fable at the local cafe or tavern, but has proven utterly deadly on many occasion.

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