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?


23 Answers 23


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

Now regarding China nowadays, it's even further away from 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 tricky on a pure Marxist basis.

  • 27
    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
    Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 21:20
  • 5
    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… Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 2:45
  • 32
    @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
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 5:43
  • 11
    @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
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 7:01
  • 10
    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
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 17:34

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.

EDIT: By request - the definition of "authoritarian" that I am using is the one found on Wikipedia: "Authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms."

  • 9
    @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
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 6:57
  • 5
    @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
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 16:52
  • 4
    @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
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 17:00
  • 4
    @HotLicks - Socialism is the government owning the means of production. By this very property, it can be considered to be intrinsically authoritarian. I acknowledge that it's open to debate, but considering that the original question uses "intrinsically" to mean "is a naturally-occurring partner to it", I'd say that socialism necessarily relies on authoritarianism in order to function. (note: this only applies to actual socialism - social democracy, public options for health and education, etc, are not what I'm referring to as socialism).
    – Glen O
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 3:56
  • 5
    @StopHarmingMonica - the Nordic model isn't socialism. There are features of the Nordic model that are also present in socialism, but the critical features of socialism are absent - as Joe said, the Nordic model is best described as Social Democracy. And self-identification is often misleading - Bernie Sanders self-identifies as a Democratic Socialist, but he espouses Social Democratic ideals.
    – Glen O
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 4:05


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.


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.


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 kibbutzim, 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.


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
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 20:42
  • 4
    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. Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 20:50
  • 2
    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
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 18:44
  • 3
    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. Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 20:49
  • 2
    @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
    Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 20:01

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.


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.

  • 31
    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
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 1:18
  • 38
    (-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
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 5:27
  • 8
    @GlenO This is like saying every attempt to base an economy on perpetual motion machines has failed. Trivially true, but also telling.
    – user76284
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 6:14
  • 11
    @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
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 6:55
  • 11
    This answer seems to be based on a classic false dichotomy
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 17:24

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 fulfilment 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.


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!



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 think of things like compulsory public education as authoritarian, but in their core, they are - they're trying 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 :)

  • 5
    This post is very long. Could you add some section headlines and perhaps a summary?
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 11:05
  • 2
    @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
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 11:12
  • 3
    ... 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
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 12:30
  • 1
    @gerrit : Not birth control is taboo, but the concept of population replacement, and the mentioning of the fact that certain ethnicities have vastly higher birthrates than other ethnicities.
    – vsz
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 16:02
  • 1
    "Private property exists, but it comes from "grants" from the community - you do not automatically own the leather you get from killing a deer." I think there you meant what is generally in this framework called "personal" property, which is distinguished from "private" property.
    – cjs
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 23:21

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.


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.


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? Commented Nov 29, 2019 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. Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 17:28
  • 1
    @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). Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 17:35
  • 1
    but you can draw conclusions to the probability of the next crop of Communism being authoritarian, as Venezuelans can probably attest to. Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 5:55
  • 1
    @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. ;-) Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 9:08

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.

  • 2
    "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
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 17:27
  • 1
    @Just Me Communism isn't a failed economic system, Communism isn't an economic system. 😛
    – Felix B.
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 13:42
  • 2
    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
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 13:44
  • Capitalist states also fund e.g. fundamental research, which may or many not be everyone's idea of the right thing to spend taxes on. So I think you're setting up a false dichotomy here to some extent, i.e. pure anarcho-capitalism as you describe it here where everyone does absolutely what they want--without being forced to at least partially finance someone else's interests--doesn't actually exist in a modern state. Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 10:28
  • @Fizz I touch on that with "So you can artificially move these things up the priority list (generated decentrally by the capitalism algorithm),..." this is just another example of a situation where you can argue that the capitalism algorithm would not come to the "optimal" conclusion due to some form of externalities, so the state intervenes and plans it to some degree. There is no country in the world which is purely capitalistic, everything is somewhere between capitalism and planned economy - some people like to call it social market economy
    – Felix B.
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 19:45

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 [...].

  • 1
    This answer has interesting illustrations, but it conflates Authoritarianism with Authority.
    – agc
    Commented Feb 22, 2020 at 17:35
  • @agc Well,Engels uses the term "Despotism" ... Commented Feb 22, 2020 at 22:42
  • Well in English the above quotes seem a bit quizzical. Perhaps some useful and necessary distinction or shade of irony in Engels' wording has been lost in translation, and... execution.
    – agc
    Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 17:35

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.

  • It seems trivial to imagine that such a state, whether for better or worse, could relabel such a removal as either adding or replacing an outmoded liberty with a "new improved" liberty, i.e. the new right of its citizens to go just about wherever they please, or at least moreso than with the other system. Of course such states so far have tended to skimp on the means of universal transportation, (travel is expensive!), so that imposed range limitations virtually comprise a different set of gates and boundaries.
    – agc
    Commented Feb 22, 2020 at 17:29

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:


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.

  • I'd say Communist China survived what you call "the global communist crisis of 1989-91" by becoming MORE authoritarian and making it MORE visible to the Chinese people by killing thousands of people. Certainly current residents of Hong Kong wouldn't say China has become less authoritarian. Also, neither East Germany nor the USSR rolled out tanks in response to protests and neither exists today.
    – Just Me
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 12:47
  • "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" That sounds very much like today's "cancel culture"....
    – Just Me
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 12:49

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.


The abolition of the bourgeoisie and associated socioeconomic relationships is the fundamental task of the transition period that follows the socialist revolution, and which should culminate in the construction of the socialist and democratic society. In praxis, this never happened.

The proletariat dictatorship abolished the bourgeoisie and its socioeconomic relations in a group of countries, but not in all countries or even the most determinant of them. International relations remain conditioned by the capitalist market relations. This led to a fundamental political contradiction in the socialist countries. On one hand, the transition period created the basis for the evolution towards a socialist democracy in this set of countries; on the other, the international conditions require the existence of a dictatorial government "intended" in principle to preserve them.

The constitutions of the socialist democracies were redacted in paper only, but the real socialist states never (as we know it) implemented it in actuality. The resolution of this contradiction was the historical disappearance of the socialist (Marxist-Leninist) societies.


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 sequentially - 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 already used to the fact that something is wrong, but as the technological progress nearly surpassed 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 travelled 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.

  • 2
    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
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 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
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 11:21
  • Downvoted because the first sentence is obviously incorrect. Pacificism is an ideology that is not authoritarian.
    – Joe
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 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
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 17:50

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.


Of course it depends on what one mean under communism (is Norway communist counry? China?) and authoritariarism (is Trump authoritarian leader?) but there is one serious issue with communist ideology and it is property and ways to manage that property. IF you say "property belong to people" like at USSR - that is in most cases would be lie. Property managed by someone. This can be party members or directorate or anyone else. Those who manage property will always be authoritarian. This is true for any society. Only difference is - in communist societies there is ONE owner. Declared as "people" but in reality - it is always authoritarian group. And due to communism nature "everything belong to people" - thus - to one group. In capitalism there are many owners. That is why they look not so authoritarian - after all, one group of owners (as well as people, as stakeholders) shall coexist with other groups. This makes authoritariarism less possible. But in fact, it is the same. Every owner is authoritarian (everywhere) and one owner declared at communism.


Yes. That follows from basic economics: in order to induce people to be productive one has only three options:

#1: The proverbial stick. "If you don't work you'll get hurt. That's the modus operandi of slavery and feudal serfdom. That's also the most potent inducement that all known to date socialist systems used, along with #3.

#2: The proverbial carrot. "If you work we'll give you something in return." That's how capitalism works.

#3: Brainwashing. "If you work your kids will live in communist paradise" (that's the remaining part of socialism systems' inducement) or "It you work you'll be rewarded in the afterlife" (that's why monks work) or "If you create a majestic sculpture the future generations will praise you forever" (that works for a tiny minority of jobs).

Karl Marx suggested that brainwashing alone is enough to run a fully satisfied society. That's his vision of communism: everybody works for no reason other than because the new generation of people will be selfless enough to work with neither reward nor punishment.

Of course that never worked. Surely, scientists and artists and musicians and perhaps some engineers and doctors would work for the joy of it and for the altruistic benefit of humanity. But it's more difficult to convince 90% of humanity to do menial job for the sake of it.

And so every regime that proclaims itself "communist" rejects that awesome advance of capitalism over prior systems, the use of the carrot rather than the stick to induce production. Their logic: "why should workers receive meaningful compensation for their work if they would just work for the sake of it, as Saint Marx promised? Let's nationalize everything and distribute things equally (except, of course, those who are doing the distributing, they surely need more than others)."

And, of course, as soon as the government redistributes wealth equally, production dwindles. And, of course, the regime reverts to the only inducement that remains: the stick.

I was born and raised in the USSR. I saw what "socialism with communism on the horizon" really does. Also, I have friends who came to US from several other similar regimes, and they all saw the same evil.

No, folks, there can be no such thing as "Democratic Socialism", unless it's either "Democratic" or "Socialism" in the name alone. Socialism and Communism reject the idea of the carrot, and therefore they inevitable fall back to the stick. Just as the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" is neither "Democratic" no "People's", neither can be socialism or communism.


TL;DR: That largely depends on what you mean by "communism".

The general problem is that pretty much all of the "communists states" (which is btw an oxymoron) are variations of a doctrine called "Marxism-Leninism" which is basically Stalin's attempt to solidify the power that he had inherited/taken after Lenin's death by attempting to deify these two dead people and present a selected interpretation of their ideas and actions as some sort of gospel, which ended up being the blueprint for most of those kinds of revolution.

It often failed and the specific countries "amended" it later to the particular situation within the country, but usually the authoritarian seeds planted by Stalin were kept. So despite the seemingly large number of "different", "communist" states they aren't really an ideologically diverse set, testing out different ideologies, but they are rather clones of Marxism-Leninism. As such a lot of the terminology of what "socialism", "communism", "dictatorship of the proletariat" or whatnot refers to has been (re-)coined by this largest representative or tailored towards it, which often makes it stand in contrast to how predecessors and contemporaries have used it or how people continued to use it.

The thing is Stalin wasn't the only Bolshevic (Lenin's party), Lenin wasn't the only Marxist and Marx wasn't the only communist.

Yes, Marx isn't the inventor of socialism or communism, these terms had been around for a long time. Essentially the liberal and the industrial revolution had massively disrupted the socio-economio-political landscape. Previously the church as the keeper of all wisdom and moral, had served as the legitimization of earthly power (god given rulers) and the rest were basically meant to serve god and in his extension their land lords by working the fields.

Now science has taken shots at the "wisdom" of the church, philosophy took shots at the moral, economically the ruling class impoverished itself through wars and extravagance, the middle class of merchants and craftsmen demanded more from life than subserviency, the agricultural sector was no longer the powerhouse of the society, products were no longer unique but could be mass produced aso. So rule of an aristocracy morphed into rule of the bourgeoisie, feudalism morphed into capitalism, religiosity morphed into "progressivism" (believe in progress).

So basically all the great narratives that had been taken for granted for centuries had been dispelled. Though what remained is that an upper class ruled over a lower class, which actually produced the stuff. Though if the lower classes take the liberals claims of individual liberty, equality and self-actualization seriously, then something was still going massively wrong. And if that isn't the "natural order" or "god given hierarchy", then it must have some more earth-ly reasons. And they pretty early on made the observation that what makes you wealthy and powerful is the ownership of the means of production, so land, factories anything that produces commodities and consumables that you can exchange at fixed quantities of labor and which create a transfer of power in the direction of the gatekeepers.

So while making grandstanding claims of "democracy", "liberty", "social contracts", "self-governance", "equality", "solidarity" what they ended up with looked eerily similar to what came before. Like some middle class entrepreneurs ascended to nobility and some nobles descended to middle class and the theme of rulership changed. In effect "democracy" still meant that a small bunch of rich people decided the politics of the country while the rest served to increase their riches. And while populists to this day might claim that, in the early days that might have rang much more true, with voting rights based on income, no compensation for political duties (so no income, making it inaccessible for people without wealth) and so on.

So when Marx spoke about the "bourgeoisie" that might not have been just an economic term for rich people, but a description of a separate society, wielding, political and economic power.

And so given that everything seemed possible and things still sucked, lots of people came up with lots of ideas and how to progress. And those arguing that this hyper-"individualism" actually fails lots of individuals and doesn't account for the fact that the wealth creation is a collective process and who wanted to put the society/community as a whole more into the focus were called or called themselves socialists/communists or variations of that. Though these terms were often used synonymously, interchangably and their definition varied from person to person.

Even if they agreed upon the ownership of the means of production being the problem, the oppression by the state being a problem, self-organization being a solution and general virtues of freedom and equality. They might still differ as to whether everyone should have their own means of production or whether they should own them collectively, whether those collectives should be limited to the workers owning their particular workplaces or a co-ownership of the entire country, whether it should be through revolution, engagement in parliament, reforms, unionization, syndicalism, strikes. Whether the political liberation, the social liberation, the economic liberation or just better working and living conditions should be the priority and so on.

And given that for a century or longer none of that was ever closer than a short lived revolt from being implement anywhere there ended up hundreds and thousands of ideas on how such things could look like.

Now Marx largely wrote about that transitioning towards capitalism and how it works and how it would be overcome towards socialism/communism. He didn't go much into detail how socialism/communism would look like or how that works, because that would to be figured out by the people who actually live in those circumstances. He nonetheless co-authored a manifest of the communist party and got engaged in the international workingmen's association (first international). Where he got rid of the anarchist and anarcho-communist sections before the organization dissolving apparently also over Marx's support for the brutal means of the Paris Commune, which was itself brutally put down.

Still large got somewhat famous in his role leading the first international and tons of groups and people calling themselves Marxist if they had the slightest overlap of revolution and socialism, often to the dismay of Marx himself.

That being said for Marx the transition was still from the rule of the few to the rule of the many, so the goal was intrinsically democratic. Even the "communist party" and the "transitional state" were different from Lenin as the "communist party" was apparently anticipated as a mass movement of international workers. His rational was that the proletariat were or would soon be the largest faction in society and the one who is able to create a society of their own without subjugating others (as they know how to work the means of production themselves). So the "revolution" and the "dictatorship of the proletariat" wouldn't be a minority party spearheaded by a dictator but a majority demanding a democracy, with dictatorship being synonymous for "to rule". If I'm not mistaken he even said something like the most socialist act in his time would be if Britain got the universal suffrage given that he expected the proletariat voting en bloc and for their own interest as a class, as he perceived the capitalists had done already (though given their smaller class, class and personal interests might have been much more conflated).

Also afaik Engels explicitly warned with regards to the Paris Commune that it would not be possible to simply take over the state and modify the society from above, that this attempt has failed and that instead and organized majority needs to make the revolution and determine their future democratically, making the oppressive institution of the state withering away in the process. Though afaik they still argued in favor of a revolution and a new system rather than coercing the ruling class for better working conditions, yet keeping the systemic injustices in place.

So you had tons of socialists/communists making ideologies and utopian or pragmatic claims, then you had lots of Marxists taking close or loose inspiration from Marx particular version of communism. And then you have Lenin.

Apparently in 1903 he attended a meeting of the social democratic party in Russia (which apparently was an all-left conglomerate) where he, in the absence of any liberal revolution, parliament, democracy or any other chance to gain power legitimately, convinced a majority to form vanguard party of professional revolutionaries. In remembrance of the one time in his life that he got a majority in a free and fair election he called them "Bolshevics" (=majority). He wasn't really successful with that, burned through lots of fake identities, spend lots of time in Siberia or in exil, basically missing out on all the revolutions in 1905 and February of 1917.

Though the February revolution of 1917 made the czar abdicate and had a dual reign between a provisional government that soon became unpopular for continuing the war and a congress of soviets (soviet=councils) which were a representation of the worker and soldier councils organizing the revolution, which had popular support but no official mandate. Either way the new situation allowed for Lenin to return home and the German military high command was more than happy to escort a professional trouble maker to an enemy country.

Now the congress of soviets were still debating what should be done next, because Russia didn't even have a liberal revolution, so would a socialist revolution come to early. The thing is for Marx it was a historical materialism. So the agricultural revolution brought about the feudal system due to the necessity of organization, the liberal revolution brought about capitalism and with the industrialization the working class would be able to bring about a socialist revolution. Though Marx bought the liberal kool-aid of a superior subsystem developing within a system overtaking the main one. So without transitioning through capitalism and developing the material conditions any revolution would just reproduce the same system or worse regress.

So they were still contemplating if Russia was even ready for socialism, given that the industrialization there was still in the making. But while agitating for the congress of soviets he also made sure they wouldn't meet and actually answer that question before he staged a coup d'etat and took power in the so-called October Revolution. He then made a peace treaty with Germany leading to the allies attacking Russia for all the stuff they supplied them previously, while arguing that boundaries will be irrelevant anyway when the world revolution begins.

The Lenin made a free election and ... lost. He claimed power anyway and had a bloody civil war with lots of terror on both sides. After which he won and proceeded with NEP so some sort of capitalism light with lots of government control, before Stalin took over kept it for a bit and then transitioned to his own centralized dictatorship.

Though the concept of vanguard revolutions, centralizing production and trying to achieve industrialization within a country, not going for a global revolution and having the USSR as the sponsor and ideological center of this kind of bloc (before China would rival it after Stalin's death) became sort of a blueprint for how to make a revolution.

And "socialism" became synonymous with what these countries were doing and what they claimed to be a transitioning state and a dictatorship of the proletariat. Though rather a normal dictatorship and not really of the proletariat as the ruling party is often far removed from that both ideoligically from their lived reality and even physically. And communism being the doctrine of the party and the end goal, but which seems really hard to be achievable with this framework which pretty much goes in the opposite direction, again having a monarchy or aristocracy, a centralized state with no democracy and a population meant to serve their leaders. So apart from a psychological ownership, the means of production would still belong to a minority.


No, because there are multiple forms of communism. But most communist states today tend to be authoritarian because they're based on Lenin's ideology.


People's Multiparty Democracy (Nepali: जनताको बहुदलिय जनबाद, abbreviated जबज, also called Marxism-Leninism-Madanism (मार्क्सवाद–लेनिनवाद–मदानवाद)) refers to the ideological line of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) and Nepal Communist Party.[117][118] This thought abandons the traditional Leninist idea of a revolutionary communist vanguard party in favor of a democratic multi-party system.[119] It is considered an extension of Marxism–Leninism by Madan Bhandari, the CPN-UML leader who developed it, and is based on the local politics of Nepal.[120][121][122]

However, most Communism ideologies based on Leninist thought tend to support an authoritarian system.


No communism is not inherently autoritarian. The development of such in so called communist states followed a trajectory that very quickly cycled through Plato's description of the degeneration of leadership, from Aristocracy to tyranny.

For example, Lenin was an aristocrat whilst Stalin was a tyrant. Communism is still far off today but will, according to Hegel's & Marx's Philosophy of History, will eventually come to pass. Though of course, in the former, it is through dialectical absolute spirit and in the latter, through dialectical materialism. Nevertheless, in pragmatic terms, the outcome is the same: greater concrete freedom for the citizen, and not the fake freedoms of today.

It is also the view of Kant, although he is ideologically far from communism. He talked about the Kingdom of Ends. This is akin to communism. Generally, his view is understood as cosmopolitanism.

(I don't always agree with Kant as he was something of a racist. But at least he had his racism 'kicked' out of him, unlike the dyed-in-the-wool racist, Hume).


You must log in to answer this question.

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