I was just thinking that essentially, a communist country like Maoist China did not seem very different than a very large corporation. Both are centrally managed, tightly control their citizens/employees, and own all property of their citizens/employees.

The only major difference is that within current laws, corporations do not have a monopoly on force, so cannot control the entire lives of their employees.

Is there any other significant difference between a communist country and a corporate entity?


5 Answers 5


You are not the first one to notice that there are states which officially follow a communist agenda but do in practice behave very similar to capitalist corporations. The Soviet Union and China are commonly cited examples. The Marxist term for the system used by such states isn't "Communism" but "State Capitalism".

The term was coined by communist philosopher Wilhelm Liebknecht in 1896 who used it as a fighting word against the German social-democrats who advocated for socialism under government control. The Marxist view is that both Communism and State Capitalism seek to remove the power of privately owned capital over the working class. But while Marxist Communism wants to give the power to the working class ("Dictatorship of the proletariat"), State Capitalism replaces oppression through privately controlled capital with oppression through government controlled capital.


I'll start this answer by clarifying, there is no such a thing as a common agreed definition on what a "communist country" is, different regimes through time have called themselves communist while enforcing different politics, some argue not a single one of these are/was a real communist regime, some argue that most of them are/were.

That said, if we look at previous communist regimes like the USSR, the main easy difference to spot regarding a corporation is that these countries enforce the relationship of Country-Citizen while corporations enter a consensual relationship with their workers, a worker is (sometimes with certain penalties) free to end the relationship at any time and thus holds some power in a negotiation.

This difference is not absolute of course, communist regimes can allow certain freedom to emigrate and Corporations can abuse the job market to enforce the relationship (if you can't get a new job and you don't have any other means, quitting is not an option either).

  • That's a good point. I guess at the point where it stops being consensual, then it is more like a communist country. In which case, communism is more like a plantation than a corporation.
    – yters
    Apr 14, 2020 at 20:18
  • @yters - basically, yes (communism - or at least socialism - is far more like a slave economy's plantation - or a feudal state - than a corporation. Hence, it's legal to shoot a citizen trying to escape to the capitalist country, the same way it was legal to catch and kill slaves and serfs throughout history.
    – user4012
    Apr 11, 2023 at 12:52

If we follow Marx's reasoning, nations like the PRC and the USSR are socialist regimes, not communism, and socialist regimes are an intermediary stage. Socialist regimes do not change the capitalist form of production; they merely nationalize the capitalist form of production, so that it is controlled and administered by the state — ostensibly in the name of the working class — not by private individuals. As Marx saw it, socialist regimes will generally decay into a new class structure, in which the ruling party takes on the role of the old capitalist class and reinstates the same conditions that led to the revolution that put them in power.

With that in mind, it makes perfect sense that a socialist regime would mirror the structure of a capitalist corporation; the first inherited the structures of the second when it took over, and then amplified them.

  • 4
    But China is very obviously not a Socialist or Communist country now, whatever it may have been in the days of Mao. It's quite rampantly capitalist, with a dictatorial state apparatus participating in that capitalism while keeping the populace under control.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 15, 2020 at 4:16
  • @jamesqf True, but China could be seen as socialist/lower stage communist before they started to allow people to start owning some degree of private property during the 1970s/1980s (politics.stackexchange.com/a/50198/29927) and changed to a market economy.
    – Tyler Mc
    May 23, 2020 at 16:43
  • 1
    @Tyler Mc: What China was during the 1970s & 1980s is not what China is now. Certainly it was Communist then (at least at the start of the period), but has gradually dispensed with anything but the name, which is presumably kept for face-saving reasons.
    – jamesqf
    May 24, 2020 at 16:34

Yes, there is an overriding authority at the top, and the rank and file have little to say (which would also be true of an absolute monarchy/theocracy/dictatorship so your claim of equivalence is of fairly limited specificity).

The similarities are far outweighed by differences:

  • you can easily leave a corporation's employment

  • a corporation has very limited rights to coerce its employees, outside of employment law and even less to coerce non-employees

  • corporate rules are subject to override by national laws, whereas a country really is a stand-alone entity and its laws subject to very limited oversight (North Korea's treatment of its citizens in Gulags may be "illegal" by international law and moral standards, but that matters very little to inmates for now).

  • a corporation does not own all property of their citizens/employees

Now, you can always make claims of dysfunctional corporate powers and argue that, in fact, corporations have more powers than they ought to. But that needs to be argued on a country by country / corporation by corporation basis and arguably none would really meet the level of coercion exercised by the USSR/China/NK et all, except for historical entities like the Congo Free State or the VOC which were operating in a colonial setting, i.e. a setting already characterized by wanton disregard for the well-being of the local populations.


As others have pointed out, from a Marxist perspective, there are a few fundamental differences between state capitalism and a communist state:


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