The definition of Communism:

Communism is a political and economic ideology that positions itself in opposition to liberal democracy and capitalism, advocating instead a classless system in which the means of production are owned communally and private property is nonexistent or severely curtailed.

The way I understand classless system is that we won't have any higher level or lower level working people, for example in a office we won't have General Manager, Assistant General Manager, Manager, Assistant Manager, and so on. So, it is very unintuitive that GM will do their job, workers will do their jobs and at the end of month everyone will get the same salary. How is it possible?

Even if we disallow modern era class system, in 19th century we had classes in Army, for example, Lieutenants, Majors, and soldiers. And it is natural that Lieutenant was a promoted post, so how come all of them get the same payment (may it be money or just the essentials) when one is higher than the other?

It could be the case that I'm misunderstanding the whole idea of Communism, but I have tried and every time I get this same problem. So, please try to explain me the things the way they were and are.

  • The goal isn't to push all into a flat graph, it's to chop off the extreme ends that are detrimental to the middle.
    – dandavis
    Aug 2, 2020 at 20:49
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    You write "the" definition of communism, but that link is to Investopedia, which is a site about the stock market. Have you looked at definitions from sites which are more about politics? Aug 3, 2020 at 4:11
  • @OwenReynolds The definition given in that site seemed easiest for me to understand and they used the word “classless” quite clearly so I linked my question to it. Aug 3, 2020 at 7:07
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    @KnightadmiresChappo Just using the simplest definition might not be the best idea if (I assume) you are actually interested in definitions used by people who consider themselves communists, or perhaps definitions used by people fighting something they consider communism, or something like that.
    – Nobody
    Aug 3, 2020 at 12:23
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    Fair enough -- that first paragraph seems to bring up some key terms. But as you saw, it goes on for pages (on Victor D'Hupay, Chineese pig iron, and Stalin's death. Huh?) without explaining what that 1st para promised to. Maybe the whole thing, including the first para, wasn't well thought-out? Aug 3, 2020 at 18:21

4 Answers 4


When Marx used the term 'class', he wasn't referring to hierarchical organizational structures. He was referring to more-or-less permanent and impermeable social distinctions. For the sake of the argument, assume it is well accepted that a company of any reasonable size must have (at minimum) a chief executive making global decisions, an assortment of managers implementing those decisions, and an array of workers carrying out the implementation to produce whatever the company produces. The question is this: where do these people come from? If we have a situation such as the following:

  • Chief executives are always chosen from within a specific group: e.g.: business owners, other chief executives, their children and extended family members.
  • Managers are always chosen from within a second group: e.g., people who have the financial means to attend college and achieve an MBA; distant relations of the first group; entrepreneurs who were able to bankroll their own success.
  • Laborers are always chosen from the rest of the population.

These then represent three distinct classes of people. The classes aren't defined by the positions per se, but by the fact that it is extremely rare (if it happens at all) to see someone from the third group rise to the level of the first group, or someone from the first group to fall to the level of the third. This lack of social mobility naturally concentrates wealth and privilege among the highest class, where even the most incompetent member of the highest level lives in luxury and comfort inaccessible to even the most competent and talented member of the lowest level.

Marx held that the basis of class structures in all societies was control of the 'means of production': that (whatever it is) which is an essential prerequisite for production to occur. In the Feudal era this was land ownership: land was essential for agricultural production, and land was owned by the aristocratic class, who wielded political authority and took the bulk of the profits. In the Industrial Capitalism era, the means of production was 'the factory' (since no individual can effectively compete against a factory), and so those who owned factories — the industrial capitalist class — held de facto political, social, and economic power.

In a classless society there are still hierarchical political and economic positions, but no particular group holds dominance over the highest levels. Every person in the society has the same base chance of becoming a political or economic leader, based solely on his/her skills, talents, and inclinations. The point of nationalizing industry in this model is take control of the means of production, so that the means of production cannot be used by one group to wall off people of other groups. It isn't about bringing everyone to the same level; it is about allowing the natural abilities of everyone to express themselves without being restricted by some artificially imposed conditions based solely on accidental characteristics of social position and birth.

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    Marx's ideas mostly apply to the conditions prevalent during his life, where the economy was mostly dependent on industrial production. So, a question: how does this relate to a service-based economy (I mean, from a "modern communist" point of view)? For example, is a computer the "means of production" for a graphics designer or a programmer? Or is modern day communist theory still focused only on industrial production? Aug 4, 2020 at 18:23
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    @Noctiphobia: That depends on whom you ask, I suppose. Some traditionalists still hold the line at industrial production of material goods, but it's increasingly clear that 'intellectual' property and 'information' property are significant issues. Service workers can still fit under the 'industrial' model (since service workers generally rely on an 'owner' to provide them with the materials they need to perform their services), but how do we account for ownership of personal information, software, elements chronic media, or other intangible 'things'? it's a knotty problem. Aug 4, 2020 at 18:51
  • @TedWrigley Quite right. The Means of Production in the modern information age is not the computer we type on or the office we sit in; it is the mind that composes the information product. This truly does belong to the worker. Perhaps Marx's dream has been arrived at and we haven't noticed. Aug 5, 2020 at 13:52
  • @OscarBravo: Ah, that's not really correct. Whatever we 'think' or 'imagine' — products of the mind — still has to find some way of being offered to the world. If one imagines a new car one still needs a factory to produce it; if one imagines a software app one still needs a computer to code it and a commercial center to distribute it; if one imagines a great novel one still has to type it up and have copies printed and sold. The mode of production have have changed is certain sectors, but there are always ways to alienate people from their means of production. Aug 5, 2020 at 14:00

Marx defines class in relation to means of production. Instead of "typical" division into "upper", "middle" and "lower" class, there are only two classes: "bourgeoisie" and "proletariat".

Proletariat are the labourers, those who do the work and actually produce value in form of goods and products. They don't, or very rarely, own means of production.

Bourgeoisie are owners of means of production. "The rich" or "the 1%" if you will. They don't work, they don't produce value. They derive income from mere fact that they own things. Owner of company derives income from hiring labourers, paying them fraction of what their labour is worth and pocketing the difference. Landlord derives income from owning and renting out properties, and again generates no value (as a side note, I'd like to point out that that even "father of capitalism", Adam Smith, considered landlords to be parasites), because those properties already exist, nothing new is created or added through renting out.

Classless society, is a society where those two classes don't exist, because labourers themselves own means of production (for substitute within capitalist framework look up "worker's cooperative"), hence there is no "fat cat" at the top pocketing the difference and every labourer receives full value he or she generated through labour.

  • "there are only two classes: "bourgeoisie" and "proletariat"." That is true only for capitalism. In general it is false (read the Manifesto).
    – user33085
    Aug 4, 2020 at 2:45
  • "The rich" or "the 1%" is not really the point. They might even work. The biggest distinction is being the hired labour (proletariat) and the hirer of labour ('the exploitator'). A struggling small shop owner may be poorer than a skilled worker, but is still a 'bourgeoisie' and must be eliminated.
    – Zeus
    Aug 4, 2020 at 9:01
  • Doesn't a landlord provide value through various forms of building maintenance? Aug 5, 2020 at 6:42
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    @eyeballfrog No, it's the tradesmen contracted for repairs who create value.
    – M i ech
    Aug 5, 2020 at 7:41

Classes are defined according to their access to the means of production and to what they do with their ability to work. It has nothing to do with ranks in the army or on the work place.

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    @KnightadmiresChappo No, loosely speaking everyone who draws a salary is working class. The upper class is defined by owning the means of production and hence not working for a salary (they live off passive income, aka "rent" instead). That's the class communism seeks to abolish.
    – user141592
    Aug 2, 2020 at 17:00
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    @Johanna Incomplete. It's not that "bourgeoisie" lives off of rent, but off of labour of others (where rent is one of the ways of siphoning money off from labourers), while producing no value themselves.
    – M i ech
    Aug 3, 2020 at 0:58
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    @JCAA That's a very weird way to look at the problem. Just because everybody gets goods according to their needs doesn't mean everybody gets everything they want. Marx isn't very specific about his utopian communist society, for obvious reasons. He doesn't talk about voluntary exchanges between the people, but that's a far cry from saying there will not be any! Of course, Marx isn't exactly consistent, so you'll find quotes talking about how people will only work for enjoyment etc., but that's already kind of true today in much of Europe - I don't have to work to get what I need for life.
    – Luaan
    Aug 3, 2020 at 10:03
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    @JCAA: "Everybody gets goods according to their needs" is a minimum, not a limiting prescription. Practically, that may work out as free housing, so you don't need money for that. But above needs we have desires. Marx is rather quiet on them. You can't assume blindly that communism doesn't use money to distribute desirable goods and services. Of course, Marx didn't foresee that we would have so much wealth that desirable goods now outnumber essential needs.
    – MSalters
    Aug 3, 2020 at 11:31
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    @Luaan "people will only work for enjoyment etc., but that's already kind of true today in much of Europe - I don't have to work to get what I need for life." - Where in Europe are you living that this is actually true? And how do you know it applies to "most of Europe"? Aug 3, 2020 at 12:58

Marx never actually implemented communism. In fact, Marx never made a direct clear statement of any law or policy being desirable. So the only answer would be people attributing their own opinions to Marx.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/marx/ The issue of Marx and morality poses a conundrum. On reading Marx’s works at all periods of his life, there appears to be the strongest possible distaste towards bourgeois capitalist society, and an undoubted endorsement of future communist society. Yet the terms of this antipathy and endorsement are far from clear. Despite expectations, Marx never says that capitalism is unjust. Neither does he say that communism would be a just form of society. In fact he takes pains to distance himself from those who engage in a discourse of justice, and makes a conscious attempt to exclude direct moral commentary in his own works. The puzzle is why this should be, given the weight of indirect moral commentary one finds.

  • 3
    It is often forgotten that Marx didn't really try to outline communism - he just developed a historical theory of how the inevitable economic development will result in communism (and often disparaged democratic socialists as delaying that development). He was reportedly quite unhappy that "communism" was taken up by the poorest, least developed nations, while his prediction was that communism will form naturally from the richest, most developed nations. He considered capitalism a necessary stepping stone to socialism, and socialism another step on the natural way to communism.
    – Luaan
    Aug 3, 2020 at 10:11

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