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Is Communism Practical?

An illustration of China with the Chinese flag superimposed on it.
Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.
A portrait of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.
A modified form of communism is practiced in North Korea.
As consumers have little influence over the activities of state-run businesses in a communist society, communist nations like China often develop steep environmental problems.
Under a command economy, such as that wielded by the Soviet Union, resources are placed in some fields, such as space technology, without concern for how the returns will stimulate the economy or benefit individuals in the long run.
A map of the Soviet Union, with the star, sickle, and hammer that appeared on its flag.
A map of China, which has a modified communist government.
The people of the Ukraine, which was once part of the Soviet Union, suffered severe famine in the 1930s due to the mismanagement of the USSR's communist leaders.
The government of Cuba continues to practice a form of Communism.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2014
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With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the economic and political system known as communism suffered its largest public condemnation to date. Although China, Cuba and North Korea still continue to practice modified versions of communism, by and large the world's leading economic powers have deemed the theory of a state-controlled economy a distinct failure. Communism in theory may have sounded plausible, but communism in practice proved to encourage only the most corrupt members of government to seek advancements within the system.

But is communism still a practical idea? In some ways, communism is just as practical as the capitalist concepts they attempted to replace. The problem still appears to be implementing the positive aspects of communism in a capitalist society which equates economic communism with political totalitarianism. Allowing for public ownership of essential services, such as public transportation or postal deliveries, has not proven to be an impractical idea, for example.

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Communism in its purest form was a much more practical alternative to capitalism during the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution. It made good economic sense, for example, to encourage collective farming in a time when the world's economies were still largely agrarian. Under economic communism, individual farmers could agree to pool all of their resources together in order to produce more crops for their fellow citizens without the worry of providing financial support for their own families. Under capitalism, if an individual farmer failed to produce a sufficient crop, he could face repossession of his land and be forced to find other work. Under communism, however, an individual farmer and his family would survive even if his own contributions were minimal.

One concept of economic communism which may have sounded more practical on paper than in practice was the idea of each worker having the right to find a job according to his or her abilities. This may have worked in theory, but in practice it is nearly impossible to guarantee suitable work for everyone's interests or abilities. If we could all choose our jobs according to our personal desires, the world would be filled with models, musicians, doctors and other high profile workers. There would not be a sufficient number of unskilled or semi-skilled workers to fill necessary but unglamorous job positions. The idea of matching workers' skills to their jobs proved to be difficult in practice, since many workers under communism became disgruntled with their assigned jobs and had little incentive to improve their productivity.

A modified form of communism could still be considered practical and workable, but implementation on a wide scale is unlikely after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As long as capitalism remains the dominant economic system, workers and politicians are always going to enjoy its obvious material advantages over communism. It would be very difficult to sell an entire country on the benefits of communism in an age where consumerism and private entrepreneurship are encouraged and rewarded. Communism may have some practical elements, especially in the control of natural resources, but overall it has proven to be unworkable without at least some form of modification or capitalistic influences.

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anon327565
Post 9

This post and most of the comments from people are absolutely scary! The pictures of Mao and Marx and the writer and people almost swooning over the concept of communism. Really? How many people have been slaughtered in the name of communism? Literally millions under Mao and Stalin and millions more under other collectivist regimes. And you want to believe the humanity is not "sufficiently evolved". We are headed there again because most people will not consider the underlying mechanisms of communism as evil. And you want to talk about how we're wired? We've been wired to believe that crap for centuries!

kimmb
Post 8

Just a couple of overlooked facts here. The US Postal System is dysfunctional and on the brink of extinction in its current state.

Re: the practicalities of communism for farmers during the industrial revolution: Communism has a practical use in voluntary form, as a microcosm of a free society at large (and where else but in a free society could a subculture choose to practice a form of socialism or communism freely?)

Communism forced on a society at large or nation as a whole never ever works because it ignores human nature. And the only way it can deal with that is to suppress human nature by force, or exterminate the embodiment of that human nature. And that makes for volumes of real world historical fact.

Blogengeezer
Post 7

Great comments based on the life experience and witness to one of the most brutal and deadly forms of government in history. Bees and ants function under a form of communism, using extreme 'brutality' (they kill the non-productive). Humans are definitely 'wired' far differently. Dis-Utopian Keynesian Theory *is* taught in schools. Reality based Hayek, should be.

makerofcarts
Post 6

What is the benefit of this article? It asserts without evidence and is lazy and ideological at its root.

anon89434
Post 5

It befuddles me, that the argument against communism gets back to accepting the notion that true communism advocates taking what is mine. Within limits, one can own whatever they want.

True communism only argues that this one world that what we have must be configured in such a way that all have the basics of a dignified life, specifically, food, shelter, clothing, education and health care, because society benefits from people having these things.

However, the false argument that they (whoever "they" are supposed to be) are going to take my refrigerator, etc. goes back, in a psychological sense, to a kid who does not know how to share toys in a common play area, because they are mine.

Capitalism's big failure is not that it can allow people to produce, but that it cannot figure out how to get people to allow distribution of the excess of productive activity. With the aid of technology, an unselfish, caring person will always produce more than what is needed to live. Thus, let us distribute according to the needs of others, if we want a society based on love rather than greed.

anon30919
Post 4

Views by western supporters of Communist ideology don't amount to much, because how can westerners who have the advantage of living in a capitalist society, enjoying its privileges and freedoms, be a reliable source to advocate communism? It has been only a fad among leftists that haven't had to live under it. The many peoples through the history of Communism that grew up under it and risked their lives to get out of it to live in the free world are undisputable testimonies of the difference between Communism and free market capitalism.

anon15613
Post 3

Our world in the next hundred years will be communist, we are slowly evolving towards it. I notice in my lifetime that we are evolving to the Alpha's, Beta's, and charlie's.

SingBiker
Post 2

Webster defines communism as:

1 a: a theory advocating elimination of private property b: a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed.

While this sounds wonderful, the truth is that humanity is not sufficiently evolved morally to be capable of implementing it. If we were, we would be more than happy to do our very best, in every endeavor, to promote the common good of the society. In a perfect world we would walk out of our home and just grab the first vehicle we came upon to travel to our destination. Everything would be "free" and everyone would contribute their labor to maintain the highest standards for everyone else.

Well, I like being able to work some extra hours to earn enough to buy a new Harley that is MINE and that I don't have to share with anyone who wants to take it our for a spin. I know that's pretty selfish, but that's the way most of us are wired, and that's why communism just wont work.

By the way, China may be considered communist, but they are certainly implementing free market methods in their society and are becoming quite an economic world power.

anon2758
Post 1

I am impressed. Finally someone who discusses communism honestly. Although Communism is the ideal system there are some very real reasons why communism will always fail. Under communism the people have to ignore some very basic and important drives which have been responsible for our thriving as a species. Communism discourages any kind of hierarchical social structure which ignores the very fact that we are hierarchical in nature. Let's also not forget about our natural competitive drive for personal gain. It's our survival instinct. For us to thrive under communism we would need to alter out fundamental psychology which is dictated by our genetics.

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