From Marx, capitalism and communism are: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

From the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Communism, the political and economic doctrine that aims to replace private property and a profit-based economy with public ownership and communal control of at least the major means of production (e.g., mines, mills, and factories) and the natural resources of a society. Communism is thus a form of socialism—a higher and more advanced form, according to its advocates. Exactly how communism differs from socialism has long been a matter of debate, but the distinction rests largely on the communists’ adherence to the revolutionary socialism of Karl Marx.

Note 1: This is not anarcho-communism, we don't want to get rid of the state here, even in the long run. We need a strong state.

Note 2: Communism is not implicitly related to dictatorship.

Problems with communism:

TL;DR: Impossible to control all the economy efficiently, people's behaviours are not really compatible with the ideal.

  1. The state needs to control all the economy.

  2. Because of 1, it is impossible to manage the supply and demand correctly. It's very hard to micro manage the economy. It lead to shortages (Soviet cars had to be ordered several months in advance) and weird behaviours such as melting frying pans in order to meet the local cast iron quota. The latter is related to China's five year plans and I'm not sure it is directly related to communism.

  3. People lack motivation if they can't get rewarded for their efforts. Some might even get lazy since they know that they will have enough to survive anyway. Actually, I knew someone who grew up in southern China during the reign of Mao and I think he would disagree with that statement.

  4. It discourages innovation: People are less likely to take risks without reward. This is also because of the lack of competition. "Why should I try do do better if I have a monopoly?"

  5. It encourages corruption: Corruption and speculation are the only way to get more wealth. Wait, it's the same with capitalism!

That said, I think the two main problems can be resolved.

  1. Computers could make it a lot easier to manage the economy in details using algorithms. The state would know what to produce and where it is needed in real time. Thus we could solve supply issues, in theory.
  2. During the last century and especially during The Glorious Thirty, the West enjoyed a massive wealth increase. Other countries like China are now experiencing large economic growth as well. In fact, China's middle class is as large as the population of the United States according to the Chinese state. The main problem is that it's not well distributed in the society. If we were to distribute it equally, we can suppose that we would have enough for everyone to have a decent life in most Western countries. The problem with the past communist systems is that, in order to share the wealth, they needed to create it. Now, do we have enough?

Note: Deng Xiaoping and other important communist leaders in China said that the actual phase of economic development in China is just something temporary. Eventually, the state market will prevail, sort of. They haven't abandoned communism, they are just taking a detour. This is questionable considering that Xi Jingping is a multi-millionaire and we don't know what happening at the top of the state.

  1. More advanced technology means more efficient production. With automation and robotics, we could increase the efficiency of factories and other sectors as well. Some might say that the economy is already geared toward the tertiary sector of the economy but in France, 25%-30% of the people are still working in the primary and secondary sectors. Major gains are still possible.

Some details about the setting:

  • It takes place in the near future, [like 2060, maybe]
  • I am making the assumption that the effects of climate change are stronger than what they are today. Changes in rain pattern are affecting many countries, mainly:

    • Central America
    • United States
    • Southern Europe
    • Northern Africa
    • Sub Saharan Africa
    • Central Asia
    • The Indian subcontinent
    • The Middle East
  • In some of these countries, the pressure on the resources is very strong. This leads governments to take action to control these resources. Some sort of collectivization of the natural resources, including water sources and the fertile lands, could take place. Remember that in most developed countries, the collectivization could affect directly 1/4 of the population, and even more in less developed countries.

  • I might also include energy and fuel in the collectivization, but I'm not sure it is realistic to say that we will have a shortage of fossil fuel by 2060, but let say that the pressure is also high on this resource.

Now, the question:

Considering the solutions proposed to solve some problems of the communist system, and

Considering the possibilities offered by the setting,

Could communism become a strong alternative to capitalism


Are countries more likely to embrace this ideology? If no, are there any other factors that might help?

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ This question has a huge area of dependencies. A usable answer for this would probably be in the length of a book. And without that kind of answer: Yes, anything is possible. $\endgroup$
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 11:19
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ "Computers could make it a lot easier to manage the economy in details using algorithms". Not necessarily. Keep in mind that there are problems which cannot be solved by any algorithm (because they are undecidable) or that can be solved but are infeasible to run (take exponential or more time to be completed). Currently there is a lot of research in trying to optimizing processes of single industries, which require months of studies and computatoins. Doing this for a whole state would be completely infeasible. You'd have to approximate a lot, and this may yield not good enough solution $\endgroup$
    – Bakuriu
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 12:01
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that "Communism" is the political realization of what is probably more correctly called "Marxism." And I think what you're after is Marxism. There are many Marxist ideas present within Capitalist societies, public schools are but one of countless examples. And if you'd like an example of that cutting the opposite way, some in China have advocated for the idea of moving to a more "Capitalistic" society without building "consumerism" and still keeping the ideals of central control in place. And let's not forget that sweet blend of ideas and ideals some bitterly call socialism. $\endgroup$
    – Raydot
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 17:50
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ You do realize that you say "Communism is not implicitly related to dictatorship." then two sentences later say "The state needs to control all the economy.", right? $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 8:39
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Joe Just because the government controls the economy does not mean that leaders hold onto power against the will of the people. Authoritarianism != dictatorship. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 10:28

20 Answers 20


Removing market choices is necessary to enforce an economic system, and there is literally no difference between removing market choices from individuals and eliminating their civil rights.

"Choice" disappears when you can't pick Applejacks or Cheerios for breakfast (the planner can't schedule inventory), or aren't allowed to play soccer because the planner can't schedule the resources for the inevitable % of medical attention required due to accidents, etc. This is a problem computers cannot solve.

Economists like Milton Freedman and Thomas Sowell have done extensive research into this particular phenomenon. Much of the study centers around the theory of individual choice and its subtle effect on unpredictable outcomes at the larger scale. Incidentally, since you mentioned computers, distributed fault management is the only way we've discovered yet to write robust software, and it means giving up central control and consistency (as regards the state of a system at any given moment) in exchange for durability. Edge cases are almost impossible to iron out, even in relatively trivial programming systems. The depths of even a small economic system are provably unfathomable.

Back to civil society, the US Constitution was not written because the American Founding Fathers loved each other so much (some of them fought each other in duels, after all...), it is because they recognized that the most powerful society that could be created would be one of purely delegated control*. The free market is the US's top geopolitical imperative, as it is the engine from which all other powers are derived. Toy with it even a little (as is happening now) and things get tricky. This is a direct parallel to the tradeoff made in distributed programming: distributed failures (this or that business goes bust with no help), in exchange for general stability.

Managed economies involve subsidy for the areas where loss is not known (I live on a Pacific island; nobody can tell in advance what the exact fuel or food prices will be because of next year's typhoons, for example). This winds up linking economic concerns by failure instead of by success. Unfortunately business is a game of profit and loss, and we forget about the balancing factor of loss so readily that we pretend it isn't there and plays no role in stabilizing the system. There is no societal or technological fix for this because there is no absolute determinism to the traits of an economy.

But if you just want to make a story world where there is a central authority and it is inherently benevolent, then just don't write about it in too much detail. There are lots of stories sort of like this, from fairy tales and kid's stories (whoever said the ruler of Far Far Away was just and right?) to sci-fi thrillers (nobody ever examines the Federation's governance very closely in Star Trek, or the Rebel's post-war plans in Star Wars, for that matter). Its easy to write a story where you leave these elements out and merely allude to "the right" thing as generally following the rules and behaving with "honor" based on whatever is sensible within the story/game/whatever world you create.

No need to try to "prove" the impossible in fiction -- the sad history of humanity is pretty much this exact story over and over, for real, and every time the story ends in sudden hot destruction or creeping inner rot and a final collapse.

Interesting references litter de Tocqueville's wikiquotes page: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Alexis_de_Tocqueville (I urge anyone genuinely interested to read from the referenced source, not just the quotes, as fun as pithy quotes out of context can be...)

[* There is a connection here between the fact that the American territories are both inherently defensible, granted a few conditions are met, and that the diversity of the naturally productive terrain makes it impossibly expensive for a central authority to directly control almost anything. Russia is a counter example; its history correspondingly so. This hurts the feelings of collectivists and capitalists alike -- but borders are not set in stone...

This is not the place to give a dissertation on geopolitics (a part of my former profession), but it is worth noting the direct impact of geography and resource acquisition and defence here. The guiding rule is, sadly, that "competition is not optional". If it were, well, things would be different. But any person's wants are infinite and resources, no matter the situation, are limited.]

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Marked down because this is an ideological rather than factual answer based on an American neo-fascist viewpoint. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 3:02
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @zxq9 Your statement lacks any form of evidence. However, I note that the original answer quotes Milton Freedman, a well known conservative ideologue who has published many books and articles supporting American fascism. Far from not known what fascism means, it seems you have lashed out nonsensically at someone challenging your ideology, irrespective of how divorced you may be from reality. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 3:40
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @zxq9 It seems you are rather hopelessly confused, especially if you are mentioning national socialism. However, as some effort to alleviate your ignorance, fascism is generally regarded as being equivalent to corporatism / unregulated capitalism with strong elements of nationalism. Socialism are fascism are opposed ideologies, the former being concerned with the wellbeing of society, the latter with the wellbeing of the power elite. You can educate yourself further by reading the excellent wikipedia article on fascism. Also, note that neo-fascism and classical fascism are not the same. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 4:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Toy with it even a little (as is happening now)" and, one must admit, as has always happened, and always will happen. The US has never had a true free market economy, and never will. $\endgroup$
    – barbecue
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MarkyMark "Socialism are[sic] fascism are opposed ideologies" Its hard to tell the difference when they are genociding you. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 17:50

Hello and greetings from former eastern Europe where we just are going to celebrate 25th anniversary of fall of communism in our country! ;)

I will focus my answer on "how to make it possible".

Being born in 1981, I even remember some of the ... let's begin with it actually:

Propaganda could help a lot. Especially if you keep people fed. I heard somewhere that the "communist" state in China is held together simply because the people of China are "happy" (fed, their demands are met, nothing to demonstrate against).

Hard work is automated. Or even "most of the work is automated," so in other words you would have huge unemployment everywhere. So, communism, and people mind shift towards it would be out of necessity. And, actually, lets make it bold:

Mind shift in learning, teaching and culture. Communism could work if everyone will support it. And how do you make everyone to support it? By teaching children to support it! To have media showing how great the system is, and moreover: Never silence the opposition. Again, I think it is huge flaw to not show negatives at all (as most socialist states decided to do so).

Solar and renewable energy is the go, and there is plenty of it. Forget about the fossils. My imagination tells me that there will be high-efficient solar panel on every roof, self driving cars in every garage...

And last but not least:

Money is no longer subject. You can eat as much as you want. You can live wherever you want, you can travel freely everywhere you go (by self driven car or freely accessible public transport) and you do not have to worry about the future of your children, because there will be no "good paying job". So if anyone is working, it is because they want, not because they need.

  • 11
    $\begingroup$ I tried to make my answer on "how to make this possible" because otherwise the real answer is "it is not possible. Our country tried that for 40 years and failed" $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 7:43
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Dude, believe me, I know how it was like. My grandfather was locked in for anti-communism activity in uranium mine for forced labor. And my parents already told me how it was. And still, people had time to protest... $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 8:13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It sounds more like a post-scarcity economy than communism by the time you reach your final paragraph. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 9:31
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Post-scarcity of at least the basic means of living is a requirement for true communism. So far, no state in Earth has ever reached true communism as of yet, as noone have ever solved the problem scarcity completely. All we ever have is state-forced communism, with all its issues. If you want to create communism without its downsides, you need to solve scarcity first. $\endgroup$
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 12:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ 1. Propaganda is also a big issue in capitalism. Just do a little research in american propaganda. The fact that you don't notice it without thinking about it, doesn't mean it's not there. In fact propaganda is meant not to be noticed. 2. Money can be a powerfull tool to spread value in communism. If you find a way to prevent people from accumulating it. Personalised money would make communism much easier to controll. $\endgroup$
    – jawo
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 13:41

re note 1: true communism would be anarcho communism. A state automatically creates a ruling elite, which is anathema to communist theory.
re note 2: realistic communism always ends up in dictatorship. Human nature would have it no other way. The biggest bully takes over and subjugates the population. This is shown time and again.

Now as to the economic reality. The only communist countries that do reasonably well economically are those where there's a large capitalist factor in the economic system. Effectively they're capitalist economies with a socialist one party political system. The PRC is the prime example of course. Vietnam is going that way slowly.
In these countries a ruling political elite rules their subjects along socialist/communist lines yet themselves engage externally in capitalist activity to fund their country's needs (and their own, obviously).
People are allowed to have property, but only at the sufferance of the state and the state can take it away at any time it so pleases.

"True" communism at larger scales than a few dozen people living as a commune has never AFAIK succeeded, and even most of those communes sooner rather than later ended up being ruled by a single person with some henchmen using the rest of the occupants as cheap labour (effectively slaves).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Its disfunctional beyond a single generation even in as small a community as a kibbutz, which is why they are going away (as are the moshavim). $\endgroup$
    – zxq9
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @zxq9 most likely. I've heard a number of 10 people as the most you can make communism work with, and others stating that even that's too much. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 15:26
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ True communism according to who? $\endgroup$
    – papirtiger
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 0:44
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Anarcho-communism: Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a novel The Dispossessed set in a society structured this way. It's a bit dated, but Le Guin knows her stuff and thought it through, so this is a good study of how it could be. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dispossessed $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 7:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Who gets to program the computer? There is your dictator. Human preferences are not easily quantifiable as simple ones and zeros - human judgement is needed when it comes to human lives. And of course, how do you reconcile mutually exclusive differences between people? No computer can determine the 'right' answer because there is no such thing. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 15:46

I'll give my random thoughts, just to complement the other answers. Here are my two cents (or, rather, food coupons):

There are many definitions of communism, depending on who you ask. I'll try to pin one down. Communism is a socioeconomic structure. It is about collective ownership of the means of production and stateless, moneyless and marketless economy - strictly speaking, it describes what's valid and what isn't in the economy. A dictatorship is a form of government and so is a representative democracy, a workers' democracy, etc - it is the framework on which decisions are made.

Even though we tend to confuse these concepts, given a large enough time frame and a large enough number of test cases, these two characteristics should prove to be (near-)orthogonal. To borrow programming terminology, you could say that the satisfaction of our biological, psychological, social and emotional needs is the goal of our societies and money is the means or, rather, an "implementation detail" which can be abstracted away without observably affecting the goals (regardless of whether it's actually practical to abstract it away).

But the year 2060 feels to me as a little bit too soon for this to be visible enough. Unless the premise of your story is that the features of a communist system are the solution to the planet's problems, keep in mind that even if such a system is chosen, it might prove not viable. Even if it's viable, it might prove not to be the best. Even if it's the best (the best we'll have at the time), it might still prove to be unpleasant. Even if it proves to be pleasant, it might not be sustainable in the long term for any reason. (Now I don't know if you're working towards a dystopian setting, but I think it would be valid to stop at any step of this chain.)

Communism is a system that's best described under the assumption of a (near-)post-scarcity society (which is why it's sometimes described as utopian). In a society under huge resource pressure, a (near-)pure communist system would realistically be far from ideal to live in. However, if it works relatively properly (with an actual democracy or at least general consent from the people, without much bureaucracy, etc) it could prove more effective strategically in a crisis and have quicker and/or more robust responses than a market economy when it comes to resource management. If you want to get theoretical, keep in mind that a computer and a market can probably perform the same things algorithmically - and in practice, a computer (or a server farm, if you prefer) will probably be faster.

A communist-like economy, even if it's not moneyless, will probably remove the financial sector as a business sector. This means that it won't be possible to become rich by owning a bank, providing loans with interest, etc. It also probably won't be possible for someone to legally inherit their parents' fortune, as that would defeat the properties of the system. Other sectors will be heavily affected (for example, entertainment) and they might be worth mentioning, but they probably aren't the focus of your story.

The degree of adoption of a communist system would be based on both the potential practical benefits for a country and the cultural background of a country. The latter cannot be stressed enough. You'll probably agree it's highly unlikely that a (nominally) communist system would ever be welcomed in the USA, because of extremely negative connotations, a past (and possibly a future) of Cold War with an ex-socialist country, contradictions with the ideals that the republic was founded upon, etc. On the other hand, in a country where communists have a relatively good image in the cultural subconscious (for example: if communists acted or were perceived essentially as freedom fighters in that country during WWII, if the people live in an ex-socialist country that seems comparatively more corrupt now than it was "back then"), it's easy to imagine that adoption would be far more straightforward. In order to decide where you intend to try your idea, try to examine each country in a historical- and cultural-context-sensitive way.


You might be over-speccing this. There have been communist countries, and there currently are communist countries. It's not unrealistic to posit a future communist country, or that the people in it would consider it a strong alternative to capitalism. It doesn't have to be all that "strong" in order to exist, at least for a while. So how strong do you need it to be for the purposes of your fiction -- strong enough to endure indefinitely in competition with capitalist states, or merely strong enough to exist? And how pure do you need it to be? Purer than any real communist country has ever been, such that it's done away entirely with private production and exchange? Or just somewhat so, like China or Cuba or the Soviet Union at your chosen point in history?

Are you going to persuade all your readers that those people in your fictional country are correct to prefer it? Of course not, not if they're perfectly happy with capitalism and are unwilling to exchange its pros and cons for the pros and cons of communism. Are you going to prevent the occasional reviewer calling any result unrealistic in which a communist system beats a capitalist system? No, and the same readers might not have believed the result of the Vietnam war if it hadn't actually happened ;-)

Active anti-communists fervently believe that there's a genuine possibility of communism occurring in their capitalist societies. If they didn't believe that then they wouldn't waste energy trying to prevent it. So what you propose is entirely plausible to them, albeit it's their worst nightmare. Now that there are few remaining communist states, there are of course also a lot fewer anti-communists in this active sense. And probably rather more passive anti-communists, who aren't in favour of communism but don't feel the need to do anything about it so much as they did during the Cold War. Those are the people whose minds would need to be changed in order for society to change.

For your proposed future communist systems to compete with capitalism in your setting, there would presumably have to be some quite serious problems facing capitalism. "Crises", if you will. The resistance of capitalist systems to crisis is sometimes questioned, but so far they has mostly held up. More states haven't had a revolution against capitalism, in whatever form that state experiences it, than ever have had one. Leaving aside communism, one can argue that the rise of fascism in Europe followed a crisis of capitalism (the depression, and in Germany hyper-inflation), and that fascist dictatorships reversed capitalism in those countries (by increasing state control of production). So there's precedent, but the precedents are mostly (all?) dictatorial.

Of course the cause wasn't that simple (nothing ever is), and anyway it didn't stick. So it's hardly a signal of the end for capitalism, but I think for the purposes of fiction it's entirely plausible for a broadly democratic free-market system to be replaced with some other form of economic governance in extreme circumstances. Whether that replacement is to the long-term benefit of its citizens is quite another matter, but it might seem like a good idea at the time. With mass support a government could conceivably make a lot of changes in a short time, and if the lights do go out then it's pretty much anybody's guess where mass support will turn.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I am not aware of any communist countries (and I don't believe such a thing is possible unless there's only about 50 people in the "country"). I know of lots and lots of fascist dictatorships that have called themselves communist - the best example being Stalin's USSR which was not soviet, not socialist, and not a collection of republics. It's important to judge things by what they are rather than what they claim to be, which always seems hard when the subject of communism comes up. $\endgroup$
    – Nagora
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 21:13
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Nagora: well, the discussion is sliding between systems more and less directly inspired by Marxism, and all of which are called in English "communism", regrettable as that may be to the academic Marxist. For that matter I don't know any pure capitalist countries either. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 9:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ From a theoretical standpoint, communism and "country" is a oxymoron. $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe, but in practice the things we've had that have been anything like communism, and that as far as I can tell are what the questioner is interested in hearing about because he seems to be talking about them in the question, have been countries or at any rate states. I don't think it helps the questioner or the question to interpret "communism" to mean, "a theoretical thing that has never existed", despite the fact that there is a real thing that has existed and that in English is referred to as communism :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ But certainly separate so-called "communist" states were believed by Marx, in what I think with hindsight was probably not a particularly accurate theory of the inevitable progress of the dialectic, to be a transitional phase. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 22:04

The concept of trade and exchange is one that has underpinned much of human life ( I originally wrote all of human life there, but of course that is my western education speaking and totally wrong ) and the development of the civilisations we belong to. For something like communism to arise, that would need to change, so how would we get there?

It's an energy problem

An amazing proportion of the problems facing us in the world today can be boiled down to energy - from fresh water through transport to farming and construction and everywhere beyond, the resource that allows us to extract, create or grow other resources is energy. If we had a consistent supply of "free" energy then a lot of the limitations we face in those respects are drastically reduced.

The easiest and most reliable sources that you might project for those are either fusion or solar energy, either of which could credibly be in use in the next fifty years.

With free energy a lot of the capital that is currently moving around the system is no longer needed and the power to create more automation is available. The need for us to work to survive at a basic level is greatly reduced.

However, there will be need to maintain and upgrade the automated systems and this might be work that was collectivised - not sufficient to count as a "job" for anyone, but maybe a role that people would be assigned for a few months every few years.

The destination of this type of development might be a society of infinite supply, where demands made by citizens could be met automatically and without cost - consider the Federation in the Star Trek universe or the Culture.

It is a quality of life problem

Over the last few hundred years people have experienced massive increases in quality of life as a result of capitalist developments ( mitigated in many cases by strong workers' movements to counter the worst excesses of pure profit motives ) and that has made capitalism the aspirational system for most of the world.

For many western countries, that is already starting to change- the current generation is the first that is widely reported to be worse off than our parents, the relentless path of progress and improvement have levelled off and income disparities are rising. This can continue for a while but at some point it will result in a social change, although people are strangely suggestible in that respect.

If a neo-communist system could deliver a quality of life that people aspired to around the world, there would be a compelling reason for people to be drawn towards it.

It's a staffing problem

When you look at how communism worked out in the twentieth century, the major problem that arose was that you just couldn't get the staff. The theory could not be made to work in practice because people couldn't be forced into becoming the theoretical ideal. Problems arose with fanatical idealists, trying to force everyone into a single mould and sending anybody who wouldn't fit off to labour camps, corrupt officials benefiting from party positions and using them to push their own agenda, build personal power bases and make themselves rich, from party members creating collectivised organisations and losing local expertise in the process with disastrous consequences for production levels and quality, and with workers being set impossible targets and offered no motivation to work towards them.

None of these things had to happen - they were all decisions made by the people trying to implement Marxist philosophy, but it is not impossible to conceive of a society where these problems did not arise. Whether it would be possible in the real world is a trickier problem - the question of why one would put any effort in to work if there is no benefit or advantage to it is knotty to say the least. Find a way to effectively eliminate corrupt and self-serving behaviour and you might be in with a chance, however.

The machine of state

There may be a solution to some of these systems based on AI. We are a way off strong AI ( fifty years? quite possibly ) because we don't really know what intelligence is so it's hard for us to make it artificial, but resource management is a problem where AI might provide a lot of assistance in a few decades time.

Imagine that after a social collapse of some kind ( probably climate related, given the direction of global travel ) that a sophisticated resource management system was created to optimise the resources available to the state. It was given, as its starting point, a collectively agreed social contract and from that determines how and where resources should be used.

Now you have a system that is based on a shared agreement, corruption free ( assuming it is operated under clear safeguards ) and designed to work around some of the problems I have outlined above.

Combine this with free energy and have it sufficiently successful that other countries can see and aspire to the quality of life it offers citizens and you might find that system being taken up increasingly.

  • $\begingroup$ There is a novel where communist AIs take over the world. I can't remember the name though unfortunately to link it for you. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 15:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ As I was writing this I started to think that there is a pretty interesting story here - possibly the main problem I have with Worldbuilders.se - so many ideas! $\endgroup$
    – glenatron
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB I'm sure it's been done many times. The one that first came to my mind is a short story by Asimov. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 12:24

The economic argument against communism is that a free market is always better at responding to people's wants than a centrally planned system. This isn't just a matter of shortages. Let's say that we had a system where on average, everyone was allocated two oranges and an apple. In a true communist society with no market, there's no way for me to fix things if I hate apples and love oranges (or vice versa). Actual communist societies have generally created black markets to handle this issue.

This is not fixable by technology. The problem is that different people have different wants. It's not possible for a centrally planned system to weigh different people's wants better than a free market system (mathematically not possible).

I also think that your thesis is incorrect. Even if you were able to redistribute wealth evenly, that would not produce large gains for the middle class. Current GDP per capita in the US is a bit over \$50,000 per year. Current median income for workers is roughly \$45,000 per year. Redistributing produces a modest gain of about \$8000 per year for the middle class (using the original unrounded numbers). But remember that you already noticed that communist societies are less efficient. Even a 15% efficiency loss would eat your entire income gain. This gets worse if political power allows people to aggrandize resources.

The equivalent numbers for China are \$7000 and \$5000 respectively. That would support a higher inefficiency of 28% but no more. The problem of course is that there are a lot more poor people than rich. Redistribution hurts the rich a lot but only helps the poor a little.

You also give no reason why the innovation problem would be solved. You'd end up with an essentially static system. This isn't impossible, but it might be hard to maintain if there is an option of another system.

It's also worth noting that communist regimes tend to be horrible at ecological issues. They tend to value economics over ecology. They are more likely to trade the resources now for immediate gains than to save them for someone else's future (see the problems with pensions in the US for an example of how central planning fails in long term planning). Market societies address this be decentralized decision making. One person might take the short term greedy view and sell while another takes the long term view and buys.

So taking your inputs (scarce resources with governments that want to control them), I think that the most likely system would be socialist markets. Someone might try communism, but all the old problems would continue. Their socialist and capitalist neighbors would outpace them.

To get to a communist society we'd need a lot more automation than we have now. Something along the lines of zero human manufacturing and services. All that would be provided by automation. I don't see forty-five years as getting us there. Realize that this would have to be really good automation too. The robots would have to fix, build, and program themselves. We're still a long way from there.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ".. communist regimes tend to be horrible at ecological issues. They tend to value economics over ecology." Well, same goes for the free market. Actually it's an imperative of the free market to value ecomomics over anything else. As long as polluting that river or the atmosphere or whatever has no price tag attached to it there is no way the free market is going to enforce ecological decisions. Sad but true. $\endgroup$
    – Ghanima
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Ghanima - unless you lived in a socialist country (like I did) you have zero basis for having an opinion on this. USSR ecology was 10x worse than USA, even at USA's ecological trough $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ Jugde me not. I have my share of experience and I keep myself informed. Tschernobil/Fukushima happened in the USSR and in Japan - obviously those accidents do not care about the free market or communism. Looking to south american copper mining (ruled be the free market) looks pretty much like USSR to me (at least with respect to ecological considerations). $\endgroup$
    – Ghanima
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ Fukushima? That was a freak accident. Talk Deepwater Horizon and you might have a point although in the long run I think the free market has much more of an incentive to fix these problems than a communist society ever would. Can't feed the people if the seafood is covered in oil, right? $\endgroup$
    – Raydot
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ Don't focus on details right now. Fukushima was just an example. Again: I was refering to the phrase "[communism] tends to value economics over ecology" and I argue that the same statement holds for the free market as it is the basic idea! $\endgroup$
    – Ghanima
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 21:42

Real-world communism uses central planning only because there is still shortages. A post-scarcity communism would not need central planning because everyone will (or should) have all their basic needs satisfied. Nobody needs to ration air, because air is abundant.

If you want to create a communist state but retain the state of scarcity as we currently have, you can model them based on the many of current and historical attempts at forming communist states. In short, usually not very pretty. When there is scarcity, whatever way you distribute resources, someone will still be dissatisfied, and they will consider the distribution to be unfair (for comparison, even though free market society is inherently inequal and also still produces dissatisfactions, the free market will always produces a "fair" distribution, because money is an objective and decentralized measure of fairness).

In a communism with scarcity, corruption is a serious matter, as it is extremely immoral to hoard resources when there are so many people who are still needy, thus a harsh punishment would likely be given (in a free market society, people who manage to hoard resources through fair ways are instead revered as a model figures, but people who hoard resources through unfair practices are also harshly punished; in communisms without scarcity, neither is a real problem, as there is enough cake for everyone ten times over).

You mentioned you want a "strong government", but you don't mention what you meant by a "strong government", but there are many different (and incompatible) measures that make a strong government.

A strong democratic communist government would be one where people's power is strong. Democracy is not incompatible with communism. As long as the majority of the people wishes to keep the communion in place, and by that, forcing the minority who disagree to accept the status quo, it is a strong democratic government. People will voluntarily support communism if they understand what the philosophy/ideology/dogmas of communism is about (you need education/propaganda) and they are confident that the system can satisfactorily solve their wants and needs (you need to show actual or perceived results and manage expectations). Communism works only if the people are cooperative, thus people also need to believe that other people will cooperate (you need a system that encourages cooperation).

On the other hand, a strong dictatorship communist government would be one where a very small number of elites retains controls. Many real life communism is of this breed. Rather than bothering with fulfilling people's needs, a dictatorship communism simply need to maintain enough armoury to coerce the rest of the population into submission and keep themselves safe. A dictatorship communism will be a system with just two stratification, the small but powerful ruling elite and the rest of the population whose life are dictated by the ruling elite and they all live the way the ruling elite has decided them to live. Arguably, this isn't actually communism, as having a privileged ruling elite is an antithesis to the lack of social stratification that communism rather strives to be.

A model you can take to solve the problem of innovation can be taken from the free software movement (free as in speech, not free as in beer). In free software despite the lack of economic incentive from patent and/or copyright, I don't think anyone would seriously suggest that free software movement does not produce highly innovative solutions. Problems seeds innovation even in the lack of economic incentives; a communist society is likely not a society that is free of problems, people can be motivated to solve problems in the system due to altruism, fame/recognition, or ego. Even without a formal monetary incentives, people who goes around doing good things for the communion is likely going to get some brownie points, and gain certain advantages in their life.

Are countries more likely to embrace this ideology? If no, are there any other factors that might help ?

Communism may become more and more attractive to many societies as technology progresses. In a world that have a cheap and efficient robots serving all our needs, and an abundant materials and goods, market economy may not be able to provide a sensible distribution of resources. Market economy works without creating too much inequality because it is possible for someone coming from a poor background to raise to dizzying heights by proving that his skills are valuable to a society that will pay handsomely for his services. In a world where robots serves most things, having skills alone may not be sufficient to raise someone from poverty. Thus, socialism with its promise of abundant safety nets would appear more and more favourable to people whose skills and interests are getting less desired. This is greatly aided by technologies, as society becomes more and more efficient, the society can afford to house more and more "freeloaders" with less and less workers. In a highly efficient society, socialism may be more suitable than free market to provide a distribution that will maximize overall happiness.

  • $\begingroup$ "the free market will always produces a "fair" distribution" -- the free market will always produce a Pareto optimal distribution. Capitalism doesn't speak as to whether this is "fair" or not, it remains a matter of opinion. There are many Pareto optimal outcomes, one of which for example is "I have all the resources and everyone else starves to death" (the extreme of a monopoly). Which one the market produces is effectively unpredictable but certainly sensitive to initial conditions. It's incredibly difficult for a human being to consider them all equally, objectively fair. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ (of course no practical free market system could produce that extreme a monopoly, because if it were the initial condition or as it approached people would of course start stepping outside the free-market mechanism, that is to say they would nick my stuff. And quite right too). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 10:45

Once you get past the ideological answers, there are some very good reasons why communism will not only be a realistic but also attractive alternative to capitalism for the majority of society in the near to mid term future.

1. Politics abhors a vacuum.

There will always be competing political ideologies. Since the collapse of soviet communism, we've seen the rise of radical neo-Islam, in the form of jihadism, as a the chief political opponent to capitalism and the homogenising forces of globalised consumerism.

As economics professor Benjamin Barber argues in his 1995 clasic Jihad vs McWorld, unregulated market forces inevitably run roughshod over society's basic needs for justice and equitable access to resources. This conflict gives rise to reactionary movements such as jihadism. However, jihadism as a movement is fundamentally unpopular, even with the majority of the world's muslims, let alone the rest of the world, so the current competing ideology simply isn't palatable to most people.

2. Capitalism is fundamentally inefficient

The contemporary economic orthodoxy is that market forces are magically efficient at delivering goods and services. This is a refrain we hear quite often, usually alongside the inefficient state spending fallacy.

In reality, market forces are grossly inefficient at delivering goods and services where they are needed. According to the World Bank (hardly a revolutionary organisation), twenty million children starve to death each year. Not because there isn't enough food to go around, but because they lack the economic resources (i.e. money) to buy it. Meanwhile, vast resources are diverted into the production of superfluous goods and services such as electronic gadgets, war materials and propaganda.

This is only one example. There are two billion people currently living on less than two dollars a day, all of whom struggle with the basic necessities of survival, let alone justice and economic equity. Even in wealthy nations such as the United States, the middle and lower classes are becoming poorer as wealth is focused at the top, with many households increasingly unable to meet their basic expenses.

This is not because there are not enough resources to go around, nor is it a problem of logistics, or because people are greedy or stupid as the sleazier elements of the establishment would suggest. This is a purely economic problem because of capitalism's natural tendancy to focus wealth to the top. Capitalism redirects resources from things people actually need, like food, medicine, clothing, shelter, etc., towards producing items and services which generate vast wealth for the power elite at the top of the system.

TL;DR Capitalism is fundamentally incapable of meeting the basic needs of society and grossly inefficient at allocating the supply resources.

3. The fallacy of choice

Capitalism creates a powerful illusion usually referred to as "choice". Basically, the idea that as a consumer in a market economy, you have the choice to consume or not consume, or to change your consumption as an intelligent economic actor. This is one of the core arguments of the conservative orthodoxy, that capitalism is wonderful because it delivers all this choice.

However, that choice is of little value if you cannot afford the options on offer. It will matter very little to you if a choice of medical care is available to you, if you can only afford substandard care, or no care at all.

Likewise, it also matters little if the choice is between very similar items, making your "choice" even more illusory. Voting once every five years, where your choice is between a right-wing party, and an even more right-wing party. Or sending your children to a school which cannot afford to teach science or one which teaches faery stories in place of science.

The choice offered by capitalism is largely illusory or unattainable for the majority.

4. Indefinite growth is unsustainable

Capitalism is predicated on the concept of unlimited growth. However, we live on a planet with finite resources and a limited capacity to store and transform industrial waste. Most people recognise that we need to reduce our consumption, to save something for tomorrow, however the capitalist economic system requires ever increasing production and consumption to generate profits.

A serious reduction in human population or consumption would be an economic catastrophe in the context of the current economic system. Capitalism is fundamentally living in a state of denial which requires it to deny basic realities such as the widespread ecological problems of global warming, pollution and resource scarcity while promoting ever increasing consumption when we can least afford it.

5. Capitalism is undemocractic

While market economies in the industrialised world decline, corporate and ideological lobbying of politicians in the United States alone amounts to over $15 billion in the past five years. The aim of this lobbying is generally predictable: deregulation of industry, regulation of society. Companies are more free to pollute, exploit you at work, waste resources, hoard wealth, privatise public goods, and other social ills, which civil society is less free to do anything meaningful to fulfill its need for social justice.

Democracy is increasingly an illusion, reduced to another form of market "choice" between nearly identical products, rather than a true form of representative government. It is a democracy, it's just that it's one dollar, one vote, and big business has a lot more dollars than you.

6. Most work done in capitalist societies is useless

Back in the 1950s, futurists were fond of predicting that by the twenty-first century we'd all be working fifteen hours weeks or less because of all the automation we'd have by now. The reality is that we're all working fourty hours a week or more. So what happened to all the automation?

In fact it's already here, so why are we all working so much? The truth is that most jobs in a capitalist economy are actually useless with respect to meeting the needs of society. Think about how many people work in marketing, sales, public relations, information technology, lobbying, accounting, advertising, commercial law, patent and intellectual property law, policing crime related to poverty, design of the many unnecessary consumer products, transporting all those products, and so on.

On top of that, add the number of people who work in the massive service sector, providing us with services such as cooked meals, laundry services, entertainment, and so on, all because we're too busy working to do these things ourselves.

Now compare that massive army to the number of people who actually do useful jobs, such as growing food, making medicine, undertaking research, nursing the sick and elderly, and so on. I'm not saying that all luxuries should be abolished, but most of the work being done in market economies does not benefit those societies. So why is it being done? Because it meets the needs and agenda of the those at the top of the capitalist economic system. It's no surprise that corporate lawyers make six figures, while people who actually do useful work are mostly grossly underpaid.

7. Top heavy economies become unproductive and fail

A long-term view of history shows us that many previous civilisations such as the Roman Empire, the Mayans, the classical Egyptian empire, the Khmer Empire, the Soviet Union and many others followed a predictable path: power and wealth is increasingly concentrated at the top until that society is unable to meet the basic needs of its middle class. Eventually it becomes so top heavy, corrupt and ideological that it becomes unable to solve the political, economic or military problems that are part of its environment. At that point, the civilisation is doomed. It may stutter on for a while, but the overall trajectory is downward.

In the past, this wasn't such a problem, because when one civilisation failed, there was always another one starting up in the next kingdom along. However, today we live in a single, globalised market economy, and when it fails there will be nowhere else to go.

Many of the indicators for collapse are already in place. The middle classes in the United States are disappearing, with many professionals unable to find steady employment or meet their basic financial needs without going into debt. Society is dividing into the privileged few and an impoverished working class. For the first time in living memory, the next generation will have a lower standard of living than the current generation. Resources are rapidly depleting and environmental collapse is likely to happen within a hundred years. Ideology is rapidly replacing science and rational debate, with the conservative agenda increasingly dominating public discourse and education.

In short, the global capitalist system is beginning to implode under its own weight, and those at the top know that the peasants are coming for them with their pitchforks. This is why we're seeing the increased militarisation of civil police forces and the use of violence and legal intimidation as a first recourse.

So communism?

In a post-scarcity society fatigued by widespread poverty, the excesses of the super-wealthy elite, and the basic inefficiencies and injustice of capitalism, a new economic and social model based on the just distribution of resources will seem very attractive. At the same time, you'll have a population angry and desperate for change: ripe conditions for revolution.

The use of computers to solve economic problems is certainly realistic as these are well understood, well defined and structured problems, the ideal kinds of problems for existing computer technology to solve. Those I really see this as social economists working with spreadsheets, resource planning and logistics applications, much as large corporations and governments already do today, but with social benefit rather than surplus value (profit) as the goal.

As an additional benefit, a command economy is free to deliver whatever is actually needed and wanted by society within the limits of available resources, without the distortions imposed by the capitalist need for profit. So from the point of view of consumers, assuming that the government remains democratic and responsive to civil society, it will be more efficient at delivering what people want and deliver real choice (because the goods and services on offer will be broadly attainable).

  • $\begingroup$ Communist states aren't democratic, so your conclusion is a bit flawed. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ Oldcat to discuss with him you will have to become unsatisfied with common sense and read marx. $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ Saying "The use of computers to solve economic problems" after enumerating "information technology" is, at least, a not serious comment. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 16:05


For communism to become a major political force, I propose that it needs to offer something that people want. For example, if it was to offer longer healthier life, free food, free shelter, free tertiary education, a safe 'family friendly' atmosphere, strong family and friendship ties, less work hours etc it could be enticing.

Capitalism's made a world where food is poisonous, alcohol tobacco and marijuana is promoted, families and relationships are secondary to work, girls are sex objects, trillion$ wars happen for little reason, environment is polluted and destroyed etc. Is that the life you like?

Random thoughts here - not well informed on communism but playing devils advocate to some of the other responses.

If I was to look at ways to make communism a compelling option I'd do the following:

  • Consider redesigning the structure. E.g. can we have a democratic communist society? Still one strong government, but more competition within it.

  • Point out the flaws of capitalism and resolve them.

    • The tyranny of choice is a serious issue - how can I decide what's best when I have hundreds of choices of what breakfast cereal to buy?
    • Look at the obesity levels (and related diseases) in rich, affluent, capitalist societies like UK, AUS and the US.
    • Look at our divorce rates, hyper-sexualised society etc.
    • Understand that our schooling systems are designed to create workers, not empower the student. Could a communist society help people achieve their best potential rather than being shoe-horned into what's profitable?
    • Consider how democracies and capitalism deals with long term major issues, e.g. climate change or zombie outbreak. Do they have the force of will to abandon short term profit for long term survival?

Also remembering this is just world building, so these things (and many more) can easily be exacerbated. Hypersexualisation can, in the story, can lead to wide-scale rapes, breakdown of civilisation and the spread of a new STD that makes HIV look like the common cold. Propaganda and state education in communist countries can help reinforce these ideals. And of course, just because a country or people to take one path, does not mean that the path is correct, successful or long-lived.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ (1) tyranny of choice is not a serious issue. If you are having trouble picking, pick the one on the left. Or the blue one. Whatever. (2) Obesity is a medical issue; at some point, it will be cure, like smallpox and impotence. (3) I think the desire for sex and subsequent dissatisfaction with sex-partners is older than capitalism. (4) Schools today do a terrible job of prepare students for life under capitalism, communism won't change that. (5) Capitalism isn't uniquely bad as dealing with either commons problems or black-swan problems; they are simply difficult to deal with. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 1:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Offer" is somewhat ambiguous. Yes, it can promise free stuff, better families, better sex, but it has demonstrated time and again that cannot deliver those things. I've lived in capitalist countries and I've lived in communist countries and the food, alcohol, and tobacco are all better in the capitalist ones, and war and violence are less prevalent. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 6:47
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Ah, so you aren't interested in comparing capitalism with communism, you are interested in comparing imaginary dystopian capitalism with imaginary utopian communism. Yes, your imaginary horse-sized ducks are bigger than my imaginary duck-sized horses. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Our school system is not designed to produce workers, it is designed to produce consumers. Consumers for stuff they do not actually need or like, so that the lack of real satisfaction coming from any purchase, pushes towards more purchases. $\endgroup$
    – guido
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 13:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Malvolio The problem is of tyranny of choice is false choice. You have a broad choice or largely identical items. Ten different types of sugary breakfast foods will not do anything to prevent diabetes if the healthy alternative (e.g. fresh ripe fruit) is expensive or unavailable for economic reasons. Ten (or a hundred) TV channels all broadcasting various flavours of capitalist propaganda is not choice. Working 40+ hours in one alienating job versus another equally alienating one to make ends meet is not choice. Real choice requires a meaningful alternative which is broadly attainable. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 0:04

One way to get closer to such economic system is with basic income in a post-scarcity economy. Instead of being unemployed, you get basic income and can pursue arts or hobbies - just cannot expect to live rich.

It could be combined with carbon tax and cap-and-trade. If your lifestyle is simple enough, and has small carbon footprint, you may need to work only few hours doing something you like. Close enough to communism?

How to get there? After climate collapse, world community realizes that for next 1000 years, we will get 10-20 feet of increase of ocean levels every century as Antarctic melts. (BTW this is sadly not a fiction but scientific prediction). The only democratic way to pay for expenses to deal with the consequences is to clawback profits of oil companies made by destroying our common property - Earth. Attempt of oligarchs to keep power by huge armies of clone warriors is fought in bitter war in which 80% of the Earth population died - and it is for the better, because with destroyed ecology, carrying capacity of the Earth is only one billion people and strict population control is necessary.

Only war veterans and people living within carbon limit are eligible to vote.

So obviously you can see that current power elites will make it impossible in 2060. And hard to square limited carrying capacity with post-scarcity economy.

Also, 2060 is way too early to begin to feel the worst consequences. Disaster will became apparent only after flooding of the major coastal cities and low territories, like New York, London, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Florida, Netherlands, Bangladesh, with tens of millions of climate refugees. Like 2260, when we cannot deny anymore the destruction of past 200 years, and can clearly see another 6 centuries of ocean increase and devastation.

How communism (ecologic utopia) may work, you can read:

For obvious reasons, sci-fi authors from former socialist bloc have much bigger interest and better understanding of the problem. Atlas Shrugged suggested elsewhere is irrelevant caricature.

  • $\begingroup$ Downvoters, do you care to mention why you downvoted? Just because you consider consumerist society ruled by rich plutocrats superior to Scandinavian-style social democracy? Or because you consider the danger to our planet from climate change a hoax? Capitalism is inherently not capable to solve problems where profit is personal, while loss is communal. It was obvious enough in 1833 to coin the term en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons - and we have financial crash of 2008 for those who forgotten (including so called financial supergenius Greenspan, whose ideas enabled it). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 19:19

This answer will talk not about communism but a really close system that already existed and kept the people, most of the times, happy.

This system already existed until 1500 d.c. (let's round the century to 00, please): I am talking about the Incan empire. I recommend you to read papers and books authored by Maria Rostworowski to fully understand what I will tell you (although those writings are in Spanish, perhaps you could find another good author or a good translator).

Incan Empire had a strong state

Despite many liberal (centric-liberal) movements (like Zeitgeist Venus Project) claiming that anarchic societies can exist with no form of money or inequality at all (which could include paper money, resource-backed money, credits, merits, L.E.T.S., ... they all measure exchange value), the hard truth is that, as OP requests, the eco·nomy must have a nomy part to actually MANAGE the resources (preventing them from being massively wasted), which must be in one of these ways (I will not go deep on describing them):

  • A strong state: A coercive state could apply a difference between rewards and punishments. This could be achieved by a kind of social contract legitimating the state power (i.e. authority) that would be used to grant rewards and punishments, and so manage the whole resources in the system. It will ensure that everyone will get a fair distribution of resources (e.g. lands). This state is the alternative you are -i understand- wanting, and this is the alternative behind the Incan empire.
  • Violence: Another case would be community-powered violence. Here we're not specifically referring punches and death, but just a way to dispatch punishments when it is the case. StackExchange is a good example for that. We have the power of downvotes to apply that. Before the Incan empire, small towns and -say- kingdoms existed which applied community-driven violence to self-regulate the society. An example of that is Lambayeque, in the north of Peru. Violence is also needed in the strong-state alternative, so the society can regulate the state when it gets corrupt. Incan empire inherited -and allowed- the community-driven society from former Quechua societies.
  • Money: The social contract is done through exchange value metrics. So the money appears, in any form. Although money-only determines a way to manage the resources (since it imposes a limit to you to waste your resources), it does not guarantee equality in any way. Incan empire used money and exchange values in very limited cases. Most of the time the trading was performed with no values at all (but just considering use value), or a concept like for ME, today; for YOU, tomorrow. Spondylus shells or Tumis (little axe-shaped "coins") were used mainly to exchange with foreigners (after all, foreigners are not under the same state rules).

One of these concepts must exist to prevent wasting the resources. Although common sense could teach you why, thinking about this in the Game Theory way could even explain it in mathematical terms (Prisoner's Dilemma, the Fishers Problem, ...). Incan had mainly the first two. The society -inwards- could perfectly live without the third, and be happy and well-fed.

Political distribution, rewards and punishes

Incan society could be extremely peaceful and lovely, and at the same time extremely violent and merciless.

The government was dictated by the Inca (say, king), and many Curacas (say, governors or lords), and then the people, in a vertical pyramid of authority and violence. Although religion existed and had an important social role, the main social structure was a normative based on violence: vertical violence: There are evidences telling that if a curaca got corrupt, the whole region went against him, and if the Inca got corrupt, even armies went against him. Most of these conflicts kept in words and did not materialize beyond the showmanship, but the mechanism existed, was well-known, and was accepted by the whole society. OTOH the society had to pay a lot of taxes to the empire, known as mita. Everyone in such society had to work hard in a sun-sun time lapse (sunrise 'till sunset).

Social motivation arose from the work (minka) itself since -like Chinese people in the rural areas- they performed it like a ritual or even a celebration. Mita-collected resources were stored and used on periods of deep scarcity crisis and for religious affairs.

Rewards and punishments had a backed power not in a social contract, but in the existence of the resources themselves. This meant: Inca could govern over you if he had how to reward you for that. That meant: when an Inca became inefficient or corrupt, people could often overthrow him. The same applied for Curacas. For this reason, most of the mita-collected resources went to Inca and Curacas (it is a legitimization of power given by the people to the empire), while a lesser part was designated to religion.

This vertical reciprocity (mita) had its counterpart in the people getting all the resources they needed to both live and work. Inca always assigned lands to families, proportional to the number of family members and inversely-proportional to land productivity.

Another horizontal reciprocity existed in a Curaca-Curaca fasion or folk-folk fashion. It was called Ayni. People exchanged goods with no values but what they considered. There's a legacy behavior today in these countries (Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia) where money-commerce has non-stable prices, reflecting the need in the value or work and people relationships today was more important that the exchanged resources by themselves.

Regarding punishments, they had three main laws: Ama Suway, Ama Llullay, Ama Qellay (don't rob/steal, don't lie, don't lame). Disobeying these laws could imply death or banishment.


As I told, both Mita and Ayni existed, and they managed the whole resources in the Empire. Exchanged resources could imply any kind of animal or food, or even workforce. Most of the times the exchange was not done in just one-step. One example is house building for newly established families: They would build FREELY the house for you, but in the future you'd help people build their house as well.

Empire charges -even soldiers- were paid and expected in the same way they could pay you. Government lost power when they could not pay you.

Money was barely used: Spondylus shells were mostly used in the north shores. Also tumis were used. They were mostly used to exchange with foreigners and backed by the effort to get them (Spondylus is now under extinction danger) or make them (metallurgy was not quite strong). There are situations where many crops were used as temporal currencies (like corn and even wheat).

Science and knowledge

The science, in the sense we could refer to it right now, specialized in agricultural and cattle (mostly lamas), and few metallurgy. Medicine was deeply tied to religion.

They considered strategic resources and settlement geography (the word Quichua actually referred such mountain region). Water and rivers were warded by Curacas and managed to prevent abuses.

They had a kind of database used to help them to distribute the resources fairly and know, in real-time how much of each resource (lands and mita-collected) was available and occupied, and how much people did live. Such "database" was named quipu (it was a recording system based in different types of threads, colors, and knots). They had a state charge named quipucamayoq (i.e.: "who handles the quipus") who was the royal data-entry.

Such database was also used to record important history events, wars, alliances,...


Principles like no-violence are a nonsense in any society since you lose control over misbehaving individuals. A society must stabilize itself thought a reciprocal reward-punishment mechanism, both horizontal and vertical.

This system was a working one (for centuries) and is the closest working communist system you could think about. Everyone knew the rules and behave accordingly.

Everyone get well-fed, had lands, and had no worries (except under deep crisis until the mita-collected reinforcements arrived).

I will not get in deep detail about problems and advantages. It is quite long. The important fact is that the system worked and was an example of something really close to a (planified/managed)-communism.

Please read a qualified author like Maria Rostworowski. I'm not anthropologist nor economist, but just an IT engineer. READ TFM.


The notion of "from each according to his ability; to each according to his need" presupposes that everyone should produce as much as possible while consuming as little as possible; in reality, some people would gladly work harder if it meant that in exchange they could consume more resources, and others would gladly consume fewer resources if it meant they didn't have to work as hard. If the resources generated by an industrious person's extra work exceed the extra resources the first person consumes, and the resources the lazy person is willing to forgo exceed that person's reduction in production, then those exchanges would benefit not just the industrious person and the lazy person, but everyone else as well. I am unaware of any mechanism by which communism would encourage such exchanges, however.

Further, some people have a knack and inclination for taking capital resources and using them to develop more wealth. Others do not. If everyone were to start out with an exactly equal level of wealth/capital, it wouldn't be long before those who effectively use capital to produce wealth became wealthier than those who don't. If those people were allowed to use their generated wealth as capital to facilitate the production of new wealth, the total amount of wealth generated would tend to increase exponentially. If instead the wealth is taken from those who would use it to generate more wealth, and given to others who would not, then it would not be used as capital to generate more wealth, and thus the new wealth would not be generated.

The ability of wealth to buy political power can make unchecked concentrations of wealth problematic. On the other hand, political measures supposedly aimed at preventing wealth from being used to buy political power have a strong tendency not to prevent concentrations of political power, but rather to protect those who have already amassed concentrated political power from others who might acquire enough wealth to wrest it from them.

Fundamentally, any kind of economic system must be consistent with the fact that people are much more inclined to work to benefit themselves or other people whom they care about, than to benefit "society at large". Small communes may work if they people involved all mutually care about each other, and/or every member has a good sense of what each other member produces and consumes, and is inclined to reward those whose production exceeds consumption. If a community gets large enough that such conditions cease to hold, however, people will have little incentive to strike a fair and healthy balance between production and consumption, and even those who would be inclined to strike such a balance would have no way of knowing what a fair balance would be. It is unrealistic to expect people to act in a way that doesn't benefit themselves or anyone they care about, or expect that people will magically know how they should balance production and consumption without a mechanism of identifying how much extra production of one resource would be required to justify extra consumption of another.


According to Ludwig von Mises, there is one serious structural problem to any socialist society: economic calculation. In a society with no money and no free trade, how does the society set a value to any particular item?

So in a socialist society, I make a TV. How many hours, or days, of value did I contribute that my compensation comes from. On the next day, I make a sculpture made of cow poo. What about that?

In a society with a market, well, I soon find out if someone values my TV more or my cow poo. Or maybe nobody values either one and I get nothing! Eventually, though, I learn and either become a full time cow poo or TV maker. And if tastes change, the results I get change.

In a socialist world with no markets and no money, some authority must set a value with no idea of what anyone else will or will not value. If they guess wrong, they run the risk of producing too much cow poo and too little TVs, or the reverse. And with no way to measure effects, theres no reason to change a decision made, except for the whim of the value-setter.

  • $\begingroup$ You could be surprise what some people can do with that material : apartmenttherapy.com/survey-would-yo-83554 $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is mitigated by having one's needs provided for. If you don't have to worry that you will be without your needs, then it's not so important how much you earn, and you can choose based on what you find most fulfilling. Having needs provided doesn't preclude a market. Values for work can be set by the consumers. People may like your cow poo sculpture or your TV more or less, and be willing to pay you more or less for it. When everyone gets what they need outside the trade system, these amounts are much less important. $\endgroup$
    – Dronz
    Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ Socialism precludes a market. If it has one, it isn't socialism. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ the same can be said about capitalism. the market cannot really solve for economic calculation, as we can see in the cyclic superproduction crysis that capitalism passes thru from time to time. Its a information problem that can hardly justify capitalism. $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ The capitalistic market is economic calculation. It is not a problem for them. You might not like what it calculates, but it is what it is. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 22:09

If question is just "could it", the answer is simply "yes, as far as our currently available information tells us" or, in short, "maybe." Unfortunately our information is not particularly useful in telling how a complex system with unspecified and unpredictable changes from our current models operates in circumstances with unspecified and unpredictable changes from our current one would work. Our understanding of how our current system works right now has some big holes in it, which turns making such predictions from complex, time-consuming, and unreliable to pure speculation based on your personal opinions.

The upside of this is that as long as you address the obvious issues in some way and leave the details in everything else as vague as possible, it will be pretty difficult for anyone to call your bluff.

The downside is that most people have strong opinions that communism is bad and would certainly fail, and it would take lot more than bluffing to convince them otherwise. So for majority of people the maximum suspension of disbelief for any efficient future communistic system, no matter how well you built it, would be pretty low.

So while the "real-world" answer would be a strong and firm "maybe", the "world-building" answer would almost certainly be that it won't work. All the issues with Communism I have heard are in the implementation and as such, as a general rule, solvable. But solving them would not be of much practical benefit in making the setting credible to actual readers unless explaining the system in great and exhaustive detail is your main goal.


Real communism is impossible given the current way of thinking of human beings. Honestly speaking, our drive today are money and well-being. Most people work hard only because they want more.

Achievement of real communism implies a radical change of mind: people would have to do stuff not to earn something, but for the good of society. So, for example, I would program because I like it and because people need it, builders would make houses because people need homes, and so on. Then, whatever I need, I'd get it free, because it's a social need and someone is providing for that.

Until we race to be "better" than others and have more just to show off communism is an utopia.

  • $\begingroup$ Please comment downvotes $\endgroup$
    – algiogia
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 11:28
  • $\begingroup$ Comment downvotes ? You show a basic lack of knowledge about the subject and regurgitates common western propaganda about abstract concepts like "free will", "human nature" etc. $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ I should downvote you for communist propaganda then :-) What's wrong with my ideas? Isn't communism about "sharing"? How can we talk about sharing if we are not willing to do so? $\endgroup$
    – algiogia
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 8:54
  • $\begingroup$ there are various communisms. the one you are describing is the utopian communism. Marx wants to solve a single problem. Its a system, and my lack of keyboard prevents me from elaborating more. $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ Could you link me to any resource, so I'll give a better answer next time? $\endgroup$
    – algiogia
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 9:23
  1. Thats not true there is no state in communism. Factories, farms etc, are run by assemblies (Soviets). URSS having to supress the soviets due to certain peculiarities of retrograde russian historical situation generated a whole lote of distortions that prevented it from reaching true socialism.
  2. This is a falacy created by people from the austrian school of economy. What the market can produce is a state where there is a correct production of goods based on demand manifest as buying. In other words, the market corrects itself TO ITSELF. Lets see the difference : There are weapons of mass destruction. There are ditactors wanting those weapons. So there will be production of weapons of mass destruction, simply because there is money and will to buy those. Is the production of weapons of mass destruction in the best interests of the workers and peasants ? No. Is it in the best interests of humanity at large ? No. So where did the "correct allocation of resources due to supply and demand" went ? Because it treats demand as justice, market cant really rationally allocate resources. Market forces are irrational, equilibrating demand and supply upon the will of the market forces wont automaticaly produce a rational society. The idea of free market as a self-regulating system is betrayed when you have, for example, anti-trust laws. Well, if the market can regulate itself, why do you need to prevent trusts ?
  3. People can be motivated by a lot of things. When your society is consumerist and attaining consumption represents the most regarded form of living, its a obvious consequence that people will feel motivated by being giving more money to consume. But this same consumerist society produces all sorts of mental disorders due to excess work, living far away from parents, children etc. Money should not be the only form of motivation, and those who think this is true never worked on a bad job only for the money. As soon as you find a job that you like more, even if you are going to have a smaller wage, you take it if it wont cause too much suffering at home, because people are not motivated only by money.
  4. This can be answered by comparing the behaviour of Linux developers to companies like microsoft. Linux is developed communally, yet produces a lot of good results. People develop for no monetary motivation. Yet, the capitalist camp, where people develop for money is the one who is pushing intellectual property laws towards absurdity. DMCA anyone ? Patent laws are being used to prevent inovation, not to foster it. The mere danger of falling into a patent lawsuit, due to incertainty, can prevent a new invention from being released. Its, in practice, the other way around that things work. You invent and develop better when you can do so "because you can", not because "you must find money".
  5. Again its the other way around. Media can very well prevent corruption scandals from reaching the public. When you have too much disparty in purchasing power, its impossible to prevent that those who have much more purchase power to use such power to gain political advantage. The separation of the political and economic power is a ideological construct that holds no similarity with reality. Economic power can and does revert into political power. Governments only govern for the poor when they are forced to do it.

Honestly this topic is too complex to be treated as a lump. I would close this question as too broad. I would have to upload a whole set of books explaining why your criticism of Marx is based on propaganda and not the correct understand of marxist principles. But i will give a hint, if you want to criticism Marx, try hurting where it trully hurts, ask about how to reach socialism.


Economy of Overabundance.

When may it happen?

When robots are capable of taking over 90% of jobs and wealth produced is sufficient that "welfare" available to everyone unconditionally allows for life in moderate luxury.

You want more than everyone? Work. Creative jobs can still earn a lot. But if you don't feel like working, you won't find a shortage of anything except expensive, custom-made goods.

When will it happen for sure?

In the virtual society. Once VR becomes abundant and of quality comparable with the reality, human laziness will chase people away from the reality and into VR (with robots / telepresence devices if they still want to peruse the surface). In the virtual world material needs are next to none and virtual goods are trivial to copy. Humans spending whole lives in "VR pods", leaving them only once in a lifetime out of curiosity (and finding the "outside" bland and boring), would be able to create a society where creativity and intelligence, social skills and talents become the ultimate values, and material goods become completely insignificant.

The third way

Genetic change. Strip humans of:

  • natural greed - will to hoard more than they'd ever need. Seriously, if the top 0.1% of the society distributed 99.9% of their wealth, they'd still have more than they could spend.
  • competitiveness replaced by cooperation. Purely logical beings would know that polling resources will yield better results than splitting them into separate parallel processes. Unfortunately competitiveness is a huge motivation for humans.
  • laziness - simply will to procrastinate, fear of doing any significant work. The evolutionary mechanism of saving energy only overcame by discomfort.
  • malice - pure baseless will to cause pointless harm and destruction.

These are parts of the human nature that make communism simply impossible to succeed in a standard society.

  • $\begingroup$ Economy of Overabundance: that is not the point of the question. The point is to provide a decent lifestyle to everyone. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent: These are preconditions of the society where communism might succeed, be accepted and remain without the society opposing it. Communism is based on assumption of best virtues of man; that's it's error - people have vice that make it impossible to take root. Only by creating economy in which these vices are nearly powerless the system can succeed... or removing these vices from the human nature. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 21:39

Communist can not became a strong alternative to capitalism. Opposite is true (to dislike for many people) for numerous reasons:

  • with grow in technology people will have less need to cooperate with other people because technology advancements will give them more self-sufficiency. The more help you have from technology the less help you need from society - extreme example - if you had robot who could bee your gardener, cook, doctor, mechanic a everything else, you would not need other people at all.
  • Technology improvement imply economical growth, and economical growth implies more interest in luxury goods (eg art) as basic need are more easily covered. In communist economy, who would decide who gets to have Mona Lisa if not highest bidder? You may say that they would be publicly owned and displayed, but in what city? It is not only about art, luxury is place to live (more people want to live at beach then is possible), leisure time activities (concerts and sport events have attendance capacity), health care extras (health care might be free be then who gets to get operated by fresh-out and who by world leading surgeon - who only has so much time). this required at very least mixed economy - communism for basic needs, and capitalism for luxury.
  • most importation reason is this: People tend to incline towards individualism philosophically as economy improves. They have more time to think and that lead to higher desire for self identification, self distinction and stepping out of crowd. being someone other appreciate. (see picture hierarchy of basic needs) enter image description here
  • $\begingroup$ I think that the hierarchy of needs could be read completely different from what you state. I don't see a higher need for individualism or "stepping out of crowd" in that top sector of "self-actualization". $\endgroup$
    – Ghanima
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Ghanima Point is that desire for communism is fueled by people who are missing things in bottom two levels. Once each levels is satisfied, focus shift higher. Even if communism were not obstacle for ones self-actualization, it certainly is not helping with top three levels in schema, so people will naturally loose interest in promoting it and shift their energy and time to things that can bring them. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see any evidence here that Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory does anything to incline individuals or groups towards capitalism. Everything in the hierarchy seems equally if not more available in a communist society. Also, I don't see any evidence that people incline towards individuality for economic reasons, this seems primarily a western cultural ideal. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ he is using capitalism to justify capitalism. exactly like marx said about ideology, false consciousness of reality. $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkyMark I have not said that people incline towards individuality for economic reasons. I fact i said opposite, that people tend to be socialist for economic reasons (basic needs) and if those are covered, they became more capitalism oriented to obtain top two levels in hierarchy. And no, in communist society self-actualization is much harder to obtain then in capitalistic, because communism is by definition anti-individualistic, any stepping out is considered parasitism on other people. Just look at who do communist criticize as parasites - actors, sportsmen etc... $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 10:59

Communism or even Socialism cannot work, either in theory or (as proven time and again) in practice.

The hand wave that strong AI or efficient algorithms will allow some form of Socialism/communism to work is false. There are two related reasons for this:

  1. An economy is a complex, adaptive system (like climate or an ecosystem). Essentially the huge number of interconnections and relationships means that inputs and outputs are not related either linearly, specially or temporally. The most frequent way to explain this is the story of a butterfly flapping its wings in Peru causing a tornado in Texas. The number of interconnections goes up almost exponentially as more people or items are added, so processing becomes slower and slower (and since you never know all the starting positions and relationships, the complex adaptive systems does not provide any means of determining the outputs with any certainly).

  2. Related is the "Local Knowledge Problem" as defined by F.A. Hayek. (see http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/hykKnw1.html). Since the knowledge is diffuse and distributed throughout the economy, a local actor can take advantage of fleeting opportunities before any central authority could collect and analyze the data, much less develop appropriate orders and dispatch these orders to agents to carry out. Small niche and speciality stores, retailers and vendors exist today even in the age of Wal Mart and other big box stores because of this. Amazon has gone "with" the local knowledge problem, buy becoming the conduit by which you can look for opportunities either as a buyer and seller; with Amazon.com acting as your intermediary to get you together and the shipper to bring product from the producer to the consumer.

Now you could create a "boutique" Communist polity if you artificially restrict the number of actors and agents within the polity in order to limit the size of the problem solving universe which an AI would have to work in, as well as strictly limit the number of items which actors and agents could produce, buy or sell. Once again, this limits the problem space and reduces the local knowledge problem to something which a very strong, very fast AI could operate inside of. Maybe a small asteroid with a population of a few hundred people, much like the hippy communes of the 1960's era or maybe early kibbutzim would be an example of what "could" be done.

Of course history shows how these experiments end....

  • $\begingroup$ "Local Knowledge Problem" can, will and has already show itself in the capitalism cyclic crysis. $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps you should read the essay first. As for the down votes, I notice that no one has offered any factual refutations of markets being complex adaptive systems, the Local Knowledge Problem, or the historical failure of communist or socialist systems in real life. Wishing does not make it so. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ Markets are not complex adaptative systems. They undergo periodic crisis. Besides that, an equilibrium based on monetary values ("if there is someone wanting to buy nuclear weapons, lets build those") is not a self-regulating thing that creates automatically decisions that are good for mankind. $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ Complex adaptive systems have outputs which are not linearly or temporally aligned to the inputs, so a market is by definition a complex, adaptive system. Remove or change one input in a product or service and try to track the changes in a marketplace. Read "I, Pencil" econlib.org/library/Essays/rdPncl1.html for a concrete example. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ Bla bla bla to excuse the fact that the market cannot decide what really should be produced. Market can barely decide how much of something must be produced. $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 21:47

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