In a capitalist Society, you work, you earn money and you buy a shovel to dig a hole

In a communist Society, you are given a shovel and told to work

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Communism was a major rival of capitalism, both being on opposite side of the scale. We often say how the best, most stable economic option is capitalism, but when we look at media it tells another story.

As a wild example of what I mean, look at apocalypse survivor groups in movies; In almost every story, the "good" group uses a communist system(the group provides for you and you work for it) but bad groups use a capitalist system(ration cards). This is just an example but it did get me wondering, can Communism be stable?

Is it possible that a communist nation can remain stable under the basic idea of communism? If so, how can they do it?

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    $\begingroup$ Are you talking about "communism" in the sense of "dictatorship of proletariat" or about "true" communism. According to theory, what happened in SU and satellites was the former, which would have been a previous step to the true communism, which had many points in common with anarchist proposals. The "dictatorship of proletariat" was a time to ensure that everybody would join the "final phase" of communism without unfair disavantages (ownership of production means, education, etc.). $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ As with other political terms, word "communism" is highly charged and means different things for different people. Some would say it's all about GULAGs, some would say it's all about overcoming tragedy of the commons-like situations by centralising all property ownership and control over distribution of goods. Could you explain what do you mean when you say "Communism" without using the word (or some other heavily charged and debatable words like "just" and "good")? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ Ration cards are hardly "capitalist" (unless they can be freely traded, at which point they effectively become a form of currency). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ The two definitions I proposed earlier are so different between them that I think you should choose one of them (or define better your question) or else close the question as "too broad". $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the question's comment about 'apocalypse survivor groups in movies', there are two things to consider. First, it is only a movie and is likely to reflect the director's bias more than reality. Second, the survivor groups are generally very small and small groups can and often do practice communism to everyone's benefit. An extreme example is a nuclear family. Every successful nuclear family I have encountered has been a communist dictatorship with the parents making the rules and the wealth being shared. $\endgroup$
    – Readin
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 4:03

25 Answers 25



Go with openend’s suggestion of handing the economy over to an optimizing AI (Iain Banks’ Culture?)

Long Answer

This really comes down to what you consider “Communism.” The People’s Republic of China calls itself a Communist country, and over the past few decades, it has been (mostly) extremely stable and has had the fastest economic growth in the world. Since you’re asking whether this is possible in theory, I take it you would invert the excuses G.K. Chesterton made for Christianity and Marxists made for the Soviet Union: Communism hasn’t succeeded; it’s never been tried. And because Denmark is generally considered the model of a socialist country, many people with strong opinions on economics can prove from first principles that Denmark does not exist.

If Real True Communists have to agree with everything Marx said about history and economics, then they’re in trouble, because a lot of it is definitely wrong. At best, they’ll end up appropriating some Marxist vocabulary to dress up a more modern world-view, for example, emphasizing the adjective in useful labor until they’ve justified working with a de facto utility theory of value, and adding so many special cases to Marx's inevitable stages of history that the outcome is no longer predictable in advance, only inevitable.

The Information Problem

Cort Ammon points out that no system run by humans is ever truly stable, which is correct but not very constructive. sdrawkcabdear presents the classic three arguments against Communism, which is a useful starting-point from which to ask, How communist can you be before one of those problems becomes fatal?

The first is the kind of information transmitted through market prices. China and Denmark both let the market set prices on almost everything. The problem for Communism here is that a market will only find an optimal price if there are a lot of competing buyers and sellers, not a monopolist. (Of course, this is equally a problem for anarcho-capitalists so doctrinaire that they don’t allow the state to regulate monopolies.) But a lot of industries are natural monopolies: they have increasing returns to scale, or network effects.

Even classical economics tells us that a perfect market is not perfect: it fails to handle cases where a deal between two people benefits or harms a third person who isn’t part of the deal and whose interests aren’t factored into the price (externalities), or cases where it’s impossible or inefficient to make everyone pay for the services they use (public goods).

The most realistic “Communist” proposal to deal with this problem was to write an AI that would monitor how much of everything the country had and optimize its resource allocation. This ran into two problems: there wasn’t enough computing power in the Soviet Union in the Fifties to make it remotely feasible, and the algorithm kept telling the central planners that efficient economic allocation looked a lot like market prices (it even computed a vector called “shadow prices”).

But we could revisit that with modern computer networks. Amazon, DeviantArt, eBay, StubHub or Google might well collect enough local information to determine how much demand there is for products in the niches they dominate. Openend worries about backends in the software; one might also ask how we can prove the pure motives of Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett. There’s a lot of computer science research into writing provably-correct, secure code, and a lot of people would be motivated to vet the source for bugs.

We would need, however, to decide what “correct” would mean. Already, everybody argues that what they do is so valuable to society that the government should subsidize it, including for example libertarians who want the government to abolish taxes on income from investments and pay for defense and law enforcement by raising taxes on income from labor. Arguments today about public subsidies and the tax code would become arguments about the utility value of health care for the poor and what sort of positive or negative externality we should deem marijuana or carbon dioxide or traditional local culture to have. This would raise the same issues of public-choice theory that “Capitalist” countries face today. Maybe a hodgepodge of taxes and subsidies and regulations and public options would end up running with less overhead, less duplication and more returns to scale under central management. Maybe competition comes from different publicly-owned firms.

The Incentive Problem

If Communism can’t reward people for working harder, Stalin’s Soviet Union was not really Communist. There’s no inherent reason an economic system where the government owns all the means of production couldn’t pay workers on commission or give them performance bonuses. If nobody can have private property or a higher standard of living at all, then the system has to try to motivate people through praise, threats, awards, power, fancy titles, special privileges and other non-pecuniary means. So a successful Communist country might not depend entirely on those; it might give people a universal basic income and then make them work for luxuries. That’s basically what modern capitalism does too.

In a post-scarcity economy or one where automation has basically destroyed the value of most people’s labor, the government might not care how hard most people work. Their labor isn’t necessary or important in a world of robots; if their revealed preference is to live on charity and spend their spare time blogging or playing chess or reading and criticizing literature or something else that we today consider a hobby, maybe the goal of an enlightened society should be to give them the personal freedom to make that choice. Traditional aristocrats would have agreed! If a day job they could fill produces almost no value and they would hate it, but there’s more than enough wealth to buy everyone happiness and personal autonomy, a society could choose to do that. Even Ayn Rand thought that a system like that would be too popular: she personally believed it was wrong, but she agreed that most people would like it and vote for it. Conversely, if society decides everybody needs to have some job, any job, just so we don’t spend all our lives in a holodeck, you’re looking at the utopia of Star Trek: TNG. The purpose of that kind of Communist government is to provide everyone not just their material needs, but a sense of purpose.


This is basically the same problem any form of government has, but under a modern liberal democracy, power is broadly distributed. Employers have a lot of power, but so does government and so do unions and so do retired voters. If a single hierarchy controls everything, how do we keep it accountable? The answer is going to involve combining Communism with democracy, but it’s not as if getting democratically-elected leaders to act in the best interests of the people is a solved problem either. If we’re solving economic efficiency by having an algorithm optimize production and devising an incentive structure, maybe that program is open-source and patches are approved by democratically-elected maintainers. Maybe the right to free speech also means the right not to be fired for saying something your boss happens not to like. Maybe all managers wear microphones and body cams like the police to guarantee they can’t abuse their power to sexually harass the people they supervise.

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    $\begingroup$ Useful rule of thumb: if Ayn Rand thought something was a bad idea, it's probably worth looking into, and vice versa. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ @sdrawkcabdear More seriously, though, I really don’t think anything similar to Stalinism would work or would be very pleasant to live under, so the point of the exercise for me was to come up with a “Communism” more compatible with Millsian classical economics and preference utilitarianism. $\endgroup$
    – Davislor
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 2:29
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    $\begingroup$ As to the optimizing AI, Chile tried to start something like that in the 70's: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Cybersyn $\endgroup$
    – galois
    Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Malvolio Every real-world capitalist system has had monopolies. I’m not sure what economic system “absent government interference” you might be thinking of, but there are monopolies even in Somalia. Absent government interference, what would stop a monopoly forming through vertical integration? Would there be patent protection? If so, isn’t that a monopoly? If not, and with no government-sponsored research, what stops copycats from making innovation unprofitable? In any case, Econ 101 says there’s a problem when any firm gets powerful enough to set prices instead of taking them. $\endgroup$
    – Davislor
    Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 5:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Lorehead -- Every real-world capitalist system has had monopolies enabled by the government. Econ 101 says there’s a problem when a firm gets powerful enough to set prices -- but in Econ 303 they point out that it never actually happens. You need a very peculiar set of circumstances for a monopoly to exist without government support. Can you cite an example? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 2:51

You need perfect information, uncorruptable leaders, and an enforcement mechanism.

Why does communism sort of work at a small scale (small groups < 15) but hit tons of problems at large scale?

There are 3 issues.

First is information:

In a centralized economy the government has to choose production for the country, where capitalism just lets market forces do that. So the leaders of a centralized economy have to predict how many iPhones, slices of bread, and sheets of paper the people of the country will need and thus how many to build. This is harder because the millions of people in a country may not even know themselves. Also, when the government guesses wrong there is no back up, no other company who made extra food or phones that don't explode. This means when the central economy goes wrong, it goes very wrong (communist countries have a bad habit of starving their people).

The Second is motivation:

How do I get you (a worker) to do what the government wants? I can ask you nicely, but what if you are not a really nice person? In a capitalist society I could offer you a carrot (reward) to do it or a stick (punishment / remove reward) if you don't. In a communist society we are all equal so I can't give you a carrot, and I shouldn't really give you a stick unless you did some thing wrong. So how can a communist government motivate people without using capitalist methods?

The third is power:

The central government has massive power in a major country. Who holds them accountable? Communism assumes that everyone is out for the common good and doesn't really try to deal with that fact that their leaders may be greedy / less than completely altruistic. The system needs some way to keep their leaders in check.

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    $\begingroup$ Basically, a city run by intelligent robots would be the best place for capitalism to succeed. Talk about being way ahead of times. $\endgroup$
    – Nolonar
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ @sdrawkcabdear - look around. Can you see any people working without getting paid with money? How about volunteers, open-source software developers, friends helping each other, family members helping each others? How does GM or Boeing or Nike decide how much stuff they need to make? They say we will make X widgets because Y people need them (and, by the way we can make profit selling the widgets). You can use the same management methods these companies use to run an economy that is not based on maximization of profit. To eliminate (most of) greed you just need to eliminate scarcity. $\endgroup$
    – ebhh2001
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @ebhh2001 That handles the good people who are altruistic, kind and energetic. What about the large number of people who are greedy lazy and mean? GM and Boeing can use price to tell them demand (if people pay more for it is more valuable so you should make more) How do you judge value universally and accurately with out the benchmark of money? How will we ever be without scarcity people always want more and the world has finite resources? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ @sdrawkcabdear - I guess I have been fortunate throughout my life that I think that truly greedy, lazy, and mean people are a minority and are usually a product of a greedy, mean environment, and of scarcity. I completely agree that on a finite planet, we need to put a reasonable limit on the overall consumption of non-renewable resources. However if that consumption was allocated fairly, it would allow a reasonably comfortable life, without scarcity (greed and meanness), for every person on Earth. $\endgroup$
    – ebhh2001
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." -James Madison $\endgroup$
    – jpmc26
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 1:02

No system with humans is ever truly stable. They just have different instabilities to deal with. If you think about it, the stable state for humans is "dead." To remain alive, we need a constant influx of energy (which we typically get from the sun, through one channel or another).

In mathematics, there is a term which is useful here: metastable. A metastable point is a point which is not stable (perturbations will cause it to eventually degrade towards a stable point), but it is curiously long lasting. A classic example is when you perfectly balance something like a broomstick. While the stick is vertical, the system is certainly not stable (the stick is going to fall unless the human intervenes). However, right around the vertical point, the moment which pulls the stick to the left or right is so faint that the stick can remain upright for long periods of time.

The key to this is typically to have a controlling force which is trying to maintain this delicate equilibrium. In the case of balancing a broomstick on your hand, you move your hand back and forth to try to keep the stick upright. In the case of governments, that controlling force is the actions of the high government, trying to keep the system coherent in equilibrium.

In communism, the failing case occurs when people stop working for the common good and start working for themselves. However, if you can maintain enough control of the system, you can bring those individuals back into the fold.

In capitalism, the failing case occurs when a group of people start working together to a common benefit. This sounds like a "desired" state, but it's also the start of a monopoly. Pure capitalism has little to no defenses against this.

Of course, being humans, we don't work in such blacks and whites. We work in muddled greys. Our "capitalist" society has anti-trust laws and voting franchise and all sorts of decidedly non-capitalist tools to keep capitalism in check. Likewise, the famously communist countries have generally had to pick up some degree of capitalist behaviors to survive. For example, you can only price fix for so long before you have to permit the prices to move in the direction the market wants.

What you end up with is something more complicated. You end up with something that looks stable in some ways and metastable in others. You end up with something which can withstand some types of perturbations without moving, and falls to others.

There's a famous artist in Colorado who goes by the name Gravity Glue. He puts together rocks in unusual structures that seem to defy gravity. He's open about his technique: his structures are just barely stable, because each rock is resting on a tripod of points. These structures are stable against small perturbations, but eventually topple to large ones (such as high winds). Still, you have to appreciate the energy he puts into making us wonder:

Gravity Glue

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    $\begingroup$ You should more explicitly credit Gravity Glue for that photo. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ Do you consider dark-ages pre-feudal societies capitalist or communist? Because I think that they aren't either one or the other. How do you classify the vikings? Or the mongol raiders? Or feudalistic medieval societies? Or ancient egyptians? In fact communist vs capitalist is a false dichotomy. As you say, there are cases where they are mixed, but there are a lot of cases where both are completely absent. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ @VictorStafusa I don't think the answer implies a dichotomy, only that these two are metastable points that crop up today. At other times, other constellations of metastable points would have appeared, sometimes also in complemetary pairs - for example expansionist and isolationist societies, the former failing when a central power can't administer its fringes, the latter being unable to defend itself against the former. $\endgroup$
    – James_pic
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ where is the tripod for that top rock? i only see one resting point for it... $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael Amazing art, right? You can't actually see the tripod visually, but as Gravity Glue describes it in his videos, you can feel for those points as you move the rocks across each other. The three points may be all within a millimeter or two of each other, but according to his description of the process, they're there. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 19:14

The fundamental reason the Socialism (and Communism is just a subset of Socialism) can never work is the "Local Knowledge Problem".

This problem was outlined by F.A. Hayek, and explains why any command system economy is outperformed by the free market.

In the simplest terms, knowledge is localized and particular. As an actor with agency in a free market, you have the ability to observe these bits of information and act on them immediately, reaping a benefit for yourself and associates who you choose to share with. Imagine you are about to go outside in the pre internet age. You stop at the door and take a look at the sky and feel the breeze on your skin, and decide to get a sweater.

In a command economy, information needs to be gathered, sent up a hierarchical chain to be processed and then orders sent back down the chain to be executed. The "Ministry of Outerwear" takes your information about the weather, collates it with a multitude of other observations, processes it (perhaps getting an average of all the reports), and late in the afternoon you are advised to get a winter jacket.

This also assumes there is no errors in the reporting, and no stoppages in the chain of reporting and orders. There also needs to be a feedback mechanism to tell the "Ministry of outerwear" if the orders were correct, and of course some sort of incentive for the various people in the chain to actually be quick and accurate in their work.

Compounding the problem is the fact that an economy is a complex adaptive system with thousands to millions of nodes (read "I pencil"), and inputs are not reflected in linear outputs. Indeed, outputs may be spatially and temporally distant from inputs, and indeed just because input "a" created output "x" last time does not guarantee that the same inputs will create the same outputs next time.

So even in theory, there is no way that Socialism or a command can compete successfully with a free market. And if theory isn't enough, there are enough real world examples of Socialist economies running into the ground to make the point as well.

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    $\begingroup$ Hayek (who also thought that the NHS would put Britain on a slippery slope to Communist dictatorship) was writing in a world without the Internet. Why would his assumption that no central planner could get enough local information hold true of Google or Amazon.com? $\endgroup$
    – Davislor
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for explaining how a free market is much more efficient at producing the goods and services people want and need. -1 for not answering the question of stability. A poorly performing system can last a very long time. $\endgroup$
    – Readin
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 3:52
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    $\begingroup$ You seem to start off by trying to convey that big data will (could) bring communism, but then go on to talk about limitations which aren't as relevant in the information and mass-data-aggregation age and don't go in that direction at all. I guess Google is (could be) a plot by former KGB agents to bring communism to the world without the world noticing. $\endgroup$
    – WalyKu
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 8:05
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    $\begingroup$ Shared ownership of the means of production does not preclude a free market. Capitalism is not equal to a free market. Socialism does not preclude competition. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ In the real world, we have a "Ministry of outerwear" and they deliver quite convenient localized weather details via their website, weather.gov. And, as added bonuses, you can get weather forecasts for distant locations or future events. Is that light breeze just a light breeze, or is it the edge of a distant, approaching hurricane? Someone may bring up local newspapers or news stations, but are they really providing any additional information, or are they essentially just providing an alternate packaging? $\endgroup$
    – 8bittree
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 17:21

To answer this question, let's take a look at two cases where Communism is common, and works very well:

  1. Families and Extended Families

Did anyone live in a family where the person who cooked received a wage in return for their labor? Which children are paying for their parents to raise them? In side most families, most resources are communal. In this case, communism says nothing about the power structure in the family; it merely describes how resources are distributed. Market economics don't work in a family, because the disabled, the elderly, and the very young don't work and don't contribute resources. In a purely capitalistic family, the babies would need money to pay for breast milk.

Note that while families can be considered communist, that resources are not perfectly shared, and needs for all members are met differently, and that the power structure embedded in relationships is not at all democratic.

For example, when my son cries for a snickers bar at the grocery store, there is a power dynamic in our negotiations that is entirety UN-democratic. Notice that it is not a dictatorship either, but just a human relationship.

  1. Tribes and Clans

I have never lived as a member of a tribe or clan, but it is my understanding that many tribes and clans exist, and have existed in the past, operated with economies that were not based on money. Graeber spent a lot of time in his book describing how societies work without money.

Without going into to much detail, communism "works" for tribal economies when all members of a community are interested in allocating resources based on need, and when all members of a community contribute resources based on ability.

Answering the question

In the two cases above, communism works when resources are distributed based on need as decided by the community. Communism thus would work only when all members of a community are interested in allocating resources based on need, and when all members of a community contribute resources based on ability.

Despite the plethora of negative responses above, it is entirely possible that such a society could exist. I have heard many people say "ever been to Sweden?" when asked if communism was possible. I've never lived in Sweden, but everyone I've met from there complains a lot about how horrible the social system is in the USA. Then they say something like "at least the taxes are low."

Is it possible that Sweden's economic plans could be adopted everywhere, and everyone would live like a Scandinavian? Honestly, I don't see why this is impossible. However, this is world building, and "Global Sweden" isn't interesting or funny, or at all related to Sci-Fi.

My World Building Answer: A Stack Exchange Hive Mind

Through technology, cybernetic implants allow everyone additional processing power, and 24 hour access to stack exchange, Facebook, and youtube. As all questions are answered and all problems resolved, individuality is subsumed buy the collective, personal desires for resources diminish as the collective strives for ideal resource allocation. Then, communism.

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    $\begingroup$ The paragraph about Sweden is utterly irrelevant for the question about communism, as Sweden is not and never has been a communist society. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 10:36
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    $\begingroup$ Depends how you define communism. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ For any meaningful definition of communism. I don't know where you live, but I've never heard anybody ask about Sweden in a discussion on communism. I did find from personal experience that public landlords in Sweden were far, far more tenant-friendly in many ways compared to private landlords I experienced in Canada, USA, or England, but at best that is relevant in a discussion about social-democracy or perhaps socialism, but not communism. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 11:14
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    $\begingroup$ No. The Soviet Union was not communist. In name it was socialist. At best it was a failed attempt at socialism. Widespread healthcare, education, and proper nutrition are perpendicular to communism or capitalism. The distinction lies in the ownership of the means of production and in planned or free-market economies, among other things. Sweden is very much a capitalist country, albeit one where the public sector has a much larger role (which is a good thing) than in the USA. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ I couldn't help read "UN-democratic" at a jab at the united nations. $\endgroup$
    – user2781
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 15:28

Your description of "communism" looks to me like a definition of a command economy, and has little to do with "communism" as Marx defined it.

So I'll use command economy instead.

Modern corporations are a wonderful example of command economies.

The workers typically don't buy their equipment, the equipment is given to them. They are told what to do by their managers, and sometimes have input in how to solve them; but they can almost always be overridden.

The workers have the freedom to quit, and in some legal systems to organize and strike. In rare cases, the workers are part of a trade organization (like Engineers) and legally cannot be ordered to do certain things (like sign off on safety) by their managers.

They don't bid for work, pay for their own tools, etc.

There are ridiculously huge corporations out there that are larger than many nations. Obviously this command-style economy isn't limited to small groups.

These command economies are embedded within a pseudo-capitalistic framework. The goal of these command economies is to realise "economic profit" (profit above the "fair" rate of return on assets), which usually involves creating or aquiring monopoly pricing power of some kind.

The capitalistic background requires that these command economies compete between themselves as they seek to reach such a state. Once they are in such a state, the pressure eases off, and benefits for those in charge of the command economy (the executive officers) increase. Those outside their ideal state of owning a monopoly strive to gain the power to get there, or bumble along at lower profit levels trying to locally optimize their costs and income.

I would argue it is that churn -- the ability for the corporations to fail, plus the ability for workers to swich employers -- that helps prevent ossificiation and inefficiency; but that is a second order effect that only kills the corporations that become "sick", not how (most) healthy corporations work.

The end game of the corporations in Capitalism is to swallow the market and ossify. You can see many, many corporations trying to do this, and a lot of effort is put into preventing monopolistic capitalism from warping modern economies. Capitalism isn't stable as it has an inefficient attractor state. Command economies aren't stable as they also have inefficient attractor states.

Humans optimize around problems, and a fixed economy that doesn't give you absolutely everything is a kind of problem. For an economy to remain stable against the attacks of optimizing humans, you need to have humans working to prevent the inefficient attractor states where the economy is captured for private benefit (either via owning everything, or telling everyone what to do for your benefit) without themselves falling into those traps.

The solution isn't a static system generating stability, but dynamic stability and constant viligance.

Naturally over medium terms (centuries) no economy is "stable". So the question becomes, how do you create a stable enough command economy? One solution is to constrain it by a sufficiently powerful outside force which is secure enough to not require undermining rivals within the economy. That is roughly how corporate command economies avoid going off the rails, where the outside force is the government (legal system) and rivals (who can poach workers, among other things). Another temporary stable method would be resource constraints, where members universally see their common survival rests on unity and helping the group. This is only marginally stable, as in one direction they die, and in the other the commander can start hoarding resources/power and convert to a more typical dictatorship as the danger passes.

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    $\begingroup$ Touche! I lived in People's Republic of Poland and recently I worked at IBM and oh boy the similarities were really hard to miss. One more point to elucidate upon are the security controls (analogs of KGB). What's optimistic about it, that for "communism" (really state-level-monopoly capitalism) to become ridiculed by the locals it was sufficient for it to fail at consumerism. $\endgroup$
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 9:18

Well, that's a topic which keeps me awake at night.

Basically the problem is described in sdrawkcabdear's answer.

The only solution I came up with:

Have some years or decades of AI research, then give all executive power to a central AI.

This AI (if programmed right) is Uncorruptable within limits. It allows for equality among humans and to contain those, who always seek to accumulate power.

The AI would gather more data than google and its algorithms enable it to control the economy/law enforcement and so on based on all current data and based on all digitalized data collected through human history.

In Practice: All citizens (and this needs to be enforced) carry a personal 'data pad' (sometimes called smartphone) and receive direct orders (if necessary) from the Central AI.

This is the only possbility to contain the human urge for superiority (within in some individuals)

These are the major problems of this concept:

  • Security:
    How can you make sure nobody installs a backdoor while the AI is created?
    Without this backdoor, how do you make sure, that the AI behaves as intended?
    How can the explotation of some weakness (as all information systems tend to have) later while the AI is in power, be avoided?
    How can the security of the central compound be enforced?

  • Technical Problems / Memory Corruption Digital Media ages. How can you guarantee Memory integrety for centuries?

  • Updates / Flexibility There are other countries with human leaders. The earth changes. How can you guarantee that the AI is able to cope with everything in a sensible manner?

  • Cultural / Acceptance
    Most People wouldn't like been controlled by a 'mindless' machine.

Smarter people than me will be able to think of many more difficulties for this concept, but I think it's the only semi-realistic way of a stable, peaceful and working communistic goverment.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea, it would make a good question in its own right. The closest analog today are the programs algorithmic traders use to predict the economy. There are many competing models with varying strategies, maybe there would be many central AIs competing to give the best guidance. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 22:53
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    $\begingroup$ try to think about p2p management system next night, Decentralised system it may help you to sleep $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ I doubt it would work for pretty much the same reasons you mention, but +1 for attempting to answer the question that was asked. $\endgroup$
    – Readin
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 3:58
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    $\begingroup$ It seems like the only way an AI can work is if it's a Panopticon society, where the AI had total perfect information about everyone. Just having the cell phones might be enough, but you'd probably want cameras and stuff too. So no freedom and no privacy. It's possible that if it's done with a light touch no one will care. Most people don't mind that Google knows so much about them... $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ I think for your security issue, relying on an open source system might work. If every citizen has the ability to inspect the code of the AI and submit fixes for problems they encounter, that means it automatically fosters a sense of reliability and likely makes it more secure (as long as the changes are peer-reviewed). This might also help with the updates and cultural acceptance factors. After all, if you help build the AI director, it's not some weird inscrutable power but something YOU built. (Or helped build) $\endgroup$
    – Valthek
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 14:14

The question is basically flawed because the author equates capitalism with ration cards. The idea of capitalism is that resources are allocated through a bidding process—that those with capital can purchase and allocate the scarce resources of society through the mechanism of the free market. Thus, nothing is rationed. People simply do not buy things that are too expensive. Accordingly, every resource is devoted to its best and highest use, measured by the amount of money a resource is worth on the open market. Communism cannot work because the administrators are unable to rationally allocate resources. They cannot know the best and highest use of any resource, and they have no method to make the determination. The greater the number of decisions to be made, the more inaccurate decisions are made and the worse the situation is.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Hi Elias. I believe this is being downvoted at least in part because your answer starts out by stating that the question is flawed, then takes some time to get to actually providing what looks like an answer. On Worldbuilding SE, we pride ourselves to work within the framework established by the original asker while providing answers to the question that is being asked. If the OP postulates in a question that the sky is yellow, we do not argue against that, but rather try to figure out why the sky might be yellow, and what implications those reasons might have on the OP's world and question. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ You can edit your answer, should you want to do so. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ While the wording might not be polite, the answer is correct in essence: ration cards are not "Capitalism" at all, but a command economy mechanism. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ Capitalism is also unable to rationally allocate resources, as evidenced by homelessness, environmental degradation, and the military-industrial complex. It's only remotely optimal if you equate money to utility, which is an extremely oversimplified equivalence that bears little use to reality. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi In poor places where housing is even more unregulated, the poor build their own dwellings on land they don't own, see third world slums or The Jungle in Calais, from which they then get evicted because they don't own the land (there's no way they ever could buy or rent it). The frankly ridiculous concept of land ownership makes for a very dirty marriage with capitalism indeed, which did a large part to cause revolutions, mass emigrations, and famines throughout history. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 13:08

Communism as described by Karl Marx can never be a viable, stable economic system, for one very simple reason. In order to succeed, it requires people to set aside their greed and destructive levels of self-interest in favor of building up their community, and yet at the same time it explicitly villifies and seeks to suppress the one part of human nature that has the capability to reliably impel people to do exactly that: the religious impulse.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ As somebody pointed out earlier, there are plenty of "communities" (groups of humans) where greed is (almost) non-existent such as families, extended families, and churches. With a little bit of imagination you could say every human being is part of my extended family and I will treat them as such. Would that give us communism? $\endgroup$
    – ebhh2001
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't work. Simple like that - since when you get past certain level of complexity, the planified economy simply blows. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 20:13

Stable communism may require a post-scarcity economy.

When goods are scarce in a free market, prices rise.

When goods are scarce in a regulated market, waiting times increase.

You either pay in money, or in time:

  • In London, free-market rents are in the order of thousands of pounds per month for a small apartment. Rent-controlled council housing is cheaper, but waiting times are well over a decade.

  • Privately owned parking spaces may be very expensive in city centres. But in the same city centres, there is no fee to drive into town: the result is congestion (traffic jams); you pay in time.

  • In the former Soviet Union, there were long waiting times for goods such as cars. If prices were left uncontrolled, the price would simply have increased due to demand outstripping supply.

There are many more examples, and the above analysis does not address the supply-side, but let's get to the question.

Suppose we have a society where the quantity we can produce is neither limited by the availability of labour, nor by the availability of resources, nor by negative externalities. Self-replicating, solar-powered robots produce everything we need using resources mined off the asteroids, which contain enough of everything we need for a very, very long time to go. There's plenty of living space in Low Earth Orbit, and logistics have been solved as well. There remain attractive spots on Earth that will always be scarce.

I would argue that if goods are not scarce at all, the distinction between a free-market economy and a regulated economy becomes less important. The underlying causes that led to the failure of the Soviet Union will no longer be relevant; there is no waiting time for goods in a post-scarcity economy. Nor would prices increase in the free market. If they aren't scarce, their price is very low and they are accessible to all. Which means the two are almost the same.

Both communism and capitalism become more stable in a post-scarcity economy.

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    $\begingroup$ Post scarcity usually only applies to goods what if services are still scares (getting a hair cut or having surgery) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ @sdrawkcabdear Surely robots will eventually be able to do that? Both are routine operaions. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 8:00

Several answers mention that communism works in small groups, like families, but fails in large groups, like countries. The main difference between these two cases is simply size.

In a small group everybody knows everybody. If somebody becomes too greedy, people will notice and punish them. If you are a part of a society and everybody there thinks you have been bad, that hurts. Note that this system doesn't work perfectly, people can get blamed for things that are not their fault.

In a large group people can be greedy and get away with it. And when other people see that, they will be greedy too, until greed becomes the norm. Communism is based on the idea that people will are not greedy, so communist countries break down.

Capitalism is based on the idea that Greed is Good. This has its own problems, but that is not relevant to the question.

The usual conclusion is that communism doesn't work, but I think that is too pessimistic.

What is needed is a way for everybody to know everybody. What if there was a way for people to tell each other about unseemly greed? What if, before you talked to me, you could check me up in some database to see what other people think about me?

There are many websites and apps today for sharing experiences with hotels and other service providers exactly so that you can check them up before you go there. What if we made the same system for people?

If this worked, people would become nice simply because they want other people to think about them as nice.

Unfortunately, these kind of systems can be gamed. "If you rate me high, I'll rate you high." I don't know a way around that and it could be a fatal flaw.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Your last paragraph "could be a fatal flaw". Certainly, is a fatal flaw. It's almost a definition of a sociopath, that they'll game systems and manipulate people in order that no blame attaches to themselves when the evil that they intended is done. When did you last hear of the ringleader of an internet "mob" being jailed, even after some unfortunate teenager is hounded to suicide by "mere" social pressure? (If you have ever so heard, that was an incompetent ringleader). $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ It is certainly a flaw. I am just not sure if it solvable or not. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 7:15

First, Some Definitions

OK, first of all, you are mixing words. So I am going to clear that up first, then answer your question. You are saying something like "in capitalistic society ...." and then "in communist society". First of all, you are comparing apples and oranges. Starting at the basics, there is two dimensions to describe modern societies:

  1. Economic dimension
  2. Political dimension

The economic dimension has a scale that starts at capitalism and ends at socialism. The political dimension starts at democracy and ends at dictatorship. Of course there are possibilities in between the ends of the scales. So Capitalism is in the economic dimension. Communism, is a mixture of two dimensions, it involves dictatorship (political dimension) and socialism (economic dimension). So you cannot compare it with just capitalism.

Moreover, the original meaning of communism is a utopia, a theory in a book, a myth. What you seem to be referring to is the former Soviet system. That was a socialistic dictatorship. Though, you might know and talk about it as communism, because the US had a propaganda against the Soviet system, where they started to call it communism. But truly, it is not correct to call it that.

Moreover, the real communism, that was described in the book of Marx and Engels, has never been truly used in any society (Stalin had a crazy idea, read the book and misinterpreted it, and said, "I want this now." Scientists tried to explain to him that communism is a utopia. He was stubborn).

Theory of Communism

The original theory of communism involves a huge innovation in manufacturing and robotics etc. Here is just a little bit of the theory so you understand:

It says basically, that in the far far future, we will have such technological advantages, that we will be able to manufacture any product and create any service with almost zero cost. In that society, men will only work for pleasure, in a field that interests them. Every kind of lousy job will be done by robots. And since costs are zero, money has no meaning. People can just wish for anything and it will be theirs. Since there is no money, people are equal financially. And they live in a community. That's where it got the name from.

Back to the Question

But enough of the theory, let's answer your question. I guess you are asking me if socialistic dictatorship can be stable economic strategy. The answer is yes, as long as it has satisfying amount of resources and it does not have to compete with a capitalistic (either democratic or dictatorship) type of society for consumers.

A socialistic dictatorship in that case would be stable, much longer then any kind of capitalistic systems. You see, there are two variations: Capitalistic dictatorship (e.g., People's Republic of China), or capitalistic democracy (e.g., The United States). But the quality of the products and services of this socialistic dictatorship would be very low. So, as soon as it would have to compete for consumers (with low quality), or as soon as it would have to import resources (and pay real prices for them) this system would collapse; that is the real reason for the USSR to have collapsed.

The theoretical communism on the other hand would be a really stable system for a very long time since it would create equilibrium. But it's interesting to note that a really stable system that could be achieved nowadays would be a socialistic democracy. That has never been achieved nor tried ever. That would require the people to agree on dividing all produced goods and services equally among everybody in the society regardless of who created how much actual value.

Background Information

Unfortunately I am telling you this as I was raised in the Soviet system, then I lived through the systemic change and now I live in the US. I also have a masters in economics (the original name of the university was Marx), comparing modern systems so unfortunately I am telling you this from first hand.

I am going to add one more thing that might be interesting to your question of system stability. to have a stable society, you also need political/legal stability. It is interesting to know that theoretically, you cannot have full democracy and capitalism at the same time. Capitalism will always diminish the poor's right to legal equivalence. Simply, in the US, a rich person can buy better quality of legal help in a civil lawsuit. This is true unfortunately in criminal lawsuits too, though in a limited way. So this basically diminishes some parts of democracy. Theoretically, a socialistic democracy would be much better for the masses (who would be poor and have only limited democracy in a capitalistic democracy), so a socialistic democracy would be the real form of democracy. Unfortunately, that will not likely happen, since everybody, rich and poor would have to agree on the equal allocation of wealth and legal rights.

Edit: Additional thoughts

Continuing this thought, I would like to emphasize the importance of political/legal stability in any system. Doubtless, the Soviet system was physically threatening, and intimidating, every second of the day—I lived in it with constant fear so I know. That was a brutal, primitive system, that really mostly physically intimidated you. But it was stable, since people were scared. Uprisings were impossible, and basic democratic right were diminished. The political "elite" were physically terrorizing the masses. But they provided a minimal secured financial living. Now I live in the US, a capitalistic democracy, and I see that it is a much more sophisticated system. But it has an "elite," the top 1%, who is financially abusing the masses. And it creates separation of the wealthy into certain zip codes, the rotting away of poorer communities, with ever higher crime rates, etc. That also creates political instability. So I believe that for long stability, you need some level of financial equilibrium too. A capitalistic democracy very much lacks such equilibrium.

So, to your question, the final answer is that a socialistic democracy would be the most stable.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi Árpád! Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE. This seems like a very comprehensive answer. Since it was essentially one very long paragraph, I broke it up into smaller paragraphs, added some headings, as well as some formatting codes to make it clearer. I did adjust the grammar and spelling a little bit, too, although I tried to be very faithful to your original meaning. Please have a look at my edit and feel free to make additional changes, but also look at how I used formatting to (hopefully) make your post a bit clearer, for future reference. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ When I visited the USSR in the 1970s, somebody said to me, "all week long, we pretend to work, and at the end of the week, they pretend to pay us." $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 19:50

Firstly you are mistaken about something. Capitalism works well in a modern human society, but it is not supposed to work in every situation. What you have described for the apocalypse case, whether it is considered a form of communism or not, is too far from something that is supposed to compete with capitalism. It works more like the ancient tribes. When they could get a more stable environment, more space and more people, politics would become more important and the more efficient system, likely being feudalism or fascism, would appear. They could provide you resources and you work for it, too. Capitalism and the idea of communism could possibly compete and come back only much later.

The "real" communism, while I don't know what the exact definition should be, is at least supposed to be after capitalism. I have posted some pro-communism comments many years ago on the Internet, and now I feel stupid about that. So I have changed the original "communism" bit by bit, and is finally creating something that seemed feasible, but is it still communism? For most people who don't care about communism, probably not. For the people who have studied something about communism, it could be worse: everyone may disagree from each other. The fact is, the world will change rapidly that after a few decades, it's likely neither the modern capitalism, or the original communism would work well. Everyone tries to fix their ideas in their own way. And someone will come up with something that works. Is it capitalism or communism? It all depends on who come up with the new system and what they believes. A few ideas from capitalism or communism won't guarantee their failure. So in a way it can be stable. But the so-called "communism" we know is at best incomplete and old.

Then in your definition:

In a capitalist Society, you work, you earn money and you buy a shovel to dig a hole
In a communist Society, you are given a shovel and told to work

The fact is, even in a capitalism society, most people are practically given a shovel and told to work. And I guess some communists also describe capitalism in that way.

Most likely, This is what the person who came up with this definition really meant:

In a capitalist Society, you can choose in some situations, that either you work, you earn money and you buy a shovel to dig a hole, or you are given a shovel and told to work. In some cases you can also do both together.
In a communist Society, you are absolutely not allowed to choose the first option, no matter what.

That's unfair. If communism really worked better and there is enough resources like the modern world, the restriction is at best annoying, and there is no need to explicitly disallow the other way. I think this says everything.

I mean, if you want to distribute resource in supposedly better ways in a capitalism society, you can. You could hire them and make a contract. You could provide them the resources for free if you have ways to generate income from them. What you cannot do is to disallow them from also buying and wasting some resources from elsewhere, which is not really that significant if it's not in an emergency.

The "bad" way you have described is likely either the desperate case where everyone cannot make a good agreement, or someone is too impractical that they want to stick to some principle. But the other way isn't really disallowed by capitalism. And the restriction in the supposed communism would be a disadvantage at least in your case.

Alternatively, someone may think like this:

In a capitalist Society, someone earn money and they buy a shovel to dig a hole. They also give you a shovel and tell you to work.
In a communist Society, someone capable give you a shovel and tell you to work.

It doesn't make much sense. Who is the capable person, after all? If they are government officials, then clearly no in a modern world. If that means "anything but market", then maybe, but it doesn't say anything about what this society could be like.


My two cents: The only real way to have communism work, on a large scale, is to have humanity evolve past wanting things, being greedy, and the desire to have a better existence than the next guy.

Other than that, I really do not see a way for communism to work on the large scale.

  • $\begingroup$ not only. Higher respect standards may be too. U may wish live better then this next guy, but you do not dip him in to the ground in pursuing that goal, you care what may happen with people when you do things, in same way as some people care about heir families. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that is true as well. But there ARE those who are willing to do almost anything to get whatever it is in life that they want. And those are the wrenches in the system, so to speak. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ They look like wrenches, now. In other circumstances they could be fearless space explorers etc, they could value to be a hero to be loved with masses over other possibilities. It is strong drive. Making all the same(indistinguishable, non individual) is usual oversimplification, not necessity, it just simpler for us to understand how such people could form such system. True secret is how to compose different people in that system. And I believe that difference is what makes such system possible. But atm we do not know good answers for that question. Technology is important part of that answer $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 23:22

Other respondents have pointed out that communism works reasonably well in families and clans, but breaks down in larger societies. The reason for this is that in larger societies, delegation becomes necessary for any governing to get done.

In a family or a clan, the decision-making class consists of those adults who have achieved a certain status in the group. Having proven themselves, their opinions are at least given a fair hearing, and their grievances are not so casually dismissed, and they will know why each course of action was chosen. There may still be a single authority whose decisions are final (Dad or the Chief), but if such people are wise they exercise their authority only when consensus cannot be reached. The concentration of power is limited, because the number of people who have proven themselves will be a more-or-less fixed portion of the society.

The young people will not always be satisfied with the decisions that are made, but they have the assurance that when they have proven themselves (in whatever way is required), they will be in the group that makes the decisions. If the elders have any wisdom at all, they will be preparing the younger people for the day that they will be in charge. The motivation for the young generation to forcibly overthrow the older generation is greatly reduced under such a system; why fight your parents and their friends for something that you can acquire by peaceable means with no opposition?

Furthermore, the decision-makers have a great interest in being careful in their decisions, because the consequences of mistakes will fall upon themselves, their families, and their friends; and when the harvest isn't as good as it needs to be, everyone is more readily able to accept the privations that are necessary, because they see their friends and loved ones suffering just as badly.

And since everybody knows everybody, the level of trust that is necessary to keep communism going is much easier to maintain.

This all changes when the society grows beyond a certain point. When there are so many people that it becomes impossible for everybody to know everybody, the decision-making generation becomes too large for rule by consensus, and in order to get anything done at all, a degree of delegation is necessary. This has several effects:

First, the number of decision-makers no longer scales with the size of the community. More power is vested in the hands of fewer people.

Second, the amount of information necessary to make the correct decision has grown. You can know the needs of a hundred or so people. You cannot know the needs of a thousand people or a million. This leads to more mistakes.

Third, as the concentration of power increases, the sort of people who want that power for the wrong reasons increases, and soon you have people in charge whose only skills are political rather than managerial. This leads not only to more mistakes (i.e., when 1,000 tractors are needed, the Ministry of Tractors produces either 100 tractors or 10,000 of them) but corruption as well (instead of producing tractors, the Ministry produces limousines for party brass).

Fourth, there's less negative feedback for bad decisions. The consequences of bad decisions can be pushed off onto strangers.

Fifth, and most fatally to the system, trust becomes difficult if not impossible. You don't have access to the harvest data, nor were you at the meeting where the potato ration was calculated, and you simply don't know most people, so you have only the commissar's word that the potato harvest really was bad this year, or that everyone's potato ration is really being cut by the same amount as yours, or that any variances from the standard ration are based on genuine need. It takes only one rumor of a feast at the commissar's house to shatter your faith in the system.

So your real challenge in keeping communism stable is the challenge of maintaining the people's faith in the system. To this end, you either have to ensure that the decision-makers continue to act in good faith, or that the people remain willing to believe the propaganda in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.


Yes, of course. There are a zillion successful communes all over America! California, Colorado and Washington unsurprisingly have quite a few.

People point to the USSR and call it a failure of Communism when it was largely a caused by mismanagement and corruption - twin demons which can easily spell doom for a capitalist, or really anything-ist state if allowed to go too far or too long.


To implement communism, I think you'd need to solve the following problems:

  • Tackle the Scarcity of Resources: Some people may work voluntarily (see the case with free software when maintained by hobbyists) and others may not. You need a way to make sure that the goods and services provided by those who voluntarily work are enough to cover the needs of everyone. This problem will probably need to be tackled at multiple points, for example:
    • Increase the Volunteers: Educate people about why their contribution is important. You could even incorporate peer pressure and even potential social stigma for people who are capable of contributing but don't do so.
    • Automate: No job that can be performed by a machine should be performed by a human. Humans should spend their time only on those jobs that machines can't do or can't do well enough yet.
    • Eliminate Unnecessary Jobs: Eliminate all jobs that are still around for no reason other than because the people doing them would be unemployed otherwise.
  • Embrace Non-Scalability: Even democracy scales badly with population size, simply because every individual becomes less and less important as the governed population increases. Right now, millions of people can essentially lose control of the country they live in, when governed by a federation. It's not hard to imagine a distant future where the entire population of a planet suffers the same situation. Communism scales even worse than that and you need to embrace that.
    • Create Small Self-Governed Communities: It's tremendously important for people to feel like they are masters of themselves and that they are not governed by an external force. To achieve that, it's critical that the people in a community know most everyone who will be affected by their decisions. No more than two or three degrees of separation for any two people in the same community.
    • Abolish Hierarchies: Any hierarchical system (whether there is a unified hierarchy or smaller, specialized hierarchies) is vulnerable to an attack where the "root" of the hierarchy can be bought/bribed to work for a specific third-party. Instead, you can (for example) delegate all decisions to the citizens so that you can make political participation easy, accessible, frequent and meaningful.
  • Replace the Market: By most definitions of communism, the economy doesn't involve a market. However, the market in capitalism is there for a reason: to compute production based on demand. If you abolish the market, you need to replace it with something else. What?
    • Use Technology: In pre-technological societies, there is no computational tool comparable to the market. In technological societies of our level (a worldwide network of interconnected terminals at very high speeds), it's trivial to have a registry system in which people can use terminals (like their phones) to state their needs and a central program that can receive them.
    • Stay Ahead of the Curve: Do you have big data about the expressed needs of your society? You can now apply even the simplest pattern recognition techniques to allow the registry system to anticipate most demand patterns and start adjusting the production plan, even before a trend becomes conclusively visible.

The real problem with most implementations of communism is that in order to have all things in common or have a society where its individuals work according to their abilities and receive according the their needs is that you either need a group of people motivated enough by an ideal to preform this or you need a centralized power to make everybody do this. Giving somebody the kind of power it takes to make people give everything up and receive "less" back is scary stuff. Finding a group of people that can do it based on an ideal for a long period of time is also very difficult. However I would like to say that it is possible and has been done before.


The simple answer with Communism is to just look at what it is... and that can be described simply as "from each according to their ability to each according to their needs". Now let's assume 95% of people are "equivalent" so need the same things, but there are obviously some people that need more...

Who are these people? Those who don't have ability to do things, such as the handicapped. We can give them more resources or eliminate them. I don't know whether communism makes a decree or argument, but every communist regime and some of the greatest philosophers in history says we should elminate them, so if you have any sort of physical disability, good bye. This creates a low level oppression, and anger, but everyone is suppressed by everyone else so it's just an unhappy unrest. This alone does not make the system "unstable" in that it's not unstable enough to be considered unstable with just this.

The other issue is you have those who are deciding what people need. And this is the issue. I say who needs what and I say those who decide what people need need more and because all the people who decide what people need get this benefit they don't say anything. But what about the people who enforce the law... Well they need more, because if they don't get more they'll destroy the rulers, so they get more. Eventually you have a ruling class and an enforcer class that is so obvious that the populace sees it and sees that it is unfair.

Now you have this hatred brewing under the surface and a ruling class that realizes this and sees that resources will eventually start dwindling which means even if they want to correct they can't. And this creates a highly unstable situation. What about if resources never dwindle? Humans have a natural fairness barometer and so as soon as it becomes obvious what's happening it creates an unstable state.

Can this be avoided? Nope. There is always a corruption point or a point where humans will avoid it as unfair.


People forget communism has worked without turning into a dictatorship - on a small scale like the anarcho-communist town of Marinaleda which has been in Spain since 1979 and has a population of over two thousand six hundred people. It tends to fail when you have to try to implement it in one go over a much larger area. However, it is possible for you to try not to do that. Similar to Ancient Greece, you could have a bunch of different communist city-states that work together as a type of 'superpower' similar to that. Basically, have a bunch of different commune-like cities and towns that tend to be somewhat independent of each other, but come together for greater trade or when they have to deal with a common threat. You can also use technology to help with dealing with creating resources (like how we are working on autonomous farming bots right now) and having city-states communicate with each other to make collective decisions.


Communism invariably gets taken out by that one guy, the jerk. Here is how it goes down. Like minded individuals want to embark on this great experiment and go somewhere where they won't be messed with. All are given rations according to a finely balanced set of caloric tables and the required work from each person. Everything goes well until Bob gets assigned to dig the latrines after just completing the well. He's hungry, he wants more food, but according to the tables, he shouldn't get any more food. It won't take long before he filches a little bit extra. After all, he deserves it. The shortage is noted, others complain and discontent deepens. Maybe Bob is found out, who knows? It is this discontent that produces the wobbles in the system that makes it inherently unstable, especially when you try to scale up.

The desire to succeed, to prosper, to build for our offspring, is not just human nature. It is instilled by 4 billion years of evolution. It takes effort and training to suppress that instinct beyond the family and we are more or less capable of it to varying degrees. It's that variability that makes communism wobble and fail. Communism absolutely requires that people are uniformly willing to sacrifice everything to the community as a whole. One person gets a little selfish and you end up with corruption, theft, bribery and so on.

Capitalism is also far from perfect, but it copes with this variability by being highly variable itself. There are acceptable ways to go get "more" if you want it, without violating laws or harming others. For those who desire less, they are not required to push beyond what ever amount of work is necessary to sustain their less intensive lives. Sure, guardrail regulations are needed for the ones who are totally out of control.

That's part of why it's been said of capitalism and democracy: They are the worst, but they are the only systems that work.


A basic definition of the communism as we learned from inside a communist-led state is that everyone works as much as he want/can and gets whatever he needs/wants. There was more, but not exactly interesting now.

Some (partial! and partially stable) form of communism we see today in a societies where most of the "gross product" comes from a source independent of the labour efforts of the communist society members (be it oil, slavery or prolonged credit expansion). Everyone produces exactly as much as he wants (i.e. nothing) and gets... whatever some central distribution system assumes he needs. The communism is partial in a sense that doesn't work for everyone involved and is stable as long as money flow in the right direction, but it can take generations in order to collapse.


Assuming that by communist economy you mean a state controlled economy like the one the USSR had and not eurosocialist economies like Sweden you have to take care of demand, following the hierarchy of needs. The USSR did that, partially, and by the end of Stalin's rule starvation was a thing of the past. But when it came to go beyond food to consumer goods like cars, computers, the USSR wasn't able to provide.

Why? Ineficient economy coupled with the cold war expanses. You need to increase the efficiency of the economy by applying to the whole society the methods that corporations apply: measure, optimize, fire when needed, hire when needed. The dictatorship of the proletariat require advanced managerial techniques developed by the late capitalism corporations to survive. One problem of the USSR is that Russia wasn't an advanced capitalist country. A dictatorship of the proletariat in the US, Japan, Germany, on the other hand, will have a pool of managerial talent to optimize production much greater then the russians had.

About the cold war: once you have enough nukes conventional war is impossible. Beyond the fifties the USSR would never be able to conquer W.Europe without triggering massive nuclear war, nor NATO would be able to conquer E.Europe without massive retaliation. So, you don't really need a massive conventional army but a smaller anti-insurgency army. The USSR had a huge army for the same reason the US have a huge carrier fleet today: they are prepared to fight yesterday's wars. So, ditch the huge conventional army and focus on nuclear related weapowry. If that means orbital missile bases, hypersonic nuclear drones or 150mt nuclear torpedoes, so be it. It's cheaper then keeping a million men army.

Also, you need size. A communist country should be self-sufficient in resources. There is no country in the world that is big enough to have all the resource (Russia lacks natural rubber and tropical farming. USA lacks natural rubber too, and half of the country is a desert.. Brazil lacks coal, some high tech metals and abundant oil, Australia is dry, Half of China is either desert or mountains)


This question makes some basic flawed premises, which make it hard for me to answer...

First the flawed premise,

  1. Ration Cards... Ration cards are not a part of capitalism. They are issued by the government to people, much like the USSR, China, the USA even had rationing cards. And are a method that governments use to control indvidiuals economic activity. This is not capitalism.
  2. Good groups share everything in common... A lot of the good post apocalyptic groups that I see barter goods and services with each other... Bartering is a form economic exchange, in other words (capitalism).

So what is capitalism? (According to Questor)

People throw that word around a lot... Most often communists. But I am never sure what they mean. Here is my definition: Capitalism is the belief that people should be free to exchange goods and services with each other without government intervention. That these so called economic exchanges are the business of the transacting parties, and no one else.

Money was introduced as a medium of exchange so that I don't need to have what you want to trade for something that I want. To make it easier to exchange goods/services.

So what then is communism? (According to Questor)

Communism is where someone else (the government) is in control of economic exchanges. This is done in order to protect the working class from the evil buisness owners who are exploiting them. Of course. And everyone is given what they need... As determined by the benevolent leadership.

Why are communist countries unstable?

People are different, have different needs, wants, and aspirations. Communism tends to be too monolithic to allow individuals to get what they need/want and instead give everyone the same thing.

This leads to the creation of black markets as people trade what they have and don't want to people for they don't have and want...

Additionally, if you give everyone the same things. Regardless of what they do/don't do then that disincentives work. Why should I work hard if it has no impact on what I get? Sorry mate, I like most humans am self centered. I don't care about the "good of society" I care about the good of me, and my family. Society can itself. So while me working hard might benefit "Societal good" it doesn't benefit me, so why work hard?

Once the leadership in communist countries realize that people are self centered shallow idiots with no regard for the "big picture" they have to find ways to motivate all of those short sighted self centered plebeians (SSSSPs) to work... This can lead to increased rations based on performance, or for doing work that no one else can or wants to do (cough cough market valuation of labor, capitalism) and/or work camps and firing squads.

Neither of which is truly effective at getting SSSSPs to work, but it does lead to a lot of fake work as everyone wants to appear super productive.. Something along the lines of "They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work". Which is hard for centralized control to detect (in a capitalist society with more localized control, inefficiencies tend to be detected pretty quickly).


I will be honest, the inefficiencies of centralized economic control isn't the real problem... The real problem is that for a communist economy to work. To really work, everyone has to buy into it, to feel invested in society, and work for the greater good. Which is why we can see successful communist communes. Which are robust and productive because everyone in the commune wants to be there, and wants to work hard. (They have to banish the slackers, like cough Bernie Sanders cough).

Capitalist economies on the other hand don't require nigh universal buy in to work. Because you as an individual are free to do what you want to do. If you want to work? Great! If you don't want to work and starve, that's on you. You not participating doesn't really effect me.

So what do you need to make communism effective? You need to have a culture where people are selfless, care about the greater good of society, for their neighbors, are willing to do hard work and share what they have with their neighbors. In other words you need a society that doesn't need communism, for communism to work.


Your question is very hard to answer for a few reasons. You ask if a communist society can remain stable, and how.

What do you mean by stability?
What do you mean by communism?

Political and economic stability have a strong correlation, but a stable system is like a stable object; it is not moving. Instability, both political and economic, is often progressive because it allows systems to be redesigned. That can be for better or worse, the same as stability itself. Its depends where you are standing. If your community is stable this is good if your neighbours are degrading. If your community is stable this is bad if your neighbours are improving.

Communism is as big tent an ideology as Christianity; there's a lot of variation between different implementations, and lots of people denouncing each other as being imposters, fraudsters, or revisionists. Even with a core text in both cases, we see entropy at work - as time goes by the systems fragment and break into smaller pieces. Nature finds a way by creating mutation, and our minds are no exception to their origins. Our ideas mutate over time, adding more chaos to the mix. You could write a PhD (many have) on communism, so I'm not going to try, and will discuss matters in simplistic and general terms with some historical context; all I can do is to point out some obvious errors in what many find to be common sense.

A communist society is one where the means of production is owned by the people. What does this mean? Good question. It means that the factories, land, and tools used to provide people's essentials are administered for common benefit.

Karl Marx's ideas were a reaction to a time when "common land" was being bought. This was a problem for many people who had previously relied upon common land for things like food, firewood, and construction materials. When the forest is suddenly owned by someone, where are you going to get your firewood from? You have to buy it. Can you afford it? Maybe not. Too bad, it's going to be a cold winter. The main communist premise is to return the land to common ownership, and the assumption is that humanity is naturally a thing of egalitarianism which we must return to.

Communism doesn't have boom and bust, so it's more stable than capitalism because of that. This doesn't mean it's more prosperous; it's not. But that may not be the point at the time. It's also worth noting that many of the criticisms of "communism" are not criticisms unique to communism, or at all meaningful.

If greed and corruption is a human problem which threatens communism, so too is a problem which threatens democracy and capitalism. It almost destroyed both come the Great Depression, seeing the emergence of communist and fascist revolutionaries.

There's no reason a communist society can't reward work appropriately. If the collective owns the means of production they can do whatever they please with their collective surplus. This means higher pay for more skilled or necessary work, as well as overtime for longer hours, is entirely possible. It's not mutually exclusive to collective ownership of the means of production.

Nor indeed is that in conflict with private enterprise per se. There's no reason people can't buy and sell products and services which are outside of the scope of the means of production. For example, an artist can sell their paintings. Their relationship to the economy is not like that of industries which provide food, transport, housing, etc. Because the latter is essential, and people are captive consumers to these industries, but the former is not.

The free market is also not the most effective mechanism all of the time, otherwise we'd have mercenaries instead of standing armies. But money isn't what makes people volunteer to die for their country. Poverty may be, but often that isn't the point. People are motivated by things that aren't simply financial, especially after their basic needs are taken care of.

So what exactly would make a communist society stable? Primarily if that society was in a technologically stagnant era, with no hope of invention or exploration. Either early primitive civilisation, or late space faring civilisation. Or somewhere along the line where for some reason technological progress and the movement of people stopped.

Then, importantly, economic growth won't exist because nothing new can be invented which can change society; so society won't change. There will be no more boom or bust, just permanent stagnation. And in this situation it's best to pursue equality to guard against war between the eternal-rich and eternal-poor. One NASA funded study found that historically, inequality and resource scarcity are the two biggest factors in the collapse of any given civilisation.

If you want a stable society your people have to value stability. If you promise them progress (instability) and get their hopes up, little surprise that decades later they will become disillusioned with a lack of progress. Have government do the basics well, and promote accountability, individual reward, and participation... or just engineer the implosion of your neighbours.


TL;DR Communism is a stable system and this is why it has been a problem child. Permanent economic and technological stagnation would make it desirable, because then inequality which would otherwise tear a stagnant society apart is managed fairly.

Imagine that the economy is a hermit crab, and its shell is the government's political ideology. Every once in a while society must find a new ideology to suit its growth. If the crab is still growing it cannot live within the confines of communism's large and hard shell. If however the crab has matured, then the communist shell makes sense and will protect it. The question of how this eternal technological stagnation comes about is up to you.


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