Communist society

This article is about the hypothetical stage of socioeconomic development. For the economic systems of the former Soviet and Eastern bloc Communist states, see Soviet-type economic planning.

In Marxist thought, communist society or communist system is the type of society and economic system postulated to emerge from technological advances in the productive forces, representing the ultimate goal of the political ideology of Communism. A communist society is characterized by common ownership of the means of production with free access[1][2] to the articles of consumption and is classless and stateless,[3] implying the end of the exploitation of labor.

Communism is a specific stage of socioeconomic development predicated upon a superabundance of material wealth, which is postulated to arise from advances in production technology and corresponding changes in the social relations of production. This would allow for distribution based on need and social relations based on freely-associated individuals.[4][5]

The term "communist society" should be distinguished from the Western concept of the "communist state", the latter referring to a state ruled by a party which professes a variation of Marxism–Leninism.[6][7]

Economic aspects

A communist economic system would be characterized by advanced productive technology that enables material abundance, which in turn would enable the free distribution of most or all economic output and the holding of the means of producing this output in common. In this respect communism is differentiated from socialism, which, out of economic necessity, restricts access to articles of consumption and services based on one's contribution.[8]

In further contrast to previous economic systems, communism would be characterized by the holding of natural resources and the means of production in common as opposed to them being privately owned (as in the case of capitalism) or owned by public or cooperative organizations that similarly restricts their access (as in the case of socialism). In this sense, communism involves the "negation of property" insofar as there would be little economic rationale for exclusive control over production assets in an environment of material abundance.[9]

The fully developed communist economic system is postulated to develop from a preceding socialist system. Marx held the view that socialism—a system based on social ownership of the means of production—would enable progress toward the development of fully developed communism by further advancing productive technology. Under socialism, with its increasing levels of automation, an increasing proportion of goods would be distributed freely.[10]

Social aspects

Individuality, freedom, and creativity

"In fact, the realm of freedom actually begins only where labor which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production."

Capital, Volume III, 1894[11]

A communist society would free individuals from long working hours by first automating production to an extent that the average length of the working day is reduced[12] and second by eliminating the exploitation inherent in the division between workers and owners. A communist system would thus free individuals from alienation in the sense of having one's life structured around survival (making a wage or salary in a capitalist system), which Marx referred to as a transition from the "realm of necessity" to the "realm of freedom." As a result, a communist society is envisioned as being composed of an intellectually-inclined population with both the time and resources to pursue its creative hobbies and genuine interests, and to contribute to creative social wealth in this manner. Karl Marx considered "true richness" to be the amount of time one has at his or her disposal to pursue one's creative passions.[13][14] Marx's notion of communism is in this way radically individualistic.[15]

Marx's concept of the "realm of freedom" goes hand-in-hand with Marx's idea of the ending of the division of labor, which would not be required in a society with highly automated production and limited work roles.

In a communist society, economic necessity and relations would cease to determine cultural and social relations. As scarcity is eliminated,[9] alienated labor would cease and people would be free to pursue their individual goals.[16]

Politics, law, and governance

Marx and Engels maintained that a communist society would have no need for the state as it exists in contemporary capitalist society. The capitalist state mainly exists to enforce hierarchical economic relations, to enforce the exclusive control of property, and to regulate capitalistic economic activities—all of which would be non-applicable to a communist system.[9][16]

Engels noted that in a socialist system the primary function of public institutions will shift from being about the creation of laws and the control of people into a technical role as an administrator of technical production processes, with a decrease in the scope of traditional politics as scientific administration overtakes the role of political decision-making.[17] Communist society is characterized by democratic processes, not merely in the sense of electoral democracy, but in the broader sense of open and collaborative social and workplace environments.[9]

Marx never clearly specified whether or not he thought a communist society would be just; other thinkers have speculated that he thought communism would transcend justice and create society without conflicts, thus, without the needs for rules of justice.[18]

Transitional stages

Marx also wrote that between capitalist and communist society, there would be a transitory period known as the dictatorship of the proletariat.[9] During this preceding phase of societal development, capitalist economic relationships would gradually be abolished and replaced with socialism. Natural resources would become public property, while all manufacturing centers and workplaces would become socially owned and democratically managed. Production would be organized by scientific assessment and planning, thus eliminating what Marx called the "anarchy in production". The development of the productive forces would lead to the marginalization of human labor to the highest possible extent, to be gradually replaced by automated labor.

Open-source and peer production

Many aspects of a communist economy have emerged in recent decades in the form of open-source software and hardware, where source code and thus the means of producing software is held in common and freely accessible to everyone; and to the processes of peer production where collaborative work processes produce freely available software that does not rely on monetary valuation. Michel Bauwens juxtaposes open source and peer production with "market production".[19]

Ray Kurzweil posits that the goals of communism will be realized by advanced technological developments in the 21st century, where the intersection of low manufacturing costs, material abundance and open-source design philosophies will enable the realization of the maxim "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".[20]

Some have argued that source code is not a means of production, but a final product itself. The idea that open source software is done voluntarily and for free is rumored to be wrong as participants may gain financial benefits (good jobs, a chance to be taught by professionals for free, etc).

In Soviet ideology

The communist economic system was officially enumerated as the ultimate goal of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in its party platform. According to the 1986 Programme of the CPSU:

Communism is a classless social system with one form of public ownership of the means of production and with full social equality of all members of society. Under communism, the all-round development of people will be accompanied by the growth of the productive forces on the basis of continuous progress in science and technology, all the springs of social wealth will flow abundantly, and the great principle "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" will be implemented. Communism is a highly organised society of free, socially conscious working people a society in which public self-government will be established, a society in which labour for the good of society will become the prime vital requirement of everyone, a clearly recognised necessity, and the ability of each person will be employed to the greatest benefit of the people.

The material and technical foundation of communism presupposes the creation of those productive forces that open up opportunities for the full satisfaction of the reasonable requirements of society and the individual. All productive activities under communism will be based on the use of highly efficient technical facilities and technologies, and the harmonious interaction of man and nature will be ensured.

In the highest phase of communism the directly social character of labor and production will become firmly established. Through the complete elimination of the remnants of the old division of labor and the essential social differences associated with it, the process of forming a socially homogeneous society will be completed.

Communism signifies the transformation of the system of socialist self-government by the people, of socialist democracy into the highest form of organization of society: communist public self-government. With the maturation of the necessary socioeconomic and ideological preconditions and the involvement of all citizens in administration, the socialist state—given appropriate international conditions—will, as Lenin noted, increasingly become a transitional form "from a state to a non-state." The activities of state bodies will become non-political in nature, and the need for the state as a special political institution will gradually disappear.

The inalienable feature of the communist mode of life is a high level of consciousness, social activity, discipline, and self-discipline of members of society, in which observance of the uniform, generally accepted rules of communist conduct will become an inner need and habit of every person.

Communism is a social system under which the free development of each is a condition for the free development of all.[21]

In Vladimir Lenin's political theory, a classless society would be a society controlled by the direct producers, organized to produce according to socially managed goals. Such a society, Lenin suggested, would develop habits that would gradually make political representation unnecessary, as the radically democratic nature of the Soviets would lead citizens to come to agree with the representatives' style of management. Only in this environment, Lenin suggested, could the state wither away, ushering in a period of stateless communism.

In Soviet ideology, Marx's concepts of the "lower and higher phases of communism" articulated in the Critique of the Gotha Programme were reformulated as the stages of "socialism" and "communism".[22] The Soviet state claimed to have begun the phase of "socialist construction" during the implementation of the first Five-Year Plans during the 1930s, which introduced a centrally planned, nationalized/collectivized economy. The 1962 Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, published under the leadership of Nikita Krushchev, claimed that socialism had been firmly established in the USSR, and that the state would now progress to the "full-scale construction of communism",[23] although this may be understood to refer to the "technical foundations" of communism moreso than the withering away of the state and the division of labor per se. However, even in the final edition of its program before the party's dissolution, the CPSU did not claim to have fully established communism,[24] instead claiming that the society was undergoing a very slow and gradual process of transition.

Fictional portrayals

The Culture novels by Iain M Banks are centered on a communist post-scarcity economy[25][26][27] where technology is advanced to such a degree that all production is automated,[28] and there is no use for money or property (aside from personal possessions with sentimental value).[29] Humans in the Culture are free to pursue their own interests in an open and socially-permissive society. The society has been described by some commentators as "communist-bloc"[30] or "anarcho-communist".[31] Banks' close friend and fellow science fiction writer Ken MacLeod has said that The Culture can be seen as a realization of Marx's communism, but adds that "however friendly he was to the radical left, Iain had little interest in relating the long-range possibility of utopia to radical politics in the here and now. As he saw it, what mattered was to keep the utopian possibility open by continuing technological progress, especially space development, and in the meantime to support whatever policies and politics in the real world were rational and humane."[32]

See also


  1. Steele, David Ramsay (September 1999). From Marx to Mises: Post Capitalist Society and the Challenge of Economic Calculation. Open Court. p. 66. ISBN 978-0875484495. Marx distinguishes between two phases of marketless communism: an initial phase, with labor vouchers, and a higher phase, with free access.
  2. Busky, Donald F. (July 20, 2000). Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Praeger. p. 4. ISBN 978-0275968861. Communism would mean free distribution of goods and services. The communist slogan, 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs' (as opposed to 'work') would then rule
  3. O'Hara, Phillip (September 2003). Encyclopedia of Political Economy, Volume 2. Routledge. p. 836. ISBN 0-415-24187-1. it influenced Marx to champion the ideas of a 'free association of producers' and of self-management replacing the centralized state.
  4. Critique of the Gotha Programme, Karl Marx.
  5. Full Communism: The Ultimate Goal
  6. Busky, Donald F. (July 20, 2000). Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Praeger. p. 9. ISBN 978-0275968861. In a modern sense of the word, communism refers to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism.
  7. Wilczynski, J. (2008). The Economics of Socialism after World War Two: 1945-1990. Aldine Transaction. p. 21. ISBN 978-0202362281. Contrary to Western usage, these countries describe themselves as ‘Socialist’ (not ‘Communist’). The second stage (Marx’s ‘higher phase’), or ‘Communism’ is to be marked by an age of plenty, distribution according to needs (not work), the absence of money and the market mechanism, the disappearance of the last vestiges of capitalism and the ultimate ‘whithering away of the state.
  8. Gregory and Stuart, Paul and Robert (2003). Comparing Economic Systems in the Twenty-First. South-Western College Pub. p. 118. ISBN 0-618-26181-8. Communism, the highest stage of social and economic development, would be characterized by the absence of markets and money and by abundance, distribution according to need, and the withering away of the state…Under socialism, each individual would be expected to contribute according to capability, and rewards would be distributed in proportion to that contribution. Subsequently, under communism, the basis of reward would be need.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Barry Stewart Clark (1998). Political economy: a comparative approach. ABC-CLIO. pp. 57–59. ISBN 978-0-275-96370-5. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  10. Wood, John Cunningham (1996). Karl Marx’s Economics: Critical Assessments I. Routledge. p. 248. ISBN 978-0415087148. In particular, this economy would possess (1) social ownership and control of industry by the ‘associated producers’ and (2) a sufficiently high level of economic development to enable substantial progress toward ‘full communism’ and thereby some combination of the following: super affluence; distribution of an increasing proportion of commodities as if they were free goods; an increase in the proportion of collective goods...
  11. Karl Marx (1894). "Karl Marx, Capital Volume III, Part VII. Revenues and their Sources". Capital Volume III. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  12. Peffer, Rodney G. (2014). Marxism, Morality, and Social Justice. Princeton University Press. p. 73. ISBN 9780691608884. Marx believed the reduction of necessary labor time to be, evaluatively speaking, an absolute necessity. He claims that real wealth is the developed productive force of all individuals. It is no longer the labor time but the disposable time that is the measure of wealth.
  13. Jessop and Wheatley, Bob and Russell (1999). Karl Marx's Social and Political Thought, Volume 6. Routledge. p. 9. ISBN 9780415193283. Marx in the Grundrisse speaks of a time when systematic automation will be developed to the point where direct human labor power will be a source of wealth. The preconditions will be created by capitalism itself. It will be an age of true mastery of nature, a post-scarcity age, when men can turn from alienating and dehumanizing labor to the free use of leisure in the pursuit of the sciences and arts.
  14. Marx, Theorien uber der Mehwert III, ed. K. Kautsky (Stuttgart, 1910), pp. 303-4.
  15. Woods, Allen. W. "'Karl Marx on Equality" (pdf). New York University: Department of Philosophy. Retrieved 3 February 2016. A society that has transcended class antagonisms, therefore, would not be one in which some truly universal interest at last reigns, to which individual interests must be sacrificed. It would instead be a society in which individuals freely act as the truly human individuals they are. Marx’s radical communism was, in this way, also radically individualistic.
  16. 1 2 Craig J. Calhoun (2002). Classical sociological theory. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 23–23. ISBN 978-0-631-21348-2. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  17. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, on "In 1816, he declares that politics is the science of production, and foretells the complete absorption of politics by economics. The knowledge that economic conditions are the basis of political institutions appears here only in embryo. Yet what is here already very plainly expressed is the idea of the future conversion of political rule over men into an administration of things and a direction of processes of production."
  18. "Karl Marx – Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy".. First published Tue Aug 26, 2003; substantive revision Mon Jun 14, 2010. Accessed March 4, 2011.
  19. Michel Bauwens (22 March 2014). "From the Communism of Capital to a Capital for the Commons". P2P Foundation. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  20. Ray Kurzweil (February 1, 2012). Kurzweil: Technology Will Achieve the Goals of Communism. FORA TV.
  21. "The CPSU's Tasks In Perfecting Socialism And Making A Gradual Transition To Communism". Program of the CPSU, 27th Congress, 1986 – Part Two. Eurodos. 1998. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  22. Lenin, V.I. State and Revolution. V.: The Economic Basis of the Withering Away of the State.
  23. Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. With a special pref. to the American ed. by N. S. Khrushchev. New York: International Publishers, 1963.
  24. Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. A New Edition. 1986.
  25. Banks, Iain M. (1987). Consider Phlebas. Orbit. ISBN 978-0316005388. He could not believe the ordinary people in the Culture really wanted the war, no matter how they had voted. They had their communist Utopia. They were soft and pampered and indulged, and the Contact section's evangelical materialism provided their consciencesalving good works. What more could they want?
  26. Walter, Damien (11 October 2012), Dear Ed Miliband … seek your future in post-scarcity SF, Guardian US, archived from the original on 2015-11-14
  27. Parsons, Michael; Banks, Iain M. (16 November 2012), Interview: Iain M Banks talks 'The Hydrogen Sonata' with, Wired UK, archived from the original on 2015-11-14, It is my vision of what you do when you are in that post-scarcity society, you can completely indulge myself. The Culture has no unemployment problem, no one has to work, so all work is a form of play.
  28. Banks, Iain M. "A Few Notes on the Culture". Archived from the original on March 22, 2012. Retrieved 2015-11-23. Link is to an archived copy of the site that Banks linked to on his own website.
  29. Roberts, Jude; Banks, Iain M. (3 November 2014), A Few Questions About the Culture: An Interview with Iain Banks, Strange Horizons, archived from the original on 2015-11-23, This is not say that Libertarianism can't represent a progressive force, in the right circumstances, and I don't doubt there will be significant areas where I would agree with Libertarianism. But, really; which bit of not having private property, and the absence of money in the Culture novels, have these people missed?
  30. Cramer & Hartwell, Kathryn & David G. (10 July 2007). The Space Opera Renaissance. Orb Books. p. 298. ISBN 978-0765306180. Iain M. Banks and his brother-in-arms, Ken MacLeod, both take a Marxist line: Banks with his communist-bloc 'Culture' novels, and MacLeod with his 'hard-left libertarian' factions.
  31. Poole, Steven (8 February 2008), Culture clashes, The Guardian, archived from the original on 2015-11-23
  32. Liptak, Andrew (19 December 2014), Iain M. Banks’ Culture Novels, Kirkus Reviews, archived from the original on 2015-11-23

Further reading

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