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How Does a Communist Economy Work?

  1. Sep 2, 2016 #1
    I understand that in free-market economies that people have the right to private property and own the means of production, while in a communist economy everything is owned by the government.

    What does the ladder mean, though? Clearly, even if a communist country, people have their own individual houses, belongings, jobs, and an income, right? What, then, does it mean to say the government owns the means of production? Are people unable to make a profit that they keep for themselves? Is it all collected by the government and redistributed? If so, is it evenly redistributed? Or, would the largest producer get more back?

    Also, if you cannot own something in a communist country, what does that mean? Again, people clearly have their own homes, clothes, belongings, etc. Does money exist and matter the same as in a capitalist, free-market society?
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  3. Sep 2, 2016 #2


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    It doesn't.
  4. Sep 2, 2016 #3


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    There is no single communist country in the world, and there never was. Some were named this way.
  5. Sep 2, 2016 #4


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    There are a number of interpretations of what communism would look like and given, as said above, that none has ever really been achieved, it is open to some interpretation/speculation. But for your specific question about what it means to own "the means of production", that's the companies people work for. There would be no private companies; the government would own all of them.

    If one looks to abolish private property, that can include the houses people live in in particular.
  6. Sep 2, 2016 #5


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    This concept only works in strict theory with assumptions, which humans fail to satisfy - proven and tested.
    All attempts cracked upon the fact, that in human societies (of a relevant size!) the ##\forall \; \{ humans \;|\; \dots \;\}## becomes a ##\nexists \; \{ human \;|\; \dots \; \}##. Exceptions can only be found within some small tribes in the Amazon basin, if I remember correctly (and where all means of production except work are supplied for free by nature).
  7. Sep 2, 2016 #6


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    It is perhaps of interest to the OP to read (in case he did not know it already) that L.V. Kantorovich (biography, wiki) (Soviet mathematician and recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics in 1975, jointly with the Dutch-American T.C. Koopmans) has contributed to the theory of a planned economy. In economic circles I think he is nowadays remembered most for linear programming.

    Personally, I know him best as the co-author of a beautiful book on functional analysis, applications and methods. This is closer to my heart.
  8. Sep 3, 2016 #7
    I won't write about economic theories. Just couple of everyday socialist "wisdoms "
    Children in my country used to be taught that in the future, people will walk into shop and only take what they need without paying. Most of them didn't believe it, but it was in the official curriculum since kindergarten to high school.
    Then we had something called socialist miracle : everyone steals, yet no one misses anything. No one misses anything, yet no one has enough.
    And the most famous saying : he who doesn't steal (from work /state owned property) steals from his own family

    There used to be huge amount of barter trade and nepotism.

    One of the most precious goods here were tangerines and bananas. Till this day, people remember waiting in long queues (many hours, family members switched taking turns in them because it was too long for one person to wait so long) on christmas.

    However absurd and unsustainable it was, the were no homeless people, everyone had to have a job, no one sufered from malnutrition. We didn't have access to exotic fruits, but we were fully self sufficient in basic food and it was of high quality (meat, diary products, grains) There used to be very very cheap after school activities and sports for all children. And of course, free health care and free university for those that didn't cause ideological problems. Of course I don't want to defend this system, but things are not only black and white.
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2016
  9. Sep 3, 2016 #8
    What about socialist countries then, if communist countries don't exist?
  10. Sep 3, 2016 #9
    What happened to the economic system of your country? Was it something that continued and prospered?

    Also, in regards to "stealing," what was the law or rule on that? Could anyone just take someone else's property without asking and no one has any problems with it?

    Thank you very much for sharing. This was very interesting!
  11. Sep 3, 2016 #10
    My country (Czechoslovakia) became socialist in 1948 and went through very rough era of stalinism in the 50's. This was very cruel time of tortures and executions for political offences. In the 60's there was something known as Prague Spring when people wanted "socialism with human face" and attempted to reform the system. However, on August 21st 1968 armies of 5 Soviet countries occupied our country and we were forced to again implement whole socialist philosophy in the process of normalisation. In 1989 there was velvet revolution when people spontaneously started protesting and the regime failed. The reasons why this went so peacefully is still a bit of a mystery. The Soviet soldiers definitely left in 1991.
    Many companies bankrupted because they couldn't withstand new capitalism and people became unemployed, resulting in poverty and so called "Hunger walleys" in certain regions. Slowly, foreign companies came here and employed people. The result is that there are only a few national Slovak companies and people work mainly for international companies. This is not percieved positively. These companies have tax benefits and much capital leaves the country.

    You asked about stealing. I probably translated it wrong. People didn't steal from other people, but stole material from work. For example, I already mentioned in the past that our garden and cottage was completely built from material stolen from the coal mine and construction of public pool. It was normal. You just gave a bottle of alcohol to the guard and could take anything you wanted. It was quite common and many people did that. The company just ordered the missing material and no one was punished unless they did it too often and too much. Of course, you had to at least try to hide what you did, doing it slowly and in small amounts.
    The meaning of that saying was that if you don't steal public property, your family will be poor.
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2016
  12. Sep 3, 2016 #11


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    Everyone knew it wasn't OK and everyone knew it was stealing. Yes, many people did it, no, not everyone did it. Yes, it was customary and so common state was unable to do much about it, but you could still get jailed for stealing.
  13. Sep 3, 2016 #12


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    Very interesting to hear your accounts, @Sophia!
  14. Sep 3, 2016 #13
    Yes, of course they knew that.
  15. Sep 3, 2016 #14
    If I understood her story correctly, the memes people told each other (privately) were to communicate that it was socially acceptable, that you wouldn't be judged as corrupt by your peers. In other words, it was O.K. They had been taken over by force and were under the thumb of a Soviet puppet government.
  16. Sep 3, 2016 #15
    As was pointed out communism was never achieved , if you would like to know more about what it was in theory then you need to read Karl Marx's and Lenin's books of which there are plenty.
    In short communism was the idea of a society which has given the full legal status of property to a legitimate government which then owns the means of production while people simply go to work , by working and building and using resources the government then fulfills it's budget and then from that money all the needs of every citizen are satisfied , so that in theory each one should and could take only as much as he needs for example food , a car , some materials etc.

    Communism is actually a very advanced idea of a future society and could work but then again it can't and never will because human nature is selfish and everyone even those who are highly educated and advanced in their thinking and can be considered intellectuals are selfish and self driven "animals" so in a world were each child from the very early days of his life wants to play with all the cars alone communism is impossible and so the idea behind it proved to be a failed one.

    If I should guess I would say the closest to communism at some points were the USSR , it surely was the most advanced hardcore socialist state to ever exist on this planet.It had everything from nuclear bombs to advanced science and technology and still it required a massive and sophisticated intelligence agency which controlled everything, to keep this giant structure together and keep it in check.
    The KGB probably is the best example of the all seeing eye or the conspiracy Illuminati in terms of absolute limitless control.
    But don't fool yourselves , apart from waiting in line for exotic fruits and other shortcomings life in the USSR wasn't exactly a nightmare , people still had sex enjoyed arts and music played sports and simply lived their lives.And yes, one of you mentioned it already, in terms of "green" food , food indeed was much healthier back then simply because the factories producing it gained no profit and were not interested in making it from cheaper ingredients and or toxic additives.

    Bottom line , there is no perfect system in a world filled with imperfect humans , there simply are ones that work better and then there are those that perform worse.

    @zoobyshoe , Well I would say it bit differently , back in the USSR people stole from work because those materials and goods were hard to get anywhere else no matter how much money you had and as funny as it may sound money was not the problem , everyone was rather well off in terms of money but the lack of products was the problem because the government didn't produce them so much as in capitalist economies were there are many more small private factories producing tons of stuff that overflow the market.
    See the parallels , now in capitalism people don't steal products because it's worthless and only lends you in jail , now people do various unethical stuff and at many times criminal activities to get money , you see now it's the other way around money is the thing everyone wants but only few have enough because the stores are full with merchandise so you only need cash and it's all yours.

    again bottom line , there are always shortcomings and deficits of something back then it was products now it's money , capitalism only works better because it's much better adjusted to the human nature and since most humans are capable enough of figuring out a way to get money capitalism works because there's always someone who pays for a product and so keeps the manufacturing going and the budget filled with taxes. But if one looks deeper we are noway near a fair game in terms of equal rights or pay or the rich paying as Hillary says " their fair share" etc etc.
  17. Sep 3, 2016 #16
    Exactly :-) these were memes, or some kind of ironic/black humour sayings spoken in private. They were not meant to describe the reality 100% accurately.
    They rather described general mood in the society.
  18. Sep 3, 2016 #17
    Great post, Salvador!
  19. Sep 3, 2016 #18
    The theory can really only be found in the works of Marx and Engels. From Lenin on, it was modified.
    Completely diagree. The Soviet Union was not a communist state. It was a Stalinist state. Stalin was an opportunistic sociopath who used communist/socialist rhetoric as part of his strategy for getting himself into power. He was completely disinterested in anyone's welfare except his own. Life under Stalin was an unmitigated nightmare, and his legacy lives on.
  20. Sep 3, 2016 #19
    Why they stole is a separate issue from whether or not it was O.K. (socially acceptable). Borek seemed ( I thought) to be concerned that Sophia's post could somehow be taken out of context to be an endorsement for stealing. That's mostly what I was trying to address: that her post has to be understood in context.
  21. Sep 3, 2016 #20
    Well @zoobyshoe if you want to have a deeper understanding of these things you cannot simply go and say the whole USSR was nothing but Stalinist etc.History is not just black and white.That's like saying that China was 100% Maoist in the times of Mao Zedong and that everyone in the US was all for segregation up until 1960's , you see how these statements are ignorant?
    Stalin was a brutal dictator and there were many like him only in lower ranks but he did made some very clever moves in WW2 and also pushed an aggressive industrialization across the USSR.
    In general the Soviet Union had multiple time periods under different general secretaries of the state.

    The question is not about whether Stalin was a sociopath or an opportunist , I think most politicians ever have been a bit delusional and with problems in their own family life after all it's not the hard working father of 4 and a loving wife who usually seeks world level fame and a job that deals with controlling the world wouldn't you agree? Many world leaders have been opportunistic crazies with often a failed marriage and a thirst for power , that's what gets them in those ranks in the first place , the question is could there have been another way to make an empire or a country great without killing millions of people and controlling millions more with a sophisticated and very hardcore state secret service.
    Surely it could have been done otherwise but probably not in a country like Russia and with an idea like that of Communism and Marx's and later Lenin's tuned materialistic socialism.

    Aldo remember than the actual count of people killed under the USSR is unknown and probably will forever be that way , also many western sources overestimate the numbers to serve their political agenda.
    Also Stalin's rule went through WW2 and many casualties were that of war with Germany.The rest were those who either were considered the enemies of state or who refused to join collective farms and or possessed some larger capital and were labeled "kulaks" or bourgeoisie and so automatically became enemies of the state.Sure there were other reasons for getting shot in the back of your head , helping the enemy in war , being singled out by a neighbor or a "friend" to the NKVD as a traitor etc etc.
    But contrary to public belief the brutal arrests and killings ended some years after WW2 , and basically everyone who wasn't a criminal or didn't plot something against the sate and knew how to keep shut about specific matters was fine.
  22. Sep 3, 2016 #21

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    Under capitalism, man exploits his fellow man. Under communism, it's the other way around.
  23. Sep 3, 2016 #22


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    Excerpt from Northwestern professor Gary Saul Morson in this month's New Criterion:
  24. Sep 3, 2016 #23


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    Look up Walter Duranty, writer for the NYT, and apologist for Stalin's Soviet Union.

    I agree with the tone of this quote from Gary Morson. Nazism is appropriately viewed as the evil it was, but for some reason, the horrors perpetrated under Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and others has never received the full opprobrium that they so richly deserve. These include the genocide by Stalin against the kulaks in Ukraine in the 1920s (~10,000,000 or more killed) and the deaths of perhaps 50 to 75 million people in the Cultural Revolution in the 60s and 70s in Mao's China.
  25. Sep 3, 2016 #24


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    Yes. Nobody starts a thread on "How does a fascist / Nazi economy work?" , with response posts asserting that there were never any true fascist economies because psychopaths took them over before they could reach their true potential. Not surprising I suppose given the media output. Hollywood has put out uncountable films demonizing the Nazis, and still has a taste for them. Hollywood also put out a pro-Soviet, pro-Stalin propaganda film at the behest of the US government during WWII.

  26. Sep 3, 2016 #25
    Stalin, The Glasnost Revelations
    by Walter Laqueur p.5

    26 years after the above writing, it is looking like Stalin's Ghost has still not been exorcised:

    More: https://www.rt.com/politics/328908-public-opinion-on-stalin-improves/


    In the early 1970s the west got its first good look at life under Stalin from Solzhenitsyn's book, The Gulag Archipelago.


    At the same time things have slowly eased up a fair amount there, there is a definite sense the whole former Soviet world is suffering from a long term case of post traumatic stress disorder brought on by Stalin's rule. Both the deeply ingrained fear and the brutality have been passed from one generation to the next: you can only teach your children what you know.

    While civilian life is better today in Russia, the modern Russian military has degenerated into a kind of prison or Gulag society where the older 'prisoners' abuse and bully the newer ones:


    I think this is the most serious threat to Russian society, the one that will keep Stalin's Ghost intact indefinitely: those criminal/military indoctrinees will eventually get out of the military and take that whole ethos with them back into civilian society. It will affect how they raise their families and what politics they subscribe to.
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