"Communism" vs communism

Someone on hacker news replied to a comment I wrote where I linked to The Machine. They said, in a nutshell, that Karl Marx already advocated for communism and it didn’t work, and so the future I advocate for is unlikely to come. I wanted to share my reply to him here, as I think it captures well what I mean when I talk about “communism” (reboot, The Machine, etc) versus “Communism” (the violent governments from the 20th century).

I think Marx’s analysis of capitalism is over emphasized as a cause of the murderous regimes we saw under the “Communist” label in the 20th century. Stalin wanted control of the people, and he knew that Marx was very popular among the people at the time. But while I’m not an expert on all of these things, I don’t think Marx advocated for the violent methods we saw used by those brutal regimes who used his name. And remember, Capitalist nations like the US were violent too (millions killed in Vietnam, and for what exactly?), but we don’t blame Adam Smith or David Ricardo for those horrors.

When I do mention communism, I mean an agreement between people where some good or service it shared amongst them without any individual or individuals laying specific claim to more than their fair share. Families operate this way with food for example, and employers like Google share food freely this way too. I’m advocating that we build robots that are owned by huge groups of people who then share the rewards of the machines freely.

So it’s “communism” because certain things are shared by the community, but people can still have their own private property and make other choices about what they do. It’s a libertarian, non-violent non-coercive way to achieve a sort of voluntary communism for only life’s most important goods (as decided by the people who choose to participate in these sharing schemes).

I hope it’s clear that when I say “communism” I pretty much mean “sharing”. There was a lot of violence in the 20th century that in my mind had a lot to do with concentrating and seizing power, and Marx was the poster child for so many of those regimes. But I don’t advocate centralization of power (I explicitly advocate for decentralization of power) and I do advocate voluntary non-violent radical social experimentation.

To read more about my thoughts here, please see one view on how a voluntary communist society could be arranged, from a technical perspective (as told by an exasperated new resident of such a place) in The Corporation.

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Do you self-identify as a communist?

I think breaking down communism to its core value and purpose, as “an agreement between people where some good or service is shared…” is very helpful to frame this thought, so thank you! In theory, communism sounds like it could be a rewarding system both materially and relationally. But I think communist countries have missed the mark by punishing deviancy, that is, some people’s desire to exclude themselves from the larger group. That’s where it seems like communist organizations (the big ones in the news that I know of at least) react with violence and oppression to get everyone to conform. How do you think a communist group should react and respond to people wishing to separate themselves from the larger group and operate independently?

@billyzelsnack No, I self identify as libertarian socialist (a more formal term for the often misunderstood term “Anarchist”). I think people should be free to live without coercion including the implicit coercion of a class based society. At least, that strikes me as a better way to live than the status quo for a lot of people, but it also seems to me almost impossible to actually achieve. I feel as though Noam Chomsky described Anarchism well by saying it is a never ending process by which you examine structures of power, challenge them, and dismantle any that can’t be justified. When talking about this, he acknowledges that some structures of power are justified - a parent grabbing hold of their child who was trying to run in to the street - but that our current societies have far more structures of power than he believes are necessary.

@davissallen Hey friend! I think any group that cannot survive without forcing people to be members should reevaluate the value of their organization. If you have to force people to be part of your group, it probably sucks and you should try harder to make the group actually something people want to join. If you know that what you are doing has value to some people, seek out those people. Let people try it, and if some people don’t like it that’s fine - just don’t force them to follow your ways. There are limits to this - if the neighboring town has enslaved half of the people and is killing anyone who doesn’t submit to the will of the controlling class, you may decide it is worth using force to stop them. Of course if someone else doesn’t like your culture and doesn’t want to assimilate, but the people inside the society seem okay, you should probably leave them be or consider voluntary ways of introducing the parts of your culture you think people would like. But no culture should be forced on people that don’t want it, unless again those people are oppressing others in a coercive manner. In general, I see it as critical that people should be free to make their own choices about what works best for them. Yes, people can make mistakes, but I think it’s better that people make mistakes for themselves, rather than an outsider forcing something on someone that turns out to be a mistake.

And to be clear, I’m not saying any of these things are easy to determine. It’s really hard to figure out the most just way to operate and I think that’s the challenge we have. But I believe we should try even though there is no clear answer. If we don’t defend individual freedom, others will be more than happy to use their power to interfere with your life and the lives of others, and they will try to solidify the power structures that benefit themselves at the expense of the masses.