Does Communism need a State?

Moscow State University
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The Barefoot Bum takes a look at the concept of the State under Communism and discovers that there will be a need to retain some form of a state instrument, in order to both maintain balance so as to avoid negative effects from failed Prisoners Dilemma outcomes and also to have a central planning in order to provide long-term planning and guide complex manufacturing.

The later part of the argument, the need to have a central planning which allows complex processes to be guided has also been brought up by others, such as my recent argument with BadTux. In his case he brought it as an argument against central planning however.

The argument of the Barefoot Bum is based on the premise that very complex and long term plans are impossible to be achieved by a federated solution as these individuals and groups would be unable to plan beyond their short term interests and they would furthermore have an incentive to take actions which would be harming in the long-term, once their careers of lives have expired.

This however implies that a central planning comitee or a state would be able to foresee and plan such long term effects. I do not believe this is the case. If the individuals (who have the best knowledge about their sector) taking these actions are unable to foresee their results, then it’s unlikely that external viewers would. If they can foresee their results to have a long-term harming effect, then it means that others in their sector would be able to see that as well and raise the signs of alarm, and lacking the “greed” motive (which is impossible to retain under Communism), individuals would not have the incentive to turn a blind eye to such actions.

I believe that such planning, if possible to be achieved through a state, is possible to be achieved without a state as well, through federated methods. There is not reason why these experts need to monopolize the use of force and give the orders to the syndics. All of these can just as well be achieved by the syndics retaining their own experts or leader who also provide some valuable service to the manufacturing process. Those people can then simply get together when the need arises to arrange the long-term path they should take.

As to the argument of increased complexity, well there is nothing inherently impossible in it. When we have a very complex manufacturing process, requiring the cooperation of dozens of thousands of people (such as the creation of a computer) then the individual syndics of workers are perfectly capable of arranging it themselves. All they need to do is send committees (and now with the internet, even that is not necessary) to the syndic of the factory which produces the item they require and simply convince them that there is a benefit in providing these items to them, on a higher priority than others who request them. The committee of the receiving syndic would then allocate the items depending on the perceived need and benefits, through a democratic process.

Such was the case for example during the Russian Revolution, when the production of energy fell suddenly wholly to the hands of the Soviets which then managed to arrange the receiving of raw materials and maintenance items through the use of such committees to the Soviets of the Coal producing plant etc.

But there is also a large negative inherent in the use of a state apparatus. The people running central committees and the like, by the nature of their work would be separated from the workforce and thus be away form the needs of the proletariat. Furthermore they would be able to wield power and it is widely known that power corrupts. People in these positions would have an incentive to fortify their position and also to expand their power. This is the biggest failing of a state apparatus, the tendency to become entrenched and corrupted.

Marx I believe recognised this and this is why he gave the socialist state the very explicit task of simply protecting the proletariat from a counter-revolution. As this threat went away, the role of the state diminishes until it is not required anymore when the society has stabilized. The withering of the state. By giving the state extra legitimate duties, you are giving it a reason to continue its existence and a ledge from which to expand its power (“If as a state we’re necessary now to manage the complex long-term planning, in the future, where the planning is even more complex, we are needed even more. So give us some more power”)

If indeed long-term complex planning cannot be achieved without a state by a newly born communist society, then I would be in favour of removing the state and getting back to a less technological world in the short term. As long as the living humans were able to secure food and shelter, things which require only the lowest technology, then we could start from the basics and then work out the system from which to produce the more advanced items. The knowledge to do so would still be there and we would simply have to innovate in the field of communist logistics. Among thousands of brilliant minds searching for a workable solution to this problem, I’m certain there wouldn’t be too long until the system required was discovered.

A small step back would certainly be a small price to pay to guarantee that the basis of a classless society is preserved. And I even doubt that such a step back would even be necessary.

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14 thoughts on “Does Communism need a State?

  1. I think you should clarify some of your terminology. A "state" is not simply an organisational committee: it is a tool controlled by a specific social class to impose its will on other social classes. When Marx speaks of workers seizing the state, he means seizing control of the tools of class oppression. When he speaks of the state "withering away", he means that once social classes are abolished, there will be no need for class oppression. This has nothing to do with organisation: a socialist world can organise itself democratically as it wishes, but this does not make said organisation a "state".

    1. The definition of the state in Marxism is a generally large subject which has created the largest controversy (to which one could attribute the schism between Communism and Anarchism). I used the word in the form that I understood TBB was using it as well, who seems to be using it as an organisational committee as well.

      But I will agree with you that when talking about the "state" perhaps it's better if very explicit definitions are provided in order to avoid equivocations.

      1. I explicitly disambiguate the two uses of "state" in my post, and I assert (perhaps mistakenly) that Marx intended the "withering away of the state" in the stronger sense. Regardless of what Marx intended, the stronger sense of the withering away of the state is a live argument.

        I don't think the withering away of the state in the weaker sense as an instrument of class dominance is at all controversial among communists

  2. I explicitly disambiguate the two uses of "state" in my post, and I assert (perhaps mistakenly) that Marx intended the "withering away of the state" in the stronger sense. Regardless of what Marx intended, the stronger sense of the withering away of the state is a live argument.

    I don't think among communists that the withering away of the state in the weaker sense as an instrument of class dominance is at all controversial.

  3. It's not clear precisely what you mean by "Greed" when you say, "[greed] is impossible to retain under Communism." People tend to act in their own perceived individual self-interest. Even if people are rational, having good epistemically supported understanding of objective reality, they will act according to their rational self-interest. I want communism because it's in my own self-interest, and its in the self-interest of everyone who cannot claw their way into the top 7-10%, the bourgeoisie.

    The problem is not that people are "greedy" in the sense of acting in their own self-interest; the problem is that capitalism institutionalizes the value of acting in one's own immediate, material self-interest, and institutionalizes the negative value of acting with regard to mutual self-interest.

    My argument is not that federated decision-making cannot determine their mutual self-interest. My argument is that in Prisoner's Dilemma situations, two or more parties must coercively bind themselves to acting in their mutual self-interest to escape the "rational" Nash Equilibrium of mutual defection. The problem is not primarily about information, but about motivation.

    The only penalty that federated agents can impose on each other is their own defection, the "Tit-for-Tat" solution to the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. But when the lag between one player's defection and the retaliation exceeds the agents' lifetime, then it's difficult to see how this solution could be operative.

  4. People tend to act in their own perceived individual self-interest.

    I consider that there are two types of self-interest we can talk about. Interest of the self (IOS), and interest for the self (IFS). The first one is axiomatically defined as anything a person does. An act I do, I do because the result of it will be of psychological benefit to me, in some way.

    The later type is defined as anything a person does so that he gets a tangible benefit for himself. Wether that is more money, power etc.

    So while all IFS persons act for their IOS, All IOS is not IFS (ie a doctor working for the poor).

    Greed is an interest for the self which is unequenchable. It cannot be sustained in Communism because accumulation of power is impossible and accumulation of wealth will be problematic to say the least.

    You are not talking about greed in your later arguments but about IOS. But other than that, I agree.

    1. I'm not sure the distinction between IOS and IFS makes sense. All acts fulfill emotional desires: we eat food because we feel hungry, not because we physically need food (although we obviously evolved the emotional need to satisfy the physical need). Or as Alonzo Fyfe puts it, the gazelle flees the lion not because it doesn't want to get eaten but because it fears the lion.

      I'm not sure there's a distinction between "tangible" and "intangible" benefits except to in that the fulfillment of a desire might have more or less connection to the physical world: some desires can be fulfilled just by thinking, others just by speaking and listening, others, such as the desire to quickly move between Oakland and San Francisco, might require massive effort by thousands of people to fulfill.

      I think a better way to distinguish desires is by their social implication: some desires are mutually fulfillable: satisfying my desire also satisfies another's desire; other desires are exploitative: satisfying my desire entails another person's desires will go unsatisfied.

      It's possible that given enough time, people will simply evolve not to have exploitative desires. But… for this to happen, there will have to be real social selection pressures.

  5. Well, most communists consider the state as only an instrument of class dominance. That is why when class division is gone, so must the state.

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