Does communism stiffle individualism?

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Misunderstanding Communism
Peasants having lunch in a commune.

The most scary concept for anyone who considers communism seems to be the idea that it requires the total submission of the individual will for the good of the country, the state or the party. This misconception is happily perpetuated by the capitalist propaganda machine who gives you such great images as people having to wear the same clothes, sing the same songs and share the same toothbrush.

Indeed such a thought is terrifying enough that it’s enough for the propaganda machine to label anything it does not wish to happen as communism and start rolling out those images to scare the public to the path they want, as is what happened with the first attempt of US for universal healthcare when Hillary was pushing for it.

But not only is Communism not against the individual but it is the only real celebration of individualism possible and It aims to achieve this through positive freedom. Under communism people are supposed to have the liberty and the capability to do whatever they wish, as long as this does not inhibit the liberty and capability of others to do the same.

Now I can just imagine the anarcho-capitalists (or “libertarians” as the US Americans like to call them) jumping up to cry foul. They consider that true freedom is when one has just the liberty to do something, as long as they do not infringe on the liberty of others. But this is simply the illusion of freedom. Are you free when you can wear any type of cloth you like but you can’t afford anything more than plain brown?

No. Negative freedom is simply the freedom for some to reduce the freedom of others through non-violent means.

Think of the freedom Communism provides as the freedom which exists between a couple. Both have a voluntary relationship within which they agree to limit their freedom in order so that one is not degraded for the benefit of the negative freedom of the other.  Thus, while they both have the freedom to wear whatever clothes they want, have their own possessions and totally different taste, they do not have the freedom to avoid doing their share of the chores, for then, the burden falls on the other and the relationship is strained. But no one would ever consider such a limitation as an affront to liberty.

And this is the kind of limitation Communism demands. It requires that people voluntary do their part of societal “chores” simply so that all the burden does not fall to the few unlucky. It requires that people do not take actions which reduce the freedom of everyone else. It only demands that people be equal, not identical.

Other than that, it is of no consequence how each person chooses to live his own life. It is exactly because under communism you do not have to limit yourself in any way in order to survive that people are truly free. Aren’t you jealous of all those small startup companies whos employees get to work whenever and however they want? Imagine that not only every job was like that, but you also had the freedom to do exactly the kind of work you want, without worrying if it’s economically feasible.

Having said all that, it is worth pointing out that there is a system that does restrict your freedom. This system not only requires that you do a kind of work that you do not like in order to survive, but it frequently requires you to conform to the wishes of the company to a large degree. From the demand for a suit&tie, to personal styling to outright uniforms. This is not only demanded in work but can even start as early as school years. Not only that, but it breeds a uniform culture where every artist ends up sounding the same and the only new things to wear are what others tell you in the form of trends.

This system is, of course Capitalism. The system where true freedom is reserved only for the rich.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/BlueLinchpin BlueLinchpin

    Definitely the best post on this subject by you so far. It's incredibly difficult to explain to people whose minds are inside the 'capitalist box' to realize how Communism does anything but take your individuality away. Great read.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    I think the one on stagnation is my best one but you'll have to wait until Wednesday for that :)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/BlueLinchpin BlueLinchpin

    Damn! You mean that annoying "But Communism won't create any progress!" 'argument'? Would love to hear a good counter-argument, can't wait. I have a hard time explaining that one myself.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    It's easier than you think ;)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    You assume wrong.

    Do you need laws to do your house chores?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chungyc Yoo

    I might do my own house chores out of my own free will, but I sure as heck won't do my neighbor's. ;)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    I'm not asking you to do that, I'm simply giving a relevant example of how this can work. In the same way that in a family you have house chores that you agree to share, in a commune you have societal chores that you agree to share. This allows each person to put only a small amount of time to necessary work that nobody likes to do and keep things fair.

  • Prometheus

    "Do you need laws to do your house chores? "

    No, I do them so the house doesn't fall apart around me.

    If you're proposing a voluntary commune, then I would say good luck to you. My objection would be to a government with laws, and men with guns to enforce those laws, forcing people to agree to do societal chores.

    Slightly off point, how would a commune prevent leeches from benefiting from the group, but not contributing to the community? Personally I would kick em out after a certain number of infractions.

    How would limited resources be applied? Or who would decided how to apply those resources? Would there be a price system to communicate supply and demand of goods and services? Or would some central bureaucracy decide what and how much to produce?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    If you're proposing a voluntary commune, then I would say good luck to you. My objection would be to a government with laws, and men with guns to enforce those laws, forcing people to agree to do societal chores.

    That was never my proposal. I simply wish this voluntary commune to span the majority of the world. In short: communism.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    how would a commune prevent leeches from benefiting from the group, but not contributing to the community?

    I tackled this more in another part of this series but in short it would be mostly societal pressure and fear of ostracism (or expulsion as you said it).

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    How would limited resources be applied? Or who would decided how to apply those resources? Would there be a price system to communicate supply and demand of goods and services? Or would some central bureaucracy decide what and how much to produce?

    Too many questions all at once and a comment section is not the perfect place to go into depth in all of them. I suggest you read some basics of the Marxist theory to see how things can work. I suggest you start by checking out this leaflet

  • Prometheus

    I'm a big fan of voluntary cooperation, so I don't have any moral objection to that.

    I am interested to hear your thoughts on the issues I brought up in in my previous post. Could a voluntary communal society deal with such things? Who would make the decisions for the group?

    Most of human history was spent in small groups like you propose, but as our numbers grew we developed nation-states. I suspect for greater cooperation and efficiency.

  • Prometheus

    I acknowledge I don't fully understand Marxism. So I will check out that leaflet, and read more of your blog.

    Like I said before, I have absolutely no problem with any voluntary, non-violent society. But I do think that capitalism provides greater prosperity for all. ( Might be some contention on that point ;)

    I look forward to future discussions.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    Most of human history was spent in small groups like you propose, but as our numbers grew we developed nation-states. I suspect for greater cooperation and efficiency.

    Indeed, most human history was communal in gentile groups. But nation states did not develop because we grew. States were created once people started splitting into classes of haves and have-nots in order to protect the society from imploding in violence. Nations developed only recently in order to avoid the internal class struggle. They did that by exporting the lower class to other nations and as such, instead of proletariat and bourgeois within a nation, you get a whole nation of bourgeois

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    I am interested to hear your thoughts on the issues I brought up in in my previous post. Could a voluntary communal society deal with such things? Who would make the decisions for the group?

    Certainly but as I said you questions are too many and too deep. I can present simplified versions which you'd be able to punch holes through in no-time and then I'd be forced to have a deep conversation that unfortunately I don't have time for. It is much easier for both of us if you read about it as I have done and then we can discuss concrete objections.

    Alternatively, stick around and feel free to criticize any posts on these issues I write. then we can discuss each in turn and be within the subject.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    But I do think that capitalism provides greater prosperity for all. ( Might be some contention on that point ;)

    Some?! Don't get me started :)

    I look forward to future discussions.

    Excellent. I hope I will make you think and challenge ;)

  • Prometheus

    How exactly do you require someone to voluntary do their part of societal “chores”? Laws I would assume, but then it's no longer voluntary. Do you see the inconsistency?

  • http://riseuprochester.org Andrew Slominski

    "Under communism people are supposed to have the liberty and the capability to do whatever they wish, as long as this does not inhibit the liberty and capability of others to do the same."

    What is the liberty to do what you wish if you can't personally benefit from your endeavors?

    Also, you continue to rebut your detractors by saying that communism is not rule by force. If they didn't have to force anyone to do anything in the Soviet Union, then why did so many millions of people die from "natural causes" in Siberia and the Gulags?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    First, Communism is not the USSR

    Second, do not believe everything the propaganda machine tells you about USSR and do not judge the USSR by the standards of capitalist nations who had a 400 years imperialist lead.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    What is the liberty to do what you wish if you can't personally benefit from your endeavors?

    If your benefit can only come at a reduction of the welfare of another person, then you need to seek other forms of benefit

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chungyc Yoo

    Yeah, but Prometheus' point is how would it be enforced? The families I know do it by punishing the offender in various ways, such as grounding or withholding allowances or not doing their own share of the work or divorce (sad that sometimes arguments over chores can start escalating to other things and end up that way, but anyways …), largely based on the somewhat arbitrary whims of the authority figures. I'm not sure what would be analogous in a commune …

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    Social pressure. Fear of ostracism is a very powerful deterrent for an extremely social animal like a human.
    Even in working families, without any children (who are moved by authority) the enforcement is done through family pressure. Namely either the fear of divorce or separation, or in better working conditions, the wish to allow your partner have less stuff to do. The second way, doing your chores because you do not wish to make your neighbours bear the weight, can also work in a commune as well, but I this is I believe a far goal of Socialism which can only be achieved after enough generations have learned to live within it and the benefits such a desire has.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/chungyc Yoo

    Social pressure by itself is not enough. I am not going to become a Christian because of social pressure, and many corporations aren't benevolent organizations despite the social pressure. The reason social pressure works is because they also entail other sorts of pressure, so what are these other pressures supposed to be in communism?

    At least I have a pretty good idea what they are in almost every other kind of society: force and capital. But if communism is supposed to eschew these, then I have almost no idea what's supposed to serve the same function.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    I believe that social pressure is enough. You're not becoming a Christian because it's a belief and these cannot be shaped by social pressure. However going to church every sunday can really be achieved for you by social pressure. If you have the choice of going to church or being alone for the rest of your life (no internet escape either), you bet your arse you'd be there with suit and tie in no-time. Unless you're one of the very few special individuals who can do without human contact.

    The reason why corporations are not benevolent is not because social pressure does not work, but because they're not human.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    Your attempts to blog and comment are your need for social interaction though.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    And fortunately or unfortunately, every single corporation is still entirely controlled and operated by humans

    It is not however acting like a human because there are rules. The people who control the corporation cannot make the ethical choices they may like because they will simply be replaced from the shareholders. In order for them to do the ethical thing, they need to convince the shareholder that it's also the profitable thing

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chungyc Yoo

    No, it's not.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chungyc Yoo

    OK … whatever you say …

    (Why am I surrounded by people who aren't particularly altruistic and don't yield much to social pressure even in things that don't have rules? Unlucky me …)

  • http://dbzer0.com db0

    Then why do you do it? Why do you comment on others and seek discussion. Why do you put your thoughts on a public podium?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chungyc Yoo

    That's none of your business. I'm not going talk about things that personal.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    As you wish

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chungyc Yoo

    I guess I'm one of the very few special individuals who can do without human contact, then, who blogs and comments despite his intense dislike of human interaction. *shrugs*

    And fortunately or unfortunately, every single corporation is still entirely controlled and operated by humans, and yet social pressure seems to have limits on how much it can influence these very people. Makes me wonder if things would be worse if corporations were machine controlled: would they be devoid of the selfishness and greed of humans and be fair and objective like some science fiction authors like to portray, or would they be even more ruthless exploiters like some other science fiction authors like to portray?

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    Under communism not only do you have as much resources as you have under capitalism, but those are distributed based on need, not profit. The resources we have are enough to fulfill the only needs we have, Food and shelter, many times over. The rest are not "needs", they are luxuries.

    It is in people's best interest to cooperate on "chores" that nobody likes to do. This way the chore is spread thinly and everyone has to do a small part of it instead of lumping it onto one person as in under Capitalism. There's nothing romantic about it, rather it's simple reasoning.

  • GokuEn

    It is not the first time I hear about legal systems that work on ostracism and social pressure. But the last time I heard about them were from an Anarcho-Capitalist… The idea that a commune can enforce law and chores by pressure and fear of ostracism is very similar, I think, the way coorporations work (fear of ostracism would be the equivalent of being fired). You might argue that in a commune no one would be forced to do certain tasks, but as the commune has limited resouces and a enourmous quantity of needs, some people have to be forced to do chores they dont want to. Therefore I fail to see the point of joining such commune over a corporation. The idea that everybody is going to do whatever the commune needs out of simple love of is too romantic to be true. The idea of forcing people to do what the commune needs (even if its trough ostracism instead of violence) is a blatant attack on Liberty and I hope no one here wants such ideal.

  • GokuEn

    I hope I got the second part of the argument wrong. I understood that you are arguing for a community with no job specialization. If it was that what you argued, then again you forget that it is production which enriches people and job specialization increases production. Thus a job-specialized commune will produce much more than one that does not. The problem rises: how to keep people doing the tasks they are required to do without forcing them?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    These are not needs in the sense that I mean it though. When I say needs, I mean what a human "needs" to survive. And the only things that fit this description is food and shelter. Planes, Computer etc increase our production in various ways and they would certainly not exist without Capitalism BUT, I am not arguing that Capitalism should never have existed. Capitalism is a necessary step before we reach Communism, in the same way that Feudalism was needed before Capitalism.

    All these things we have now, they are luxuries in regards to what we need to live, we can certainly sacrifice a lot of them in order to fulfill the real needs of all humans. Food and shelter.
    Once we have that, we can then start increasing our luxuries, and we will.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    You got it wrong. I did not call for no job specialization, but if there are some jobs that nobody wants to do, the society needs to find a way to do them. The non-authoritarian possibilities are.
    A) for a non-specialized job, everyone chips in. With the number of humans we have, even a full sewer cleaning of a city would not take more than one day if everyone worked on it. Possibly much less.
    B) for specialized positions that nobody wants, more benefits could be attached to them that do not disrupt egalitarianism. Examples include less working hours, extra kudos from the society etc.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    You got it wrong. I did not call for no job specialization, but if there are some jobs that nobody wants to do, the society needs to find a way to do them. The non-authoritarian possibilities are.
    A) for a non-specialized job, everyone chips in. With the number of humans we have, even a full sewer cleaning of a city would not take more than one day if everyone worked on it. Possibly much less.
    B) for specialized positions that nobody wants, more benefits could be attached to them that do not disrupt egalitarianism. Examples include less working hours, extra kudos from the society etc.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    You got it wrong. I did not call for no job specialization, but if there are some jobs that nobody wants to do, the society needs to find a way to do them. The non-authoritarian possibilities are.
    A) for a non-specialized job, everyone chips in. With the number of humans we have, even a full sewer cleaning of a city would not take more than one day if everyone worked on it. Possibly much less.
    B) for specialized positions that nobody wants, more benefits could be attached to them that do not disrupt egalitarianism. Examples include less working hours, extra kudos from the society etc.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    You got it wrong. I did not call for no job specialization, but if there are some jobs that nobody wants to do, the society needs to find a way to do them. The non-authoritarian possibilities are.
    A) for a non-specialized job, everyone chips in. With the number of humans we have, even a full sewer cleaning of a city would not take more than one day if everyone worked on it. Possibly much less.
    B) for specialized positions that nobody wants, more benefits could be attached to them that do not disrupt egalitarianism. Examples include less working hours, extra kudos from the society etc.

  • GokuEn

    As new tecnologies appear, the easier it becomes to fullfil the dream of equality. What you are arguing is that destroying capitalism now and redistibuting resources will asure that every inhabitant in the planet will have food and shelter. But what if you destroy it a 100 years from now? Then the capitalist machine would of had produced more wealth to redistribute!
    Now, what if you dont abolish it? Then the creation of more and more wealth will enrich the lower classes too. Not at the same rate of course, but their standard of living will increase. As empirical proof: todays workers, even in third world countries such as mine, have access to more and more "luxuries" such TVs and Nintendo's even if these objects were conceived as luxuries exclusive to the bourgeoisie in the first place.
    When Marx wrote his essays, he thought capitalism was already in decline and the increased gap between rich and poor will give birth to a revolution… But more than a century after that, capitalism subsists as it enrich everybody.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    This is a common dream of the Capitalist, that some kind of gadget will save the day. And it is an understandable dream as without a way for Capitalism to expand, it necessarily feeds upon itself. And even when it does find a new thing to expand to, it simply follows one of its classic cycles of booms and slumps, destroying the lives of millions.

    However, unless the dream gadget is some kind of star-trek replicator, the gadget will only forestall the exploitation increasing. The problem is that Capitalism does not gave a problem because it does not produce enough, but because it overproduces and profit cannot be realized anymore. We already have gadgets to feed 12x times the earth population but we do not because there's no profit in feeding the poor.

    And there will always be poor for which there will be no profit to take care of. Thus, there will always be inequality.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

    As empirical proof: todays workers, even in third world countries such as mine, have access to more and more "luxuries" such TVs and Nintendo's even if these objects were conceived as luxuries exclusive to the bourgeoisie in the first place.

    Your empirical proof is about to collapse. The only reason why it seems like it was a proof of how Capitalism works is because since the 70s we were in a series of booms that have finally created an ultraboom which has now popped. Within two years all this empirical proof will have become the empirical proof of the opposite.

    Yes, Marx did indeed expect Capitalism to stop but he could not foresee the rapid increase in "gadgetry" which managed to forestall this event. However his only flaw was that he put the end of Capitalism too soon. The rest of his theory could just as well be describing modern capitalism.

  • Guest

    "Under communism people are supposed to have the liberty and the capability to do whatever they wish, as long as this does not inhibit the liberty and capability of others to do the same."

    I'll join your communist revolution as long as I can sit and paint beautiful pictures of sand and sea. I will supply wonderful art for your home, and in return, you will, unfortunately have to til the earth and grow wheat for me. There will be no price mechanism, so we will both share our respective outputs equally. You get half my paintings, I get half your food.

    You sir, need to pull your head out of your ass and learn something about human nature instead of dreaming of utopia.

  • http://dbzer0.com db0

    Human Nature undoubtedly favours communism rather than any other system. As for you sitting and painting the sea, well, go right ahead. As long as your art finds an audience and there's enough people to produce food for all, I don't see why not. Or are you also mad at the people who sit all day and paint the sand and sea currently?

  • Ignoranceisnotbliss

    This must be solely based on personal opinion….there is no research to back or corroborate your preposterous ideas and idealogical nonsense. I currently live in a formed communist country and I can tell you there is no choices as to where you live, what you drive and what your occupation is, so where is the liberty in that??

    • http://dbzer0.com db0

      Well FORMER “communist” countries are currently CAPITALIST, so there's your lack of choice

    • http://dbzer0.com db0

      Well FORMER “communist” countries are currently CAPITALIST, so there's your lack of choice

  • Marc

    Read a few of your blogs and…wow, you manage to word your arguments perfectly. I’ve been reading up and studying communism recently and found your posts incredibly helpful.

    I find it difficult to argue with many people I know about the good of communism as they are simply too ignorant to understand even some basic facts (e.g the USSR was NOT communist), and have spent too long eating up the usual capitalist propaganda.

    Your blogs are fantastic, keep it up.