Anarchist communism just a castle in the air


By Edward Blight

Ambitious and idealistic young people want to change and improve the world. One of the concepts these young people sometimes believe in is anarchist communism. A concept which on the surface looks like it can improve society, but which practically simply does not work.

Anarchist communism represents an idea in which society is made free from capitalism and from government control. This idea forms part of Karl Marx’s dream world in which the government dissolves itself in the later stages of the communist revolution. This dissolution takes place after the government took full control of everything in the production process and consequently redistributed everything.

The ideal of wanting to create a society in which the state and inequality no longer exist is a theoretical dream. There is no evidence that this can be realized in practice.

In addition, the current capitalist system is simply too established and successful. It has been around for centuries for good reasons. This established system lifts thousands of people worldwide out of poverty every day. To expect that humanity will simply abandon the certainty, security, and prosperity that is linked to this is unrealistic.

All it will be able to overthrow is a communist revolution in which the masses reject the capitalist system. What is the possibility of a communist revolution in which we simply throw away the capitalist system and everything that comes with it? The answer is again, in my view, that it is not envisaged. As already explained, the current system creates certainty, security, and prosperity. Why would we want to get rid of it?

Where the concept of anarchist communism collapses and becomes dangerous is in the transition phase from capitalism to communism. Firstly, there must be a communist revolution in which the capitalist system is overthrown. According to communist thinkers, all businesses and all assets must be placed under the control of the state, which will then assume control and management of everything.

Revolutions are disruptive and dangerous. It creates environments in which violence and famine thrive, while doing much harm to people and society. For example, people who have more than other people’s possessions will have to be taken to be divided. According to communist thinkers, this state will gain significantly more power to make the process of redistribution happen. Ironically, this creates more inequality.

From this point the concept moves from unrealistic to ridiculous. Once the communist state has taken everything and redistributed resources on communist lines, the state must dissolve itself. The individuals in the state must therefore remove themselves from their own positions of power and become ordinary citizens.

After the redistribution of resources, the politicians will dissolve the state. This action assumes that politicians are so good-natured that they will remove themselves from their positions of power for the benefit and betterment of society. If there is no state, society will be anarchic in nature.

The above process assumes something about human nature that is totally unrealistic. It is even difficult to find examples in history of governments that themselves decided to get rid of their power. The theoretical foundation of anarchist communication not only intrudes against human nature, but also creates unrealistic expectations about the good nature of people and more specifically of politicians.

What will happen instead is that the state will redistribute to satisfy the politicians and simply stay in power forever. Something even more worrying is that communist systems ban political oppositions, meaning that individuals in such states have no counterbalances to call upon. Checks in the political system are critical to keeping people honest and accountable.

South Africa’s ruling party has a lot of sympathy for communism, and starts from the premise that the state must play an intrusive role in the lives of all citizens. The problem with this, however, is that almost everything the ruling party touches seems to be negatively affected. Today it is difficult to find a public service that is not corrupt, ineffective, or simply not functioning. Do we really want to expose a dynamic private sector to such a system?

Anarchist communism is simply just a modern hiding of the old concepts of communism itself, based on the idea that one should focus on anarchism rather than communism. These concepts have been tried before and failed miserably. Capitalist states dominate their communist counterparts because their abilities to allocate resources effectively are better.

It becomes clear that anarchist communism and the ideas underlying it are far removed from the insight into human psychology and economics. This system also relies on assumptions that are unrealistic and even ridiculous, and expects humanity to exchange a working system for a theoretical system that is not feasible in practice.

It is not that the capitalist system is perfect, but on the face of it, it is certainly more beneficial than communism.

  • Edward Blight is a lecturer in economics at Akademia.