Anarcho-Communism: Impossible Dilemmas

Anarcho-communism seeks to merge two distinct philosophies into one socio-economic system. The two philosophies, for the purpose of this article, can be defined as follows:

  1. Anarchism: (literally: “no rulers”) the rejection of government and belief that society ought to be organized voluntarily.
  2. Communism: (literally: “common”, “universal”) the ordering of society where the means of production are owned collectively, and good are distributed by the maxim “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

Rather than beat around the bush, I’ll state this explicitly: anarcho-communism is its own reductio ad absurdum. Should an anarcho-communist society be established, it would either cease to be anarchic, communistic, or both. This article will explain how by exposing anarcho-communism’s three fatal flaws.

Fatal Flaw One: Exploiting the Workers

Let us travel in our mind’s eye to the anarcho-communist land of Marxistan. Here, the revolution is complete and the proletariat have unseated the bourgeoisie, and the power has been given back to the people! Now the revolutionaries have returned home to live free of their corporate overlords in peace. How could this glorious display of the victory of communism sow the seeds of worker exploitation in Marxistan?

Let’s imagine that comrade Murray has been reading too much Hoppe and now thinks he’s some kind of entrepreneur who is entitled to keep his own private property, and do what he pleases with the fruits of his labor. He decides that he no longer wishes to remain in the commune. There’s only one problem: Murray is a farmer. “His” house is an old family farm, and he along with some other workers harvest grain for the bread lines – err… makers, bread makers. The field he works is rather large, so when he starts talking about it being his property, there’s cause for concern.

So Murray wants to leave the commune. Obviously, if Marxistan is a voluntary society, he must be allowed to leave (otherwise, we would have a different issue, addressed below). The question is what he will be allowed to keep as a person who is no longer in the commune? Given that anarcho-communism is to be a voluntary system, if he were to simply withdraw his home and farm from the commune we see the first manifestation of the first of our fatal flaws.

If members of the commune can simply chose to leave, and in the absence of an agent of force (which would be statism, see below) preventing the leaving party from taking with them what possessions they deem theirs, the remaining members of the commune are exploited. They are exploited in the sense that they all consent to the redistribution of goods, while one individual can simply take more than their fair share, which in turn lowers the available goods available for redistribution. Without a mechanism of force keeping either Murray or that which he would otherwise take with him in the commune, those who do remain in the commune can potentially be exploited by anyone who chooses to leave the commune. Given that one of communism’s chief goals is to prevent the exploitation of the workers, it seems odd that the very nature of an anarcho-communist society would allow such easy exploitation.

Over time, as more individuals in Marxistan see their comrades leave, and they grow poorer and poorer, they come to realize that their particular brand of communism – rather than failing – just wasn’t “real” communism. As such, with what remaining strength they have left, they pack up their “personal” property and head to our next fabled land.

Fatal Flaw Two: State Communism

Welcome to Castroland! Just like Marxistan, Castroland has had a successful communist revolution, but unlike Marxistan, Castroland understands that there needs to be some ways to keep the workers from being exploited. After seeing what happened to their exploited brothers, the Castrolanders have a few changes they’re going to make in order to ensure a more prosperous society for all workers.

So in this society, Randy has been reading too much Rothbard. He too decides to leave the commune. Murray packs up his things, loads his truck with enough food stores to get him by for a while, and begins to drive in the direction of Ancapistan.

Unluckily for Randy, he is stopped before he can get too far. He is informed by his fellow citizens that he is not allowed to leave Castroland! Randy informs them that his association with Castroland is voluntary, and he no longer wishes to continue that association. However, after the fall of Marxistan, the citizens of Castroland do not wish to be exploited. Randy is told that he must go back. Since Randy has no other option, he returns home.

At this point, we must understand that Castroland is no longer an anarchy. Should Randy have made further attempts to leave Castroland, he would have either succeeded in doing so, exposing Castroland to the same exploitation as Marxistan. The only other option is to forcibly keep Randy in Castroland. This is already statist, but the problem goes deeper…

At this point, we have two questions we must ask as to what Randy’s fate is going to be given that Randy cannot leave:

  1. Will he still be made to contribute?
  2. Will he still receive benefits from the commune?

If he will both contribute and receive benefits, he’s essentially in the same position as he was before, except he cannot leave. This makes Randy a prisoner. Keeping an individual imprisoned requires aggression against them, thus making Randy subservient to some ruler over him. In this, Castroland has become a communist state rather than an anarchist commune.

If he will be made to contribute, but receive no benefits, the punishment for his desire to leave is becoming a slave. To make Randy a slave, there must be some agent aggressing against him, which again makes Castroland a communist state rather than an anarchist commune. Additionally, Randy is still a member of the commune, and thus his exploitation in this regard causes him to exploited, which brings us back to the problems discussed above.

If Randy, for some reason, is not made to contribute, but still receives benefit from the community, he becomes a leech which further exploits the Castrolanders, which brings us back to the problems discussed above.

If Randy is not made to contribute and will also not receive benefits, then he is independent from the commune, and forcing him to stay is arbitrary. There is no benefit to to commune in keeping him, and ultimately, this scenario could lead to him being made a prisoner or a slave as described in the previous scenarios.

Finally, if Castroland doesn’t seek closed borders, they may opt to prevent those desiring to leave, like Randy, from bringing any property with them. This, however, would still require an enforcement agent, who would appropriate one’s property apart from their consent. In order for Castroland not to be exploited out of existence like Marxistan, it must exploit those who wish to leave in order to prevent the exploitation of those who wish to stay. Regardless of whether or not Castroland has open or closed borders, to preserve the means of production and the distribution of goods apart from exploiting the workers, Castroland will quickly find itself requiring an agent of aggression. Castroland is a communist state, not an anarchist commune.

Fatal Flaw Three: Social Hierarchies as Safeguards

With the fall of Marxistan, and the descent of Castroland into statism, is there any hope for the revolution? There’s one final option that we can examine. Let us imagine, once more, that the communist revolution is complete. However, this time, learning the lessons of Marxistan and Castroland’s failures, the last beacon of equality proudly waves the black-and-red flag: Obamalia!

In Obamalia, there is no agent of enforcement, which prevents them from becoming a state, but to offset the possible exploitation of the commune by departing comrades, Obamalia requires all incoming members to the commune to receive limited benefits as to not exploit the existing members who have contributed additional resources. So when Bob and Tom wish to leave Obamalia, the commune bids them adieu, but to offset the lost production and the net loss in goods, the commune places new members Paul and Karl in a new members status. They receive less benefits until they contribute enough to the commune to alleviate any exploitation that may occur from either when they may leave; essentially they “pay it forward” as they arrive.

While this may sound just fine, and Paul and Karl may accept this arrangement, it is also not communistic. This intentional generation of social hierarchy accompanied by voluntary wage differentials is more akin to capitalist tendencies than communist ones. Yet this system would theoretically work. The only parts of the system that would not behave as an anarcho-communist society would be the entry and exit system. However, to abandon communist principles to fix communism is nonsensical. In the truest sense, the “success” of Obamalia is that its quasi-communism works so long as it is built upon a foundation of capitalist principles.

So under examination, the concept of anarcho-communism faces the problem of failing to be communism by allowing unrestricted exploitation of workers, failing to be anarchic by requiring agents of aggression to prevent exploitation, or must abandon core principles in order to remain communistic on the surface. From these options, an anarcho-communist society will either collapse all together, devolve into statism, or be communist in name only while hijacking free market principles.

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