Why Did Communism Fail? #1 – Dictatorship

Communism was one of the most influential ideologies of all time. Millions of people lived under Communist regimes and millions more debated whether or not it would be a superior system. However, as everyone knows, it failed. It hardly needs to be said that the Soviet Union failed to provide an adequate standard of living, and this was the major reason for its collapse. But why? Huge amounts of ink have been spilt over narrating its collapse, but little has been said about why this happened. What was it about Communism that made it fail?

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I will run a series of posts discussing several reasons why communism failed economically. It will soon become clear that there is a strong overlap among the reasons and there are all interlinked. Although I will not quote sources, the posts are based on a politics essay I wrote for university. The first and most obvious (though not always discussed) reason was that Communist regimes were dictatorships. This meant there was a repressive environment, large military expenditure, misallocation of resources, and the heavy burden of a totalitarian regime and the absence of procedures to remove incompetent decision makers.

The most notable feature of the Soviet Union was its heavy military expenditure. Huge amounts of money was invested in the military. Roughly 20% of the Soviet Union’s budget was spent on the military, compared to only 4% in the US. These resources could have been far better spent on productive activities instead of wasted on the military which provided no economic return. The constant threat of war meant Communist countries were always on edge and military projects were given priority, to the detriment of the rest of the economy. The invasion of other countries, particularly Afghanistan were costly debacles and a further drain on resources.

Communist countries were noted for their large totalitarian superstructure. Huge resources were put into building a secret police and spying on the population. Roughly one quarter of the population of Romania and East Germany was employed as informants by the secret police. The concentration camps and Gulags were enormously expensive and starved the rest of the economy. Money that could have been better spent rebuilding Eastern Europe was instead spent on repressing the people.

A dictatorship is stifling for reasons beyond the large cost of maintaining one. A dictatorship discourages innovation or the creation of new ideas. In a culture of fear, standing out is a dangerous choice and it is easier and safer to avoid notice and not to perform exceptionally. Thinking outside the box and questioning the status quo would involve putting your life at an enormous risk. Independent thinking was squashed and discouraged. This absence of innovators and entrepreneurial spirit meant Communist countries languished in idleness. There was little incentive to attract attention to oneself with bold new ideas that would challenge the system. Rather it was safer to continue the old ways, even if this meant the economy would stagnate.

A dictatorship restricts information and makes it had for regimes to discover and correct their mistakes. Subordinates stayed in their position (and alive) by telling their boss what they wanted to hear, not the truth. In a dictatorship there is no such thing as constructive criticism which made improvement much more difficult. Without proper debate, failures cannot be detected and corrected. If your sources of information are more concerned with sycophancy than truthful reporting than accurate decisions cannot be taken. Central planning in particular relies heavily on the necessity of accurate information which is why a dictatorship is so disastrous.

Another crucial feature of Communist dictatorships is the lack of checks on power. There is no right to criticise policies, as doing so would be disloyal. Without the freedom to criticise, bad decisions cannot be discovered and problems go unfixed. If a decision maker makes a mistake then there is no way to correct it. Managers didn’t know whether or not their policies were successful or if they were even being implemented. Incompetence went unpunished.  In a repressive society corruption is not detected and therefore flourishes. There was no mechanism for removing corrupt or inept managers or even finding accurate information on them. In a dictatorship, loyalty is the most valued trait and so Communist regimes were dominated by loyal but incompetent bureaucrats.

Dictatorships furthermore undermined individual support for the system. It legitimised black market activities and employee theft (which grew to rampant levels by the 1980s). It was seen as a way of getting back at the repressive government. Ordinary people were disincentivised and demotivated. Why work hard if it will strengthen a regime you despise? People who had their freedoms taken away from them actively sought ways to undermine Communism. As all economic systems are based on trust, the culture of fear that dictatorships created meant that you could trust no one. As a result the system foundered.

It was for these reasons that Communism failed. You cannot build a successful economic model if you insist on executing independent thinkers and imprisoning creative minds. The enormous totalitarian apparatus is a monolith that will crush the rest of the economy. The military industrial complex prospers at the expense of the rest of the economy. A repressive environment breeds a resentful population that is only too willing to get their own back at a government they despise. Original thinking is discouraged and the economy stagnates. That is part of the reason why Communism failed.


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60 responses to “Why Did Communism Fail? #1 – Dictatorship

  1. Robert, am not sure if this is a critique of Communism or of dictatorships. Any dictatorship would fail for the same reasons you have listed above. So to critique communism, I think it is important for you to tell us, what really made it susceptible to dictatorships if indeed it was and is there something that can be done to the system to make it work.
    That’s my 2 cents on the matter

    • Well my point is that the two are linked. Communism failed because it was a dictatorship. You are right that this is more a critique of dictatorships than communism per se. A democratic Communist government would not suffer these problems, but no such government exists. So I’m focusing more on how things were/are than how they should be.

      Why was Communism so susceptible to dictatorship is a much broader question that I haven’t researched. Probably had to do with the fact that elements of society would never voluntarily agree with communism and therefore violence was the only action. The massive societal change inherent in Communism probably could never be voluntarily achieved. The concentration of power in a limited number of hands also as well as the absence of checks and outside criticism.

      Though that would be more of a political theory question and I prefer to focus on the economics. That and I haven’t done the reading to know.

      • You don’t serve yourself well by speaking so authoritatively from what you admit is ignorance.

        First, say what you like about it, communism was largely a ‘populist’ movement, power seized from below (or obtained via distance from established power structures by a group who moved out and away from existing states). Later Soviet experience, despite its beginning, was not strictly communist (Stalinism, for all its rhetoric, was not equivalent with communism; it was at best a neo-tsarist regime operating under the banner of Marxism but with “the people” having only an empty symbolic role to play in governance and real power dispensed via the hand of the leader himself according to his whims).

        It can’t be stressed often enough that not all communist/communitarian social arrangements became dictatorships (making the few cases which did not very interesting). It is significant (and Ms. Levine might have some interesting perspective to offer here) that those which did (such as the Soviet example) overwhelmingly had a history of authoritarian or totalitarian rule which predated the communist period and represented a model of acculturation to hierarchies of power they were able to slip easily back into after the heady rush of “freedom” had dissipated.

        At other moments in your work here, you have been sensitive to avoiding the primary fault of economics: the tendency to focus on highly technical and rationalistic models which presume to be free from the ‘taint’ of history, politics, culture, socialization, psychology and any of a wide range of other humanistic values. I propose that this is hardly the time to abandon that practice.

        • “First, say what you like about it, communism was largely a ‘populist’ movement, power seized from below”
          I’m sorry, but are we talking about the same Communism? The one I’m thinking of was achieved through violent revolution and military invasion. The Soviet Union in particular was established by a small group of committed revolutionaries who by no means had the support of the majority of the people. Communism has never been democratically established, so it definitely cannot be claimed to be a popular movement.

          Just to be clear are you referring to “true” Communism (the theoretical version proposed by Marx but never implemented) or “existing” Communism (as implemented in the Soviet Union and satellite states)? I am referring to the latter.

          “It can’t be stressed often enough that not all communist/communitarian social arrangements became dictatorships”
          Can you give examples or do you mean small scale communes like kibbutz’s?

          I thought I had mentioned non-economic factors in the post such as the psychology under dictatorship and how this affected morale and culture.

          • “I’m sorry, but are we talking about the same Communism?”

            No, I suspect we aren’t. There is a muddiness in your use of political terms which is highly problematic (which was my point in responding here).

            To begin with, populist movements don’t necessarily have to be non-violent to still be authentically populist, and they don’t necessarily need to be (initially or ever) democratic. The American and French revolutions were both authentically populist as well as being exceedingly bloody and violent, but they did eventually both reach a certain level of democracy. Other revolutions did not, and there are economic, as well as historical, cultural, political, religious, geographic, etc. reasons for this.

            There are many problematic points here, one of the most particular being that there was only one “Communism” (which was indeed the theoretical framework) and a range of other “existing” (as you put it) communisms. Some of these were large in scale, some smaller. Some were agrarian in focus, others industrial. Each of those has a different set of conditions: historic, social, cultural, political, religious, and, yes, economic.

            What you seem to want to argue is that the failure of one existing communism (late Soviet-style totalitarianism, which was already distinctly different as manifested in Cold War Europe than in its origins in the rapid industrialization of prewar Russia) can be mapped back onto, and conflated with, the ‘failure’ of that theoretical Communism.

            • By definition theoretical Communism cannot fail unless it is put into practice, therefore I only focus on the form that was practiced.

              • Honestly, this doesn’t have to be as difficult as you seem to want to make it. Your dogmatic insistence on oversimplification further undermines your work (as does your somewhat bewildering overuse of capitalization).

                “By definition theoretical Communism cannot fail unless it is put into practice,” True, but banal and utterly beside the point. Reread those two last paragraphs: the insistence (which runs through your work here) that there is only one true “Communism” to have emerged in practice is exactly the problem.

                Because I am primarily interested in the European experience of post-communism, “therefore I only focus on one of the forms in which it that was practiced.”

                I’ve offered you a few examples of other trajectories of communist practice, which you have dismissed as irrelevant (while admitting that you don’t know all that much about them). I always welcome the opportunity to discuss this period and these questions (unfortunately the specialization required of doctoral work means that you are always exposed to more about your topic than anyone else usually wants to hear), but you seem less interested in exploring the issue than in dogmatically adhering to a position and defending it even when doing so highlights your need to do quite a bit more intellectual work. I’ve enjoyed following your blog up to this point, I’m sorry that you aren’t as willing to engage in actual discussion as you profess to be. Best luck…

                • I don’t think either one of us is understanding each other. I still can’t for the life of me see what you’re objections are, and apparantly neither can you. I didn’t say much about Asian Communism and Maoism because it was an unmitigated disaster which has since been abandoned (except in North Korea). What other “trajectories” of Communism are there? Am I missing something or are you still following me?

                  I am focusing on only one form of Communism because, to my knowledge, only one form has been put into practice on a state level. If I am wrong please correct me.

                  I’m trying to engage in a discussion but I don’t know where I’m going wrong (am I really using that much capitals?). Sure I’m not discussing Marxist theory of variations of Communism, but I didn’t think that was a position that needed to be defended. One of us seems to be completely off the mark and I hope its not me.

                  • Nielsen, I am able to follow in the main where you are going, and a certain humility of inquiry that you have is helpful, I know some trolls are from their point of view of self evaluation innocent, however what is irritating to me is when one reads some blogs is nitpicking or pseudo academic pomposity, a holier than thou approach whereby the troll is unable to get the frustration of the reader wading through endless detail that somehow becomes so obtuse that if one had time to evaluate the trolls diatribe, their is no consensus as to what the meaning is in the message, we must leave such obscurities to the academics to unravel over the forthcoming decades and have reviews by committees to interpret and decipher the meaning, that is if the language used in the beginning is not subject to becoming a historical anomaly relegated to a archaic and now forgotten language requiring further investigation of academics to rescue the last remnants of obscurity..
                    A clue as to this puzzle, I suggest in reading Brian H, on Autonomous Mind, this advanced academic can only be understood by those with a basic Phd in advanced semantics.

                    • Ramses

                      Up until this point, I was following you and understanding what you were saying. Then you make this “troll” reply, which gives me a feel of bloated ego. “a basic Phd in advanced semantics” Is something not everyone can get and definitely should not be a requisite to learn a bit about communism. You went off-topic for no reason.

                    • Don’t bother trying to understand him, his comments are gibberish.

                  • Pavel

                    what he was trying to say was that there is a potential trajectory of communism, where dictatorships were not involved, and thereby can actually turn out to be success. What seemingly crippled the societies, down to failure was the hierarchical approach to communism, rather than a citizen base governing the structure. Rather than intellect guiding the regimes, it was paranoia, governance based on impulse, and among many other things ridiculous personal flaws of non-intelligent people. Had someone like say, a physcist governed the soviet regime, and put the puzzle pieces into place, it might have turned out to be a utopia for all you know, due to the fact that it has never been experimented on you cannot make the claim that all communist societies will lead to failure.

                    • writing45

                      If we talk about “Intellect guiding the regimes”, I put forth the Scandinavian regimes and their use of Socialist Democratic principles. It works because of the informed participation of the society. Another factor guiding is the fact that there is a homogeneous society already existing and small community as opposed to big populations elsewhere with economic and intellectual disparity.

          • As most here are expressing, you are very naiive and do not understand the full cope of Communism. Communism did in fact have the support of a large number of peasants during the October Revolution; it did not simply come down to a handful of revolutionaries. Also, Communist parties did get democratically elected in countries across Europe. Communist Parties held some representation in legislatures from Yugoslavia to France. You saying “Communism has never been democratically established, so it definitely cannot be claimed to be a popular movement” makes you look like a complete fool yet here you are speaking so confidently about something you evidently know very little about.

        • Interesting discussion, and I agree with thelonelyautodidact that Communism, in and of itself, was not the main issue here pushing toward dictatorship. While there are no economically successful communist nations in existence, take a look at the failed states the US attempted to create in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like Russia before the Soviet Union, these states were previously authoritarian, and their populations lived under a culture of strict control for many generations. The people had no real role in governance, unlike in most Western nations. Because of this, much like in Soviet Russia, it was very easy for the people to fall back into their subservient roles and hand power to the new “elites”. You simply cannot bring freedom and equality to another people at the point of a gun.
          Most of the most successful democracies today have largely become so peacefully. The few exceptions, such as the United States, were conceived in very unique circumstances – such as a large percentage of an already semi-free population working to overthrow a ruler AND simultaneously working as a whole to develop a constitutional system with checks and balances. That system, perhaps more so than the population’s desire to self-govern, is what kept the United States from falling down the same paths many other fledgeling democracies-turned-dictatorships followed.

  2. Fabulous start. I can’t wait to read the rest.

  3. Communism, on paper, is genius. Communism, in practice, fails. People are lazy. Sad.

    • Scott Weston

      The only communism that I have faith in is the anarchist communism.

      • Tom

        That’s the only form of communism that I have NO faith in. How can you convince 320 million americans to trade their fundamental freedoms such as private property and the ability to own the fruit of their labor? That’s right. You can’t. Anarchist Communism could never work with a large scale population.

        • Its doubtful if most Americans own anything, its all on borrowed money.

          • Tom

            No, its not. My parents paid off their entire mortgage and are not in debt anymore. To suggest people don’t have private ownership is ludacris.

            • I must pay homage to those who have slaved away their life to pay the price of a housing inflated scam, I do not infer you as a personal example, I would have to go into a wide range of stats to substantiate what I say, but you must of heard many say that I pity the younger generation in relationship to housing, when your parents purchased their house, housing was substantially cheaper in comparison to cost of living, job security and so on, the complexity of what is required to fully respond to your simplistic reply would take considerable time.
              As for instance I purchased my first house in London for 2,600 pounds, which was a 3 story Victorian house, it is not a thing to boast of paying those prices as in context to today’s world.

  4. Not often mentioned is the sorry state of Russia both politically and economically at the beginning of the Soviet Union. Russian peasants were actually serfs, living very meager lives (very). They were poorer in everything than comparable peasants elsewhere.

    Also, during the war against the Tsar, the Bolsheviks, et. al. assassinated huge numbers of government officials guaranteeing that their eventual replacements would be poorly trained at best.

    • Exactly. It is hard to measure the success of Communism as it originated in very poor rural countries that experienced large amounts of violence. However, even taking this into account Communism failed.

    • George Benson

      Yes and it’s ironic that the places Marxist thought really took root and was expanded upon into Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc were all rural and poor where Marxism was originally intended for industrial societies where it never took root, instead Democratic Socialism was the closet thing that ever took place in these countries.

  5. Makaguta, how much I wish dictatorships would truly fail. History seems to show that a tyrant dies or gets replaced but tyranny lives on. John, I think the dulling impact of constant fear and trauma are more at work than laziness. I hope Richard discusses that. If not perhaps he will let me do a post on the impact on one’s brain of living under tyranny. I am a bit of an expert on that one. Other factors play a part, humans are too complicated to be lumped together with one word.

    • Dictatorships always economically fail, though politically they can last. John certainly greatly simplified the problem though he isn’t far from the mark. I presume you are refering to me when you mention Richard. I haven’t studied psychology so I won’t be covering that area, though I find it deeply interesting.

  6. I’m quite surprised here, Robert, as this post is not anywhere near your usual level of quality for both writing and thinking. The reasoning is more than a little sloppy.

    To begin with, your premise is flawed by an attempt to argue against a universal by means of the flaws in one particular case (or subset of cases). By all means, if you want to attack Soviet Communism, go ahead, as there is a lot there to be dismissive of and hostile toward. Certainly Soviet Communism devolved quickly from Bolshevism to Stalinism, but despite its rapidity, this shift was complex and multivariant in its causes. The failure is real, but if its lesson is going to be useful for us, we need to resist jumping so quickly to “as everyone knows, it failed.”
    If what you want is to face the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the particular factors (many of them related to the doctrines of centralized state control over production particular to Marxist systems of government), you should absolutely do so. Despite the attitude of dismissal on the part of many contemporary political leaders, Russia is still a potent force in world affairs and one we in the West ought to understand as best we can. Certainly, investigation of the political and economic history of the Soviet Union will help in this project of understanding. Facile dismissal of the more complex causes at work in order to more easily defeat a partially straw-based argument doesn’t serve you or your ultimate goals.

    (I say “partially” here because I would in no way argue that the totalitarian character of the later Stalinist state was not a significant factor in its collapse)

    The significant fact is that not all communist structured social systems have failed. Certainly, many of the communist “regimes” and most of the communist “dictatorships” have fallen. But some have not, and some (most frustratingly) show no sign of doing so in the near future.

    I’d be very interested in the Venn diagram of your initial argument (and I wonder what you would discover for yourself by trying to construct one). Not all communist social structures became dictatorships. Not all communist dictatorships remained so (China has certainly moved beyond their initial Maoism and into a more complex state capitalism which is simultaneously both more robust and yet still quite brittle). Not all totalitarian regimes failed (despite an often apocalyptic inability to provide the basic necessities of life for their people).

    Arguing that all communism, everywhere, has proven a failed project because (and in the same manner as) the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc satellite states failed is naïve at best and intellectually dishonest at worst, more akin to the ideologically-minded posturing of the 1950s and 1960s “Red Scare” phase in the West and certainly not worthy of the usually quite nuanced and well argued premises you offer here.

    And lest any of this come across as a kind of rear-guard defense of communist ideology (I’d consider myself a Marxist in critical orientation, but I welcome and celebrate the vibrancy of the market for providing a wide range of vital pressures toward innovation and creative problem solving) I can think of at least three communist/communitarian social structures which never gave way to any kind of totalitarian nightmare such as that faced by Soviet or East German citizens, but which nonetheless collapsed under the weight of similar pressures, and just for kicks, I can also think of at least one that is still doing well, despite all expectations to the contrary. Investigating other communist/communitarian ‘regimes’ and the pressures of scale, complexity, and structure they either overcame or were defeated by would help you make a more detailed and more relevant case here.

    Or not. Perhaps all you are interested in is the collapse of totalitarian states which were communist in their ideology. That’s certainly fine as well, but in that case you need to address that first, so your work isn’t so easily picked to pieces by people pointing out the examples you seem to have “forgotten” to cover here.

    So, I’d propose you clarify a bit. You don’t necessarily need to offer citations (although I can’t quite fathom why you’d feel so reticent to do so), but defining your terms and the scope of your argument would prevent someone undermining your contentions with relatively little effort in the future…

    • I’m not quite sure what you mean when you say Communism didn’t fail. I thought that this was such an obvious point that to point it out would be to flog a dead horse. I do not know of any Communist regime that did not fail economically. Note that I refer to it in an economic sense in the same way you would say that the Celtic Tiger failed in Ireland. So although Cuba and North Korea still exist, they are poor and stagnant countries. While China is booming this is because it has abandoned Communism economically.

      Also note that I do not intend to chart the fall of the Soviet Union. Rather my aim is to explain why Eastern Europe failed to prosper in the same way Western Europe did, a gap that became particularly evident during the 80s. Now if you want to debate whether or not Eastern Europe failed to prosper, then that is a separate debate. My aim is to discuss the economics of Communism.

      What do you mean by saying not all Communist structures failed? What ones survived? You also say not all Communist structures didn’t become dictatorships, I would be greatly interested in any examples you could provide.

      I am basing this, and future posts on Communism as it existed, as opposed to theoretical possibilities. Soviet Communism and Maoism are not the only kind of Communism, but they are the only kind that have been adopted by a state, hence they are the ones I will focus on

      • Fair enough, you want to focus on state communism, but that is already more precise than your initial post. And again, if what you are interested in is the dichotomy between Western and Eastern Europe, that is again more specific than your initial statement. My point is that you are interested in particular examples of communism, and have chosen to specifically exclude other examples. There is nothing wrong with this (every project has to define its boundaries) but it is important to be precise about the particular boundaries you choose to navigate.

        I would argue that your ideological fixation on “Communism” is as theoretically based as your focus on Eastern Europe. Communism did not simply cease to exist in Asia, it has been morphed and manipulated into something new over they decades, and the examples of China, Laos and Vietnam provide interesting counterpoints to the development of Western examples of communist/communitarian structures, as do the existence of smaller (admittedly non-state level) communities operating on communist/communitarian principles in the United States and Central America.

        In many ways I think these examples would support your conclusions (as you have begun to suggest them here), especially as they relate to the role of rapid industrialization in the collapse of large-scale state-run economies, and the ability or relative difficulty of fostering innovation. Even if you are not interested in exploring alternatives to the European experience of communism, denying their very existence as “theoretical” doesn’t serve you well. Just explicitly limit the scope of your investigation and move on from there.

        • I still don’t see why you disagree with my conclusion that Communism failed. Asian countries were also extremely poor until they ditched most of the economics of Communism. All countries that I know of that were Communist were poor. If you know of any exceptions please tell me.

          I am focusing on Europe because that is what I know the most about. As far as I am aware Asian Communism suffered from some of the same economic flaws.

          If you know of any countries where Communism was implemented and was not a failure, please tell me.

          • Pavel

            You are speaking about communistic implementations which were poorly upheld, governed by either fear, stupidity, or rigidity. There are however, many more different variations of communistic societies which have NEVER been implemented, and because they have never been rightfully implemented the conclusion that COMMUNISM in practice will fail is blatantly not 100% true, you have not experienced every possible combination of a communistic society to make that claim. You have only experienced communistic societies which were put into practice extremely poorly, without the proper thinking put behind them, without the proper care, and advancement that was necessary for it’s citizenry, and thus they fell apart. If you get a communistic society that enhances the quality of life for all of its citizens, and the contentment factor of the citizens is relatively high it is quite possible to maintain the assertion that communistic societies are plausible if ran correctly. you undermine the many possibilities by merely delving within the many communisms that were very clearly poorly implemented.

        • Ole Jørgensen

          you are very well spoken and i find you’re debate quite illuminating, but you have now stated 4-5 times that states/countries exists as symbols of some degree of sucess with a communistic agenda – but still no mention of whom.
          Regard Ole Denmark

        • Tom

          You are well spoken, and you mention these specific examples of communism that have not failed and that haven’t been run by totalitarian governments but haven’t specified any instance. Referencing Lois and Vietnam as “developed” counterpoints doesn’t really count. If you want to bring up the Kibbutz, then that is something we can at least focus on. Other than that, you seem like an internet troll that can’t provide a list of countries that have actually done okay under communism.

  7. Reblogged this on The Firewall and commented:
    Nailed it: “You cannot build a successful economic model if you insist on executing independent thinkers and imprisoning creative minds”

  8. Robert,
    While I agree that a communist dictatorship aren’t most hospitable environments for innovation, the regime still needs innovation and research to survive and advance the industry, and will provide incentives to spur it. It won’t provide as much financial incentive as in the West, but even in the West, money isn’t what drives scientists and researchers. And, unlike in a democracy, a dictatorship always implies an inherent incentive of “not going to jail”.🙂 Of course, while the military is the primary beneficiary of any research and innovation (just like it works in the US, by the way), a communist dictatorship will still aim to innovate in every industry, because, if a war with breaks out, the nation needs to be self-reliant as much as possible, and the country has to be able to efficiently produce clothing to dress the soldiers, efficiently farm food to feed them, and efficiently produce and refine ore and oil to make weapons and fuel. Coincidentally, yesterday, April 12, was the anniversary of the first manned space flight, which is one of the most significant advances of humankind of the twentieth century – and one that was accomplished by a communist dictatorship.

    What you call “a culture of fear” is often perceived very differently by outsiders than by people living in the country. I think you assume that every Soviet boss had the authority to execute their subordinates or at least jail them at a whim. That simply wasn’t the case in the post-Stalin Soviet Union. Yes, openly defying the regime or participating in public protests could often mean imprisonment. But for most people their anti-communist activities, if they even took part in any, didn’t go farther than discretely sharing anti-government jokes or reading banned books. The overwhelming majority of people lived without the immediate fear of imprisonment, even if they were well aware of the consequences should they get involved in the anti-regime actions. You can call it “a culture of fear”, but it’s not different from stopping yourself from making a comment to your co-workers that could be perceived as insulting to Christians, Muslims, African-American, gays, etc. for the fear of losing your job. It’s because of the same “culture of fear” I don’t use my real name on my blog.

    Finally, on your point that that all superiors in dictatorship do not tolerate dissent from their subordinates – well, that’s simply not true. That depends much more on the personal qualities of the particular boss than on the type of government. Just take a good look at the American (and Irish) private firms, and you’ll find quite a few managers who behave exactly as you have described.

    • Well the next in the series will actually be discussing incentives and innovation, so I’ll discuss that more there. Yes there was innovation under Communism, but as you hinted, it was mainly confined to the military and space fields. The rest of the economy was backward. It should also be clear that there was still innovation under Communism, just far less than other capitalism.

      Of course the history of Communism is long so the “culture of fear” would have been stronger in some times (30s-50s) than others (70-80s) and in some countries more than others (East Germany v Hungary). The threat of punishment was always there though, even when it was rarely implemented. People knew that there would be dangers in challenging the system in any form. Hence they were discouraged from innovating. Note that I mean this in a relative (less innovation than otherwise) rather in an absolute way (I’m not saying there was no innovation).

      • Challenging the political system in any forms carried risk, I can agree with that. But inventing a more efficient engine or a cheap and effective drug against cancer is not a challenge to the political system; if anything, it makes it stronger. Curiously, while a communist dictatorship has an incentive to develop these efficient engines or antibiotics as quickly as possible, the market economy fill fight those developments. When a private company in a market economy is trying to develop efficient engines or cancer drugs, there are other players at the market that will have strong incentive to stop the development. For example, oil companies will (and did) fight against the efficient engines, and drug companies do everything they can to keep cheap drugs off the market (e.g., blocking generics and foreign imports).
        A communist dictatorship has another advantage over the market economy/democracy of the same size: for a project of immense size, like electrification or building a road system, a dictatorship will find it easier to mobilize people and resources than a democracy, and will easily override any local objections. This is why China built thousands of miles of high-speed rail, and the US has barely 500 miles.
        There is, however, an area of innovation where a communist dictatorship will always lag desperately far behind – consumer goods like TV’s, fashionable clothes, home furniture. A communist dictatorship will never be the first to bring an iPhone to the market.
        For a better understanding of how dictatorships work, it would also be useful to look at the anti-communist dictatorships, like South Korea, Chile and Singapore.

        • Ole Jørgensen

          I totally agree – but the investment in such positive things as efficient engines or antibiotics still have to be financed somehow – and it’s not cheap.
          I I sure wish that money would be spend here instead of using them on war – but that seems to be a common treat for capitalism as well as communism.
          Regards Ole
          PS. Sorry English is not my language

  9. A dictatorship is always more efficient because the leader has far fewer they need to answer to/have okay what they’re doing, …..http://ogibogi.com/node/11839 for details.

    • The decision process is certainly quicker but usually at the expense of making poorer decisions and alienating the rest of society. Dictatorships also have their own constituencies that they must please, usually the military and the party.

  10. purchasepaul@yahoo.com

    thelonelyautodidact, why don’t you just admit that you have a point of view that communism is GOOD and that you want to be in a communist world… like the one you describe. the only real reason you’re upset is because, in his description of ACTUAL communism, Robert has listed the reasons it is basically bad… and you can’t stand the fact that someone has belittled your beloved belief system. Stop being a troll. if you don’t like what’s said here about ACTUAL communism, go on MSNBC and have a commufest with all your like-minded peers. people will disagree with you in life. suck it up. In practice communism has never been a success on a large scale ANYWHERE. it cannot. why? because people are inherently selfish. it is the human condition. but of course, sympathizers don’t believe that man in the nature state is selfish, but instead believe that man in the nature state is a free sharing kumbaya singing hippy. All you need to do is look at the behavior of a toddler. “ME ME ME, MINE MINE MINE”… is that being a free love hippy? kids with no concept of right or wrong are naturally inclined to be selfish.

    Thus, the only system that will ACTUALLY work is one that promotes the accumulation of wealth and security through personal means. This, by in large is what results in a capitalist and FREE society. people want to be comfortable and have security, to that end, they work in order to gain that. in societies with high social welfare, it is plain as day that those that have been receiving public assistance for a long time stagnate. They do not want to work for security because there is no need for it. it is provided for free. regardless of how modest it is. What’s worse is that people who are handed security and wealth for free DEMAND even more from the wealth and security giver, without the need to work for it. It basically derails the need to innovate and work for security and comfort.

    This is why communism will never work in practice and why giving stuff for free on a prolonged basis results in dependency and nothing more.

    • purchasepaul@yahoo.com

      by the way, i do have a dog in the race, my father and grandfather escaped from north korea in 1950. why? because my grandfather owned some land, and the communists were coming by shooting people like him… i have seen the results of communism and capitalism. i tend to like capitalism better. look at a satellite picture of north and south korea at night. i don’t see hyundais, samsung galaxy smart phones, LG dishwashers, hd tvs etc coming out of north korea…. the only thing coming out of north korea are threats of a sea of fire, nuclear missiles being test fired, and about 1000 escapees a year (the ones who actually make it to the south).

    • bonkers

      People inherently selfish or made selfish by Capitalist society which encourages competition and depends on peoples greed to sell products and encouraging wasteful consumerism which is destroying our planet and more importantly peoples physical and mental health?

  11. Robert

    North Korea’s full name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. That is not evidence that democracy is a failure, or that republics naturally result in oppressive dictatorships. Similarly, just because some guy decided to call his state a “Worker’s Paradise” and “model for global Communism” reflects badly on his truth-telling skills, not the idea itself. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

    A title that more truthfully reflects the content of your article is: Why did the Soviet bloc fail?

    • I suppose I did focus more on Soviet Communism, for the simple reason all other kinds (bar the Yugoslavian experiment) have been untried and therefore cannot be judged. Of course there are many kinds of Communism and Socialism, but I have neither the time nor the patience to examine them all. Would other versions have been more successful? Possibly, but my aim was to deal with what did happen, rather than what should have happened.

  12. CalCoolidge

    Communism didn’t fall. The USSR fell apart. Communism is alive well. Suppose there were a President who says things like, – sure, you should go out and work and prosper, but in a context of SHARED PROSPERITY – after all – at some point YOU have made enough money. Isn’t that Communism?

    Or who says, if Congress won’t act, I will; and without benefit of law or consent of the governed institutes a top-down, Soviet-style industrial policy called, a 10-year plan, if you prefer, and calls is something like cap and trade. Stalinesque enough for you? Communism? Who owns the means of production when a politician says he wants to close down the coal industry, and uses a domestic army to do it? Communism? Dictatorship?

    • Pavel Ilyukhin

      when few people can have Billions of dollars, it’s totally communism…. WRONG. it’s an oligarchy. Communism is when the PEOPLE vote on the government which essentially spreads WEALTH evenly, or based on work effort rather than probability event based successes.

    • I know you’re trying to link Obama and communism, but you’re doing a very bad job. There is no connection whatsoever with the two. First of all taxes are very low in America and there is no maximum income law. 35% is communistic. Calling for a limit on greed is not communism especially if you do not bring in laws to force this.

      I don’t know what 10 year Soviet plan you are referring to, it probably only exists in your mind. If by any chance it is the environmental cap and trade of emissions, then nothing could be further than communism. After all it is using the market to reduce emissions, rather than simply a government tax which is preferred n Europe.

      Shut down the coal industry? Well seeing as production of coal has increased under Obama, you’re completely off the mark. Likewise, I don’t know what army you are referring to and it probably doesn’t exist.

  13. alex

    My understanding of what made communism susceptible to dictatorship is that there is no separation of judiciary and legislature. Everything was subservient to the party because the state is the entity and everyone is just parts of the state. Also there is the myth that is also prevalent in supporters of sharia that it’s such a manifestly perfect system that if you disagree with it you must be mentally ill.

  14. Karan Garg

    Did any country every experiment or practice true communism beliefs ? or was it always some variations of communism based on who practiced it? Then communism definitely just became a word or a tool to oppress regimes and not actually give power to people. State was controlled by dictatorships. How can it be made better? Could there be a communist state where the officials are elected democratically and all else (equality of wealth, power to labor, control of state) remains same ? What challenges could it face?

  15. Tom

    Communism, even on paper, has been debunked by Ludwig von Mises. It’s based on the fact that society has scarce resources. That is a fact. In a communistic society, there is no private ownership and therefore no exchange of goods and services. It is all owned by the government through collectivism. Without exchange of goods and services though, you have no price system that reveals the value of your limited resources. That is a problem because without being able to allocate your resources to different means of production that are most critical (which is revealed in capitalism) then it is impossible to coordinate an entire economy. The sheer misallocation of resources causes the entire system to be impractical. Communism is a short term, unstable alternative to capitalism. The vast majority of the people in America that actually support it don’t really understand the implications associated with Communism.

  16. Raunak

    But Robert, I fail to understand why communism always came with dictatorship. The idea was theoritically that the entire society would be equal and people would be their own rulers.

  17. The foundational grease for a well functioning society is trust. Long term success depends upon it.

    • Communism, could not be found as a failure, within the society of communism, as the forces of capitalism were active to ensure communism would fail, such as embargoes, and trade restrictions, also those that lead the system were corrupt, and many other factors.
      The present system of capitalism, is within the framework of a human life, is the best system, so called as workable, as colonization, the appropriation of other weaker cultures land and resources runs out, also corruption becomes more prominent as a result of energy and resources become more difficult to obtain, and the egoistical desires of what is seen as a right of the individual, and as this attitude of me, increases, will increase crime.
      The problem with Marx, is the idea of the factory workers all having a say as what is to be produced is a problem, the perceptions of what reality is would not and never can be equal, the production of what is thought to be what is required, will become a problem that those who have insight as why it is not a good idea will become overcome by the many as is at the moment with capitalism.
      It is ironic the Irish guy, who runs Qantas, at a loss, a big loss, can as a failure as far as being a CEO, can command 2 million dollars a year, if a floor factory worker shown to be inept as the CEO, would no longer have a job, what is surprising is the sound of his honey sweet talking, can mesmerize so many with this rhetoric that can fool the financial sector.
      It is this type of stupidity that runs within our present day system that so many think is cool.

  18. Whether or not you like the idea of a communist state/social-economic system or if you think it would succeed or fail, the fact is communism has never been tried. I personally have no position on either question. I could care less if the Soviet Union, the DDR, or People’s Reblic of China wanted to turn the means of production over to the state or abolish private property. My problem with those governments was/is all the torture, murder imprisonment, and just general oppression of all human rights, plus locking down the borders so if you didn’t feel like being imprisoned, tortured, murdered and stripped of your basic human rights, too bad – we’re gonna do it anyway. The main distinguishing feature of an actual communist society would be it’s economic system, focused on equality and justice for it’s population and a political structure designed to facilitate and maintain these values.

    The main distinguishing features of countries, political unions, etc. that are labeled or have been labeled “communist” are a totalitarian government, probably a dictator, flaunting a severe military presence that controls and oppresses a miserable population, locked inside it’s borders, using policies and practices like criminalization of free speech, especially any ideas critical of the state, enforced by a clandestine, national intelligence apparatus, using routine surveillance of private citizens without just cause, and based on it’s interpretation of the intelligence gathered, can and will arrest, hold indefinitely without charge or trial, interrogate, beat, torture, or kill any citizen necessary, at it’s discretion or that of the head(s) of state. This is actually fascism. You can’t judge communist or Marxist theory if the only way even a few of these idea have ever come close to being practiced is in horrible dictatorships that function by trying to strip people of their humanity and use whatever degree of violence or oppression is necessary to protect the state’s ideology. These things just don’t have any to do with communist theory at all. Why don’t we try a totalitarian dictatorship with a capitalist economy? Why not. Especially since capitalism has never been tried either.

    • The problem with systems is not the system as much as those who exploit being in power and their fore corrupt, so its not a question of a system as much as a failure of human beings, also, communism, could not be said to work or not as the countries that are not in this system will apply pressure to destroy the system, i,e, America, another the problem with Communism, is Marx, I think he was out of touch with human nature and had privileges that many do not, also I suspect he was corrupt.

  19. Instead of asking “why did communism fail” would it help to ask why did the USSR fail. This may help to focus on the polices and practices which the successive USSR leaders pursued and move away from a theoretical discussion about communist ideology. What mistakes did the USSR make and were these avoidable? Russia today has problems and an atmosphere of fear is prevalent. Both fear of being politically outspoken and fear of economic disaster at the personal/family level are prevalent. Will Russia repeat the mistakes of its predecessors? The USA should not be complacent. The USA is a new and very young nation.History is littered with empires that thought they were invincible. Capitalism in the UK and in the USA continues to be successful only because electorates have placed into positions of power political parties and leaders who have delivered socialist policies. Perhaps the democracies of the West are the true guardians of the communist ideals. Judging by the number of disadvantaged peoples trying to get into USA, UK and the Schengen countries it seems the west are doing something right. We don’t hear of many people trying to break into Russia,China,North Korea or the troubled Middle East States.

    • America and Britain both being colonist countries and living off the spoils of the wealth that they acquired though violence having the benefit from this wealth and using this wealth to finance militaristic commitment are able to hold on to this wealth, the failure of the communist system in Russia is debatable as to whether it did in fact fail considering Russia was targeted by the colonist countries to strangle them to destroy their system, as with Cuba, as we now see the controls are now being dismantled by America, we have to note the health system in Cuba was superior to American health systems, to this day Russia is still being punished for being communist, the capitalist system as stated is attracting migrants which will become a problem which as yet we have to see this outcome, also the capitalist system as it erodes world resources and also destroys the physical and mental health of the mass population as with the environments health the capitalist system will steadily destroy itself except it will take longer time than the communist system, in essence the controlling elite of capitalism requires corruption to maintain itself such as you can see with today’s news as a sign of corporation collapse as example VW, signs of failing technology, also capitalism requires constant indoctrination of the main body of the public through the media and also the idea of growth as this becomes a increasingly bizarre circumstance the beginning of the collapse of capitalism. This will not mean communism will prevail.

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