Will the real communists please stand up


Today the word "communism" is most often associated with the totalitarian one-party states of Soviet Russia or China. Nothing could be further from the anarchist goal of a stateless, free society. So the association of anarchism with communism seems, at first sight, perverse.But just as anarchists' attachment to the ideas of democracy does not mean we are supporters of the USA's Democratic party, neither does our commitment to communism mean that we have anything in common with the Communist Parties of the USSR, China, Cuba, and others. Just as we still see the value of talking about freedom, even though many defenders of the current system make out that freedom is synonymous with capitalism and free markets. So we believe that there is worth in talking about communism even though many in the past have used it as a synonym for state ownership and tyranny.

Although we, the ordinary workers, collectively make everything, we can't do so without the land, buildings, tools, machines, vehicles and other material resources we need to make our labour productive. Without control of these means of production we cannot use our power to make the world we live in as we want it.

Throughout the last century we were told that there were only two alternatives as to who controlled these means of production. Either liberal capitalism where the means of production were the private property of individual capitalists. Or state socialism where the means of production were the public property of the state. Either way, ordinary working people were denied any real control over these means and, so, over the use of our work.

For us communism has as little to do with state socialism as it has with capitalism. For us there is another possibility beyond private property and public property. That is, to hold the means of production in common. To hold in common means to control directly, not to have ownership simply pass from the authority of the boss to the authority of the bureaucrat. This is why we are both for communism and against the state.

But communism is a whole made of two halves and the second half is that, as well as holding in common all the means of making our labour productive, we also share the produce of our labour equally.

This second part is the most challenging. Can it be fair that those who work more should get the same as those who work less? The fairness of the wage system is based on the idea that those who work hardest and longest should get the most reward. But the reality of the system is that everywhere, at all times, it has been those who toil the longest at the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs who are always the worst off, whereas the richest seem to do no work at all. This is the mystery of the age. Why does the wage system always produce the exact opposite of the very fairness it is supposed to embody?

People have been trying to come up with answers to this mystery for a long time. Many say that the problem is not with the wage system itself, but something outside of it that is corrupting it, frustrating it's natural justice. Communists like us say instead that the problem is internal to the wage system itself. No reform can prevent it from forever becoming a system for making the rich richer and the poor their slaves.

The full explanation of how this occurs takes time, but we have the real world to show us that this is exactly what has always happened, without exception regardless of period, country or culture. In outline it has to do with the clash within a system based on division of labour where we must all play our part in a social collaboration, yet where we are all set in competition against each other to get different shares of the social product. The competitive aspect of the wage obstructs the cooperative aspect of our work. So much so, that communists believe that if we set aside our competitive unequal wage system, the reduction in waste and improvement in productivity will result in a better life for everyone, both materially and socially. The relative unfairness of equality, through cooperation, will give us a fairer society than the supposed fairness of a competitive society could ever dream of.

This article is from Workers Solidarity 111 September 2009

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