Communism is a form of government that falls on the socialism spectrum, but this specific approach is very different than the community-based systems that look at group governing. When this system is in effect, then it is the government or state where common ownership is under control instead of the people. The social, political, philosophical, and economic ideologies that form from this structure can have a profound effect on the rest of society.
Ownership in communism includes the means of production. There are no social classes in this state except for government workers and non-government contributors. It even reduces the influence of currency in society because contributions are based on the overall need of everyone. Then individuals have basic necessities and housing supplied to them in exchange for their contributions to the greater good.
Communism is also a unique form of government because it can include thoughts from Marxism, anarcho-communism, less controlling forms of socialism, and even elements of capitalism.
When the state remains in control of all value, then the people have very little say in what happens to their life. In theory, there can be several advantages and disadvantages of communism to consider, but in practical implementation, it is the problems with this form of government that typically stand out.
List of the Advantages of Communism
1. It works effectively as a centrally-planned economy.
Communist governments have the power to mobile economic resources quickly on whatever scale is needed for any project. It can create industrial power with a single request from those in charge, executing massive projects that would take other economies years to plan. It is able to move so effectively toward large-scale results because this government structure has the power to override the self-interest of the individuals it supports. It can achieve its social goals because it subjugates the welfare of the population.
2. It can transform the shape of an economy to the vision of the leader.
The United States typically sees a transition of political power every 4 or 8 years based on the results of local, state, and national elections. When one party begins an economic transformation process, the other party typically stops the forward momentum when they come into power. This process effectively limits the amount of change that is possible for the overall societal framework.
Communist countries are different. Many of the leaders are in charge for life, even though they might not hold a title from monarchy. This structure makes it easier for the leadership to transform the economic vision of the country to what the person in charge wants. Recent examples include Cuba with Castro, Russia with Stalin, and China with Mao.
3. It creates equality on a level that capitalism can never offer.
The idea of communism is that capitalist societies will eventually crumble because the weight of wealth on top of the poor will eventually cause the system to become top-heavy. Critics in the United States would point out that Americans are coming close to this outcome already. When a government follows the philosophies of Karl Marx to their honest intent, then each person should receive an equal chance to pursue the opportunities that are important to them.
There are still oligarchs and some government officials who get to enjoy the weight of wealth on their shoulders in a communist structure, but the average person gets to pursue what they want. You don’t get advantageous because your household has more than the one next to you. People get to succeed based on their strengths.
4. It allows for employment opportunities to be given out to everyone.
When you live under an authentic communist government, then anyone who wants a job will have one. If you don’t like the idea of working, then you must support your community in some other way. State-sponsored communism avoids the latter issue by forcing each person into a job with threats of fear governing their overall productivity. Marx preferred the idea of assigning people to a position based on their talents and skills. Each person has an equal part in the production process, so there are reduced issues with hierarchy and classism in every industry.
5. It provides additional educational opportunities to the general public.
Communists believe that an educated public is one that understands how to read and write. Although government officials might try to restrict the education class (often labeled as elitists) from gaining power, there is a general understanding that people need to read and write if they can serve the public good in their own way. When China moved toward this form of governing in 1949, one of their first changes was to bring vocational and basic educational opportunities to the general public.
People can only be as productive as the practical skills they bring into the workplace. If you recruit an average person off the street to fulfill a specific job, the results may be far from flattering. That’s why this advantage exists.
6. It creates stronger social communities.
The goal of communism before it gets warped by the leadership who implements the powers of the state is to include every family, each lifestyle, and all religions. Instead of emphasizing the differences that people have as a point of contention, it asks everyone to think of each person as an overall part of the whole. There are no minorities in this structure because everyone is given equal treatment.
This advantage only exists in the idealized version of communism. Once a single individual or party comes to power, they tend to target groups of people who disagree with them politically, spiritually, or economically. Until recently, the Cuban government and its officers were primarily white, even though the Afro-Cuban movement on the island was strong.
List of the Disadvantages of Communism
1. The government owns everything, including property, businesses, and production means.
The most significant disadvantage of communism is the fact that it eliminates the free market from domestic society. That means there are no laws of supply and demand available to set the prices for consumers to pay. This issue causes planners to lose the feedback they need to understand what is necessary for the production cycle and what could use an upgrade. There is no up-to-date information about what the needs of the consumers happen to be either.
Because of this disadvantage, it is not unusual for the government to produce too much of one item and too little of another. Surpluses and shortages in critical need areas can be strong enough at times that government disruptions can occur.
2. There is no freedom of speech in the typical communist government.
The needs of the government are indistinguishable from the best interests of society in a communist system, which means the idea of individual freedoms is incompatible with the ideology being practiced. The only reason to suppress this right is to keep those who are in power from losing it, which is why there are restrictions made on individual expressions, journalistic thought, and other challenges to the actions of the government.
Even Karl Marx, who is often vilified because of his ideas involving socialism, argued in favor for the people to have a right of expression. He even defended the free press in such a society, stating that censoring these ideas would lead to the implementation of a class he referred to as the bourgeois elite. Marx said that censorship is a tool that the powerful always use to oppress the powerless.
3. Central planning is challenging to achieve in a communist government.
Although the government can mobilize significant resources for almost any need at a moment’s notice through the structures of communism, there is a difference between the ability to centrally plan and its overall implementation. Because a free market doesn’t exist under this structure, the citizens will setup black markets to help them trade the items they want or need that are not part of the planner’s provisions.
This disadvantage destroys the trust that is found in the pure vision of communism. The goal is to give people what they need according to who they are as individuals. Communism looks at each person as a resource, provides them a common set of basic essentials, and then expects compliance under the threat of further freedom restrictions.
4. Efficiency and productivity are difficult since there is little motive for workers.
There is never a need to have entrepreneurs operating in a communist space because the government maintains control of everything. That means the production cycles operate just well enough to produce what is needed for domestic consumption and the limited export market that may be available. Because innovation is what pushes an economy forward, shepherded by the development made possible by entrepreneurs who wish to experience success, the living situation in a country practicing this form of government can be exceptionally stifling.
5. The needs of the consumer are not taken into consideration in a communist government.
There is a reason why only five active governments in the world today practice communism. North Korea, China, Laos, Cuba, and Vietnam are transitioning from socialism and are not true forms of this government structure any more either. Even modern communism must rely on the concepts of a mixed economy so that it can survive, so the state chooses to own components of supply while encouraging free-market demand.
China began moving to a mixed economy as early as the 1970s. It phased out the collective farms, allowing private businesses to take over some industries. Even though the nation still follows a specific five-year economic point and its policies favor state-owned enterprises, it has grown to become the largest economy in the world.
6. Diverse populations may be challenging to govern with their need for different rules.
Cuba might be a small island, but it has a significant area of cultural diversity that is unique to the rest of the world. Even though it became a communist nation in 1960 when Castro proclaimed it to be the ruling party to encourage the Soviet Union to provide economic support in return for access to the United States, it has struggled to provide each sector with the needs that are necessary for even an average quality of life.
It took over 50 years for the Cuban government to recognize that different people had unique needs. In 2011, residents could take advantage of new economic reforms to purchase vehicles, cell phones, and appliances. Now one set of workers can sell items to another set, like farmers selling their crops to a hotel.
7. Internal balances for supply and demand may be impossible to achieve.
Communism struggles to find the right balance between supply and demand because it has no motivation to do so. The government only needs to produce items based on what it believes the population needs to continue working. In North Korea, that means supplying workers with drugs that make them forget they are hungry instead of giving them actual food to eat.
Supply and demand tend to focus on the export market only. This process allows the government to bring in currency that it can use on the global stage to reinforce its own importance domestically. That places further pressure on the general population to listen to production mandates since the consequences for disobedience can be quite high.
8. There are strict rules in place that govern the structure of a classless society.
Not only does communism control the means of production in society, but it also places strict regulations on businesses that operate in the market so that there is a lack of class structure within the population. The same amount of funding is allocated to each organization, regardless of their industry, and each worker receives the same reward. That means farmers are going to receive the same compensation as an administrative worker, which can cause problems in some societal segments since the work can be more demanding.
This disadvantage can cause high levels of emotional unrest for a variety of reasons. You never receive recognition for your work because this would set you apart from the rest of the society, so there is an expectation to be productive and remain that way for basic survival.
9. It is a government structure that comes with high levels of official abuse.
Because ownership in a communist government lies with the state instead of in private hands, there is a higher risk of abuse for monetary purposes, power and control, or to pursue a personal agenda. The people at the highest levels of government are the ones who control the resources, which means they can decide in an instant if someone is “worthy” or not of receiving something. Each household is always at the mercy of the government and its potentially ever-changing views on what they deem to be acceptable behavior.
10. Communism takes a step backward on industrial evolution.
Most of the jobs in a communist country are tied to agriculture in one way or another because there is a significant need to provide basic food needs to each person. Without nutrition, there is no society that can exist. That’s why the traditional governments that followed this practice before becoming a mixed economy would usually trade items instead of buying or selling them. That was the only way it was possible to diversify the products which were available in the overall economy.
11. Opposition is not allowed unless the communist government authorizes it.
The goal of the communist party once it comes into power is to hold onto that leverage by any means necessary. Since the government controls every aspect of society, they can send out propaganda through all media channels with enough truth to make the stories believable. A single official might be in control of setting an agenda, measuring the performance of a society, or cracking down on actions that are deemed to be political dissent.
Even with the noted improvements to the Cuban economy in recent years, there were still 3,700 reports of arbitrary political detentions in the island nation in 2017. The government continues to use repressive tactics as well, including travel restriction, public shaming, physical assault, and employment termination. Short-term detentions rose from 172 per month in 2010 to 827 per month in 2016.
12. Instead of providing wealth, communism often causes poverty.
China is the one exception to this disadvantage because of its efforts to integrate some elements of capitalism or free markets into its society. There are even some semi-autonomous districts like Macau and Hong Kong that are closer to the United States in structure than they are to China. For the other five countries that continue to use this governing structure, the result is a higher level of poverty than other nations. North Korea, Cuba, and Laos are struggling in particular because the first emphasis is to maintain the structure of the government. People are asked to get by on the bare minimum – and even that is not enough sometimes.
During a bout with famine in North Korea in the 1990s, an estimated 3 million deaths occurred because of the economic shortfalls and lack of resources. Deaths peaked in 1997 from this issue. Then the government cracked down on anyone who used the terms “famine” or “hunger” because it would indicate a failure on the part of the government to negate the issue.
13. You cannot save any money in a communist government.
Because everything belongs to the state in communism, there are specific wealth caps that you and your family must follow. Once your salary from your employment is reached, anything that is left goes back into the government for redistribution. You cannot save currency outside of the regular consumption laws either. You get a guaranteed income and nothing more.
If you are caught on the black market making additional money, then fines and jail time can result from the discovery. That means there is little incentive to pursue a different career. Some people even give up chasing their dreams.
Verdict on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Communism
Socialism is not the problem many people think it is, especially on the conservative side of the aisle. The idea of community ownership, working to the mutual benefit of others, and having group control over the outcomes that are possible in life can outperform the results which are available through capitalism. The only problem is that there are no protections in place when someone in the higher levels of government decides to take a selfish action.
The goal of this government structure was to counter the adverse impacts of capitalism and democracy over a long-term implementation period.
The advantages and disadvantages of communism also show that it can be one of the most dangerous forms of governing because it requires such an invasive implementation process. There might be individual benefits that some people can find in specific situations, but it typically harms more people than it helps when looking at it from an independent perspective.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.