Why Communalism Can’t Work

This Snapshot is taken from: The Trouble With Canada …Still! (BPS Books, 2010).


1) The foundational ideal is that all individuals and families should surrender their private ambitions for the common good, because private work is selfish, whereas common work is altruistic. In the beginning, “equality” is the core value.

2) Practically speaking it is assumed that once stage 1) is achieved and all are working together for a common goal, machinery and costs will be lower because all work will be coordinated: ten families in a cooperative won’t need ten tractors, and so on. Each stage of work will be coordinated for real need, rather than for profits, resulting in less cost and less waste, therefore more production and wealth for all.

3) So communal work begins, and as long as moral suasion is high, all do in fact cooperate and the “plan” seems to work. For a while. But soon the obvious problems of different workers attitudes, skill levels, work output, personal capacities, and different care of tools and machinery, and so on, raises its head.

4) Workers begin to notice that because all the equipment is now held in common, it is not looked after with care and pride as it used to be because no one stands to lose personally. So machinery and tools break down. But as they belong to no one in particular, no one can be blamed. So repairs and costs for new tools musts be spread to all equally. At this point … more equality begins to look a little unfair. Some are being asked to pay for the carelessness of others.

5) Soon, workers begin to notice that while they always used to work very hard and loved it because they and their families got ahead in life, not all workers are that way. Some are definitely slower than others, show up later, produce less, don’t tidy up as well after work, and grumble continuously about how hard the work is.

6) The initial communal euphoria is beginning to wear thin, and the stronger and better workers are now resenting the fact that they are working twice as hard as others for the same reward. They begin to see that lazy workers have discovered they can “profit” from the system as “free-riders,” simply by doing less. Suddenly, things no longer look “equal.”

8) So at this point, “equity” raises its head and workers begin to insist that equity (what is deserved) is a more fair and rational standard than equality (sharing equally, regardless of effort contributed).

9) By now, the plan is heading for moral and economic collapse. Some people start to recommend breaking up the commune and going back to private work and care of self and family. If the people are lucky, things simply revert slowly to normal traditional ways, the ideological wounds are licked all ’round, excuses are made, losses counted, and people go their own way, a little wiser. However, if the whole plan has been coercive from the start, the government’s planners start fining people, passing production quotas, and so on. In then end, they bring out their machine guns to force the desired result, and forced communalism continues until it rots from the inside out, as it did in the USSR. The lesson learned?

Equity works better than equality.

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