Communism can, like any other word, mean many different things. I’m going to use the word here to refer to the deepest and most profound future that our species has imagined for itself: a world where all humans are liberated from toil, poverty, warfare, domination, freed to pursue freely chosen ends, a world of creativity, research, leisure, love, gastronomy, culture, science, travel, friendship, banquets, dancing, explorations into outer and inner space.
Part One: Why and What
The problem is that nobody believes in this future anymore. Why should they? There doesn’t seem to be any viable pathway to communism. This is the “why” of Market Communism: to provide a believable account of the development of global communism in our lifetime. To set up the argument, let me remind you of two classic concepts from the communist tradition: “productive forces” and “relations of production. The productive forces refer to the general technological capacity of the species.
Buckminster Fuller coined the term “ephemeralization’ to describe how technological advancement allows humanity to do “more and more with less and less until eventually, you can do everything with nothing.” in 1991, 44% per cent of the global human workforce was employed in agricultural labour – due to this process of epehemeralization, by 2018, the number was down to 28%.
Despite the vast advances in the productive forces, most of humanity remains trapped in poverty and toil. The concept of the “relations of production” helps explain why. “Relations of production” refer to the way that humanity organizes the productive forces. Part of the problem in describing the “relations of production” is that they are inordinately complicated, organized around multiple interlocking systems: gender systems, ethnicity systems, geographic systems, systems of ownership, systems of control, systems of state coordination. To add further complexity to the complexity, these relations of production vary from nation to nation.
Given the hyper-baroque structure of human relations of production, any abstraction will invariably miss much of the total picture. This said, it seems safe to say that the existing relations of production are insufficient: they aren’t giving us what we need, and (to understate the case) they don’t seem to be heading towards communism.
“Market communism” refersto a new global set of relations of production. We can distinguish three layers of these relations of productions: the communist firm, the communist macronation, and the communist micronation. I haven’t used the word “capitalism” yet in this essay, because the word can mean all sorts of different things. It can refer to a political system, a quasi-religious mentality, but the way I’ll use it now is to refer to a kind of firm structure.
A capitalist firm is a game with three players: owners, management, and workers. Workers sell their time to the firm, and are more or less replaceable; managers also sell their time to the firm, but they often sell it in longer time-spans and are less replaceable: in more intelligently designed capitalist firms, managers own part of the firm structure, meaning that there’s an overlap between managers and the owners: the owners buy the labour of the workers and the managers, and sell the products of the firm for more than the payout.
Perhaps it is unnecessary to dwell for too long on the negative consequences of this game, but they include the exploitation of fellow humans, the depletion of collective resources, and the cultivation of antisocial mentalities. Put more dramatically, the capitalist game played on a global level leads towards apocalypse.
But people play the game for a reason: it is currently the main way to achieve security, social distinction, and ultimately, self-realization. Fortunately, all of these needs can be met, and met in a more efficient way, by the communist firm. The communist firm is a game with slightly different rules: “working”, “managing” and “owning” does not name different identities, but different functions that shared by the members of the firm.
Consider two different restaurants. “Bistro Hayek” is a capitalist firm: chefs, waiters, and cleaners trade their time for money; managers oversee the work of the workers. The managers trade their time for money, too, but they are given a limited ownership share in the restaurant, but most of the profits go to the owners.
Across the street, there’s the “Osteria Federici”, a communist firm. Here, the staff-owners of the restaurant share responsibilities. One evening, one staff-owner will wait tables, the next, they may clean dishes, on the third night, cook. Instead of receiving wages for their time, the staff-owners receive a share of the profits. In the glorious realm of pure abstraction, there would never be any reason for anyone ever to work in Bistro Hayek. Why would work for another when you can work for yourself? Why work in one static role, over and over, when one can change positions night in and night out?
Sadly, we live in the messy realm of actual history, and in our world, people work for “Bistro Hayek” because there is no other alternative. However nice Osteria Federici sounds, it does not exist for most humans. Communist firms alone will not provide a pathway towards communism.
Here, then, we turn to the second level: the communist macronation. There are, currently, six actually existing socialist unitary states: the People’s Republic of China, The Republic of Cuba, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Democratic People’s Republic of Laos, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. All of these societies are committed to the realization of communism, and all of them can, if they wish, sponsor the creation of communist firms: indeed, there are many signs that they are already doing so: compare, for instance, the firm structure of Huawei with a competitor in a capitalist macronation.
All of these states face unyielding hybrid warfare from capitalist-imperialist micronations. The less said about these disgusting war crimes, the better, but the fact remains that socialist nations are under attack. Indeed, the first socialist state, the USSR has already been defeated by proxy warfare. (Although I hear persistent rumours that the USSR might be reformed.) The continued counterrevolution necessitates a unitary political structure – but this unitary political structure also poses severe existential threats. Humans crave autonomy over their way of life, and it seems, superficially, that the communist macronation systematically denies this autonomy.
Here, then, we can introduce the third level: the communist micronation. Let’s return to the Osteria Federici. Some people might like to work in restaurants night after night, but others might wish for more varied labour. So let us then imagine that there are eight other communist firms located within walking distance of one another: the Ho Chi Minh Language Training School, Red Dawn Strategies, Hans Widmer Construction Cooperative, the Angela Davis Philosophy Institute, the Fred Hampton Media Warriors, the Shanghai Arcology Lab, CIA heroin boutique and the Fredy Perlman Spa.
Now let’s say that each of these firms has something around 55 employees, on average, so there’s 500 people working together all across these different firms. They have a shared fate: a shared destiny; and they would like to make decisions together. Here, then, is a communist micronation. I’ve laid out a basic motivation (why) and general structure (what) for market communism. In the second part of the essay, I’ll focus in on one of those communist firms, “Red Dawn” strategies to suggest how this can actually happen.