I’d like to take a stab at this from a classical perspective. The very first exploration of communism, in any rigorous sense, was in Plato’s Republic. Now, Plato borrowed heavily from Aristophones’ “Assembly of Women,” which first put forth the idea of an entirely communistic society. Plato expanded the idea, and explained the function of the various parts. Because this is not an introductory to political philosophy, I’ll sketch things out very quickly.
According to Plato’s Socrates, to create the best state, we must first rusticate all those above the age of reason (11). We must do this because the foundation of a new order must be in convictions and beliefs, and not in rhetoric; Socrates is prudent enough to realize that convincing an extant people who have deeply rooted traditions will be impossible. The children would be raised and schooled, and taught that they all were born from the earth. Each child will have been born from a different metal, a different element of his mother. Some are bronze, some silver, and some gold. Throughout their education, the reigning Philosophers must determine which of these types each of them is.
Each type of person has a different function, as suited to his ability: laborer/artisan, soldier and Philosopher (ruler). I won’t go into more specifics of the myth here, but suffice it to say that for Plato, any foundational act must begin in myth, and all practical authority of law must stem from the gods.
In this way, Philosophers could rule. Now, law is itself imperfect. A law is necessarily imperfect, because it encapsulates either very narrow cases that do not apply generally, or because it is generally applicable and does not concern itself with specifics. We say that justice “is blind,” but the original meaning of this phrase was not in the ideals of equality, but rather in the way in which the law does not “grind exceedingly fine.”
We can say that there are really only two major types of rule, and that is autocratic or monarchic, and legalistic. In one, in the purest sense, rule is exercised by a man or a group of men, without regard to a constitution or fixed laws that may not be deviated from. In a society governed entirely by laws, there is no capricious character to rule; it is entirely decided by rules that ought to be comprehensible to any man of normal intelligence.
We know, from experience, that these are ideals and not realities. They don’t really describe any regime that exists, because they are both utterly impracticable. A despot cannot really rule entirely capriciously, even with a very detailed network of henchmen and spies. At some point he must set down his laws, and must rule according to them, at least in part.
At the same time, a society entirely governed by law without regard to specific circumstances is radically opposed to human nature.
But the goal of any good regime is to at least enable the citizens to live the good life; that is, they must be able to seek perfection of their souls in accordance with the good. Further, Socrates tells us that justice lies precisely in “minding one’s business.” This isn’t just in the sense of not being a busybody, of course, but also in the sense of engaging only in the endeavors for which one is suited. So a shoemaker ought not lay bricks, and a mason ought not try to cobble shoes. We wouldn’t expect a well-built wall from the shoemaker, nor would we expect a comfortable shoe from the mason.
It stands to reason, then, that just as in the market, our politics should be similarly well-ordered. We do not pick our shoemakers by lots, for example. We pick them for their ability in shoemaking, which is somewhat obvious to us. But the higher the art, the more education necessary to differentiate ability, and the citizen is in no position to make a study of all arts, including politics, to that great an extent.
So Socrates looked to heaven for the best regime. If God is a being of infinite wisdom, he is necessarily just. Few people, if any, would say that God is a despot. God is necessarily just, based on our definition, if he does precisely what he is good at, what is his business: ruling. God is infinitely wise, and so we will without reservation say that he is well equipped to solve any problem that may arise.
We may disagree as to what degree of difference there is between the Philosopher and the citizen. The Philosophers have been chosen from those children in each generation who are the most capable and enthusiastic for wisdom and truth (episteme), and who do not simply follow accepted opinion (doxa). But whatever degree of difference there is, the wise Philosopher is much more wise than a law, as a law cannot itself have wisdom.
To return to the matter of communism, as a practical concern, we must preserve this order, this autocracy. To maintain it, each citizen must be divided into his class in childhood. But we know that human beings are partial to their families, and would resent having their child put in a class other than their own. And this opens up a new problem; for a truly healthy state, each citizen must be working for the good of the whole, and not himself. Yet the family, which is really only an extension of the Ego, is opposed to the interest of the state.
Household management (oeconomicon) prioritizes the family at the expense of the state, seeking to maintain the father’s interest. Further, as we’ve already established that deference to divine authority forms the foundation (literally and figuratively) of the best state, we must maintain at least the illusion of this noble lie. As such, there can be no marriage, and complete communism of children. Children would know no parents other than the state, and would not be preferred based on birth or supposed heritage.
There could also be no squabbles between families, nor familial interest, nor preferential treatment. Each man would act as though he had a thousand children and a thousand fathers; that is, with respect for his elders and with patience with the young.
Communism, then, in its initial formulation was conceived from the state down. Wishing to create a perfect state, which would mean that each man would be happy (but not satisfied), Socrates has given us the description of what would be necessary to create this polis.
Marx starts at the other end. He first imagined the proletariat, dominated and humiliated under the yoke of the aristocracy. What must be done, then, is to restrain the dominating impulse in man by a series of social upheavals. The state absorbs industry, and chooses to pursue only those things that are useful without creating superfluity.
For Marx, Communism is the reintegration of man with fellow men; the state is a necessary formality, the means through which this end is achieved. By dividing labor to each according to his ability, Marx seeks to alleviate the psychologically destructive humiliation of capitalist dominance.
Let us stop and examine the underpinnings of both Socrates and Marx, but from a foundational perspective. For Socrates, men and women are rusticated, and one begins with fresh minds and bodies. For Marx, we instead begin with the downtrodden rising in revolt. For Socrates, there is necessarily a wise ruling class who, through force or through rhetoric, convinces the citizens that they must leave, perhaps due to worries about a disaster.
We know that the Philosophers cannot convince the citizens that they are deserving of rule and obedience, but they may possess the lower skill of being able to convince the citizens to act in a particular way, at one time, to pursue their interests. No matter. Marx sees subjugation or ejection of the “ruling class,” essentially, the bourgeoisie.
But still lingering in the back of that revolutionary mind is the notion that he has been a slave, and that he must preserve his freedom, if one may call it that, through violence or whatever means. And also, for the Marxist, there is always the idea that work is not a pleasure but rather a necessity. We participate in labor because it is necessary and because everyone else does, but not for its own virtue.
Now, for Socrates, each man is happy in his position, but not entirely so. The laborers might wish to create more elaborate designs, but that is forbidden to them. They must confine themselves to mastery of their art as it is practiced simply, and not extravagantly. The soldiers would like to dominate the world, perhaps even their own city, but they must not. They are happy to defend the best city, but their thumistic urges are not indulged. The Philosophers would like to engage in philosophy, but they are bound to engage instead in politics. No one is completely satisfied, yet each realizes that he is fulfilling his divinely ordained purpose. The Marxist has no such comfort.
I’m afraid this has deviated from my original intentions, and I’ll have to conclude here, by saying that to understand any political system, we must look not only at what the system means for us as we are, but also how it would change who we would be. Socrates looked to men as they are, and laws as they might be. Marx, instead, only looked to men as they might be, but not as they are.