Stop Saying ‘Communism Works on Paper’


“Well, communism sounds great, but it just only works on paper…”

If you are like me, you have heard these words many times. Worse, you more often hear it from conservatives or even libertarians, the last people you would expect to concede anything to communists! I would like to argue that this not only an unnecessary concession, but that it is an incorrect and misguided concession.

Being Libertarian has posted a piece about this before, but the author focused on different arguments. I hope to take a more philosophical approach.

There are essentially three different ways to interpret this statement: The first is that it was written down on paper by the authors, therefore it works on paper. This interpretation is easily debunked. 2+2=5. That statement is on paper (well, on your screen, but you get the idea). I wrote it, it seems to work in that 2+2 is on one side of the equal sign and 5 on the other. Therefore, it works on paper! Perhaps an absurd example, but the point remains. A mathematician would hardly make the concession that this “works on paper.”

The second interpretation is something like this: If we take for granted the assumptions of communism then it works but this is like saying “well, if we assume that 5=4 then 2+2 does equal 5! The problem is that 5 does not equal 4, but a novel approach comrade!” perhaps true. But a weird and unnecessary, concession.

The third interpretation is the one I will spend the most time on, as I feel it is the most common intention.

It goes something like this: “Communism would be the ideal society, a true utopia! However, man has an inherent moral failure. We are ridden with greed and thus communism is too reliant upon the morality of man. We are simply not righteous enough!” Basically, we are not good enough for communism.

So that is the claim: Communism is the morally superior option. We are simply not a morally superior species.

Then the way to smash this is by looking at the moral claims of communists and you can decide if you believe them to be morally superior. So, let’s do just that.

The Three Stages of History


Creatology is the ideas put forth by various philosophers of how the universe came into being. The most popular is that god, in her endless benevolence and generosity, created man. The less popular, communist, idea is that god, or some other metaphysical being, was everything. She was god, man, all of nature. To create the universe a massive split occurred (due to the mystical laws of history, the “dialectic.”) Everyone is merely a part of the greater “one.” Separated, but still just a piece.


This split from god is necessary, according to its proponents, for god and man to develop. However, it is not without its problems. It causes what is perhaps the most misunderstood word of the communist ideology: “Alienation.” Most take this to mean alienation in the workplace. Something that comes about from the most tedious, unfulfilling, tasks that arise from the division of labor. (Think quality control person who stands there watching a machine do work, just to make sure it does not mess up, and it never messes up!) These incredibly boring tasks “alienate” the laborer and make her hate her life. However, this is not the alienation in its classical sense. What it really means is alienation from the “one” we crave being a single entity, we need to become “one” again.


The final stage of history is what we have all been waiting for, our break with god is over. Now that we have found ourselves, slept around with feudalism and capitalism, we are ready to settle down with god, or the “one.” That’s it, history is finally over and we are all happy as one collective being! After all, everyone knows these best things come in threes. (Like the sections in this article!)

Hegelianism and the Marxist Secularization of the Dialectic


“Not so fast!”
Hegel (probably)

History ends there, but the story is not quite complete.

What I have outlined above is a very religious sentiment. An atheist is not going to buy this story. We cannot reunite with a being that does not exist. Hegel was not an atheist, but he set the groundwork for an atheist dialectic with his ideas. He altered this conception of the dialectic by contending each person is god. According to Hegel, Jesus was not god become man, but man become god. Eventually man would reach perfection, a state of “man-god”, and this would be a unification of each man-god with each man-god; essentially removing actual God from the picture. Still religious, though maybe arrogant (but hey, I can’t say I hate the idea of being god!).

Marx and Secularization

Marx also believed in this dialectic, but he is the one who finally secularized the idea.

Marx’s contention was that the future was determined by scientific factors, particularly the notion of “historical materialism.” This essentially meant that different technologies determine the politics, economics, and ideologies of each time period. As technology advances, society changes to fit that technological structure.

In this conception, everything above remains except there is no god. We will eventually become one, just one unified group looking to achieve the same goals, but not literally one thing. History does not literally end, there is just nothing to be done.


The laws of history dictate I end the discussion in the third stage, the long-awaited conclusion. Thus, I will make my concluding remarks.

Joking aside, the ideas presented above are not the complete story. But they are illustrative. You should make up your own mind.

But frankly, I have no idea how someone claiming to subscribe to individualism could look at an ideology like this and think it is morally superior. I have tried to keep the tone of this article light, but as a radical individualist I find the idea that I am not complete, that I am merely a piece of an unfinished puzzle, essentially that I am not an end but a means, completely repugnant. Totally antithetical to the ideas of liberty, individual rights, and so on. To me, this is the most morally bankrupt position you can take.

We are not good enough for communism? It is precisely the opposite; communism is not good enough for us. It is not good enough for me.

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Ryan Thornton

Ryan Thornton is a 21-year-old who has been a libertarian for 7+ years. He is currently striving for his undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Alaska Anchorage.