Barracks communism

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Barracks communism[1] (German: Kasernenkommunismus)[2] is the term coined by Karl Marx[3] to refer to a "crude", authoritarian, forced collectivism and communism, where all aspects of life are bureaucratically regimented and communal. Originally, Marx used the expression to criticise the vision of Sergey Nechayev, outlined in the Fundamentals of the Future Social System.[4][3]

The term barracks here does not refer to military barracks, but to the workers' barracks-type primitive dormitories in which industrial workers lived in many places in the Russian Empire of the time.[5]

Later, political theorists of the Soviet Union applied this term to the People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong (1950s–1970s).[1] Still later during the Soviet Perestroika period, the term was used to apply to the history of the Soviet Union itself.[5]

Primary sources[edit]

A relevant section of Sergey Nechayev's "The Fundamentals of the Future Social System" reads as follows:

The ending of the existing social order and the renewal of life with the aid of the new principles can be accomplished only by concentrating all the means of social existence in the hands of our committee, and the proclamation of compulsory physical labour for everyone.

The committee, as soon as the present institutions have been overthrown, proclaims that everything is common property, orders the setting up of workers' societies” (artels) and at the same time publishes statistical tables compiled by experts and pointing out what branches of labour are most needed in a certain locality and what branches may run into difficulties there.

For a certain number of days assigned for the revolutionary upheaval and the disorders that are bound to follow, each person must join one or another of these artels according to his own choice... All those who remain isolated and unattached to workers' groups without sufficient reason will have no right of access either to the communal eating places or to the communal dormitories, or to any other buildings assigned to meet the various needs of the brother-workers or that contain the goods and materials, the victuals or tools reserved for all members of the established workers' society; in a word, he who without sufficient reason has not joined an artel, will be left without means of subsistence. All the roads, all the means of communication will be closed to him; he will have no other alternative but work or death.

In their International Alliance of Socialist Democracy and the International Workingmen's Association, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels quote the above text and comment as follows:

What a beautiful model of barracks communism! Here you have it all: communal eating, communal sleeping, assessors and offices regulating education, production, consumption, in a word, all social activity, and to crown all, Our Committee, anonymous and unknown to anyone, as the supreme dictator. This indeed is the purest anti-authoritarianism...

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Казарменный коммунизм", in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (in Russian))
  2. ^ p. 194
  3. ^ a b Marxism versus Anarchism (2001), p 88
  4. ^ Главные основы будущего общественного строя, According to Marx, printed in the second issue of 'Народная расправа' magazine available in Geneva in December 1869, but labelled "St.Petersburg, winter 1870".
  5. ^ a b Alexander Busgalin, Günter Mayer, "Kasernenkommunismus" in: Historisch-kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus, vol. 7/I, 2008, Spalten, 407–411 (pdf text)