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I am author of the books Political Internet(Routledge, 2017), Intimate Speakers ( Fingerprint! 2017), has finished the typescript of three books—first, on Internet and sexuality; second, on the negative impacts of social media; and third, a novel—and is presently working on a narrative non-fiction with the working title Lovescape: Why India is afraid of love.

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Plato: Theory of communism

Plato devised two methods of control and promoting unity in the state,
Namely positive method of control i.e., education and negative method of control i.e., Communism of Wives and Property.
A notorious theory.
The example of Sparta, wherein the citizens were denied the use of money and the privilege of engaging in trade, undoubtedly influenced Plato in reach­ing this conclusion. The main reason for Plato to emphasize on communism of property was to bring about greater degree of unity in the state.
Plato’s consistency is beyond any doubt. If his theory of communism of property is a logical corollary of his conception of justice and his theory of communism of families was a logical corollary of his views on communism of property. Justice, as Plato had put it, was the very objective of the ideal state.
Plato’s theory of communism was certainly a corollary of his conception of justice. He believed that without communism there would be clash of ideas and interests between reason and appetite. Plato’s communism is based on the premise that property, family instincts and private interests would distract man’s attention from his obligations to the community.
Plato was a great advocate of the notion that women were just as good as men in almost all fields and spheres of activities except for the fact that they may be slightly weaker physically. Plato was of the opinion that family life curtailed the independence and freedom of a female and induced the male to dominate affecting the equality between the sexes. This was one of the reasons why Plato is against the institution of family.

Plato believed in communism of property because he felt that private property led to selfishness of man, which in turn led to the accumulation of wealth and the desire to resort to unfair means to acquire the same. He felt that the family was the root cause of all problems in society because the existence of a family imposed upon an individual the need to accumulate wealth and property.

Hence for the abolition of private property the abolition of family was also required as the two were interconnected. This concept is definitely idealistic in nature and cannot be carried out today, but what is worth noting is Plato’s systematic identification of problems in the society.

In order to systematically eliminate the institution of family from the state, Plato proposed a mechanism which eradicated the very need for family. According to this the state would select mentally and physically men and women who were in their prime - 20 to 40 years for women and 30 to 55 years for men - to form a union and have children.

He believed that the offspring born to parents who are physically and mentally fit would in turn characterize the same aspects and would be more productive towards the welfare of the state.

For the same reason, Plato believed that males or females who were unfit should be prevented from having an union and this producing babies. Men and women who were past their prime would be allowed to associate freely with whomsoever they pleased except their relations in a direct line, such as a father and a daughter, so that children are not conceived as a result of union between close relations. The state would try its best to prevent such unions but if such unions occur, the child thus produced would be killed, as it was immoral that the child be allowed to grow.

A man who produces a baby in union with a female without the knowledge of the magistrate shall be accused of raising an illegitimate, unsponsored and unhallowed child and shall be punishable for the same. Plato believed that as soon as the babies were born they must be taken away from the mother by the officials of the state appointed for that purpose and that the mother should not have even a single look at the baby. This was because he believed that all children would be taken care of better if the parents did not know the identity of their own child. As soon as the babies were born they were to be taken to a general nursery under the charge of certain nurses who lived in a particular part of the city, which was far apart from the place where the babies were born.

The mother would be allowed to go to the nursery for nursing the children present there but care would be taken so as to ensure that a particular mother does not see her biological child.

Plato felt that in such a society, a person would look upon another either as “a brother or a sister, or a father or a mother, or a son or a daughter, or one of the children, or parents of these” and that a child would honor all its guardians as its parents.

Thus by eliminating the institution of family from his ideal state, Plato actually succeeds in bringing about a better sense of law and order in society.

His view may sound mechanical, utopian and even cruel. However, it can be emphasized that while he formed his theory of communism the conditions in Athens played a major role. His ideals with some modifications and interpretations could even perhaps suit today’s troubled times.

Forms of Communism:
Plato’s communism is of two forms, viz., the abolition of private property, which included house, land, money, etc., and the second, the abolition of family, through the abolition of these two, Plato attempted to create a new social order wherein the ruling class surrendered both family and private property and embraced a system of communism. This practice of communism is only meant for the ruling class and the guardian class.
However, Plato did not bind this principle on the third class, namely, the artisans. In other words, they were allowed to maintain property and family, but were under strict supervision so that they do not become either too rich or too poor. Though Plato structured the society in this manner, he never made any attempt to work out his plan that ensured such a system to function.
1. Communism of Property:
Plato’s communism of property is in no way related to the modern communism or socialism because there was no mention of socialization of the means of production. Plato’s approach was mainly concerned with one factor of produc­tion, that is, property that has to be socialized.
The land and its products were in the hands of the farmers. So, only the guardians were deprived of property. Plato deprived them of all valuables such as gold and silver, and were told that the diviner metal is within them, and therefore there is no need for any ornaments as it might pollute the divine thoughts.
The guardians were paid salaries just right enough for their maintenance. They were expected to dine at common tables and live in common barracks, which were always open. Thus, Plato’s communism was ascetic in character. Plato’s communism existed only for the governing class. Therefore, it was political communism and not economic communism.
2. Communism of Wives:
Plato’s scheme of communism deprived the guardian class not only of property, but also a private life or a family because family introduced an element of thine and mine. He believed that family would destroy a sense of cooperation that forms the basis for a state. To destroy family, it is important to destroy selfishness. Plato wanted the rulers of an ideal state not to get distracted from their work and get tempted towards self-interests.
Plato opined that family was the great stronghold of selfishness, and for this reason it has to be banned for the governing class. This situation brings about a question of ‘Did Plato deny his guardians class a normal sex life?’ For this, Plato stated that mating was encouraged between those who can in the best possible manner produce children of the desired quality.
Another question that was raised was related to those children who were born out of this union. According to Plato, they would be the property of the state. Immediately after their birth, they would be taken to a nursery and nursed and nurtured there. This method would make sure that no parent would have any affection upon one child, and thus love all the children as their own.
Further, the guardians, instead of caring for the welfare of their progeny, would thrive for the welfare of all. Thus, guardians of the state would constitute one great family wherein all children would be treated equal and common. Bound by common joys and sorrow, there is personal or exclusive relation to one family and in the process the entire state.
Plato further stipulated the age for both men and women for begetting children. He stated that the proper age for begetting children women should be between the age of 20 and 40 and men between 25 and 55 because at this time, the physical and intellectual vigor is more. If anybody flouted the rules, they were treated as unholy and unrighteous beings.
Thus, Plato’s communism of wives provided social, political and psychological bases for the ideal state. Plato believed that such a communism of family would remove the conflict between the personal interests and the objectives of the state.
Theory of communism or koinonia of property for the rulers of his ideal state was later taken up, rightly or wrongly, as a blue-print for several modern political manifestos
It was put into practice in communities as diverse as collective farms and religious cloisters. Even his extension of this principle to a communism of wives (461d-e) served many a hair-brained commune of hippies in the 1960.

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