Workers owning technology and the 2nd precept

Hi. To avoid Buddhist extremism and to remain within the sphere of Buddhist moderation, in my opinion, the “workers owning the means of production” can probably only occur in a low-tech agrarian society where the means of production is the land of this Earth and some basic tools. Therefore, we know in history many societies devolved in Feudalism because a military/ruling class (which the Buddha was born into) were required to protect the agricultural land from invaders. Note: I am not at all saying the military classes’ protection of the land warranted their ownership of the land but in many feudal societies the workers kept their production apart from a portion they gave to the Lords for the Lord’s protection .

But what we know in the world as Marxism or Communism arose out of the Industrial Revolution when certain very smart individuals invented various types of technology; which then became the means of production. Therefore, I think to start claiming or assert the “workers own the technology” is starting to impinge upon the 2nd precept. For example, do the workers own the Apple I-Phone IP or the Pfizer mRNA vaccine IP or the IP created for Sutta Central? :thinking:

My basic knowledge is the USSR, China, North Korea & Cuba, plus Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia for a time, the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic for a time, were the only Communist countries. Then there was also what seemed to be a relatively short-lived Kibbutz experiment in Israel, which has declined. Kibbutz - Wikipedia But naturally, this Kibbutzim was protected my various military powers of both the Capitalist/Colonialist West and the Soviet Union. Wikipedia says:

For the first three years of its existence, Israel was in the Non-Aligned Movement, but David Ben-Gurion gradually began to take sides with the West. The question of which side of the Cold War Israel should choose created fissures in the kibbutz movement.

My question is what is an example of a Communism that is not authoritarian? :thinking:

Also, to show I am trying avoid bias, what is an example of any society that is not authoritarian? :grimacing:

Do you expect all beings to come to a state of Universal Metta for true Communism to occur? :saluting_face:

This is an interesting question: could you make a new thread and see what people think?

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I think the question is a little simplistic. I would frame it more along the lines of: “What rules should we be doing business under, and to what extent is the profit from ideas/money/resources dependent on the society, in terms of workers, consumers, security, accumulated knowledge etc?”.

Complex technology is created by collaboration. Societies are organised to motivate that collaboration in various ways, most obviously in terms of profit and wages. Without the society, workers, consumers, and security there would be no complex technology and no market for it. Unlike what was possible back in the 19th C, when it was possible for individuals to build inventions from scratch by themselves, very little advanced technology gets created from scratch by private companies. Most of it depends on knowledge generated by research and development funded by governments in Universities, defence contracts, and so on.

I don’t begrudge people making money out of taking that knowledge and packaging it in clever ways, which is what various companies have done. But take away any one of the knowledge, the workers, and the consumers and there is no product and no profit.


I think the five precepts were developed with reference to existing legal regimes at the time. I don’t think the Buddha was trying to do anything revolutionary. The point being more to show people how to live a good life in the world than to rebuild the world from the ground up.

If a court could potentially acknowledge something as property, yes, it would generally be wrong to assert ownership over it. That would be very destabilising to society & would stop anything from getting done. Societies which have weakly enforced property regimes are typically unattractive to investors and remain mired in poverty, which in turn leads to many social evils like even child prostitution. Case example: Cambodia.

But whether parliaments want to pass more progressive legislation might be an open question. It should be for parliament to decide, not for courts (judicial activism) or individuals (people’s revolution).

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I’m personally (a bit of) a fan of what Singapore has done here: the government successfully ran a budget surplus for many years, and then invested that money in the stock market. By now, the SG government (i.e. “the people”†) is a major (or even majority) shareholder of most of the country’s large companies.

All this through simple and normal taxes. In fact, through taxes so fair and reasonable, that Singapore has become an economic hub, attractive to many large and savvy international businesses. Not “theft” at all: just a clever bit of public policy that’s now, literally, paying dividends

† - They are a bit of an authoritarian, single-party government. So… yeah, that is a big caveat. We’ll see how long they can keep their meritocracy up and the corruption down… But for now at least the government really does appear to be operating (mostly) for “the people’s” interest.


Thank you Venerable. Yes, possibly, but Singapore is a small high population density place, historically a trading-hub. Thus I imagine its economy is highly service focused. But larger countries such as the USA, Canada, Russia, Brazil or Australia have vast distances requiring the building of large amounts of relatively low use infrastructure and have lots of small towns each requiring their own medical, water & energy services. For example, I recall one Saturday morning in my large vast country driving up a major road through winding hills that connects a number of small towns with a major city and I only passed one motor vehicle during that 90 minute drive. Therefore, in larger countries, the tax revenues required per capita are higher and the tax spend per capital less efficient. The Singapore GDP in 2020 was 340 billion USD. The 2020 revenue of Apple Inc was 275 billion USD, Amazon 386 billion USD (in 2021 up to 470 USD) and Walmart 524 billion USD. Therefore, there seem to be single corporations larger than Singapore. This means it is easy for a budgets-surplus efficient high density small nation to invest its surplus into stock markets. However not all nations and all people can invest in stock-markets because there is a finite amount of shares. If all nations invested in stock market there would not be many shares to allocate to each nation. :saluting_face:

To me, the above sounds like saying the drunks should be owning the brewery. :grin: But, seriously, Henry Ford was great industrialist who realized if he doubled the wages of his workers, they could afford to purchase the mass-market motor cars they were producing. Therefore, by paying higher wages (to a certain degree), his company could make more profit. It seems you are making a case for fair wages, fair taxation, etc, rather than outright Communism.

Hasn’t the above become a problem of late in Western countries, where R&D advances using government funded universities are later totally privatized? Isn’t this Corporate Socialism? :money_mouth_face:

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Unfortunately, there seems to often be a need for a state apparatus, which resulted in communist projects tending to result in an authoritarian leader. There is always somebody who wants to be king of the world, right? The ideals of communism aren’t necessarily bad, but there are many bad actors out there, and the flaws in any system can typically be linked to the flaws in the humans operating it.

Right. The neoliberal capitalist paradigm only exerts its authoritarian influence in different ways. An example being achieving stratification of most of its state population into economic servitude. In the US this is easily achieved by roping people into expensive college debt at a young age, thus tying them to the economic system for the rest of their lives by necessitating the need to repay debt (which seems to never disappear due to high interest rates), and also pay extreme costs to insure one’s family. Therefore any dreams or ideas of independence are easily squandered by one being weighed down by debt, with no access to healthcare unless one works. There are obviously some flaws in this very basic statement, but this explains, at least the US, pretty simply. Most can also see that US “democracy” is not truly democracy, but that is another argument, haha.

It is difficult to equate any political system under the 2nd precept, since all state control requires removal or control over human autonomy in one way or another. It is also important to note that not too long ago in many countries the God-given divinity of kings was not questioned all too frequently. So, systems can change even when the contemporary peoples think it an impossibility.


During the 1960s and 1970s there was a trend among groups of individuals, mostly in Europe and North America, we might refer to as having counter-cultural leanings who formed what are commonly referred to as “communes.” One of the more well-known communes of that era was “The Farm” which was founded in Tennessee (USA) in 1971 and still exists to this day (population around 200):

Other so-called “intentional communities” continue to exist and be established, many of which operate on a small scale and on the basis of communal values and shared ownership of resources.


Well, that’s my point. Apple , Google, etc, didn’t actually “invent” most of the the key technology that they have packaged, and the whole question of “owning IP” is somewhat problematic. Some things can be “owned” (patented or trademarked), according to the current “rules of the game”, some things can not. The whole question of “ownership” in these cases depends on convention. I don’t know if you remember the 80s and 90s, where Apple, Microsoft, and others were suing each other over various issues of graphical user interfaces, trying to use the rules to their advantage. Some of it seemed as ridiculous as if Ford, or some other early car company attempted to sue other car companies for putting the accelerator on the right, the brake on the left, and having a circular steering wheel. I.e. nothing to do with real creativity…

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The difference between humans and asuras are that asuras don’t have technology.

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You can also point to the Communist Party of Cyprus. Communism is inherently authoritarian, as you have to suppress dissent and private property. The stage Marx called the dictatorship of the proletariat, which in its ideal from is mob rule and in real terms rule of a party in the name of the workers, a party that then holds tightly to that power. That happens when a party tries to move society towards communism. The Cypriot communists and the Indian ones you refer to aren’t doing that, but if they were to they would become the same as the communist parties of old (and still current).

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Who or what determines the right to private property? :thinking: I previously suggested, the impression from history is, the arising of a warrior class to protect the public/communal property evolved into their authoritarian ownership of private property. In a place like England and its colonies, this is called ‘Crown Land’. Do you believe those warriors who defended property and later acquired new property via offensive warfare have a right to adjudicate the private ownership of property?

Put another way, when the serfs of English feudalism were sent to the industrial cities as new labour-saving technology took over the farmlands, are you saying those who can make the farmland the most productive have a natural right to the private property? :thinking:

Today, members of the World Economic Forum, such as Yuval Noah Harari, are already speaking of “useless eaters” as they envisage A.I. Technology replacing human labour. Do you have a view about this possible future when such think tanks often say the Earth is overpopulated? :saluting_face:

I don’t think these minuscule enclaves of Communism has much to do with the topic, since there are hardly any Communist countries.

And there is really no successful large scale pure free-market capitalism either, as I argued above. It’s societies and people that produce ideas and goods, not “capitalism”. How much money various people make from their ideas or their labour or the money or property they already have it is a function of which rules are in place, which in a democracy should be ultimately up to the people.

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The problem with democracy in the US is that people are now so conditioned here to think they are special, individually interesting winners, that they have a hard time dealing with being a loser.

This is an important point. We could essentially argue that much of the modern world is more of a technocratic oligarchy, and the internet/apps world has essentially formed into a kind of digital feudalism where power is held by a few elite companies (Apple, Google, Meta, etc) and all those feeding them data are their serfs. Then we come back to the stealing, and I could make a quite decent argument (in my opinion) that without self regulation in regard to using these technologies, you can very easily fall into the trap of surrendering a good portion of your agency, possibly without even knowing you have done so.

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Communism is actually very similar to feodalism since their only achievement is to erase the middle class. Cmiiw, but to my understanding, communism was invented to counter capitalism and not feodalism. The middle class in the past could never surpass the aristocracy. But today we have a very open social mobility with no clear border that could keep the status quo to preserve their domination on society. Although kings got toppled all the time. So I’m not exactly sure what I’m talking about.

But in regard of the 10 precepts, I see many mistranslations are occurring here. For example, how do you define stealing? Who owns technology? The patent system is a human invention. So you basically invent the patent system to protect your ownership of other inventions. But do you actually have the right to own technology in the first place? This sounds a lot like petty brainwash to me. Can technology be owned in the first place?

For me, both of the above are not dhamma. :slightly_smiling_face:

Why? It’s not entirely clear to me what the 2nd precept even requires. Does it require that people don’t violate a legal regime of property rights? This would be entirely consistent with expropriation with the sanction of a legal regime. In fact, we already do have this in the form of taxation and compulsory acquisition by property by capitalist states.

If, on the other hand, it requires that people do not take what they don’t have some sort of moral claim to, then it’s not at all clear what it requires, since one would need to know the correct view of distributive justice in order to determine whether or not something can be taken from a person. It’s by no means obvious that we ought to live under a capitalist property regime. It’s not at all clear that the best arrangement is for a small group of people to have control over the vast majority of the world’s resources, leaving no choice for everyone else than to rent out their bodies to a capitalist in order to obtain their means of subsistence, or just to starve if their labour isn’t useful to a capitalist, as occurs in the developing world (this is the actual cause of starvation and poverty in the modern world—there is actually enough food for everyone). This would seem to be pretty hard to justify in the face of a better alternative (though I’m not sure that there is one, so maybe it is justified).

If it means that we ought not take what is in the possession of another, then this would prohibit the enforcement of property rights generally—you can’t take back your goods from a thief. Though it might seem implausible, this might actually be the better interpretation. Taking what is in the possession of another—even if one has a legal claim to it—will likely involve a degree of violence. It might even be argued that trying to enforce your property rights is a violation of the second precept. It’s not clear what is the relevant difference between getting a group of thugs to use force to take back your property and getting the police to do it. It can’t be the fact that it is legal that distinguishes it, since this would also seem to entail that using legal violence to stop someone taking your property is also permissible, which doesn’t strike me as plausible.

If this is the correct interpretation, then it would seem to entail that if everyone followed the 2nd precept, we’d live in some sort of anarcho-communist society in which everything only gets done by consensus.

They never even claimed to live in a communist society, since the marxist orthodoxy, even amongst stalinists (ie, “marxist-leninists”), is that communism entails the abolition of the state and the mental-manual division of labour. They were “communist” in the sense that they lived under the rule of a “communist party”, a party which aimed at achieving communism at some point in the future. They did, however, claim (after the expected world revolution failed in Western Europe) to live under ‘socialism’ which was supposed to be a stage between capitalism and communism. However, the idea that there was a “mode of production” between capitalism and communism was probably a novel idea amongst marxists. At the very least, this is clearly not what Marx and Engels thought.

Immediate return hunter-gatherer societies are arguably an instance of both of these. In any case, the fact that it hasn’t existed doesn’t entail that it couldn’t exist. The idea of a capitalist society probably would have appeared absurd to people living in the height of feudalism—“when has it ever occurred? The natural order of things if for there to be lords and bondsmen, how could you have a society dominated by the merchants? Look at the shambles that that brought about in the Italian city-states.”

Marx and Engels, at least, had a purported explanation for why it has never (since the beginning of class society ~10,000 years ago) existed—communism requires a level of technological development which makes the ruling classes redundant. This requires sufficient surplus production that would make having a separate class of people doing all of the intellectual work of society (ie, economic, legal, governmental, etc, decision making) redundant—ie, where it is feasible for the producers to also make all of society’s decisions.

Marxists, at least, do not believe that this is the case. They think that the proletariat will bring about communism because it is in its self-interest to do so. They think that people will co-operate under communism because it would be in their self-interest to do so. Marx and Engels emphasised this point, since they took it to be what distinguished them from the ‘utopian socialists’.

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