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‘Plato was not an ancient Karl Marx. Plato proposes an ascetic communism

By June 13, 2022May 22nd, 2023Mains Answer Writing, PSIR OPTIONAL

Ques. “Plato was not an ancient Karl Marx. Plato proposes an ascetic communism, the purpose of which is to remove objects of desire, not to distribute them more equitably.” Comment.


  • Introduction- Need for Communism in Platonic thought
  • What is this Communism that Plato talks about?
  • Why is it not like Marx’s idea of communism?
  • Conclusion- Critical assessment of Plato’s communism
  • Plato’s just State in the ‘Republic’ is one ruled by philosophers, by those with knowledge. However, Plato realises that overtime, the rule of philosophers is also prone to crumbling to desires and self-interest rather than public interest.
  • Plato proposes to resolve this problem in a variety of ways. One of the mechanisms to ensure continuation of just rule is removal of objects of desire for the ruling class through communism.
  • According to Sabine, Plato’s communism takes two forms-First is prohibition of private property for rulers and auxiliaries (effect). Second is the abolition of permanent monogamous sexual relationships, substituted by regulated breeding for the best possible offspring (cause).
  • The auxiliaries and rulers will not be allowed to own property, nor will they have families of their own. Children borne out of regulated mating will be held in common, outside the family structure and will consider State their family (Nelson).
  • This system of communism, thereby by depriving the guardian class of family and private property, believed Plato saved them from degeneration due to corruption and nepotism.A comparison can be made in context of the private property with the idea of ‘simple living, high thinking’ attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.
  • Despite evolving a system of communist principles, it is imperative to highlight the difference between Platonic idea and the contemporary concept of communism based on Karl Marx’s work:
    • Ascetism versus surplus production:While Plato’s communism was based on depriving the ruling class of property to ensure their virtue, Marx sought to distribute the surplus equitably amongst all.
    • Future guardians versus smashing class: Plato’s communism of regulated mating and common care of children was meant to ensure future rulers to sustain guardian class while Marx’s communism sought to end class.
    • Sustenance of State versus end of State: Plato’s communism of wives and property was directed for the unity and survival of State whereas Marx’s communism was directed at creating a stateless society.
    • Political versus Economic Objective:Plato’s political philosophy viewed politics as a key to ensure justice and harmony in society. On the other hand, for Marx, economics was the base that provided foundation for superstructure including political system.
  • Plato’s system of communism while being revolutionary, was criticized not just by modern day scholars but his own student Aristotle as well. Aristotle critised Platonic communism of depriving the rulers of basic happiness and motivationnecessary for humans.
  • Rather than creating unity and order, critics argue Platonic communism would only cause disorder,confusion as well as neglect. Karl Popperargues that Plato’s system was not different from an idealised reproduction of tribalismof the past.