This essay compares the experience of workers and workplace politics under communism in the Soviet Union, Poland, East Germany, China, and Vietnam. State–labour relations in these contexts were fraught with tension from the start. Workers’ experience varied widely over time and space. Nevertheless, all workers were subject to state-imposed forms of domination at the workplace and in society at large. This domination was the effect of a powerful ideology, dense organizations, and social hierarchies that were mutually reinforcing. Many workers actively supported communist goals and were rewarded, but the system failed to motivate enough workers to make it work in the long term. Against the background of stagnant or declining living standards, propaganda failed to enlighten most workers while coercion could not produce disciplined and efficient ones. Socialist workers were disempowered but not powerless to manipulate and resist the system.