The novel essentially addresses two types of collectivist societies: anarchistic and communistic. While a communist society is predicated on a dictatorship of the proletariat (working class), an anarchistic society is predicated on the notion that a central authority is unnecessary. Communism relies on one-party rule; thus relationships within the party are extremely important. Since the controlling authority is based on a hierarchical system, each layer within that hierarchy is subordinate to the one above it. Thus, the integrity of the one-party system largely depends on how well individuals can leverage relationships to their own advantage within that system.
As can be seen in China, the one-party communist rule is rife with power struggles and conflict. In her book, Le Guin proposes a collectivist model that does away with the centralism of the communist model. As an example from the novel, Anarres is predicated on an anarchistic model.
There was to be no controlling center, no capital, no establishment for the self-perpetuating machinery of bureaucracy and the dominance drive of individuals seeking to become captains, bosses, chiefs of state.
On Anarres, the idea is that "no community should be cut off from change and interchange." The free exchange of ideas is central to anarchism; on the other hand, the central authority in a communist society unilaterally sets party policy for all members, regardless of individual input. Dissent and debate are scarcely tolerated as a practice in any communist society that relies on this one-party rule. While individuals within a communist hierarchy must cultivate key relationships to preserve their political interests, anarchists can choose to cultivate fulfilling relationships according to individual preferences and desires.
On Anarres, there is no forced labor; instead, a loosely-bureaucratic computerized system (Divlab) allocates assignments to individuals based on their education and abilities. Everyone shares with another (or at least, is expected to). There is a degree of trust between individuals on Anarres that is not common to either Terra or Urras. In fact, on Anarres, "solitude (is) equated with disgrace." If one is banished to a single room within a domicile, it usually means that one has "egoized" to the detriment of social harmony. Generally, relationships are based on free will. These support an economic system largely predicated on mutual reliance, tolerance, and egalitarianism.
Aside from sexual pairing, there was no reason for not sleeping in a dormitory. You could choose a small one or a large one, and if you didn't like your roommates, you could move to another dormitory. Everybody had the workshop, laboratory, studio, barn or office that he needed for his work; one could be as private or as public as one chose in the baths; sexual privacy was freely available and socially expected; and beyond that, privacy was not functional.
On A-Io in Urras, the producers are totally banished from the face of commerce. The most powerful relationships are those between the buyers and sellers. Shevek asserts that Urras has everything: "enough air, enough rain, grass, oceans, food, music, buildings, factories, machines, books, clothes, history." However, he argues that Urras does not have true human freedom; the masses are slaves to their material wealth. The whole economic system on Urras is sustained by the principle of the survival of the fittest.
On Anarres, nothing is beautiful, nothing but the faces...We have...nothing but each other...our men and women are free--possessing nothing, they are free. And you, the possessors are possessed. You are all in jail. Each alone, solitary, with a heap of what he owns...
On the other hand, the economic system on Anarres is sustained by its emphasis on individual rights and its focus on social harmony. The thesis of the story is that the free exchange of ideas between worlds (human cooperation across political ideologies) can sustain an optimal economic system that simultaneously values egalitarianism, technological progress, mutual reliance, and tolerance.