Communism is a social, political and economic movement that aims at the establishment of a classless and stateless communist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production. This ideology significantly influenced the history of the 20th century, which saw intense rivalry between the "socialist world" (communist states) and the "capitalist world" (countries with market economies and democratic forms of government), culminating in the Cold War between the Eastern bloc and the "Free World".

In Marxist theory, communism is a specific stage of historical development that inevitably emerges from the development of the productive forces that leads to a superabundance of material wealth, allowing for distribution based on need and social relations based on freely associated individuals.[1][2] The exact definition of communism varies, and it is often mistakenly, in general political discourse, used interchangeably with socialism; however, Marxist theory contends that socialism is just a transitional stage on the road to communism. Leninists revised this theory by introducing the notion of a vanguard party to lead the proletarian revolution and to hold all political power after the revolution, "in the name of the workers" and supposedly with worker participation, in a transitional stage between capitalism and socialism.

Communists such as council communists and non-Marxist libertarian communists and anarcho-communist oppose the idea of a vanguard party and a transition stage, and advocate for the construction of full communism to begin immediately upon the abolition of capitalism. There is a very wide range of theories amongst those particular communists in regards to how to build the types of institutions that would replace the various economic engines (such as food distribution, education, and hospitals) as they exist under capitalist systems—or even whether to do so at all. Some of these communists have specific plans for the types of administrative bodies that would replace the current ones, while always qualifying that these bodies would be decentralised and worker-owned, just as they currently are within the activist movements themselves. Others have no concrete set of post-revolutionary blueprints at all, claiming instead that they simply trust that the world's workers and poor will figure out proper modes of distribution and wide-scale production, and also coordination, entirely on their own, without the need for any structured "replacements" for capitalist state-based control.

In the modern lexicon of what many sociologists and political commentators refer to as the "political mainstream", communism is often used to refer to the policies of states run by communist parties, regardless of the practical content of the actual economic system they may preside over. Examples of this include the policies of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam where the economic system incorporates "doi moi", the People's Republic of China (PRC, or simply "China") where the economic system incorporates "socialist market economy", and the economic system of the Soviet Union which was described as "state capitalist" by non-Leninist socialists and later by communists who increasingly opposed the post-Stalin era Soviet model as it progressed over the course of the 20th century (e.g. Maoists, Trotskyists and libertarian communists)—and even at one point by Vladimir Lenin himself.[3]


Etymology and terminology

Communism comes from the Latin word communis, which means "shared" or "belong to all".[4][5]

In the schema of historical materialism, communism is the idea of a free society with no division or alienation, where mankind is free from oppression and scarcity. A communist society would have no governments, countries, or class divisions. In Marxist theory, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the intermediate system between capitalism and communism, when the government is in the process of changing the means of ownership from privatism to collective ownership.[6] In political science, the term "communism" is sometimes used to refer to communist states, a form of government in which the state operates under a one-party system and declares allegiance to Marxism-Leninism or a derivative thereof.[citation needed]

In modern usage, the word "communism" is still often used to refer to the policies of self-declared socialist governments comprising one-party states which were single legal political party systems operating under centrally planned economies and a state ownership of the means of production, with the state, in turn, claiming that it represented the interests of the working classes. A significant sector of the modern communist movement alleges that these states never made an attempt to transition to a communist society, while others even argue that they never achieved a legitimate socialism. Most of these governments based their ideology on Marxism-Leninism, but they did not call the system they had set up "communism", nor did they even necessarily claim at all times that the ideology was the sole driving force behind their policies: Mao Zedong, for example, pursued New Democracy, and Lenin in the early 1920s enacted war communism; later, the Vietnamese enacted doi moi, and the Chinese switched to socialism with Chinese characteristics. The governments labeled by other governments as "communist" generally claimed that they had set up a transitional socialist system. This system is sometimes referred to as state socialism or by other similar names.

"Pure communism" is a term sometimes used to refer to the stage in history after socialism, although just as many communists use simply the term "communism" to refer to that stage. The classless, stateless society that is meant to characterise this communism is one where decisions on what to produce and what policies to pursue are made in the best interests of the whole of society—a sort of 'of, by, and for the working class', rather than a rich class controlling the wealth and everyone else working for them on a wage basis. In this communism the interests of every member of society is given equal weight to the next, in the practical decision-making process in both the political and economic spheres of life. Karl Marx, as well as some other communist philosophers, deliberately never provided a detailed description as to how communism would function as a social system, nor the precise ways in which the working class could or should rise up, nor any other material specifics of exactly how to get to communism from capitalism. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx does lay out a 10-point plan advising the redistribution of land and production to begin the transition to communism, but he ensured that even this was very general and all-encompassing. It has always been presumed that Marx intended these theories to read this way specifically so that later theorists in specific situations could adapt communism to their own localities and conditions.


According to communist theory, the only way to abolish capitalist inequalities is to have the proletariat (working class), who collectively constitute the main producer of wealth in society, and who are perpetually exploited and marginalised by the bourgeoisie (wealthy class), to overthrow the capitalist system in a wide-ranging social revolution.[7] The revolution, in the theory of most individuals and groups espousing communist revolution, usually involves an armed rebellion. The revolution espoused can be explained by theorists in many different ways, and usually depends on the environment in which the particular communism theory originates. For example, the Chinese Revolution involved military combat between the Chinese Red and the Chinese Nationalist Armies, while the Vietnamese Revolution was characterised by guerilla warfare between the heavily-backed Vietnam People's Army and various Western armies, culminating in the Vietnam War which ended in 1975. Meanwhile, the Cuban Revolution was essentially a coup that did not involve intensive wide-scale military conflict between Fulgencio Batista's soldiers and those of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. In fact, Castro initially did not believe that a vanguard party was necessary in Cuba's case, a view boosted by Batista's unpopularity at the time of the actual armed conflict between the two sides. Regardless of the specific form a communist revolution takes, its aim is for the working class to replace the exploiter class as the ruling class to establish a society without class divisions, called socialism, as a prelude to attempting to achieve the final stage of communism.[8]

As a social movement

Communism as a political belief system and a social movement stands in contrast to all this, and is often referred to as "the communist movement"; it exists independently of any particular theorist, just as various other social theories and even religions can be interpreted and espoused in radically divergent ways. In this sense, therefore, communism can be thought of as, in many cases, a resistance movement against capitalism, analogous to anarchism, social anarchism and similar militant far-left beliefs. Especially as compared to the somewhat stultified old equivalences of the word "communism" with the "evil empire" and oppressive dictatorships that used the language of communism largely to justify their own existence and policies, communist beliefs on their own are often claimed by their adherents to be a very positive, populist ideology endorsing "people power" actions, ideas, and events, and of being categorically opposed to oppression and alienation at the hands of any elite (see also the article on far left, which is also known as the "radical left"). Most such communists get personally offended, therefore, when anti-communists continually use the histories of communist states as means by which to claim from the outset that the whole of communist ideas is discredited and invalid.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, communists in certain areas of the world continue to participate in, and sometimes even to have leadership positions in, industrial unions. Other places in the world have parliamentary democracies with MPs in them who identify as communists and try to pass left-leaning laws and bills. Sometimes a communist party within a diverse parliament will hold a minority position but still be influential in the overall governmental operations. Still other places have no participation by any communists within any mainstream political discourse at all (a notable example of this would be the Government of the United States). The pink tide in Latin America, meanwhile, has consisted of democratic elections that led to communist and communist-inspired governments being elected in that area of the world, such as in Bolivia and Venezuela, although the degree to which these governments actually follow policies that are radical left enough to be considered communist, is fiercely contested by the left more generally (the governments themselves proclaim a "Socialism of the 21st century"). Today, although communism is a less influential political force compared to what it was in much of the 20th century,[9] there are still powerful communist and aligned socialist movements in many parts of the world, notably continental Europe, southern Asia and Southeast Asia, and Latin and South America.


Communist (red) and formerly Communist (orange) countries of the world.

"Communism differs from all previous movements in that it overturns the basis of all earlier relations of production and intercourse, and for the first time consciously treats all natural premises as the creatures of hitherto existing men, strips them of their natural character and subjugates them to the power of the united individuals."

— Karl Marx, The German Ideology, 1845[10]

Early communism

The origins of communism are debatable, and there are various historical groups, as well as theorists, whose beliefs have been subsequently described as communist. German philosopher Karl Marx saw primitive communism as the original, hunter-gatherer state of humankind from which it arose. For Marx, only after humanity was capable of producing surplus, did private property develop. The idea of a classless society first emerged in Ancient Greece.[11] Plato in his The Republic described it as a state where people shared all their property, wives, and children: "The private and individual is altogether banished from life and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and in some way see and hear and act in common, and all men express praise and fell joy and sorrow on the same occasions."[11]

In the history of Western thought, certain elements of the idea of a society based on common ownership of property can be traced back to ancient times. Examples include the Spartacus slave revolt in Rome.[12] The 5th century Mazdak movement in what is now Iran has been described as "communistic" for challenging the enormous privileges of the noble classes and the clergy, criticizing the institution of private property and for striving for an egalitarian society.[13]

At one time or another, various small communist communities existed, generally under the inspiration of Scripture.[14] In the medieval Christian church, for example, some monastic communities and religious orders shared their land and other property (see Religious and Christian communism). These groups often believed that concern with private property was a distraction from religious service to God and neighbour.[citation needed]

Communist thought has also been traced back to the work of 16th century English writer Thomas More. In his treatise Utopia (1516), More portrayed a society based on common ownership of property, whose rulers administered it through the application of reason.[citation needed] In the 17th century, communist thought surfaced again in England. In England, a Puritan religious group known as the "Diggers" advocated the abolition of private ownership of land.[15] Eduard Bernstein, in his 1895 Cromwell and Communism[16] argued that several groupings in the English Civil War, especially the Diggers espoused clear communistic, agrarian ideals, and that Oliver Cromwell's attitude to these groups was at best ambivalent and often hostile.[17] Criticism of the idea of private property continued into the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, through such thinkers as Jean Jacques Rousseau in France.[citation needed] Later, following the upheaval of the French Revolution, communism emerged as a political doctrine.[18] François Noël Babeuf, in particular, espoused the goals of common ownership of land and total economic and political equality among citizens.[citation needed]

Various social reformers in the early 19th century founded communities based on common ownership. But unlike many previous communist communities, they replaced the religious emphasis with a rational and philanthropic basis.[19] Notable among them were Robert Owen, who founded New Harmony in Indiana (1825), and Charles Fourier, whose followers organized other settlements in the United States such as Brook Farm (1841–47).[19] Later in the 19th century, Karl Marx described these social reformers as "utopian socialists" to contrast them with his program of "scientific socialism" (a term coined by Friedrich Engels). Other writers described by Marx as "utopian socialists" included Saint-Simon.

In its modern form, communism grew out of the socialist movement of 19th century Europe. As the Industrial Revolution advanced, socialist critics blamed capitalism for the misery of the proletariat—a new class of urban factory workers who laboured under often-hazardous conditions. Foremost among these critics were Marx and his associate Friedrich Engels. In 1848, Marx and Engels offered a new definition of communism and popularized the term in their famous pamphlet The Communist Manifesto.[19] Engels, who lived in Manchester, observed the organization of the Chartist movement (see History of British socialism), while Marx departed from his university comrades to meet the proletariat in France and Germany.[citation needed]

Growth of modern communism

Vladimir Lenin after his return to Petrograd.

In the late 19th century, Russian Marxism developed a distinct character. The first major figure of Russian Marxism was Georgi Plekhanov. Underlying the work of Plekhanov was the assumption that Russia, less urbanized and industrialized than Western Europe, had many years to go before society would be ready for proletarian revolution to occur, and a transitional period of a bourgeois democratic regime would be required to replace Tsarism with a socialist and later communist society. (EB)[citation needed]

In Russia, the 1917 October Revolution was the first time any party with an avowedly Marxist orientation, in this case the Bolshevik Party, seized state power. The assumption of state power by the Bolsheviks generated a great deal of practical and theoretical debate within the Marxist movement. Marx predicted that socialism and communism would be built upon foundations laid by the most advanced capitalist development. Russia, however, was one of the poorest countries in Europe with an enormous, largely illiterate peasantry and a minority of industrial workers. Marx had explicitly stated that Russia might be able to skip the stage of bourgeoisie capitalism.[20] Other socialists also believed that a Russian revolution could be the precursor of workers' revolutions in the West.

The moderate Mensheviks opposed Lenin's Bolshevik plan for socialist revolution before capitalism was more fully developed. The Bolsheviks' successful rise to power was based upon the slogans such as "Peace, bread, and land" which tapped the massive public desire for an end to Russian involvement in the First World War, the peasants' demand for land reform, and popular support for the Soviets.[21]

The usage of the terms "communism" and "socialism" shifted after 1917, when the Bolsheviks changed their name to Communist Party and installed a single party regime devoted to the implementation of socialist policies under Leninism.[citation needed] The Second International had dissolved in 1916 over national divisions, as the separate national parties that composed it did not maintain a unified front against the war, instead generally supporting their respective nation's role. Lenin thus created the Third International (Comintern) in 1919 and sent the Twenty-one Conditions, which included democratic centralism, to all European socialist parties willing to adhere. In France, for example, the majority of the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) party split in 1921 to form the French Section of the Communist International (SFIC).[citation needed] Henceforth, the term "Communism" was applied to the objective of the parties founded under the umbrella of the Comintern. Their program called for the uniting of workers of the world for revolution, which would be followed by the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat as well as the development of a socialist economy. Ultimately, if their program held, there would develop a harmonious classless society, with the withering away of the state.[citation needed]

Self-proclaimed socialist countries within the Marxist-Leninist or Maoist definition in 1980. Color-coding indicates communist alignment with the Soviet Union (red), China (yellow), or independent status (black).

During the Russian Civil War (1918–1922), the Bolsheviks nationalized all productive property and imposed a policy of war communism, which put factories and railroads under strict government control, collected and rationed food, and introduced some bourgeois management of industry. After three years of war and the 1921 Kronstadt rebellion, Lenin declared the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921, which was to give a "limited place for a limited time to capitalism." The NEP lasted until 1928, when Joseph Stalin achieved party leadership, and the introduction of the first Five Year Plan spelled the end of it. Following the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks, in 1922, formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), or Soviet Union, from the former Russian Empire.

Following Lenin's democratic centralism, the communist parties were organized on a hierarchical basis, with active cells of members as the broad base; they were made up only of elite cadres approved by higher members of the party as being reliable and completely subject to party discipline.[22]

Following World War II, Communists consolidated power in Central and Eastern Europe, and in 1949, the Communist Party of China (CPC), led by Mao Zedong, established the People's Republic of China, which would follow its own ideological path of Communist development following the Sino-Soviet split. Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Angola, and Mozambique were among the other countries in the Third World that adopted or imposed a Communist government at some point. By the early 1980s almost one-third of the world's population lived in Communist states, including the former Soviet Union and PRC.[citation needed]

Communist states such as the Soviet Union and PRC succeeded in becoming industrial and technological powers, challenging the capitalists' powers in the arms race and space race.

Cold War years

USSR postage stamp depicting the communist state launching the first artificial satellite Sputnik 1.

By virtue of the Soviet Union's victory in the Second World War in 1945, the Red Army occupied nations not only in Central and Eastern Europe, but also in East Asia; consequently, communism as a movement spread to many new countries. This expansion of communism both in Europe and Asia gave rise to a few different branches of its own, such as Maoism.[23]

Communism had been vastly strengthened by the winning of many new nations into the sphere of Soviet influence and strength in Central and Eastern Europe. Governments modelled on Soviet Communism took power with Soviet assistance in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Romania. A Communist government was also created under Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia, but Tito's independent policies led to the expulsion of Yugoslavia from the Cominform, which had replaced the Comintern. Titoism, a new branch in the world Communist movement, was labelled "deviationist". Albania also became an independent Communist nation after World War II.[24]

By 1950, the Chinese Communists held all of Mainland China, thus controlling the most populous nation in the world. Other areas where rising Communist strength provoked dissension and in some cases led to actual fighting through conventional and guerrilla warfare include the Korean War, Laos, many nations of the Middle East and Africa, and notably succeeded in the case of the Vietnam War against the military power of the United States and its allies. With varying degrees of success, Communists attempted to unite with nationalist and socialist forces against what they saw as Western imperialism in these poor countries.

Fear of communism

A 1947 propaganda book published by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society warning of the dangers of a communist revolution.

With the exception of the contribution in World War II by the Soviet Union, China, and the Italian resistance movement, communism was seen as a rival, and a threat to western democracies and capitalism for most of the 20th century.[25] This rivalry peaked during the Cold War, as the world's two remaining superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, polarized most of the world into two camps of nations. This was characterized in the West as The Free World vs. Behind the Iron Curtain.[citation needed] It supported the spread of their respective economic and political systems (capitalism and communism) and strengthened their military powers. As a result, the camps developed new weapon systems, stockpiled nuclear weapons, and competed in space exploration.

Near the beginning of the Cold War, on February 9, 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin accused 205 Americans working in the State Department of being "card-carrying communists".[26] The fear of communism in the U.S. spurred McCarthyism, aggressive investigations and the red-baiting, blacklisting, jailing and deportation of persons suspected of following communist or other left-wing ideologies. Many famous actors and writers were placed on a blacklist from 1950 to 1954, which meant they would not be hired and would be subject to public disdain.[25]

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union and relaxed central control, in accordance with reform policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The Soviet Union did not intervene as Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary all abandoned Communist rule by 1990. In 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved.

By the beginning of the 21st century, states controlled by communist parties under a single-party system include the People's Republic of China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, and informally North Korea. Communist parties, or their descendant parties, remain politically important in many countries. President Dimitris Christofias of Cyprus is a member of the Progressive Party of Working People, but the country is not run under single-party rule. In South Africa, the Communist Party is a partner in the ANC-led government. In India, communists lead the governments of three states, with a combined population of more than 115 million. In Nepal, communists hold a majority in the parliament.[27] In Brazil, the PCdoB is a part of the parliamentary coalition led by the ruling democratic socialist Workers' Party and is represented in the executive cabinet of Dilma Rousseff.

The People's Republic of China has reassessed many aspects of the Maoist legacy; it, along with Laos, Vietnam, and, to a lesser degree Cuba, has reduced state control of the economy in order to stimulate growth. Chinese economic reforms started in 1978 under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping; since then, China has managed to bring down the poverty rate from 53% in the Mao era to just 6% in 2001.[28] The People's Republic of China runs Special Economic Zones dedicated to market-oriented enterprise, free from central government control. Several other communist states have also attempted to implement market-based reforms, including Vietnam.

A tableau in a communist rally in Kerala, India, of a young farmer and worker.
A Communist demonstration in Red Square, Moscow, July 2009.

Theories within Marxism as to why communism in Central and Eastern Europe was not achieved after socialist revolutions pointed to such elements as the pressure of external capitalist states, the relative backwardness of the societies in which the revolutions occurred, and the emergence of a bureaucratic stratum or class that arrested or diverted the transition press in its own interests. (Scott and Marshall, 2005) Marxist critics of the Soviet Union, most notably Trotsky, referred to the Soviet system, along with other Communist states, as "degenerated" or "deformed workers' states", arguing that the Soviet system fell far short of Marx's communist ideal and he claimed the working class was politically dispossessed. The ruling stratum of the Soviet Union was held to be a bureaucratic caste, but not a new ruling class, despite their political control. Anarchists who adhere to Participatory economics claim that the Soviet Union became dominated by powerful intellectual elites who in a capitalist system crown the proletariat's labour on behalf of the bourgeoisie.

Non-Marxists, in contrast, have often applied the term to any society ruled by a communist party and to any party aspiring to create a society similar to such existing nation-states. In the social sciences, societies ruled by communist parties are distinct for their single party control and their socialist economic bases. While some social and political scientists applied the concept of "totalitarianism" to these societies, others identified possibilities for independent political activity within them,[29][30] and stressed their continued evolution up to the point of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its allies in Central Europe during the late 1980s and early 1990s.[citation needed]

Marxist schools of communism

Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.

Karl Marx, 1844[31]

Variations to the communist movement have developed, each based upon the ideas of different political theorists, usually as additions or interpretations of various forms of Marxism, the collective philosophies of the German philosophers Karl Marx.[32] Marxism-Leninism is the synthesis of Vladimir Lenin's contributions to Marxism, such as how a revolutionary party should be organised;[33] Trotskyism is Leon Trotsky's conception of Marxism, influenced by Lenin, and meanwhile, Maoism is Mao Zedong's interpretation of Marxism to suit the conditions of China at that time, and is fairly heavy on the need for agrarian worker support as the engine for the revolution, rather than workers in the urban areas, which were still very small at that point.

Self-identified communists hold a variety of views, including Marxism-Leninism, Trotskyism, council communism, Luxemburgism, anarchist communism, Christian communism, and various currents of left communism. However, the offshoots of the Marxist-Leninist interpretations of Marxism are the most well-known of these and had been a driving force in international relations during the last quarter of the 19th century and most of the 20th century up to around 1989 and what historians refer to as "the collapse of communism."[34] However, other forms of communism worldwide continue to exist in the ideologies of various individual labor movement trade unions worldwide, particularly in Europe and the Third World, and also in communist parties that continue to espouse the ultimate need for communist revolution.

Most communists today tend to agree that the remaining communist states, such as China, Vietnam and especially North Korea (which has replaced Marxism-Leninism with Juche as its official ideology), have nothing to do with communism, whether as practised currently within leftist resistance movements and parties, or in terms of the ideologies and programmes held by those movements.[35][36][37][38]

A diverse range of theories persist amongst prominent globally known people such as Slavoj Zizek, Michael Parenti, Alain Badiou and other radical left thinkers who proclaim themselves communists; they and others like them are examples of present-day well-known figures in the modern communist movement.


Like other socialists, Marx and Engels sought an end to capitalism and the systems which they perceived to be responsible for the exploitation of workers. Whereas earlier socialists often favored longer-term social reform, Marx and Engels believed that popular revolution was all but inevitable, and the only path to socialism and communism.

According to the Marxist argument for communism, the main characteristic of human life in class society is alienation; and communism is desirable because it entails the full realization of human freedom.[39] Marx here follows Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in conceiving freedom not merely as an absence of restraints but as action with content.[40] According to Marx, communism's outlook on freedom was based on an agent, obstacle, and goal. The agent is the common/working people; the obstacles are class divisions, economic inequalities, unequal life-chances, and false consciousness; and the goal is the fulfilment of human needs including satisfying work, and fair share of the product.[41][42]

They believed that communism allowed people to do what they want, but also put humans in such conditions and such relations with one another that they would not wish to exploit, or have any need to. Whereas for Hegel the unfolding of this ethical life in history is mainly driven by the realm of ideas, for Marx, communism emerged from material forces, particularly the development of the means of production.[40]

Marxism holds that a process of class conflict and revolutionary struggle will result in victory for the proletariat and the establishment of a communist society in which private property and ownership is abolished over time and the means of production and subsistence belong to the community. (Private property and ownership, in this context, means ownerships of the means of production, not private possessions).[43] Marx himself wrote little about life under communism, giving only the most general indication as to what constituted a communist society. It is clear that it entails abundance in which there is little limit to the projects that humans may undertake.[citation needed] In the popular slogan that was adopted by the communist movement, communism was a world in which each gave according to their abilities, and received according to their needs. The German Ideology (1845) was one of Marx's few writings to elaborate on the communist future:

"In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic."[44]

Marx's lasting vision was to add this vision to a theory of how society was moving in a law-governed way towards communism, and, with some tension, a political theory that explained why revolutionary activity was required to bring it about.[40]

In the late 19th century, the terms "socialism" and "communism" were often used interchangeably. However, Marx and Engels argued that communism would not emerge from capitalism in a fully developed state, but would pass through a "first phase" in which most productive property was owned in common, but with some class differences remaining. The "first phase" would eventually evolve into a "higher phase" in which class differences were eliminated, and a state was no longer needed. Lenin frequently used the term "socialism" to refer to Marx and Engels' supposed "first phase" of communism and used the term "communism" interchangeably with Marx and Engels' "higher phase" of communism.[45]

These later aspects, particularly as developed by Vladimir Lenin, provided the underpinning for the mobilizing features of 20th century communist parties.


Leninism is the political movement developed by Vladimir Lenin, which has become the foundation for the organizational structure of most major communist parties. Leninists advocate the creation of a vanguard party led by professional revolutionaries in order to lead the working class revolution. Leninists believe that socialism will not arise spontaneously through the natural decay of capitalism and that workers are unable to organize and develop socialist consciousness without the guidance of the Vanguard party. After taking power, Vanguard parties seek to create a socialist state dominated by the Vanguard party in order to direct social development and defend against counterrevolutionary insurrection. The mode of industrial organization championed by Leninism and Marxism-Leninism is the capitalist model of scientific management pioneered by Fredrick Taylor.

Marxism-Leninism is a version of Leninism merged with classical Marxism adopted by the Soviet Union and most communist parties across the world today. It shaped the Soviet Union and influenced communist parties worldwide. It was heralded as a possibility of building communism via a massive program of industrialization and collectivisation. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union and the 'Eastern Bloc' (meaning communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe), many communist parties of the world today still lay claim to uphold the Marxist-Leninist banner. Marxism-Leninism expands on Marxists thoughts by bringing the theories to what Lenin and other Communists considered, the age of capitalist imperialism, and a renewed focus on party building, the development of a socialist state, and democratic centralism as an organizational principle.

Lenin adapted Marx's urban revolution to Russia's agricultural conditions, sparking the "revolutionary nationalism of the poor".[46] The pamphlet What is to be Done? (1902), proposed that the (urban) proletariat can successfully achieve revolutionary consciousness only under the leadership of a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries—who can achieve aims only with internal democratic centralism in the party; tactical and ideological policy decisions are agreed via democracy, and every member must support and promote the agreed party policy.

To wit, capitalism can be overthrown only with revolution—because attempts to reform capitalism from within (Fabianism) and from without (democratic socialism) will fail because of its inherent contradictions. The purpose of a Leninist revolutionary vanguard party is the forceful deposition of the incumbent government; assume power (as agent of the proletariat) and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat government. Moreover, as the government, the vanguard party must educate the proletariat—to dispel the societal false consciousness of religion and nationalism that are culturally instilled by the bourgeoisie in facilitating exploitation. The dictatorship of the proletariat is governed with a de-centralized direct democracy practised via soviets (councils) where the workers exercise political power (cf. soviet democracy); the fifth chapter of State & Revolution, describes it:

". . . the dictatorship of the proletariat—i.e. the organisation of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of crushing the oppressors. . . . An immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the rich: . . . and suppression by force, i.e. exclusion from democracy, for the exploiters and oppressors of the people—this is the change which democracy undergoes during the transition from capitalism to communism."[47]

The Bolshevik government was hostile to nationalism, especially to Russian nationalism, the "Great Russian chauvinism", as an obstacle to establishing the proletarian dictatorship.[48] The revolutionary elements of Leninism—the disciplined vanguard party, a dictatorship of the proletariat, and class war.


Stalinism was the political system of the Soviet Union and the countries within the Soviet sphere of influence during the leadership of Joseph Stalin. The term usually defines the style of a government rather than an ideology. The ideology was officially Marxism-Leninism theory, reflecting that Stalin himself was not a theoretician, in contrast to Marx and Lenin, and prided himself on maintaining the legacy of Lenin as a founding father for the Soviet Union and the future Socialist world. Stalinism is an interpretation of their ideas, and a certain political regime claiming to apply those ideas in ways fitting the changing needs of Soviet society, as with the transition from "socialism at a snail's pace" in the mid-twenties to the rapid industrialization of the Five-Year Plans.

The main contributions of Stalin to communist theory were:


Trotskyism is the branch of Marxism that was developed by Leon Trotsky. It supports the theory of permanent revolution and world revolution instead of the two stage theory and socialism in one country. It supported proletarian internationalism and another Communist revolution in the Soviet Union, which, under the leadership of Stalin, Trotsky claimed had become a degenerated worker's state, rather than the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Trotsky and his supporters organized into the Left Opposition and their platform became known as Trotskyism. Stalin eventually succeeded in gaining control of the Soviet regime and Trotskyist attempts to remove Stalin from power resulted in Trotsky's exile from the Soviet Union in 1929. During Trotsky's exile, world communism fractured into two distinct branches: Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism.[8] Trotsky later founded the Fourth International, a Trotskyist rival to the Comintern, in 1938.

Trotskyist ideas have continually found a modest echo among political movements in some countries in Latin America and Asia, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Sri Lanka. Many Trotskyist organizations are also active in more stable, developed countries in North America and Western Europe. Trotsky's politics differed sharply from those of Stalin and Mao, most importantly in declaring the need for an international proletarian revolution (rather than socialism in one country) and unwavering support for a true dictatorship of the proletariat based on democratic principles.

However, as a whole, Trotsky's theories and attitudes were never accepted in worldwide mainstream Communist circles after Trotsky's expulsion, either within or outside of the Soviet bloc. This remained the case even after the Secret Speech and subsequent events critics claim exposed the fallibility of Stalin.


Maoism is the Marxist-Leninist trend of Communism associated with Mao Zedong and was mostly practiced within China. Khrushchev's reforms heightened ideological differences between China and the Soviet Union, which became increasingly apparent in the 1960s. Parties and groups that supported the Communist Party of China (CPC) in their criticism against the new Soviet leadership proclaimed themselves as 'anti-revisionist' and denounced the CPSU and the parties aligned with it as revisionist "capitalist-roaders." The Sino-Soviet Split resulted in divisions amongst communist parties around the world. Notably, the Party of Labour of Albania sided with the People's Republic of China. Effectively, the CPC under Mao's leadership became the rallying forces of a parallel international Communist tendency.

Definitions of Maoism vary. Within the Chinese context, Maoism can refer to Mao's belief in the mobilization of the masses, particularly in large-scale political movements; it can also refer to the egalitarianism that was seen during Mao's era as opposed to the free-market ideology of Deng Xiaoping; some scholars additionally define personality cults and political sloganeering as "Maoist" practices. Contemporary Maoists in China criticize the social inequalities created by a capitalist and 'revisionist' Communist party.


Prachanda, giving a speech at Pokhara, Nepal
Prachanda Path

Prachanda Path refers to the ideological line of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal. This thought is an extension of Marxism, Leninism and Maoism, totally based on home-ground politics of Nepal. The doctrine came into existence after it was realized that the ideology of Marxism, Leninism and Maoism could not be practiced completely as it was done in the past. And an ideology suitable, based on the ground reality of Nepalese politics was adopted by the party.


Another variant of anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism appeared after the ideological row between the Communist Party of China and the Party of Labour of Albania in 1978. The Albanians rallied a new separate international tendency, which would demarcate itself by a strict defence of the legacy of Joseph Stalin and fierce criticism of virtually all other Communist groupings as revisionism. Critical of the United States, the Soviet Union, and China, Enver Hoxha declared the latter two to be social-imperialist and condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia by withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact in response. Hoxha declared Albania to be the world's only Marxist-Leninist state after 1978. The Albanians were able to win over a large share of the Maoists, mainly in Latin America such as the Popular Liberation Army, but also had a significant international following in general. This tendency has occasionally been labelled as 'Hoxhaism' after him.

After the fall of the Communist government in Albania, the pro-Albanian parties are grouped around an international conference and the publication 'Unity and Struggle'.


Elements of Titoism are characterized by policies and practices based on the principle that in each country, the means of attaining ultimate communist goals must be dictated by the conditions of that particular country, rather than by a pattern set in another country. During Tito's era, this specifically meant that the communist goal should be pursued independently of (and often in opposition to) the policies of the Soviet Union. The term was originally meant as a pejorative, and was labelled by Moscow as a heresy during the period of tensions between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia known as the Informbiro period from 1948 to 1955.

Unlike the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, which fell under Stalin's influence post–World War II, Yugoslavia, due to the strong leadership of Marshal Tito and the fact that the Yugoslav Partisans liberated Yugoslavia with only limited help from the Red Army, remained independent from Moscow. It became the only country in the Balkans to resist pressure from Moscow to join the Warsaw Pact and remained "socialist, but independent" until the collapse of Soviet socialism in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Throughout his time in office, Tito prided himself on Yugoslavia's independence from Russia, with Yugoslavia never accepting full membership of the Comecon and Tito's open rejection of many aspects of Stalinism as the most obvious manifestations of this.


Eurocommunism was a trend in the 1970s and 1980s within various Western European communist parties to develop a theory and practice of social transformation that was more relevant in a Western European democracy and less aligned to the influence or control of the Soviet Union. Parties such as the Italian Communist Party (PCI), the French Communist Party (PCF), and the Communist Party of Spain (PCE), were politically active and electorally significant in their respective countries).[citation needed]

The main theoretical foundation of Eurocommunism was Antonio Gramsci's writing about Marxist theory which questioned the sectarianism of the Left and encouraged communist parties to develop social alliances to win hegemonic support for social reforms. Eurocommunist parties expressed their fidelity to democratic institutions more clearly than before and attempted to widen their appeal by embracing public sector middle-class workers, new social movements such as feminism and gay liberation and more publicly questioning the Soviet Union. Early inspirations can also be found in the Austromarxism and its seeking of a "third" democratic "way" to socialism.

Libertarian and non-Leninist forms of Marxism

Libertarian Marxism refers to a broad scope of economic and political philosophies that emphasize the anti-authoritarian aspects of Marxism. Early currents of libertarian Marxism, known as left communism,[50] emerged in opposition to Marxism–Leninism[51] and its derivatives, such as Stalinism, Maoism, and Trotskyism.[52] Libertarian Marxism is also critical of reformist positions, such as those held by social democrats.[53] Libertarian Marxist currents often draw from Marx and Engels' later works, specifically the Grundrisse and The Civil War in France;[54] emphasizing the Marxist belief in the ability of the working class to forge its own destiny without the need for a revolutionary party or state to mediate or aid its liberation.[55] Along with anarchism, Libertarian Marxism is one of the main currents of libertarian socialism.[56]

Libertarian Marxism includes such currents as Luxemburgism, council communism, left communism, Socialisme ou Barbarie, the Johnson-Forest tendency, world socialism, Lettrism/Situationism and operaismo/autonomism, and New Left.[57] Libertarian Marxism has often had a strong influence on both post-left and social anarchists. Notable theorists of libertarian Marxism have included Anton Pannekoek, Raya Dunayevskaya, CLR James, Antonio Negri, Cornelius Castoriadis, Maurice Brinton, Guy Debord, Daniel Guérin, Ernesto Screpanti and Raoul Vaneigem.

Council communism

Council communism is a far-left movement originating in Germany and the Netherlands in the 1920s. Its primary organization was the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD). Council communism continues today as a theoretical and activist position within both left-wing Marxism and libertarian socialism.

The central argument of council communism, in contrast to those of social democracy and Leninist Communism, is that democratic workers' councils arising in the factories and municipalities are the natural form of working class organisation and governmental power. This view is opposed to both the reformist and the Leninist ideologies, with their stress on, respectively, parliaments and institutional government (i.e., by applying social reforms), on the one hand, and vanguard parties and participative democratic centralism on the other).

The core principle of council communism is that the government and the economy should be managed by workers' councils composed of delegates elected at workplaces and recallable at any moment. As such, council communists oppose state-run authoritarian "State socialism"/"State capitalism". They also oppose the idea of a "revolutionary party", since council communists believe that a revolution led by a party will necessarily produce a party dictatorship. Council communists support a worker's democracy, which they want to produce through a federation of workers' councils.

Rosa Luxemburg, prominent left communist critic of Leninism

Left communism

Left communism is the range of communist viewpoints held by the communist left, which criticizes the political ideas of the Bolsheviks at certain periods, from a position that is asserted to be more authentically Marxist and proletarian than the views of Leninism held by the Communist International after its first and during its second congress.

Left Communists see themselves to the left of Leninists (whom they tend to see as 'left of capital', not socialists), anarchist communists (some of whom they consider internationalist socialists) as well as some other revolutionary socialist tendencies (for example De Leonists, who they tend to see as being internationalist socialists only in limited instances).

Although she died before left communism became a distinct tendency, Rosa Luxemburg has heavily influenced most left communists, both politically and theoretically. Proponents of left communism have included Amadeo Bordiga, Herman Gorter, Anton Pannekoek, Otto Rühle, Karl Korsch, Sylvia Pankhurst and Paul Mattick.

Prominent left communist groups existing today include the International Communist Party, the International Communist Current and the Internationalist Communist Tendency.

Situationist International

The Situationist International was a restricted group of international revolutionaries founded in 1957, and which had its peak in its influence on the unprecedented general wildcat strikes of May 1968 in France.

With their ideas rooted in Marxism and the 20th century European artistic avant-gardes, they advocated experiences of life being alternative to those admitted by the capitalist order, for the fulfillment of human primitive desires and the pursuing of a superior passional quality. For this purpose they suggested and experimented with the construction of situations, namely the setting up of environments favorable for the fulfillment of such desires. Using methods drawn from the arts, they developed a series of experimental fields of study for the construction of such situations, like unitary urbanism and psychogeography.

They fought against the main obstacle on the fulfillment of such superior passional living, identified by them in advanced capitalism. Their theoretical work peaked on the highly influential book The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. Debord argued in 1967 that spectacular features like mass media and advertising have a central role in an advanced capitalist society, which is to show a fake reality in order to mask the real capitalist degradation of human life. To overthrow such a system, the Situationist International supported the May '68 revolts, and asked the workers to occupy the factories and to run them with direct democracy, through workers' councils composed by instantly revocable delegates.

After publishing in the last issue of the magazine an analysis of the May 1968 revolts, and the strategies that will need to be adopted in future revolutions,[58] the SI was dissolved in 1972.[59]


Antonio Negri, main theorist of Italian autonomism

Autonomism refers to a set of left-wing political and social movements and theories close to the socialist movement. As an identifiable theoretical system it first emerged in Italy in the 1960s from workerist (operaismo) communism. Later, post-Marxist and anarchist tendencies became significant after influence from the Situationists, the failure of Italian far-left movements in the 1970s, and the emergence of a number of important theorists including Antonio Negri, who had contributed to the 1969 founding of Potere Operaio, Mario Tronti, Paolo Virno, etc.

Through translations made available by Danilo Montaldi and others, the Italian autonomists drew upon previous activist research in the United States by the Johnson-Forest Tendency and in France by the group Socialisme ou Barbarie.

It influenced the German and Dutch Autonomen, the worldwide Social Centre movement, and today is influential in Italy, France, and to a lesser extent the English-speaking countries. Those who describe themselves as autonomists now vary from Marxists to post-structuralists and anarchists. The Autonomist Marxist and Autonomen movements provided inspiration to some on the revolutionary left in English speaking countries, particularly among anarchists, many of whom have adopted autonomist tactics. Some English-speaking anarchists even describe themselves as Autonomists. The Italian operaismo movement also influenced Marxist academics such as Harry Cleaver, John Holloway, Steve Wright, and Nick Dyer-Witheford.

Non-Marxist schools of communism

The dominant forms of communism are based on Marxism, but non-Marxist versions of communism (such as Christian communism and anarchist communism) also exist.


Peter Kropotkin, main theorist of anarcho-communism

Anarchist communism (also known as libertarian communism) is a theory of anarchism which advocates the abolition of the state, private property, and capitalism in favour of common ownership of the means of production,[60][61] direct democracy and a horizontal network of voluntary associations and workers' councils with production and consumption based on the guiding principle: "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need".[62][63]

Anarcho-communism differs from marxism rejecting its view about the need for a State Socialism phase before building communism. The main anarcho-communist theorist Peter Kropotkin argued "that a revolutionary society should “transform itself immediately into a communist society,”, that is, should go immediately into what Marx had regarded as the “more advanced,” completed, phase of communism."[64] In this way it tries to avoid the reappearence of "class divisions and the need for a state to oversee everything".[64]

Some forms of anarchist communism such as insurrectionary anarchism are egoist and strongly influenced by radical individualism,[65][66][67] believing that anarchist communism does not require a communitarian nature at all. Most anarcho-communists view anarcho-communism as a way of reconciling the opposition between the individual and society[68][69][70]

To date in human history, the best known examples of an anarchist communist society, established around the ideas as they exist today, that received worldwide attention and knowledge in the historical canon, are the anarchist territories during the Spanish Revolution and the Free Territory during the Russian Revolution. Through the efforts and influence of the Spanish Anarchists during the Spanish Revolution within the Spanish Civil War, starting in 1936 anarchist communism existed in most of Aragon, parts of the Levante and Andalusia, as well as in the stronghold of Anarchist Catalonia before being brutally crushed by the combined forces of the authoritarian regime that won the war, Hitler, Mussolini, Spanish Communist Party repression (backed by the USSR) as well as economic and armaments blockades from the capitalist countries and the Spanish Republic itself. During the Russian Revolution, anarchists such as Nestor Makhno worked to create and defend—through the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine—anarchist communism in the Free Territory of the Ukraine from 1919 before being conquered by the Bolsheviks in 1921.

Christian communism

Christian communism is a form of religious communism centred on Christianity. It is a theological and political theory based upon the view that the teachings of Jesus Christ urge Christians to support communism as the ideal social system. Christian communists trace the origins of their practice to teachings in the New Testament, such as this one from Acts of the Apostles at chapter 2 and verses 42, 44, and 45:

42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and in fellowship ... 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. (King James Version)

Christian communism can be seen as a radical form of Christian socialism. Also, because many Christian communists have formed independent stateless communes in the past, there is also a link between Christian communism and Christian anarchism. Christian communists may not agree with various parts of Marxism, but they share some of the political goals of Marxists, for example replacing capitalism with socialism, which should in turn be followed by communism at a later point in the future. However, Christian communists sometimes disagree with Marxists (and particularly with Leninists) on the way a socialist or communist society should be organized.


Victims of Soviet NKVD in Lviv, June 1941.

Some of the primary criticisms of socialism and by extension communism are distorted or absent price signals,[71][72] slow or stagnant technological advance,[73] reduced incentives,[74][75][76] reduced prosperity,[77][78] feasibility,[71][72][73] and its social and political effects.[79][80][81][82][83][84]

Part of this criticism extends to the policies adopted by one-party states ruled by communist parties (known as "communist states"). Some scholars are specially focused on their human rights records which are claimed to be responsible for famines, purges and warfare resulting in deaths far in excess of previous empires, capitalist or other regimes.[85][86][87] The Council of Europe in Resolution 1481 and international declarations such as the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism and the Declaration on Crimes of Communism have condemned some of the actions that resulted in these deaths as crimes.

Stéphane Courtois argues that Communism and National Socialism are slightly different totalitarian systems[citation needed], and that communism is responsible for the murder of almost 100 million people in the 20th century,[88] but two of the main Black Book's contributors, Nicolas Werth and Jean-Louis Margolin, disagreed and publicly disassociated themselves from Courtois's statements.[89]


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  • Holmes, Leslie (2009). Communism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-955154-5. 
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  • Communism — Com‧mun‧ism [ˈkɒmjnɪzm ǁ ˈkɑː ] noun [uncountable] ECONOMICS a political system in which, in principle, the government or the workers control the production of food and goods, and there are no different social classes Communist adjective : •… …   Financial and business terms

  • Communism — Com mu*nism, n. [F. communisme, fr. commun common.] A scheme of equalizing the social conditions of life; specifically, a scheme which contemplates the abolition of inequalities in the possession of property, as by distributing all wealth equally …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • communism — A system of social organization in which goods are held in common. Dictionary from West s Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. communism A system of social organization in which goods are held in common …   Law dictionary

  • Communism —    Communism as well as anarchism, socialism, and other variants of the left has had a long tradition in South America, closely connected with the rise of trade unions. The traditional left in Chile, dominated by the Partido Comunista (PC,… …   Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars”

  • communism — social system based on collective ownership, 1843, from Fr. communisme (c.1840) from commun (O.Fr. comun; see COMMON (Cf. common)) + isme. Originally a theory of society; as name of a political system, 1850, a translation of Ger. Kommunismus… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Communism — UK / US or Communism UK [ˈkɒmjʊˌnɪz(ə)m] / US [ˈkɑmjəˌnɪzəm] noun [uncountable] * a political and economic system in which individual people cannot own property or industries and in which people of all social classes are treated equally …   English dictionary

  • communism — UK / US or Communism UK [ˈkɒmjʊˌnɪz(ə)m] / US [ˈkɑmjəˌnɪzəm] noun [uncountable] * a political and economic system in which individual people cannot own property or industries and in which people of all social classes are treated equally …   English dictionary

  • communism — [n] socialist government Bolshevism, collectivism, Leninism, Marxism, rule of the proletariat, socialism, state ownership, totalitarianism; concept 301 Ant. capitalism, democracy …   New thesaurus

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