Communism is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and characterized by the absence of social classes, money, and the state, as well as a social, political, and economic ideology and movement that aims to establish this social order.
Communism includes a variety of schools of thought, which broadly include Marxism, anarchism (anarchist communism) and the political ideologies grouped around both. All these hold in common the analysis that the current order of society stems from its economic system, capitalism, that in this system, there are two major social classes: the working class – who must work to survive, and who make up a majority of society – and the capitalist class – a minority who derive profit from employing the proletariat, through private ownership of the means of production (the physical and institutional means means with which commodities are produced and distributed), and that political, social and economic conflict between these two classes will trigger a fundamental change in the economic system, and by extension a wide-ranging transformation of society. The primary element which will enable this transformation, according to this analysis, is the social ownership of the means of production.
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. Plato, writing in The Republic around 380 BC, 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 feel joy and sorrow on the same occasions."
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. The 5th-century Mazdak movement in Persia (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.
At one time or another, various small communist communities existed, generally under the inspiration of Scripture. In the medieval Christian church, for example, some monastic communities and religious orders shared their land and other property (see Religious and Christian communism).
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. In the 17th century, communist thought surfaced again in England, where a Puritan religious group known as the "Diggers" advocated the abolition of private ownership of land. Eduard Bernstein, in his 1895 Cromwell and Communism 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. 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. Later, following the upheaval of the French Revolution, communism emerged as a political doctrine.
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. 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). 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 labored 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.
The 1917 October Revolution in Russia set the conditions for the rise to state power of Lenin's Bolsheviks, which was the first time any avowedly communist party reached that position. The revolution transferred power to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, in which the Bolsheviks had a majority. The event 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 bourgeois rule. 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.
Countries of the world now (red) or previously (orange) having nominally Marxist–Leninist governments.
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). 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.
During the Russian Civil War (1918–1922), the Bolsheviks nationalized all productive property and imposed a policy named 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 Five Year Plans 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.
Vladimir Lenin giving a speech.
Following Lenin's democratic centralism, the Leninist 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. The Great Purge of 1937–1938 was Stalin's attempt to destroy any possible opposition within the Communist Party. In the Moscow Trials many old Bolsheviks who had played prominent roles during the Russian Revolution of 1917, or in Lenin's Soviet government afterwards, including Kamenev, Zinoviev, Rykov, and Bukharin, were accused, pleaded guilty, and executed.
Following World War II, Marxist–Leninists 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 development following the Sino-Soviet split. Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique and the countries that were part of the former Yugoslavia were among the other countries in the Third World that adopted or imposed a government run by a Marxist–Leninist party at some point. By the early 1980s almost one-third of the world's population lived in states ruled by a self-proclaimed Marxist–Leninist party, including the former Soviet Union and the PRC.
Its leading role in the Second World War saw the emergence of the Soviet Union as a superpower, with strong influence over Eastern Europe and parts of Asia. The European and Japanese empires were shattered and Communist parties played a leading role in many independence movements.
Marxist–Leninist governments modeled on the Soviet Union took power with Soviet assistance in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Romania. A Marxist–Leninist 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, and Titoism was branded "deviationist". Albania also became an independent Marxist–Leninist state after World War II.
USSR postage stamp depicting the states ruled by self-proclaimed communist parties, launching the first artificial satellite Sputnik 1.
By 1950, the Chinese Marxist–Leninists had taken over all of mainland China. In the Korean War and Vietnam War, communists fought for power in their countries against the United States and its allies. With varying degrees of success, communists attempted to unite with nationalist and socialist forces against perceived Western imperialism in these poor countries.
Communism was seen as a rival of and a threat to western capitalism for most of the 20th century. 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. It supported the spread of their respective economic and political systems. As a result, the camps expanded their military capacity, stockpiled nuclear weapons, and competed in space exploration.
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 Marxist–Leninist rule by 1990. In 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved.
At present, states controlled by Marxist–Leninist parties under a single-party system include the People's Republic of China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. North Korea currently refers to its leading ideology as Juche, which is portrayed as a development of Marxism–Leninism. Communist parties, or their descendant parties, remain politically important in a number of other countries. The South African Communist Party is a partner in the African National Congress-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. The Communist Party of Brazil 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.
A demonstration of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Moscow, December 2011.
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. The People's Republic of China runs Special Economic Zones dedicated to market-oriented enterprise, free from central government control. Several other states run by self-proclaimed Marxist–Leninist parties have also attempted to implement market-based reforms, including Vietnam.
The ruling stratum of the Soviet Union was, by Trotskyism, held to be a bureaucratic caste, but not a new ruling class, despite their political control.
Marxism, first developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, has been the foremost ideology of the communist movement. Marxism considers itself to be the embodiment of scientific socialism; rather than model an "ideal society" based on intellectuals' design, it is a non-idealist attempt at the understanding of society and history, through an analysis based in real life. Marxism does not see communism as a "state of affairs" to be established, but rather as the expression of a real movement, with parameters which are derived completely from real life and not based on any intelligent design. Marxism, therefore, does no blueprinting of a communist society; it only makes an analysis which concludes what will trigger its implementation, and discovers its fundamental characteristics based on the derivation of real life conditions.
At the root of Marxism is the materialist conception of history, known as historical materialism for short. It holds that the key characteristic of economic systems through history has been the mode of production, and that the change between modes of production has been triggered by class struggle. According to this analysis, the Industrial Revolution ushered the world into a new mode of production: capitalism. Before capitalism, certain working classes had ownership of instruments utilized in production. But because machinery was much more efficient, this property became worthless, and the mass majority of workers could only survive by selling their labor, working through making use of someone else's machinery, and therefore making someone else profit. Thus with capitalism, the world was divided between two major classes: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. These classes are directly antagonistic: the bourgeoisie has private ownership of the means of production and earns a profit off surplus value, which is generated by the proletariat, which has no ownership of the means of production and therefore no option but to sell its labor to the bourgeoisie.
Historical materialism goes on and says: the rising bourgeoisie within feudalism, through the furtherance of its own material interests, captured power and abolished, of all relations of private property, only the feudal privileges, and with this took out of existence the feudal ruling class. This was another of the keys behind the consolidation of capitalism as the new mode of production, which is the final expression of class and property relations, and also has led into a massive expansion of production. It is, therefore, only in capitalism that private property in itself can be abolished. The proletariat, similarly, will capture political power, abolish bourgeois property through the common ownership of the means of production, therefore abolishing the bourgeoisie, and ultimately abolishing the proletariat itself, and ushering the world into a new mode of production: communism. In between capitalism and communism there is the dictatorship of the proletariat, a democratic state where the whole of the public authority is elected and recallable under the basis of universal suffrage; it is the defeat of the bourgeois state, but not yet of the capitalist mode of production, and at the same time the only element which places into the realm of possibility moving on from this mode of production.
An important concept in Marxism is socialization vs. nationalization. Nationalization is merely state ownership of property, whereas socialization is actual control and management of property by society. Marxism considers socialization its goal, and considers nationalization a tactical issue, with state ownership still being in the realm of the capitalist mode of production. In the words of Engels: "the transformation into State-ownership does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution". This has led some Marxist groups and tendencies to label states such as the Soviet Union, based on nationalization, as state capitalist.
"We want to achieve a new and better order of society: in this new and better society there must be neither rich nor poor; all will have to work. Not a handful of rich people, but all the working people must enjoy the fruits of their common labour. Machines and other improvements must serve to ease the work of all and not to enable a few to grow rich at the expense of millions and tens of millions of people. This new and better society is called socialist society. The teachings about this society are called 'socialism'." -Vladimir Lenin, "To the Rural Poor" (1903); Collected Works, Vol 6, p. 366
Leninism is the revolutionary theories developed by Vladimir Lenin, including the organizational principles of democratic centralism, Vanguardism and the political theory of imperialism. Leninist theory postulates that, with the strongly determined will of the Bourgeoisie to establish Imperialism, socialism will not arise spontaneously through the natural decay of capitalism, and that workers by themselves, who may be more or less sedated by reactionary propaganda, are unable to effectively organize and develop socialist consciousness, therefore requiring the leadership of a revolutionary vanguard organized on the basis of democratic centralism. As a result, Leninism promotes a Vanguard party in order to lead the working-class and peasants in a revolution.
Vladimir Lenin, 1920.
Although the creation of a vanguard party was outlined by Marx and Engels in Chapter II: "Proletarians and Communists" of The Communist Manifesto, Lenin modified this position by changing the role of the vanguards to professional revolutionaries, who were to hold power post-revolution and direct the national economy and society in developing world socialism.
After disposing of the Bourgeois dictatorship through socialist revolution, Leninists seek to create a socialist state in which the working class would be in power, which they see as being essential for laying the foundations for a transitional withering of the state towards communism (Stateless society). Instead, Leninism advocates the concept of democratic centralism as a process to ensure the voicing of concern and disagreement and to refine policy. Generally, the purpose of democratic centralism is "diversity in ideas, unity in action."
Marxism–Leninism, Stalinism and Trotskyism
Marxism–Leninism is a political ideology developed by Stalin, which according to its proponents is based in Marxism and Leninism. The term describes the specific political ideology which Stalin implemented in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and, in a global scale, in the Comintern. There is no definite agreement between historians of about whether Stalin actually followed the principles of Marx and Lenin. It also contains aspects which, according to some, are deviations from Marxism, such as "socialism in one country". Marxism–Leninism was the ideology of the most clearly visible communist movement. As such, it is the most prominent ideology associated with communism.
Marxism–Leninism refers to the socioeconomic system and political ideology implemented by Stalin in the Soviet Union and later copied by other states based on the Soviet model (central planning, single-party state, etc.), whereas Stalinism refers to Stalin's style of governance (political repression, cult of personality, etc.); Marxism–Leninism stayed after de-Stalinization, Stalinism did not. However, the term "Stalinism" is sometimes used to refer to Marxism–Leninism, sometimes to avoid implying Marxism–Leninism is related to Marxism and Leninism.
Maoism is a form of Marxism–Leninism associated with Chinese leader Mao Zedong. After de-Stalinization, Marxism–Leninism was kept in the Soviet Union but certain anti-revisionist tendencies, such as Hoxhaism and Maoism, argued that it was deviated from. Therefore, different policies were applied in Albania and China, which became more distanced from the Soviet Union.
Marxism–Leninism has been criticized by other communist and Marxist tendencies. They argue that Marxist–Leninist states did not establish socialism but rather state capitalism. The dictatorship of the proletariat, according to Marxism, represents the rule of the majority (democracy) rather than of one party, to the extent that co-founder of Marxism Friedrich Engels described its "specific form" as the democratic republic. Additionally, according to Engels, state property by itself is private property of capitalist nature unless the proletariat has control of political power, in which case it forms public property. Whether the proletariat was actually in control of the Marxist–Leninist states is a matter of debate between Marxism–Leninism and other communist tendencies. To these tendencies, Marxism–Leninism is neither Marxism nor Leninism nor the union of both, but rather an artificial term created to justify Stalin's ideological distortion, forced into the CPSU and Comintern. In the Soviet Union, this struggle against Marxism–Leninism was represented by Trotskyism, which describes itself as a Marxist and Leninist tendency.
Trotskyism is a Marxist and Leninist tendency that was developed by Leon Trotsky, opposed to Marxism–Leninism. 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 Trotsky claimed had become a "degenerated worker's state" under the leadership of Stalin, rather than the dictatorship of the proletariat, in which class relations had re-emerged in a new form.
Leon Trotsky reading The Militant.
Trotsky and his supporters, struggling against Stalin for power in the Soviet Union, 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. Trotsky later founded the Fourth International, a Trotskyist rival to the Comintern, in 1938.
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.
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, emerged in opposition to Marxism–Leninism and its derivatives, such as Stalinism, Maoism, and Trotskyism. Libertarian Marxism is also critical of reformist positions, such as those held by social democrats. Libertarian Marxist currents often draw from Marx and Engels' later works, specifically the Grundrisse and The Civil War in France; 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. Along with anarchism, Libertarian Marxism is one of the main currents of libertarian socialism.
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. 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 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 organization 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.
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.
The dominant forms of communism are based on Marxism, but non-Marxist versions of communism (such as Christian communism and anarchist communism) also exist.
Anarchist communism (also known as libertarian communism) is a theory of anarchism which advocates the abolition of the state, private property, and capitalism in favor of common ownership of the means of production, 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".
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." In this way it tries to avoid the reappearance of "class divisions and the need for a state to oversee everything".
Some forms of anarchist communism such as insurrectionary anarchism are egoist and strongly influenced by radical individualism, 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.
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 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 the 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 a link between Christian communism and Christian anarchism. Christian communists may not agree with various parts of Marxism, but they share some 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.