Communism (from Latin communis = "common") is a socioeconomic structure and political ideology that promotes the establishment of an egalitarian, classless, stateless society based on common ownership and control of the means of production and property in general. 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, even if the party does not actually claim that it has already developed communism.
Forerunners of communist ideas existed already since antiquity and then in particular in the 18th and early 19th century France, with thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and even more radical Gracchus Babeuf. The egalitarianism then emerged as a significant political power in the first half of 19th century in Western Europe. In the world shaped by the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution, the newly established political left included many various political and intellectual movements, which are the direct ancestors of today's communism and socialism – these two then newly minted words were almost interchangeable in the time – and of anarchism or anarcho-communism. The two by far most influential theoreticians of communism of the 19th century were Germans Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authors of The Communist Manifesto (1848), who also helped to form the first openly communist political organizations and firmly tied communism with the idea of revolution conducted by the exploited working class. Karl Marx posited that communism would be the final stage in human society, which would be achieved after an intermediate stage called the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. Communism in the Marxian sense refers to a classless, stateless and oppression-free society where decisions on what to produce and what policies to pursue are made democratically, allowing every member of society to participate in the decision-making process in both the political and economic spheres of life. Some "revisionist" Marxists of the following generations, henceforth known as socialists or social democrats, slowly drifted away from the radical views of Marx after his death in 1883; other communists, like Vladimir Lenin, continued to prepare world revolution.
The communist left, led by Vladimir Lenin, successfully came to power in Russia (1917), disrupted by the World War I. After years of civil war (1917–1921), international isolation and internal struggle in the Communist party, the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin emerged as a new global superpower on the victorious side of the World War II. In the five years after the World War, communist regimes were established in many states of Central and Eastern Europe and in China. Communism began to spread its influence in the Third World while continuing to be a significant political force in many Western countries. International relations between Soviets and the West, led by USA, quickly worsened after the end of the war and there began the Cold war, a continuing state of conflict, tension and competition between the United States and the Soviet Union and those countries' respective allies. The "Iron curtain" between West and East then divided Europe and world from the mid-1940s to the early 1990s. Despite many communist successes like the victorious Vietnam War (1959-1975) or the first human spaceflight (1961), the communist regimes were in the long term unable to keep up with the West. People under communist regimes showed their discontent in events like the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Prague Spring of 1968 or Polish Solidarity movement in early 1980s. Since 1985, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to implement market and democratic reforms under devices like perestroika ("restructuring") and glasnost ("transparency"). His reforms sharpened internal conflicts in the communist regimes and quickly led to Revolutions of 1989, a total collapse of European communist regimes outside of Soviet Union, which dissolved itself two years later, in 1991. Some communist regimes outside of Europa survive till now, the most important of them is People's Republic of China, trying to introduce market reforms without rapid democratization.
The ideal of egalitarian and collectivist society can be traced into antiquity. Plato's The Republic suggests collective education of children and control of possessions. Leader of a slave uprising Spartacus inspired many social revolutionaries later on. Also Christian teachings like the Sermon on the Mount were interpreted politically in the sense of Christian communism or as underpinning of monasticism with its sharing of possession. Early modern writers like Thomas More in his treatise Utopia (1516) dreamed about societies based on common ownership of property.
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. Gracchus Babeuf, in particular, espoused the goals of common ownership of land and total economic and political equality among citizens.
During the early development of the political Left in the first decades of 19th century, the germs of communism – together with those of socialism, Christian utopianism, anarchism, trade-unionism and feminism – differentiated and were theoretically examined. The term "communism" was probably coined by the French utopist Étienne Cabet for his communitarian social movement in 1839. In the following year 1840 the British leftist John Goodwyn Barmby used this word for Babeuf's teachings. Also the word "socialism" came in use about 1840 and both words were largely interchangeable in this time; the difference between the two terms was rather regional and cultural: In continental Europe "communism" was thought to be more radical and atheist than socialist while British atheists preferred the word "socialism".
The Left, rather undifferentiated in the time, concentrated in the most industrialized European countries. In France with its revolutionary tradition lived for example Henri de Saint-Simon, whose circle coined the term "exploitation of man by man"; Charles Fourier, the inventor of the word "feminism" and a propagator of communist communities; Louis Auguste Blanqui, author of the term "dictatorship of the proletariat", who spent most of his life in prisons for his revolutionary actions. France saw also activities of fathers of anarchism Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who asserted that "Property is theft!", and the Russian nobleman
In Great Britain, there was also the Chartist movement here, named after the People's Charter published in 1838, which demanded equal civil right to vote for all men including the unprivileged. Among the early English social reformers was Robert Owen, the founder of cooperative movement and of the utopian community New Harmony. New Harmony, founded in US state Indiana in 1825, was a typical example of communist social experiment of the time, and collapsed after four years for unsolvable internal quarrels like many other similar undertakings.
Around 1850, the modern political Left emerged also in Germany and in Italy. Marxists call this early stage of communist theory "utopian socialism" while their own views as "scientific socialism" or "scientific communism".
From Marx to the World War I
Marxism, the by far most important communist theory, was created by Karl Marx a Friedrich Engels around 1850. The philosopher Leszek Kołakowski calls the years from Marx's death until the October Revolution in 1917 as the "Golden Age" of Marxism, compared to the breakdown under Stalin.
Maxism, developed by Marx and Engels from 1840s into the 1890s, became the principal form of Leftist thought during the lives of its fathers, and with the exception of USA it remained in this position well until 1960s. Most of other influential Leftist and socially critical theories either develop Marxism further (e.g., classical social democracy, Leninism and Maoism), or completely drop the term "communism" and do not try to create a new classless society (e.g., the modern Feminism, New Labour, Environmentalism). Therefore the words "Marxism" and "Communism" are often understood as synonymous.
Marx and Engels saw capitalism as based on the exploitation of workers. According to Marx, the main characteristic of human life in class society is alienation, while communism entails the full realization of human freedom. Marx here follows Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in conceiving freedom not merely as an absence of restraints but as action with content. Marx believed that communism would give people the power to appropriate the fruits of their labor while preventing them from exploiting others. 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.
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 ownership is abolished over time and the means of production and subsistence become the property of society. Marx himself wrote little about life under communism, giving only the most general indication as to what constituted a communist society. 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."
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 lower phase in which productive property was owned in common but people would be allowed to take from the social wealth only to the extent of their contribution to the production of that wealth. The "lower phase" would eventually evolve into a "higher phase" in which the antithesis between mental and physical labor has disappeared, people enjoy their work, and goods are produced in abundance, allowing people to freely take according to their needs. Lenin frequently used the term "socialism" to refer to Marx and Engels' "lower phase" of communism and used the term "communism" interchangeably with Marx and Engels' "higher phase" of communism.
First international organizations
The first Marxist international organization was the Communist League. It was founded originally as the League of the Just by German workers in Paris in 1836. This was initially a utopian socialist and Christian communist grouping devoted to the ideas of Gracchus Babeuf. The League of the Just participated in the Blanquist uprising of May 1839 in Paris. Hereafter expelled from France, the League of the Just moved to London where by 1847 numbered about 1,000. Wilhelm Weitling's 1842 book, Guarantees of Harmony and Freedom, which criticized private property and bourgeois society, was one of the bases of its social theory. The Communist League was created in London in June 1847 out of a merger of the League of the Just and of the fifteen-man Communist Correspondence Committee of Bruxelles, headed by Karl Marx. The birth conference was attended by Friedrich Engels, who convinced the League to change its motto from All men are brethren to Karl Marx's phrase, Working men of all countries, unite!. The Communist League held a second congress, also in London, in November and December 1847. Both Marx and Engels attended, and they were mandated to draw up a manifesto for the organisation. This became The Communist Manifesto. The League was ended formally in 1852.
In 1864 in a workmen's meeting held in Saint Martin's Hall, London there was founded the International Workingmen's Association (IWA), better known as the First International. It was an international socialist organization which aimed at uniting a variety of different left-wing political groups and trade union organizations that were based on the working class and class struggle. At its founding, it was an alliance of people from diverse groups, besides Marxists it included French Mutualists, Blanquists, English Owenites, Italian republicans, such American proponents of individualist anarchism as Stephen Pearl Andrews and William B. Greene, followers of Mazzini, and other socialists of various persuasions. Due to the wide variety of philosophies present in the First International, there was conflict from the start. The first objections to Marx's came from the Mutualists who opposed communism and statism. However, shortly after Mikhail Bakunin and his followers (called Collectivists while in the International) joined in 1868, the First International became polarised into two camps, with Marx and Bakunin as their respective figureheads. Perhaps the clearest differences between the groups emerged over their proposed strategies for achieving their visions of socialism. The anarchists grouped around Bakunin favoured (in Kropotkin's words) "direct economical struggle against capitalism, without interfering in the political parliamentary agitation." Marxist thinking, at that time, focused on parliamentary activity. For example, when the new German Empire of 1871 introduced manhood suffrage, many German socialists became active in the Marxist Social Democratic Party of Germany.
In 1872, the conflict in the First International climaxed with a final split between the two groups at the Hague Congress. This clash is often cited as the origin of the long-running conflict between anarchists and Marxists. From then on, the Marxist and anarchist currents of socialism had distinct organisations, at various points including rival 'internationals'. In 1872, the organization was relocated to New York City. The First International disbanded four years later, at the 1876 Philadelphia conference.
In the last years of the First International there was a short-lived but important first attempt of Left-wing politicians to seize power, the Paris Commune, a government that briefly ruled Paris, from March 28 to May 28, 1871. It existed before the final split between anarchists and socialists had taken place, and therefore it is hailed by both groups as the first assumption of power by the working class. Debates over the policies and outcome of the Commune contributed to the break between those two political groups.
The Socialist International better known as the Second International (1889–1916), a Marxist organization of socialist and labour parties, was formed in Paris on July 14, 1889 with support of Engels (Marx was already deat at the time). At the Paris meeting delegations from 20 countries participated. The International continued the work of the dissolved First International, though excluding the still-powerful anarcho-syndicalist movement and unions, and was in existence until 1916.
Among the Second International's most famous actions were its (1889) declaration of May 1 as International Workers' Day and its (1910) declaration of March 8 as International Women's Day. It initiated the international campaign for the 8-hour working day. The International's permanent executive and information body was the International Socialist Bureau (ISB), based in Brussels and formed after the International's Paris Congress of 1900. Emile Vandervelde and Camille Huysmans of the Belgian Labour Party were its chair and secretary. Lenin was a member of the International from 1905. The Second International dissolved during World War I, in 1916, as the separate national parties that composed it did not maintain a unified front against the war, instead generally supporting their respective nations' role. French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) leader Jean Jaurès's assassination, a few days before the beginning of the war, symbolized the failure of the antimilitarist doctrine of the Second International.
Although mostly Marxist, the loose federation of the world’s socialist parties included both openly reformist type organizations that saw a gradual implementation of reforms of capitalism to achieve socialism (foreruners of today's Socialists and Social democrats) and revolutionary parties that saw the need to openly smash the capitalist state structure and create communism, that is the Communists in the sense of the 20th century.
Communists in power
Lenin and the birth of the Soviet Union
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. 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 "peace, bread, and land" and "All power to the Soviets", slogans 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.
The usage of the terms "communism" and "socialism" shifted after 1917, when the Bolsheviks changed their name to the Communist Party and installed a single party regime devoted to the implementation of socialist policies under Leninism. Lenin 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 SFIO socialist party split in 1921 to form the French Communist Party (French Section of the Communist International). 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.
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 formed in 1922 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.
Few years after Lenin's death, Joseph Stalin won over his chief rival Leon Trotsky and in 1928 emerged as the sole leader of the Soviet Union, the position he held until his death in 1953. He is connected with Stalinism, an oppressive system of extensive government spying, extrajudicial punishment, and political "purging", or elimination of political opponents either by direct killing or through exile. His methods involved an extensive use of propaganda to establish a personality cult around him to maintain control over the nation's people and to maintain political control for the Communist Party.
Stalinism usually defines the style of a government rather than an ideology. The ideology was Marxism-Leninism, reflecting that Stalin 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 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. Sometimes, although rarely, the compound terms "Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism" (used by the Brazilian MR-8), or teachings of Marx/Engels/Lenin/Stalin, are used to show the alleged heritage and succession. Simultaneously, however, many people who profess Marxism or Leninism view Stalinism as a perversion of their ideas; Trotskyists, in particular, are virulently anti-Stalinist, considering Stalin a counter-revolutionary.
The main contributions of Stalin to communist theory were the groundwork for the Soviet policy concerning nationalities, laid in Stalin's 1913 work Marxism and the National Question,, the theory of Socialism in One Country as a correction of Marx's theory of World revolution, and the theory of "aggravation of the class struggle along with the development of socialism", a theoretical base supporting the repression of political opponents.
At the end of the 1920s Stalin launched a wave of radical economic policies, which completely overhauled the industrial and agricultural face of the Soviet Union. This came to be known as the Great Turn as Russia turned away from the near-capitalist New Economic Policy. The NEP had been implemented by Lenin in order to ensure the survival of the state following seven years of war (1914-1921, World War I from 1914 to 1917, and the subsequent Civil War) and had rebuilt Soviet production to its 1913 levels. It "modernized the Soviet Union, transforming a peasant society into an industrial state with a literate population and a remarkable scientific superstructure." but at the expenses of forced collectivization, famine and terror.
After World War II, Communists consolidated power in Eastern Europe, and in 1949, the Communist Party of China (CPC) led by Mao Zedong established the People's Republic of China, which would later follow its own ideological path of Communist development. Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Angola, and Mozambique were among the other countries in the Third World that adopted or imposed a pro-Communist government at some point. Although never formally unified as a single political entity, by the early 1980s almost one-third of the world's population lived in Communist states, including the former Soviet Union and People's Republic of China. By comparison, the British Empire had ruled up to one-quarter of the world's population at its greatest extent.
Communist states such as Soviet Union and China succeeded in becoming industrial and technological powers, challenging the capitalists' powers in the arms race and space race and military conflicts.
The split between Communist and Capitalist worlds resulted in the Cold War, an continuing state of conflict, tension and competition that existed primarily between the United States and the Soviet Union and those countries' respective allies from the mid-1940s to the early 1990s. Throughout this period, the conflict was expressed through military coalitions, espionage, weapons development, invasions, propaganda, and competitive technological development, which included the space race. The conflict included costly defense spending, a massive conventional and nuclear arms race, and numerous proxy wars; the two superpowers never fought one another directly.
The Soviet Union created an Eastern Bloc of countries that it occupied, annexing some as Soviet Socialist Republics and maintaining others as Satellite states that would later form the Warsaw Pact. The United States and various western European countries began a policy of "containment" of communism and forged many alliances to this end, including later NATO. In the Third world the Soviet Union fostered Communist revolutionary movements, which the United States and many of its allies opposed and, in some cases, attempted to "rollback". Many countries were prompted to align themselves with the countries that would later either form NATO or the Warsaw Pact. The Cold War saw periods of both heightened tension and relative calm as both sides sought détente. Direct military attacks on adversaries were deterred by the potential for mutual assured destruction using deliverable nuclear weapons.
The relations between the Soviet Union and its satelited were described by the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine which was announced to justify the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 to terminate the Prague Spring, an attack similar to earlier Soviet military interventions, such as the invasion of Hungary in 1956. These interventions were meant to put an end to liberalization efforts and uprisings that had the potential to compromise Soviet hegemony inside the Eastern bloc, which was considered by the Soviets to be an essential defensive and strategic buffer in case hostilities with the West were to break out. It meant that limited independence of communist parties was allowed, but no country would be allowed to leave the Warsaw Pact, disturb a nation's communist party's monopoly on power, or in any way compromise the strength of the Eastern bloc. Implicit in this doctrine was that the leadership of the Soviet Union reserved, for itself, the right to define "socialism" and "capitalism". The principles of the doctrine were so broad that the Soviets even used it to justify their military intervention in the non-Warsaw Pact nation of Afghanistan in 1979.
The Cold War drew to a close in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The United States under President Ronald Reagan increased diplomatic, military, and economic pressure on the Soviet Union, which was already suffering from severe economic stagnation. In the second half of the 1980s, newly appointed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the perestroika and glasnost reforms.
The weakening of the central power enabled revolutions of 1989, sometimes called the "Autumn of Nations", a revolutionary wave that swept across Central and Eastern Europe in late 1989, ending in the overthrow of Soviet-style communist states within the space of a few months.
The political upheaval began in Poland, continued in Hungary, and then led to a surge of mostly peaceful revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria. Romania was the only Eastern-bloc country to overthrow its communist regime violently and execute its head of state.
The Revolutions of 1989 greatly altered the balance of power in the world and marked (together with the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union) the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the Post-Cold War era. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, leaving the United States as the dominant military power, though Russia retained much of the massive Soviet nuclear arsenal.
On the other side, People's Republic of China and other Asian Communist states and Cuba proved resistant. The Chinese version of reforms concentrated on support of market forces while effectively prohibiting Western-style human rights and was able both maintain the leading role of the Communist party and quickly modernize the country.
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, North Korea, and Vietnam. Communist parties, or their descendant parties, remain politically important in many countries. President Vladimir Voronin of Moldova is a member of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova, and President Dimitris Christofias of Cyprus is a member of the Progressive Party of Working People, but the countries are 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.
The People's Republic of China has reassessed many aspects of the Maoist legacy; and the People's Republic of China, Laos, Vietnam, and, to a far lesser degree, Cuba have reduced state control of the economy in order to stimulate growth. 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.
Today, Marxist revolutionaries are conducting armed insurgencies in India, Philippines, Peru, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey, and Colombia.
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