During the 20th century, communism, or communism theory is often used to describe revolutionary philosophies based on Marxism. These include Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism and Maoism, in contrast to social democracy. Often "Communism" is used as a synonym for the system practiced in the Soviet Union under Stalin and his successors as well as in Soviet satellite states under various Communist parties. In this case the "C" is capitalised.
Within Marxist communism the largest trends are inspired by the writings and actions of Vladimir Lenin. Whilst the common denominator is Marxism, some of them are nonetheless in conflict. The most influential branches of the communism tree are: the teachings of Marx/Engels/Lenin/Stalin, Marxism->Trotskyism and Marxism->Leninism->Maoism.
Some other, lesser known flavors are Council Communism, De Leonism and Left Communism.
Communism, or communist society is the name of the social formation, which, according to Marxism is a classless society in which all property is owned by the community as a whole and where all people enjoy equal social and economic status.
Communism in its original meaning is a social theory and political movement for the direct and communal control of society towards the common benefits of all members, the society being the communist society, see below. See also Religious communism.
Marxists believe that just as society has transformed from feudalism to capitalism, it will transform into socialism and eventually communism. However the method by which this transformation occurs distinguishes communists from other socialists including those that believe in Marxism, in that communists believe that this will be accomplished by revolutionary means.
According to Lenin's approach the first step of the long term process of developing a communist society is a revolutionary seizure of political power; in Marxist terms, the domination of the bourgeoisie is to be replaced by the domination of the working class. In Marxist literature this political stage is called the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin argued that the revolution would occur first in less developed nations, such as Russia, and would require a vanguard of the proletariat composed of a relatively small tightly organized communist party.
Communist parties are in power in People's Republic of China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, and Cuba. Between 1917 and 1991, a communist party founded by Lenin controlled Russia and founded the Soviet Union.
Many western intellectuals have advocated ideas conceivably similar to communism. In his 4th century BC work The Republic, the Greek philosopher Plato proposed the communal ownership of property by an intellectual ruling class, to put the welfare of the state above personal desire and moderate the greed of the producing classes.
In 1534 John of Leyden turned the city of Munster into a commune called "New Jerusalem" in expectation of the Second Coming and introduced polygamy (going partway towards Plato's ideal) before the city was taken by a Catholic army, leading to a massacre. Thomas More's 16th century work Utopia depicted a society organized along communist lines.
The idea floated around during the Enlightenment, exerting varying amounts of influence on the philosophes. The greatest amount was on Rousseau, whose thought extensively influenced the French Revolution.
Many 19th century idealists, disgusted by the ongoing oppression and decadence created by the Industrial Revolution, broke away from society to form short-lived communal utopias. An example was Robert Owen's New Harmony community in Indiana.
The ideas of Marx and Engels
The ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, epitomized by their Communist Manifesto, transformed communism into a revolutionary movement. Marx and Engels claimed Communism did not have to occur in isolated communities, but could emerge globally. According to the Manifesto, all history can be explained in terms of class struggles. In each society, a small ruling class owned or controlled the means of production; the rest, who constituted the vast majority of people, owned and controlled very little.
During the current stage, capitalism, the dominant bourgeoisie (capitalists who controlled the means of production) exploited and oppressed the proletariat (industrial workers). Karl Marx in his work Das Kapital (see Labor theory of value for more) explains in detail how capitalists buy labor from workers, obtaining then the right to sell the productive result of labor at a profit; this, Marx argued, creates class stratification and an unjust, unsustainable distribution of wealth. Marx thought it was only a matter of time before the working classes of the world, realizing their common goals, would unite to overthrow the capitalists and redistribute the wealth. He felt the establishment of communism would be the inevitable outcome of a historical process.
Atheism, usually based on Dialectical materialism, has been the official stance of most communist countries.
Leninism versus Social Democracy
According to Marx, the laws of class struggle would force capitalism to evolve socialism and then eventually to communism. However, in the early twentieth century, it seemed that capitalist society was as strong as ever, and the revolution which Marx predicted was nowhere to be seen. How to interpret this fact lead to a split among Marx's followers.
Some of his supporters eventually concluded that a socialist society could be created without revolution and could be brought about through democratic means. This ideology was known as social democracy and became the basis of a number of political parties include the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the British Labour Party.
However, according to Lenin, Marx underestimated the power of capitalist imperialism and therefore a revolutionary seizure of the political power on behalf of the proletariat was needed to overthrow the capitalist system towards Communism.
The actual difference is the revolutionary character of the process. Communists consider it as a necessary step while social democrats do not. These two currents of Marxism distinguished their ways after the second worker's international. During the rest of the 20th century, according to the communist critics, social democrats did little beyond trying to mitigate the socially harmful effects of capitalism without making any real progress towards a classless society. On the other hand, according to social democrats, the dictatorship of the proletariat was nothing else than dictatorship under the control of a communist party and remains in a state of totalitarian dictatorship, or has transitioned into some form of democracy or capitalism. On some level, both mutual criticisms have been proven correct.
The future of communism
The world's five remaining Communist states are the People's Republic of China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, and Laos. The experiences of these five states have starkly diverged since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. On one hand, Cuba and North Korea were hit hard by the collapse of Soviet and Eastern bloc economic assistance, trade, and military support. On the other hand, the world's three other remaining Communist states, all in East Asia, were far less dependent on Soviet subsidies (and in China's case, not at all, given the Sino-Soviet Split) at the time of the collapse of the Soviet bloc.
Following the lead of China under Deng Xiaoping, Vietnam and Laos have moved away from Soviet-style centralized planning in favor of market socialism. The ruling Communist parties of China, Vietnam, and Laos argue that a planned economy is not synonymous to socialism, thus maintaining their rationale for Communist Party-rule. For the past two decades, China and Vietnam have been sustaining among the highest rates of economic growth in the world.
In the early 21st century, some thinkers have seen the prospect of communism emerges from a different direction. The economic and technological development have always been seen by Soviet communist party as the primary prerequisite to building communism, with the neverending striving for more tractors produced, more coal mined and more engineers trained. In the final decade of the Soviet Union existence a number of Soviet scholars have developed theories describing how communism would develop as we gradually turn the nature itself into the means of production.
This vision, not unlike the vision of the modern nanotechnology proponents, is slowly coming to fruition. While the majority of Western economists and politicians follow Fukuyama in the belief that capitalism will endure forever, or they simply do not have any theories spanning beyond it, some paint a vision not unlike the one described by Marx. In a particular well-publicised example, Marshall Brain, a renowned web entrepreneur, described in his book Manna (http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm) a world, built with the help of robotics technology, that fits the classic definition of communism perfectly. Shy of the word "communism" itself because of its negative connotations in the United States, some authors today actually describe how it will be built in the 21st century.
Language and the word communist
Much confusion (often seemingly deliberate) surrounds the words communism and socialism. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) described itself as socialist (as the name implies). There are also political parties which call themselves communist. These parties have a goal of eventually realizing a communist society. So the word communist applies to three things: individuals who are members of communist parties or who desire a communist society in the future, political parties which have a goal of reaching communism, and a theoretical future society where there is no government, only communism.
Historians and political analysts still argue about whether aspects of many 20th century "socialist countries", such as single-party rule or the human rights violations by Soviet apparatuses such as the KGB, Stasi (East Germany), or NKVD, were direct, unavoidable results of flaws in Marxist-Leninist theory or were caused by unrelated historical incidents; the argument is unresolved and faces reinterpretation with each new political conflict. However regimes of this nature have been totalitarian, featuring absence or repression of free press, church, and independent labor unions, and have often committed human rights abuses, opponents of Communism see it as a dangerous ideology, similar in effect to fascism.
Marxists dispute this usage, reserving the term communism only for the final evolutionary stage of society (see socialism). In Marxism, communism refers to an ideal stateless, propertyless, and classless society with no oppression or exploitation and general abundance and freedom. This society would run in accord with the principle: To each according to their needs, from each according to their ability. A common exemplification of the concept is "if a successful architect is single, he only needs one loaf of bread a day, and if a member of the proletariat has seven children with his wife, they need nine loaves of bread a day; neither have to pay for the bread at the baker's, and they both ask for exactly as much bread as they need -- the same applies for any other property, such as the apartment or the car". Because such a circumstance has never occurred, the Marxist ideal of communism is often viewed as an unrealistic goal, although at present many proponents of nanotechnologies argue that such society of abundance is technologically feasible (see also Paradise-engineering).
Many nations in the 20th century were run by such Communist Parties, who identified themselves as true communists implementing socialism, and declared to govern themselves according to Marxist principles. See Soviet Empire for the list of them.
According to the 1996 third edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage, communism is written with a lowercase "c" except when it refers to a political party of that name, a member of that party, or a government led by such a party, in which case it is written as "Communism" with an uppercase "C".
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