AskDefine | Define communist

Dictionary Definition

communist adj : relating to or marked by communism; "Communist Party"; "communist governments"; "communistic propaganda" [syn: communistic]


1 a member of the communist party
2 a socialist who advocates communism [syn: commie]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Communist



  1. Of, relating to, supporting, or advocating communism.


of or relating to communism


  1. An advocate of a society based on the common ownership of property.
  2. A revolutionary or subversive radical.


person who follows a communist or Marxist-Leninist philosophy
revolutionary or subversive radical
  • Chinese:
    Mandarin: (gòngchǎn zhǔyì de)

Extensive Definition

Distinguish from Communalism.
Distinguish from "commonest" (meaning "most common", superlative of adjective).
Communism is a socioeconomic structure that promotes the establishment of a classless, stateless society based on common ownership of the means of production. It is usually considered to be a branch of socialism, a broad group of social and political ideologies, which draws on the various political and intellectual movements with origins in the work of theorists of the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution, although socialist historians say they are older. Communism attempts to offer an alternative to the problems believed to be inherent with capitalist economies and the legacy of imperialism and nationalism. Communism states that the only way to solve these problems would be for the working class, or proletariat, to replace the wealthy bourgeoisie, which is currently the ruling class, in order to establish a peaceful, free society, without classes, or government.

Marxist Schools of Communism

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 have been a driving force in international relations during most of the 20th century.


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. But 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.
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. Marx here follows Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in conceiving freedom not merely as an absence of restraints but as action with content. 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 fulfillment of human needs including satisfying work, and fair share of the product. 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.
Marx's lasting vision was to add this vision to a theory of how society was moving in a law-governed way toward communism, and, with some tension, a political theory that explained why revolutionary activity was required to bring it about.


Stalinism is a version of socialism adopted by the Soviet Union under Stalin. 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 collectivization. The rapid development of industry, and above all the victory of the Soviet Union in the Second World War, maintained that vision throughout the world, even around a decade following Stalin's death, when the party adopted a program in which it promised the establishment of communism within thirty years.
However, under Stalin's leadership, some claimed that evidence emerged that dented faith in the possibility of achieving communism within the framework of the Soviet model. Later, growth declined, and rent-seeking and corruption by state officials increased.
Under Stalin, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union adopted the theory of "socialism in one country" and claimed that, due to the "aggravation of class struggle under socialism", it was possible, even necessary, to build socialism alone in one country, the USSR.


Maoism is the Marxist Leninist trend associated with Mao Zedong. Khrushchev's reforms heightened ideological differences between the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union, which became increasingly apparent in the 1960s. As the Sino-Soviet Split in the international Communist movement turned toward open hostility, China portrayed itself as a leader of the underdeveloped world against the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.
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. The ideology of CPC, Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought (generally referred to as 'Maoism'), was adopted by many of these groups.
After the death of Mao and the takeover of Deng Xiaoping, the international Maoist movement diverged. One sector accepted the new leadership in China, a second renounced the new leadership and reaffirmed their commitment to Mao's legacy, and a third renounced Maoism altogether and aligned with the Albanian Party of Labour.

Pro-Albanian Marxism-Leninism

Another variant of 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. This tendency would demarcate itself by a strict defense of the legacy of Joseph Stalin and fierce criticism of virtually all other Communist groupings. The Albanians were able to win over a large share of the Maoists in Latin America, most notably the Communist Party of Brazil. This tendency has occasionally been labeled as 'Hoxhaism' after the Albanian Communist leader Enver Hoxha.
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'. Another important institution for them is the biannual International Anti-Imperialist and Anti-Fascist Youth Camp, which was initiated in 1970s.


By virtue of the Soviet Union's victory in the Second World War in 1945, the Soviet Army had occupied nations in both Eastern Europe and East Asia; as a result, 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.
Communism had been vastly strengthened by the winning of many new nations into the sphere of Soviet influence and strength in Eastern Europe. Governments modeled 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 labeled deviationist. Albania also became an independent Communist nation after World War II.
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

With the exception of Russia's and China's involvement in World War II, communism was seen as a rival, and a threat to western democracies and capitalism for most of the twentieth century.
Another reason many people fear Communism is that it is usually atheistic. Marx denounced religion as "the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world,...the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people." Communism holds religion as a tool used by society to pacify its members. Communism was seen as an attack on the freedom of religion, and most religious groups are very strongly opposed to Communism.
These fears spurred aggressive investigations and the red-baiting, blacklisting, jailing and deportation of people suspected of following Communist or other left-wing ideology. Many famous actors and writers were put on a "blacklist", which meant they would not be hired and would be subject to public disdain.

After the collapse 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 itself 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, 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, as of 2007, the national government relies on outside support from the communist parties and 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. Officially, the leadership of the People's Republic of China refers to its policies as "Socialism with Chinese characteristics."
Theories within Marxism as to why communism in 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 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. They called for a political revolution in the USSR and defended the country against capitalist restoration. Others, like Tony Cliff, advocated the theory of state capitalism, which asserts that the bureaucratic elite acted as a surrogate capitalist class in the heavily centralized and repressive political apparatus. Anarchists who adhere to Participatory economics claim that the Soviet Union became dominated by powerful intellectual elites who in a capitalist system coronate the proletariat’s labor 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 anticommunists applied the concept of "totalitarianism" to these societies, many social scientists identified possibilities for independent political activity within them, and stressed their continued evolution up to the point of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Today, Marxist revolutionaries are conducting armed insurgencies in India, Philippines, Iran, Turkey, and Colombia.

Criticism of communism

A diverse array of writers and political activists have published criticism of communism, such as:
Part of this criticism is on the policies adopted by one-party states ruled by Communist parties (known as "Communist states"). Critics are specially focused on their economic performance compared to market based economies. Their human rights records are thought to be responsible for the flight of refugees from communist states, and allegations of responsibility for famines, purges and warfare resulting in deaths far in excess of previous empires, capitalist or Axis regimes.
Some writers, such as Courtois, argue that the actions of Communist states were the inevitable (though sometimes unintentional) result of Marxist principles; thus, these authors present the events occurring in those countries, particularly under Stalin and Mao, as an argument against Marxism itself. Some critics were former Marxists, such as Wittfogel, who applied Marx's concept of "Oriental despotism" to Communist states such as the Soviet Union, and Silone, Wright, Koestler (among other writers) who contributed essays to the book The God that Failed (the title refers not to the Christian God but to Marxism).
There have also been more direct criticisms of Marxism, such as criticisms of the labor theory of value or Marx's predictions. Nevertheless, Communist parties outside of the Warsaw Pact, such as the Communist parties in Western Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa, differed greatly. Thus a criticism that is applicable to one such party is not necessarily applicable to another.
Some free market economists, principally those of the Austrian School, including Ludwig Von Mises, argue that communism and fascism share essential characteristics, and that the latter is a form of socialist dictatorship similar to that of the Soviet Union.
Economic criticisms of communal and or government property are described under criticisms of socialism.

Capitalization of "Communism"

The capitalized term "Communism" is often used to refer to the political and economic regimes under Communist parties that claimed to embody the dictatorship of the proletariat.


Further reading

  • Reason in Revolt: Marxism and Modern Science By Alan Woods and Ted Grant
  • Forman, James D., "Communism from Marx's Manifesto to 20th Century Reality", New York, Watts. 1972. ISBN 978-0-531-02571-0
  • Books on Communism, Socialism and Trotskyism
  • Furet, Francois, Furet, Deborah Kan (Translator), "The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century", University of Chicago Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0-226-27341-9
  • Daniels, Robert Vincent, "A Documentary History of Communism and the World: From Revolution to Collapse", University Press of New England, 1994, ISBN 978-0-87451-678-4
  • Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels, "Communist Manifesto", (Mass Market Paperback - REPRINT), Signet Classics, 1998, ISBN 978-0-451-52710-3
  • Dirlik, Arif, "Origins of Chinese Communism", Oxford University Press, 1989, ISBN 978-0-19-505454-5
  • Beer, Max, "The General History of Socialism and Social Struggles Volumes 1 & 2", New York, Russel and Russel, Inc. 1957
  • Adami, Stefano, 'Communism', in Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies, ed. Gaetana Marrone - P.Puppa, Routledge, New York- London, 2006

External links

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communist in Telugu: కమ్యూనిజం
communist in Thai: ลัทธิคอมมิวนิสต์
communist in Vietnamese: Chủ nghĩa cộng sản
communist in Turkish: Komünizm
communist in Ukrainian: Комунізм
communist in Venetian: Comunismo
communist in Yiddish: קאמוניזם
communist in Contenese: 共產主義
communist in Samogitian: Kuomonėzmos
communist in Chinese: 共产主义

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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