What is Communism?

The flag used by the former USSR, which was a communist state.
The flag used by the former USSR, which was a communist state.

An Introduction To The Concept Of Communism

A utopian world or perfect place would be one where everyone’s basic necessities of life are fulfilled. In such a world, no forms of oppression would exist. Everyone would have equal financial and social status, equal rights, opportunities, and freedoms. Although the creation of such a perfect society appears to be a distant possibility in today’s world, communism has been proposed by some to be the only way to achieve a utopian society.

In very simple words, communism is the idea that every individual in a society receives an equal share of the benefits derived from labor. In such a society, the state would own everything, implying nothing (businesses, produce, etc.) would be owned by individuals. The wealth would be re-distributed and equally divided among all the individuals in a society such that the rich will become less rich and the poor will become less poor and ultimately, all will achieve the same economic status.

Also, true communism would be achieved when the practice is spread all across the world to include all the countries of the world, as mentioned by the German philosopher Frederick Engels, one of the founders of the Marxist theory together with Karl Marx.

The Father Of Communism: Birth Of Communist Theories And Principles

Karl Marx, a Prussian sociologist, philosopher, economist, and journalist, is regarded as the father of communism. In collaboration with Frederick Engels, Marx published several works including the most famous one entitled the “Communist Manifesto” which was published in 1848. According to Marx, a truly utopian society would be achieved only when a single stateless and classless society exists. He even described three phases of action to achieve such a state. First, a revolution was needed to overthrow the existing regime and completely eradicate the old system. Second, a dictator needs to come to power and act as the sole authority on all matters including the personal matters of the public. The dictator would then be responsible for making everyone follow the ideals of communism and also ensure that no property or wealth is privately owned. Finally, the last stage would be the achievement of a utopian state (although this stage has never been achieved) whereby supreme equality would be achieved and everyone would willingly and happily share their wealth and benefits with others in society.

According to Marx, in an ideal communist society, banking would be centralized, the government would control education and labor. All infrastructural facilities, agricultural means, and industries would be government-owned. Private property and inheritance rights would be abolished and heavy income taxes would be levied on all.

How Birth Of The First Communist Nation-The Role Of Vladimir Lenin

At a time when many of the countries of the world were shifting towards democracy, Russia was still a monarchy where the Czar ruled with absolute power. For years, the poor people of the country had greatly suffered and were on the verge of breaking into a revolution. Also, the World War I had resulted in great economic losses to the country and its people. Thus, the Czar who continued to live amidst immense luxury became highly unpopular.

All this tension and chaos thus led to the February Revolution on February, 1917 when workers of a closed factory and soldiers in mutiny together raised slogans against the unjust regime. The revolution spread like wildfire and forced the Czar to abdicate his throne. A quickly-formed Russian Provisional Government now replaced the monarch.

Taking the opportunity of the chaos prevailing in Russia, Vladimir Lenin who had been exiled from the country for hatching anti-Czar plots now returned to Russia and with the help of Leon Trotsky, another Russian revolutionary who acted as his right-hand man, founded the Bolsheviks, a pro-Communism party. Since the Provisional Government of Russia continued to support the war effort during the World War I, it also became unpopular among the masses and this triggered the Bolshevik Revolution that helped Lenin and his Red Army overthrow the government and take over the Winter Palace and end Russia’s involvement in the World War.

From then on, between 1917 and 1920 Lenin initiated "war communism” to enforce his political agendas and renamed the party in 1918 as the Russian Communist Party. Extreme measures were used to establish communism in Russia that marked the beginning of the Russian Civil War (1918 to 1922). Finally, the USSR or the Soviet Union was established that included Russia and 15 neighboring countries.

Communist Leaders And Their Policies

To establish communism in Russia, the communist leaders of the country left no stone unturned. The tools used by Lenin to achieve his goals included man-made famines, slave labor camps, and execution of detractors during the Red Terror. Famines were engineered by forcing peasants to sell their crops without profits to Lenin leading to a forced halt in crop production. Slave labor camps were places to punish those who disagreed with Lenin’s rule. Millions perished in such camps. During the Red Terror, voices of innocent civilians, White Army POW (prisoners of war), and Czarist sympathizers were silenced by mass murders executed by Lenin's men.

The Rise Of Stalin And His Great Ambitions

Following Lenin’s death in 1924, his successor, Joseph Stalin, followed the policies established by Lenin but also went a step further by ensuring the execution of fellow communists who did not back him 100%. He also extracted land from peasants that Lenin has given back to them leading to resistance by the peasants and larger-scale famines. He also heavily industrialized Russia to boost the economy with the ultimate goal of spreading communism to the rest of the world.

Stalin’s successors continued the practices established by him till the fall of the Soviet Union following the Cold War

The Cold War And The Dissolution Of The First Communist Nation

After the end of the World War II, a period of Cold War started where the US resisted the aim of the Soviet Union to spread communism to the US and the rest of the world. The two powerhouses of the world now engaged in developing retaliatory weapons should the need arise to fight against each other. The first nuclear arms race was thus born and the fears of a deadlier World War III loomed large. The Soviet Union and the US also engaged in the space race. The Cold War also gave birth to the Korean and the Vietnam War, and other political and economic crisis.

Finally, in the race to achieve supremacy, the Soviet government’s funds ran out. The huge financial spendings in the arms and space race rendered the Soviet economy stagnant. Thus when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, he adopted new principles to rejuvenate the Soviet economy and reduce tensions with the US. The Cold War ended and the communist governments in the bordering countries of Russia started to fail due to the more lenient policies of Gorbachev. Finally, in 1991, during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, the Soviet Union formally broke apart into Russia and several independent countries.

Non-Marxist Communism

Not all communism is labeled as Marxist-based. The two dominant forms of non-Marxist Communism are anarchist communism and Christian communism. Anarchist communism differs from Marxism in that it rejects the need for a state socialism phase so that a revolutionary society immediately transforms into a communist society. Christian communism, on the other hand, is a belief that the Jesus’ teachings compel the followers of Christianity to support communism as the ideal social system. Here, the believers do not support the non-religious and atheistic views of other communists but accept many other aspects of Marxism.

Communism Today

Today, Russia is no longer a Communist state but a federal semi-presidential republic and has made a painful transition to a capitalist market economy. Although Communist Party of the Russian Federation exists as the successor of the CPSU, it propagates a reformist and not a revolutionary communist ideology.

China is the biggest and the most powerful Communist state existing today. However, Maoism is no longer in practice here and although some large industries are owned by the state, privatization and the establishment of a decentralized market economy is the present trend seen in China. The Communist Party of China, however, vehemently reacts to the rise of the opposition and suppresses it strictly, and that has ensured the uninterrupted rule of the party in the country since 1949.

Cuba and Vietnam are also strictly single-party communist states in the world today. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the countries have stopped receiving sponsorship and subsidies that they used to receive from the Soviet Union, and hence are diplomatically reaching out for aid from other nations. Both countries are seeking foreign investment and their economies are becoming increasingly market-oriented.

Finally, North Korea is the only country following the old-Soviet style communism. The government of the country has been labeled as highly repressive in nature and the country has been isolated from the rest of the world. North Korea’s Communist regime’s policies have been heavily criticized for its disregard for basic human rights and freedoms.

Criticism Of Communism

Critics of Communism can be divided into two broad categories- those who are against the communist theory and principles and those who find the practical implementation of communism questionable in the present-day world.

Many have opposed the historical policies implemented by the communist leaders to establish their political and ideological goals. Mass killings, suppression of human rights, and crimes against humanity used as tools by communist dictators to establish communism have been vehemently criticized by political and social activists across the world.

In today’s world, Soviet-style communism is considered to be practically defunct. Only time will tell whether a new movement will lead to the building of a new communist society on Marxist lines.


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