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I. Soviet CommunismMerle Fainsod


II. National CommunismAlexander Dallin


III. The International MovementBernard S. Morris


IV. The International SystemGeorge Modelski


The articles under this heading deal with the political aspects of contemporary communism. For a detailed guide to related topics, see the articles listed under Marxism.


The origins and nature of Soviet communism are, and promise to remain, a subject of debate. Some scholars emphasize indigenous formative influences, stress factors of continuity with the Russian past, and tend to regard the Soviet political system as a modern form of traditional Russian despotism. Others view Bolshevism primarily as a Western heresy, whose roots can be traced to eighteenth-century French utopianism, Messianism, and Jacobinism but which, in a more immediate sense, was an offshoot of the activist, revolutionary ingredients in classical Marxism. Those who stress discontinuities with the Russian past argue that Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was embarked on a path of constitutional development, which the Bolshevik seizure of power aborted, and that in any case, Soviet totalitarianism, with its pretensions to all-encompassing control of society and world revolutionary objectives, must be sharply distinguished from tsarist authoritarianism, which functioned as a national state and operated a much more limited and inefficient control system.

As is not uncommon in scholarly polemics, there are elements of truth in all these contrasting interpretations, and no measuring rod exists to give precise value to their respective contributions. Soviet communism clearly owes much to its French revolutionary and Marxist forebears, but the way in which these borrowed ideas were adapted and transformed represented a response to the urgencies and peculiarities of the Russian environment.

Classical Marxism. Classical Marxism may itself be viewed as a response to the dislocations and suffering of the working class in the early stages of the industrial revolution in Great Britain and western Europe. In the Marxian scheme the spread of capitalism and the intensification of working class misery were the necessary prelude to a socialist revolution; Marx’s panorama of economic development clearly implied that the socialist revolution would arrive first in the most advanced industrial countries, where the proletariat or working class was expected to be most numerous, most highly organized, and ripe for the seizure of power.

Nineteenth-century Russia, with its overwhelmingly peasant population and low level of industrial development, hardly fit the specifications for a Marxist-type revolution. Indeed, through the 1880s the Russian revolutionary movement, which was dominated by the Narodniki, or Populists, looked to the peasant as the primary revolutionary force to overthrow the autocracy and dreamed of building socialism around the peasant commune, or mir. While Narodnik philosophers were familiar with the works of Marx and Engels and largely responsible for translating them into Russian, they regarded the evils of industrialization and proletarianization, which Marx and Engels described so graphically, as dangers to be avoided rather than stages to be traversed. Nor were Marx and Engels at first certain that Russia would have to recapitulate the economic development of the West. As late as 1882 they still thought that the mir might “serve as a starting-point for a communist course of development,” but only “if the Russian revolution sounds the signal for a workers’ revolution in the West, so that each becomes the complement of the other” (Engels [1890] 1963, pp. 264–265). By 1892, however, Engels had written off the mir as a Narodnik illusion; Russia seemed to him to be embarked on an irreversible capitalist course.

Russian Marxism. Russian Marxism as an independent political movement originated in the split in 1879 of the Narodnik organization Zemlya i Volya (Land and Liberty). The seceders, who stood for propaganda and agitation as opposed to terrorism, established a rival organization, the Chernyi Peredel (Black Repartition), to propagate their doctrines. One of their leaders was Georgii Valentinovich Plekhanov, soon to be known as the father of Russian Marxism, but then still clinging to the Narodnik belief in the peasant as the driving force of revolution. The failure of the peasantry to respond either to agitation or terror and the rapid industrial development that was beginning to take place in the last decades of the nineteenth century impelled Plekhanov to reexamine his views and to turn to the new industrial working class— the proletariat, so-called—as the revolutionary hope of the future. The search for a new faith led him to Marxism. In 1883 Plekhanov, Paul Axelrod, Leo Deutsch, and Vera Zasulich, all of whom had been members of the Chernyi Peredel, joined in establishing the first important Russian Marxist organization, known as Osvobozhdenie Truda (Emancipation of Labor). By the 1890s the works of Marx and Engels were being widely and eagerly read by the more radically inclined students and intellectuals and propagated in workingmen’s circles. One of the new converts was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), who was to change the face of world history.

The Russian Social Democratic Labor party, of which Lenin’s Bolshevik faction was an offshoot, held its first congress in 1898 and its second in 1903. At the 1903 congress, divisions developed within the party. The split between “hards” and “softs” centered on the character of party organization. Lenin wanted a select, closed party of dedicated revolutionaries operating in strict subordination to the center and serving as a vanguard of leadership for the masses of workers who would follow the party without necessarily belonging to it. Martov (lulii Osipovich Tsederbaum), leader of the “softs,” pressed for a broad party open to anyone who believed in its program and was willing to work under its direction. At the 1903 congress, the views of Martov on party organization registered a temporary triumph. But in the election of officers at the end of the congress, Lenin’s faction carried the majority and became known as Bolsheviks (in Russian, “majority men”). Lenin’s opponents were dubbed Mensheviks (”minority men”).

The differences between the two factions were not confined to organizational matters. A central issue that was to divide the party grew out of the problem of Russia’s industrial backwardness and the political consequences to be drawn from it. How should Marxism, which provided a recipe for socialist revolution in the most advanced industrial countries, be applied in the Russian setting? The Mensheviks, who prided themselves on being orthodox Marxists, saw the arrival of socialism in Russia as the climax of a long process of industrial development. Impressed by the weakness of the Russian proletariat, they concluded that a socialist Russia was a matter of the distant future and that their first charge as good Marxists was to help the bourgeoisie discharge its historical responsibility to overthrow the autocracy. Meanwhile, they could only wait for the further growth of capitalism and the proletariat to establish the conditions for a successful socialist revolution.

At the opposite extreme from the Menshevik conception was the theory of “permanent revolution,” developed by Parvus (Alexander Helphand) and adopted by Leon Trotsky during and after the 1905 revolution. For Parvus and Trotsky the industrial backwardness of Russia was a revolutionary asset rather than a liability. Because of the weakness of the Russian bourgeoisie and its dependence on the state, they looked to the proletariat to spearhead both a bourgeois and a socialist revolution. Once the proletariat had won power, its responsibility was to hold onto power and keep the revolution going “in permanence.” The Russian revolution, Trotsky thought, would ignite a series of socialist revolutions in the West, which would in turn guarantee the success of the socialist revolution in Russia. Thus Trotsky’s prescription for Russia’s retarded economy was a new law of combined development. The two revolutions—bourgeois–democratic and proletarian–socialist—would be combined, or telescoped, into one. The working class would assert its hegemony from the outset and leap from industrial backwardness into socialism.

Leninism. Lenin’s own views underwent an interesting transformation. He began by accepting the orthodox two-stage conception that Russia would have to pass through a bourgeois-democratic phase before it was ripe for a socialist revolution. But, unlike the Mensheviks, Lenin turned his back on the bourgeois liberals and looked to the peasantry as allies of the working class. Lenin’s formula envisaged two tactical stages: first, “the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” to complete the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and second, an alliance of the proletariat and the village poor to initiate the socialist revolution. Like Trotsky, Lenin came to believe that the two stages of the revolution could be telescoped into one; at the height of the 1905 revolution he pronounced, “We stand for uninterrupted revolution. We shall not stop half way.” Despite many intervening conflicts, the bond with Trotsky was to be sealed by the events of 1917. The dialectic of backwardness was “resolved” by the Bolshevik seizure of power.

Out of that experience a new theory of revolution was to be developed with world-wide applications. The Leninist theory of revolution, as Stalin christened it, was a far cry from orthodox Marxism. Its prerequisites were no longer industrial development, a mass proletariat, or the completion of a bourgeois-democratic revolution. As Stalin summed it up, “The front of capital will be pierced where the chain of imperialism is weakest, … and it may turn out that the country which has started the revolution, … is less developed in a capitalist sense than other, more developed, countries, which have, however, remained within the framework of capitalism” (Stalin [1924] 1954, p. 37).

Thus Marx was “adapted” to the task of revolution making in the underdeveloped countries of the world. Industrial backwardness was transformed from obstacle to opportunity. The concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat shifted from a weapon of the majority into a tool of minorities. Consciousness triumphed over spontaneity, and the way was cleared for the organized and disciplined revolutionary elite capable of transmuting the grievances of a people into a new instrument of absolute power.

Early organizational development

”Give us an organisation of revolutionaries,” said Lenin, “and we will overturn Russia” (Lenin [1902] 1961, vol. 5, p. 458). Lenin forged the instrument, but the prototypes of the professional revolutionary as the strategic lever of political upheaval were planted deep in Russian history and were nurtured by the conditions of the revolutionary struggle against the autocracy. It was against this background that the organizational concepts of Lenin took shape. By 1902, with the publication of What Is to Be Done? they were fully developed.

Four ideas stand out in this seminal source of Communist organizational doctrine. First, there was the fear of spontaneity, the notion that the working class could not be trusted to discover its own true interests and that, if left alone, it would follow the path of trade-union bargaining rather than commit itself to a revolutionary struggle for socialism. Second, there was the unquestioned assumption that the working class had to be guided and directed by a politically conscious revolutionary vanguard possessed of a superior knowledge of the laws of history. Third, there was the idea that this vanguard should consist of a small, carefully selected party of professional revolutionaries operating under highly centralized direction and discipline. Finally, there was the concept of political monopoly, that no other organizations should be permitted to compete with the party in obtaining access to the masses and that all mass organizations, such as trade unions, must be brought under the ideological influence and, if possible, the direct control of the party.

Lenin sought to put these ideas into effect in his struggle with the Mensheviks for ascendancy in the Russian Social Democratic Labor party. While a façade of surface unity was at first preserved, the factional strife became increasingly bitter, and finally in 1912 Lenin and his followers broke away, organized a “pure” Bolshevik central committee, and laid claim to the party title. The name “Communist” was not adopted until 1918, after victory was won, when the designation of the party was changed to Russian Communist party (Bolshevik) to distinguish it from the socialist or social-democratic parties of western Europe, whom the Bolsheviks charged with betrayal of the revolutionary cause during World War i.

The early organizational history of Bolshevism has more than historical interest. The experience of the formative years stamped the character and future development of the party. The elitism which was so deeply ingrained in Lenin, the theory of the party as a dedicated revolutionary order, the tradition of highly centralized leadership, the tightening regime of party discipline, the absolutism of the party line, the intolerance of disagreement and compromise, and the manipulatory attitude toward mass organization—all these patterns of behavior were to continue to shape the code by which the party lived and the way in which its institutional structure was organized.

The Bolshevik victory in November 1917 may fairly be described as one of the most remarkable triumphs of revolutionary engineering in human history. On the eve of the March revolution the total membership of the Bolshevik party was generously estimated at 23,600. In the short space of eight months, this small group was able to accumulate sufficient support to seize power in a nation of over 150,000,000 people. Russia, to be sure, was ripe for revolutionary action. The war, with its vast losses of men, territory, and resources, its revelations of incompetence and even degeneracy in the very highest circles, and the mounting war-weariness, hunger, and deprivation, induced a mood of desperation. The Bolsheviks alone among revolutionary parties were able to turn the resulting disorganization to their advantage. One major source of the strength of the Bolshevik party was its highly centralized organization, its activist disciplined membership, and the determination of its leader, Lenin, to seize power at the first opportune moment. Another source of strength was its success in exploiting all of the accumulated dissatisfactions in Russian society. The provisional government that replaced the tsar was weak, vacillating, and slow to respond to popular grievances. The Bolsheviks were willing to promise what the masses wanted—land to the peasants, bread to the hungry, and peace to the war-weary army. Finally, the Bolsheviks concentrated their efforts on building power where it would be strategically effective— among the sailors of the Baltic fleet, in the Petro-grad garrison, and in the armed workers’ Red Guard in the factories. The enemies of the Bolsheviks were far more numerous, but they were poorly organized, divided, and ineffective. As Lenin subsequently observed, “The Bolsheviks did have an overwhelming preponderance of force at the decisive moment in the decisive points” (Lenin [1919] 1932, vol. 29, p. 635). Relying on these tactical advantages, they succeeded in taking power.

The next problem was whether they could hold onto power in the face of the successive onslaughts of the Germans, the White armies, and the Allied intervention. The first decision of the Bolsheviks was to sue for peace with the Germans. The terms were harsh, but Lenin argued that there was no alternative except to bow. In the Treaty of Brest— Litovsk (March 1918) the Bolsheviks temporarily signed away to the Germans a third of their country and more than half of their industry. But the breathing space the treaty was designed to win never materialized. Although German pressure relaxed with the signing of the armistice in November 1918, the Bolsheviks had still to cope with the White armies, the Allied interventionist forces, and a war with Poland. After three years of civil war, the Whites were defeated, the Allies (the United States, Japan, France, and Great Britain) withdrew their forces, and the Bolsheviks survived.

Coincidentally with the civil war, the Bolsheviks proclaimed a state of siege, and all opposition parties were suppressed one by one. For a very brief period (from late December 1917 until March 1918), there were three Left Socialist Revolutionaries (who stood close to the Bolsheviks) in the Council of People’s Commissars, the cabinet. But they left the government in protest against the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and grain confiscations from the peasants, and the Soviet government reverted to its original exclusively communist composition, which it has since retained. Lenin at the time made no bones about the necessity for dictatorship and suppression of opposition groups. “There is no other way to Socialism,” he insisted, “but the dictatorship of the proletariat…. Violence, when it is committed by the toiling and exploited masses, is the kind of violence of which we approve” (Lenin 1918, vol. 35, p. 265).

Since in Lenin’s view it was the Communist party that was the sole custodian of the interests of the masses, the logic of his position led inexorably in the direction of the one-party state and the use of the Cheka (security police) to exterminate enemies of the regime. By abolishing freedom for opposition parties, the communists transformed the Soviets, the trade unions, and other forms of mass organization into transmission belts, as they came to be called, for carrying out the will of the monopoly party.

From the one-party state it was only a short step to the establishment of dictatorship within the party. This was uniquely Stalin’s achievement. But Lenin had set the master precedent with his ultra-centralist ideas on party organization. In attacking them as far back as 1904, Trotsky had prophetically observed that in Lenin’s scheme the party takes the place of the working class; the party organization displaces the party; the central committee displaces the party organization; and finally, the “dictator” displaces the central committee (Trotsky 1904, p. 54).

The Stalinist era

It remained for Stalin to provide the final vindication of Trotsky’s prophecy. In 1922 Stalin was appointed general secretary of the party, a post of key importance in controlling party patronage. His recommendations became increasingly decisive in appointments of regional and local party secretaries, who later returned to party congresses as voting delegates. When Lenin became ill in 1922–1923, the most prominent contender for the succession was Trotsky. But the man who commanded the party machine was Stalin. He joined with two other party leaders, Grigori E. Zinoviev and Lev B. Kamenev, who held strong positions in the party organization, and together they proved powerful enough to shear Trotsky of a considerable degree of his authority. The troika, or triumvirate, that they established dominated the party Politburo after Lenin’s death in 1924.

In that period Stalin was building up his personal machine and soon felt strong enough to dispense with the support of Zinoviev and Kamenev, who moved over in 1925 to join Trotsky in forming the so-called Left Opposition. In order to defeat them, Stalin allied himself with the right wing in the Politburo—Nikolai I. Bukharin, Mikhail P. Tomski, and Aleksei I. Rykov. Together, they crushed Trotsky and his new allies in 1926–1927. Not satisfied to share authority, Stalin then turned round in 1929 to rid himself of the right wing and ejected Bukharin, Tomski, and Rykov from leading positions in the party. Even though Stalin’s position as the “supreme leader” of the party was now virtually unquestioned, he proceeded in the mid-1930s to carry through a series of bloody purges which left no corner of Soviet society untouched.

Stalin’s drive to rid himself of all opposition was not confined to the Old Bolsheviks. Many of the most faithful of his erstwhile supporters were caught up in the fury of the purges. Perhaps the most dramatic and authoritative testimony on the damage the purges did to the top stratum of party leadership was provided by Khrushchev, when he revealed in his “secret” speech to the twentieth party congress in 1956 that “of the 139 members and candidates of the Party’s Central Committee who were elected at the XVIIth Congress (1934), 98 persons, i.e., 70 per cent, were arrested and shot (mostly in 1937–1938) …” and that “of 1,966 delegates with either voting or advisory rights” at the same congress “1,108 persons were arrested on charges of anti-revolutionary crimes …” (Columbia University, Russian Institute 1956, pp. 22–23).

With the consolidation of Stalin’s power, the figure of the infallible dictator emerged as the operative principle of Communist party leadership. His colleagues in the Politburo functioned as administrative henchmen and assistants on a high level; the central committee went into a shadowy eclipse; party congresses became rallies of the faithful; and the party apparatus operated as a subservient instrument of Stalin’s will.

While the particular form of despotic rule that Stalin developed was no doubt peculiar to him and a reflection of his personality, the desperate desire of both Lenin and Stalin to overcome Russian backwardness reinforced reliance on authoritarian expedients. When the Bolsheviks seized power, Russia was still a largely peasant country in the early stages of industrialization. Among Bolsheviks, consciousness of Russian backwardness was so strong that many feared it would be impossible to move forward to socialism, or even hold onto power, unless help was provided by successful proletarian revolutions in the advanced industrial nations of the West. When revolutionary aid from the West was not forthcoming, the Bolsheviks were thrown back on their own resources and faced with the task, as Lenin put it in 1921, of “adopting dictatorial methods to hasten the copying of Western culture,” and of using “barbarous methods in combatting barbarism.” Restated in non-Leninist terms, the historic burden that the communists assumed was that of modernizing an underdeveloped country by dictatorial and totalitarian means.

After the exhaustion of the civil war and the famine that accompanied and succeeded it, the communists were compelled to beat a retreat, to make concessions to the peasantry, and to permit a partial revival of private trade. During the years of the NEP—the New Economic Policy, which lasted from 1921 to 1928—prewar industry was rebuilt, but the regime encountered the greatest difficulty in accumulating the investment funds to finance a further expansion of the industrial sector. Agricultural output grew but so did peasant consumption, and efforts to increase the tax burden on the more well-to-do peasants met formidable resistance. The resulting stalemate was eventually resolved by forcing the peasants into collective farms, which operated essentially as collection agencies to extract grain from the peasantry at low prices. Thus a large part of the burden of accumulating an industrialization fund was transferred to the countryside.

Beginning in 1928 with the first five-year plan, Stalin launched Russia on a program of forced-draft industrialization. The decision carried with it a train of consequences: emphasis on heavy industry at the expense of light industry; the suppression of the claims of consumption; the “revolution from above,” as Stalin termed it, by which the peasantry was brought to heel through collectivization; a new emphasis on technical education; a reorganization of the incentive system to reward those who contributed to industrial productivity; and finally, a strengthening of the coercive and totalitarian features of the regime to deal with the discontent that the new program generated.

Inherent in the industrialization drive was also a powerful nationalist, or patriotic, ingredient. As the prospects of world revolution dwindled in the 1920s, Russia, the home base of the revolution, became the central preoccupation of the party leadership, and the need to strengthen its defenses and build up its power loomed as a more and more important task. In the process the legacy of Russian national interests became inextricably intertwined with broader Soviet goals and objectives. Industrial backwardness operated as a barrier both to the assertion of Russian national claims and to the realization of communist revolutionary hopes. To overcome this barrier was to ensure survival and to open the door to greatness. As Stalin put it in a speech to industrial managers in 1931: “…we are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good the distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they crush us” (Stalin [1931] 1954, p. 456). The speech was to prove prophetic. Exactly ten years later came the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union. Had it not been for the industrialization drive and the military power that it produced, it is doubtful whether the Soviet Union could have survived the onslaught.

The Stalinist years were a period of “practical tasks,” rather than of great doctrinal ferment. The transformation of the Bolsheviks from a revolutionary into a governing party meant that Leninism (or Marxism-Leninism, as it came to be called) had become a state ideology. Its primary task was to explain, rationalize, and defend the decisions taken by the party leadership. Lenin himself in the prerevolutionary years had had little to say about how society would be organized under Bolshevik auspices, and after power was won, both Lenin and Stalin felt free to make practical adjustments within the framework of a general commitment to socialism.

Stalin’s theoretical pronouncements, if they can be described as such, were essentially statements of operative ideology, which undertook to justify the policies he was pursuing. His theory of “building socialism in one country,” which he developed in his polemic against Trotsky’s doctrine of “permanent revolution,” went beyond glossing over a disagreeable necessity to a positive affirmation of Russian strength and self-sufficiency. It laid the basis for his doctrine of Soviet patriotism, that strange amalgam of traditional nationalism and pride in Soviet achievements by which Stalin sought to unify the nation in the face of foreign dangers. His repudiation of egalitarianism and other “utopian” elements in the heritage of classical Marxism was closely geared to the requirements of productive efficiency as he understood them. His dialectical “discovery” that the state must grow stronger before it could wither away and his glorification of the state superstructure reflected the powerful role he assigned to the state apparatus in reshaping and directing Soviet society. His theory that the class enemy would become more desperate and dangerous as communism approached was nothing less than a justification of the great purges.

As Stalin neared the end of his days, his megalomania mounted. The controls that he exercised became increasingly rigid and stultifying. His totalitarian grip embraced every facet of Soviet life. Literature, drama, music, art, and every branch of learning were purged of any trace of independence and were forced to join in choruses of sycophantic adulation to the “supreme leader.” The supercentralization on which Stalin insisted became increasingly anachronistic. It induced congestion at the center and paralysis below. Because authority was so concentrated in Stalin’s person, in the last years of his life there was a perceptible decline in the influence of the party organization as such. The party apparatus was faced with increasing competition from an expanding government bureaucracy and an already inflated police apparatus. Meanwhile, Stalin stood at the apex of each hierarchy—party, government, and police— playing them off against one another, using their competition to reinforce his own authority, and relying on his system of calculated insecurity to keep them all submissive and responsive to his commands.

Stalin’s legacy to his successors was replete with problems. His impressive achievements in forcing the pace of Soviet industrialization, building military power, and expanding his domain into eastern and central Europe were all purchased at a heavy price. Soviet agriculture remained backward and stagnant, and the food available to the Soviet public was monotonous, scarce, and high priced. Stalin’s obsession with the development of heavy industry meant that light industry was ignored and underdeveloped, and shortages of consumer goods and housing were acute and widespread. The system of terror on which Stalin relied to protect his own security and to enforce his regime of deprivation and sacrifice had its debilitating effects. Frightened bureaucrats shrank from exercising initiative; there was a frozen and congealed quality about Soviet life which tended to rob it of all dynamism and revolutionary appeal.

The Khrushchev period

The death of Stalin marked the end of an era and opened the way to new policy initiatives and political and administrative arrangements better suited to the more mature stage of industrialization, which Stalin himself had done so much to create. Once the succession crisis had been resolved by Khrushchev’s purge of his competitors, the outlines of a new model of Khrushchevian rule began to crystallize. It could best be described as a form of “enlightened,” or rationalized, totalitarianism, which sought to eliminate or mollify the worst grievances of the Stalinist epoch and rationalize the system of administrative and economic controls, while preserving the substance of totalitarian power itself. Khrushchev’s formula of governance relegated terror to a much less central position than it had occupied under Stalin, and the welfare reforms that he sponsored were designed to broaden popular support for the regime. But Khrushchev’s vision of society remained total, and he saw nothing within it that could be permitted to remain free from the party’s paternal guidance and control.

In contrast to Stalin, Khrushchev used the party as his primary instrument of rule. Within the party he sought to revive what he called Leninist norms—more active participation by the party rank and file in party discussions, encouragement of greater criticism from below, more frequent assemblages of party congresses, committees, and other important party organs, and greater emphasis on the recruitment of workers and collective farmers in order to strengthen the party’s popular roots. But the revival of the forms of intraparty democracy did not extend to its essence. Khrushchev, like Stalin before him, jealously guarded his authority, and insisted that the party function as a monolith in executing his will. Party functionaries, nevertheless, flourished under Khrushchev. He depended heavily on them to strengthen his control of the armed forces and the police, to achieve centralized direction of industry and agriculture, and to provide the coordinating framework that held Soviet society together and forced it to march in step.

Khrushchev’s use of the party apparatus as an integrating force was combined with a pragmatic willingness to experiment with forms of decentralized administration and new incentive systems where they promised more effective operational results. His recognition that the supercentralization of the Stalinist era was ill suited to the rational management of an increasingly complex economy drove him to shift the weight of supervisory authority much closer to the grass roots. Under Khrushchev the Soviet administrator was given more elbow room to exercise initiative and his conditions of work became more normalized, but he had still to adjust himself to goals and priorities that were centrally determined, and the ability to meet them remained the ultimate criterion of success.

Despite Khrushchev’s repudiation of the Stalinist legacy of terror, the model which he held out for Soviet society was no Liberty Hall where individualism would run rampant. In his vision of Soviet society there was no place for the heretic, rebel, or skeptic. Even when communism was fully realized, he insisted, the Soviet Union would remain a highly organized, ordered, planned, and disciplined society in which the party would retain its leading role. The community for him was essentially a production enterprise where “each person must, like a bee in a hive, make his own contribution to increasing the material and spiritual wealth of society” (Khrushchev 1963a, p. 4, col. 1 ff.). For Khrushchev the key to mass freedom was the self-imposed discipline of willing workers, imbued with the love of work and profoundly believing in the cause to which they devoted their efforts.

What most sharply distinguished Khrushchev from Stalin was his apparently sincere faith that a society of the Soviet type could be governed without reliance on large-scale repression. The new “populism” that Khrushchev articulated was evident in his assiduous efforts to create an image of himself as a leader who was close to the people. In striking contrast to Stalin, who rarely ventured forth from the Kremlin, Khrushchev was the agitator par excellence, in constant motion, addressing meetings from one end of the country to the other, visiting collective farms and factories, speaking the language of the people, and reaching out for popular support. His efforts to mobilize the energies of the masses by providing for their more active participation in the tasks of communist construction reached out in many directions. It was manifest in his repeated calls for the recruitment of “leading” workers and collective farmers into the party, in his revival of comrades’ courts to improve workers’ discipline, in his use of peoples’ guards (druzhiny) to help enforce public order, and in his reliance on neighborhood assemblies to mete out punishments to parasites and other social deviants. It was strikingly evident in a number of the theoretical formulations that he devised to signal the Soviet entry into the stage of building communism. Thus the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat was replaced by the concept of an allpeople’s state, while the party of the proletariat became the party of the whole people. The 1961 party program promised that as the state withered away, agencies of public self-government would gradually replace state organs, and it pointed to already announced transfers of authority to trade unions, sports societies, the Komsomol, and Soviets as marking the pathway of future development.

While the party program spoke of wider mass participation in administrative functions, it also made clear that such participation would be subject to strong party guidance. No withering away of the party was contemplated in the communist stage; indeed the party program declared that it would become stronger than ever, performing the indispensable role of directing, guiding, and controlling all the activities of society, including “the organs of public self-government.” Thus this effort to square the political circle by combining the appearance of popular control with the reality of party rule constituted still another in a long series of efforts to enlist mass energy and initiative in support of party-determined objectives.

As the Khrushchev era drew to a close, there were increasing signs that his popularity was waning. Under his aegis the Soviet Union continued for a time to make rapid industrial progress and score space triumphs, but there were also disturbing indications toward the end of his reign that the industrial growth rate was slowing and that agricultural output was declining. The promises of rapid improvement in living standards that he had made to his own people were belied by food shortages and an apparent inability to master the agricultural problem. Khrushchev’s efforts to resolve intractable economic problems by periodic reorganizations of the state and party machinery only served to compound confusion. His unsuccessful efforts to dislodge the Western powers from West Berlin, the rebuff he received during the Cuban missile crisis, the increasing bitterness of the Sino—Soviet dispute, and declining Soviet influence in Eastern Europe and in the international communist movement contributed to undermining Khrushchev’s prestige. Thus, his early accomplishments and bold destalinization initiatives tended to be taken for granted and forgotten, while he found himself increasingly measured by the expectations that he had aroused and failed to fulfill. In October 1964 his associates in the party presidium deposed him and instituted a new period of collective rule with its own short-term problem of maintaining a precarious power equilibrium and its longer-range challenge of coping with changes in Soviet society.

Trends in Soviet communism

Although any attempt to assess the direction of development of Soviet communism must necessarily be highly provisional, some trends can be identified that promise to leave their stamp on the future.


Perhaps the most important single development is the continuing transformation of the Soviet Union from a predominantly agrarian into a highly industrialized society. Industrialization has set new forces into motion. It has enhanced the importance of skilled labor at the expense of unskilled or semiskilled labor and has made necessary widespread literacy and a command of basic technical skills in the labor force. In bureaucratic terms, it has meant a vast expansion of managerial, engineering, technical, and scientific personnel and a recognition that they constitute an “industrializing elite” who must be appropriately rewarded for their crucial contribution to the industrialization process. It has required a heavy emphasis on scientific training and research and a recognition that the dynamic momentum of industrialization is intimately intertwined with and dependent on scientific creativity.

As the Soviet Union became a more and more highly industrialized society, dependent on its scientists, engineers, and managers to maintain its ongoing technological momentum, some redefinition of influence within the society appeared inevitable. The authority of scientific knowledge could not be denied without doing damage to the society’s prospects. While this development did not necessarily challenge the party’s formal monopoly of political power, it did mean that the party leadership had to come to terms with the scientific community and that party functionaries were being increasingly equipped with sufficient technical and scientific knowledge to exercise their controlling roles intelligently. It also opened up the prospect of gradual erosion, adaptation, and even out-right rejection of ideological dogmas which operate as barriers to technical progress. A party that had embraced forced-draft industrialization as a key to its salvation promised to be transformed by the very burdens it had assumed.

Welfare totalitarianism

With advancing industrialization came other changes. The austere production ethic of the early stages of the industrialization process was increasingly challenged by a consumption ethic to which concessions had to be made. After decades of deprivation and sacrifice under Stalin, there was a widespread and insistent demand for improved incentives and more amenities. The spread of elementary and higher education stirred rising aspirations and presented the regime with new problems in adapting its system of controls to these expectations.

One of the keys to an understanding of the post-Stalinist era lies in the recognition that these aspirations could no longer be ignored. Unwilling as Khrushchev was to part with substantive authority, he did recognize that there were grievances to be remedied. His decision to mitigate Stalin’s terror and provide greater welfare benefits for the Soviet people represented an effort to establish his regime on a more rational and popular basis. One of the questions still to be determined is whether this formula of “popular,” or “welfare,” totalitarianism, which epitomized the internal policies of the Khrushchevian period, will prove viable, whether the aspirations to which Khrushchev partially responded and which he helped activate will acquire a momentum of their own that will transform Soviet society in directions that his successors can neither fully anticipate nor control.

Peaceful coexistence

Equally indeterminate is the effect that relations with noncommunist states, as well as with other communist states, are likely to have on the development of Soviet communism. Unlike Stalin, Khrushchev operated under a compelling necessity to adjust the strategy and tactics of Soviet foreign policy to the realities of the thermonuclear age. These realities not only brought to the fore the common interests that he shared with Western leaders in avoiding mutual destruction; they also impelled him to seek out ways of advancing the communist cause that would minimize the risks of igniting a thermonuclear holocaust. They caused him to replace Lenin’s doctrine of the inevitability of war between the Soviet Union and the so-called imperialist states with the new formula that such wars were not “fatalistically inevitable.” They led him to reaffirm the theory of peaceful coexistence, even though peaceful coexistence as interpreted by Khrushchev did not imply a static acceptance of the existing correlation of forces between the camps of communism and capitalism, nor did it exclude Soviet aid to so-called national liberation movements. Despite these caveats, Khrushchev was not prepared to support a reckless and adventurous revolutionary strategy that would pose unacceptable risks of thermonuclear extinction. Charged with safeguarding Soviet interests and promoting the communist cause in a thermonuclear age, Khrushchev envisaged his main tasks as those of building up Soviet power, demonstrating the superiority of the Soviet system, and counting on the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the noncommunist world to yield opportunities for communist advance within the framework of a nuclear stalemate.

Khrushchev’s strategic posture reflected the relatively conservative interests of a mature communist power with a strong vested interest in preserving its hard-won industrial gains from total destruction. This strategy posited a prolonged, if perhaps uneasy, peace with the West, during which Soviet society would continue to evolve and develop without catastrophe. However pleasing this prospect might be from the Soviet point of view, it offered small comfort to the more militant elements in the international communist movement who saw their salvation in advancing the timetable of world communist triumph. It was particularly suspect to the Chinese communists, who believed that their own interests and ambitions were being sacrificed to promote Soviet development. It was against this background that the Sino-Soviet dispute intensified in bitterness, and separate eastern and western communist empires began to take form. The stage was also set for the emergence of communist forces that sought to escape the discipline of both. The world perspectives of Soviet communism promised to be increasingly restricted by two parameters: the strength of polycentric tendencies within the communist camp and the inhibitions that the thermonuclear strength of the West imposed on Soviet freedom to maneuver.

Merle Fainsod


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The term “national communism” has been loosely used to describe certain modern political systems and ideologies. The term has been applied, for instance, to indigenous forms of communism, as represented by individual national parties in or out of power; to national variations of communism, representing adaptations of a single ideology to different national settings, with or without the assertion of national autonomy in policy determination; to defiance of supranational or foreign communist guidance on the part of a communist party or government; and to the upsurge of nationalist sentiments within a communist framework, whether directed against a communist or noncommunist external foe.

Despite this wide range of meanings and the lack of precise content and notwithstanding the absence of a systematic doctrine of national communism, two aspects appear to constitute the core of the term, as it is commonly used: (1) independence from outside control—notably, from the Soviet state and its ruling party; and (2) national distinctiveness of significant aspects of ideology, social institutions, or political strategy.

Historically, the primary content of national communism has been the effort to shake or reduce Soviet control, or hegemony, over other communist parties and states. With the increasing fragmentation of world communism, its various national units are bound to reflect the growing diversity of communism—as a political movement, as an ideology, and as a mode of political practice.

Historical development

National communism has arisen in situations where uncertainty has existed in regard to one or more of the following questions of communist theory and practice: (1) what is or should be the relation of class to nation and the relation of nationalism to internationalism? (2) is the belief in unilinear historical development and in “general laws” compatible with the support of “multiple paths” of revolutionary strategy and tactics? (3) are monolithic party unity and centralist discipline compatible with permissiveness regarding national diversities?

The early period

Lenin accepted the Marxist view of nationalism and the nation-state as manifestations of the capitalist era, and he shared the Marxist belief in the future evanescence of national differences and antagonisms. But he came to recognize the revolutionary potential of national aspirations. Precisely this recognition has been at the root of the dual Soviet approach to nationalism —an effort to use it for their own ends but also a fear of being used by it; a vigorous endeavor to harness nationalism abroad against common foes (notably “imperialism”) but also a firm though differentiated hostility to manifestations of nationalism as a divisive force within the Soviet Union and within the international communist movement.

The Leninist “concession” to national sentiment —a shrewd, tactical exception to the Bolshevik impulse toward centralization—aroused severe criticism from the extreme “left” even prior to the Russian Revolution. It equally failed to satisfy those non-Russian communists who, after the Soviet state was established, demanded greater self-determination or actual autonomy than Moscow permitted (e.g., parts of the Ukrainian and Georgian communist elites during the early years of Soviet rule: Pipes 1954). Their protests may be considered precursors of national communism.

The emergence of the Soviet Union as the sole communist state and of its party as the sole ruling one was bound to lead to a subordination of “proletarian internationalism” to Soviet state interests, as interpreted by the Soviet leaders. The stage for this development was set in Lenin’s day with the “21 conditions” of the Comintern and the subsequent Bolshevization of the International. A variety of foreign communists protested, left, or were expelled, precisely because at some point they clashed with the Soviet striving for hegemony. Some went on to establish national communist groups or parties in their own countries (Borkenau 1938; Dallin 1962).

For the communist opponents, domestic and foreign, of Moscow’s hegemonial tendencies and of Stalinism, national enmity was but one of many elements in their opposition, and usually a subordinate or even insignificant one. Then, as later, many of them had no opportunity to organize or express their hostility, because they lacked an autonomous power base. By the same token, the mere existence of nation-states and the establishment of communist parties within their boundaries were to provide a framework for the expression and organization of intracommunist opposition to Stalinism—regardless of the presence or intensity of specifically national ingredients.

The term “national communism” seems first to have appeared in connection with two phenomena which, unlike the above conflicts between national and communist impulses, stemmed from efforts to find a basis for joint action of communist and nationalist forces against a common foe. In the West this foe was the “Versailles system,” and the endeavors were antiliberal, anti-British and anti-French. In Asia the foe was the colonial system, and the efforts were anti-imperialist.

In the confusion of German radical politics after 1918, some extremists of the left sought an alliance or an ideological amalgam with nationalist, right-wing extremists. At the same time, some militarists and nationalists, hardheaded or romantic, explored the possibilities of a national communist movement. While the label commonly attached to these explorations is “national Bolshevism,” “national communism” was the name given in 1919 to a Hamburg group and also the title of a book (published in Munich in 1920) that characterized national communism as “Germany’s bulwark against East and West.” The notion of a united national communist party was discussed until 1933 —but without significant political results. The communists made no serious overtures to these groups (Schüddekopf I960; Paetel 1965).

World War ii and its aftermath

World War ii changed the nature of and the conditions for national communism. The dissolution of the Communist International in 1943, while a formality, made the communist parties in each country officially sovereign units, presumably free to interpret the doctrine and determine their own policies. War conditions also helped to crystallize national feelings (particularly under enemy occupation, e.g., in France, Yugoslavia, China). Hence, there ensued a series of partly opportunistic communist moves to identify their goals and values with national themes and purposes. Also, at the end of the war the foundations were laid for the establishment of communist regimes in some ten countries and thereby for the creation of a communist international system in eastern Europe and in east Asia.

Until 1947 Stalin gave evidence of approving of indigenous—i.e., national—variations in the states that had come under communist control. Largely because of their weak positions, communist leaders in eastern Europe felt compelled to stress national themes, and Moscow often made them “go slow” with radical reforms and deal gently with much-needed allies. These concessions were part of a “rightist” policy, which Moscow had always meant to be temporary and in fact substantially reversed in 1947 and 1948. The first years after the communist take-over likewise saw a substantial dose of what has been called “domesticism” (Brzezinski 1960). That is, priority was often given to domestic needs and interests by otherwise loyal pro-Moscow leaders who did not wish to sacrifice or jeopardize the broader needs and interests of world communism. On the whole, party leaders who had been put into power thanks to Soviet force and political pressure tended to follow Moscow’s lead—as did the parties out of power.

Different conditions obtained in those few states where communists came to power substantially on their own: Yugoslavia, Albania, China, and at a later date North Vietnam and Cuba. Those regimes, however unpopular, had a broader, more truly national base of support than did communist regimes in the countries where the authority of local communist elites was established by the Soviet Union (Lowenthal 1964). Moreover, the local elites of such self-established regimes were conscious of their relatively autonomous position and were prepared to assert it. None of them initiated a break with the Soviet Union, but in the first dramatic contest of wills, Marshal Tito in 1948 responded to the Soviet challenge by defying requests that would have spelled increasing Soviet domination. While the dispute was not fundamentally due to Yugoslav nationalism—in fact, until 1948, the incorporation of Yugoslavia into an expanded Soviet Union was given serious thought—Tito was prepared to turn his proud patriotism against Moscow. As he wrote the Soviet leaders, no matter how much communists of other countries loved the Soviet Union, the land of socialism, they could in no case love their own country less (Soviet—Yugoslav Dispute 1948, p. 19).

After Stalin

The general relaxation of controls at the center of Soviet power, which set in after Stalin’s death in 1953, inevitably provided an opportunity for the assertion of greater authority and initiative by the other member states of the communist bloc. The following decade was to see a remarkable though uneven slipping of Soviet authority and control and, thus, a far-reaching assertion of national sovereignty by the various communist parties and regimes.

In the previous phase the official motif had been to make each communist country a little replica of the Soviet Union. Now the reaction against the centralism of the Stalinist era brought greater recognition of national diversities. Indeed, Moscow could scarcely deny its loyal allies and dependents in eastern Europe what it was prepared to grant renegade Yugoslavia. In the course of its reconciliation with Tito, the Soviet government in 1955 pledged to be guided on ideological, economic, and political questions by a policy of noninterference in internal affairs, saying that matters of internal organization and differences of social systems and of concrete forms of building socialism were exclusively the affairs of the individual countries. During the following 18 months other declarations went even further. But uncertainty about the limits of Soviet tolerance helped set the stage for the crises in Poland and Hungary in 1956. Here there were, for the first time, overt nationalist components in the outlook and motives of some of the protagonists.

The consolidation which followed proved to be temporary and largely formal. Soviet efforts to meet part way the anti-Soviet nationalism of foreign communists probably stimulated it even further. In effect, Moscow failed to provide a formula that could both satisfy the nationalist demands of the other communist regimes and assure its own continued control.

The weakening of Soviet authority among communist parties and states contributed to the eruption of the Sino-Soviet dispute, which in turn weakened Soviet prestige even more. The dispute bared the conflicting content of national interests, as interpreted by various communist elites, and it undermined confidence in the wisdom and leadership of both China and the Soviet Union. In over thirty countries communist parties split and rival organizations emerged, many of which turned against Soviet leadership and some against the Chinese as well. The Sino-Soviet rift dramatized the evanescence of the single, universal communist perspective: thereby it made each communist party “national.” It provided opportunities for other states either to defy Soviet leadership and survive even when expelled from the fold (as in the case of Albania) or to tacitly and gradually pursue policies sharply at variance with those of other communist states without formal rupture or rebuke, as in the case of Rumania.

Rumania, in particular, provided evidence that a state at the borders of the Soviet Union and seemingly dependent on it could resist pressures for economic integration and coordination (Montias 1964), could undo a variety of measures that it considered cultural and political “Russification,” and could have the central committee of its communist party resolve in 1964 that the sovereignty of the socialist state requires that it effectively and fully hold in its hands all the levers of economic and social life; that transmitting such levers to the competence of a superstate or extra-state bodies would make of sovereignty an idea without content; that there are not and cannot be unique patterns and recipes; and that no one can decide what is and what is not correct for other countries or parties.

Meanwhile, the cases of Kerala and Cuba had shown that communist movements could triumph without significant Soviet support and establish national communist regimes at a considerable distance from the Soviet bloc.

The national ingredient

The specific weight of national components in the national communist amalgam has been a source of recurring perplexity. There are no sure criteria or methods by which to assess them. The problem is further complicated by the confusion regarding the definition of “nationalism.” It is important to note that the term “national” need not mean “nationalist” but may merely be descriptive of a nation-state serving as the vehicle of a political system. In common modern usage, “nationalism” is also taken to have an oppositional affective content, expressing an “anti” feeling—against a colonial power, against a rival nationalism, or against a supranational movement.

It is useful to distinguish between national factors antedating the communist experience and those identified with it. The earlier factors, which may re-emerge or reassert themselves under communist rule, include historical enmities (e.g., Polish—Russian, Russian—Chinese, Slavic—German), ethnic minority problems (e.g., in Czechoslovakia, China, Poland, Rumania), territorial conflicts and irredentism (e.g., Macedonia, the Soviet Maritime Territory, Bessarabia, Cieszyn, Trieste). Many of these factors have clearly reappeared and added to tensions (e.g., in the case of Rumania and Russia), but nowhere have they determined whether relations between two parties or states improve or worsen. Soviet relations with Hungary and Poland improved considerably after 1956 despite traditional enmity. Generally, traditional national conflicts appear to be vital only when they are exacerbated by fresh and more sensitive tensions (e.g., in the case of Yugoslavia and Albania).

As for the new elements introduced by the experience with communism, resentment of the Soviet treatment of foreign parties, especially during the Stalin era, was the obvious price Moscow had to pay for its various offenses to national pride, its economic exploitation, its clandestine surveillance, and its peremptory dictation of general domestic and foreign policy and even specific economic decisions in the satellite states.

In turn, the recognition of multiple “paths” in the pursuit of communism and the lessening of Soviet controls in the post-Stalin era stimulated the assertion of national consciousness and distinctiveness in these countries.

The shift of economic policy from making each communist state an autarkic replica of the Soviet model to (at least theoretically) a division of labor among the states involved implied a recognition of significant variations from country to country and approval of them by the Soviet Union.

Attempts at coordinating policies and ideological postures within the bloc have created new conflicts of interest, most visible in the economic sphere, where they have evoked a reassertion of national sovereignty in response to attempts at supranational integration or the national policies of other communist states (e.g., the relations of Rumania with Czechoslovakia and East Germany).

In the Stalin era there was little evidence of genuine nationalism among the ruling cadres of communist parties. The leadership in eastern Europe was, after all, overwhelmingly composed of Moscow-trained and Moscow-oriented “internationalists” dependent on Soviet power rather than responsive to popular will or sentiments. Significant exceptions to this pattern were those communist regimes which came to power substantially without foreign assistance, specifically Yugoslavia, China, and Albania.

By contrast, among the greater range of diverse communist types which have emerged, even in eastern Europe, since 1956, some may be considered not merely national in form but also nationalist in content. It has been observed that any regime, in order to remain in power, will sooner or later seek to identify itself with the defense of traditional interests and values of the country it claims to rule. Moreover, the gradual devolution of decision making from Moscow to the indigenous communist leadership prompted a “nativization” in each individual instance, including a greater sensitivity to national opinion and sentiment. Here was an opportunity to forge a unity of support on a broader, more truly national base than had previously been possible for communist regimes (e.g., in Poland, Hungary, Rumania). No doubt the result has been a growth of “true” nationalism among communist cadres (Shoup 1962).

At the same time, it is well to consider the deceptiveness of appearances with respect to nationalism. Much of “Titoist revisionism” is national only in the sense that it was introduced within the framework of the Yugoslav nation-state: it was not uniquely or specifically Yugoslav. The Soviet Union and other communist states did actually adopt a number of “Titoist” doctrines and policies at a later date. Similarly, all communist regimes and parties (e.g., China) have repeatedly shifted from “right” to “left” communism and back: neither posture can be considered distinctively national, although any specific decision to make such a shift may be determined by national considerations.

Asian communism

In the contest between communism and nationalism neither has swallowed the other. Modern nationalism has, even in the West, proved to be far more compatible with communism than had been surmised by either its friends or its enemies. There is evidence that communism has proved to have a particularly strong appeal for ethnic minorities suffering from national and socioeconomic discrimination. With due allowance for situational differences, this has been true both in eastern Europe (Burks 1961) and in Asia (Zagoria 1965).

It is commonly assumed that among the variants of modern communism a place of special importance is occupied by what may be called non-Western communism. One of its main characteristics is supposed to be the fusion of national and revolutionary objectives, since the communists themselves became the carriers of “national liberation.” But the evidence suggests that this is not really a distinctively non-Western or Asian phenomenon.

Both in social composition—an intelligentsia leadership and a peasant mass—and in national appeal there are significant parallels between communist parties in eastern Europe and those in certain Middle Eastern, south Asian and Far Eastern countries. Compared with the “proletarian” mass parties of the West (such as the French or Italian), the “national-revolutionary” parties do, however, exhibit some distinguishing features. A number of them are characterized by a lack of discipline, ideological vagueness, espousal of voluntarism, and a proclivity for factionalism and “direct action.”

While Asian communism may prominently feature an anti-Western animus combined with a commitment to modernization, it does not follow, as has been argued by some scholars, that the nationalist content has displaced the communist or that communism is merely a form of or a façade for nationalism (Kautsky 1962; Johnson 1962). While many of the non-Western parties have given prominent recognition to the national factor and made themselves spokesmen for the national cause, the specific models advocated and the strategies pursued by them have not necessarily been reflective of particularities in their national situation or heritage.

For a long time, the spokesmen for the priority (or even the propriety) of a distinctive anticolonial, non-Western model of communism were losers in the international movement. While some, like Sultangaliev, regarded industrial society itself as the enemy of the colonial peoples (Bennigsen 1960), others, like M. N. Roy in India and Tan Malaka in Java, ultimately broke with the Communist International and attempted to organize national communist movements of their own.

With the rise of Mao Tse-tung to the leadership of Chinese communism, the adaptation (”Sinification”) of the common creed became more explicit and in turn was rapidly elevated into a model for other non-Western peoples to emulate in their struggle against “imperialism” (Schram 1963; Barnett 1963; Scalapino 1965). In other cases elements of Marxist–Leninist theory have been eclectically combined with national, tribal, or racial ideological ingredients into novel and not always viable amalgams, which have been labeled “syncreto-Marxism” (Feuer 1964).

All elements of the communist movement have recognized the growing potency of nationalism. The Soviet Union and the parties identified with its policies have aimed at alliances with national movements, hopeful of converting, subverting, or exploiting them on the road to power, without necessarily insisting on communist hegemony in the alliance. The Chinese communists developed at an early date a strategy of appropriating the nationalist content and subordinating the nationalist allies to themselves. In both instances there remain considerable uncertainties in the application of general strategic prescriptions. While the Soviet approach has permitted greater flexibility in communist alliance strategy, far greater successes have thus far been registered where the communists have themselves appropriated the national cause.

The substantive differences among the national components of international communism cannot even be adumbrated here: they range from explicit doctrinal and strategic variations to unarticulated divergencies in values and style. Suffice it to say that the extent or direction of a given party’s “particularity” on one issue need not correspond to its position on any other issue. The categories of national differentiation do not coincide at all with the classification according to degree of freedom from Soviet control (Skilling 1964, p. 36).

No single formula will account for the way in which various national communist parties have lined up on any particular issue. Some communist analysts have correctly identified certain factors without trying to assess their specific weight in individual instances: differences in “objective conditions” and historical and cultural traditions, in geographic situation and political circumstances, and in levels of socioeconomic development. Among additional factors, particularities in the history of a given communist party, its relations with Moscow, and the characteristics of its leadership should be listed. All in all, the divergent perception of national needs goes far toward explaining the out-looks and policies pursued by the individual parties.

Theory and ideology

Communist formulations regarding national communism, national “particularities,” and “separate paths” in the pursuit of socialism and communism have invariably followed political zigzags. This has been as true of Soviet pronouncements as of those from Yugoslavia or China. While there has no doubt been a strong urge to find basic principles and consistent doctrinal formulas on these subjects, communist pronouncements have actually amounted to little more than post-factum legitimations of reality.

In the post-Stalin era, Soviet arguments have been consistent in rejecting the whole notion of national communism as nonsensical (for, by definition, communism must be internationalist) and in acknowledging that, while there are certain universal laws or “regularities” governing societal and political change, certain national particularities exist because of objective conditions in a given country. The limits of proper national distinctiveness, however, have remained appropriately vague and flexible. They do leave Moscow considerable discretion in determining what, in any given case, is to be deemed orthodox or deviant.

The most clear-cut Soviet generalization was formulated in terms of priorities. Soviet officials reportedly told Italian communists in 1957 that they condemned national communism, “not because it seeks out national particularities, but because it affirms on the theoretical level that national particularities are more important than general laws” (Kogan 1958, p. 662). In practice the situation has rarely been so clear-cut. Soviet writers have been quick to label national communism a major “weapon” of imperialism, an expression of petty-bourgeois narrowness or “bourgeois nationalism.” Until 1961 it was considered a “rightist” phenomenon, i.e., a facet of revisionism. Since then, Soviet and pro-Soviet writers have argued that the Albanian and later the Chinese case have shown that a “nationalist” line can also be part of a militant, “pseudoleftist” communist posture (Moscow, Akademiia Obshchestvennykh Nauk I960; Akademiia Nauk SSSR 1964).

Among non-Soviet communists, Yugoslav political scientists went furthest of all in systematizing their own views, but their theorizing, too, tended to follow political developments. From 1950 to 1952 they did explore similarities between Stalinism and fascism, the existence of “state capitalism” in the Soviet Union, and the persistence of the national problem even after the communists came to power. While the hostile analysis of Soviet conditions was soon toned down, the new program of the League of Yugoslav Communists developed a number of doctrinal pronouncements which were at variance with Moscow’s views, e.g., that the uneven development of socialism and the wide diversity of its paths and forms produce a number of internal contradictions; that the state may turn into a factor of stagnation; that there is, in effect, no two-camp dichotomy in international affairs; and that as long as nations exist, communism must remain within the beneficent framework of a system of nation-states (Savez Komunista Jugoslavije 1958). The Yugoslav communists remained committed to proletarian internationalism—as they saw it—and continued to condemn national communism (Hoffman & Neal 1962).

Since 1956 the Italian communists have played a leading role in encouraging the autonomy of all communist parties. It is significant that in his last statement to the Soviet leadership, in 1964, Palmiro Togliatti chose to dwell on the revival of nationalism in the “bloc” as one of the forms of centrifugal tendencies there. He reiterated what Tito had stated earlier:

The national sentiment remains a permanent factor in the working class and socialist movement for a long period, also, after the conquest of power. Economic progress does not dispel this; it nurtures it. Thus in the socialist camp, too, one needs perhaps … to be on one’s guard against the forced exterior uniformity and one must consider that the unity one seeks to establish and maintain must lie in the diversity and full autonomy of the individual countries. (Togliatti 1964, p. 80)

But it was not so much the verbal pronouncements that mattered, although even here subtle semantic nuances spelled significant political divergencies. Perhaps the one fraught with greatest potential for conflict was between those who seemed to accept national variations as a permanent fact, to which communism must adjust, and those who saw the nationalist gambit as a reluctant strategy, to be jettisoned when no longer needed. Echoes of both lines may still be heard.

To what extent is the Soviet experience mandatory or significant for other communist parties? Since 1954 Moscow has been inconsistent or vague on this matter, while the other parties have increasingly felt free to ignore the Soviet model in principle and in practice. In the early years after the Russian Revolution, those in the West who rejected it (e.g., Rosa Luxemburg, Paul Levi, and Hermann Remmele) found themselves in open conflict with Moscow; more recently, however, not only Yugoslav but also Italian, Polish, Swedish, and other communists have been able to assert, while remaining loyally on the Soviet side, that the Russian record, that of a lone socialist country, industrially backward, experiencing rapid modernization (as well as Stalinism) under special conditions, was too exceptional to constitute a model for other societies. The Chinese communists and their allies have likewise rejected the Soviet model of seizing and using power, claiming that it is irrelevant for the underdeveloped and non-Western parts of the world.

In summary, then, national communism must be considered a transitional phenomenon, not a stable sociopolitical system, because both the national and the communist elements in the twin formulas are susceptible to various meanings; because either may be real or a façade; and because either may prevail over the other. National communism emerged in the context of two broad processes : (1) the linkage of national and social revolutions; and (2) the disintegration of “monolithic” world communism, which precipitated in its wake an increasing variety of communist experience, ideology, doctrine, and conduct.

The content and nature of national communism have changed over time and have become more varied. Basically, the term “national communism” remains a misnomer, for it gives a single label to a variety of significantly diverse phenomena. But, however defined or delimited, national communism would appear to belie the conventional image of communism as a monolithic phenomenon, invariably possessed by universalist aspirations. Many, although not all, national communist states and parties are content to seek limited objectives, involving less than total control at home and limited ambitions abroad.

While by no means all national communism reflects true nationalism, nationalist feelings have also been growing in communist ranks. With the rise of a new generation of communist leaders everywhere, the future elites are more likely to find it important to respond to national sentiments than their elders did. The “nationalization” of communism may lend it greater appeal and authority; it has already, almost universally, freed the parties from some of the earlier odium of being “agents of a foreign power.” But it also opens up the parties to gradual transformations. It would be foolish to predict whether, in the end, national communism will strengthen communism as a political force or help to destroy it.

Alexander Dallin

[Directly related are the entriesNationand Nationalism. Other relevant material may be found inChinese society; Economic data; Planning, economic; and in the biography ofLuxemburg.]


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All political movements have been subject to change; the international communist movement is no exception. While the nature and thrust of world communism appeared unchanged and uncompromising in the light of hostile cold-war attitudes, its revolutionary ideology, strategic objectives, and organizational concepts have, nevertheless, not remained static. The debates in the international communist movement touched off by the Sino-Soviet dispute, which developed in the late 1950s, dramatically exposed the division over policy and orientation in the movement and marked a watershed in its history.

The emergence of change is often obscured by the tendency of language to lag behind deed. In political affairs deviation from some principle is customarily accompanied by reaffirmation of that very principle; in the communist world no leader is yet willing, explicitly, to acknowledge the attenuated revolutionary possibilities of the Communist parties or to cast doubt on the proposition that communism will replace capitalism. Like other political movements, however, communism has responded to changes in the environment and bowed to necessity. Beginning in 1918 with the goal of world revolution and with Soviet Russia as but one component of the international movement, international communism was turned inside out to become merely one of the instrumentalities of Soviet diplomacy, while Soviet Russia came to be regarded as the incarnation of the movement. In the post-1945 era, to an extent as yet unclear, this inverted relationship was again upset, altering the priority of loyalties and the structure and orientation of world communism.

International communism between the wars

Communism as an international movement, considered in organizational terms, is a product of Lenin’s concept of party organization and the particular direction given the concept by Stalin’s policies. Lenin’s motives in creating a new organization were to pre-empt the mantle of international revolutionary Marxism before the European Social Democrats could re-establish their authority after World War i, and to create the instruments for a seizure of power, particularly in western Europe, to insure the survival of the Bolshevik revolution. The last point may strike the contemporary reader as incongruous, but the Bolshevik leaders of the time suffered a double insecurity. Having seized power in a backward country, they looked to revolution, notably in Germany, to provide the technical wherewithal for the transformation of their own society. They also feared, not wrongly, that in isolation Russia would be exposed to assault from the capitalist countries. Lenin therefore attempted to fashion a revolutionary international instrument modeled on his notion of the elitist party, ideologically pure, hierarchically organized, knit together into a single international party under strictest discipline, and dedicated to world revolution.

If the predisposition to conspiratorial Moscow-oriented organization was created by Lenin, the specific order of loyalties and behavior patterns was molded by Stalin. In Lenin’s time—and perhaps till the end of the 1920s—the idea of the autonomous and fraternal character of the Communist parties still persisted, as did the preoccupation with internal, indigenous revolution. The failure of revolutionary attempts in Hungary, Germany, and, later, China and the general weakness of the Communist parties conditioned their acceptance of Soviet authority. In addition, the elimination of Trotsky, plus the successive purges of dissident elements, contributed to the weakening of the international revolutionary wing of the movement. In turn, Stalin exacted from the international movement precisely the same behavior he required internally, i.e., unquestioning obedience enforced by terror, purge, and intimidation. The role of the Communist parties was transformed, therefore, from one geared to their own requirements and prospects for revolution to one of supporting Soviet foreign and domestic policy. Whatever the line of Soviet policy, it was generalized for all parties and tactically adapted to the respective countries. Agility, flexibility, opportunism, and cynicism became hallmarks of communist political behavior. That the communist movement survived at all outside Russia is in the nature of a political miracle.

Nevertheless, if power is the criterion of success, communism as an international movement has vindicated Lenin’s decision to break with the reformist Socialist (Second) International during World War i. While the parties of social democracy have been absorbed into the mainstream of Western industrial society, influencing it with ideas of social justice and often becoming indistinguishable from other political parties, international communism has become the most powerful international political movement of the modern world. From a haphazard union of left-wing groups and parties in 1919, it has become a movement that in 1964 could boast the allegiance of over 40 million Communists, united in some 90 parties, 12 of them holding the reins of state power (not including Cuba and Yugoslavia). For this, however, the movement has had to pay its own dialectical price; the very proliferation of communist states and important parties in Europe and Asia has introduced disintegrative tendencies into the movement whose outcome cannot yet be precisely foreseen. The international communist veneer has been pierced by the edge of national interest, which remains as much a feature of the communist as of the noncommunist world. The conflicting interests of the communist states have, in addition, created the necessary conditions for the emergence of the particularist interests of the Communist parties out of power and have been joined to the general trend away from Moscow domination and from centralization. These centrifugal forces spell the end of communism as an organized international movement in its Stalinist form.

The Third International

In its “ideal” Stalinist form, international communism was a global network of Communist parties bound by a common ideology, codified and interpreted by the Soviet center. “Proletarian internationalism” was the organizing principle of the movement, providing it with policy coordination and unity of action on the basis of unconditional support and subservience to the Soviet Union. Its structure and behavior patterns were shaped by the Communist (Third) International, or Comintern (1919–1943).

As its designation, the “Third International,” suggests, the communist movement’s antecedents were rooted in the earlier socialist movement, which had twice formed international organizations: the Inter-national Working Men’s Association (1864–1876), subsequently referred to as the First International, and the Second (or Socialist) International (1889–1914).

Patterned on Lenin’s organizational principles, the Comintern was a global extension of his concept of a Bolshevik party. Unlike the Second Inter-national, which was a loose federation of parties, the Comintern was specifically designed as an international Communist party in which each of the national parties constituted a section. Relations between the national units and headquarters were governed by the concept of “democratic centralism,” adopted from the party usage that, in theory, provided for freedom of discussion and criticism (democratic) and absolute unity of action and purpose once decisions had been taken (centralism). By 1930, certainly, this pyramid of authority had been inverted; decisions were imposed on the parties by the Moscow center.

In sum, Russian domination of the Comintern, while not premeditated, became actual as a consequence of the success of the Russian Revolution— the only successful communist revolution between the wars. The organization, located perforce in Moscow, was dependent on the Russians for its staffing and financing. To paraphrase Trotsky’s criticism of Lenin’s concept of party organization, the organization of the Comintern took the place of the Comintern itself; the Soviet Communist party took the place of the organization; and finally the dictator took the place of the Soviet Communist party.

In its heyday, the Comintern developed an elaborate organizational network to bind the parties to it. Its executive committee played the role of an international staff translating the policies of the Soviet Politburo into programs for the international movement. The central committees of the national parties, in theory subordinate to their respective national congresses, were also subordinated to the executive committee, which was empowered to amend decisions of national congresses, pass on their programs, and expel individuals and, indeed, entire sections from the movement. Various Comintern “commissions” organized on a regional basis, supervised the activities of the parties, and such units as the International Liaison Department (OMS) were charged with the organization and operation of an international clandestine communications network, complete with undercover agents, facilities for forging documents, clandestine radio stations, etc. Supporting the Comintern were a number of special-purpose organizations or interest groups, such as the Youth International, some of which developed into “front” organizations to gain the support of those who did not wish to make the full commitment to communism. The executive committee itself, in expanded form, assumed the function of the world congresses, which met only twice after 1924 (in 1928 and 1935).

This complicated apparatus began to fall apart in the 1930s, first under the assault of the Nazis in Germany, where much of the plant and activity was centered, and then under the impact of Soviet collective-security policy, which required the Communist parties to cast off their conspiratorial and sectarian character in favor of cooperation with socialist and even bourgeois parties in antifascist fronts. By 1943, Stalin could abolish the Comintern as a gesture to his wartime allies without sacrificing anything of value. As for the Communist parties themselves, the calculation was that, schooled to loyalty over the years, they could be counted upon by Moscow without the insurance of formal organizational mechanisms.

Growth after World War ii

World War ii, however, decisively altered the shape of the international communist movement, changing its power structure and its operational mechanisms. Before the war, the movement had been essentially Western-oriented. It had looked for revolution in the advanced capitalist countries (except for abortive attempts in China in the 1920s), and whatever strength it had, had resided in the Western communist movements. With the breakdown of metropolitan control over the colonies during the war and their achievement of independence, Communist parties proliferated and grew throughout the world. The largest Communist party not in power developed in Indonesia, and influential parties appeared in Burma, India, Japan, the Philippines, Iraq, and Guatemala, in some cases backed up by guerrilla forces or significant labor movements. Soviet strategy was formulated and reformulated to meet the changed circumstances, playing now on the aspirations of the newly independent states and now on the potential of the local communist movements.

The seizure of power by the Chinese communists in 1949 and the establishment of the North Korean and North Vietnamese regimes transformed communism into an Asian power.

In eastern and central Europe communist revolutions were effected from outside and above. The Red Army and cadres loyal to Stalin imposed a revolution on those areas which the Allies had informally designated as part of the Soviet sphere of influence. Instead of the traditionally indirect exercise of power, organic control was introduced. Revolution by military conquest replaced the orthodox Marxian concept of indigenous proletarian revolution. This was the pattern for all countries except Albania and Yugoslavia, where the communists came to power more or less on their own, and Czechoslovakia, where a combination of political miscalculation on the part of the democrats, an aggressive policy pursued by the dominant Communist party, and a favorable international climate, resulted in a successful communist coup. By 1948, then, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Yugoslavia, and East Germany had come under communist control.

In western Europe and, to some extent, in other parts of the West, the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union served to cover the Communist parties with a certain respectability and stimulate their growth. In France and Italy, where the communists had been active in the underground, parties of major importance emerged, claiming, in 1946, 850,000 and 2,300,000 members and polling 26 and 19 per cent of the popular vote respectively and dominating the trade-union movements of their countries. (In fact, with the inclusion of the Nenni socialists, who were then the communists’ close allies, the Italian radical left polled 40 per cent.)

New circumstances did not, however, affect Stalin’s method of dealing with these Communist parties; they were simply to be manipulated in support of Soviet policy. And, allowing for the expanded theater of Soviet operations in central and eastern Europe, Stalin’s policy was again essentially isolationist, that is, focused on the area under his control. Priority of policy went to the rehabilitation of the Soviet Union, devastated by war, and consolidation of the central and eastern European states through social revolution under the aegis of a loyal Stalinist apparatus. The parties outside the communist-controlled orbit merely played a supporting role. In western Europe, they were used, not primarily to consolidate and increase their power, but to impede rehabilitation and rearmament. In Asia, they were employed in civil war and violence to weaken the rear, so to speak, of the western European countries and disrupt the transition of power to the nationalist regimes.

Strategy after World War ii

The postwar strategy of the international communist movement falls into three slightly overlapping periods: the aggressive “forward” period associated with the Cominform; “peaceful coexistence,” Stalin-style; and Khrushchev’s era of “competitive coexistence,” characterized by his emphasis on economic competition and the avoidance of war.

The “forward” period

The terms of reference for the communist movement during the first period were contained in the “two-camp” doctrine, which proclaimed a world divided between the Soviet Union, the communist countries and parties, and the national liberation movement, together with the scattered “peace” forces, on the one hand, and the “imperialist” United States and its allies, on the other. Strategically, the Communist parties were to disrupt the American policy of rehabilitating and rearming western Europe and to undermine the new nationalist regimes in Asia. Neither aspect of the strategy paid off: western Europe recovered phenomenally, while the Communist parties paid the price of opposition in decline of membership and influence. In Asia, where communist tactics took the form of civil war and violence, the revolts were broken or contained to the point where the Communist parties, beginning in 1950–1951, began to bid for a return to normal status.

The international organizational manifestation of the “forward” period was the Cominform, the Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers’ Parties, established in September 1947. Composed of the Communist parties of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania, Poland, and Czechoslovakia (Albania, then a Yugoslav fief, was excluded), and the two mass parties of France and Italy, the Cominform was designed as an instrument of Soviet control to consolidate the new communist states and disrupt western Europe. As an organization of Communist parties, it bore little resemblance to the Comintern in membership or apparatus. If the Cominform had any potential for development as an effective communist international, it was nullified by the expulsion of Yugoslavia; that action, in effect, marked its demise. The visible evidence of the Cominform’s existence was its weekly journal, For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Democracy! which purveyed the Soviet line to the international communist movement until the organization was dissolved on April 17, 1956.

Stalin’s “peaceful coexistence.”

By 1950–1951, if not sooner, the “forward” policy had been played out. Tito had successfully defied Stalin. Western Europe was on the road to recovery and drawing together more closely in political and military agreement. The Communist parties had failed to undermine the governments of western Europe and, in their attempts to do so, had suffered losses in prestige, membership, and electoral support. In Asia, with the exception of Vietnam, violent tactics failed: the revolts in Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma, and Malaya were either crushed or contained; in India, limited guerrilla warfare was suppressed and contributed to the weakening of the Indian party’s following. The fortunes of the Japanese Communist party, until 1950 quite promising, were reversed when it was forced into violent action, undoubtedly imposed on it to hamper logistical support for the American forces in Korea.

The failure of communist strategy was tacitly conceded in certain labyrinthine doctrinal pronouncements in connection with the nineteenth congress of the Communist party of the Soviet Union. The sharper edges were rubbed off the two-camp formula, and the Communist parties of western Europe were urged to adopt a more “national” position within their respective countries. Europe remained the chief geographical target of Soviet diplomacy, and the broader tactical flexibility permitted the Communist parties was still couched in terms of a “united front from below” directed against American power on the Continent.

In Asia, the problem of the Communist parties under Stalin’s broad direction was to reintegrate themselves into the normal political life of their respective countries. For the Philippine and Malayan parties, readjustment was painfully slow; in Burma, however, by 1956 the party had recouped to the point where the National United Front, a communist-dominated coalition, polled one-third of the popular vote. The Indian party’s return to respectability was underscored by its electoral victory in Kerala, where it proceeded to organize the provincial government. The experience of the Indonesian party was unique. Although its revolt in Madiun in 1948 had been crushed, the party succeeded in rebuilding a substantial base of support to become the most powerful political organization within the country.

Khrushchev’s “competitive coexistence.”

If Stalin’s last move had been a relaxation of international policy, his successor, Nikita S. Khrushchev, steered the international communist movement on a new course whose direction came to be dictated more by events than by intention. Khrushchev’s major pronouncements affecting the international movement were presented at the twentieth CPSU congress in February 1956. Surviving the vicissitudes of the ensuing years, they were reiterated at the party’s 22d congress in October 1961, and incorporated into its new program: the “new communist manifesto.” War between capitalist and communist states was officially proclaimed to be avoidable. Revising the Leninist doctrine on war, Khrushchev underwrote the orthodoxy of nonviolent communist activity as one of the “roads to power.” Different roads to socialism were validated, bowing to the Yugoslavs, whom Khrushchev sought to bring back to the fold. This point, coupled with sanction for peaceful and parliamentary capture of power, gave the Communist parties a greater range of tactical flexibility. The denigration of Stalin, reiterated publicly at the 22d CPSU congress, reinforced the impression that the Communist parties were to be allowed their own choice of tactics.

Communist policy also experienced a dramatic shift in regard to the underdeveloped areas. Backed by personal diplomacy and relatively massive grants of aid and trade, the Soviet Union entered the former Western preserve as a new competitor. The newly independent countries and nationalist movements were accepted by and large as expressions of a progressive development deserving of communist support, whose aim was to insure, at the very least, anti-Western neutralism and, at best, ideological affinity. To complement Soviet diplomacy, the Communist parties, in their turn, gave open backing to nationalist leaders, such as Nehru, Sukarno, and Nasser. In the case of India, for example, the Communist party moved “right” through the political spectrum to support Nehru on all essential aspects of both his foreign and domestic policy. With the exception of certain countries closely linked to American security arrangements (e.g., Thailand), communist strategy in the underdeveloped areas became virtually a “united front from above.”

The splintering of the communist movement

The shift in Soviet policy was the result of a number of factors. The death of Stalin in 1953 was the catalyst; the exercise of power and authority was totally invested in his person. Since succession of leadership and legitimization of authority had not been institutionalized in the Soviet system, Stalin’s death opened the way to a scramble for power. Khrushchev was successful in neutralizing and eliminating his opponents partly because his bid for support capitalized on the revulsion against Stalinist practices. His turn in domestic policy was aimed at establishing a rule more responsive to the requirements of an advancing industrial society stripped of organized terror as “incentive” to performance and “normalized” in other respects as well.

Internationally, the Khrushchevite leadership came to terms with the realities of nuclear weapons systems and the resulting equilibrium of power between the United States and the Soviet Union by attempting to negotiate a detente with the United States. It also broke sharply with the Stalinist past in retooling its policy to win influence with the burgeoning nationalist regimes in the formerly Western-held colonial areas. The deemphasis on violence as an instrument of policy and the endorsement of multiple roads to socialism in a bid to recapture Yugoslavia or to associate it more closely with world communism implied the tolerance of greater diversity and, with the attack on Stalin’s method of rule, a greater degree of autonomy for the Communist parties. In effect, the shift was no less momentous than that of 1935, when the Comintern formally adopted a strategy of cooperation with leftist and bourgeois parties to support the Soviet policy of collective security against the fascist powers. Implicit in that strategy had been the more forthright identification of the Communist parties with the national interest of their countries and a wider measure of freedom in pursuit of allies. What was not at stake in 1935 was the authority of the Soviet leadership or the structure of the international movement.

The policy turn in 1956, however, took place in entirely different circumstances with regard to both the international environment and the structure of the communist movement itself. First and foremost, it did not reckon with the force of nationalism within the communist orbit and the aspiration for independent exercise of power by the leaders of the communist states. The successful Yugoslav resistance to Stalin’s demands for complete subordination in 1948 foreshadowed the nationalist deviation. But the Yugoslav case was thought to be unique. Special circumstances—the indigenous conquest of power in a country not bordering on the Soviet Union—made the Yugoslav defection possible. In two other cases—China and Albania-such defection seemed theoretically possible, but was discounted by most Western observers on the grounds that these countries required economic support from, and protection by, the Soviet Union. Assertion of independence by the other communist countries was ruled out because of the Soviet military presence. Overlooked in this view were the operation of the irrational in politics and the subtle possibilities of extending the area of national decision making even within the framework of ultimate Soviet hegemony.

However that may be, the twentieth congress set off a sequence of events that almost led to the use of Soviet force to forestall the establishment of a more nationalist regime in Poland and did lead to its use in Hungary. These events underscored the intensity of anti-Soviet nationalism in eastern Europe and demonstrated to what extent the relationship between the east European communist states and the Soviet Union rested on sheer force. The challenge to Soviet authority spilled over the borders of eastern Europe, particularly to the Italian Communist party, whose leader, Palmiro Togliatti, questioned Khrushchev’s analysis of Stalin’s misdeeds, implying that something had gone basically wrong in the Soviet system as a whole. These events dramatized the urgency of finding a new organizing principle to preserve communism as a cohesive and united international movement. But the search for such a principle has been hopelessly complicated by China’s bid for leadership in the international movement.

The Sino-Soviet controversy

The Chinese communists never accepted Khrushchev’s denigration of Stalin or his guidelines for world communism as expressed at the twentieth congress. Soviet solicitation of Chinese help in settling the disturbances in eastern Europe brought the Chinese into the process of decision making for the international movement at a crucial time. Chinese prestige reached a peak in November 1957, when the Chinese joined with the Russians in drafting a “declaration” of the twelve Communist parties (Yugoslavia declined); the declaration was designed to establish principles applicable to all countries developing a socialist society. With regard to the organization of the communist movement the declaration endorsed the dictum of proletarian internationalism, that is, loyalty to the Soviet Union. However, attempts at the November meeting to reestablish a formal international organization were rejected—the best illustration of weakening Soviet authority. A compromise was reached by designating bilateral exchanges and multilateral party meetings as the mechanism for ironing out differences and by launching a new international journal—World Marxist Review: Problems of Peace and Socialism, subsequently established in Prague under general Soviet editorship.

Containment of the centrifugal tendencies was of short duration, however; the deterioration of relations between the Soviet and Chinese communists split the international movement wide open. In retrospect it is ironic that it was the Chinese who insisted that the parties at the November meeting recognize the CPSU as the “head” of the communist camp. To the Chinese there was no contradiction between their willingness to exalt the CPSU as head of the movement and their proviso that policies prescribed for the movement meet with Chinese approval.

The Soviet-Chinese quarrel was compounded of differing national requirements and consequently differing views on international communist strategy. In most general terms, the Chinese have attacked the Soviet policy of peaceful coexistence geared to detente with the United States and the concomitant attenuation of uncompromising, revolutionary struggle by the Communist parties. The Chinese charge the Russians with subordinating the interests of the Communist parties and communist states, as well as those of the so-called national liberation movements in underdeveloped areas, to the Soviet policy of cooperation with the imperialists. The Chinese have been angered by the low level of economic assistance the Russians have provided them, by Soviet reneging on an agreement to help build China’s nuclear capability, by the absence of strong support of their ambitions in Formosa, by Soviet criticism of their incursion into India, and by other Soviet actions. They rejected Khrushchev’s attacks on Stalin at the twentieth CPSU congress and again at the 22d congress as ill advised, his emphasis on peaceful transition to socialism as mistaken, his tolerance of revisionism of the Titoist variety as criminal, and his entire outlook as, in a word, disastrous to the communist movement.

The erosion of Soviet authority and control over the movement was dramatically revealed at the November 1960 meeting of 81 Communist parties in Moscow. Here the Russians attempted to call a halt to Chinese politicking against Khrushchev in the Communist parties and front organizations and to their support of Albania, which, suspicious of Khrushchev’s rapprochement with Yugoslavia, had opted to defy Soviet policy. The Soviet attack took the form of a draft declaration binding the parties to accept the rule of democratic centralism—in this context, the majority opinion of Communist parties, which Khrushchev knew he could command. The declaration also explicitly banned “fractional” activity, that is, the Chinese attempt to win over parties or groups and individuals within parties. The Chinese refused to comply, stating that democratic centralism was a proper organizational principle within parties but not between them. The Chinese declaration of independence went beyond this by rejecting the time-honored custom of generalizing Soviet party statements for the communist movement. The Chinese insisted instead on the rule of unanimity in making international decisions, which implied their right to veto any decisions they found unpalatable. The final statement was a transparent compromise which left the question of authority open. So it remains.

The future of international communism

Unlike the Tito-Cominform split in 1948, the Soviet—Chinese split has resulted in the fractionalization of the international communist movement. Although the Yugoslav defection may be viewed historically as the harbinger of “polycentrism,” or pluralization of the communist movement, that process was temporarily contained for a number of reasons. First of all, Stalin was in full command and did not hesitate to use purge and violence to prevent further eruptions. The communist states were too new and their leaders too insecure to challenge the Soviet leadership. Moreover, tension in world politics was at a high point and communist unity was an overriding concern. Finally, Yugoslavia did not have the magnetic attraction of China, a large country of potentially great power, with a special appeal for non-Europeans and for all those who were looking for a more dynamic policy.

Monolithism has succumbed to bicentricism. Nevertheless, the pattern of party alignments is still unclear. Those which have opted to support Peking, for instance, do not fall into a coherent pattern based on race, stage of political development, or type of leadership. However, a regional configuration does seem to be emerging; the communist states of North Korea and North Vietnam, together with the communist parties of Indonesia, Japan, Malaya, Burma, Thailand, and New Zealand, have backed Peking explicitly or, at the very least, implicitly by withholding support from Moscow on crucial issues. On the other hand, the Australian Communist party, whose problems do not differ significantly from those of the New Zealand party, has supported Moscow in spite of opposition from ranking leaders. The leadership of the Indian Communist party, also, has maintained traditional loyalties abetted by the Indian government, which imprisoned the pro-Peking radicals during the Sino–Indian border crisis. In addition, Peking has developed pockets of support throughout the world communist movement: dissident pro-Chinese groups came into existence rather early in Belgium, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.

How far the fragmentation process will go is hard to say. Most of the Communist parties are observing their old habits of loyalty to Moscow. The dominant position in world communism is held by the Soviet Union, which, after all, is the traditional leader and a world power second only to the United States. Yet the Chinese defection appears, under present circumstances, permanent; Chinese inroads into Moscow’s authority and control over the world movement are serious; and divisive forces in the movement seem to be growing stronger.

One of the by-products of the Sino–Soviet split has been the return of the movement to politics. Debate at the November 1960 meeting was wide open; parties have voted against Moscow or abstained; and individual communist leaders have taken it upon themselves to attempt to influence the decisions of the big parties. The Chinese communist lobby, by financial inducement, military support, propaganda, and cultivation of individual leaders, has contributed to a revival of independence within the movement. Rumania, for example, has capitalized on the situation by asserting its own national economic interests against Soviet-backed coordination of the Comecon countries. The Italian Communist party, sympathetic to Khrushchev’s policy, has nevertheless used the controversy to further its own program of “structural reform,” i.e., a policy of piecemeal socialism within the constitutional framework of Italian politics. To parties of some strength and influence within their respective countries, the circumstances offer considerable range and opportunity for improving their domestic fortunes without excessive interference from the center. For the smaller, more distant parties, whose existence depends on identification with a sharply defined revolutionary movement, there is little advantage to be gained from the disruption in the movement.

The coincidence of the erosion within the international communist movement and the emergence of radical nationalist movements in the underdeveloped areas suggests that a new dimension may be added to world communism. Symbolic testimony to this development was the presence of the ruling parties of Ghana, Guinea, and Mali as observers to the 22d congress. Leninist forms of organization and forced economic development seem to appeal to such parties, and though they may not favor integral association with the communist movement, they may nevertheless join in what might be called associative membership. Soviet—Chinese competition for their favor permits a looser arrangement than would have been possible at any time since 1928. Castro’s position may be illustrative; since he declared himself a Marxist–Leninist and communist only after the Cuban revolution, his association with the international communist movement has been unique.

In sum, the Khrushchevian era in the Soviet Union represents a transition from Stalinism to a form of social organization whose features are still blurred. The international communist movement, changed in structure since the interwar period and beset by nationalist rivalries is similarly in a transitional phase. The vaunted unity of the communists, which, Stalin warned, should be safeguarded as the “apple of one’s eye,” has been shattered. What this will mean for the world at large still remains to be seen.

Bernard S. Morris


Indispensable for the history of the Communist International are the Comintern periodicals, Communist International and World News and Views, published previously as International Press Correspondence. Selected documents on the Comintern appear in Communist International 1956–1965. International communist periodicals after World War II are For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Democracy! (Cominform journal, 1947–1956) and the current World Marxist Review: Problems of Peace and Socialism. Peking Review is a convenient source for documents on the Sino— Soviet dispute. The best single history of the Communist International is Borkenau 1938. The most substantial contemporary work on the early history of the Comintern isCarr 1951—1964. A comprehensive survey of the communist movement with a useful bibliography is Seton-Watson 1953. Nollau 1959 contains an extensive description of the Comintern’s organization. Information on international communism may be found in such regional surveys as Schwartz 1951, Brimmel 1959, Laqueur 1956, Fischer 1948, and Draper 1960. The leading book on the Sino–Soviet dispute is Zagoria 1962. Leading periodicals are Survey: A Journal of Soviet and Eastern European Studies and Problems of Communism. A comprehensive bibliography is Hammond 1965.

Borkenau, Franz (1938) 1962 World Communism: A History of the Communist International. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press. → First published as The Communist International.

Brimmel, J. H. 1959 Communism in South East Asia. London and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Carr, Edward H. 1951–1964 History of Soviet Russia. 7 vols. New York: Macmillan. → See especially Volumes 1–3: The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917–1923, 1951–1953; and Volumes 5–7: Socialism in One Country, 1924–1925, 1958–1964.

Communist International. → Published simultaneously in Russian, French, English, and German from May 1919 to December 1940.

Communist International 1956–1965 Communist International, 1919–1943: Documents. 3 vols. Selected and edited by Jane Degras. London and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Draper, Theodore 1960 American Communism and Soviet Russia: The Formative Period. New York: Viking.

Fischer, Ruth 1948 Stalin and German Communism: A Study of the Origins of the State Party. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Democracy! → Published from November 1947 to April 1956.

Hammond, Thomas T. (editor) 1965 Soviet Foreign Relations and World Communism: A Selected Annotated Bibliography of 7,000 Books in 30 Languages. Princeton Univ. Press.

Laqueur, Walter Z. (1956) 1957 Communism and Nationalism in the Middle East. 2d ed. New York: Praeger.

Nollau, Gunther (1959) 1961 International Communism and World Revolution: History and Methods. Translated by Victor Andersen. New York: Praeger. → First published as Die Internationale: Wurzeln und Erscheinungsformen des proletarischen Internationalismus.

Peking Review. → Published monthly since 1958.

Problems of Communism. → Published since 1952. Frequency varies.

Schwartz, Benjamin I. 1951 Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Seton-Watson, Hugh (1953) 1960 From Lenin to Khrushchev. 2d rev. & enl. ed. New York: Praeger.

Survey: A Journal of Soviet and Eastern European Studies (London). → Published monthly since 1956.

World Marxist Review: Problems of Peace and Socialism. → Published monthly since 1958.

World News and Views. → Published from 1921 to 1953. Until June 1938 published as International Press Correspondence.

Zagoria, Donald S. 1962 The Sino–Soviet Conflict, 1956–1961. Princeton Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1964 by Atheneum.


The contribution made by students of international relations to the understanding of communism as a world-wide political movement is reviewed in the present article. Communism has been seen alternately as a system of communist states (a “communist international system”) and as a world system of political parties. These different approaches offer two perspectives and provide the first two sections of this article; the third and fourth sections discuss the main problems facing communism as a world system.

Marxist theory contains no permanent place for the role of the state and it therefore has no place for an organization of states; nor does Marxism recognize political autonomy as an explicit value; the concept of an international system and an international-relations approach are, therefore, basically alien to it. The primary units of analysis are class and the relations of production; the state is secondary, derivative, and liable to wither away. On the world scale, too, society is viewed first of all as a world market, while its political institutions, such as diplomacy, are seen as no more than a necessary evil. Contrasting with the underemphasis of politics is the consistent and strong awareness of the role of international class solidarities. Thus, the powers of the “capitalist world market” are to be defeated by the “international workers’ movement” organized by communist parties. The several “internationals” have been the practical embodiment of this concern, but the literature of solidarity has been inspirational rather than analytical.

For a time, Soviet federalism was an implicit but not very influential model for relations between communist states (Goodman 1960). This might have served as the prototype of a world state, a possible world union of soviet socialist republics. But developments since World War ii have brought about for the first time the simultaneous coexistence of a number of communist-ruled states, and, thus, the need has arisen for new conceptualizations. The concept now emplaced in Soviet ideology is that of a “world socialist system,” defined in the 1961 program of the Communist party of the Soviet Union as “a social, economic and political community of free sovereign peoples pursuing the Socialist and Communist path, united by common interests and goals, and the close bonds of international Socialist solidarity.” In a manner entailing some revision of classic theory, Kuusinen’s text (1961, especially chapter 25) paints a picture of the “commonwealth of free and equal states” equally developed and freely associated in relationships unmarred by war, and it recalls Lenin’s dictum that “national and state distinctions between peoples and countries would continue to exist for a very long time” (p. 769). However, the Chinese Communist party has neither accepted these pronouncements as authoritative nor clarified its own position on these points.

A system of states

The communist world appears above all as a system of states, possibly an international system in embryo. In 1947 the system could be said to have had about a half-dozen members; by 1965 membership had increased to 13 (the Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Rumania, China, North Korea, North Vietnam, Mongolia, and Cuba). The principal international organizations of that system, the Warsaw Treaty Organization and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CEMA), are both confined in membership to the European area (except that Mongolia belongs to CEMA).

For a time, students of politics characterized the system as primarily an expansive empire, an array of satellite governments dominated from one, and later possibly from two, centers. Others have seen it as a bloc of states assuming a place in a world system of bipolarity (Lasswell 1945; Kaplan 1957). It was then observed, however, that a potentially global political system might be developing whose constituent units nevertheless possessed a degree of independence. Modelski (1960) therefore described it as a partial international system that had the following attributes for becoming universal, while maintaining its essentially international character:

(1) Aspiration to universality. The ideologies of ruling communist states contain a claim to universal validity, and this is held to justify the principle of proletarian internationalism, according to which all communist parties have the obligation of mutual support in the “world proletarian struggle.” Communism could, therefore, become a world-wide system of states controlled by communist parties. The constant reminder of this possibility is the existence, the world over, of close to one hundred communist parties on five continents, each upholding the principle of proletarian internationalism.

(2) Segmentation of authority. The international character of this potentially universal system is accounted for by the segmentation pattern obtaining among the political authorities within it (that is, the number and distribution of units within the system, their relative size and political potential). Especially since the establishment of the Chinese Peoples’ Republic, the formerly preponderant influence of the Soviet Union has diminished and, if an elementary play-off mechanism is postulated, greater autonomy has in consequence accrued to other members of the system.

(3) Separate identity. Politically, communism is a system that is characteristically distinct and isolated. There are “boundaries” which separate communist from noncommunist states (an “iron curtain”) and mechanisms which maintain this separateness, especially the solidarity of the movement and the distinctive political culture which it upholds.

(4) Self-maintenance. To persist through time, systems need structures to ensure their survival and operation. International systems require arrangements for performing functions of legitimate authority and for strengthening solidarity, maintaining cuture and communications, and allocating resources. Modelski (1960) described the ways in which these functions are performed in the system of communist states, and he stressed the importance of arrangements for authority and leadership. Organizational devices, such as conferences of ruling parties and assemblies of both ruling and nonruling parties, have exploited the party channels but have not produced a framework of even mild formal authority such as is characteristic of modern international systems. Responsibility for initiating and pursuing policies aimed at the common interest still devolve upon individual authorities and, in particular, upon the most powerful parties and states. We now see that the leadership role held for many years by the Soviet party, the Soviet state, and, in effect, by Stalin has been implemented in a hegemonial manner and frequently without regard to the interests of other parties and governments. No accepted rules govern the succession to that role, and China’s leaders as well as parties anxious for a more dispersed system of authority have contested the Soviet right to an exclusive occupancy of the leadership position. The achievement of modern structures of leadership—as well as the maintenance of solidarity—are among the most crucial problems of the system.

(5) Conflict containment. Despite the diverse causes for international conflict within the communist system, there has been considerable success, over a long period, in “containing” these conflicts within the system through the strength of solidarity. Communist states have hesitated to call upon outsiders for aid in their intrasystem differences, and proletarian internationalism requires mutual support in case of conflict with the world outside. Failure to contain rather than failure to abolish conflict could become the most profound cause of change and, ultimately, transformation of the system.

Developments in the Sino–Soviet dispute have led observers to see the growth of semipermanent regional subsystems in Europe and in Asia, based on the Soviet Union and on China, respectively. In this context, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance has attracted some attention, being seen as the counterpart of the European Common Market and having, like the latter, aroused the hostility of some of its members for being an instrument of excessive integration. But far from being subdivisions or regional sections of a world system, these new institutions are symptoms of declining solidarity and semipermanent alignments on intrasystem issues. They may be seen in the traditional light of spheres of influence of major organizing powers.

A system of parties

Communism may also be viewed as a world system of parties. This perspective is peculiarly congenial to political scientists, but it is one that students of world politics in particular must develop. The system of communist states cannot be properly understood without regard being paid to the structure of parties upon which it is built. Communist parties perform basic functions in the system of states: they facilitate communications and contact against the background of common culture, and they guard solidarity, legitimize the rule of governing parties, and serve as justification for claims to universality. The communist international system could not exist without the parties, but the parties could be, and have been, in existence on the world scene even before there was a system of communist states. That is why they deserve separate attention as an independent phenomenon of world politics.

The world system of communist parties has grown from 7 national parties with 400,000 members in 1917, to 56 parties and 4.2 million members in 1939, and to about 90 parties with more than 44 million members in 1964 (U.S. Department of State 1965).

Jan Triska (Triska et al. 1964, pp. 20–31) analyzed the data for 1963 with respect to nonruling parties. He found that most of these parties were small (34 out of 76 parties had less than 2,000 members). Most nonruling parties attract less than 0.1 per cent of their countries’ population to membership. (The figures for ruling parties are, of course, considerably higher.) Electoral and comparative figures for the years 1953 to 1963 do not disclose any significant trends except an over-all rise in membership largely attributable to increases in world population as a whole.

The organization of the world system of communist parties has passed through a number of forms—the most important of them being the Comintern which lasted from 1919 to 1943 (Borkenau 1938; Nollau 1959). The Communist International was the most thoroughly international party known so far. It was world-wide and so highly centralized that its directing organs were empowered to issue binding orders to individual parties, officially known as mere “sections” of the Comintern. The ruling bodies of the organization initially reflected a variety of views from member parties, but within a few years the Soviet party assumed a position of absolute control. The Comintern of 1948 to 1955 (Brzezinski 1960), Europe-oriented and much weaker organizationally, was, again, merely one of the cloaks veiling Soviet control over eastern Europe. Since 1956 the organization of the party system has been a bone of contention, and efforts to re-create a centralized organization or even to institutionalize world-wide conferences have been handicapped not only by the memories of the Comintern but also by the accession to power of a number of parties each intent on preserving some autonomy and freedom to choose its own “road to socialism.”

The Comintern can be categorized as an international pressure group on account of its international composition and world-wide sphere of action (Meynaud 1961); but communism as such does not seem to fit neatly into the “pressure group” category because of its primary character as a political movement, its diffuse objectives, and its revolutionary proclivities.

Propositions describing the behavior of communism as a world party system have been few, as most students adopt a single national party as a focus of analysis. Borkenau (1938, p. 413A) drew attention to a regular alternation between a “left” and a “right” tendency in communist policies and suggested some explanations, but swings have been much less marked since the dissolution of the Comintern and the declining centralization of the system. Nor is Soviet policy any longer a simple guide to the behavior of the communist system.

In modern world politics we can see the incipient growth of “parties” as a process similar to that suggested by Duverger for the national sphere (1951). Such world “parties” are formed when delegates meet for international meetings and divide on contentious issues; they can be observed most clearly in international organizations. The “party” formed on such occasions by delegates of communist states may be seen as the reflection of a world system of communist parties. This “world communist party,” is, in Duverger’s terms, extra-parliamentary in origin and bears most of the characteristics attributed by him to national extra-parliamentary parties: greater centralization, reduced influence of parliamentary representatives, and lesser dependence upon the international political process.

Studies of voting and other political behavior at the United Nations (Hovet [1958] 1960, pp. 47–55; Dallin 1962, especially pp. 108–111) have shown that communist representatives caucus together, coordinate their behavior, and later vote and otherwise act in unison. They may therefore be regarded as forming a party whose potential “electorate” is world-wide.

Communism as a political party on the world stage should also be considered in relation to other parties on this stage. How extreme are its public views as compared with those of its rivals? In other words, is it an evolutionary or a revolutionary party? Does it promote a normal or a polarized international system? In origin communism was undoubtedly revolutionary in character, and its influence upon the structure of the international system has clearly been toward polarization. But other influences have been bearing upon it, and some evolutionary changes have apparently been at work, at least in the case of the Soviet Union; this at any rate is the burden of the Chinese complaint. It is hard to predict whether communism as a whole will maintain a revolutionary character or whether, like socialism half a century ago, it will separate into evolutionary and revolutionary wings.

Major problems


A condition of the persistence of an international system is maintenance of solidarity within certain limits. We might postulate that if solidarity falls beneath a certain critical level, the system dissolves, and that if solidarity rises above a certain level, the international system becomes a supranational bloc.

In fact, little has been done to measure system solidarity or to establish appropriate indices; at most we can say that solidarity has been surprisingly strong in the past but that as the system grew, and as world society at large changed, this solidarity has declined. Another problem may have been created by the fact that communist leaders had aspired to a degree of solidarity higher than was compatible with the maintenance of an international system, being seemingly incapable of ac cepting the fact that monolithic styles of politics cannot (except at times of crisis) be reconciled with the universally strong demand for autonomy; they have been unable to accept the politics of what they still regard as “factionalism.”

Solidarity may be maintained by an equitable distribution of benefits and resources. The feeling that the Soviet Union was inclined to appropriate an excessive share of such benefits and resources and was unwilling to redistribute them, through, for example, foreign aid, or in the form of military assistance, probably reduced solidarity and was conducive to “self-reliance” and, hence, to autonomy. For the Soviet Union, this might or might not have been an excessive price to pay. Solidarity may also be maintained through control of deviance by means of sanctions. Brzezinski (1962) has explored this problem by drawing on methods used by the Catholic church in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to contain Jansenism and to manage disputes between religious orders. But this analysis posits the persistence of a “center” in one authority or location and reduces the problem of deviance to marginal proportions. A study of the schism between the Eastern Orthodox church and the church of Rome in the eleventh century might have been perhaps more useful, because control of deviance presents more serious problems in case of a major challenge: a bid for central authority.


A revolutionary system must expand if it is to maintain its momentum, and the pressures on communism to maintain its growth remain strong.

Recent Soviet doctrine foresees both violent and nonviolent methods of “transition to socialism” (Black & Thornton 1964, pp. 417 ff.), but Soviet practice has in effect been a policy of seeking support of the “national democratic states” (now referred to as “revolutionary democracies”) in the “third world,” such as Algeria, Burma, Mali, the United Arab Republic, Ghana, and Guinea. Some degree of community of action, which also tends to fluctuate, has been achieved, but none of these states may be said to have become members of the system. Triska (Triska et al. 1964, pp. 32–37) has proposed indices for judging the degree of “affiliation”; they are trade, aid, and voting in the UN. These indices would have to be followed on a continuous basis, and they need to be refined, both to account for the influence of China and in the light of world-wide and comparative studies of cohesion and conflict.

Since 1960 the Chinese leadership has been on record as preferring the violent and revolutionary methods of promoting communism; despite caution in the execution of policy, it has advocated “wars of national liberation” even at the risk of an atomic conflict and has directed its appeal to the regimes in the new Afro–Asian nations. It remains to be seen whether this more extreme tendency will pervade the whole system or whether a separation might occur between a revolutionary and an evolutionary trend.

In their more optimistic moments, Soviet writers foresee a gradual yet irreversible growth of the system—through accretions mainly in the third world—as the result of a high rate of economic development in countries of the communist system. Looking some twenty years ahead, Strumilin (1961, pp. 390–391) wrote in terms of a shift of 30 per cent of the population of the “neutral” and 10 per cent of the population of the “imperialist” countries toward the “socialist” system, which latter system would by 1980 comprise 54 per cent of the world’s population. Yet the possibility of contraction cannot be ignored. Yugoslavia was expelled from the communist system in 1948–1949, and in 1956 the government of Hungary was prepared to leave abruptly. Developments in Sino-Soviet relations may lead to drastic changes in the allegiance and viability of nonruling parties in particular. Indeed “reversibility” (that is, the possibility that accession may later be followed by withdrawal) could be the only condition which would make the entry of new members into the communist system acceptable to the noncommunist world.

Links to world society

International systems need to be related to the societies in which they function. In general terms the communist system might be described as one variant of the international systems of modern industrial world society (Modelski 1961, p. 141). But first a number of questions must be answered. How significant is this variant? How might the significance be measured? Is it a significant difference in structures of society or in the more restricted sphere of political organization? Is the difference so significant that communist states form in fact a separate world society? While its adherents claim that communism is a distinctive social system and while others voice impressionistic theories of convergence, there is little concrete research in this field.

Other problems relate to the interdependence of communist states as contrasted with their links to world society. Recent research shows that the extent to which trade takes place within the system varies from over 95 per cent for Albania to 50 to 65 per cent for Poland but that as of 1961–1962 all system-members, except Yugoslavia, conducted over 50 per cent of their trade within the system. As the foreign trade of communist countries is a government monopoly, these figures would seem to bear more directly upon the intensity of political relations than upon the existence of a rich pattern of social contact constituting an inclusive society. Data on social and cultural interaction are too sketchy to warrant any conclusions. But available information indicates the growth of separate European and Asian spheres and therefore again throws doubt upon the separateness of the communist system as a whole.

The distinctiveness and separateness of communist societies have of course a close bearing upon the degree of upheaval caused by a country’s entry into or withdrawal from the system and, therefore, upon the revolutionary nature of such changes.

Future transformations

The communist international system is an interpretation of the international experience of communism. Implicit in it is the assertion that, given certain conditions, communist states would behave as though they formed a distinct system of independent yet solidary states—possibly the nucleus of a future international society. This concept fitted to a good degree the development of communism in the decade following the death of Stalin. Yet it might also be argued that this was an oversubtle interpretation of a transitional situation: the inevitable disintegration of the communist monolith and the gradual dissipation of revolutionary fervor. There might have been no more than a fleeting moment in which the emergence of a genuinely international communist system was a realistic possibility.

The argument that communism will not produce a genuinely international system is supported by what may be seen as a major cause of communist intrasystem difficulties: a doctrinal disdain for governmental and diplomatic forms of action and a contemptuous disregard for tried and tested methods of maintaining close relations in conditions of basic autonomy. Conceivably, a revolutionary nucleus cannot be held together with any but party-political links which ignore state institutions and the niceties of diplomatic behavior. But it is at least as conceivable that the communist international system poses the conditions which, if observed, would ensure the survival and possibly the expansion of such a system. We must leave this question unresolved. Even if the post-Stalin or post-Khrushchev communist system were to be essentially altered, the analysis of its experience would have served a more general purpose: it would have afforded an example of the operation and growth of extraparliamentary international systems that are built upon a revolutionary ideology and that have universal aspirations directed against an existing world society.

For the present let us consider the transformation possibilities confronting the communist international system, other than the possibility of universal extension. The possible transformations are (1) a monolithic bloc, (2) dissolution, and (3) entry into a “normal” world party system. A bloc would be likely to ensue if distinctiveness and separateness increased, authority structures became regularized and strengthened, economic integration advanced, the segmentation pattern was changed toward greater centralization, and conflict containment was improved. Dissolution would be the consequence of opposite trends, especially if distinctiveness declined and the structures of authority, solidarity, and culture lost power. If indices could be established for each of these characteristics, the transformation processes could be followed accurately.

The third possible transformation falls somewhere between the two other alternatives and is also distinct from the “revolutionary international system” concept discussed above. It would involve the development of at least part of the communist system into a looser yet still ideologically oriented association. If the revolutionary system were to mellow and shed some of its more extreme members, the remaining elements could find allies among noncommunist states by an appeal to Marxist ideas and by a policy of mutual support based on a modicum of organization. If a nonpolarized party system were to gain strength on a world scale—and such a trend is arguable on account of the growing complexity of global politics and the resulting need for greater regularity and predictability—a communist “party” could be one of its components. The need to exercise influence on the world stage through and with others makes it necessary for all governments to have associates. Communist participation might thus be acceptable as long as the aim is world influence and not absolute power or the overthrow of the world system.

George Modelski

[See alsoInternational organization; Parties, political; Systems analysis, article onINTERNATIONAL SYSTEMS.]


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Borkenau, Franz (1938) 1962 World Communism: A History of the Communist International. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press. → First published as The Communist International.

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A system of social organization in which goods are held in common.

Communism in the United States is something of an anomaly. The basic principles of communism are, by design, at odds with the free enterprise foundation of U.S. capitalism. The freedom of individuals to privately own property, start a business, and own the means of production is a basic tenet of U.S. government, and communism opposes this arrangement. However, there have been, are, and probably always will be communists in the United States.

As early as the fourth century b.c., Plato addressed the problems surrounding private ownership of property in the Republic. Some early Christians supported communal principles, as did the German Anabaptists during the sixteenth-century religious Reformation in Europe.

The concept of common ownership of goods gained a measure of support in France during the nineteenth century. Shortly after the French Revolution of 1789, François-Noël ("Gracchus") Babeuf was arrested and executed for plotting the violent overthrow of the new French government by revolutionary communists. Etienne Cabet inspired many social explorers with his Voyage en Icarie (1840), which promoted peaceful, idealized communities. Cabet is often credited with the spate of communal settlements that appeared in mid-nineteenth-century North America. Louis-Auguste Blanqui offered a more strident version of communism by urging French workers during the 1830s to organize insurrections and establish a dictatorship for the purpose of reorganizing the government.

Communism received, however, its first comprehensive intellectual foundation in 1848, when Germans karl marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto. As technology increased and industry expanded in nineteenth-century Europe and America, it became clear that the general welfare of laborers was not improving. Although the new democratic governments gave new freedoms to workers, or "the proletariat," the capitalism that came with democracy had created different means of oppression. By drawing on existing theories of materialism, labor, and historical evolution, Marx and Engels were able to identify the reasons why, despite periodic drastic changes in government, common laborers had been doomed to abject poverty throughout recorded history.

In the first chapter of The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels argued that human history was best understood as a continuing struggle between a small exploiting class (the owners of the means of production) and a larger exploited class (laborers in factories and mills who often worked for starvation wages). At any point in time, the exploiting class controlled the means of production and profited by employing the labor of the masses. In the capitalism that developed alongside democracy, Marx and Engels saw a progressive concentration of the powers of production placed in the hands of a privileged few. Although society was producing more goods and services, the general welfare of the middle class, they believed, was declining. According to Marx and Engels, this disparity or internal contradiction in capitalistic societies predicted capitalism's doom. Over time, as the anticipated numbers of the middle class, or "bourgeoisie," began to decrease, the conflicts between laborers and capitalists would sharpen, and social revolution was inevitable. At the end of The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote that the transfer of power from the few to the many could only take place by force. Marx later retreated from this position and wrote that it was possible for this radical change to take place peacefully.

The social revolution originally envisioned by Marx and Engels would begin with a proletariat dictatorship. Once in possession of the means of production, the dictatorship would devise the means for society to achieve the communal ownership of wealth. Once the transitional period had stabilized the state, the purest form of communism would take shape. Communism in its purest form would be a classless societal system in which property and wealth were distributed equally and without the need for a coercive government. This last stage of Marxian communism has as of the early 2000s never been realized in any government.


In October 1917, vladimir lenin and Leon Trotsky led the Bolshevik party in a bloody revolution against the Russian monarch, Czar Nicholas II. Lenin relied on violence and persistent aggression during his time as a Russian leader. Although he professed to being in the process of modernizing Marxist theory, Lenin stalled Marx's communism at its transitional phase and kept the proletariat dictatorship to himself.

Lenin's communist philosophy was designated by followers as Marxist-Leninist theory in 1928. Marxism-Leninism was characterized by the refusal to cooperate and compromise with capitalist countries. It also insisted upon severe restrictions on human rights and the extermination of actual and supposed political opponents. In these respects, Marxist-Leninist theory was unrecognizable to democratic socialists and other followers of Marxist doctrine, and the 1920s saw a gradual split between Russian communists and other European proponents of Marxian theory. The Bolshevik party, with Lenin at the helm, renamed itself the All-Russian Communist party, and Lenin presided over a totalitarian state until his death in 1924.

joseph stalin succeeded Lenin as the Communist party ruler. In 1924, Stalin established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) by colonizing land surrounding Russia and placing the territories within the purview of the Soviet Union. The All-Russian Communist party became the All-Union Communist party, and Stalin sought to position the Soviet Union as the home base of a world revolution. In his quest for worldwide communism, Stalin sent political opponents such as Trotsky into exile, had thousands of political dissidents tortured and murdered, and imprisoned millions more.

House Un-American Activities Committee

Between 1938 and 1969, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hunted political radicals. In hundreds of public hearings, this congressional panel set out to expose and punish citizens whom it deemed guilty of holding "un-American" views—fascism and communism. From government to labor, academia, and Hollywood, the committee aggressively pursued so-called subversives. It used Congress's subpoena power to force citizens to appear before it, holding them in contempt if they did not testify. HUAC's tactics of scandal, innuendo, and the threat of imprisonment disrupted lives and ruined careers. After years of mounting criticism, Congress renamed HUAC in 1969 and finally abolished it in 1975.

In the late 1930s, HUAC arose in a period of fear and suspicion. The United States was still devastated by the Great Depression, and fascism was on the rise in Europe. Washington, D.C., feared spies. In early May 1938, Representative Martin Dies (R-Tex.) called for a probe of fascism, communism, and other so-called un-American (meaning anti-patriotic) beliefs. The idea was popular with other lawmakers. Two weeks later, HUAC was established as a temporary committee, with Dies at its head.

Because Chairman Dies was in charge, the press referred to HUAC as the Dies Committee. The chairman had ambitious goals. At first, he set out to stop German and Italian propaganda. Early investigations focused on two pro-Nazi groups, the German-American Bund and the Silver Shirt Legion. But Dies had a partisan agenda as well. An outspoken critic of Roosevelt, he wanted to discredit the president's new deal programs. Contending that the Federal Writers' Project (a program to compile oral histories and travel guides) and Federal Theatre Project (employing out-of-work actors to help produce plays) were rife with Communists, HUAC urged the firing of thirty-eight hundred federal employees. In this atmosphere of conflict between the committee and the White House, the justice department found the numbers grossly exaggerated; its own probe concluded that only thirty-six employees had been validly accused. The committee's first great smear ended with dismal results.

HUAC's limited success in its early years was largely due to its chairman's political mistakes. Besides alienating Roosevelt and the Justice Department, Dies made an even more powerful enemy in j. edgar hoover, director of the federal bureau of investigation (FBI). After Dies publicly criticized the director, Attorney General robert h. jackson went on the attack, accusing HUAC of interfering with the FBI's proper role. Hoover himself saw to it that the turf battle was short-lived. In 1941 Dies was quietly informed that the FBI had evidence of his accepting a bribe. Although no charges were brought and Dies retained the title of chairman until 1944, he conspicuously avoided HUAC's hearings from that point on.

HUAC grew in both power and tenacity after world war ii, for several reasons. A deterioration in U.S.-Soviet relations started the cold war, a decades-long battle of words—and, as in Korea and Vietnam, of bullets—in which Communism became identified as the United States' single greatest enemy. Both bodies of Congress, the White House, the FBI, and numerous conservative citizens' groups such as the John Birch Society rallied to the anti-Communist cause. Moreover, HUAC had new leadership. With Dies gone, Hoover was more than willing to assist with the committee's investigations, which was fortunate, since no congressional committee had the resources available to the FBI. When HUAC chairman J. Parnell Thomas announced in 1947 that the committee would root out Communists in Hollywood, he had nothing but hearsay to go on. No Hollywood investigation would have taken place if Hoover, responding to Thomas's plea, had not provided HUAC with lists of suspects and names of cooperative witnesses.

Thus began a pattern of FBI and HUAC cooperation that lasted for three decades. Hoover's testimony before HUAC in March 1947 illuminated their common interest in driving the enemy into the open:

I feel that once public opinion is thoroughly aroused as it is today, the fight against Communism is well on its way. Victory will be assured once Communists are identified and exposed, because the public will take the first step of quarantining them so they can do no harm….This Committee renders a distinct service when it publicly reveals the diabolic machinations of sinister figures engaged in un-American activities.

The FBI director's prediction was right: quarantining of a sort did indeed follow.

The Hollywood probe marked a new height for HUAC. The committee investigated the film industry three times, in 1947, 1951–52, and 1953–55. The first hearing produced the so-called Hollywood Ten, a group of screenwriters and professionals who refused to answer questions about whether or not they were Communists. Despite invoking their first amendment right to freedom of speech, they were subsequently charged with contempt of Congress, tried, convicted, and jailed for between six months and one year. In later HUAC hearings, other film industry professionals invoked the Fifth Amendment—the constitutional protection against self-incrimination—and they too suffered. HUAC operated on the dubious premise that no innocent person would avoid answering its questions, and members of Congress frequently taunted witnesses who attempted to "hide," as they said, behind the fifth amendment. Not everyone subpoenaed was a Communist, but the committee usually wanted each person to name others who were, who associated with, or who sympathized with Communists. Intellectual sympathy for leftists was considered evil in itself; such "dupes," "commie symps," and "fellow travelers" were also condemned by HUAC.

These investigations had a tremendous effect. Hollywood executives, fearing the loss of profits, created a blacklist containing the names of hundreds of actors, directors, and screenwriters who were shut out of employment, thus ending their careers. In short time, television and radio did the same. For subpoenaed professionals, an order to appear before HUAC presented a no-win situation. If they named names, they betrayed themselves and others; if they did not cooperate, they risked their future. Some cooperated extensively: the writer Martin Berkeley coughed up 155 names. Some did so in order to keep working, but lived to regret it: the actor Sterling Hayden later described himself as a worm in his autobiography Wanderer. Others, like the playwright Lillian Hellman, remained true to their conscience and refused to cooperate. The HUAC-inspired blacklist caused a measurable disruption to employment as well as more than a dozen suicides.

HUAC's postwar efforts also transformed U.S. political life. In 1948, the committee launched a highly publicized investigation of alger hiss, a former high-ranking government official, on charges of spying for the Soviet Union. Hiss's subsequent conviction on perjury helped inspire the belief that other Communist spies must exist in federal government, leading to lavish, costly, and ultimately futile probes of the state department by HUAC and Senator joseph r. mccarthy. HUAC had laid the groundwork for the senator's own witch-hunt, a reign of unfounded accusation that came to be known as McCarthyism. By 1950, McCarthyism so influenced U.S. political life that HUAC sponsored the most sweeping anti-Communist law in history, the McCarren Act (50 U.S.C.A. § 781 et seq.), which sought to clamp down on the Communist party but stopped short of making membership illegal. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately stripped it of any meaningful force.

HUAC came under fire in the late 1950s and early 1960s. After turning its attention on labor leaders, the committee at last provoked the U.S. Supreme Court: the Court's 1957 decision in Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 77 S. Ct. 1173, 1 L. Ed. 2d 1273, overturned the contempt conviction of a man who refused to answer all of HUAC's questions, and, importantly, set broad limits on the power of congressional inquiry. Yet HUAC pressed on. In 1959 an effort to expose Communists in California schools resulted in teachers being fired and prompted some of the first public criticisms of the committee. By the late 1960s, as outrage over the vietnam war made public dissent not only feasible but widely popular, many lawmakers began to see HUAC as an anachronism. In 1969 the House renamed it the Internal Security Committee. The body continued on under this name until 1975, when it was abolished and the House Judiciary Committee took over its functions (with far less enthusiasm than its progenitors).

HUAC's legacy to U.S. law was a long, relentless campaign against personal liberty. Its members cared little for the constitutional freedoms of speech or association, let alone constitutional safeguards against self-incrimination. Much of its work would not have been possible without the steady assistance of the FBI, whose all-powerful director Hoover (1895–1972) died shortly after the committee's heyday had ended. HUAC is remembered today, along with Hoover and McCarthyism, as characterizing the worst abuses of federal power during the cold war.

Stalin saw the Soviet Union through world war ii. Although it joined with the United States and other democratic countries in the fight against Nazism, the Soviet Union remained strongly opposed to capitalist principles. In the scramble for control of Europe after World War II, the Soviet Union gained power over several Eastern European countries it had helped liberate and placed them under communist rule. Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Poland, and Romania were forced to comply with the totalitarianism of Stalin's rule. North Korea was also supported and influenced by the Soviet Union. More independent communist governments emerged in Yugoslavia and Albania after World War II.

For nearly 50 years after the end of World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States engaged in a "cold war." So named for the absence of direct fighting between the two superpowers, the cold war was, in reality, a bloody one. The Soviet Union and the United States fought each other through other countries in an effort to control the expansion of each other's influence.

When a country was thrown into civil war, the Soviet Union and the United States aligned themselves with the competing factions by providing

financial and military support. They sometimes even supplied their own troops. The United States and Soviet Union engaged in warby-proxy in many countries, including Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Angola.

Cuba officially adopted communism in 1965 after Fidel Castro led a band of rebels in an insurrection against the Cuban government in 1959. Despite intense opposition by the United States to communism in the Western Hemisphere, Cuba became communist with the help of the Soviet Union.


Communism was also established in China. In 1917, Chinese students and intellectuals, inspired by the Bolsheviks' October Revolution, began to study and promote Leninist Marxism. China had been mired in a century-long civil war, and many saw Lenin's brand of communism as the solution to China's internal problems. In 1919, at the end of world war i, China received a disappointing settlement from Western countries at the Versailles Peace Conference. This outcome confirmed growing suspicion of capitalist values and strengthened the resolve of many Chinese to find an alternative basis for government.

On July 1, 1921, the Chinese Communist party (CCP) was established. Led by Chinese intellectuals and Russian advisers, the CCP initially embraced Russia's model of communism and relied on the organization of urban industrial laborers. By 1927, CCP membership had grown from fewer than 500 in 1923 to over 57,000. This increase was achieved in large part because the CCP had joined with another political party, the Kuomintang (KMT). KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek and KMT troops eventually became fearful of CCP control of the state, and in July 1927, the KMT purged communists from its ranks. CCP membership plummeted, and the party was forced to search for new ways to gain power.

Throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s, the CCP sought to change its strategies. The party was divided between urban, Russiantrained students and a wing made up of peasants led by Mao Tse-tung. At the same time, the CCP was engaged in battles with the KMT over control of various cities, and several CCP attempts to capture urban areas were unsuccessful.

Mao was instrumental in switching the concentration of CCP membership from the city to the country. In October 1934, the CCP escaped from threatening KMT forces in southern China. Led by Mao, CCP troops conducted the Long March to Yenan in the north, recruiting rural peasants and increasing its popularity en route. In 1935, Mao was elected chairman of the CCP.

Japan's invasion of China in 1937 spurred a resurgence in CCP popularity. The CCP fought Japanese troops until their surrender in 1945. The CCP then waged civil war against the KMT. With remarkable organization and brilliant military tactics, the CCP won widespread support throughout China's rural population and eventually its urban population as well. By 1949, the CCP had established Beijing as the capital of China and declared the People's Republic of China as the new government.

Chinese communism has been marked by a willingness to experiment. In 1957, Chairman Mao announced China's Great Leap Forward, an attempt to advance industry within rural communes. The program did not flourish, and within two years, Mao concluded that the Soviet Union's emphasis on industry was incompatible with communal principles. Mao launched an ideological campaign in 1966 called the Cultural Revolution, in which students were employed to convert opponents of communism. This campaign also failed, as too many students loyal to Mao carried out their mission with violent zeal.

After Chairman Mao died in 1976, powerful CCP operatives worked to eliminate Jiang Quing, Mao's widow, and three other party officials from the party. This Gang of Four was accused of undermining the strength of the party through adherence to Mao's traditional doctrines. The Chinese version of communism placed enormous emphasis on conformity and uniform enthusiasm for all CCP policies. With the conviction of the Gang of Four in 1981, the CCP sent a message to its members that it would not tolerate dissension within its ranks.

Also in 1981, the CCP Central Committee declared Mao's Cultural Revolution a mistake. Hu Yaobang was named chairman of the CCP, and Deng Xiaoping was named head of the military. These changes in leadership marked the beginning of CCP reformation. The idolization of Mao was scrapped, as was the ideal of continuous class struggle. The CCP began to incorporate into Chinese society technological advances and Western production management techniques. Signs of Western culture, such as blue jeans and rock and roll music, began to appear in China's cities.

In 1987, Hu Yaobang was removed as CCP chairman and replaced by Zhao Ziyang. Zhao's political philosophy was at odds with the increasing acceptance of Western culture and concepts of capitalism, and China's urban areas began to simmer with discontent. By May 1989, students and other reformists in China had organized and were regularly staging protests against Zhao's leadership. After massive demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the CCP military crushed the uprisings, executed dozens of radicals, and imprisoned thousands more.

Thus, the CCP maintained control of China's government. At the same time, it made attempts to participate in world politics and business.

The Demise of Communist States

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, several communist states transformed their governments to free-market economies. In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was named leader of the Soviet Union, and he immediately embarked on a program to liberalize and democratize the Soviet Union and its Communist party. By 1990, the campaign had won enough converts to unsettle the power of communism in the Soviet Union. In August 1991, opponents of Gorbachev

attempted to oust him from power by force, but many in the Soviet military supported Gorbachev, and the coup failed.

The Soviet Union was formally dissolved in December 1991. The republics previously controlled by the All-Union Communist party held democratic elections and moved toward participation in the world business market. Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, and Poland also established their independence. Romania had conducted its own revolution by trying, convicting, and executing its communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, at the end of 1989.

Communist control of governments may be dwindling, but communist parties still exist all over the world. China and Cuba have communist governments, and Spain and Italy have powerful Communist parties. In the United States, though, Communism has had a difficult time finding widespread support. The justice system in the United States has historically singled out Communists for especially harsh treatment. For example, joseph mccarthy, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, led an anti-Communist campaign from 1950 to 1954 that disrupted many lives in the United States.

Communism in the United States

Anti-Communist hysteria in the United States did not begin with Senator McCarthy's campaign in 1950. In Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 47 S. Ct. 641, 71 L. Ed. 1095 (1927), Charlotte Whitney was found guilty of violating the Criminal Syndicalism Act of California for organizing the Communist Labor Party of California. Criminal syndicalism was defined to include any action even remotely related to the teaching of violence or force as a means to effect political change.

Whitney argued against her conviction on several grounds: California's Criminal Syndicalism Act violated her due process rights because it was unclear; the act violated the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment because it did not penalize those who advocated force to maintain the current system of government; and the act violated Whitney's first amendment rights to free speech, assembly, and association.

The Court rejected every argument presented by Whitney. Justices louis d. brandeis and oliver wendell holmes jr., concurred in the result. They disagreed with the majority that a conviction for mere association with a political party that advocated future revolt was not violative of the First Amendment. However, Whitney had failed to challenge the determination that there was a clear and present danger of serious evil, and, according to Brandeis and Holmes, this omission was fatal to her defense. Forty-two years later, the decision in Whitney's case was expressly overruled in Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 89 S. Ct. 1827, 23 L. Ed. 2d 430 (1969).

The political and social protests of the 1960s led to an increased tolerance of unconventional political parties in the United States. However, this tolerance did not reach every state in the Union. In August 1972, the Indiana State Election Board denied the Communist party of Indiana a place on the 1972 general-election ballot. On the advice of the attorney general of Indiana, the board denied the party this right because its members had refused to submit to a loyalty oath required by section 29-3812 of the Indiana Code. The oath consisted of a promise that the party's candidates did not "advocate the overthrow of local, state or National Government by force or violence" (Communist Party v. Whitcomb, 414 U.S. 441, 94 S. Ct. 656, 38 L. Ed. 2d 635 [1974]).

The Supreme Court, following its earlier Brandenburg decision, held that the loyalty oath violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In Brandenburg, the Court had held that a statute that fails to differentiate between teaching force in the abstract and preparing a group for imminent violent action runs contrary to the constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of association. Although the Communist party missed the deadline for entering its candidates in the 1972 general election, it succeeded in clearing the way for its participation in future elections.

In the twentieth century communism gained a hold among the world's enduring political ideologies and its popularity continues to ebb and flow with the shifting distribution of wealth and power within and between nations.

further readings

Bentley, Eric, ed. 2002. Thirty Years of Treason: Excerpts from Hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1938-1968. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books.

Berlin, Isaiah. 1985. Karl Marx: His Life and Environment. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Gentry, Curt. 1991. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets. New York: Norton.

McLellan, David. 1979. Marxism after Marx. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Powers, Richard G. 1987. Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: Free Press.

Pozner, Vladimir. 1990. Parting with Illusions. New York: Atlantic Monthly.

Rosenn, Max. 1995. "Presumed Guilty." University of Pittsburgh Law Review (spring).

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. 1973. The Gulag Archipelago. London: Collins/Fontana.

——. 1963. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. New York: Bantam.


Cuban Missile Crisis; Dennis v. United States; First Amendment; Fourteenth Amendment; Freedom of Association and Assembly; Freedom of Speech; Marx, Karl Heinrich; McCarran Internal Security Act; Smith Act; Socialism; Socialist Party of the United States of America; Vietnam War.

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Communism, simply put, is a socioeconomic political doctrine that advocates a classless and stateless society wherein there is collective ownership and control of property and all means of production. The term communism, however, means different things to differently situated people and as such might be a function of time and place. Some people associate the term with liberation from colonialism or other forms of oppression and a defense of lower-class working-class interests, while others equate it with an idealized state, a political movement, or a way of life. Still others regard it as a rejection of traditional European and North American sociopolitical values. Despite such variations in meaning, embedded in each is the notion of change. Change, however, is not always organic but is, instead, often orchestrated by those overseeing societal transformation.

A core aspect of the practical application of communism, then, has been a strong centralization of decisionmaking and state planning, especially in the economic sector. State planning, as practiced in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and the Third World, coupled with the need to effectively silence opposition to the imposition of the Communist political and economic order, has often hinged on the effective use of authoritarian practices and single-party rule. This does not mean, however, that authoritarianism is a necessary and sufficient condition for the flourishing of Communist practices. Moreover all political systems encompass a certain degree of authoritarianism and centralization.


The notion of communism dates back to ancient Greece, where it was associated with a myth concerning the golden age of humanity, when society lived in full harmony. Plato (in The Republic ) and other ancient political theorists advocated a kind of communal living, which is viewed as a form of communism. It is Karl Marx, however, with the assistance of Friedrich Engels, who is most often credited with providing the most popularized expression of communism. As expressed in the Communist Manifesto (1848), their theory of communism is underpinned by antecedent philosophical arguments about the history of humankind that include the dialectical and historical materialism of Georg Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach and others who expressed views on socialism and communism prior to and during the beginning of the European socialist movements of the 1840s. Marxs view of communism was influenced by a long and established tradition of utopian socialists, but he embraced a scientific approach that added a new twist to existing thought. Moreover Marx and Engels referred to communism as scientific socialism.

Socialism, as a political theory, developed during the European working-class rebellions, when the predicament of workers was viewed against the backdrop of the prevailing liberal logic of the day. Its point of departure, according to the political scientist Alfred Meyer, was the assertion that the ideals associated with the American and French Revolutionsnamely liberty, equality, fraternity, and the right to a human existencehad been aborted. Thus the promise of these revolutions could be fulfilled only when political rights were consonant with social and economic equality, which necessitated wiping out the differences between rich and poor. Drawing from this and earlier philosophical arguments and movements, Marx and Engels embarked on an attempt to further develop the theory.

Marx viewed communism as the highest stage of socialism and the history of humankind as imbued with struggles between the capitalist class (the owners of capital) and the working class (proletariats). His theory, as articulated in the Communist Manifesto, viewed the movement of society toward communism as a scientific fact. This view holds that inherent contradictions of capitalism paved the road to revolution, which would be fueled in part by class consciousness. According to Marx, a socialist society, ruled by the working class, would emerge out of this revolution. Eventually the socialist society would evolve into communisma classless society free of exploitation, poverty, and government coercion. Although Marx continued to view economic classes as engines for moving society to higher stages of historical development, his later works encompassed more detailed and refined arguments, including an emphasis on the polarization of the impoverished working class. The emergence of the Communist society envisioned by Marx has never come into fruition, and this failure has facilitated the rise of other schools of communism. Nevertheless, the terms communism, socialism, Marxism, and Marxism-Leninism are often used interchangeably.

The school of communism associated with Vladimir Lenin, like that associated with Marx, is informed by precursor philosophies and is grounded in the Russian reality of the 1900s. Lenins theoretical interpretations and practical application of doctrines espoused by Marx also contributed to the development of communism. Whereas Marx predicted that the proletarian revolution would occur in capitalist society, Lenin believed that revolution could occur in precapitalist colonial societies, no matter how primitive. His theory also holds that imperialism is the highest stage of monopoly capitalism, which results from the contradictions of capitalism that fuel the search for foreign outlets for surplus capital and production. The dictatorship of the proletariat would be implemented by a small, dedicated elite of the Communist Party, who would lead the revolution.

Lenins interpretation of Marxist doctrines was shaped by events associated with the Russian Revolution of 1917, which convinced him that a successful revolution in Russia could not occur as a spontaneous popular uprising. He concluded that the revolution would have to be the work of a well-organized group of professional revolutionaries. Thus he pulled together a group comprised of discontented intellectuals, workers, and peasants of different nationalities who happened to be in the right place at the right time to seize the levers of state control in Russia.


Although Marxist communism was implemented in other areas of the world outside the Soviet Union, its expansion did not occur until after World War II (19391945). Prior to that time many Communist parties existed in various countries, though none held the reins of governmental power. Communism, as developed by Lenin, facilitated the spread of Communist states in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world. In fact underdeveloped societies facing a crisis of modernization implemented Marxism or Marxism-Leninism at a greater rate than did capitalist societies. Thus it can be argued that Marxism-Leninism had a greater impact on the world than any other modern philosophy during the twentieth century.

According to Meyer, Third World Marxism originated in Asia in the early 1920s and gradually spread to Africa, Latin America, and other areas that were fighting traces of colonialism. This form of Marxism had the Leninist theory of imperialism as its base. The majority of states, however, were brought into the Communist sphere after World War II, fueled by the cold war rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. Soviet communism was appealing because of its focus on expunging imperialist exploitation and domination from Third World states. And though the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had developed into an exportable model of success, communism, as practiced in the third world, took on a variety of forms. The Soviet model, like earlier concepts of Marxism, was altered by its application in other countries. Third world (non-Western) communism took on characteristic features of the Chinese brand of communism rather than that of the Soviet Union.

There were also conscious attempts to break free of the Soviet model of communism in Eastern Europe. The first successful attempt occurred in Yugoslavia, where the leader of the Communist Party, Josef Broz Tito, did not owe his position to Josef Stalin. James Ozinga, in Communism: The Story of the Idea and Its Implementation (1991), notes that Yugoslavia became a middle ground between Soviet communism and the West, owing to Titos abandonment of rural collectivization and implementation of free enterprise and real elections, among other non-Soviet practices. The second major attempt to loosen Soviet control occurred in Hungary in 1956, followed by Poland. A third attempt surfaced twelve years later in Czechoslovakia. Efforts to remove tight Soviet control began with these nations Communist parties and represented an expressed desire for greater liberty and a more national approach to the socialist goal (see Lerner 1993).

Communism officially came to power throughout China in 1949, following the defeat of the Nationalist (Kuomintang) forces by the Red Army. The early Chinese Communist ideology was heavily influenced by the thoughts of Mao Zedong, but Marxism-Leninism provided the theoretical foundation for the Chinese Communist ideology and served as the guiding principle for the party and state. Maos thoughts provided the principles for practical application.

Chinese communism, as articulated by Mao Zedong, viewed the peasantry as the class that had to be mobilized for the revolution. Unlike Lenins enlightened leadership elite, Mao advocated use of the peasantry as a major rather than a secondary force in the revolution. This meant a reliance on a rural-based group, rather than an urban proletariat, to bring about a socialist transformation. Suzanne Ogden, a Northeastern University professor who has written often on China, notes that an orthodox Marxist-led revolution against urban capitalism made no sense in China because few workers had been exploited by the capitalist class. Mao also believed that putting revolutionary theory into practice was critically significant in guiding expected social contradictions in the right direction. Thus dialectical confrontation did not end with the triumph of the political revolution but continued into socialism and communism, according to Maos theory. Jiwei Ci argues in Dialectic of the Chinese Revolution (1994) that the establishment of the Communist regime in 1949 marked the successful acquisition of Marxism as cultural self-identity, and Chinas possession of it became monopolistic after its ideological break with the Soviet Union in 1960.

Similarly in Cuba traditional Communist doctrine (Soviet communism) was revised to reflect Cubas historical reality. During Fidel Castros 26th of July movement, the Communist Party played a secondary role. José Martí, not Marx, symbolized Cuban independence from Spain and inspired dramatic change. It was his ideas that were embraced by Castro. Thus the movement began with Castro and a group of dedicated nationalists. After the movement crushed the government forces, the new regime immediately committed to Marxism-Leninism and to Soviet patronage. This patronage was born more out of economic necessity than ideological congruence. By 1963 Castro realized that orthodox Communists were a threat to Cubas contact with regional revolutionary regimes, which compelled him to reinvigorate the revolutionary will. Thus his Communist Party exercised doctrinal independence and was charismatic rather than bureaucratic.

A cursory historical examination of Communist states, both in Eastern Europe and in the developing world, reveals a wide range of differences in ideologies and approaches to the practical application of communism. It is clear that the revolution, as envisioned by Marx, never swept Communists into power in any country. Historical evidence indicates that internal conflicts between the petit bourgeois and the ruling class, external relations, and other intervening variables had as much if not more relevance for the implementation and the nature of the Communist rule in Africa, Asia, and Latin America than did working-class consciousness and commitments to the Marxist-Leninist philosophy per se.

Many of the Communist states that developed in tandem with the cold war politics of the United States and the Soviet Union took on the character of the individuals who came to power rather than strict adherence to the Soviet model. The revolutionaries turned Communist state leaders understood the nature of their societies and knew exactly when to infuse their articulation of Communist doctrine with interpretations that were more relevant to national realities. One must then consider the intersection of historical events and personality as important variables in explaining variations in Communist states. Obviously different interpretations make it almost impossible to speak in terms of the theory of communism.


Mikhail Gorbachevs rise to power, which precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, contributed to the demise of Communist Party rule in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world. Gorbachev believed that a Soviet foreign policy based on military might was a luxury that could no longer be afforded. Thus he reversed the Brezhnev Doctrine, which for years had protected unpopular Communist regimes from their population. His message was simple: the Soviet Union would no longer intervene to save faltering Communist regimes. This, coupled with events in 1989 and 1990, signaled changes that were about to occur in the Soviet bloc. In the Soviet Union the constitutional monopoly of the Communist Party was repealed, and power gradually shifted to new, mostly elected institutions of government, while opposition parties in Eastern Europe defeated Communist candidates in many local and national elections in 1990.

By the early 1990s the only states in which communism was firmly entrenched were in East Asia and a few other regions, notably China and Cuba. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 rendered the United States the sole superpower, which had enormous implications for the collapse of Communist regimes in other parts of the world. By the mid- to late 1990s more and more Third World Marxist-Leninist regimes were replaced by regimes willing to play to the U.S. global political and economic agenda. This by no means resulted in the complete demise of Communist regimes, however, but it did motivate a substantial number of old-guard Communist leaders to present themselves as reformed or rehabilitated advocates for a different kind of democratic rule and free enterprise. In 2007, in parts of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and other regions of the world, post-Communist states are led by former Communists who are authoritarian, dictatorial, and cloaked in corruption. This could create an environment conducive to the return of the Communist state.

SEE ALSO Castro, Fidel; Cold War; Gorbachev, Mikhail; Iron Curtain; Lenin, Vladimir Ilitch; Mao Zedong; Marx, Karl; Stalin, Joseph; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics


Adams, Gordon. 1984. Cuba and Africa. In How the World Works: A Critical Introduction to International Relations, ed. Gary L. Olsen, 264284. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

Arthur, C. J. 1970. Introduction. In The German Ideology, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engles, ed. C. J. Arthur, trans. W. Lough, C. Dutt, and C. P. Magill, 434. New York: International Publishers.

Ci, Jiwei. 1994. Dialectic of the Chinese Revolution: From Utopianism to Hedonism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Gati, Charles. 1990. The Bloc That Failed: Soviet-East European Relations in Transition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Horowitz, Irving L. 1972. Cuban Communism. 2nd ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

Lerner, Warren. 1993. A History of Socialism and Communism in Modern Times: Theorists, Activists, and Humanists. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Kittrie, Nicholas, and Ivan Volgyes, eds. 1988. The Uncertain Future: Gorbachevs Eastern Bloc. New York: Paragon House.

Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. [1848] 1964. The Communist Manifesto. Trans. Samuel Moore, ed. Joseph Katz. New York: Washington Square.

Moise, Edwin. 1994. Modern China: A History. 2nd ed. New York: Longman.

Meyer, Alfred G. 1984. Communism. 4th ed. New York: Random House.

Ogden, Suzanne. 1995. Chinas Unresolved Issues. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Ozinga, James R. 1991. Communism: The Story of the Idea and Its Implementation. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Valkenier, Elizabeth Kridl. 1983. The Soviet Union and the Third World: An Economic Bind. New York: Praeger.

Wang, James C. F. 1995. Contemporary Chinese Politics. 5th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Wesson, Robert. 1980. The Aging of Communism. New York: Praeger.

Kathie Stromile Golden

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communism, fundamentally, a system of social organization in which property (especially real property and the means of production) is held in common. Thus, the ejido system of the indigenous people of Mexico and the property-and-work system of the Inca were both communist, although the former was a matter of more or less independent communities cultivating their own lands in common and the latter a type of community organization within a highly organized empire.

In modern usage, the term Communism (written with a capital C) is applied to the movement that aims to overthrow the capitalist order by revolutionary means and to establish a classless society in which all goods will be socially owned. The theories of the movement come from Karl Marx, as modified by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, leader of the successful Communist revolution in Russia. Communism, in this sense, is to be distinguished from socialism, which (as the term is commonly understood) seeks similar ends but by evolution rather than revolution.

Origins of Communism

Early Forms and Theories

Communism as a theory of government and social reform may be said, in a limited sense, to have begun with the ancient Greek idea of the Golden Age, a concept of a world of communal bliss and harmony without the institution of private property. Plato, in his Republic, outlined a society with communal holding of property; his concept of a hierarchical social system including slavery has by some been called "aristocratic communism."

The Neoplatonists revived the idea of common property, which was also strong in some religious groups such as the Jewish Essenes and certain early Christian communities. These opponents of private property held that property holding was evil and irreligious and that God had created the world for the use of all humanity. The first of these ideas was particularly strong among Manichaean and Gnostic heretics, such as the Cathari, but these concepts were also found in some orthodox Christian groups (e.g., the Franciscans).

The manorial system of the Middle Ages included common cultivation of the fields and communal use of the village commons, which might be vigorously defended against the lord. It was partly to uphold these common rights, threatened by early agrarian capitalism, that the participants in the Peasants' Revolt (1381) in England and the insurgents of the Peasants' War in 16th-century Germany advocated common ownership of land and of the means of production.

In the 16th and 17th cent. such intellectual works as Sir Thomas More's Utopia proposed forms of communal property ownership in reaction to what the authors felt was the selfishness and depredation of growing economic individualism. In addition, some religious groups of the early modern period advocated forms of communism, just as had certain of the early Christians. The Anabaptists under Thomas Münzer were the real upholders of communism in the Peasants' War, and they were savagely punished for their beliefs. This same mixture of religious enthusiasm and economic reform was shown in 17th-century England by the tiny sect of the Diggers, who actually sought to put their theories into practice on common land.

First Responses to Capitalism

Capitalism, reinforced by the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 18th cent., brought about the conditions that gave rise to modern communism. Wages, hours, and factory conditions for the new industrial class were appalling, and protest grew. Although the French Revolution ended without satisfying radical demands for economic egalitarianism, the voice of François Babeuf was strongly raised against economic inequality and the power of private property. For his class consciousness and his will to revolution he has been considered the first modern communist. Although he was guillotined, his movement (Babouvism) lived on, and the organization of his secret revolutionary society on the "cell" system was to be developed later as a means of militant revolution.

In the early 19th cent. ardent opponents of industrial society created a wide variety of protest theories. Already what is generally known as utopian communism had been well launched by the comte de Saint-Simon. In this era a number of advocates gathered followers, founded small cults, and attempted to launch communistic settlements, particularly in the United States. Most notable among such men were Robert Owen, Étienne Cabet, and Charles Fourier. Pierre Joseph Proudhon, although he did not adopt the principle of common ownership, exercised great influence by his attacks on the evils of private property.

A host of critics and idealistic revolutionists arose in Germany, but more important was the survival or revival of Babouvism in secret French and Italian revolutionary societies, intent on overthrowing the established governments and on setting up a new, propertyless society. It was among them that the terms communism and socialism were first used. They were used vaguely and more or less interchangeably, although there was a tendency to use the term socialist to denote those who merely stressed a strong state as the owner of all means of production, and the term communist for those who stressed the abolition of all private property (except immediate personal goods). Among the chief leaders of such revolutionary groups were the Frenchmen Louis Blanc and (far more radical) Louis Auguste Blanqui, both of whom played important roles in the February Revolution of 1848.

The Communist Manifesto

The year 1848 was also marked by the appearance of The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the primary exposition of the socioeconomic doctrine that came to be known as Marxism. It postulated the inevitability of a communist society, which would result when economic forces (the determinants of history) caused the class war; in this struggle the exploited industrial proletariat would overthrow the capitalists and establish the new classless order of social ownership. Marxian theories and programs soon came to dominate left-wing thought. Although the German group (founded in 1847) for which The Communist Manifesto was written was called the Communist League, the Marxist movement went forward under the name of socialism; its 19th-century history is treated in the article under that heading and under Socialist parties, in European history.

The Growth of Modern Communism

Early Years

The modern form of Communism (written with a capital C) began to develop with the split (1903) within the Russian Social Democratic Labor party into factions of Bolshevism and Menshevism. The more radical wing, the Bolsheviks, were led by Lenin and advocated immediate and violent revolution to bring about the downfall of capitalism and the establishment of an international socialist state. The triumph of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution of 1917 gave them the leadership in socialist action. They constituted the Communist party in 1918 (see Communist party, in the USSR).

Meanwhile World War I had shaken the socialist movement as a whole by splitting those who cooperated with the governments in waging the war from those who maintained a stand for revolution against all capitalist governments. Chief among the stalwart revolutionists were the Communist party in Russia and the Spartacus party (later the Communist party) in Germany. The establishment of a working socialist state in Russia tended to give that country leadership, and Leninism grew stronger. Communist revolts immediately after the war failed in Germany, and the briefly successful Communist state under Béla Kun in Hungary was also repressed with great bloodshed.

Under the Comintern

The revolutionary socialists now broke completely with the moderate majority of the movement, withdrew from the Second International, and formed (1919) the Third International, or Comintern, in 1919. Henceforth, the term Communism was applied to the ideology of the parties founded under the aegis of the Comintern. Their program called for the uniting of all the workers of the world for the coming world revolution, which would be followed by the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat and state socialism. Ultimately there would develop a harmonious classless society, and the state would wither away.

The Communist parties were organized on a hierarchical basis, with active cells of members as the broad base; they were made up only of the elite—those approved by the higher members of the party as being reliable, active, and subject completely to party rule. Communist parties were formed in countries throughout the world and were particularly active in trying to win control of labor unions and in fomenting labor unrest.

Despite the existence of the Comintern, however, the Communist party in the USSR adopted, under Joseph Stalin, the theory of "socialism in one country," which asserted the possibility of building a true Communist system in one country alone. This departure from Marxist internationalism was challenged by Leon Trotsky, whose theory of "permanent revolution" stressed the necessity of world revolution. After Trotsky was expelled (1929) from the Soviet Union, he founded a Fourth, or Trotskyist, International to rival the Comintern.

Stalin's program of building the Soviet Union as the model and base of Communism in the world had the effect of tying Communist and Soviet policy even more closely together, an effect intensified by the "monolithic unity" produced by the party purges of the 1930s. It became clearly evident in that decade that in practice Communism, contrary to the hopes of theorists and intellectuals, had created in the USSR a giant totalitarian state that dominated every aspect of life and denied the ideal of individual liberty.

Except for the Mongolian People's Republic (see Mongolia, republic), no other Communist state was created before World War II. The Chinese Communist party was founded in 1921 and began a long struggle for power with the Kuomintang. However, it received little aid from the USSR, and it was not to achieve its goal until 1949.

In the late 1920s and early 30s the Communist parties followed a policy of total hostility to the socialists, and in Germany this was one factor that facilitated the rise of the Nazis. In 1935, however, the Comintern dictated a change in policy, and the Communists began to work with other leftist and liberal parties for liberal legislation and government, as in the Popular Front government in France.

Cold War Years

In World War II the USSR became an ally of the Western capitalist nations after Germany attacked it in 1941. As part of its cooperation with the Allies, the USSR brought about (1943) the dissolution of the Comintern. Hopes for continued cooperation, intrinsic in the formation of the United Nations, were dashed, however, by a widening rift between the Soviet bloc and the Western democracies, especially the United States, after the war (see cold war).

Communism had been vastly strengthened by the winning of many new nations into the zone of Soviet influence and strength in Eastern Europe. Governments strictly modeled on the Soviet Communist plan were installed in the "satellite" states—Albania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany. 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, and Titoism was labeled deviationist.

By 1950 the Chinese Communists held all of China except Taiwan, thus controlling the most populous nation in the world. A Communist administration was also installed in North Korea, and fighting between the People's Republic of Korea (Communist) and the southern Republic of Korea exploded in the Korean War (1950–53), fought between Communist and United Nations troops. Other areas where rising Communist strength provoked dissension and in some cases actual fighting include Malaya, Laos, many nations of the Middle East and Africa, and, especially, Vietnam, where the United States intervened to aid the South Vietnamese regime against Communist guerrillas and North Vietnam (see Vietnam War). In many of these poor countries, Communists attempted, with varying degrees of success, to unite with nationalist and socialist forces against Western imperialism.

After the death of Stalin in 1953 some relaxation of Soviet Communist strictures seemed to occur, and at the 20th party congress (1956) Premier Nikita Khruschchev denounced the methods of Stalin and called for a return to the principles of Lenin, thus presaging some change in Communist methods, although none in fundamental ideology. A resurgence of nationalist feeling within the Soviet bloc—as was vividly demonstrated by the bloodily suppressed Hungarian uprising of 1956—ultimately had to be acknowledged by the USSR. However, while the USSR began to allow some limited freedom of action to the countries of Eastern Europe, the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 demonstrated its determination to prevent serious challenges to its domination.

Ideological differences between China and the USSR became increasingly apparent in the 1960s and 70s, with China portraying itself as a leader of the underdeveloped world against the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, both the USSR and China sought better relations with the United States in the 1970s.

The Collapse of Communism

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union and relaxed Communist strictures with the reform policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The Soviet Union did not intervene as the Soviet-bloc nations of Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary all abandoned dictatorial Communist rule by 1990. In 1991, driven by nationalistic ferver in many of the republics and a collapsing economy, the Soviet Union dissolved and Gorbachev resigned as president.

By the beginning of the 21st cent. traditional Communist party dictatorships held power only in China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. China, Laos, Vietnam, and, to a lesser degree, Cuba have reduced state control of the economy in order to stimulate growth. Although economic reform has been allowed in these countries, their Communist parties have proved unwilling to submit to popular democratic movements; in 1989 the Chinese government brutally crushed student demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Communist parties, or their descendent parties, remain politically important in many Eastern European nations and in Russia and many of the other nations that emerged from the former Soviet Union.


See M. Beer, The General History of Socialism and Social Struggles (2 vol., tr. 1957); Z. K. Brzezinski, Ideology and Power in Soviet Politics (rev. ed. 1967); F. W. Houn, A Short History of Chinese Communism (1967); L. Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (2d ed. 1970); R. C. Goldston, Communism (1972); R. Dunajevskaya, Marxism and Freedom (4th ed. 1975); R. V. Daniels, ed., A Documentary History of Communism (2 vol., 2d ed. 1988; vol. 2, rev. ed., 1994); A. Dirlik, The Origins of Chinese Communism (1989); E. Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes (1994); F. Furet, The Passing of an Illusion (1999); S. Kotkin, Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (2009); A. Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe (2012). See also the books in the Annals of Communism Series, pub. by Yale Univ. Press.

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In its broadest meaning communism describes a society in which all its members jointly (communally) own its resources and in which the society's wealth and products are distributed equally to everyone. The term has been applied to premodern social and political constructs, such as communal societies propounded in Plato's Republic and in Thomas More's Utopia ; to proposals of some radicals in the French Revolution of 1787; and to ideal communities advocated by nineteenth-century reformers such as Charles Fourier and Robert Owen, but none of these systems corresponded fully with the principles of communism.

Most often, communism designates the ultimate good society espoused by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their Communist Manifesto of 1848 and the ideas and Soviet system in twentieth-century Russia associated with Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik Party. The latter usage is a misnomer: Neither Lenin nor later Soviet leaders ever claimed that communism had been established in the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, they willingly adopted the label, since it furthered their revolutionary and propagandistic purposes. As a result, in general discussion and writing, the Soviet state and its post-World War II offshoots in Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Cuba were generally called "communist." Correspondingly, leaders of the Soviet Union, of other similarly constituted states, and of revolutionary parties worldwide that adhered to Marxist-Leninist doctrine were known as "communists."

marx's view of communism

More accurately, however, communism signifies only the very last step in the historical process and the ultimate and highly desirable goal of human development as outlined in Marx's economic, social, and political philosophy. Influenced by egalitarian ideas current in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Marx was outraged by what he saw as the unjust nature of the economic system spawned by the Industrial Revolution, which he called capitalism. Marx and Engels portrayed history as determined inevitably by "scientific" laws, which divided human social evolution into five broad stages: "gentilism," sometimes referred to as "primitive communism," with individuals living in clans and holding property in common; "slavery" based on slave labor; "feudalism" dependent on serf labor; "capitalism," in which entrepreneurs or capitalists exploited workers (the proletariat) and controlled the government; and "socialism," with public ownership replacing private capital and the emergence of a classless society providing justice, equity and freedom for all. Since conflict and class struggle, the mechanism for social change, would not exist in this new order, socialism would be the final stage of history and the highest level of human development.

Marx noted, however, that socialism would have two phases: the lower phase, also known as "socialism," and a higher phase, "communism." The latter would be the ultimate good society benefiting all mankind. In the lower, socialist phase, the whole society would own its productive forces, or the economy, but work would still be valued and paid differentially and distribution of the society's goods and wealth would not yet be equal. To reach the higher, communist phase, two requirements had to be met. First, the productive forces of society, restricted by the capitalists in a vain attempt to prop up their profits, would be liberated, and the economy, hugely expanded by modern scientific and technological inputs, would become capable of producing "a superabundance of goods." This enormous output would permit everyone to have whatever they needed. Second, in counterbalance, an individual's needs would be limited and sensible, because society would develop, through

education and by example, "a new-type socialist person." Reoriented individuals would desire only what was truly necessary to sustain life, eschewing ostentation and waste. They would also contribute to the socialist society altruistically, applying their work and varied talents to the common welfare. With the superabundance of goods and the new socialist individual, society could then be organized on the principle: "from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs." Thus, communism would mark an end to coercion, want, and inequality.

lenin and communism

Circulating in tsarist Russia by the 1880s, Marx's views were adopted by Vladimir Lenin, who soon led the Bolsheviks, a Marxist-oriented revolutionary party. Lenin linked his effort in Russia to the global spread of capitalism, which he labeled "imperialism," and counted on aid from successful workers' revolutions in Europe to help the Russian proletariat achieve socialism. He was dismayed, therefore, when, after the "imperialist" World War I broke out, most European workers and their Marxist leaders chose patriotism over revolution and backed their own national governments in the war.

Many Marxists in Russia also rallied to support the tsarist war effort. Determined to keep his party in control after the Bolsheviks came to power in November 1917 and to discredit other Russian Marxist revolutionaries, Lenin in 1918 changed the name of the Bolsheviks to the Russian Communist Party, and a year later he founded an international revolutionary organization called the Communist International. These actions were taken to broaden the appeal of the Bolshevik Revolution and to distinguish Lenin and his followers from other Marxian socialists in Russia and throughout the world, whom he considered insufficiently revolutionary, if not collaborators with the hated imperialists.

Lenin added little to Marx's sketchy ideas on the characteristics of communism, once mentioning cooperatives as a possible organizational basis for the future and another time referring to "accounting and control" and "the administration of things" as keys to establishing a truly communist society. Stalin proclaimed in the 1930s that the Soviet Union had achieved the lower phase, socialism, of Marx's fifth stage of history, and after World War II Soviet theoreticians added that Soviet society had entered "the transition to communism." But what communism would actually look like remained vague, except for speculation about free transportation, state-run boarding schools, and communal eating.

the discarding of communism

In the 1980s, as the weaknesses of the Soviet economy and system became apparent, the appeal of communism, so closely linked to the Soviet experience, dimmed. In 1989 and 1991, when socialist states in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union collapsed, many observers declared that communism was dead. Although nominally communist systems still existed in North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Cuba, even these governments made concessions to nonsocialist economic activity. Moreover, none of these regimes argued that it had achieved communism, or even that it was nearing the ultimate good society envisaged by Marx.

See also: bolshevism; engels, friedrich; lenin, vladimir ilich; marxism; socialism


Daniels, Robert V. (1993). The End of the Communist Revolution. New York: Routledge.

Heilbroner, Robert L. (1980). Marxism, For and Against. New York: Norton.

Hunt, Carew R. N. (1983). The Theory and Practice of Communism: An Introduction, 5th rev. ed. New York: Penguin Books.

Mayo, Henry B. (1966). Introduction to Marxist Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Meyer, Alfred G. (1986). Leninism, 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Sowell, Thomas. (1985). Marxism: Philosophy and Economics. New York: Morrow.

John M. Thompson

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94. Communism

See also 185. GOVERNMENT ; 322. POLITICS ; 357. RUSSIA .

a 19th-century theory of revolution in opposition to that of Karl Marx, advocating atheism, destruction of central government, and extreme individualism. Also called autonomism .
a radical wing of the Russian Social Democratie Labor party, favoring revolutionary tactics to achieve full socialization and, under the leadership of Ulyanov (Lenin), setting up from 1917-20 the present Soviet regime. Bolshevik, Bolshevist , n., adj.
the doctrines and policies of Fidel Castro, communist premier of Cuba.
the process of forming collectives or collective communities where property and resources are owned by the community and not individuals.
1. a political and economie theory proposing the replacement of private ownership of goods or capital with common ownership and distribution upon need.
2. (cap.) the social and political system based upon revolutionary Marxist socialism and currently practiced in the U.S.S.R. communist , n., adj. communistic , adj.
the process of communizing or being communized.
the tolerance of or sympathy for noncommunist ideas and institutions, used as a charge against Soviet intellectuals.
a position or rationale which departs from the established dogma of a political party, especially the Communist party. Also deviationalism . deviationist , n., adj.
dialectical materialism
the combination of traditional materialism and Hegelian dialectic as espoused in the economic and political philosophies of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. dialectical materialist .
the form of communism found in some countries of Western Europe, independent of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
theories and beliefs of J. G. Fichte (1762-1814), German philosopher and social thinker, a precursor of socialism. Fichtean , n., adj.
1. the political doctrines, policies, and revolutionary program of Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967), Cuban communist revolutionary.
2. adherence to or belief in Guevarism. Guevarist , n., adj.
study of the policies, doctrines, programs, etc., of the government of the Soviet Union. Kremlinologist, n.
the political doctrines of Vladimir llich Ulyanov (Lenin), founder of Bolshevism, architect of the current Soviet government, originator of the Comintern, and author of the imperative that the Soviets lead the proletariat of other nations to revolution and communism. Leninist, Leninite , n., adj.
1. the political and social theories and policies of Mao Zedong (1893-1976), Chinese communist leader, especially with regard to revolution and agrarian reform.
2. adherence to or belief in Maos doctrines. Maoist , n., adj.
1. the doctrines developed from the political, economie, and social theories of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and their followers: dialectical materialism, a labor-based theory of wealth, an economie class struggle leading to revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the eventual development of a classless society.
2. the contributions to these doctrines in the interpretations of Lenin; Leninism. Marxist , n., adj. Marxian , adj.
the minority wing of the Russian Social Democratie Labor party that in a 1903 convention split from the majority or Bolshevik wing, enabling the latter to direct and win power in the revolution of 1917-20. Menshevik , n., adj.
the existence of a number of basic guiding principles in the political system of a Communist government. polycentrist , n., adj.
Marxism. any deviation from Marxist theory, doctrines, or practice, especially to modify revolution to evolution. revisionist , n., adj.
socialist realism
a Marxist-inspired artistic and literary theory or doctrine that calls on art and literature to promote the socialist cause and sees the artist, writer, etc. as a servant of the state or, in the words of Stalin, the engineer of human souls.
the establishment of socialist government; the nationalization of industry and other national resources.
a system of piecework incentives, speedup, and competition for bonuses and honors introduced into Russia in 1935 and named after A. G. Stakhanov, whose prodigious mining output is eonstantly emulated. Stakhanovite , n., adj.
the communistic theories and practices developed by Joseph Stalin from Marxism and Leninism, especially his development of the cult of the individual with himself at its center, his advocacy of national revolution, and his extensive use of secret police and slave-labor camps to reduce opposition. Stalinist , n., adj. Stalinistic , adj.
a theory of revolutionary politics that, through the actions of labor unions, seeks to establish a society controlled by workers cooperatives and trade unions. syndicalist , n., adj. syndicalistic , adj.
1. the social, political, and economic theories of Tito (Josip Broz), former premier of Yugoslavia.
2. the nationalistic practices of a communist country which deviate from or oppose the directives of the U.S.S.R. Titoist , n., adj.
the theories of Leon Trotsky on the social, political, and economic implications of communism, especially his opposition to Stalin in advocating international revolution. Trotskyite , n., adj.

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communism A political doctrine, originating in the French Revolution, according to which human society can be organized on the basis of the common ownership of economic resources by the direct producers or workers. The theory of communism was developed systematically by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 1840s, who asserted that human society underwent development through a series of historical stages or modes of production, and that out of the development of capitalism and the organized activity of the working class would emerge a communist society or workers' state as the culmination of history. Marx gave only the most general indication as to what constituted a communist society, and later writers modified his vision by allotting a central place to the state in the organizing of such societies, and by arguing for a prolonged transition period of socialism prior to the attainment of full communism. For that reason, the USSR, People's Republic of China, and more recently established communist regimes such as those in Cuba and Vietnam are often described as ‘state socialist’. This usage indicates that they are judged to have realized part of the socialist programme by abolishing private property and establishing state control over the economy; however, they are not considered truly socialist (or communist), because they have not established political democracy. (Rather unhelpfully, however, they are sometimes also referred to as state capitalism. What both terms point to is the recognition that these societies fall far short of Marx's utopian communist ideal—and usually involve a heavily centralized and undemocratic political apparatus in which the state bureaucratic élite acts as a surrogate capitalist class. Thus, and to add further to the terminological confusion, they are sometimes also known as ‘bureaucratic socialist’ or ‘state monopoly capitalist’ societies.) One of the best histories of the communist movement and communist societies is Fernando Claudin 's The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform (1975)

Theories within Marxism as to why communism 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 and diverted the transition process in its own interests. Non-Marxists have applied the term communism to any society ruled by a communist party and to any parties aspiring to create such a society. Communist societies were seen by most sociologists as being distinct from capitalist states in important political and ideological respects, involving as they did the concentration of decision-making in a small and secretive leadership; state domination of the economy; the limitation of all independent political and social activity; and a higher reliance on coercion than was present in liberal democracies. However, the extent to which the economic bases of the two types of system were in practice distinct was always a hotly debated issue, with some writers arguing that the technological imperatives of advanced industrialism yielded great similarities at the level of the productive unit and its organization.

While critics applied the concept totalitarian to these societies, more sympathetic analysts identified possibilities for independent political activity within them, and stressed their continued evolution up to the point of the dissolution of the USSR and its satellites in Eastern Europe during the late 1980s. See also REAL SOCIALISM.

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communism Political outlook based on the principle of communal ownership of property. The theory derives from the interpretation of the course of human history defined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. As outlined in the Communist Manifesto (1848), Capital (vol. 1, 1867), and other writings, Marx asserted that social and political relations depend ultimately upon relations of economic production. All value (and so wealth) is produced by labour, yet, in a capitalist system, workers' salaries do not represent the full value of their labour. Thus, the working class (proletariat) and the class that is in control of capital and production (bourgeoisie) have conflicting interests. Capitalism, it is asserted, is merely one stage in the progress of human institutions. As the forces of production (technology and capital stock) increase, the relations of production must change in order to accommodate them. Marx postulated that the bourgeoisie (by the nature of its operations) brought into being the urban proletariat. Conflicting interests within capitalism would inevitably lead to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat and so the collapse of the system itself. This would be replaced, first by socialism and eventually by a communist society in which production and distribution would be democratically controlled, summarized in the slogan “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need”. A socialist experiment was attempted by Lenin in Russia following the Russian Revolution (1917). Stalin turned communism into an ideology to justify the use of dictatorial state power to drive rapid economic development. This process was used as a model for other communist countries, such as China and Cuba.

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com·mu·nism / ˈkämyəˌnizəm/ (often Communism) • n. a political theory derived from Karl Marx, advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs. See also Marxism. DERIVATIVES: com·mu·nist n. & adj. com·mu·nis·tic / ˌkämyəˈnistik/ adj.

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communism XIX. — F. communisme, f. commun COMMON; see -ISM.
So communist XIX. — F. communiste.

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This entry includes two subentries:

Latin America

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