views updated Jun 11 2018


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.]


Black, Cyril E.; and Thornton, Thomas P. (editors) 1964 Communism and Revolution: The Strategic Uses of Political Violence. Princeton Univ. Press.

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

Brzezinski, Zbigniew K. (1960) 1961 The Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict. Rev. ed. New York: Praeger.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew K. 1961 Organization of the Communist Camp: Formal Institutional Aspects. World Politics 13:175–209.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew K. 1962 Deviation Control: A Study in the Dynamics of Doctrinal Conflict. American Political Science Review 56:5–22.

Dallin, Alexander 1962 The Soviet Union at the United Nations. New York: Praeger.

Dudinskii, Il’ia V. 1961 Mirovaia sistema sotsializma (The World System of Socialism). Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Sotsial’no-ekonomicheskoi Literatury.

Duverger, Maurice (1951) 1962 Political Parties: Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State. 2d English ed., rev. New York: Wiley; London: Methuen. → First published in French.

Goodman, Elliot (1960) 1961 The Soviet Design for a World State. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Hovet, Thomas (1958) 1960 Bloc Politics in the United Nations. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Kaplan, Morton A. 1957 System and Process in International Politics. New York: Wiley.

Korbonski, Andrzej 1964 COMECON. International Conciliation 549:1–62.

Kuusinen, Otto V. (editor) 1961 Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House; London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Lasswell, Harold D. 1945 World Politics Faces Economics: With Special Reference to the Future of the United States and Russia. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Meynaud, Jean 1961 Les groupes de pression internationaux. Lausanne (Switzerland): Études de Science Politique.

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Sprout, Harold H.; and Sprout, Margaret 1962 Foundations of International Politics. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Strumilin, Stanislav G. 1961 Problemy sotsializma i kommunizma v SSSR. Moscow: Akademiia Nauk SSSR.

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Theory in Depth
Theory in Action
Analysis and Critical Response
Topics for Further Study
See Also


Communism is a political and economic system in which citizens share property and wealth based on need. Private ownership does not occur. The idea of communism was set forth by Plato in The Republic in the 300s B.C. Plato's ideas were followed by those of Sir Thomas More, who in the sixteenth century described utopias based on common ownership. Communism did not become a formal political system until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when Karl Marx brought communistic ideas to center stage. It was further developed and implemented by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, and after World War II, began to spread to countries such as East Germany, China, and Poland.

who controls government? The state

how is government put into power? Revolution

what roles do the people have? Work for state's benefit

who controls production of goods? The state

who controls distribution of goods? The state

major figures Joseph Stalin; Mao Tse–tung

historical example China, 1949–present

As the twentieth century drew to a close, communism began to experience problems. Though the most oppressive form of communism, known as Stalinism, had become obsolete, the state–owned systems were not able to provide for the public. One–party systems seemed to disturb personal freedom and create massive unrest. China began to allow private ownership in the 1970s and 1980s. Mikhail Gorbachev reformed the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and other communist regimes began to crumble in the 1990s. Many of these countries are still feeling the pains caused by decades of mandatory communism.


Communism is not a new idea. Industrial and political power was used for thousands of years to control the masses. Social prophets were born from this inequality, and they began to imagine a better system. The ideas that they came up with were communal.

Utopian Ideas

Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah of the biblical Old Testament all examined the possibilities of a different existence, free from control and exploitation and full of life, equality, and vigor. Jeremiah, born in 650 B.C., imagined a new beginning. Everyone would be provided for equally, young and old would commune together, and justice would be the fabric to hold everything together. Similarly, Jesus Christ suggested a utopia as well, created from love. Jesus felt that a communal life would arise naturally from spiritual and social development. It would lack selfishness and cruelty and would thrive with the spirit of humility, service and communism.

Plato The Greek philosopher Plato (428–348 B.C.) had more detailed ideas about how to improve upon reality. Plato lived during a war between Athens and Sparta and was inspired to invent a world without war. After having seen corruption thread its way through society, he became suspicious of any idea that allowed an individual to have greater importance than society as a whole. It was this sentiment that gave birth to his book, The Republic.

Plato's ideas were based upon a desire for justice and equality that he longed to see in his society. . All necessities would be provided, but wealth would be prohibited. He argued that wealth creates negativity and laziness and that poverty begets apathy and a general distaste for life. He predicted that his perfect society would eat corn, wine, barley, and wheat. They would sleep on yew beds, wear garlands, and sing while they drank their wine. Plato's Republic would consist of three classes: the artisans would build and produce food and clothing; the warriors would protect the city from whatever threats it encountered; and the guardians would preside over the city. The guardians were the smallest and most important group and should therefore be very carefully chosen and vigorously trained.

In the early centuries A.D. there were several Roman writers who focused on the ways in which society could be improved. They wrote about the evils of corruption and class struggle. They argued that community and shared material would foster a better system. The poet Virgil (70–19 B.C.) described a utopia with no fences or boundaries. Everything was shared.

During the reign of Henry II, towns sprouted up all over England. The towns needed to be able to provide for themselves, so the surrounding land was of great value to the inhabitants. However, gradually the nobility began to claim this land for its own purposes. Land that had formerly been communal for pasture was falling into private hands. The peasants, accustomed to cooperative production and communal living, were horrified by the nobles' appropriation of the land. In 1381, communal ideals were asserted in the Peasants' Revolt as the common folk demanded the return of the land.

Sir Thomas More Sir Thomas More (1478–1535) was affected by the tales of exploration that he had heard in his childhood. He was intrigued by the description of the people on the islands in Northern Africa who had no property but shared all the riches and despised the idea of personal property and status. These travel tales inspired More's Utopia.


1848:      The Communist Manifesto is completed

1917:      Bolsheviks gain control in Russia

1924:      Joseph Stalin becomes leader of Soviet Russia

1945:      Soviet communists take control of Eastern European countries

1949:      Mao Tse–tung's Chinese Communist Party gains control of China

1956:      Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev denounces Stalin at Twentieth Party Congress

1958:      Mao Tse–tung introduces the Great Leap Forward in China

1959:      Fidel Castro and the Communists are empowered in Cuba

1966:      Mao Tse–tung strives to bring China into the modern age with the Cultural Revolution

1989:      The Berlin Wall falls in Germany

1991:      The Soviet Union collapses

More wanted a new social organization. Utopia contains a slightly different version of communism than earlier works. It described a sailor who found the island of Utopia (the Greek word for nowhere.) The people of Utopia lived in harmony and communion without the crime and indignity so common in England.

Through his explanation of the sailor's experiences on Utopia, More criticized the English legal system, inequality, and described the evils of private property. Utopia was an agrarian state, supporting itself with its agriculture. Many citizens conducted trade during part of the year but returned to the land to help during the harvest. Each person had his own specialty.

On Utopia, each day was divided into eight hours for sleeping and six hours for work. The remainder of each day was spent freely. Any surplus labor was used to repair highways. There was a monthly exchange of goods through communism. Families gave away everything they were not using and took whatever they were in need of. Though no one owned anything, everyone was rich in that they were entirely provided for. Money and the collection of gold or riches were forbidden. Formerly valued items were used in the most common way possible. Gold and silver, for example, were made into utensils and chains rather than coins.

Utopia's government was made up of its people. Each group of thirty families elected a magistrate. Each ten magistrates elected an "archpilarch," and they elected a prince. Criminals were sentenced to slavery and the slaves would do the work that no one else in the community wanted to do. Utopia was the most substantial communal idea written since Plato's Republic.

Utopia became an English word to describe a flawless society. There were more examples and ideas of utopian communities, and these ideas spread throughout Europe. In the seventeenth century, John Locke (1632–1704) argued with other philosophers about whether or not communism existed in nature. Locke felt that it did not.

Other utopian writers and social reformers continued to speckle the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with new ideas about equality. Each had his own ideas of how to organize a perfect existence, and each thought that he had finally figured it out. Peter Chamberlen (1560–1631), a social reformer, introduced the idea that the backbone of any society was the worker who owned nothing. He made up the army, did the work, and had as much of a claim on the earth as did the noblemen. The abolition of wealth, he said, would simultaneously end poverty. If the rich were honest and strong of heart, the poor would not exist.

Owen In 1817, Robert Owen (1771–1858) began to tackle the problem of unemployment with his theories. England had recently gone through a year of overproduction, and the need for relief grew until the House of Commons created a Committee on Poor Laws. Owen wrote a paper for this committee, explaining that the world had been taken over by wealth. Machinery had decreased the need for labor and the common man was not able to earn enough to buy what he needed to support his family. Owen felt that the best solution was communism and cooperative creation. He advocated self–contained communities, though not isolated from the rest of the world.

Anxious to attempt his own utopia, Owen bought Harmony, Indiana in 1824. He came to America and tried to create perfection in his colony, New Harmony. It failed. The failure was blamed on absolute equality of payment, regardless of the work put out. Despite the failure, Owen continued to write and publish works advocating communism. Utopianism swept through the United States and the idea of community gathered momentum in Europe.

The Beginnings of Marxism

Karl Marx (1818–1883) started as an advocate of communism and eventually developed his own theory with the help of Frederick Engels (1820–1895). Karl Marx founded the Communist League in 1847. When he published The Communist Manifesto in 1848 with Frederick Engels, a new brand of communism arose. The Manifesto explained that communism was the natural last step in the progression of society In order to get to this socialist state, a country must first evolve through slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. It was the dissatisfaction with capitalism and the realization of the working class of its lot in life that would spark the revolution needed to overthrow the former way of government and begin anew. Marx and Engels argued that industry and power would fall into fewer and fewer hands and that, at the breaking point, revolution would bring properties back to a base at which they would be shared. A central committee would govern over a society of equal members. Marx described this as socialism, using the word communism only to describe the perfection eventually achieved after the wrinkles of socialism were ironed out.

The French Revolution in 1848 created massive socialist excitement. Government had been so thoroughly corrupted that people revolted against the minority that had been controlling them for so long. A provisional government was set up in Paris, promising employment and a new standard of living for all. Democracy began to appeal to more people than communism, and over the next century Karl Marx's ideas lost importance in much of Europe, giving way to the beginnings of democracy and reform.

The Soviet Union

At the same time, however, communism was gathering speed in Russia. Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), the leader of an underground communist movement and a devout Marxist, became the leader of Russia when his Bolshevik party overthrew the provisional government in 1917. By this time, communism had become somewhat different than the utopia described by Plato. It was a totalitarian system with a single political party controlling the government and the means of production and distribution. The new regime, the Comintern, held its first congress in 1919. The Comintern established 21 conditions by which it would define itself. The communists wanted to set themselves apart from all other political movements. They wanted to be seen as unaffiliated with other related ideologies such as the older Social Democratic parties.

After Lenin's death in 1924, a power struggle ensued between Joseph Stalin (1879–1953), the general secretary for the Comintern, and Leon Trotsky (1879–1940), the commander of the Red Army. Stalin eventually won the struggle and Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929. Stalin followed some of Lenin's ideals, including economic policy and his interest in strengthening the Soviet state. Stalin completed the transition from marxism to communism, altering industry and agriculture to become communal. Stalin and Lenin agreed upon the need for industrial advances, but this is where their similarities ended.

Stalin felt that, rather than waiting for revolution to come to pass in capitalist countries, the Soviets could stand on their own. He believed in a one– country system and structured his regime accordingly. Communist policy changed dramatically when Russia and Germany entered a ten–year peace agreement in September 1939. Adolf Hitler, chancellor of Germany, was free to wage war against France and England. Until Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Communist parties were told to condemn the allied powers of Western capitalism.

Stalin also required the other Communist parties to conduct purges similar to his own. The purges were designed to eliminate disloyalty and skepticism in the ranks and resulted in the deaths of many members of the Soviet party. Stalin asserted his power through personal agents and through the secret police rather than through party channels, as Lenin had. Police violence quashed objections and this oppressive version of communism became known as Stalinism. Because of this change in policy, the party structure weakened. Internationally, other Communist party leaders mimicked Stalin's hierarchy and it became the defining nature of Communism.

When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, much of the world expected a quick Soviet defeat. Stalin held his ground, however, and many of the evils of his rule were forgotten as he impressed the international community with his military prowess.

The Spread of Communism

While the Soviet Union and Germany were at war, Yugoslavia's Communist movement, led by Marshal Tito (1892–1980), fought its way to power. Communism in Yugoslavia was modeled after the strict Stalinism. In other countries, Communist ideology was slowly replaced with anti–Nazi ideals. In 1943, the Comintern dissolved. It was no longer a tool for Stalin's control, and its end gave weight to Stalin's claim that the Soviet Union had abandoned its revolutionary ideas in favor of nationalism and security.

Stalin's political and military superiority led him to create new policy. He decided to establish political regimes in the countries bordering the Soviet Union and that his country should be internationally recognized as the authority on Communism. His army, still in Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and East Germany when World War II ended in 1945, installed regimes similar to its own. Communism was also implemented in Czechoslovakia and North Korea. Yugoslavia and Albania also became Communist, but on their own accord rather than under the fist of Soviet Russia.

There were three phases under which the countries adopted Communism. The first was a coalition of Communist and Socialist parties in the name of genuine improvement, which lasted for several years in Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia. In East Germany and Poland, there was a much weaker coalition that gave deference to the Communist parties. Yugoslavia and Albania had even less Socialist party freedom. The Communists required fusion of all other Socialist parties and silenced opposition with varying degrees of legality. By 1949, all of the Communist countries existed in the third phase, without freedom of parties and subject to oppression and violence. The Socialist and peasant parties were attacked and extinguished.

Yugoslavia was different. The Communists, led by Tito, were heavily supported because of their role in the war. The People's Democracy set up in the country was more closely related to Communist political structure than to other democratic countries.

In European countries outside of the Soviet bloc, the Communist parties had trouble clinging to the status they had held during the war. The parties in Italy and France retained relatively high percentages of support, but never held high office. Their power was limited to acts of disorder in line with Soviet policy.

After the war, several Communist parties had evolved in Asia because of the Western resistance to nationalism. In 1948, Communist movements erupted in Malaya, Indonesia, and Burma. After the surrender of Japan in September 1945, the communists under Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) collected power in Indochina. By the end of 1946, the Communists in the north were fighting the south. This was the beginning of the Vietnam War, which lasted until 1975. India's Communist party gathered momentum after having supported Britain and experimented with Soviet–style violence after India's independence but refuted this policy in 1950.

In China, Mao Tse–tung (1893–1976), also known as Mao Zedong, led the Chinese Communist Party to power in 1949. Though his party had developed with the help of the Soviets, Mao was not interested in being recessive. His party had won after a long guerrilla war. Stalin was unhappy with Mao's autonomy and had planned to treat China as he treated the other countries in the Soviet bloc. Geographically and economically, however, China was in a stronger position to become its own entity and, furthermore, to become the Communist standard by which the rest of Asia measured itself. Other Southeast Asian countries

did follow China's example. North Vietnam became communist in 1954. In the 1970s, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia also became communist.

There was increasing dissension between the Soviet Union and China. In essence, both countries wanted to be the international Communist leader. On the surface, they fought over doctrine and details.

The Struggle for Power and Reform

Stalin continued to purge his population and those of the border countries. His expansion provoked a counter–offensive from the West, including the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, which created a permanent defense for Western Europe, and the creation of the atomic bomb which, from 1945 to 1949, remained in sole possession of the United States. Stalin refused the offer of the Baruch Plan, calling for international control of atomic weapons. Instead, he finally succeeded in creating his own atomic bomb in 1949, and the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States had begun.

Trouble was brewing between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Tito was unwilling to succumb entirely to Soviet control, and Stalin was unwilling to allow the Communist country to remain autonomous. The Yugoslav Communist Party was expelled from the Cominform, the new group of Communist parties. Yugoslavia's independence created a new ideal—it had survived its challenge to the Soviet Union. The Yugoslavian Communists could now speak more freely about Soviet Communism.

Reacting to Yugoslavia's breach, Stalin tightened his grip on the remaining countries and renewed the force with which he purged his population of anything anti–Stalin. The countries in the Soviet bloc were overflowing with anti–Stalin sentiment by the time he died in 1953, largely because of his quest to eliminate such feelings.

In the east, Korea was having a struggle of its own. After the defeat of Japan, Korea had been split in two with a Communist government in the north and a non–Communist government in the south. Both claimed to be the government for the whole country, and when North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, the United Nations condemned the aggression and approved American assistance to South Korea. There were now Communist struggles under way in Vietnam, Korea, and Eastern Europe.

When Stalin died in 1953, another power struggle ensued in the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), the first secretary of the Communist Party, ultimately won control. He wanted desperately to undo what Stalin had put in place and to create a Communism not synonymous with misery and mass murder.

Undoing Stalinism Khrushchev developed a policy of cooperation and integration with the satellite Communist countries. This replaced Stalin's policy of exploitation. He established economic and political freedoms as well. He also tried to reconcile with Tito and Yugoslavia. The Soviet Union signed an agreement with Yugoslavia in 1956, stating that each Communist country was its own entity with none having the right to subject authority over others.

Also in 1956, Khrushchev delivered a speech critical of Stalin. Though this speech was not published in the Soviet Union, its text was published by the United States and was widely circulated among Communists worldwide. His comments sparked a feeling of freedom in the Soviet Union and began a wave of public criticism that had been suppressed for 25 years.

Internationally, Khrushchev's statements began a wave of criticism toward Stalin–like leaders in other countries. Hungary's leader was unseated and revolution began. The Soviet Union invaded Hungary in 1956 to end the revolution. After this seemingly contradictory act, Communists began to question Soviet leadership.

In 1957, Communist parties met in Moscow. At China's insistence, the Soviet Union retained its leadership and, for a while, the rift between China and the Soviet Union seemed to evaporate. In 1959, however, the chasm widened. China grew suspicious of Soviet talks of "peaceful coexistence" with the United States, and the Soviet Union did not support China in its attacks on India. Economic relations were severed and the Sino–Soviet split continued.

In 1961, the Soviet Union began a public criticism of China. The struggle increased and destroyed the idea that Communism was a single viewpoint. The Soviet claim of leadership was weakening, and Communist parties divided themselves into pro–Soviet or pro–Chinese factions. The fact that there was a dispute at all allowed greater debate and freedom within the Communist movement. Soviet control steadily declined. When the Soviet Union tried to swallow Romania into its bloc, Romania resisted and remained outside.

When Khrushchev lost power in 1964, his successors tried to reunify the Communist movement. In 1969, 75 Communist parties met in Moscow. However, only 9 of the 14 parties in power were there. Asia and Africa were not well represented, and Cuba sent an observer rather than a representative. The conference was unsuccessful at rejuvenating the Communist union.

Reform was a reoccurring problem in Communist countries. The only country to attempt reform with mild success was Yugoslavia, who allowed its collective farms to fade away after their creation. Yugoslavia also created the Workers' Councils to provide a voice to the factory workers. Furthermore, Yugoslavia argued that revolution was not necessary for Communism, that the Communist party did not need to be a one–party system, and that war grows from multiple powers in conflict, not simply from threats from the United States.

In Czechoslovakia, reform was chaotic. Alexander Dubcek (1921–1992) came to power in 1968 and tried to liberalize the country. He wanted to install civil liberties, a judiciary, and other democratic ideas. The Communists asserted their intentions to remain in the system, but Soviet leaders responded by invading Czechoslovakia in 1968 to protect against reform. This invasion surprised the international community and was seen as a Communist attack against other Communists.

Hope of détente, or peaceful coexistence with the West, gathered momentum in the 1970s. The international community began to envision acceptance between the Communist and non–Communist states. However, the Soviet leadership stated that it had no intention of changing its position, and countered this with its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.

Eventually, the Soviet Union began to face trouble. Its economic growth slowed down, and criticism of its policies thrived in the intellectual community. Mikhail Gorbachev became the general secretary of the Soviet Union in 1985 and the president in 1988. He supported structural reform. Gorbachev announced that the Communist revolution had no place in his country, and his relaxed policies allowed increased freedom in the satellite countries.

Though Communism was waning in Europe, the Soviet Union, and Africa, it was gaining speed in Cuba, North Korea, China, and Vietnam. The Tiananmen Square student demonstrations in China in 1989 were violently suppressed in an attempt to prevent anarchy. Though China had also reformed some of its policies, advocating foreign investment, relaxing collective agriculture, and expanding personal freedom, its Communism remained relatively unchanged.

Communism has not succeeded in many ways. It is synonymous with the Cold War, Castro's oppression of his people, the Tiananmen Square uprising, and of the continual struggle of the countries in Eastern Europe. It is difficult to say what lies ahead, and whether or not Communism will yet prove itself to be a viable system or if it will continue to lose ground.


Communism is a very general idea. Of ancient origin, communism means a system in which society owns property collectively. Wealth is shared according to need. Specific ideas on communism have evolved over the years, ranging from the utopian versions of Plato and Sir Thomas More to the more dictatorial creation of Joseph Stalin.


The first utopian communities were founded in the nineteenth century, but communism took a different road when examined by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels later in the century. Their Communist Manifesto was the first book identified as such, explaining the differences between the classes and the need for revolution to bring equality and, ultimately, Marxism.

Marxism has three main areas—philosophy, history, and economics. Philosophically, Marx agreed with George Hegel (1770–1831), a philosopher that he studied while he was creating his own theory. He believed that history was a series of conflicts arising from two opposing forces, a thesis, and an antithesis. When the two forces collided, they formed a third entity, the synthesis. This synthesis then became its own thesis, inspired an antithesis, and spawned a new synthesis.

Marx also felt that philosophy had to become real. He did not feel that it was enough to be an observer, He argued that, though observation was useful, little would happen until someone actually did something. One must attempt to change the things that he or she was unhappy with, rather than continually philosophizing about them.

Marx felt that history was made up of different methods of provision. He identified five: the slave state; the feudal state; capitalism; socialism; and finally, Marxism. The slave state exploited the slaves too much to succeed indefinitely, the feudal state did not allow enough freedom, capitalism created too much inequality, socialism would begin to iron out the wrinkles, and Marxism would step in as the ultimate social achievement.

He also explained that the most important aspect of society was the way in which it provided for itself. Its economic means could include hunting and gathering or grocery stores and factories. The tools used and the groups who owned the modes of production were also important aspects to any given society.

Economically, Marx discussed class struggle. He focused on capitalism, arguing that it stole freedom from its citizens and created false feelings of security and equality. He felt that the blue collar workers focused on the ways in which they were not exploited rather than on the ways that they were.

Marxism included the idea of alienation as well. With capitalism, a worker produced goods. He was paid the same wage regardless of the profit his product generated for the capitalist. Marx felt that this separation from the direct profit of the good alienated the worker. He also felt that by selling one's labor as a commodity, one was alienated from oneself. Workers were not paid for their value, but rather were given an amount which would allow them to provide for themselves.

When Lenin took power in Russia in 1917, communism had become a fusion of Marxism, Russian revolutionary tradition, and the personal ideas of Lenin. Lenin's version of marxism came to be known as Marxism-Leninism, and was a sort of transition step between marxism and communism. The general idea of communism remained the same, that is that wealth is shared and that no one takes precedence over another.

Democratic Socialism

The Frankfurt Declaration of International Socialism in 1951 identified the goals and tasks of democratic socialism. The Declaration includes several ideas. It argued that socialism is international and does not demand rigid guidelines. Without freedom, socialism cannot exist, and socialism can only be reached through democratic channels.

The Declaration specifies that socialism would replace capitalism to ensure full employment, increased productivity and standard of living, equality of property, and social security. Public ownership might occur through nationalization or through private cooperatives. Trade unions were needed and economic decisions did not rest solely in the hands of the government.


The Communist Manifesto

The Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, was published in 1848, right before the French Revolution. The Communist League, during its second Congress in 1847, commissioned Marx and Engels to write their new program. Marx and Engels responded with The Communist Manifesto.

The manifesto covers many areas. It begins by describing the bourgeoisie and their role in capitalism. It compares this class with the proletariat, the working class, who sells its labor in order to support itself.

The book explains the progression of capitalism, from world interdependence to centralization where the property becomes heavily concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The world market is next, creating new opportunities, which, in turn, increase the scope and power of the capitalist. This is followed by the crisis that plagues capitalism—recession.

The manifesto describes the development of the proletariat. The working class slowly realizes that it is not happy with its lot, and will begin to appreciate how it can work collectively to change its situation. Through its struggle with the capitalists, the proletariat forms unions against its oppressors and learns to work in combination with one another. They become revolutionary and, eventually, succeed in ousting the government. They begin again, with their own brand of thought: communism.

Finally, the Declaration insisted that workers be compensated for their efforts. Socialism attempted to erase discrimination between social groups, races, and sexes. Imperialism was rejected, repression and oppression were shunned, and peace was reached through freedom. It was these ideas that defined the socialist movement in the twentieth century.


The Soviet Union

Russia under Lenin Vladimir Lenin brought marxism to the Soviet Union. While Russia was in the middle of the World War I, civil unrest swept through the country. The monarchy was forced out, and Tsar Nicholas II was ousted during a peaceful revolution. The tsar was replaced with a Provisional Government designed to promote democracy and capitalism. Lenin was against capitalism and desperately wanted to bring communism into his country. Lenin's Bolshevik party encouraged peasants to seize land. The Bolsheviks infiltrated trade unions, political parties, and local governments. They slipped in through the cracks. At the end of 1917, though they had only won twenty–five percent of the vote in the free elections the previous summer, they took control by force. The Bolsheviks removed the Provisional Government and claimed power for themselves.

Lenin turned the land over to the peasants and began negotiations to get the newly created Soviet Union out of the war, and his popularity jumped. However, his practices gradually began to differ from marxist theory. Soon after he took power, he began to silence opposition and eliminate threats. He justified political and social atrocities and seemed willing to ignore the ideals of a Marxist communist, equality and freedom, in order to reach his goals. He closed newspapers that were not pro–Bolshevik and he got rid of the Constituent Assembly, which had been elected in 1917.

Lenin collectivized agriculture and confiscated goods and products from the peasants. He redistributed the materials to his troops. He felt that this was a first step to socialism, but the peasants revolted and civil war sprouted up all over the country. The Bolsheviks changed their name to the Communist Party in 1919. Civil war continued until 1921. It was between the Bolsheviks and virtually everyone non–communist, the Whites. The Whites received support from Britain, France, and the United States. Under the direction of Leon Trotsky, Lenin's Red Army won, and by 1921 the civil war had ended.

A massive famine killed 5 million Russians from 1921 to 1922. Lenin's confiscation of goods had left the peasants without provisions and without the desire to create more. Lenin reevaluated his policies and decided that his people would starve if he didn't change his confiscation practices. He had hoped that his ideals would be easily put into place, but was finding it harder than he had anticipated.

In 1921, Lenin began his New Economic Policy, a concession to capitalism. It allowed for limited private property and compensation for goods taken from the peasants. Lenin wanted to stimulate production in workshops and farms through profit and efficiency incentives. This policy allowed Russians to support themselves for seven years, through Lenin's death and the power struggle between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin.

Before Lenin died in 1924, he was concerned about corruption in the party. He had believed the Marxist ideal that, under socialism, there would be no crime or greed because everyone would be provided for. His party leaders, however, had become intoxicated with the power and fear that they held over the people. Communism had begun in earnest. There were frequent abuses of power and Lenin was terrified for the future of his country.

Stalinism When Lenin died, there were two contenders for his position. Leon Trotsky was the head of the Red Army and the favored man for the job. Joseph Stalin was the crafty general secretary for the Communist party, who eventually won the power struggle through his cunning and political backing.

Stalin created a new theory that he called "socialism in one country." Both Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin had thought that revolution would be contagious and that the movements in neighboring countries would feed off each other. Stalin saw no evidence of this, however, and felt that the Soviet Union could stand on its own. In order to succeed, he felt that his country needed to substantially improve its technology and industry.

By 1928, Stalin was controlling the government. He decided to alter the economic policy initiated by Lenin and instituted the first of many Five–Year Plans. His goal was to collectivize agriculture and to bring Soviet industry up to speed. The state already had control of the railroads, mines, large factories, and banks. Stalin took control of the smaller factories and peasant farms. He declared a need for communism in order to protect the Soviet Union from its capitalist enemies.

His first Five–Year Plan began in 1929. He ordered heavy industry to grow by 330 percent and general industry to grow by 250 percent. He also collectivized agriculture. Stalin felt that agricultural production would be increased on large, collective farms with machinery. Private ownership went against communist principles and was outlawed. Stalin needed to increase agricultural efficiency so that he could transfer some of the agricultural labor to his industrial labor needs.

Small peasant farms were closed and their land and tools confiscated. Stalin forced his ideas and, when he met opposition, he snuffed it out. Roughly seven million peasants were killed between 1929 and 1933. Many peasants slaughtered their livestock instead of giving their animals to the state. The productivity at the collective farms was poor. The peasants didn't want to be there. They were paid little and they worked little. Famine swept through the country in the early 1930s. Stalin called it "war by starvation."

In time, perhaps because Stalin realized that if everyone died there would be no one left to work, the peasants were allowed to farm small personal plots. Though these plots amounted to only three percent of Soviet farmland, they produced one third to one half of the potatoes, vegetables, meat, and eggs. Stalin had expected the collective farms to produce surplus, which he could export in exchange for machinery. Given that there was no surplus of goods, Stalin directed virtually all of the Soviet resources to industrial advances, leaving the collective farms to fend for themselves.

Stalin's second Five–Year Plan was similar to his first. Though the plans did not achieve the agricultural success that Stalin had projected, they did make remarkable gains in industry. Steel and oil production tripled, with electricity and coal production close behind. The standard of living had plunged, however, for the Soviets that were still alive.

During the second half of the 1930s, Stalin began the Great Purge. Both he and Lenin had conducted purges to eliminate dissent and unrest, but the Great Purge was a much larger murder campaign than anything that had come before it. Millions of citizens were killed or sent to the labor camps where they were worked to death. Stalin eliminated three–quarters of the Communist Party leadership and crippled the economy as the military silenced dissension at every level. The Great Purge ended abruptly in 1938, after at least eight million deaths, and things returned to business as usual.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the international community expected a quick Nazi victory. When his troops held their own, Stalin gained international respect for his military prowess. The Red Army defeated Germany, and pushed the Germans across its borders. It kept pushing throughout eastern Europe as well, and while occupying the region, installed puppet communist governments in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.

Communism spread along with Soviet power. When Stalin died in 1953, the Soviet Union was the world's second military and industrial power after the United States. Millions of its citizens were either locked in labor camps or living in extreme poverty, but Stalin had created a superpower with the blood of his people.

Reformation in the Soviet Union After Stalin's death, reform came almost immediately. Attempts were made to increase food and consumer supplies. Party leaders spoke of the need to improve the standard of living, and Nikita Khrushchev, a peasant who had become an important Communist, became the new leader of the Soviet Union. He challenged the ideas of both Lenin and Stalin and tried to set his country on a new path.

On February 25, 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin and his methods in a secret speech which lasted four–and–a–half hours. His speech triggered mayhem. His "Destalinization" was designed to remove Stalin's ideology from the previous communist theorists.

Khrushchev declared that, despite marxist claims, capitalism and communism could coexist. He argued that war was not necessary to choose a winner, but that the system better able to provide for its citizens would prevail. He felt that communism would be that system and, after 1956, spent much of his time trying to increase the standard of living so that communism would be the victor. His housing program was more successful than his farming program, but overall he won support. He reduced censorship and increased freedom. He insisted on communism, however, and power remained in the Communist Party exclusively.

Khrushchev also tried to improve foreign relations. He wanted to end the Cold War, the period of time after the World War II when the United States and the Soviet Union were relentlessly competing to outdo the other militarily. In 1962, however, the two countries almost went to war. The Soviets tried to put missiles in Cuba to aim at the United States. The United States threatened war, and Khrushchev backed down. His countrymen were furious at this embarrassment and he never fully recovered. The Communist Party leadership removed him from power and he was voted out of office by its Politburo in 1964.

Khrushchev was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982), one of the men who had unseated him. Brezhnev led the Soviet Union for 18 years until his death in 1982. He reversed Khrushchev's economic decentralization program and tried to reinstate Stalin's reputation. He continued to try to curb tensions with the United States and signed a nuclear arms control treaty in 1972.

Regression Many Soviets wanted a return to Khrushchev's reforms, calling for increased freedom and reduced state control. They began to resent communism, and a few Soviets openly criticized the limited freedom. Andrei Sakharov (1921–1989), the leading Russian nuclear scientist at the time, wrote a letter to the Soviet government in 1968. He argued that freedom was imperative and that, without it, the Soviet Union would cripple itself. He was put under house arrest and sent into exile. Not until Gorbachev's glasnost policies in 1986 was Sakharov allowed to return to Moscow.

Also in 1968, the government issued the Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated that the Soviet Union would forcefully stop any of its satellite countries from turning to capitalism. The Doctrine claimed that socialism was irreversible—but the vow to forcefully stop any capitalist uprising seemed to be a contradiction of the Marxist doctrine of inevitable and everlasting communist revolution. Protests broke out, particularly among the minorities.

The Soviet economy was flagging and military spending usurped money that could have been used elsewhere. During the Khrushchev era, appliances common in the American home were almost nonexistent in the Soviet Union, particularly because these goods were not only rarely produced, but also almost never imported. It wasn't until the late 1960s and early 1970s that an effort was made to produce great quantities of refrigerators, washing machines, and televisions. And yet, even when these things became common in the Soviet home, it took forever to get them repaired. Moreover, the United States and other Western countries were almost half a century into the transportation age before a car on the streets of Moscow became something other than a rarity.

Everyday services Americans took for granted were woefully poor in Soviet Russia in the 1960s. Since the government controlled the economy, there was no supply and demand. Thus, there was no incentive for people to provide quality service. Today'sIsms illustrates the typical frustration of a Soviet consumer: The Soviet shopper had to stand in line three times to buy something—in one line to see if an item was available, in a second line to pay, and in a third to exchange a receipt for the item. "A few supermarkets and self–service stores opened during the late 1960s, and more appeared during the 1970s," note the authors, "but these made little dent in traditional Soviet methods of retailing."

As frustrations mounted for Soviet citizens, bartering and bribery went on behind closed doors—indeed, sometimes the authorities knew but looked the other way. Quality items smuggled in from the West sold at outrageous prices. Domestic prices were kept low by the government, but the ordinary citizen didn't have very much money anyway and there wasn't always a huge selection of things to buy. Furthermore, union workers couldn't address grievances because unions were expected to follow communist policy. The conditions of Soviet workers, in terms of worker's rights and fringe benefits, were only a step or two above the conditions of workers in capitalist countries before the Industrial Revolution. Government housing favored intellectuals and government officials before the ordinary citizen. It wasn't until the early 1970s that the Soviet government came out in favor of private home ownership. During this time, alcoholism grew as a means to escape prolonged misery.

When Brezhnev died in 1982, his country was struggling to keep itself alive. Millions of Soviets had ceased to believe in communism and felt its corruption rather than its ultimate goals of equality. Brezhnev was then replaced by Yuri Andropov (1914–1984) who died after fifteen months in office. Andropov was followed by Konstantin Chernenko (1911–1985) who tried to keep the country afloat. Chernenko died in 1985 after a year in office and Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–) stepped onto the Soviet stage.

Collapse of the Soviet Union Gorbachev believed in Marx's and Lenin's ideas. He felt that his country needed reform but was not past the point of no return. He called for restructuring (perestroika), openness (glasnost), democratization (demokratizatsia), and new thinking (novoye myshlenie). Gorbachev met strong Communist Party opposition to his ideas of reform, but he decided to continue in spite of it.

In 1987, Gorbachev announced a list of changes. His reforms allowed citizens to establish private businesses. He lessened state power over factories and even began converting some of the military factories into civilian factories. In 1989, he allowed farmers to rent land for private business. Censorship dissipated

and Soviets gained access to banned books and films. They learned the lies that the government had used to mislead them and saw themselves from a different perspective.

Also in 1987, Gorbachev signed an arms control agreement with U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1911–) The agreement eliminated medium–range nuclear missiles from Europe and did wonders for relations between the two countries. Gorbachev publicized his intent to cooperate with the West. He removed Soviet troops from Afghanistan to deflate increasing anti–communist activism.

In 1989 the first Russian elections since 1917 were held, and non–communists replaced communists all over the country. The Congress of People's Deputies became the new governing body. Boris Yeltsin was elected to the Congress after having lost his job for criticizing Gorbachev. The mood in the Soviet Union grew more restless—there were strikes, and calls for independence from republics such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Gorbachev remained in power, but was coming under heavier and heavier fire, particularly in the Congress.

Things were even worse in other areas of society. The communist economy imploded before a capitalist economy could replace it. Shortages plagued the country and prices flew upward for the items in the free market. Food rationing began and workers went on strike. Russians began to organize non–communist parties and non–Russians, who made up almost half of the Soviet population, grew weary of their poverty.

Gorbachev's popularity took a nose dive. Conservative communists criticized his reforms, and reformers, including Boris Yeltsin, who had left the Communist party in 1990, argued that his changes were too gradual. Communism began to crumble in many of the Eastern European satellite countries as well. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down in Germany. The following day, the Bulgarian communist government fell. Czechoslovakia installed its first non–communist government since 1948, and other countries followed suit.

The Soviet bloc collapsed, leaving only Yugoslavia and Albania to represent its communist power. Yugoslavia's communism ended with its civil war in 1991, and the government of Albania disintegrated the same year. Gorbachev did not try to stop communism from crumbling. Reformers were still furious with the limitations of his reforms, and conservative communists were equally irate with the changes he had made.

On August 18, 1991, a group of conservative communists tried to return to the former version of communism. They took control of the government and put Gorbachev under house arrest. Though the coup failed, hundreds of thousands of Russians took to the streets in protest. Boris Yeltsin, who had been elected as the president of the Russian republic two months prior, led the resistance.

After three days of mayhem, Gorbachev was back in Moscow as the president of the Soviet Union. He didn't last long, however, and the remaining shards of communism were swept away. Communist party officials were forced out of office and their documents were confiscated. Statues of communist leaders were knocked down and towns and streets were renamed. Gorbachev resigned his post and allowed Boris Yeltsin to take his place.

As communism ended in the Soviet Union, the country itself collapsed. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia had been trying to secede since the late 1980s. The Soviet government gave them independence. In December, Boris Yeltsin met with the leaders from Ukraine and Belarus and created the Commonwealth of Independent States, a lax union of states independent from one another. Communism had died, and had taken the former Soviet Union along with it.


The Rise of Mao Tse–tung Communism crept into China after World War I. The successful Bolshevik revolution in the Soviet Union and the government that followed gave hope to a similar creation in China. Also, China had supported the Allies in World War I. The Chinese expected the German occupied zones of China to be returned to them, but the Western powers allowed Japan to gain control of them. The Chinese were furious and they lost faith in the Western powers and in their democracies.


Animal Farm

Animal Farm was written as a parody of the communist revolution in Russia. Written by George Orwell and published in August 1945, this work illustrates some of the potential problems of communist theory. The story follows the political actions of the animals on the Jones' Farm.

At the beginning of the story, the animals begin to notice injustice between the humans and the animals at the farm. Led by a group of pigs, the animals rebel and set up their own farm based on equality. This revolution parallels the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. As with Russia, the communist dream begins to breakdown. One of the pigs gains power through propaganda spread by another pig, much as communist propaganda was spread in Russia through the Russian paper Pravda.

The pigs gain control of the farm and the other animals find themselves working just as hard as they did for the humans. The corrupt leaders sleep in the house, justifying their superiority by claiming that, "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." Animal Farm, though not intended to attack the concept of communism, paints a dismal picture of how communism can breed corruption as successfully as any other system.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was founded in 1921, with Soviet help. The party leadership was shared between Chen Duxiu (1879–1942) and Li Dazhao (1889–1927). The CCP took direction from Moscow. Moscow ordered the CCP to fuse with the Guomindang, the nationalist party, to form a "united front" that would unify China and effectively drive the Western powers out of Asia. In 1927, however, the leader of the Guomindang turned against the CCP and murdered thousands of its members. The alliance ended, and the communists who survived fled to the countryside to restructure. Mao Tse–tung was among them.

Mao Tse–tung (1893–1976) was the son of a peasant farmer who went against family wishes and attended primary school. He became interested in revolutionary literature and became a Marxist in 1921. He was a founder of the CCP and, after its victimization in 1927, decided that his party would never again be unable to defend itself. He felt that Chinese revolution would need to be based upon the peasantry rather than the proletariat, as Western Marxists argued.

The CCP party leaders did not agree with Mao's ideas, and continued to take their direction from Moscow. Mao and his supporters were out of reach on their mountain base, however, and did as they pleased. In order to win the support of the peasantry, Mao and his followers treated them with respect. By 1931, Mao had amassed enough support to declare the independent state of the Chinese Soviet Republic. It was an island in the middle of the Republic of China, run by the Guomindang government led by Chiang Kaishek (1887–1975). Mao controlled his republic however, seizing properties from landlords and giving the reigns to the peasants.

Chiang Kaishek tried to crush Mao's regime. He succeeded in 1934 and the communists fled China in what was to be known as the Long March. In a year, they walked over 6,000 miles. One hundred thousand began the march, but only 10,000 finished. When they ended the march in northeastern China, Mao became the party leader and built his new headquarters.

In 1937, Japan invaded the Chinese region of Manchuria. The war crippled the Guomindang forces. Chiang Kaishek was forced to sign a second agreement with the CCP in order to drive the Japanese out. During World War II, Mao developed the "Yanan Way," named after his party's base town. The Yanan Way comprised several ideas. The first was the "mass line," meaning that the peasants were not second class. The party leaders needed to live and learn with the peasants in order to make decisions in their best interest while leading them toward socialism. The Yanan Way included a system of rigid control over the troops, as well as intense training. Nationalism was important as well.

By 1943, Mao was the chairman of the party. Communists were studying his writings and he was called the "Great Savior of the People." When the Japanese were finally defeated in 1945, Mao and CCP had increased their stronghold to 90 million people

and hundreds of thousands of square miles. The CCP was much more popular than the Guomindang, and by 1949, the CCP controlled the whole of mainland China. The Guomindang fled to Taiwan where it had American support. Mao was named the chairman of the People's Republic of China.

Life Under The CCP Initially, Mao followed Stalin's example, but within two years began to deviate from the Russian model. In 1953, Mao instituted his first Five–Year Plan. His plan included the collectivization of agriculture, though different from that of the Soviet attempt. Peasants were asked to join collectives voluntarily. Those who did not join voluntarily were persuaded with threats of violence and execution.

Within four years, 90 percent of the country's peasants were working on collective farms. The CCP began to divide, however, and when peasants had to give up their land, they resisted. Organizational problems spawned from lack of experience, and Liu Shaoqi led a movement to slow down the collectivization. Mao was bitterly opposed. Eventually, Mao continued at his pace but with some concessions, such as peasants being permitted to keep their own animals and personal farming plots.

The Five–Year Plan included industrial growth as well. Steel, electricity, and coal grew quickly, contrasting with the slow growth in agriculture, similar to the Soviets' example. The population grew faster than the grain production. In order to combat some of the problems, Mao created the Great Leap Forward. He tried to tap into the revolutionary excitement of the populace to create a stronger work ethic.


Mao Tse–tung

Mao Tse–tung was born on December 26, 1893 in Shao–Shan, a town in the Hunan province in China. He led a guerrilla war that brought Communism to power in China.

Mao was the son of a peasant who had been successful as a farmer dealing grain. His family felt that education was only necessary to teach bookkeeping. He went to school in his village and learned a general knowledge of Classic Confucius. When he was thirteen he left school and began to work on his family's farm. In a rebellious move, young Mao then left his family to attend the primary school in a nearby county, and went on to study at the secondary school in his provincial capital. It was there that he learned of Western ideas. While he was in school, revolution broke out in Wu–chang against the Manchu dynasty and spread quickly to his area.

Mao enlisted in the revolutionary army was a soldier for the next six months. A new Chinese Republic was born that spring, and his military service was over. He drifted through schools for a year, experimenting with law school, police school, and a business school. He studied history and read liberal tradition classics.

In 1918, Mao graduated from the Firs Provincial Normal School in Ch'ang–sha. He went to Peking University and worked as an assistant in the library. He was still at the university during the May Fourth Movement in 1919, which was student protests against giving former German holdings in the Shantung Province to Japan rather than returning them to China. The Chinese radicals turned to Marxism and founded the Chinese Socialist Party in 1921.

In 1920, Mao became the principal of the Lin Ch'ang–sha primary school and he organized a Socialist Youth League branch there. He married Yang K'ai–hui, the daughter of his ethics teacher. In 1921 he attended the First Congress of the Chinese Socialist Party. Two years later when the party joined Kuomintang, the Nationalist Party, Mao was one of the first people to work for the Kuomintang. He, his wife, and their two sons moved to Shanghai.

Mao began to appreciate the revolutionary potential of the peasant class. He began to try to concentrate the peasant dissatisfaction into revolutionary vigor. After having fled his home from the governor of Hunan, Mao went to Canton and became the head of the Kuomintang's propaganda bureau. When he returned home, he falsely predicted an imminent peasant uprising.

In 1930, the Central Committee ordered the Red Army to occupy major cities, but Mao felt that this would only cause losses to the Red Army and disobeyed orders. His wife was murdered by the Kuomintang and he married Ho Tzu–chen, the woman he'd been living with since 1928.

The Chinese Soviet Republic was founded in November 1931 in a section of the Kiangsi Province. Mao was the chairman. The best hope of victory throughout the country seemed to be to start with a stronghold and to expand outward. Mao led the Red Army on the Long March in October 1934. His army arrived in Shensi Province in the following year. China became involved in a war with Japan, and Mao took the opportunity to expand his army.

From 1936 to 1940, Mao spent much of his time writing. He wrote Strategic Problems of China's Revolutionary War,, On Protracted War, and On the New Stage. By the winter of 1939–1940, Mao could adopt a stronger strategy. He became the socialist leader. He also divorced his second wife and married an actress, Lan P'ing.

Communes replaced collectives. The average commune farmed 100,000 acres with 25,000 workers. In order to promote equality, people were paid the same wage regardless of the work they did, and the peasants were asked to build factories on their communes so that they could work on industry after hours. Mao promised "hard work for three years, happiness for a thousand." The Great Leap Forward was a dramatic failure. China lost Stalin's economic aid. The commune factories produced worthless steel, equal wages created apathy, and China's economy lurched downward. As

Mao continued as the party chairman but lost his post as the president. He was replaced by Liu Shaoqi who reversed many of the changes made by the Great Leap Forward. The communes were divided into "production teams" similar to collective farms. Peasants were once again allowed to farm small personal plots and within three years, China's economy had righted itself. The road to recovery was paved with famine, however, and more than 20 million people died along the way.

The Reds The CCP split into the Reds and the Experts. Mao's Reds subscribed to socialist ideals and communal living. Liu's Experts argued that personal farming plots did not undermine socialism but, in fact, created successful workers.

When Joseph Stalin died in 1953, the gap between the Soviet Union and China began to grow. Mao had been unwilling to succumb to Soviet control, and China continued to create its own version of communism instead of following the Soviet model. Mao opposed Stalin's successor, Khrushchev, and disliked his methods and ideas. Mao felt that Khrushchev was infected with capitalism and wanted nothing to do with him. In 1960, Khrushchev withdrew all aid from China. In 1962, Mao criticized Khrushchev for recalling his missiles from Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Antagonism between the two continued unabated.

In 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution and restored himself to power. Mao felt that Liu had been corrupted by capitalism, and he created the Red Guards, an organization of teenagers who had done poorly in school and welcomed an opportunity to act out their frustrations. His Red Guards grew to 11 million youths. Under Mao's direction, the Red Guards attacked everything that was foreign, including Western art, books, and intellectuals infested with foreign ideas.

Plays, ballets, and operas were banned. China was enveloped by chaos. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were killed. Though he withdrew from the public eye in 1969, Mao remained in control until his death in 1976. After a failed attempt to gain control by the "Gang of Four," Communist radicals, he was succeeded by Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997), a supporter of Liu's Experts.

Beginnings of Communist Decline Deng began to unravel the sweater of communism. He instituted "The Four Modernizations," allowing competition, incentives, farming independence, and management autonomy. Deng allowed economic freedoms based on capitalist ideals, but still cracked down on basic rights such as freedom of speech. Nonetheless, the Chinese economy improved as private enterprise was introduced. Moreover, Deng's policies sought foreign investment and the creation of a thriving tourist industry. Western styles and customs began to appear in the youth culture.

A push for democratic reforms increased in strength during the 1980s. By the end of the decade, things had reached their breaking point. In May 1989, during a summit meeting between Deng and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, student protesters were such a vocal presence that the long–awaited summit turned into an embarrassment.

When the summit ended, thousands of students and other citizens congregated in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to protest corruption and call for reforms. After officials failed to convince the students to disperse, Deng declared martial law. The government pulled the plug on foreign broadcasts of the demonstration; many observers felt China was on the brink of civil war. Then, on June 3, 1989 the military was brought in to clear the students from the Square. Hundreds died as tanks rolled through the streets and bullets. The uprising was supressed, but China's reputation in the international community suffered.

China has been trying to rebuild its reputation following Tiananmen Square. In the years preceding and following Deng's death in 1997, Chinese leaders have been committed to opening up the country's economy, even at the expense of introducing more capitalist aspects. Communism has started to decompose in modern day China. Deng's legacy is that of a leader who was draconian in the area of human rights, but also of one who did a great deal to raise the standard of living and bring the Chinese economy into the modern world.

Today China more closely resembles the West in terms of the bustling street–side shops, lifestyles of teenagers, and relative economic freedom than any communist country in history. But the government has learned that their concessions to economic freedom have come with a price: the citizens begin to want other freedoms, too. However, it must be made clear that, although capitalist reforms have been introduced and have improved the economy, China is still a communist country.


Fidel Castro (c. 1926–) brought communism to Cuba. In the fall of 1958, Castro led a revolt against

the government of Fulgencia Batista. Batista fled the country at the beginning of 1959 and, within a week, Castro and his Fidelistas were in control of the capital, Havana. Initially, many Cubans were happy with the revolt. They had been frustrated with the corruption of Batista's government and looked to Castro to wipe the slate clean. However, it soon became clear that Castro intended to bring communism to Cuba.

Regime of a Dictator Castro became the head of the armed forces and, within months, the president. Castro had gained support through his promises of a restored constitution, civil liberties, and honesty. Once in power he was more radical, however. Castro created a dictatorial one–party government. He instituted a centrally planned economy, nationalizing Cuba's commerce and industry. He organized collective farms and cooperatives to produce sugar cane, confiscating land owned by foreigners to do this. The international community and the Americans in particular were outraged by Castro's land confiscation. Under Castro, only Cubans were permitted to own land, and they were restricted in how much they could have. At the same time, Castro expanded social services to all Cubans regardless of stature. Employment was guaranteed and education and health care were made available to everyone. Cuba's economy struggled, however, and Castro was an unsuccessful economic manager. Cuba depended on the Soviet Union for many of its necessities.

In May of 1959, Castro's government signed the Agrarian Reform Bill. The bill was designed to change the ownership of the agricultural land. Less than 10 percent of the Cuban landowners owned over 70 percent of the land. The bill set a 1000–acre limit of ownership. Another Agrarian Reform Bill in 1963 changed the guidelines to allow for only 167 acres per landowner. Roughly 100,000 Cubans were given 67–acre plots to farm. Most of the land confiscated from the foreigners was turned into collective farms. Communism had begun in earnest.

In 1960, the First Deputy Premier of the Soviet Union, Anastas Mikoyan, visited Cuba. He gave Cuba a loan of 100 million dollars and pledged that the Soviets would purchase 5 million tons of sugar. China offered trade and loans, followed by the Soviet satellite countries.

Cubans who did not support the new regime were killed or imprisoned. Thousands of dissenters went underground or fled Cuba, often to the United States. Castro denounced the United States and accused the country of planning to invade Cuba. American citizens lost enormous investments that they had made in Cuba. Castro confiscated property and though he promised to compensate those he took from, he often did not.

Reactions to Castro For two years, other Western governments tried to establish friendly relations with Cuba. At the beginning of 1961, the president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969), ended the camaraderie. Castro accused Havana's United States Embassy of plotting activities against his revolution. Eisenhower ended diplomatic relations and implemented a complete export embargo. He canceled sugar importation and closed the door to Cuba. Other countries followed suit. Except for Mexico, the other Latin American countries cut their ties with Cuba. In a 1962 conference of the Organization of American States, Cuba was voted out of the organization.

The United States, working with Cuban refugees who wished to overthrow Castro's regime, planned an invasion of the island nation. The Central Intelligence Agency launched an attack of 1500 Cuban refugees on April 17, 1961. They landed at the Bay of Pigs, 90 miles from Havana. Over 1000 of them were imprisoned and their attempted coup was a failure.

In 1962, United States president John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) imposed an embargo on virtually all trade with Cuba. The Soviet Union signed a massive 700 million dollar trade arrangement with Castro, however, the Cuban economy was decaying. The industrial plants that Castro confiscated had broken down for lack of materials to keep them running. Agriculture waned and there was a food shortage. In March 1962, Castro began to ration food.

The Soviet Union began to ship military goods to Cuba, claiming that the goods were only for Cuba's defense. The Soviet Union also said that it was sending only technicians to Cuba, not military personnel. In October 1962, tensions between the United States and Cuba came to a head as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. U.S. intelligence began to suspect that the Soviet Union was bringing missiles to Cuba to aim at the United States. Photographs from spy planes confirmed the presence of missile silos being constructed in Cuba. President Kennedy felt a threat to his country and called for a "quarantine" on the Soviet ships carrying the missiles and military cargo to Cuba. He stated that a Cuban attack anywhere in the West would be interpreted as a Soviet attack on the United States and that he would retaliate with nuclear weapons.

The United States was ready for war. The United States Navy hovered in the Caribbean until the Soviet ships turned away with their cargo. Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier, sent a letter to Kennedy offering to remove the missiles in exchange for Kennedy's assurance that he would not invade Cuba. Kennedy agreed, the missiles were withdrawn, and the crisis settled.


Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926 or 1927 near Biran, Cuba. He created the first communist regime in the Western hemisphere and has become infamous in the political world.

Castro was born on the easternmost side of Cuba. His father was a Spanish immigrant and a successful sugarcane farmer. His father had two children with his first wife, and five children, including Castro, with his cook, Lina Ruz Gonzalez. Castro's brother, another son of the cook, became Castro's chief associate.

Castro went to a Roman Catholic boarding school in Santiago de Cuba, and then to Catholic high school in Havana. He was an excellent athlete. In 1945, Castro began to study at the University of Havana in the School of Law. He was very active politically and, in 1947, joined a failed attempt to invade the Dominican Republic to oust Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo. He participated in riots in Bogota, Columbia the following year.

He graduated in 1950 and began to practice law. He joined the reformist Cuban People's Party and became their candidate for the House of Representatives seat in 1952. Before the elections could take place, however, General Fulgencio Batista, the former president of Cuba, overthrew the leadership and cancelled the elections.

Unable to unseat Batista through legal channels, Castro organized a rebel force. On July 26, 1953, he led roughly 160 men on a kamikaze mission on the Moncada military barracks in an attempt to ignite an uprising. Most of the men died, and Castro was arrested. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison but was released with his brother Raul two years later. The two men went to Mexico to continue their fight against Batista. Castro created a revolutionary group of exiles called the 26th of July Movement.

On December 2, 1956, Castro led 81 armed men to Oriente, Cuba. All but 11 of the men died, but Castro and his brother survived. Revolutionary sentiment grew in Cuba and, after a series of victories, Castro triumphed over Batista's forces and Batista fled the country. Castro's 800–man guerrilla army had beaten Batista's 30,000–man force.

Castro's daughter came to the United States in 1993 and publicly denounced her father's oppressive policies. The largest anti–Castro demonstration in 35 years followed her remarks and Castro lifted his restrictions on Cubans wishing to leave the country. In 1988, Castro allowed the Pope to visit Cuba for the first time. Castro continues to cling to Cuba's political power, and the United States to its anti–Cuban policies.

Conditions between the United States and Cuba improved slightly. At the end of 1962, Castro offered to trade the prisoners he had taken at the Bay of Pigs for over 50 million dollars worth of food and drugs. In 1965, Castro allowed Cubans with American relatives to migrate to the United States. Many Cubans left the country in what became known as the "Freedom Flights." Over 300,000 Cubans came to the United States between 1965 and 1973.

Soviet support for Cuba continued at roughly one million dollars per day. Cuba's industrialization went poorly, and Castro continued to focus on agriculture.

Relations between the Soviet Union and Cuba began to sour in the later 1960s. After Joseph Stalin's death in 1953, the Soviet leadership had become more moderate and democratic. Castro continued his dictatorship, however, despite Soviet displeasure. In 1968, several Cubans in the Communist Party were arrested for siding with the Soviets. Relations improved for part of the 1970s, and the Cubans supported the Russians in the Angolan civil war in 1975 and 1976.

In 1976, Cuba instituted its first socialist constitution. A National Assembly of the People's Power was led by the Council of States and the position of Premier was annulled. Castro was elected to be the president of the Council of States in 1976. In 1977, relations between Cuba and the United States continued to improve. The countries signed agreements on fishing rights and boundaries.

In 1980, almost 10,000 Cubans sought asylum in the embassies of Havana. When Castro loosened his emigration restrictions and opened the port of Mariel, 125,000 Cubans scrambled to the United States. The Americans tried to send them back, but Castro resisted. In December 1984, an immigration policy was developed between the two countries and the Cuban exiles were deported back to Cuba.

Later that year, Cuba suspended the immigration agreement after the United States began broadcasting radio programs to Cuba. When Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev began to reform the Soviet Union, Castro refused to change his policies to meet those of the new Soviet leader. In 1989, Gorbachev visited Castro and outlined cutbacks in Soviet aid. The Soviets had been giving five billion dollars annually and needed the money for their domestic struggle. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1990, the aid stopped completely. Castro was left without his largest supporter and trading partner. Shortages grew worse in Cuba and rationing became tighter. The Cuban economy flagged and Castro was forced to relax his economic policies to allow capitalistic ventures. However, he kept his tight grip on politics. Castro continues to enforce communism, and Cuba continues to struggle.


In June 1918, the Korean People's Socialist Party was begun in Siberia. The party wanted freedom from Japanese control. The Koreans felt that the Soviet Bolsheviks would be able to help them with this cause and in 1919 changed their name to the Korean Communist Party.

Lenin contributed financially but did little else to help the Korean communists. On April 25, 1925, the new Korean Communist Party (KCP) was formed by a group of young intellectuals. The Japanese arrested as many communists as they could find between 1925 and 1928 and almost eliminated the communist support in Korea.

By the 1940s, the Japanese had so completely usurped control of Korea that communism dwindled. When the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II in 1945, the KCP tried again to increase its numbers. There was a struggle among the communists between the "domestic faction," Kim II Sung's (1912–1994) section, and the "Yan'an returnees" from China. Kim's section accompanied the Soviet army to Korea.

In September 1945 the domestic faction began to rebuild the KCP. Kim II, however, began a branch of the KCP in North Korea and became its secretary in October 1945. In December, the group became known as the North Korean Communist Party (NKCP.) The NKCP merged with the NDP in August 1946. The NDP had been concentrating on the middle class, while the NKCP had focused on the peasantry and working class. Together, the parties became known as the North Korean Workers' Party (NKWP).

Soon after, the KCP merged with the NDP in South Korea to form the South Korean Workers' Party (SKWP). The SKWP struggled during the United States' occupation after 1946. The riots and strikes that the party staged helped to keep some cohesion, but the SKWP became a guerilla party. At its peak, it may have had 370,000 members.

The South Korean government squashed radical leftists, driving many of the prominent communists into North Korea. In June 1949, the SKWP merged with the NKWP and formed the Korean Workers' Party (KWP) chaired by Kim II Sung.

The communists began the Korean War in June 1950. The Northern army had occupied most of the South by August, but the United States' intervention prevented a victory. The truce in 1953 prevented the North from forcing communism on the South. Kim II Sung purged his ranks in 1956 and 1958 and got rid of all of the opposition that he could find.

Kim focused on a need to "koreanize" communism. He wanted to establish self–determination and nationalism. By the late 1970s, the KWP had an estimated 2.5 million membership. The party was organized similarly to Soviet party organization. The Politburo governed the party, followed by the Central Committee.

In 1973, Kim began the Three Revolution Team Movement. His goal was to speed economic development and eliminate old ideas. He sent teams of young intellectuals to factories and businesses to guide them into modernity until 1975.

Kim continued to rule until his death on July 8, 1994. His son, Kim Jong II, became the next leader in North Korea. In the 1990s, many high officials left the country and the economy struggled. There were also serious food shortages. U.S. sanctions decreased when a summit between North and South Korea improved their relationship. North Korea is still communist.


Twentieth century communism has had disappointing results. The Soviet Union, her satellite states, China, Vietnam and East Germany have all gone through massive bloodshed in the name of communism. There are several speculations on why communism has met with so much trouble.

When the Bolsheviks came into power in the Soviet Union in 1917, the Soviets were weary from their tsarist history. They were poor, uneducated, and desperate for food. Their economy and industry was in the gutter and they were tired of losing their sons to war. Lenin pledged to change all of that, bringing goods to those who needed them and ending the war. He did get his country out of the war and he tried to create collective agriculture which provided for the country, but a shortage of resources meant that the little produce that existed was confiscated and given to his Red Army.

Many communist governments' programs of forcing socialism or modernization on its people met with disastrous results. In China, Mao's Great Leap Forward was a nightmare for many areas of society, particularly the education sector. The government interfered with teachers in the universities, and revolutionary ideals and nationalism replaced the standard curriculum.

Modern day China, with its economy thriving largely due to concessions to capitalism, is perhaps one of the strongest indictments against communism. Even the most dedicated Marxist would have a tough time arguing that the capitalist reforms of Deng haven't been good for China. With continuing pressure from abroad regarding the government's human rights policies and with Tiananmen Square still fresh in the minds of the people, many analysts feel Chinese communism won't survive the twenty–first century.

And yet, there are many communist thinkers today who believe China is on the perfect Marxian path, that its economy was never truly socialist in Mao's time, but rather an updated version of feudalism. With its introduction to capitalist reforms in the late twentieth–century, these communist thinkers say that China's economy will become more capitalist until it has fully matured and will then make way for the true socialist revolution.

In the summer of 2001, Chinese President Jiang Zemin announced that the Communist Party would begin to accept private entrepreneurs as party members. However, even a small step toward democracy such as this probably had ulterior motives; it remains to be seen.

Another problem with communism could be the justification of the end by the means. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and other leaders proclaimed a desire for communism that would provide equality and freedom for the people. In order to reach such a state, however, the leaders ignored equality and freedom. They forced compliance with their decrees and crushed anything in their path. Millions of people were killed in order to reach utopian socialism, which has yet to occur.

The violent tactics used by most communist leaders have created a worldwide distaste for communism. The word conjures up images of East Germany misery, of the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989 when protesters were killed, and of Fidel Castro's control of Cuba. Communism has seemed to come in tandem with dictatorship. This has meant a lasting dictatorship and an abuse of power rather than an ideal state which provides for everyone and exists without crime.

Marx felt that with marxism, crime would dissolve. He argued that criminals were driven to act because of their poverty and misery, but that with socialism there would be no such misery and, therefore, crime would dissipate. Rather than a lessening of crime, communism seemed to create a justification for heinous abuses of power. Because of dictatorships and forced compliance, leading members of the Communist parties were able to induce fear and acquire virtually anything they wanted. Their control allowed them to do as they pleased, and many of them did.

Marx also argued that the ruling class would only surrender after violence. Because of this, marxism and communism came to power after bloody struggles, both to overthrow the previous government and to convince the population of the need for communism. Violence is not the only option, however. All over Europe, slavery was abolished on paper and the ruling class allowed the slaves to improve their positions without a violent fight. Perhaps the bloody beginnings of communism led to its bloody future.


  • What are the similarities between the versions of communism set down by Plato and Joseph Stalin? Are there more differences than there are commonalities? How would Plato feel about communism as it evolved over the centuries? How would Stalin feel about Plato's Republic?
  • Would Plato have been in favor of Mao's Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution?
  • Will communism survive in Cuba after Castro?



Binyon, Michael. Life in Russia, New York: Berkley Books, 1983.

Ebenstein, Alan, William Ebenstein, and Edwin Fogelman. Today's Isms, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1985.

Feinberg, Barbara Silberdick. Marx and Marxism, New York: Franklin Watts, 1985.

Hudson, G.F. Fifty Years of Communism: Theory and Practice, 1917–1967, New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1968.

Kort, Michael G. China Under Communism, Connecticut: The Millbrook Press, 1994.

Kort, Michael G. Marxism In Power—The Rise and Fall of a Doctrine, Connecticut: The Millbrook Press, 1993.

Laidler, Harry W. History of Socialism, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968.

Martin, Joseph. A Guide to Marxism, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick. The Communist Manifesto, New York: Verso, 1998.

The Latin American Alliance, "Cuba." Available at, 1997.

Further Readings

Barker, Ernst. Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle, New York: Holt, 1915. Gives a detailed analysis of the thought behind Plato's works and those of his teacher, Aristotle.

Binyon, Michael. Life in Russia, New York: Berkeley Books, 1983. A journalist from the West chronicles Russian culture and the life of the ordinary Soviet citizen during his time in Moscow from 1978 to 1982.

Davies, John Llewellyn and Vaughan, David, translators. The Republic of Plato, New York: A.J. Burt Co., many editions. Plato's idea of a utopia, and the first such example to be written down so extensively.


Marxism, Socialism, Totalitarianism


views updated Jun 11 2018


COMMUNISM , the international revolutionary Marxist movement that evolved under *Lenin's leadership from the Bolshevik faction (created in 1903 in the Russian Social Democratic Party) to become the ruling party of Russia after the October Revolution in 1917 and created the Communist International (Comintern) in 1919. The Communist movement and ideology played an important part in Jewish life, particularly in the 1920s, 1930s, and during and after World War ii. Violent polemics raged between Jewish Communists and Zionists in all countries until the disenchantment with the anti-Jewish policies of *Stalin in his last years and, after his death, with the antisemitic quality of the treatment of Jews and Jewish life in the u.s.s.r., as well as the increasingly violent anti-Israel stand of Moscow in the Arab-Israel conflict.

Individual Jews played an important role in the early stages of Bolshevism and the Soviet regime. These Jews were mostly confirmed assimilationists who adopted their party's concept of the total disappearance of Jewish identity under advanced capitalism and socialism. They thus opposed the existence of separate Jewish workers' movements, particularly the *Bund and Socialist Zionism. The great attraction of communism among Russian, and later also Western, Jewry emerged only with the establishment of the Soviet regime in Russia. The mere fact that during the civil war in Russia following the October 1917 Revolution the counterrevolutionary forces were violently antisemitic, shedding Jewish blood in pogroms on an unprecedented scale, drove the bulk of Russian Jewish youth into the ranks of the Bolshevik regime. During Lenin's rule, the nep ("new economic policy"), and the years preceding Stalin's personal dictatorship and the great purges of the 1930s, a dichotomy of Jewish life evolved in the Soviet Union and was greatly attractive to both assimilationist and secular Yiddish-oriented Jews outside Russia. On the one hand, Russian Jews enjoyed the opportunities of immense geographical and social mobility, leaving behind the townlets of the *Pale of Settlement and occupying many responsible positions in all branches of the party and state machinery at the central and local seats of power. On the other, a secular educational and cultural network in Yiddish and an economic and administrative framework of Jewish life, including agricultural settlement and Jewish local and regional "Soviets," were officially established and fostered, culminating in the mid-1930s in the creation of the Jewish Autonomous Region in the Far East (*Birobidzhan). Many Jews the world over therefore regarded the Soviet concept of the solution to the "Jewish question" as an intrinsic positive approach with the main options open for various Jewish trends – assimilation or preservation of Jewish (secular) identity and even Jewish territorialism and embryonic Jewish statehood.

During this period the position of world Jewry markedly deteriorated because of the severe economic and political crises in Palestine and the growing trend of oppressive antisemitism in the rest of Eastern Europe, Nazi and fascist influence in Central and Western Europe, and the economic crisis in the United States. Communism and support of the Soviet Union thus seemed to many Jews to be the only alternative, and Communist trends became widespread in virtually all Jewish communities. In some countries Jews became the leading element in the legal and illegal Communist parties and in some cases were even instructed by the Communist International to change their Jewish-sounding names and pose as non-Jews, in order not to confirm right-wing propaganda that presented Communism as an alien, Jewish conspiracy (e.g., the Polish slogan against "Żydo-Komuna" and the Nazi reiteration against "Jewish Bolshevism," etc.). Initially, the Stalin-*Trotsky controversy did not affect the attraction of Communism to Jews, though a number of intellectual Jewish Communists tended more toward Trotsky's consistent internationalism than to Stalin's concept of building "Socialism in one country" and subjecting the interests of the international working class to the changing tactical interests of the Soviet Union. The facts about the gradual liquidation of the Yiddish cultural and educational network and the stifling of the Birobidzhan experiment in the late 1930s did not immediately reach the Jewish public outside the Soviet Union. In addition, only a minority of Jewish Communists condemned the Comintern-directed policy at the end of the 1930s that branded any form of non-Communist Socialism as "social fascism" and the main enemy of the revolution, while simultaneously seeking cooperation with German Nazism. Even the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 was a shock to only a minority of Jewish Communists (except confirmed oppositionists, mainly of the Trotskyite "Fourth International"). When World War ii broke out in 1939, most Jewish Communists defended the Soviet anti-Western-flavored neutrality. But from June 1941, when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union and the Communists in occupied Europe excelled in anti-Nazi resistance, and particularly after the war, when the Soviet Union actively supported the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, Jewish Communists the world over achieved the highest degree of inner contentment and intellectual harmony in the whole history of the Communist movement.

The relatively abrupt disenchantment began in the late 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s, when Soviet policy toward the State of Israel gradually reversed from support to hostility and the anti-*Cosmopolitan campaign, the *Slanský Trials in Czechoslovakia, and the *Doctors' Plot in Moscow revealed the antisemitic character of the Soviet regime in Stalin's last years. The disclosures, in 1956–57, of the brutal liquidation of all Jewish institutions and the judicial murder of most Yiddish writers and artists in the "black years" (1948–53), the growing Soviet-Arab cooperation against Israel, and the anti-Jewish policy of the Khrushchev and post-Khrushchev period, which culminated in the violent "anti-Zionist" and anti-Israel campaign after the *Six-Day War and the Leningrad Trial of 1970, rendered Jewish disenchantment with Soviet-style Communism almost complete. The *New Left groups that emerged in the later 1960s and enjoyed heavy support from Jewish youth, particularly in the U.S., France, and Germany, were not Soviet-oriented.

[Binyamin Eliav]

Bolshevik Theory (1903–1917)

The Bolshevik attitude to basic questions concerning the Jews was formulated in as early as 1903, with the emergence of the Bolshevik faction during the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party in Brussels and London. The Bolshevik faction (which in 1912–13 became the Bolshevik Party) contained a number of Jews who were active mainly in the field of organization and propaganda (rather than in theory and ideology, as was the case with the Jewish Mensheviks). They included such people as Maxim *Litvinov (Wallach), M. Liadov (Mandelshtam), Grigori Shklovsky, A. Soltz, S. Gusev (Drabkin), Grigori *Zinoviev (Radomyslsky), Lev *Kamenev (Rosenfeld), Rozaliya *Zemliachka (Zalkind), Helena Rozmirovich, Yemeli *Yaroslavsky (Gubelman), Serafima Gopner, G. Sokolnikov, I. Piatnitsky, Jacob *Sverdlov, M. Vladimirov, P. Zalutsky, A. Lozovsky, Y. Yaklovlev (Epstein), Lazar *Kaganovich, D. Shvartsman, and Simon *Dimanstein. Their number grew rapidly between the Russian revolutions of February and October 1917, when various groups and individuals joined the Bolsheviks; prominent among the new adherents were *Trotsky, M. Uritsky, M. Volodarsky, J. Steklov, Adolf Joffe, David Riazanov (Goldendach), Yuri *Larin, and Karl *Radek (Sobelsohn). Most of the Jews active in Bolshevik ranks before 1917 were assimilationist intellectuals. Few Jewish workers in Russia belonged to the Bolsheviks, and propaganda material designed to recruit Jewish members was restricted to a single Yiddish pamphlet, a short report on the Third (Bolshevik) Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party (April–May 1905), which contained a special introduction by Lenin addressed "To the Jewish Workers."

It was, indeed, Lenin, the ideological, political, and organizational leader of Bolshevism, who also determined the party's policy toward the Jews. In the period 1900–06, Lenin expressed himself on three Jewish topics: antisemitism, Jewish nationalism versus assimilation, and the relationship between the Bund and the Social Democratic Party. From its very beginnings, Russian Marxism under the leadership of Plekhanov had rejected both the anti-Jewish tendencies in Russian populism and the evasive attitude of the Second International toward the struggle against antisemitism (Brussels Congress, 1891). On the subject of antisemitism, Lenin's attitude was at all times consistent; not only did he take a definitive stand against it, but, unlike Plekhanov, he was free of any personal prejudice against Jews and would never indulge in any anti-Jewish remarks, in public or in private. This held true in spite of the many bitter arguments he had with Jewish opponents in the revolutionary movement. Although generally relying on Marx on questions of fundamental importance, Lenin did not resort to Marx's famous essay "On the Jewish Question" when dealing with Jewish affairs, because of its anti-Jewish implications. He rejected outright any suggestion that the Bolsheviks should ignore anti-Jewish policy and propaganda in czarist Russia, let alone make use of its popular appeal. Lenin regarded the czarist anti-Jewish hate campaign as a diversionary maneuver, an integral part of the demagogic campaign against "the aliens" conducted by henchmen of the czarist regime. He believed that the Jewish worker suffered no less than the Russian under capitalism and the czarist government (Iskra, No. 1, December 1900). Later (1905) he went even further, pointing out that Jewish workers suffered from a special form of discrimination by being deprived of even elementary civil rights. Antisemitism was designed to serve the social interests of the ruling classes, although there were also workers who had been incited. As antisemitism was clearly against the interests of the revolution, the fight against it was an integral part of the struggle against czarism and had to be conducted with "proletarian solidarity and a scientific ideology." Lenin regarded the pogroms of 1905–06 as part of the campaign against the revolution and called for the creation of a militia and for armed self-defense as the only means of combating the rioters. He also waged a special press campaign against the pogrom in Bialystok. Nevertheless, Lenin lacked a proper appreciation of the intensity of the Russian antisemitic tradition, the complexity of the factors underlying it, and the special role that it played in the political and social life of the country.

The Bolshevik attitude toward the collective identity of the Jews and their future was theoretically part of their general views on the national question. Lenin did not consider nationalism a constructive and stable social factor. His approach to it was conditional and pragmatic, subordinate to the interests of the class struggle. At the beginning of 1903 he voiced the opinion that the Social Democratic Party was not required to provide positive solutions to national problems, such as the granting of independence, federation, or autonomy, except in a few special cases, and that it should confine itself to combating discrimination and russification of the non-Russian nationalities. The vague formula contained in the platform of the Social Democratic Party on the "right of nations to self-determination" was regarded as a mere slogan, designed to facilitate the organizational and political consolidation of the workers in the common fight against czarism and capitalism, irrespective of their national origin. Furthermore, this "right to self-determination" applied to nationalities having a territorial basis and did not refer to the Jews.

Lenin knew little of the history, culture, and life of the Jews. His view on the Jewish problem was of a casual nature and was not derived from any study or analysis of his own; this was one of the reasons for the shifts in his attitude within a single year. In February 1903 (in the article "Does the Jewish Proletariat Need an Independent Political Party?") he spoke of a Jewish "national culture," a view predicated upon the recognition of the Jews as a national entity, and said that it could not be foretold whether or not the Jews of Russia would assimilate. But in as early as October of that year (in the article "The Position of the Bund in the Party") he voiced categorical opposition to the view that the Jews are a nation and expressed the conviction that their assimilation is a desirable and necessary development. He based himself on a truncated quotation from the writings of Karl Kautsky, the Marxist theoretician, accepting the view that the Jews lack the two characteristics of a nationality: a common territory and a common language (presuming that Yiddish was not a language). The decisive motive behind Lenin's view, however, was the overriding role of the party in his conception of the political struggle and his determination to base the party on absolute organizational centralism. The Bund's demand for a federative structure of the party, in which the Bund would be "the sole representative" of the Jewish proletariat, was regarded by Lenin as counter to his revolutionary strategy. Even so, he did not regard this difference with the Bund as closed to compromise. In 1905–06, when the emphasis in the internal struggle raging in the Russian Social Democratic Party passed from matters of organization to tactical questions and the Bund's stand on certain important points proved to be close to that of the Bolsheviks, Lenin did not hesitate to do everything possible to facilitate the return of the Jewish organization to the party fold (the Bund left the Social Democratic Party in 1903). That the Bund had put even greater stress upon its demand for Jewish cultural autonomy at its sixth convention proved to be no deterrent.

Several leading members of a short-lived non-Leninist group of Bolsheviks, which came into existence in 1908, developed their own approach to Jewish questions. Thus, A. Lunacharsky, in dealing with religion, found that the Bible, and particularly the Prophets, contained revolutionary elements and that there was a link between the Old Testament and the new "Religion of Labor," the latter being, in his opinion, an essential part of socialism. The existence of the Jewish people and the contribution it had made to humanity were of vital importance (Religiya i Sotsiyalizm, pt. 1, 1908). Maxim *Gorky, in his condemnation of antisemitism, did not confine himself to its economic, social, and legal aspects, and his struggle against it was not motivated by mere utilitarian political considerations. His positive remarks on Zionism, first made in 1902, were reprinted in 1906, at a time when he had already joined the ranks of the Bolsheviks. He acknowledged the contribution of Jewish ethics and regarded "the creative power of the Jewish people" as a force that would be of help in establishing "the Law of Socialism" among mankind. These individual stands on the Jews taken by Lunacharsky and Gorky had a direct bearing on the attitude they were to adopt on Jewish questions, especially on Jewish culture, at a later stage, when the Bolsheviks had already come to power in Russia.

After the 1905 revolution, when there were nationalist stirrings in Russia, Lenin came to appreciate the importance of the national question and its possible use in the struggle against the czarist regime. In addition to the slogan of "the right of nations to self-determination, including separation," he also recognized the need to make concrete and positive proposals on the solution of national questions, based mainly on the concept of territorial autonomy. Lenin was ready to advocate the creation of autonomous districts based on a homogeneous national (i.e., ethnic and linguistic) composition, even on a minute scale. Such districts, he assumed, would seek to establish contacts of various kinds with members of the same nationality in other parts of Russia, or even in other parts of the world ("Critical Notes on the National Question," 1913). The pogroms and the *Beilis blood libel led Lenin to conclude that "in recent years the persecution of Jews has reached unprecedented proportions" and that "no other nation in Russia suffers as much oppression and persecution as does the Jewish nationality."

In a bill on equal rights for nationalities that Lenin drafted for presentation to the Duma by the Bolshevik faction (1914), special emphasis was put on the lack of rights suffered by the Jews. He was not, however, consistent in the terms he employed with reference to the Jews; he frequently spoke of the Jewish "nationality" or "nation" (as for example in the above-mentioned bill) and nearly always in the context of the national question in Russia. In general, he held that "the process of national assimilation as furthered by capitalism is to be regarded as a great historical advance" and that "the proletariat also welcomes the assimilation of nations," except "when this is based on force or on special privileges." "Each nation consists of two nations," and there are "two national cultures" in each national culture, including that of the Jews. He acknowledged the presence of "universal progressive qualities" in Jewish culture, such as that of "internationalism" and "the capacity to absorb the stream of contemporary progressive ideas" (the latter quality manifesting itself in the high percentage of Jews found in democratic and proletarian movements). In view of his general attitude on the Jewish question, the "progressive qualities" that he perceived in Jewish culture were of the kind that implied the impending assimilation of that culture to "international culture." He did, however, admit that equality of national rights included the right to demand "the hiring of special teachers, at government expense, to teach the Jewish language, Jewish history, etc." The debate on Jewish nationalism, linked with the question of "national cultural autonomy" as demanded by the Bund, increasingly became a part of the internal party struggle. Lenin held fast to the idea that national cultural autonomy would result in weakening the workers' movement by dividing it according to the nationality of its members.

Similar views were also expressed by Stalin. In an essay published in 1913 under the title "The National Question and Social Democracy" (later known under the title "Marxism and the National Question"), which had Lenin's approval and was devoted in large part to the Jews, Stalin gave a dogmatic definition of the concept of nationhood: "A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up, manifested in a common culture." If even a single one of these characteristics is missing, there is no "nation." On the basis of this definition, Stalin contended that the Jewish communities living in the various countries did not constitute one nation. Although every one of them might be described as possessing a common "national character," they were to be regarded as "tribes" or "ethnic entities." When the Pale of Settlement was abolished, the Jews of Russia would assimilate. There was no farming class among them and they existed only as a minority in various areas where the majority population belonged to a different nation. They are therefore to be classified as "national minorities," serving the nations among which they live as industrialists, merchants, and professionals, and were bound to assimilate into these nations. It followed that the Bund's program of "national autonomy" referred to a "nation whose future is denied and whose existence has still to be proven."

Stalin, of course, also opposed Zionism. Unlike Lenin, he did not even have any modest positive proposals to make on the solution of national and cultural problems concerning the Jews. In accordance with the Bolshevik approach, he did, however, agree that the Marxist stand on national questions was not absolute, but rather "dialectic," and depended on the specific circumstances of time and place. Another prominent Bolshevik, S. Shaumian, who generally opposed any positive suggestions about the national question, did in fact concede (in 1914) that under certain conditions it might be possible to accept "national cultural autonomy." Only one leading Bolshevik, Helena Rozmirovich, is known to have favored such a solution at this stage in the history of the Bolshevik Party.

Soviet Practice (1917–1939)

After the October Revolution, the Jewish problem in Russia ceased to be a theoretical issue in interparty strife, and the Bolshevik government and party had to assume responsibility for the specific problems affecting the existence and development of the Jewish community. During the Revolution Jews played a prominent part in the party organs. The Politburo elected on Oct. 23, 1917, had four Jews among its seven members. The Military Revolutionary Committee, appointed to prepare the coup, was headed by Trotsky and had two Jews among its five members. In the early years of the Soviet regime, Jews were in many leading positions in the government and party machinery, although, as a rule, their number did not exceed the percentage of Jews in the urban population. (The number of Jewish members of the All-Russian Communist Party was 5.2% in 1922, 4.33% in 1927, and 3.8% in 1930; the corresponding figures in the Ukraine and Belorussia in 1927 were 12.1% and 23%, respectively.) The legal emancipation of the Jews, which had already been proclaimed in the February Revolution, seemed in Soviet practice to be implemented to an extent unprecedented in any other country. Their unrestricted admission to the universities and to all categories of employment served both the interests of the Soviet regime and the needs and aspirations of the Jews. The centrifugal nationalist tendencies among the peoples of the western border republics, which endangered Soviet centralism, inspired the regime to utilize compact, Jewish masses in these areas as a counterweight, which would swing the balance in the centralist regime's favor. The cultural russification of the Jews played a significant role in this respect. In 1922, as much as two-thirds of the Jewish membership of the Communist Party in the Ukraine was Russian-speaking. The Soviet regime also derived a propaganda benefit from the legal and political equality of Soviet Jews, in contrast to the neighboring states, such as Poland and Romania, which followed an antisemitic policy in practice and sometimes also in law. In both these countries a large Jewish population was concentrated in the border regions (Western Belorussia, Western Ukraine, and Bessarabia) that the Soviet Union considered as being only temporarily detached from its territory.

Antisemitism was branded as being counterrevolutionary in nature, and persons participating in pogroms or instigating them were outlawed (by a special decree issued by the Council of Commissars in July 1918, signed and personally amended by Lenin to sharpen its tone). A statement against antisemitism made by Lenin in March 1919 was one of the rare occasions on which his voice was put on a phonograph record, to be used in a mass campaign against the counterrevolutionary incitement against the Jews. The regime made every effort to denounce the pogroms and punish the persons taking part in them, even when they were Red Army personnel. When the civil war came to an end, a law was passed against "incitement to hatred and hostility of a national or religious nature," which, in effect, also applied to antisemitism, including the use of the pejorative epithet Zhid.

The theoretical approach to the Jewish question adopted by prerevolutionary Bolshevism was found to be unsuited to the new situation. The denial of the collective right of the Jews to nationhood, the forecast of the desirable and unavoidable assimilation, and the negation of a Jewish "national culture" and the use of Yiddish as a national Jewish language no longer formed a part of Soviet dogma. Although not all of these formulas were officially abolished or reinterpreted, the entire propaganda network was based on a variety of views that were often the very opposite of Lenin's and Stalin's utterances in pre-revolutionary days. The list of nationalities, i.e., ethnic groups, in the Soviet Union included the Jews among the "national minorities" that had no defined territory of their own and that the czarist regime had sought to destroy by any means, not excluding the instigation of pogroms. It followed that the assurance of their right to "free national development" by the "very nature" of the Soviet regime was not enough and that it behooved the party to help "the toiling masses of these ethnic groups" utilize in full "their inherent right to free development" (Tenth Congress of the All-Russian Communist Party, 1921, speech by Stalin, Resolutions). Shortly after the Revolution Jewish affairs were officially included in the jurisdiction of the Commissariat for Nationalities; in addition, Jewish councils ("soviets") were appointed on a local, subdistrict, and district level. This trend found its clearest expression during the early stages of the Birobidzhan experiment (1928–34), when the head of the Soviet state, Mikhail Kalinin, declared that "the Jewish people were facing a great task – that of preserving their nationhood." Thus the prerevolutionary forecast of assimilation as the solution to the Jewish problem, even under advanced capitalism, was now replaced by a national and territorial solution under the new conditions created by the "dictatorship of the proletariat." Disregarding Stalin's findings in 1913 that there were no links between the Jewish communities living in various countries, the Soviet leaders now clearly took into account the influence of the Jews on the Revolution, not only in Russia itself but in other countries as well. Lenin also stressed the significance of abolishing completely the anti-Jewish discrimination practiced by the former regime (see Dimanstein, Lenin on the Jewish Problem in Russia, 1924), and this may well have been one of the motives for the project of establishing the nucleus of a Jewish republic (Kalinin at the second national conference of ozet). Although the party did not abandon its theoretical opposition to granting "national cultural autonomy" to ethnic groups lacking a territorial basis, the Jews were in fact permitted to develop a "national culture" of their own (in Yiddish) under the slogan of "a culture that was socialist in content and national in form." Assimilationism ceased to be an obligatory ideal for the foreseeable future. Stalin declared that "Lenin had good reason for saying that national differences will remain for a long time, even after the victory of the dictatorship of the proletariat on an international scale" (Collected Works, vol. 13, p. 7). The belief that Yiddish secular culture in the Soviet Union had a bright future became widespread the world over and attracted to the Soviet Union such non-Communist Jewish authors as David *Bergelson, Leib *Kvitko, David *Hofstein, Moshe *Kulbak, Peretz *Markish, Der *Nister, Max *Erik, Meir *Wiener, and Nakhum *Shtif during the 1920s. Jewish culture in the Soviet Union in this period recorded significant achievements in literature, linguistics, literary history, and some branches of historiography and demography.

This development of Yiddish culture and Jewish autonomy was partly influenced by the considerable influx of former members of Jewish workers' parties (the Bund, the "Fareynikte," *Po'alei Zion, etc.) into the ranks of the Communist Party, especially in the years 1918–21. Many of them tried at first to form Jewish Communist units, as, e.g., the "Kombund" or the "Komfarband," but had soon to conform to the centralist territorial organization of the party and disband all Jewish formations inside the Communist Party. They also had to abjure demonstratively their previous "nationalistic" errors and adopt the official ideology. Nevertheless, these former members of Jewish parties placed their stamp upon the party activities directed toward the Jews, especially through the *Yevsektsiya (which was shunned by the old Jewish Bolsheviks, except Dimanstein). They attempted to continue the tradition of the prerevolutionary Jewish labor parties, basing their activities on various slogans and programs that conformed to the general party policy toward the Jews, such as "productivization," the development of Yiddish culture, Soviet-Jewish territorialism, etc.

At an earlier stage, the Kombund had even had hopes of establishing Jewish organs that would enjoy a large measure of autonomy, based upon the existence of densely settled Jewish masses with a common language and a common way of life. Such endeavors were abandoned as early as 1920, when the Yevsektsiya became a simple propaganda organ of the party with the task of attracting the unorganized Jewish proletariat to the new regime. In accordance with the official line, which demanded that the Russian majority combat its own "chauvinism" and the minority nationalities overcome the "bourgeois nationalism" in their own sphere, the Yevsektsiya found its raison d'être by struggling against the "Jewish class enemy," i.e., Jewish religion, Zionism, and the use of Hebrew, and against any link with traditional Jewish culture. The last vestiges of technically legal Jewish labor groups outside the ruling party, as, e.g., the Communist Jewish Labor Party-Po'alei Zion and the legal *He-Ḥalutz, were officially closed down in 1928. The former was candidly told by the gpu (secret police): "You are disbanded, for we no longer have any need for your party." Two years later, in 1930, the Yevsektsiya itself was dissolved. The end of the Yevsektsiya, however, did not mean an immediate cessation of Yiddish cultural activities. Only in the second half of the 1930s did official policy toward the Jews undergo what was at first a gradual change and later developed into a radical departure from previous policy evolving into forced assimilation.

In the early 1930s, popular antisemitism in the Soviet Union seemed to be on the decline. This trend was used to justify omission of the subject in literature or the press. It was claimed that the "victory of Socialism" made any resurgence of antisemitism impossible. Later, during the Stalinist purges in the late 1930s, most Jewish cultural institutions, including all Yiddish schools, were closed down, and in the course of the far-reaching changes in government and party personnel, a tendency of restricting the number of Jewish cadres made itself felt. The geographic and social changes that had taken place among the Jews, their absorption into the economy of the country, and their growing assimilation to the Russian language and culture provided additional reasons for the gradual abandonment of developing Jewish culture and Jewish institutions and for a return to the original concept of total Jewish assimilation. This time, however, the authorities would force it upon the Jews (though they seemed to disregard the fact that the obligatory registration of the Jewish "nationality" on internal documents, particularly after the reintroduction of the old "passport system" in 1932, made total assimilation even formally impossible). The conscious disregard of any manifestation of popular antisemitism inside the Soviet Union now assumed a different meaning.

Only in the short period of Stalin's anti-Nazi stance from 1934, in the "Popular Front" era, did official Soviet opposition to antisemitism again assume international significance. While Nazi propaganda identified Jews with "Bolsheviks," the Soviet government stressed its opposition to antisemitism "anywhere in the world," expressed "fraternal feelings to the Jewish people" in recognition of its contribution to international socialism, and mentioned Karl Marx's Jewish origin (an item dropped from the 1952 edition of the Soviet Encyclopedia) and the part played by the Jews in building up the Soviet Union (Molotov, 1936). At this time also, a statement made by Stalin in 1931 to a correspondent of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that "antisemitism, as an extreme form of racial chauvinism, is the most dangerous vestige of cannibalism" was even made public in the Soviet Union itself. But in the period of Soviet-German rapprochement (1939–41), the Nazi persecution and murder of Jews in the occupied territories of Europe was hardly mentioned in the Soviet press. Even after the outbreak of war between Germany and the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941), the authorities made no efforts to combat manifestations of popular antisemitism on Soviet territory, which were a frequent occurrence both in the rear and among the partisan units.

An exceptional phenomenon during the war was the establishment of the Jewish *Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow (created to solicit support for the Soviet war effort among Western Jewry), whose existence reinforced feelings of solidarity between Soviet and world Jewry. Another exception was the change in Soviet policy toward Jewish endeavors in Palestine; there were signs of it already in 1945 and it culminated in 1947, when it strongly supported the establishment of a Jewish state. Andrei Gromyko's statement at the un Special Assembly (May 1947) even stressed the historic connection between the Jewish people and Palestine.

Stalin's own infection with antisemitism, however (as witnessed by his daughter, Svetlana Aliluyeva, in her books Twenty Letters to a Friend and Only One Year), tallied with his new policy of encouraging Russian nationalism, which had traditionally been anti-Jewish. This trend came into the open in the "black years" (1948–53) with the campaign against "Cosmopolitans," the murder of Solomon *Mikhoels and other Jewish intellectuals, and the destruction of the last Jewish cultural institutions. The pro-Jewish turn in Soviet policy on Palestine did not have any effect upon the internal anti-Jewish campaign. From the end of 1948 the latter was relentlessly pursued and spread to other Communist countries as well, notably to Czechoslovakia. It reached its climax in the Slánský Trials in Prague and the Doctors' Plot in Moscow.

After Stalin's death (1953) the enforced cultural assimilation of Soviet Jews, as well as their individual discrimination in the universities and certain professions, continued. Events such as the singling out of Jews for "economic trials" and the publication of antisemitic literature in the 1960s, as, e.g., Judaism Without Embellishment by Trofim Kichko (1963), recon-firmed the anti-Jewish line of Stalin's last years in a somewhat attenuated and disguised form. The necessity to disguise this line, especially under pressure of world opinion, including Communist and pro-Soviet circles (see below), elicited some minor concessions, such as the publication of a Yiddish journal (*Sovetish Heymland), a few Yiddish books, and a temporary lull in the propaganda against the Jewish religion (at the end of the 1950s).

A worsening of the situation resulted from the Soviet Union's complete reversal of its policy toward Israel that began in the 1950s with the supply of large consignments of modern arms to the Arab states and continued to be manifest in the sinister role played by the Soviet Union in the sequence of events leading to the Six-Day War and the arrival of Soviet military personnel in Egypt. Soviet antisemitism presented itself from then on as "anti-Zionism."

The World Communist Movement

The Comintern, established in Moscow in the year 1919 and officially dissolved in 1943, had to deal with Jewish problems throughout the period of its existence. In theory, the Comintern recognized neither a "world Jewish people" nor the existence of a world Jewish problem; it conceded that such a problem may exist in certain countries, in which case it remained the responsibility of the local section of the Comintern. Antisemitism was officially regarded by the Comintern as a counterrevolutionary phenomenon, emanating from the dissolution of the petite bourgeoisie and providing a breeding ground for fascism. Its principal danger was that it diverted the attention of the proletariat from the class struggle, and it would disappear as a matter of course as soon as socialism triumphed over fascism and capitalism. There was hardly any mention of antisemitism at the Comintern congresses, the plenary sessions of its Executive Committee, and in its press.

From the very beginning, however, the Comintern was forced to deal with the issue of its relations with the Jewish workers' movement, which was itself a kind of miniature international. The Po'alei Zion had its World Union, and the Bund, although lacking a world organization of its own, wielded great influence among Jewish workers' organizations in Europe and America. The Jewish workers' movement in prerevolutionary Russia had also exerted ideological influence upon Jewish workers in other countries, and even upon Jewish groups that did not belong to the working class. Moreover, the Jewish workers' movement had intricate ties with general workers' organizations and with the international workers' movement, and it had in its ranks many experienced revolutionaries. But the rigid principles of organizational structure made any organized Jewish participation in the Comintern impossible. Efforts made by Communist-oriented groups of the Bund (the Kombund) to join the Comintern as an organization ended in failure, as did similar attempts made by the Polish Bund. The left wing of Po'alei Zion, which, unlike the Bund, had not been involved in the prerevolutionary struggle between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, made even more determined efforts to be accepted by the Comintern; but in 1920, after prolonged negotiations, the Comintern rejected a proposal to create a Jewish section within the Comintern that would consist of all Communist bodies active among the Jewish proletariat (the Yevsektsiya, Kombund, and the Communist Po'alei Zion). Another proposal, made after the second congress of the Comintern, which provided for the World Union of Po'alei Zion to be accepted as a member of the Comintern while its branches would be permitted to form Jewish sections of the respective Communist parties and would retain a degree of autonomy in matters affecting the specific needs of the Jewish masses, was also rejected. The Comintern was ready to concede the creation of Jewish sections of local Communist parties, but was not prepared to accept the continued existence of a Jewish world union. In 1921 the executive council of the Comintern announced the formation of a bureau of Jewish affairs to direct Comintern propaganda among Jewish workers all over the world; however, nothing further was ever heard about the realization of this plan.

Another major Jewish issue confronting the Comintern was that of its attitude toward Zionism and the Jewish settlement in Palestine. The second congress of the Comintern (1920) denounced Zionism, which "by its claim to a Jewish state in Palestine, where Jewish workers form only a small minority, actually delivers the Arab workers to Britain for exploitation." The executive committee (August 1921) further elaborated upon this denunciation of Zionism by branding the idea of concentrating the Jewish masses in Palestine as "utopist and reformist," an idea "that leads directly to counterrevolutionary results, aiming as it does at settlement in Palestine, which eventually will only serve to strengthen British imperialism there." Throughout its existence, the Comintern adhered to this stand, instructing its Palestine section, as well as all Jewish Communists in other countries, accordingly. In the mid-1920s, however, the Communist Trade Union International (the "Profintern") made an unsuccessful attempt to establish ties with the Left Po'alei Zion in Palestine.

Though the Comintern did not arrive at an official definition of Jewish group identity, its general approach was expressed in the early 1930s in a widely distributed book written by a Jew, Otto Heller, Der Untergang des Judentums (1931). Its thesis was that West European Jewry was doomed to disappear as a result of its emancipation, the decline of religion, mixed marriages, and assimilation, and the loss of the special social functions that it had previously fulfilled in European society. A similar process was taking place in the western hemisphere countries to which many Jews had emigrated. In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, the Jews had retained certain national characteristics, and their ultimate fate was still in the balance. In the Soviet Union, they were recognized as a nationality; whether they would utilize the opportunity offered them by the Socialist regime to preserve their national existence and even advance from the status of nationality to that of a nation, with its own territory, was completely dependent on their desire to do so. Even in the Soviet Union, however, at least partial assimilation was an irresistible trend.

During the 1930s, until June 1941, the Communist parties everywhere, including Palestine, adhered strictly to the Soviet line – from its anti-Nazi stand during the Popular Front period to its denunciation of the Western powers and their "imperialist" war against Nazi Germany during the Soviet-German rapprochement (1939–41). The mental strain involved in Soviet-Nazi friendship and cooperation, particularly for Jewish Communists, vanished with the German attack on the Soviet Union and the latter's anti-Nazi alliance with the Western democracies.

in poland

Communism among the Jews in Poland was of particular importance. During the early 1930s in the area inhabited by ethnic Poles (i.e., excluding the areas populated by Ukrainians and Belorussians), Jews accounted for 22 to 26% of the membership of the Communist Party. In the Comintern, the Polish Communist Party occupied a special place, being the oldest member party and providing a large share of its functionaries. Its special role was also related to Poland's geographical situation between the Soviet Union and Germany – the latter at that time being the major strategic objective of the Comintern's activities.

The Polish Communist Party (kpp) was founded at the end of 1918 by the merger of the Social Democratic Party of Poland and Lithuania (sdkpil) and the Polish Socialist Party (pps)-Left. Each of the two components had its own tradition of dealing with Jewish affairs. There was a large number of Jews in the leadership of the sdkpil (among them Rosa *Luxemburg), but the party advocated full assimilation for Jews and even failed to take a strong stand against antisemitism. This attitude did not change during the first few years of the Polish republic; in spite of pogroms, antisemitic campaigns, and a special resolution adopted by it, the party remained rather indifferent to antisemitism, so much so that Comintern leaders, such as Radek and Zinoviev, found it necessary to draw the kpp's attention to this state of affairs. At its second congress (1923), 30% of the delegates were Jews, but of these, two-thirds described themselves as "Poles of Jewish descent." In the period 1919–22, groups (such as Kombund) and individuals who had previously belonged to Jewish workers' parties joined the kpp and took up important posts in it; some of them left their imprint upon the party's activities among the Jews. They included former Po'alei Zion members, such as S. Amsterdam-Henrikowsky, Gershon Dua-Bogen, S. Zakhariash, and A. Lewartowsky; ex-members of the "Fareynikte," such as Jacob Gordin and P. Bokshorn (later also Gutman-Zelikowicz); and from the Bund, A. Minc and A. Plug. Eventually the struggle against antisemitism came to play an important role in the activities of the kpp. It did not follow the sdkpil tradition, and called even for national rights for the Jewish minority, equal opportunities for cultural development, equal rights for Yiddish in the administration and the courts, and the establishment of secular Yiddish-language schools. The party's activities among the Jews were in the hands of special "sections," "bureaus," or "groups," the autonomy of which remained a controversial issue throughout their existence. The staff of these Jewish "sections" participated in the incessant internal struggle that marked the kpp; when the party line so demanded, these Jewish functionaries fought bitterly against the Bund, the Zionist movement, and He-Ḥalutz. A considerable number of Yiddish periodicals, ostensibly non-Communist, were in reality published by the illegal kpp, and for a while, during the 1930s, even a daily (Der Fraynd). A large group of Jewish writers and cultural personalities was affiliated with the kpp or linked with its periodicals. In the period 1935–37, the party made strenuous efforts to induce various political groups (among them its political rivals) to join in a common struggle against fascism and antisemitism.

[Moshe Mishkinsky]

in the united states

In the United States, the Bolshevik Revolution led to factional disputes within the two main left-wing parties in existence in 1917, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Labor Party, which had significant Jewish memberships, and also within the Industrial Workers of the World (iww). Some of the more moderate Jewish socialist and labor leaders, such as A. Lessin, A. *Cahan, J.B. *Salutzky, B.Z. *Hoffman-Zivion, and H. Rogoff, temporarily sided with the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution, in part because the alternative to Bolshevism was the violently antisemitic "white" counterrevolution, but soon adopted a firm anti-Communist stand. Other Jewish socialists threw their lot in permanently with the Communists. As a result of the first split in the Jewish Socialist Federation, a Jewish Federation of the Communist Party was founded under the leadership of A. Bittelman (October 1919). In 1921 the Jewish Socialist Federation seceded from the Socialist Party and a Jewish federation of the Communist-sponsored "Workers' Party" came into being (1922). In the same year a Yiddish Communist newspaper, *Freiheit, made its appearance, edited by M. *Olgin and S. Epstein, two former members of the Bund. Certain socialist leaders who were steeped in Jewish culture, such as M. *Vinchevsky and K. *Marmor, also lent their support to Communism, largely because of their belief in the prospects of a national Yiddish culture developing in the Soviet Union. There was also considerable Communist influence in trade unions with large Jewish memberships. Many of the Yiddish schools founded by the *Workmen's Circle were transferred to Communist sponsorship, and in 1929 Jewish Communists founded the International Workers' Order. It is estimated that in the 1920s as much as 15% of the American Communist Party's membership was Jewish, and the percentage of Jews among the Party leadership was undoubtedly higher. Unemployed or economically marginal Jews, especially in such professions as teaching and social work, and in the fur industry and some sectors of the garment trade, were powerfully attracted by Communist ideals and the widely propagandized achievements of Soviet Russia. Jewish membership fell off slightly as a result of Communist support of the Palestinian Arabs against Jews in the riots of 1929. During the Depression, Communist influence was again on the rise and could claim many sympathizers and "fellow travelers" among the American Jewish academic youth and intelligentsia. A further rise came in the mid-1930s, when the Nazis came to power in Germany and the Soviet Union adopted the Popular Front policy. It was at this time that the Yiddisher Kultur Farband (yikuf) was founded by Communists in the United States. In the late 1930s the Moscow trials and the acceptance by the American Communist Party of the Soviet-Nazi rapprochement (1939–41) resulted again in a sharp drop in Communist influence among American Jews, which was only partly reversed by the events of World War ii. Postwar revelations of Stalinist atrocities and systematic Soviet antisemitism permanently put an end to Communism as a serious force in American Jewish life. Fears that the trial and execution of the Communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage would tempt the anti-Communist right in the United States to adopt a platform of antisemitism proved unfounded. The list of Jews who played a prominent role in the leadership and factional infighting of the American Communist Party from its inception is a long one and includes such figures as Israel *Amter, Max *Bedacht, Benjamin *Gitlow, Jay *Lovestone, Jacob *Stachel, William Weinstone, and Alexander Trachtenberg. Many American Jewish authors and intellectuals, some of whom later publicly recanted, were active in editing Communist publications and spreading party propaganda in the 1920s, 1930s, and even later, among them Michael *Gold, Howard *Fast, and Bertram *Wolfe.

After World War ii

Although the newly established Communist regimes of Eastern Europe after World War ii followed the Soviet line on the Jewish question and the policy toward Israel, there existed some fundamental differences. Most of them permitted the Jews to establish countrywide frameworks for religious and cultural activities, primarily in Yiddish (see *Poland, *Romania, *Hungary, *Czechoslovakia, and *Bulgaria). But, as a rule, the recognition of the Jews as a national minority was not based upon their obligatory individual registration as members of the Jewish "nationality" on identity documents (as in the Soviet Union), and Jews were able to describe themselves either as Jews or as belonging to the respective majority people; in theory, at least, they had the option of national assimilation. Jewish cultural institutions, whose Soviet counterparts had been liquidated in Stalin's time, continued to function, as, e.g., Yiddish theaters (in Poland and Romania), the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, and a similar institute in Budapest. At one period or other, most of these countries permitted large numbers of Jews to migrate to Israel, in spite of the different Soviet policy in this respect.

Communist parties outside the Soviet bloc, including their Jewish sections and Jewish press, reflected the policy of the Soviet Union toward the Jews. In the last years of Stalin's rule, when every trace of Jewish culture and Jewish institutions had been obliterated in the Soviet Union, they tried to obscure the truth of the situation and even defended the Soviet Union against attacks by Jewish leaders and organizations against the anti-Jewish policy of 1952–53. A radical change occurred after the 20th congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956, when Stalin's crimes were for the first time revealed in the Soviet Union, although the anti-Jewish element in these crimes continued to be ignored and suppressed. The first shock came with the publication (in the New York Jewish Forward) of news of the judicial murder of 26 outstanding Soviet Jewish writers and poets on Aug. 12, 1952. A great stir was caused in the entire Jewish world by an editorial that appeared in the Warsaw Communist newspaper, Folkshtime, in April 1956 headlined "Our Sorrow and Our Comfort." The article contained a detailed report of the process by which Jewish culture in the Soviet Union, its bearers, and institutions, had been liquidated, a process that had commenced in the 1930s and had reached its tragic culmination in the last years of Stalin's life. The article expressed the hope that this process would be reversed and Jewish culture and cultural institutions would enter a period of revival.

A storm of indignation swept the Communist movement in the West, especially among Jewish Communists. In Canada, the veteran Communist leader J.B. Salsberg published a series of articles in the Communist press that contained a report on the meetings of a delegation of the Canadian Communist Party, headed by him, with Khrushchev in Moscow in 1957 at which the Soviet leader's antisemitic inclinations had been clearly indicated. Salsberg seceded from the Communist Party, and many Jews and non-Jews followed his example. In Britain, another veteran Jewish Communist, Hyman *Levy, published a pamphlet entitled Jews and the National Question (1958), in which he denounced Soviet policy toward the Jews after an extensive visit to the Soviet Union and talks with Soviet leaders. He was promptly expelled from the party. In the United States, Howard Fast left the Communist Party under similar circumstances, stressing the Jewish aspect of his decision in The Naked God (1957); so did several members of the editorial staff of the Daily Worker (which thereupon turned into a weekly). In Latin America, sizable groups of Jews left the party and embarked upon the publication of their own organs (called, e.g., Mir Viln Lebn, "We Want to Live") expressing their opposition to Soviet policy of forced assimilation of Jews and destruction of Jewish culture and institutions; eventually, most of them joined Zionist Socialist parties. In non-Jewish Communist publications, such as L'Unità in Italy, and theoretical Communist journals in Britain, Australia, and other countries, the Soviet Union also received severe criticism of its discriminatory policy toward the Jews. In 1963, when Kichko's antisemitic book was published in Kiev, almost the entire Communist press in the West joined in a sharp protest, and the central committee of the Soviet Communist Party found itself obliged to disassociate itself publicly from the book.

Far-reaching changes also took place after the Six-Day War (1967), when the Soviet Union launched a worldwide campaign against "international Zionism" marked by violently antisemitic overtones. The Communist Party in Israel (see below) split into a pro-Israel and pro-Arab faction (Maki and Rakaḥ, respectively); a similar split, which in most cases did not, however, extend to organizational separation but confined itself to differences of political attitude, also occurred in several Communist parties elsewhere. In New York, the Morning Freiheit adopted a stand akin to that of Maki (which considered that in the Six-Day War Israel defended its freedom and existence), while The Daily World followed the anti-Israel line. In France, L'Humanité took a sharp anti-Israel stand, and reasserted the old Communist call to the Jews to assimilate to their host nations (editorial published on March 26, 1970), while the Naye Prese, the Communist Yiddish daily in Paris, was much more moderate in its attitude toward Israel and continued to affirm the Jewish right to an independent national culture. The "Jewish crisis" in the international Communist camp was further exacerbated by the events that took place in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and even more by the stringent antisemitic policy in Poland from March 1968, which was accompanied by what amounted to the expulsion of veteran Jewish Communists from the country. Adherence to the Communist Party and the affirmation of a positive Judaism of any kind had become mutually exclusive. With the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, Jewish affiliation virtually ended, as only diehards remained associated with the small political groupings that clung to the old ideology under altered names.

[Moshe Mishkinsky]

in ereẒ israel

A Communist group first appeared in Palestine during 1919, within the extreme left Mifleget Po'alim Soẓialistim (mps), "Socialist Workers' Party," but it soon disintegrated. Under the British Mandate the Communist Party was outlawed. In 1921 the Palestine Communist Party was organized illegally, by a combination of extreme left splinter groups, and affiliated with the Comintern in 1924. Its entire history was a series of internal splits and secessions, as well as conflicts with Zionism and the British authorities. Its course was always clouded by alternating Jewish-Arab cooperation and friction within the Party.

From 1924 onward, on Comintern orders, efforts were made to "Arabize" the Party, the argument being that the country would always remain Arab, since Zionism was at best utopian, and at worst a servant to British imperialism. Jewish leaders were ousted, but attempts made to recruit Arabs proved largely unsuccessful; the richer Arabs were averse to Communism, while others, if at all politically minded, favored Arab nationalism. Although sympathy with the Russian October Revolution was widespread in the Palestine labor movement, during the 1920s only a splinter group of the *Gedud ha-Avodah broke with Zionism and eventually migrated to the Soviet Union. From 1936 to 1939 the Party openly supported the Arab revolt, including the anti-Jewish terrorism. Still, in 1939 the Party was quite isolated from the Arabs, while its support of the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement jolted the remaining Jewish members. From 1939 it operated in separate Jewish and Arab groups.

Further splits occurred over the Soviet Union's support of a Jewish state in 1948, when some of the Arab members of the party were against the Soviet Union's vote for partition. After the establishment of the State of Israel, the Party reunited under the name of "Maki" (Miflagah Komunistit Yisre'elit- "Israel Communist Party"). It operated legally, but, as an anti-Zionist party in a Zionist state, its influence was negligible. Its following among Jews rose in the 1950s, when mass immigration caused economic hardship and when a leftist splinter group of *Mapam, led by Moshe *Sneh, joined Maki; but it dwindled again with the prosperity of the 1960s. Although the party always looked for support among Israel's Arabs, it intensified its appeals to the Arabs in this period. In each election to the Knesset, Maki received greater support, proportionally, from Arabs than from Jews, e.g., in 1961 about half of Maki's 42,111 votes came from Israel Arabs, who then constituted only a ninth of the population. Some of the Arabs voted Communist in response to Soviet support of Arab nationalism, while, for precisely the same reason, many Jews refrained from supporting the Party. Tensions on this point were the main cause of the rift in Maki, generally on Jewish-Arab lines, which occurred in the summer of 1965. The Arab-led faction formed the New Communist List (Reshimah Komunistit Ḥadashah, or Rakaḥ), with a more extreme anti-government attitude and complete obedience to Moscow.

At first the Soviet Union tended to endorse Maki and Rakaḥ, but after the 1967 Six-Day War it recognized Rakaḥ only. After the split Maki took a line increasingly independent of Moscow in all matters pertaining to Israel-Arab relations, reflecting the fundamental Jewish nationalism of its membership. This became more pronounced after the Six-Day War, when Maki openly criticized Moscow's anti-Israel attitude and largely endorsed Israel government acts and policy. At its conference in 1968 Maki adopted a program which included not only pro-Israel plans but also, for the first time, a recognition that every Jew, even in a Socialist country, should be allowed to choose among assimilation, Jewish cultural life, or migration to Israel. Some Communist parties abroad, mainly in the West, but also that of Romania, continued to maintain "fraternal" relations with Maki, in spite of Moscow's denunciations of Maki's "chauvinism."

Although membership statistics were not publicized, the party would appear to have had close to 5,000 members in the 1950s and about 3,000 in the early 1960s. In 1961, according to the report of Maki's congress, 74.3% were Jews and 25.7% Arabs; 83.8% had joined after 1948 and 27% after 1957, an indication of the rapid turnover among the rank and file. The leadership, which had changed often in pre-state days, remained fairly constant from 1948 until the 1965 rift. In the late 1960s the Jewish leaders of Maki were Shemuel Mikunis and Moshe *Sneh, while Meir Wilner and the Arabs Tawfiq Toubi and Emil Habibi headed Rakaḥ. All five were Knesset members at one time or another.

The party always stressed continuous, often strident, propaganda. Many joined the v (Victory) League after June 1941, and later, the various friendship societies with the Soviet Union, several of which were front organizations. The Party's written propaganda increased before elections, and it maintained a continuous flow of newspapers and periodicals in Hebrew (Kol ha-Am ("Voice of the People")), Arabic, French, Polish, Romanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Yiddish. After the 1965 split, both Communist parties continued publishing in Hebrew and Arabic, with Maki publishing in other languages, to reach new Jewish immigrants. After winning just one seat in the 1969 Knesset elections, Maki was transformed into Moked under Meir *Pa'il in the early 1970s and effectively vanished from the political map. Rakaḥ changed its name to Ḥadash (Ḥazit Demokratit le-Shalom u-le-Shivyon, "Democratic Front for Peace and Equality") before the 1977 Knesset elections, joined now by Jewish leftists, and was able to maintain a Knesset faction of 3–5 members into the 21st century as a nationalist Arab party, despite the disintegration of the Communist Bloc.

[Jacob M. Landau]


R.L. Braham et al. (eds.), Jews in the Communist World 1945–1962 (1963), a bibliography; I. Shein (ed.), Bibliografye fun Oysgabes… (1963), 13–28; Gesher, 12 (Heb.; 1966), nos. 47–48; G. Aronson et al. (eds.), Russian Jewry 1917–1967 (1969); S.M. Schwarz, The Jews in the Soviet Union (1951); B.Z. Goldberg, The Jewish Problem in the Soviet Union (1961); Yidishe Komunisten vegen der Yidn Frage in Ratenferband, 2 vols. (1958); A. Yarmolinsky, The Jews and Other Minor Nationalities under the Soviets (1928); A. Leon, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (1950); A. Bittelman, Program for Survival; the Communist Position on the Jewish Question (1947); E. Collotti, Die Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands 1918–1933 (1961), includes bibliography; L. Poliakov, De l'antisionisme à l'antisémitisme (1970); C. Sloves, in: The New Leader (Sep. 14, 1959); H. Levy, Jews and the National Question (1958); M.K. Dziewanowski, The Communist Party of Poland (1959), index, s.v.Bund and Jewish Problem; J. Kovacs, in: jsos, 8 (1946), 146–70; E.R. Kutas, in: Journal of Central European Affairs (Jan. 1949), 377–89; M. Epstein, The Jew and Communism: The Story of Early Communist Victories and Ultimate Defeats in the Jewish Community, U.S.A. 1919–1941 (1959); S. Zacharias, ppr un Kamf un Boy (1952); idem, Di Komunistishe Bavegung Tsvishn der Yidisher Arbetendike Befelkerung in Poyln (1954); idem, Menshen fun kpp (1964); R. Garaudy, Toute la vérité (1970); M. Jarblum, Soixante ans de problémejuif dans la théorie et la pratique du bolchévisme (1964); M. Decter, in: Foreign Affairs (Jan. 1963). in ereẒ israel: W.Z. Laqueur, Communism and Nationalism in the Middle East (19613), passim; N. List, in: Keshet, 5–9 (1963–67); G.Z. Yisre'eli (Laqueur), mps–maki (Heb. 1953); H. Bazhuza, Ẓe'adim Rishonim be-Netiv ha-Komunizm ha-Yisre'eli (1956); M.M. Czudnowski and J.M. Landau, The Israeli Communist Party and the Elections for the Fifth Knesset 1961 (1965); J.M. Landau, The Arabs in Israel: A Political Study (1969), passim.


views updated May 17 2018



As a term, communism became adopted among networks of revolutionary artisans in western Europe during the 1830s and 1840s, denoting both the distinctiveness of their own political movement and the main quality of the society they hoped to create. Bespeaking a collectivist or cooperative ideal of the good society, it was always linked to a passionate critique of emerging capitalism as a type of society based on private property, necessary inequality, and unregulated market relations. With the rise of the European labor movements between the 1860s and 1890s, communist became largely supplanted by socialist and social democratic, but that earlier language of the 1840s still left some permanent traces. Most famously expressed in the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1847–1848, these traces included the idea of an inner core of revolutionaries seeking the general overthrow of society, the ideal of a future cooperative and egalitarian world, the fundamental critique of capitalism, and a politics focused sociologically on the massed agency of the working class.


These resonances were not properly reclaimed until the European socialist movement was thrown into crisis by the First World War. After the initial disorientation of July–August 1914, bitterly contested divisions were opened in each national party around issues of support for the war. Vladimir Lenin in particular embraced the rhetoric of "communism" as a means of separating himself from the given leaderships of the Second International, the federation of socialist parties and trade unions founded in 1889. As the antiwar Left regrouped through conferences in the Swiss villages of Zimmerwald and Kienthal between September 1915 and April 1916, and popular discontent proliferated through the winter of 1916–1917, the appeals of such language grew. For Lenin and the "Zimmerwald Left," the need for a split and refoundation became paramount: opposing the war required unequivocal revolutionary opposition to capitalism; supporting the war ("social patriotism") spelled reformism and betrayal of the movement's best traditions. Massive working-class unrest unfolded across most of Europe between April and September 1917, reaching a spectacular climax in the Russian Revolutions of February and October. Riding this wave of success, the victorious Bolsheviks changed their name from the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party to the Communist Party in March 1918. As revolutionary turbulence engulfed the Continent at the end of the war in November 1918, with principal storm centers in Italy and Germany, divisions now widened between the older socialist parties, whose leaderships pursued broadly reformist and pragmatic strategies of reform, and the new militancies increasingly inspired by the success of the Bolsheviks in Russia.

In April 1917 a major break had been wrought in Germany when the Social Democratic Party (SPD) expelled its large left-wing opposition, who then regrouped as the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD). Smaller breakaways occurred elsewhere, while in Germany, Austria, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Poland during 1918 small Communist parties were formed as such. The launching of the Third International in March 1919 then drew representatives from these early initiatives to the founding congress in Moscow, augmented by delegations from most of the Russian Empire's former territories and from Turkey, Persia, China, and Korea. They were also joined by individual revolutionaries from various parts of Europe, representing mainly themselves. Further Communist parties were now launched in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Spain.

Yet so far each of these new parties remained isolated fragments and sects. Effective rivalry with the old socialist parties required attracting large sections, even majorities, of their supporters into the new camp. This was especially true of the strong central and northern European "social democratic core" of the German-speaking countries, the Czech lands, and Scandinavia, where socialist parties won more than 25 percent of the popular vote in national elections before 1914, but it also applied to the major countries of France, Italy, Britain, and Spain. Yet even the German USPD, the largest of the new left-wing formations issuing from the wartime divisiveness, still balked at a final break with the past. Neither of the two largest parties moving strongly to the "maximalist" left during 1918–1919, the Italian Socialist Party and the Norwegian Labor Party, were ready to affiliate with the new Communist International. Nor were the strong left oppositions in parties like the Swiss, Czech, or French. On the other hand, the revival of the pre-1914 Second International at Bern in February 1919 was not a success. After only a year all but the German SPD, the British Labour Party, and the moderate socialist parties of Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands had abandoned it, including the large left-wing parties of Italy, France, Austria, and Norway. If the new communism was to take off, these were the parties it needed to win.

Thus a further process of radicalization was required across Europe before most left-wing socialists were willing to take the plunge and identify themselves with communism. This could involve either disillusionment with a moderate socialist party whose intransigence drove radicals to the left, as happened in Germany via the conflicts between the SPD and USPD, or else the exhaustion of other left-wing alternatives, such as the syndicalist chimera of the general strike in France or Italy. But the main impetus came from a drastic radicalizing of popular militancy during 1919–1920, which brought new cohorts of working-class revolutionaries into politics and overwhelmed the reservations of more seasoned voices on the left. This last effect was most apparent in Germany and Italy. In response to the new revolutionary upswing in western Europe, accordingly, the Third International's Second Congress in July 1920 issued a renewed call for affiliation on the basis of "Twenty-One Conditions," which now defined who qualified to become a Communist Party (CP). In a series of dramatic congresses, beginning with the USPD in October 1920 and continuing with the French socialists (December), the Italians (January 1921), and the Czechs (May), some of Europe's largest socialist parties voted to join the Communist International. In the course of 1920–1921 this process was repeated elsewhere, until each European country had acquired its national CP, however tiny and marginal within the national polity. For a while some left-wing socialists sought to hold a middle ground between the Second and Third Internationals, most notably the large and prestigious Austrian Socialist Party. But by 1923 the differences had hardened. Socialists and Communists faced each other from two angrily distinct and mutually hostile camps.


What did this new communism signify? Most simply put, it stood for "revolution" as against "reform." In the period from 1917 to 1923, it stood above all for the successful making of a revolution. The Bolsheviks had seized state power, won their civil war, and consolidated a socialist regime. Abstracting further from this experience, the communist model of revolutionary change seemed to entail a strategy of armed insurrection coordinated by the leadership of a disciplined revolutionary party, profiting from extreme social polarization and collapse of the liberal center. Given such polarization of the class struggle, a pitched confrontation against the recalcitrant forces of reaction was then thought to be inevitable, culminating in a "dictatorship of the proletariat." In contrast with the inevitabilist understandings of most pre-1914 socialists, for whom revolution was the natural consequence of the maturing of capitalist contradictions, the ripening of the economy for socialist control, and the amassing of unstoppable working-class majorities in elections, this Bolshevik model of revolutionary change was also voluntarist. Rather than waiting for the objective logic of history to do its work, revolutionaries could now make their own opportunities; socialist revolution was no longer the necessary exit from the inevitable capitalist crisis but could be conceived as a creative political act.

Further linked to this loosening of economic determinism was an argument about "Russian backwardness." That is, revolutions could be made not only in the most completely industrialized societies but also where extremes of uneven development (an exceptionally mobilized working class, an exceptionally exploited peasantry) had concentrated social tensions to the point of rupture. In Lenin's formulation, Russia was "the weakest link in the imperialist chain"; once it snapped the effects would certainly be transferred elsewhere. Other features of Bolshevik success, such as their willingness to take up the demands of the peasantry or their advocacy of national self-determination, were less immediately inspiring for revolutionaries farther to the west. But two final perspectives advanced by Lenin and his main ally in these years, Leon Trotsky, were crucial. One was internationalism, the idea that Russian backwardness would cease to be an impediment to the building of socialism providing revolution also occurred in the more industrialized societies to the west. The other was the role of the soviets—factory-, neighborhood-, and city-based participatory organs of direct democracy—whose historical superiority the Twenty-One Conditions now aggressively asserted against parliamentary institutions.

During the period from 1919 to 1923 the idea of the soviets was perhaps most important of all. In the manifestos issued by the founding congress of the Third International, communism was contrasted with the moribund system of "bourgeois democracy," which not only right-wing socialists ("social patriots") but also many on the left sympathetic to the revolutionary camp ("the amorphous, unstable Socialist center") were still defending. Against parliaments and the classic liberal freedoms were counterposed the soviets or workers' councils as "the conditions and forms of the new and higher workers' democracy." For Lenin and the Bolsheviks, as for all genuine revolutionaries willing to take the communist road, the dictatorship of the proletariat had become the instrument of working-class emancipation, just as "insurrections, civil wars, and the forcible suppression of kings, feudal lords, slave owners and their attempts at restoration" had previously been the unavoidable means of the bourgeoisie's ascent. Under the circumstances of Europe's current revolutionary crisis, therefore, forming an international revolutionary vanguard in the form of the new CPs, to be coordinated via the Third International, had become the utmost priority.

Through this process of popular radicalization, conflict among socialists, and contentious differentiation, the category of communism reentered European political discourse with a clear set of meanings. By the early 1920s it denoted the main home of revolutionary politics, whose goal was the violent overthrow of capitalism rather than its peaceful and piecemeal transformation via ameliorative regulation, constitutional action, and cumulative reform. Yet by the end of 1923, that sharpness of contrast between Communists and their socialist rivals—between polarized confrontation and the pragmatics of negotiation, between the immediacy of revolution and a politics of the long haul, between attacking the system and working within it—was already becoming blurred. The "actuality of the revolution," as the Hungarian Communist Georg Lukács called it, had started to recede. If in 1920–1921 Communist politics meant soviet as against parliamentary state forms, by 1923–1924 the new parties were being drawn once more into participating in the given political order—in parliaments, elections, and the entire institutional world of the reviled "bourgeois democracy." Lenin and the Bolsheviks found themselves conceding the necessity of parliamentary, trade union, and other "legal" forms of action, in however tactical or cynical a form. Furthermore, once the new parties started expanding, their new heterogeneity of support posed unavoidable problems. The disciplined adherence to a unified outlook imagined by the Twenty-One Conditions quickly dissolved amid the actual diversity of beliefs the new cohorts of supporters brought with them—embracing everything from council communism and syndicalism to parliamentary socialism of the pre-1914 variety and an extreme ultraleftism that refused truck with parliaments of any kind. Indeed, the strongest of the new parties in Germany, Italy, and Czechoslovakia faced mobilized constituencies of young working-class militants who were angrily resistant to any suggestion of a coordinated political line. Making disciplined Communists out of such volatile and localistic insurgencies would be no easy thing.


Accordingly a new phase in the early history of communism opened with the exhaustion of immediate revolutionary hopes after late 1923, as the new parties began retooling themselves for a different kind of politics. This transition had three main dimensions. One was organizational consolidation. Most of the new parties, especially the large and prestigious German KPD, suffered from massive and rapid turnovers of membership, frequent changes of leaders, and volatile oscillations of political line; the ability to hold local militants to the policies of the party central was also slight. Thus pressures grew for a tightening of internal discipline behind the approved party line: there was less tolerance for dissenters; earlier diversity of outlooks became flattened; relations with other left-wing organizations were severed; successive leaderships were disgraced and expelled. Wagons were circled against a hostile capitalist world. This drive for "democratic centralism" took bolshevism as its model. Between the Fifth Comintern Congress of 1924, which issued detailed instructions for reshaping each party in the Bolshevik image ("bolshevization)," and the next congress of 1928 the European Communist parties were dragooned into much stricter uniformity of organization, as leaderships demanded higher degrees of internal discipline and overall conformity to a single political line. As a result, by 1928 many of the founding Communists had gone. Conversely, in most parties extraordinarily long-lasting leaderships were now locked into place. Examples included Ernst Thälmann in the KPD (from 1925 until his arrest by the Nazis in 1933 and murder in 1944); Maurice Thorez in the French PCF (1930–1964); Harry Pollitt in the British CPGB (1929–1956); Klement Gottwald in the Czechoslovak KSC (1929–1953), and Palmiro Togliatti in the Italian PCI (1926–1964).

Second, the same years saw a ruthless imposing of Moscow's dominance through the Comintern, the association of Communist parties (Communist International) established in 1919. This was preceded by the power struggle inside the Soviet Communist Party (CPSU) in 1923–1924 following Lenin's illness and death, which by 1925–1926 brought Joseph Stalin to undisputed leadership. The failure of revolution to occur in the advanced capitalist West combined with the Soviet Union's embattled isolation to produce a severe contraction of internationalist perspectives. Under the policy of "socialism in one country" announced by Stalin in January 1926, European Communists regrouped around the overriding priority of defense of the Soviet Union. But compelling arguments for ensuring the survival of the one successful revolution slid easily into the rationalizing of Soviet self-interest and thence into uncritical conformity with Soviet demands. The independent importance of the other CPs became demoted and their roles redefined. The autonomy of the Comintern was taken away, differences across national contexts were ignored, and its executive committee was brought under Soviet control. Despite misgivings, even the shrewdest and most independently minded of European Communists, such as Togliatti or Lukács, fell into line, not least because by this time extreme political repression had driven their own parties into exile and underground. The Soviet leadership's immense authority precluded effective opposition.

Third, this process of "Stalinization" in the European CPs sealed the finality of the split within socialism. The divisiveness of the war years, driven to a high pitch of rhetorical and actual violence via the revolutionary conflicts of 1917–1923, was given lasting institutional form by the welding of the new CPs into rigidly demarcated formations. Those parties emerged from the mid-1920s as austerely revolutionary organizations, digging themselves down into redoubts of proletarian militancy, bitterly denouncing social democrats for betraying the revolution, and uncritically upholding Soviet superiority. Henceforth Communists dourly patrolled the ideological walls separating themselves from socialists and other parts of the Left, an attitude entirely reciprocated by their socialist opponents, for whom anticommunism remained the defining glue of their own creed. At another level, the CPs discharged a hard task remarkably well by shaping the chaotic radicalism of the postwar years into more stable organized form. But in the event a peculiarly rigidified set of political cultures became the unfortunate result. The Sixth Comintern Congress in 1928 was again the decisive event, enforcing new standards of uncritical obedience to its decisions, instating Moscow-loyalist leaderships inside the individual parties, and demanding strict separation from other parts of the Left. Under the terms of this so-called left turn the Sixth Congress opened the period of communism's most extreme ultraleft isolation, insisting on a new period of revolutionary opportunity and denouncing social democrats ("social fascists") as the main enemy.

It was mainly from this period, 1928–1935, that the familiar stereotypes of the Communist politician were to come: secretive, manipulative, and disciplined; rigidly loyal to Moscow; never deviating from the line; using democracy for his own purposes; seeking allies mainly in order to outmaneuver and undermine. The bolshevization process, brought to its ugly climax in 1928, sharpened the boundaries separating Communists from other parts of the Left. The various CPs emerged with new leaders, often trained in Moscow, especially if the party was illegal and underground. They were now much smaller in membership. They recruited new cohorts of workers with little previous labor movement background. Moreover, the new rules of discipline imparted a distinctive quality to life inside the party. Becoming a Communist demanded a special loyalty, which spread into all parts of a militant's life, especially where the party remained a small cadre organization. It required full-time daily commitment, marking Communists off from other workers. Passionate identification with the Soviet Union and the discipline of international solidarity were also a vital part of the positive appeal, but opened the way to a knee-jerk dependence on Moscow's authoritative leadership. Here the rules of "democratic centralism" also spelled a collectively embraced authoritarianism. All of these characteristics came to define "Stalinism" as a distinctive political culture, which reigned more completely in some national parties than others. This never reached straightforwardly down into the local working-class cultures where Communist popular strengths were embedded. But equally, no party leadership or full-time apparatus kept free of its constraints.

In the Soviet Union itself, the most extreme version of a centralist and bureaucratic party-centered regime took shape. Tolerance for dissent, whether inside the CPSU or in society at large, had always been uncertain during the 1920s, despite a certain loosening under the New Economic Policy (NEP) adopted in March 1921. But at the end of that decade the drives for industrialization and collectivization of agriculture now imposed a brutally coercive climate of policing, public values, and interventionist state power. After the assassination of Sergei Kirov, a potential rival to Stalin, in December 1934, a grand-scale state terror unfolded, marked by a series of grotesque show trials in 1936–1938, by a thoroughgoing purge of the party, Red Army, and other institutions, and by the sheer scale of the victims—for example, 680,000 executed during 1937–1938 alone, 3,000,000 imprisoned. By these means a massive turnover of leadership was effected: of 1,966 delegates to the Seventeenth Party Congress in February 1934, only 59 were present at the Eighteenth Congress in 1939; of 139 Central Committee members, only 24 remained, with no less than 98 convicted of treason and shot. The Soviet Communist Party of the mid-1920s was already profoundly different from the Bolshevik revolutionaries who seized power in 1917, but the thoroughly Stalinized apparatus emerging from the Great Purges was now entirely removed from that earlier Bolshevik heritage. Stalin himself had secured an extraordinary concentration of personal power.

The democratic impoverishment of the Comintern's internal regime, the appalling violence of the Great Purges, foreign Communists' uncritical adulation for Stalin, the instrumentalizing of the European CPs for the purposes of Soviet foreign policy—all these features of Communist history painted a bleak picture by the late 1930s. Yet, paradoxically, this was a period of enormous Soviet prestige. By its remarkable feat of forced industrialization, massive projects of social engineering, and apparent harnessing of natural and human resources for the pursuit of the collective good, with all the utopian fervor of building a "new civilization," socialist construction in the Soviet Union attracted widespread Western admiration during the 1930s, often from the unlikeliest of quarters. This prestige acquired particular momentum from two sources. On the one hand, Soviet planning seemed to record exceptional successes at a time when the 1929 stock market crash had thrown Western capitalism into a crisis that many radicals believed might be terminal. On the other hand, the Soviet Union seemed the only international source of resistance to the threat of fascism.


That dual context of the 1930s—catastrophic unemployment and a massive failure of the capitalist system, combined with the rise of Nazism and the broader right-wing assaults on democracy—formed the setting of a remarkable European Communist advance. After a period of willfully magnified isolation between 1928 and 1933–1934, the CPs responded belatedly but creatively to the destruction of democracy in Germany and Austria by seeking to emerge from their isolation. With the PCF in France setting the pace, a new strategy of coalition building was adopted, taken up first by Communists in Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Spain, before being adopted officially by the Seventh Comintern Congress in July 1935. This was the new Popular Front strategy, which called for the broadest possible democratic alliances against fascism. Such People's Fronts were to be based on all those forces that the Comintern had repudiated so decisively in 1919 at its birth—not only the immediate socialist rivals but also the previously reviled forces of bourgeois democracy, including liberals, radicals, and republicans; peace movements; humanitarian organizations; where possible the churches; and even conservative groups open to the defense of democracy. Communists should now support any government willing to uphold democratic rights. This was vital for the forming of international coalitions against the further advance of Nazi Germany, not least for the protection of the Soviet Union itself.

Although in each case it later went down to defeat, this strategy won its greatest initial victories in France and Spain, forming the French Popular Front government of 1936–1937 and rallying the Second Republic against the Nationalist uprising in the Spanish civil war (1936–1939). Associated especially with the Bulgarian Communist Georgi Dimitrov and the Italian Palmiro Togliatti, key figures in the Comintern of these years, the rhetoric of the Popular Front recast socialism as the highest form of older progressive traditions rather than their implacable opponent. Communists now affirmed the importance of universal humanist values ("civilization versus barbarism"), invoked their own country's authentic popular democratic traditions, and took their stand on the common ground of democracy. Through the fight against fascism, moreover, such a broad democratic Left could use this strategy to begin accomplishing the transition to socialism. Rather than stressing the revolutionary climacteric of the insurrectionary seizure of power on the model of 1917, the Popular Front strategists proposed a different perspective: building popular support patiently over a longer term; drawing progressive aspirations from all parts of society; commanding ever greater public influence via existing institutions; building the working-class movement's moral authority into the democratic foundations of the transition. Such a theory of revolution refocused attention away from armed struggle and pitched confrontations and toward changing the system from within by incremental gains.

For Communists this approach marked a decisive departure from the form of revolutionary politics to which they had committed themselves from 1917 to 1923. It allowed for the repairing of bridges to social democracy. With the exception of France and Spain, however, socialists refused to be drawn into coalition. More fundamentally, the Popular Front had failed as an international strategy: the governments of Britain and France rejected an alliance with the Soviet Union; in September–October 1938 Hitler's demands on Czechoslovakia had been disgracefully appeased; and the Spanish civil war was lost. When the Eighteenth Congress of the CPSU convened in March 1939, Europe's Communists seemed more isolated and embattled than ever before. Illegality had become the norm of Communist existence: the CPs in Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary were all underground. With the outbreak of World War II, the PCF too was banned, soon to be joined by the CPs in those countries invaded by Nazi Germany and in Switzerland. The small CPs in Britain and Sweden were then the only ones remaining aboveground. The split between Communists and socialists seemed as bitter as ever. The signing of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact on the very eve of war made the collapse of the Popular Front strategy complete.


This situation was transformed by the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, which at last brutally imposed the conditions for an international anti-Hitler alliance. With the confusing interlude of the Nazi-Soviet Pact now behind them, Communists could rally for cooperation with socialists and other progressives, country by country, in the interests of the primary antifascist cause, a stance that socialists finally reciprocated. First under the auspices of the national resistance movements and then during the liberation in 1944–1945, when the postwar coalition governments began to be formed, Communists emerged with unprecedented positions of recognized legitimacy and political strength. Partly riding the transnational popularity of the Red Army and Soviet Union, the CPs briefly entered the accepted political arena in most of Europe. As stalwarts of the European resistance, they prospered in postwar elections, becoming the Left's majority force in Italy, France, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece, and recording their highest ever successes in democratic elections everywhere else. They also participated in postwar coalition governments, not only in the "People's Democracies" of Eastern Europe where the regional presence of the Red Army provided obvious sanction, but also in the West. The first postwar elections brought palpable evidence of popular desires for change, borne by rhetorics of national reconciliation and new beginnings. Between the autumn of 1945 and summer 1946, accordingly, in Scandinavia, the Low Countries, Italy, and France, varying configurations of Socialists, Communists, and Christian Democrats commanded around three-quarters of the popular vote. In Belgium, Italy, and France, Communists joined in forming the postwar reforming governments.

Four points may be made about this dramatic growth of Communist strength. Most obviously, it marked a decisive break from the Bolshevik origins. The violent and insurrectionary model of revolutionary change associated with 1917 was set aside, to be replaced by a broad democratic conception of restructuring. Communists wished to build the new society inside the frame of the old, both pre-figuratively by exemplary institutions and behaviors in the working-class movement and legislatively by reforms. This new gradualist approach was predicated on several key recognitions: the lower than expected ceilings of left-wing electoral support (which seldom reached more than 40 percent of the popular vote, usually far less); the resulting necessity of coalitions with nonsocialist forces; and the inevitability of strategic moderation and slowness of forward advance. Confrontational violence, disrespect for pluralism, and resort to coercion could only isolate Communists from the rest of society; breadth of consensus was essential to the Left's success. Consequently, Communists needed to take their stand unequivocally on the ground of democracy, building on their own society's "national-popular" traditions. This new version of communism became broadly ascendant across Europe, varying inevitably party by party, during the brief moment of antifascist unity from 1943 to 1947. It was developed most consistently by Togliatti and his supporters in the PCI. One of its main theoretical inspirations was the earlier leader of the PCI, Antonio Gramsci, who had died in Mussolini's prisons in 1937.

Second, the main lasting features of the postwar settlements in Europe owed a great deal to Communist support and participation. From their new positions of influence Communists threw their weight behind the process of reconstruction in 1945. The resulting achievements included new constitutions, especially in France (1946) and Italy (1947), which restored parliamentary democracy, civil rights, and the rule of law, enfranchised women in France, Italy, and Belgium for the first time, and introduced progressive taxation, antitrust laws, and public ownership. The unifying themes of the broader settlements included comprehensive social security, full employment, planned modernizing of the economy, and moral renewal via attacks on Nazi collaborators and the "old gang" of discredited pre-1939 elites. Country by country, the postwar social reforms were mainly laid down during 1945–1946, while Communists were still accepted members of the consensus. Those reforms also ranged across public health and public housing, food programs and family allowances, education, the length of the working week, and the full restoration of trade union rights. Altogether this was a structural transformation that framed Western European political action well into the 1970s and in some ways beyond. It was fundamentally a part of the new Communist program.

Third, the popular communism of the mid-1940s was a dramatically new phenomenon. On the eve of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, the CPs had been almost without exception small and persecuted cadre parties, marginal to their national polities, at daggers drawn with socialist rivals, still in thrall to the insurrectionary memories of 1917–1923, and beholden to Moscow loyalism. In contrast, the Communists recruited through the resistance movements knew nothing of the founding years or the bolshevization drive; they escaped the machinery of Stalinist socialization, which wartime circumstances effectively interrupted; their outlook was shaped by the cooperative logic of antifascism rather than the earlier culture of sectarian isolation; and they were inspired by ideals of national reconstruction. At most they looked back to the Popular Front campaigns, which in many respects prefigured this antifascist élan. The growth in Communist popularity could be startling—the PCI grew from barely 5,000 members to over 1,750,000 between mid-1943 and late 1945—making the new CPs entirely different from the small and battered circles of militants ten years before. The potential for tensions with those earlier generations, or with the old Moscow-loyalist leaders who resurfaced from prisons and exile, was a serious problem, and after spring 1947 the impact of the Cold War restored such Stalinists to influence, forcing the new "National Communisms" into recession. In Eastern Europe that process acquired deadly force, as after 1947–1948 Stalin unleashed vicious and systematic assaults on the legitimacy of these "national roads to socialism."

Fourth, the onset of the Cold War—via the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan aid in the West, through the attack on "Titoism" and the purging of the Eastern European CPs in the East—abruptly severed the politics of antifascist unity and banished communism once again to the margins. In Italy, France, and Belgium, Communists were expelled from the coalition governments in May 1947. More generally, the split between Communists and Socialists was crudely reopened, making anticommunism into the litmus test of loyalty to the main political consensus in the West. Some CPs, such as the French and a number of smaller parties, embraced this renewed isolation with Stalinist alacrity; others, like the Italian or the smaller British and Scandinavian parties, sought ways of keeping alive the newly fashioned politics of democratic participation. When Soviet communism entered its own crisis with the dramatic onset of destalinization after the death of Stalin in 1953, leading to the Polish and Hungarian uprisings of 1956, the ideas of 1943–1947 slowly reemerged. But it required the subsequent sociocultural changes associated with the next pan-European upheaval of 1968, encompassing Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Yugoslavia in the East, and especially France, Italy, and West Germany in the West, before these continuities were properly resumed.


If the antifascist momentum of 1943–1947 gave the new national communisms in East and West a broadly convergent character, the consequences of the Cold War brought a new bifurcation. The Eastern European CPs were the real casualties of Stalin's purges after 1948. They were crushed as creative movements and in the process completely remade: a quarter of the region's aggregate party membership was expelled between 1948 and 1952, or some 2.5 million Communists, with perhaps a quarter of a million imprisoned. In 1945 liberation from Nazism had promised not only social transformation but also new measures of democracy and well-being. But instead the Stalinizing of Eastern Europe now imposed a brutal and hard-faced normalizing. Power became centralized in the party-state's inner leadership, with no constitutional checks or legal opposition, with a captive press and an administered public sphere, and with a local political life frozen into paranoid conformity, whether inside the governing CPs or out. This assertion of political monopoly and single-party rule was the first of three fixed features of Soviet rule in the East. The second was Soviet-style economics, first elaborated after 1928–1929 through the Soviet Union's own experience of heavy industrialization, collectivizing of agriculture, and the use of the five-year plan. The principles of collective property, bureaucratic management, and central planning were instituted across Eastern Europe between 1947 and 1949 and proved subsequently nonnegotiable. Pressures for economic reform—most dramatically in Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968—always halted at the inviolability of state ownership and the command economy, whether directed toward regional and sectoral decentralization, profit mechanisms, new accounting methods, enterprise autonomy, or self-management. The third feature was the military dimension. The Stalinizing of Eastern Europe rested on the iron fist of Soviet military rule, based on Europe's geopolitical division in 1945–1949, solidified into NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

These were the three fixed points in the Soviet system from the late 1940s to the mid-1980s. The pivotal initiative in Soviet destalinizing, Nikita Khrushchev's denunciations of the crimes of Stalin in his "secret speech" to the CPSU's Twentieth Congress in February 1956, which might have opened the way for a process of internal change, stopped strictly short of attacking Stalin's main policies. Each of these was left carefully intact, whether "socialism in one country" and bolshevization of the Comintern, central planning, industrialization and collectivization of agriculture, or democratic centralism and the one-party state. As the main Communist reform movements learned to their cost—in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968—these were the boundaries that could never be overstepped. Thus once the new government of Imry Nagy restored the multiparty system and took Hungary out of the Warsaw Pact, the Red Army immediately invaded; likewise, though the Prague Spring meticulously reaffirmed Czechoslovakia's membership in the Warsaw Pact, the ending of single-party rule had the same inevitable result. While decisively impeding regenerative reform inside Eastern Europe itself, moreover, these same fixed features of Soviet rule proved huge liabilities for the Left in the West, whose advocacy for socialism was disastrously handicapped by the unattractiveness of these "actually existing socialisms."

For Communists in Western Europe, the combined trauma of 1956—first Khrushchev's revelations, which opened the possibility of change, then the invasion of Hungary, which left everything still the same—began an uneven process of separating themselves from the Soviet Union and the liabilities of Stalinism. The crisis itself saw a massive hemorrhaging of CP support: between 1956 and 1958 the PCI lost four hundred thousand members, the CPGB eight thousand, or a quarter of the whole. In some smaller CPs (Austria, Germany, Portugal), Moscow loyalists simply hunkered down. But a far larger number of parties moved toward greater independence, usually after losing members and often via splits (Scandinavia, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Britain, Ireland, the Low Countries). In the largest parties of Iceland, Italy, and France, 1956 worked with the grain of existing history. The smallness of the country allowed the Icelandic People's Alliance to avoid the vagaries of international communism altogether. But if the PCI used the crisis to enhance its own autonomy, the PCF simply flaunted its Moscow orthodoxy. French Communist dissent broke on the rock of Stalinist party discipline. But after the initial securing of party unity by defeating the dissenters at the PCI's Eighth Congress in December 1956, Togliatti moved firmly toward reestablishing a distinct set of Western European Communist perspectives. He tactfully rejected Moscow's single and unqualified leadership, proposing a new concept of "polycentrism" instead, affirming the importance of "national roads to socialism" and reclaiming the experience of 1943–1947.

During the 1960s an uneasy standoff ensued, as Western Communists edged toward greater autonomy without repudiating either the Soviet Union or their own Stalinist pasts. Once the Czechoslovak reform movement (the "Prague Spring") had galvanized such renewed and heady hopes for the East, the Warsaw Pact's invasion in August 1968 shattered any remaining belief in the Soviet Union's benevolent leadership. On the one hand, the Soviet invasion ended socialism's Eastern European prospects. In the Soviet imperium's first quarter century, from 1944 to 1970, reform movements had always involved complex synergies between social pressures and inner-party renewal; Communist traditions had themselves fueled the Hungarian Revolution and the Prague Spring. But this was the possibility brutally terminated on 20 August 1968. Henceforth dulled conformity, social apathy, bureaucratic privilege, Moscow loyalism, and at best a kind of technocratic ambition became generalized across Eastern Europe's governing Communist cultures. After 1968, no democratic impulse could begin from the region's Communist parties; reform politics would come in opposition to the CPs rather than through them. This change was dramatically apparent in the key remaining oppositional episode of Eastern European Communist history, the remarkable rise of Solidarność (Solidarity) in Poland in 1980–1981, with its preceding explosions of 1970 and 1976.

On the other hand, Western European Communists broke decisively with the Soviet Union. In contrast with 1956, Soviet actions in 1968 were almost universally condemned. At the CPSU's Twenty-Fifth Congress in February 1976 and a Conference of European CPs in East Berlin in June, the criticisms were reaffirmed: Western Communists demanded "equality and respect for the autonomy of all parties," together with support for individual and collective freedoms under socialism. A shared position coalesced around the Italian, British, and Swedish speakers, and in East Berlin an unprecedented debate ensued. The official document validated internal debate, international nonalignment, and "dialogue and collaboration with democratic forces." The old Bolshevik or "Leninist" talk, where the CPs were "vanguard forces" with "identical objectives" and "a common ideology," was gone. Instead, the Soviet Union was asked to respect the "equality and sovereign independence of each party" without interfering in its "internal affairs." Each CP should be free to work out its own "national road."


Concurrent with the loosening of Communist conformities and the accumulating critique of Stalinism was a remarkable revival of critical Marxist thought, sometimes beginning inside the organized Communist frameworks of East and West, sometimes occurring outside them altogether. That revival was intimately connected in the later 1960s with both the growth of student radicalism in the greatly expanded higher education systems of Western Europe and the broader intellectualcultural ferment of the time. The practical import was dramatized by the Paris "May events" of 1968. But these were only the most spectacular moment of a European-wide political crisis linked to student insurgencies, the rise of a new feminism and associated social movements, and the pan-European strike wave of 1967–1975. Such new radicalisms issued a challenge not only to the established liberal norms of political life in Western Europe but also to the Communist parties as the main guardians of an anticapitalist critique. By the mid-1970s certain of those CPs, essentially the most consistent of the Soviet Union's critics since 1968 (and those drawing the clearest lessons from 1956) were enunciating a creative response. Through intensive consultations between 1975 and 1977, inspiring similar ideas among Communists in Britain, Scandinavia, and other smaller countries, the important Italian, Spanish, and French CPs arrived at a common outlook. Tagged as "Eurocommunism," the resulting program sought to sustain a commitment to socialist transformation by further distancing Western European Communists from the Soviet model, committing them unambiguously to democratic pluralism and opening them to the new post-1968 radicalisms.

As a programmatic strategy, Eurocommunism was a failure. When the French Left's common program fell apart in September 1977, the PCF reverted to sectarianism, and in the 1978 elections its vote was surpassed by the Socialists for the first time since 1945; after the Socialist electoral victories of 1981, the PCF never recovered, sinking to a terminally marginal place in the polity. Having been the mainstay of resistance to Franco's dictatorship, the Spanish Communists made a vital contribution to Spain's democratic transition, brokering the key negotiations of 1975–1977 and defending the parliamentary parameters of the ensuing consolidation; yet this never translated into electoral success, and by 1979 the party had become permanently outflanked by the newly created Socialist Party. The strongest Eurocommunist showing was in Italy, where in 1976 the PCI recorded its highest ever electoral success (34.4 percent) while pressing hard for a fundamental realignment of Italian society. Appealing to the heritage of Togliatti, Gramsci, and 1943–1947, its new leader Enrico Berlinguer sought to draw the ruling Christian Democrats into his "historic compromise," both to defend Italy's constitution against a threatening social polarization and to initiate a fresh stage of democratic restructuring. By decisively repudiating the old language of the "dictatorship of the proletariat," taking its stand forthrightly on the ground of democracy, patiently building new coalitions, and casting off the handicaps of Moscow, the PCI hoped to shed its permanent opposition and demonstrate its right to govern. But Berlinguer was outmaneuvered by the Christian Democrats. By the 1979 elections the PCI had lost 1.5 million votes. Abandoning the historic compromise, the party returned to opposition.

In other respects Eurocommunists produced lasting results. In Italy and Spain they defended democratic constitutions against serious right-wing destabilization. They also brought southern Europe finally into the fold of social democracy. While Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and German-speaking Europe formed a north-central European "social democratic core" in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, Mediterranean Europe had a different labor movement, one shaped by anarchosyndicalism and then in the Cold War by strong CPs marginalized by regimes of the Right. Only by the 1970s were southern European Lefts winning leverage on government via organized labor followed by electoral growth. Socialists in France, Spain, and Portugal now challenged the primacy of the CPs in this regard, but Communists themselves adopted perspectives indistinguishable from the more ambitious forms of social democracy in Scandinavia and elsewhere. Eurocommunists also rejected the traditional Leninist model of the cadre party, seeking broader-based forms of social-movement-type organizing more akin to the politics encouraged by 1968. Democratic centralism was dismantled and the parties opened toward diverse currents and issues; concurrently, the historic identification with the industrial working class was exchanged for broader social appeals, particularly to women and the university educated. Thus Eurocommunists not only embraced pluralism, multiparty competition, free elections, and parliamentary government for both West and East, but they also prioritized issues that could not be subsumed within class-struggle perspectives based on industrial workers, including everything from the big identity axes of gender, ethnicity, religion, and race to problems of youth, sexuality, ecology, international relations, and a cultural politics embracing both uplift and entertainment.

Most importantly of all, Eurocommunists finalized the break with the Soviet Union. The crises of 1956 and 1968 in Hungary and Czechoslovakia had given the earlier impetus for this independence, and the next Eastern European upheaval in Poland in 1980–1981 proved terminal. Support for Solidarity's challenge to Soviet rule was the final test of Western Communist independence. Thus if the PCF at best equivocated in the face of this Polish struggle for democracy, the PCI gave a ringing endorsement. In a series of debates and resolutions, the Italian Communists drew a thick line beneath the epoch of the Bolshevik Revolution: "We must accept that this phase of development (which began with the October Revolution) has exhausted its driving force, just as the phase which saw the birth and development of socialist parties and trade union movements mustered around the Second International [before 1914] also ran out of steam." As Berlinguer continued: "The world has moved on.… The point is to overcome the present by looking ahead."

After these two final episodes—Eurocommunism's disappointments in the West, the suppression of Solidarity in the East—communism really had run out of steam. The advent of Mikhail Gorbachev to the leadership of the Soviet Union in 1985 still initiated an extraordinary process of change. But what thereby began as socialist restructuring and democratic renewal ended in the implosion of state and society. Gorbachev hoped to move Soviet communism into a modernized future, recuperating non-Stalinist reform traditions going back to the 1920s and much of the Khrushchev era. For inspiration he drew both on the Prague Spring and on Swedish social democracy. Beneath the twin watchwords of perestroika (restructuring or radical reform) and glasnost (openness), he sought a democratized Soviet Union and a revived CP, reinvented as a social democratic party committed to market socialism. In the process he courageously dismantled all three of the pillars of Soviet rule in Eastern Europe: the military security system of the Warsaw Pact, the command economy, and the Communist Party's sole political rule. The end of the Cold War, marketization, and multiparty democracies were the result. But in the process all distinctiveness of the communist tradition was gone. The remaining denouement—dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, following the Eastern European revolutions of autumn 1989—brought formal closure to a process already long decided. Communism was at an end.

See alsoAnticommunism; Antifascism; Bolshevism; Destalinization; Eastern Bloc; Eurocommunism; Lenin, Vladimir; Popular Front; Russian Revolutions of 1917; Social Democracy; Socialism; Soviet Union; Warsaw Pact.


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Geoff Eley


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Eric D. Weitz

Communism and social democracy constituted the two major branches of the socialist movement in the twentieth century. Both were direct descendants of nineteenth-century socialism; their differing political and historical relationship to the Russian Revolution marked the essential division between them. Social Democrats were committed to liberal democratic forms of government, from which they imagined a peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism would occur. Universally, they supported the February Revolution of 1917 that overthrew the tsarist regime in Russia. Almost universally, they condemned the October Revolution of 1917, by which the Bolsheviks came to power.

Led by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, the Bolsheviks were initially one faction of the Russian Social Democratic and Labor Party. In the first of a number of name changes, they became the Russian Communist Party (b) in March 1918 and the All-Union Communist Party (b) in 1925, the "b" in both cases standing for "Bolshevik," or "Majority," the name Lenin had dubbed his faction. In reality, the Bolsheviks had only briefly counted a majority within the Russian Social Democratic and Labor Party in the years before 1917. Their opponents, the Mensheviks, or "Minority," were, for the most part, typically social democratic in orientation. In contrast, the Bolsheviks came to believe that they could force-pace developments in Russia, bypassing the phase of liberal capitalism to institute socialism more or less immediately. Far less worried about liberal democratic norms, they were determined to maintain party control of the state as the decisive means of creating socialism. The party itself, accorded almost mystical authority by Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders, was to be a disciplined body that would guide the revolution and mobilize the entire proletarian and peasant population for the cause of building socialism. The Bolsheviks' open advocacy of terror against perceived opponents of the revolution inspired the greatest hostility from Social Democrats, who viewed the inherently undemocratic and brutal measures of terror as a violation of the most cherished principles of socialism.

By according the state enormous power, communism created a new, twentieth-century model of state-society relations, one that would spread from Russia and the Soviet Union to other countries in Europe and beyond in the wake of World War II. To be sure, European states going back to the early modern era promoted economic development, regulated the family and gender relations, and repressed independent expression. Especially in central and eastern Europe, states had a decisive impact upon social history. But no state prior to the twentieth century had such all-encompassing determination to mold society in accord with its ideological commitments, nor did any have the technical means to regulate society on such a vast scale. In the nations under communist party rule, the "workers' and peasants' state" practiced a kind of internal colonialism. The communist state had a developmental and civilizing mission to fulfill, force-pacing industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture, forging nations out of disparate ethnic groups, and, not least, creating the new communist man and woman. To accomplish these dramatic tasks, the state became a gigantic apparatus, one that also violated the most basic democratic standards.

At the same time, the state, like the party, could never simply impose its programs and goals upon society. Especially in the Soviet Union, the effort to create a specifically communist modernity ran smack against the realities of an overwhelmingly peasant society marked also by enormous ethnic diversity. In the countries of central and eastern Europe, the communist states established after 1945 also faced large peasant populations and ethnic diversity, as well as more developed middle and working classes that were often quite hostile to communism. The entreaties and commands of the states were sometimes met with resistance or, more often, sullen apathy or noncompliance. In response, the state grew still larger, while all sorts of inefficiencies and compromises were carried into its institutions. Ultimately, the immobility and apathy of significant segments of their societies sapped the communist states of legitimacy, leaving them in wreckage all over Europe. Nonetheless, the workers' and peasants' states were able also to attract a good deal of popular support, precisely because they seemed to embody development and progress.

While the history of communism focuses heavily on state-society relations in the Soviet Union and later in its satellite states, there is also a powerful social history of communism in places like Germany, France, and Italy, where the party developed as a potent protest force. Social historians have worked to determine what types of workers and peasants were most likely to become communist. In some cases, as in the area of Bologna, Italy, communist strength owed much to regional traditions of dissent and not just to class issues. Communist movements went through various phases in wooing their constituency. Thus in France in the 1930s new attempts were made to attract young people and women by combining the communist message with social programs and even cosmetic and fashion advice. While communist trade unions were typically more intransigent than their socialist counterparts, many workers sought conventional incremental goals from the unions without much reference to revolutionary implications. Communist participation in coalition governments right after World War II was vital to the creation of welfare states in France and Italy. Communist-controlled city governments were often very effective in providing social programs. In sum, many communist voters were able to gain not only an outlet for profound social and political grievances but also a variety of practical services as well.


In the nineteenth century certain strands of socialism had promoted a vision of the autonomy of workers and their communities. The ideal here was of mostly small-scale communities that were self-governed and that organized production in a common, mutual fashion. This kind of socialism, sometimes called mutualism, had strong resonance in France, Italy, Spain, and Russia. This vision echoed aspects of other efforts to establish autonomous, communal societies in Europe in earlier periods, such as those of Anabaptists in the Reformation or the more radical groups active in the English revolutions of the seventeenth century. In the age of industrialization, these ideas found practical expression in the "houses of labor" that proliferated especially in France and Italy, which served as a kind of combined working-class hiring hall, recreational center, and site of political activism. The various forms of workers' mutual-aid societies, from burial funds to sports associations to early trade unions, were also focal points of autonomous organization, and their supporters were often opposed to any form of state intervention.

The major theorists of socialism and communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, were notably vague in their prescriptions for the political organization of the future communist society. Yet for all their support of the large-scale features of industrialism, they too captured some of that vision of a world of self-organization in which the state, in their classic phrase, "withered away." Many socialists seemed to agree with that formulation. But Marx and Engels also coined another phrase, the "dictatorship of the proletariat," which would become even more renowned. Marx seems to have meant something quite democratic, almost a Rousseauean notion of the general will. Given his view that society would divide inevitably into two classes, a great majority of proletarians versus a tiny number of powerful capitalists, it is certainly fair to assume that he understood the dictatorship of the proletariat as a situation in which the vast majority of the population would deprive the tiny number of exploiters of their political rights in order to ensure the victory of the revolution. By maintaining power over and against these exploiters, a true democracy, one that ran through all the institutions of society, the economy, family, and polity, would at last emerge.

Other socialists in the nineteenth century had an even more favorable understanding of the state. In 1848 the French socialist Louis Blanc entered the revolutionary government and convinced it to establish national workshops, a kind of state-funded employment program. Some of the utopian socialists, like Claude Henri de Saint-Simon, advocated a prominent role for the state, even the capitalist state, in improving workers' lives and charting the path from capitalism to socialism. The German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle thought similarly. Through democratic participation, the state, over time, would evolve from its capitalist to a socialist nature.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) became the major voice of the statist tendency in the Second International, the association of socialist parties founded in 1889. As the largest socialist party before World War I, but also because it was, after all, German, the filial descendant of Marx and Engels, the SPD wielded great authority. Alongside its explicitly Marxist orientation, the SPD in its early years was greatly influenced by Lassalle's followers and their prostate position. The SPD grew significantly even in the 1880s, when many party activities were legally banned. It faced its first great ideological crisis in that same decade, when it found itself confronted with a state-run social welfare program pioneered by the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Germany was the first state to adopt the key elements of modern social welfare—accident insurance, health insurance, and old-age pensions. Bismarck viewed these measures as a way to ameliorate the difficult conditions of workers in the industrial age and to undermine the appeal of socialism by binding workers to the German state. Socialists could adopt a stance of ideological purity and spurn the social-welfare measures promoted by a semiauthoritarian, capitalist state, or they could work within the state in support of the programs. However minimal the benefits in the early years, however much they expanded the realm of state intervention in workers' lives, the social-welfare programs were immensely popular with workers. Despite their initial opposition, most socialists quickly became advocates and only fought with the state on the size and range of the programs. By the onset of World War I, many German socialists worked within the local administration of the social-welfare programs and had also come to demand state mediation of labor disputes. Practically, the SPD was increasingly entwined with the state, despite the ideological hostility expressed by certain wings of the party, especially its leading ideological lights, Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg. In general, an orientation in favor of the state had come to prevail in the Second International over more anarchist-leaning, small-scale, mutualist visions that rejected the state in toto.

In one of the great ironies of history, V. I. Lenin, on the eve of the Russian Revolution, returned to the antistate position in his famous tract "State and Revolution" (1917). Lenin authored a democratic, even anarchist-sounding treatise that emphasized the withering away of the state after the proletarian revolution. Lenin gave no strict time frame for this process, but it is safe to say that it would not take eons, perhaps a generation or two. Yet at about the same time, Lenin expressed great admiration for the German state in World War I, which he imagined to be a strong, stunning exemplar of rational efficiency. Lenin envisaged revolution as a combination of proletarian (or party) power and the organizational capacities of the German state. Lenin, in short, embodied the diverse strands of socialist thinking about the state.


Lenin returned in April 1917 to a Russia in the midst of revolution. He immediately raised the slogan, "All Power to the Soviets," a call that also embodied the contradictory legacies of nineteenth-century socialism. The soviets (councils) were organized more or less spontaneously in factory meetings in which workers elected their own representatives. City soviets were then formed from the representatives of the various workplaces. The movement soon spread to the countryside and the military. "All Power to the Soviets" was seen as an arch-democratic demand, a kind of mutualism writ large, since the soviets were popularly elected, democratic organs. In Lenin's Marxian logic, soviets would necessarily adopt the "correct" position, even if it took some convincing from the Bolshevik Party. In the heady revolutionary days of 1917, Lenin saw no contradiction between democracy and revolution, a position that seemed to be confirmed when the tide of revolution brought Bolshevik majorities in key soviets in the major cities of Petrograd and Moscow and in a few key naval regiments.

When Lenin decided the time was ripe for moving the revolution beyond its initial liberal phase, he and his supporters made certain that their revolution would be seen as the work of the soviets, not the Bolshevik Party. Formally, the revolution was organized by the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, both headed by Leon Trotsky, who had moved his small group of Mensheviks into the Bolshevik Party just a few months before. For all intents and appearances, the revolution carried out on 7 November 1917 was a democratic affair of urban Russia. The program proclaimed by the new revolutionary government was highly democratic. It granted land to the village soviets, self-determination to the national minorities, and workers' control of industry. The government also called for an immediate end to World War I without any indemnities or territorial annexations and promised to convene a constitutional convention. As the new foreign minister, Trotsky opened the safe, read aloud the secret treaties the tsarist government had signed, and theatrically announced that the ministry would issue a few proclamations and then close shop. A minimalist state backed by self-organized workers' and peasants' communities seemed to be in place in Russia in the autumn of 1917.

But the Bolsheviks were immediately confronted with a set of intertwining dilemmas that dramatically posed the problem of the relationship between state and society under a revolutionary regime. With all the hubris of revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks presumed that they knew the correct course (even when there were shifts in specific policies) for Russia and expected workers and peasants to follow suit. But what would happen if workers did not choose to follow the course laid out by the party? Moreover, the revolution had basically been staged in Petrograd and Moscow. The Bolsheviks had taken power through an urban revolution combined with a peasant revolt. Politically, peasants were fickle, willing to support the Bolsheviks when they promised land but by no means committed to the overall political vision of a socialist revolution. How were the Bolsheviks to engineer a revolution in such a minimally developed society? To complicate matters further, the Bolsheviks had seized power in an empire with a dizzying array of ethnic and national groups. How could support be found for a socialist revolution amid this diversity, when ethnicity was often a more critical identity marker than class? In responding to these dilemmas, the Bolsheviks would find that they could not simply impose their ideology and institutions upon society.

The first breach in the putative democratic nature of the young Bolshevik state came very quickly. In January 1918, just a few months after the Bolshevik seizure of power, a constitutional convention convened in Petrograd. The Bolsheviks had won substantial representation in the elections but were still in a minority, while the populist, peasant-based Social Revolutionary Party had garnered the largest proportion of votes. The convention was summarily dismissed by the Bolshevik-controlled Red Guards.

The key event that would define the future development of the state was the civil war that erupted in the spring of 1918. The war was fought on many fronts and included intervention by armies of other European nations and the United States, which allied with the counterrevolutionary forces. The conflict drove home to the Bolsheviks just how tenuous their position was and how much they needed an effective state to remain in power. Building on Lenin's imagination of the German state as a highly efficient, well-oiled machine (never mind the fact that Germany lost World War I), the Bolsheviks proclaimed the policy of War Communism, in which the state seized control of the whole economy and sought to mobilize the entire society to the Bolshevik cause. For some Bolsheviks, notably Nikolai Bukharin, War Communism was not just an emergency policy but the very expression of the new socialist society, which had now abolished private ownership of the means of production. Yet War Communism was a ludicrous policy that failed miserably. The Russian state lacked the depth of its German counterpart, lacked its tradition of efficiency and competence. The Russian empire was sprawling, and it was far more difficult to direct hundreds of thousands of independent peasant landholdings than it was, in Germany, to issue orders to, say, four major firms of the steel industry or the six companies that dominated the chemical industry. Under War Communism, industrial production ground nearly to a halt, and peasants, faced with continual crop seizures, simply stopped sowing. For the first time, the Bolsheviks faced the tenacity of society, which was far greater, its malleability much less, than they had imagined.

War requires an army, and in the modern world armies are put into the field by states. The Bolsheviks had the nucleus of an army in the militias, the Red Guards, formed in the summer of 1917, who played a critical role in the execution of the revolution. But the Red Guards were somewhat unruly and hardly capable of fighting on the many fronts of the civil war. Lenin appointed Trotsky military commissar in March 1918, and it was he who displayed both organizational brilliance and ruthlessness in bringing to life the Red Army. Trotsky imposed a disciplinary regimen worthy of the Prussian kings or the Russian tsars but now combined with the ideological fervor of revolution. In creating an effective army, Trotsky contributed mightily to the emergence of a powerful state.

Still more chillingly, Trotsky created an army that practiced terror. The Bolsheviks were very open in their advocacy of terror, by which they understood the state's systematic application of extraordinary means of repression against opponents of the revolution. They published articles in newspapers extolling terror and openly debated Russian and Western socialists who were appalled at the level of violence in the Russian Revolution. Lenin issued a blistering attack on the German Social Democrat Karl Kautsky, while Trotsky displayed rhetorical brilliance and theoretical vacuity. He argued that the violence of the revolution served the higher goals of socialism and human freedom, while the violence of capitalism, no less endemic, only prolonged injustice.

The Red Army was not the only agency of terror. In December 1917 the Bolshevik state established the first of the many secret police agencies that would play such a profound role in Soviet life, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Fight Counterrevolution, known by its Russian acronym, Cheka. As the institutions of force within the state, the Red Army and the Cheka conducted arbitrary arrests and executions and seized as hostages the families of counterrevolutionaries. Perhaps most drastically, the Bolsheviks deported entire villages in the Don and Kuban Cossack regions. The villagers were accused en masse of counterrevolutionary activities. This dramatic display of state power was sometimes accompanied by a biological rhetoric that made Cossack peasants into pariahs, incapable ever of incorporation into the new society. These people could not be "civilized" into good socialists; instead, society had to be protected from them by their utter exclusion.

The Bolsheviks ultimately triumphed in the civil war, but it was a costly victory. The cities, so central to the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, had become denuded of their populations. Many of the Bolsheviks' most fervent supporters had been killed in the civil war. Peasants had stopped sowing; industry stopped producing. Famine was widespread. Fatefully, a strong element of militarism came to define Bolshevik culture. Many of the Bolshevik leaders adopted military dress. Iron discipline, already an ideal of Lenin, became ever more prized with the sense that the revolution was made by military might. The heroic male proletarian, who leaves the factory, rifle in hand, to defend the revolution, became an ideal that far surpassed the young woman who also fought for the revolution or labored in the factories. Revolutionary militarism meant a renewed and more fervent centering of masculine power within the institutions of party and state.

The disastrous situation at the end of the civil war forced the state to relax its grip on society. Right at the end of the civil war the Bolsheviks convened for their Tenth Congress. Surveying the devastation before him, Lenin made a strategically brilliant retreat: the state would retain control only of the "commanding heights" of the economy, banks and large-scale industry. Trade and small-scale industry would be afforded, if not exactly free rein, at least a wide range of liberties. Most importantly, the peasants would pay a fixed tax in kind and could then dispose freely of any surplus. To many Bolsheviks, this New Economic Policy (NEP) marked a restoration of capitalism and betrayal of the revolution. For others, it was a strategic retreat born of necessity. Still others, like Bukharin, who radically revised his previous support for War Communism, would come to see in NEP the possibilities for a peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism.

The new policy came to pass along with one last great convulsion of the civil war, the revolt of sailors at Kronstadt in March 1921. The Kronstadt naval garrison had been a major supporter of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Now its sailors revolted against the suppression of democratic liberties and the desolate conditions in the countryside, from which many of the sailors hailed. "Soviets without Bolsheviks," their slogan went, invoking the democratic promise of 1917. It was an eery, sad comment on the entire course of events since October 1917. The Bolsheviks suppressed the revolt, with many of the delegates to the Tenth Congress joining the charge across the frozen Neva River, revolver in hand, to storm the garrison. The contradictions of the revolution—the state's claim to represent the will of the people, its suppression of their will when the people found the Bolshevik state woefully wanting—were laid bare.


If there was ever a golden period in the Soviet Union, it was the 1920s. The state still exercised repression, but in comparison with what came before and would come afterward, its hand was relatively light. The range of free expression was fairly broad. The economy revived and artistic experimentation flourished. Yet two fundamental structural features emerged in the 1920s. First, the Soviet Union, a federated republic of socialist states, formally came into being at the end of 1922. (From this point it is convenient to speak of Soviets and Communists rather than Russians and Bolsheviks.) Issues of ethnic, national, and religious diversity were now built into the union as a central feature of its existence. Furthermore, the institutions of party and state became formalized. Names would change, reforms would occur, but the essential features of all communist parties and states for the entire twentieth century were firmly established in the 1920s. For the party, the leading organs were the Central Committee, Central Control Commission, and Politburo. For the state, the parallel institutions were the All-Union Congress of Soviets, the Central Executive Committee of the Congress, and the Presidium. The "leading role" of the party was firmly stated in many of the constitutions of Soviet-style states and, practically, by the fact that leading personnel occupied both party and state positions. While the party and state had, technically, discrete functions, the twentieth-century neologism of "party-state" accurately captures the effective intertwining of the two.

In the relative calm of the 1920s, the communist state also articulated more clearly programs designed to forge the new Soviet man and woman. "Forge," a term widely used at the time, conjures up the communist emphasis on the economy and state. Like the metal that emerges out of the blast furnace, the new man and woman would be "produced" through the application of human intelligence and skill. People could not be left to develop on their own but would be crafted by labor, in this case the labor of the workers' and peasants' state.

Propaganda and mobilization, but also repression, constituted the key techniques of this labor. The ideals of socialism were propagated everywhere in the Soviet Union in the 1920s—in schools, institutes, workplaces, academies, the army. A veritable explosion of print culture emerged in the 1920s, as leaflets, pamphlets, and books espousing the ideals of socialism and the campaigns of the Soviet state were disseminated throughout society. New media also expanded dramatically in this period, as the Soviets quickly adopted radio and film for its propaganda drives. Much of the artistic expressiveness of the 1920s, the creation of a variety of modernist genres, served also to disseminate socialist ideas.

But it was also through "practical work," through the mobilization of people in all sorts of campaigns, that the new Soviet man and woman were to be created. Mobilizing university students to teach literacy, urban workers to aid in the harvest, peasants to become involved in the organization of atheists, men to join the Red Army, women to volunteer in orphanages, committed Bolsheviks to work in the Cheka—these were all forms of activism through which men and women would learn the tenets of socialism and become solid citizens of the socialist state. They would reform themselves and those under their tutelage, a civilizing mission not totally unlike other reform efforts in the Western world in the modern period. The result would be ideologically schooled, self-disciplined people who worked selflessly for socialist development. For men, the ideal had profound militaristic connotations, conveyed by the Soviet posters of the period that invariably portrayed muscled men either producing or defending the revolution, hammer or rifle in hand. For women, the ideal was more disparate. Sometimes heroines of the revolution were depicted in fighting formation; other times they were shown as producers or as communist versions of the modern "new woman" of the 1920s—thin, athletic, active in society, and boundlessly happy. But in the 1920s, and still more in the 1930s, maternalist imagery was also prevalent, as if the socialist new woman could somehow combine all of these roles. For both men and women, socialist morality signified serious self-disciplining, a regularized, not promiscuous, sexuality, an aversion to drink and cigarettes and any other superfluous consumption beyond the strict necessities of life, and a devotion to work and politics. In 1936 the Soviet state adopted the pronatalist rhetoric and politics common to many Western countries, including a ban on abortions.

The image of the new socialist man and woman was not propagated only domestically. For all of its particularly Russian characteristics, the revolution and the Soviet Union were very much international phenomena. The Communist Party sought to influence workers and socialists all over Europe and beyond. The major agency for that task was the Communist International (or Comintern), founded in 1919 in Moscow. In the language of the day, the Comintern was to be the "general staff" of the worldwide revolution. Ultimately, the Comintern became the vehicle of Russian control over other national communist parties in Europe and beyond. But for many activists, the Comintern embodied the ideals of international proletarian solidarity against the exploitations and injustices of capitalism. Usually under the auspices of the Comintern, thousands and thousands of communists from around the world came to the Soviet Union and received political and military training in various academies and institutes.

It is impossible to gauge how successful was this vision of the socialist new man and woman that the state promoted in the Soviet Union. Certainly, repression was ever present, even in the 1920s, and ran in tandem with the more positive-sounding aspects of the socialist culture program. Only a minority of the population sought to emulate the ideal in toto. But the partisans of socialism comprised a critical minority. They were the activists in the socialist state, and without their services, the more drastic campaigns of the Stalin era could not have prevailed, nor could the Soviet Union have triumphed over the German invaders in the 1940s. After World War II, many of the foreign communists who had also been inspired by the ideals and had received training in the Soviet Union would play key roles in the communist movements in their home countries.


On the economic terrain, grain supply remained a critical problem in the 1920s even though the peasants returned to sowing and harvesting. Moreover, the growing social differentiation in the countryside worried the communists. The real differences between a kulak, a wealthy peasant, and other agricultural toilers were usually quite minimal, but that did not stop the communists from expending great effort to classify and categorize the rural population. The kulak might have had a draft animal or two and hired labor to help out on his land. (Technically, the land was owned by the village soviet, then distributed to individual households.) While kulaks constituted perhaps 5 percent of the rural population, they accounted for around 40 percent of the marketed grain. They held therefore a critical position in the economy. Three times the kulaks went on a grain strike—that is, they refused to bring their grain to market, counting on the government to increase the price. In the meantime, Joseph Stalin had accumulated enormous powers through his control of the party organization and its political bodies. (Formally, his powers were based on his position as general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1953, to which he added many other titles over the years, especially in World War II.) By the late 1920s, Stalin had prevailed in the intraparty factional conflicts. To Stalin and some other leading communists, peasant grain strikes threatened the authority of the state, the very existence of the revolution. He and his supporters had few scruples against deploying state power to rectify the situation.

The outcome was the massive deployment of force against the peasantry, first through grain requisitions that began at the very end of 1928, and then through the forced collectivization of peasant landholdings. These events, which extended into the mid-1930s, constituted the single greatest clash between state and society in the Soviet Union. It was a conflict between a state bent on economic development and human transformation and a vast, largely immobile rural population, wedded to private peasant landholdings and traditional ways of life, who resisted the state's drive to transform radically and unalterably conditions in agriculture. The state sent Red Army detachments into the countryside, along with elite groups of party workers, often idealistic youth. The definition of a kulak came to mean anyone who resisted the program of collectivization. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of peasants—the exact numbers remain disputed—were imprisoned or sent to labor camps in Siberia (known by their Russian acronym, the Gulag). Many died in transit or from the extremely harsh conditions of the Gulag. In the early 1930s the ineptness of state policies led to horrendous famine in the Ukraine and northern Caucasus. As many as 6 million people may have died from the ravages of hunger. While some scholars argue that the state deliberately promoted the famine in order to break peasant resistance and to suppress Ukrainian nationalism, it seems more likely that it resulted from indifference and ineptness, though the root cause certainly was the deployment of massive force against rural society.

Concomitant with forced collectivization, Stalin initiated the rapid, state-directed industrialization drive, embodied in the series of five-year plans, the first of which was launched in 1928. Economically, the program constituted a huge superexploitation of the still largely peasant society. Whatever resources the state extracted, it channeled into the heavy industrial sector, and the Soviet Union became an industrial powerhouse. Economic development, then, went hand in hand with the massive buildup of the state. Typical of the Stalin era and its emphasis on grand scale were such massive projects as the White Sea Canal, built with convict labor in appalling conditions, and Magnitogorsk, the gigantic steel complex that arose out of almost nothing. Designed to be a model Soviet city, Magnitogorsk eventually produced great amounts of steel, but the community surrounding it endured unpaved roads, crowded apartments that rapidly deteriorated, and inadequate plumbing.

The massive, state-directed efforts of collectivization and industrialization irrevocably transformed Soviet society. The population became immensely mobile—a "quicksand society," in the words of the historian Moshe Lewin—and more urbanized. The palpable presence of the state extended into virtually every geographic area however remote, into every family. Out of a population of around 170 million, 16 to 19 million peasants left their villages in the 1930s to enter the urban, industrial workforce. The number of cities with over 100,000 inhabitants rose in the 1930s from thirty-one to eighty-nine. The migrants were preponderantly young and male and often skilled; they left the village populations disproportionately older and female, trends that the ravages of World War II would only accentuate. Out of some 25 million individual peasant households, the state created 240,000 collective farms.

The state, then, won the battles for collectivization and industrialization, but at great cost. Despite very substantial economic growth in the 1930s and then again in the 1950s and 1960s, state-directed development built all sorts of inefficiencies into the economy. Clearly, the absence of adequate pricing mechanisms and the inattentiveness to markets caused structural inefficiencies. But so did the laggard, slothful work discipline typical of Soviet labor. Assured of employment and at least a minimal existence by the state, presented with few material incentives for hard labor, people worked slowly and inefficiently, if perhaps more humanely, as least by Western capitalist standards. Political repression ensured that peasants could not strike or rebel, but like their counterparts in so many parts of the world, they responded to the demands placed upon them with a baleful indifference. In contrast, they lavished great attention on their private plots, when these were made available to them alongside the collective farms, notably in the 1950s under Nikita Khrushchev. The slow, lumbering character of collective-farm and industrial labor somehow became replicated in the state, which for all its powers displayed many of these same attributes. Society was not infinitely malleable, and the very processes that made the state huge also made it hugely inefficient.

Along with collectivization and industrialization, the systematic exercise of political terror in the 1930s constituted the third element in the massive buildup of the state. To the extent that the terror had any rationality, its goal seems to have been the elimination of all possible political opposition, the full consolidation of Stalin's personal power in the party-state. If collectivization was a war against the peasantry, the Great Terror of 1936–1938 was a war against the party, but one that spilled over into the society at large. Terror, by its very nature, has an accelerating dynamic. In the infamous show trials, many of the leading figures of the revolution were deemed "enemies of the people" and subsequently executed. By 1938, only a handful of old Bolsheviks still sat in the Central Committee; fully 70 percent of the Central Committee members elected in 1934 were sent to the labor camps or executed. The officer corps of the Red Army was similarly affected, as were leading officials in the economic sector and in the Foreign Ministry. But all sorts of individuals, some with no political position whatsoever, found themselves denounced and subject to the arbitrary powers of the state. The system of labor camps expanded dramatically in this period and assumed an important role in the economy, particularly in extraction industries like mining and lumbering. More recent research in Soviet archives has shown that a significant movement in and out of the camps emerged—sentencing was not a one-way ticket. Still, thousands upon thousands of people languished in the Gulag, to be freed only in the 1950s, while many others died from the extremely harsh conditions.

Yet another form of oppression appeared in the 1930s, that of particular ethnic groups. In the 1920s, the Soviets state had first implemented the policy of korenizatsiia, or indigenization. In the Soviet view, articulated by Stalin in "Marxism and the National Question" (1913), the nation represented a particular stage of historical development but also had a certain timeless quality to it based on the cultural distinctions among peoples. Progress toward socialism could only come through the national form. Hence in the 1920s, through "indigenization," the Soviets promoted national languages and national elites. National soviets were established, and in a number of cases ethnic Russians were forcibly removed to give indigenous groups greater access to resources. Soviet scholars gave oral languages and dialects written form, and the state consolidated some tribes and ethnic groups and handed them a common language.

But a vital change came with the proclamation of the new constitution in 1936, which, in Stalinist eyes, gave legal form to the triumph of socialism. The nobility and the tsarist state, then the bourgeoisie, had been defeated. Class enemies as social groups no longer existed within the Soviet Union, just wayward individuals. And nations still existed. The very concept of essential nations that had underpinned the development of nationalities in the 1920s and early 1930s now also underpinned the attack on "suspect" nations. Over the course of the 1930s the objects of persecution shifted from class enemies to "enemies of the people," which slid easily into "enemy nations." As a result, beginning in the 1930s and accelerating during the war years, a variety of ethnic groups were deported in the most horrendous conditions from their historic areas of settlement, including Koreans, Chechens, Ingush, Greeks, Germans, and others. By categorizing and searching out all the members of the targeted groups, the Soviet state essentially racialized ethnicity and nationality even though the Soviets explicitly rejected the ideology of race. The state acted as if the qualities that made the members of a particular group dangerous were immutable and transgenerational, carried by every single individual necessarily and inevitably.

All told, around 3.5 million people were removed in these ethnic deportations. According to recent investigations, death rates from the exigencies of the deportations ranged from 9 percent for the Chechens to 46 percent for the Crimean Tatars. And in 1952–1953, it seems that plans were underway for the deportation of the Jewish community. Only Stalin's death in 1953 staved off this possibility.

The vast growth in the exercise of state terror and state repression from the late 1920s into the early 1950s meant that a profound element of fear and guilt crept into social relations, a characteristic best depicted in Russian literature, such as Anna Akhmatova's searing poem, "The Requiem," Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago (1973–1975), Varlam Shalamov's Kolyma Tales (1978), or Vasily Grossman's Forever Flowing (1970). The screeching sound of the "Black Marias," the secret police autos; the knock on the door at night; the denunciation by one's neighbors; the fearful and secretly joyous silence when a colleague suddenly disappeared, making an office or a promotion available to those who remained—these constituted part of the realities of social relations.

At the same time, the massive uprooting of society created not only a world of fear but also one of opportunities and of confidence in the developmental possibilities of the socialist future. The industrial and agrarian economies had insatiable needs for skilled workers and technicians, and those who could find themselves a spot in technical institutes or universities had unparalleled opportunities for upward mobility. The state deliberately favored children of peasant and working-class backgrounds, granting them unprecedented opportunities for education and advancement. At the same time, the downward mobility of the former privileged classes eased slightly. The 1936 constitution that proclaimed the victory of socialism formally abolished the lishentsy (disenfranchised) class. Now all Soviet citizens were considered equal, though social prejudices against those from formerly privileged classes remained quite strong.

The programs that began in the late 1920s, from collectivization to terror, conjured up waves of commitment, especially among youthful Soviet citizens. Stalinism represented for many of them the path out of backwardness, a mixture of nationalism and socialism that inspired pride in the country's development and in the prospects of "building socialism." Fear and terror there were, but they were not the only aspects of the Soviet reality of the 1930s.


The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 wrought great devastation, human and material, on Soviet soil. Close to 20 million Soviet citizens died in the course of World War II. The defense and then the rollback of German forces required immense sacrifices. Through all this, the basic institutions of state and society held their ground. Indeed, the repressive, even murderous, side of state policies in some ways accelerated—as the escalation of ethnic and national purges and the maintenance of the Gulag system indicate—even while the population rallied to the defense of the Soviet system against the foreign invaders. At the same time, building on the gender policies of the 1930s, a far more conservative tenor entered into Soviet life. A crass, essentialized Russian nationalism became more and more pronounced. The state did not even shy away from invoking its adversaries of the past, the church and the tsars, as a way of solidifying Russian nationalist sentiment in the struggle against the Germans.

At the end of the war the Red Army, having borne the brunt of the fighting for so many years, was successfully situated all across central and eastern Europe. Communist parties in France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, and elsewhere had played leading roles in the resistance against Nazi occupation. As a result, they emerged in 1945 as vibrant movements with a great deal of popular support. Indeed, communism reached its high point in Europe between 1943, the beginning of full-scale resistance, and 1956, the year of Khrushchev's speech condemning the crimes of Stalin and of the deployment of Soviet troops against the Hungarian uprising.

Communist parties participated in most Western European governments in the immediate postwar years. In Yugoslavia, a unique case, the party had come to power by playing the decisive role in the resistance. It fought successful military campaigns against both the German occupiers and Yugoslav conservatives and fascists and was able to retain power despite the hostility of the Soviets, who resented the independence of the Yugoslav communists. In the West, communists were quickly driven out of governments with the onset of the Cold War in 1947 and 1948. In France and Italy communists were still able to retain enormous influence in the trade unions and other associations of the labor movement as well as in local government, all of which enabled them to pressure successfully for higher wages and improved social benefits for their working-class constituencies. By the 1980s that influence was waning. Communist voting rates in France began to decline in that decade, causing the party to resort to tactics such as hostility to immigration. The Italian party, long more flexible than the French in its willingness to collaborate with other elements, also began to fade.

In Eastern Europe, in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the German Democratic Republic, the Soviets were able, in a few short years, to bring to power communist parties loyal to the Soviet Union. Scholars argue fiercely about whether this was the intent of the Soviets from the moment World War II began or whether they had more varied and flexible (or confused) policies that only became fixed and uniform in the context of the emergence of the Cold War between 1945 and 1949. Certainly, the great transformation of power relations within Europe, the utter devastation of Germany, and the surge between 1943 and 1948 of anti-Nazi resistance, mass worker protests, and Communist Party activism in so many countries created a fluid and unprecedented situation. The Baltic states (incorporated directly into the Soviet Union since 1939), Poland, and Bulgaria were probably slated for complete Communist Party control early on, while it is possible that more diverse political solutions would have been acceptable in some of the other countries, especially if a unified, neutral Germany had been established. "Third-way" social and political orders, somewhere between liberal capitalism and Soviet-style socialism, might have become a reality.

But the onset of the Cold War and Stalin's own deep paranoia drastically narrowed the political options by the end of the 1940s. In the Soviet bloc, a uniform pattern was created among the "people's democracies," as they came to be called. (The pattern included the GDR even though it never was called a "people's democracy." As the remains of a divided power and situated on the front lines of the Cold War, the GDR always had a peculiar status.) In all the countries, Communist Party power was secured through the usual mechanisms—an extensive security apparatus, state control over industry and agriculture, and party control over the state. This pattern persisted for the fifty years from the late 1940s onward. Moreover, the state, as in the Soviet Union, had a developmental function. It collectivized agriculture and promoted the development of industry, heavy industry in particular. Both processes occurred on a significant scale throughout the region in the late 1940s and 1950s. The social structure became transformed as people left farming and the villages for industry and the cities. Warsaw, Lodz, Bucharest, Pilsen, and many other cities grew significantly; social mobility intensified as the regimes favored the children of working-class and peasant backgrounds. The huge bureaucracies of communist states also offered avenues of mobility and a means of binding large segments of the population to the system. The state also exercised the heavy hand of repression, most drastically in the early 1950s.

The communist-ruled countries of Eastern Europe were, from the outset, more developed and complex than Soviet society of the 1930s. They had more significant industrial bases and more varied social structures. Over twenty years of experience with economic planning in the Soviet Union had laid bare many of the inefficiencies of strict central control. To varying degrees and in response to internal social pressures, the communist states experimented with slightly different models from the strict command model that persisted in the Soviet Union. The Poles gave up on collectivized agriculture; the Hungarians introduced market mechanisms in the 1960s. Only East Germany, loyal to the Soviet model to the end, carried out further nationalizations of remaining small businesses in the 1970s.

Economic development also helped create the demise of the very system that promoted it. By the late 1950s, communist states had made material improvements the mark of success of their own system. They promised their populations the consumer life on a scale comparable with the West, yet with the social protections afforded by communism. But the inefficiencies of centrally planned economies, no matter if they had some more flexibilities than the Soviets, could not compete with Western capitalist economies, especially in the more aggressive and competitive global markets in the last decades of the twentieth century. The dead weight of state repression prevented any serious reform efforts and continually antagonized substantial segments of the population. Key professional groups desired autonomy and consideration of their interests within the state. Gradually, new public spheres emerged. In the Soviet Union, the public sphere was largely composed of intellectuals who ran great risks of imprisonment in horrendous circumstances. In Poland, workers rebelled in 1956, 1968, and 1979–1980. Slowly and with difficulty, a common opposition was formed between workers and intellectuals, with significant support from the Catholic Church. In Czechoslovakia a significant reform movement developed within the ranks of the party, only to be crushed by Soviet intervention in 1968. Afterward, an opposition of intellectuals created an underground community that periodically surfaced with public pronouncements in favor of democratic liberties and curbs on state power.

Ultimately, the communist states faced the tenacity of their societies, the sullen resentments against the all-encompassing claims of the party-states and their attempts to infiltrate all dimensions of social relations. Society's self-distancing from the state deprived communism of all legitimacy, even among its own leaders, who by the 1980s seemed more like ossified powerholders than champions of the socialist cause. Within a few short years, by the early 1990s, the systems would all be gone, swept away by the party's inability to manage internal reform in the Soviet Union and by waves of popular protests. Societies took their revenge upon the states that sought to mold, regulate, and repress them. At the same time, these societies were very different from those that had first spawned the socialist and communist movements in the epoch of industrialization; they were more complex, more educated, more white-collar. With the exception of Poland and Romania, the key roles in the revolutions of 1989–1991 were played not by workers, the quintessential activists and protesters of the industrial age, but by students, intellectuals, and the technical intelligentsia. The demise of communism was symptomatic of the end of the classic epoch of industrialization and of the labor movement, socialist and communist, that emerged alongside it.

See alsoMarxism and Radical History (volume 1);Socialism (volume 3); and other articles in this section.


Cohen, Stephen F. Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography,1888–1938. New York, 1973.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. SovietRussia in the 1930s. New York, 1999.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. 2d ed. Oxford and New York, 1994.

Getty, J. Arch, and Roberta T. Manning, eds. Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives. Cambridge, U.K., 1993.

Goldman, Wendy Z. Women, the State, and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy andSocial Life, 1917–1936. Cambridge, U.K. 1993.

Hagen, Mark von. Soldiers in the Proletarian Dictatorship: The Red Army and theSoviet Socialist State, 1917–1930. Ithaca, N.Y., 1990.

Holquist, Peter. "'Information Is the Alpha and Omega of Our Work': Bolshevik Surveillance in Its Pan-European Context." Journal of Modern History 69 (1997): 415–450.

Koenker, Diane P., William G. Rosenberg, and Ronald Grigor Suny, eds. Party,State, and Society in the Russian Civil War: Explorations in Social History. Bloomington, Ind., 1989.

Konrad, George, and Ivan Szelenyi. The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power. Translated by Andrew Arato and Richard E. Allen. New York, 1979.

Kornai, Janos. The Socialist System: The Political Economy of Communism. Princeton, N.J., 1992.

Lewin, Moshe. The Making of the Soviet System: Essays in the Social History of Interwar Russia. New York, 1985.

Lewin, Moshe. Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization. Translated by Irene Nove with John Biggart. London, 1968.

Martin, Terry. "The Origins of Soviet Ethnic Cleansing." Journal of Modern History 70(1998):813–861.

Naimark, Norman M. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone ofOccupation, 1945–1949. Cambridge, Mass., 1995.

Siegelbaum, Lewis H. Soviet State and Society between Revolutions, 1918–1929. Cambridge, U.K., 1992.

Skilling, H. Gordon. Czechoslovakia's Interrupted Revolution. Princeton, N.J., 1976.

Suny, Ronald Grigor. The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Stanford, Calif., 1993.

Tucker, Robert C., ed. Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation. New York, 1977.

Verdery, Katherine. What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next? Princeton, N.J., 1996.

Weitz, Eric D. Creating German Communism, 1890–1990: From Popular Protests toSocialist State. Princeton, N.J., 1997.

Werth, Nicolas. "Un État contre son peuple: Violences, répressions, terreurs en Union sovietique." In Le livre noir du communisme: Crimes, terreur et répression. Edited by Stéphane Courtois. Paris, 1997. Pages 43–295.


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The voluntary disbanding of the communist state of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the practical defeat of a certain theory of communism as the economic, social, and political antithesis and opponent of the liberal democratic capitalist state that first emerged in the developed Western societies. According to Francis Fukuyama (1992), citing Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's theory of history, the "death of communism" marks the triumph of liberal democratic states as the paramount achievement of human history. Any further opposition to the extension of the liberal democratic model could only come in the form of regressive social movements seeking to avoid the trauma of inevitable change by clinging to ancient dogmas.

Still, as capitalism becomes the unrivaled global economic system, spilling over the bounds of the nation-state, the social and political achievements and perspectives of the liberal democracies are increasingly being jeopardized by the economic logic of capitalism itself. That the economic power of global corporations imposes demands that most nation-states ignore at their peril necessitates a reappraisal of a complacent triumphalism. In historical retrospect and freed from much of the ideological partisanship of the cold war period, it becomes clear that the challenge of communist claims of social egalitarianism and economic efficiency did much to stimulate progressive social and democratic changes in Western societies throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Hobsbawn 1994). Rather than a choice between two distinct models, it appears that the thesis of capitalism and the antithesis of communism produced in the West an evolving mixture of elements from both ideal models (Lawler 2001).

Marx's Conception of the Stages of Communism

Indeed, the perspective of communism as an aspect or dimension of the internal evolution of Western society was the view recommended by the foremost exponent of communism, Karl Marx, who argues that the working people "have no ideals to realize, but to set free elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant" (1987, p. 355). In criticizing the conception of communism as an ideal to be realized in the future by contrast to the existing and undesirable state of affairs of the present, Marx distinguishes his "dialectical" understanding of communism from that of rival "nihilistic" theories of communism (Lawler 1994).

nihilistic and dialectical communisms.

The most prominent exponent of the nihilistic conception of communism, and Marx's opponent at the time of the Communist Manifesto (1848), was the Russian communist Nikolai Bakunin (18141876). In his "Appeal to the Slavs" written in 1848 while he was fleeing arrest in Germany, Bakunin writes:

Look! The Revolution is all around. It alone is powerful. The new spirit with its ability to dissolve has irrevocably penetrated humanity; it is burrowing into and overturning the deepest and darkest layers of European society. And the Revolution will not rest until it has completely destroyed the old dislocated world and created in its place a new and better world. Thus all the vigour and strength, all the certainty of triumph is in it and only in it. In it alone is life; outside it is death. (Pirumova, Itenberg, and Antonov 1990, pp. 8586)

Marx and his partner, Friedrich Engels, rejected this utopian and nihilistic vision of creating an alternative society, however egalitarian and committed to social justice, out of the destruction of the old world. Evoking the realist historical perspective of Hegel that "[w]hat is rational is actual and what is actual is rational" (1991, p. 20), Marx argues that only by studying the real world and its actual movement is it possible to discern the internal forces and trends that bring about change, development, and transformation. Communism, he then argues, is a real movement that is actually taking place within the present capitalist society.

ten hours bill

For example, one of the major social events of the first half of the nineteenth century in England was the passage of a series of factory acts, including the Ten Hours Bill, which limited the workday for women and children to ten hours. Marx describes this modest achievement as of historic significance, "It was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class" (1987, "Inaugural Address of the Working Men's International Association, September 28, 1864"). In Marx's conception the political economy of the middle class, or capitalism, is the pure, unfettered rule of private property and production for the market. Therefore, in limiting the operation of the free market for the sake of the well-being of working people, the factory acts evinced the partial triumph of communism over capitalism taking place within capitalism itself. Other such elements of communism that emerged in the industrial capitalism of the West during the nineteenth and especially the twentieth centuries included free public education, national health care plans (such as, in the United States, Medicare and Medicaid), and national pension or social security plans, as well as laws further limiting the time of the working day and establishing legal conditions for the self-organization of labor through trade unions.

From Marx's perspective the history of Western capitalism presents evidence for the growing emergence within the evolution of capitalism of embryonic elements of an alternative society whose basic characteristics are already discernable, not from the constructions of ideal theory, but from the requirements of actual historical development. A detailed study of Marx's thought on the nature of communism reveals six stages or phases of communist development, beginning with the factory acts and similar infusions of social consciousness into the operation of the capitalist market economy: two phases of communism within capitalism, two phases of the transition between capitalism and communism, and two phases of communism per se (Lawler 1998).

definition of communism

In the Communist Manifesto, when Marx projects the final outcome of this evolution, he formally defines communism as "an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all" (Marx and Engels 1976, p. 506). The core idea of communism is the all-round freedom of the individual to develop latent abilities without the age-old restrictions that come from the necessities of mere physical survival. Such free development of each is the foundation of an integrally free society. When he further elaborates on this definition in his Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), he writes of the highest stage of the evolutionary process, the second phase of communism per se :

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantlyonly then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs! (1989, p. 87)

The dramatic final maxim of communism, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," cited out of context as the sum and substance of Marx's conception, appears as an unrealizable, utopian ideal. However, this definition must be comprehended as the outcome of previous stages of historical development. Distribution according to need is only possible at a certain stage or phase of historical evolution when "all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly." And this abundance of social wealth presupposes both the alienation of labor and the alienation of this alienationthat is, the progressive emergence of creative human labor, labor that has become "not only a means of life but life's prime want" (1989, p. 87). These conditions of a fully developed communism emerge within the previous history of market-oriented society.

lower stage of communism or socialism

For Marx production for the market, although further limited by laws aimed at individual and social well-being, continues well past the communist revolution (initiating the transition between capitalism and communism) and into the lower phase of communism per se. In the lower phase of communism, often called socialism, distribution or the individual's income is geared to the quantity and quality of the work that the individual performs. This is the principle of "bourgeois right" that arises out of the requirements of market exchange in which qualitatively different products are equalized by their economic value. Because individuals differ in terms of their needsfor example, one person is single, the other has children to supportthe principle of fairness, right, or law according to which each is paid according to work performed results in inequality in real conditions of life.

In this lower phase of communism, however, bourgeois "principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads" (1989, p. 86), as is the case in capitalism. In capitalism the principle of justice calling for "an honest day's pay for an honest day's work" is systematically violated by the fact that individuals do not receive according to their actual labor, but according to the value of their labor power or ability to work. While it is asserted that workers are generally paid according to the work they perform, their wages in fact tend to reflect merely the value of goods and services needed to reproduce them as workers. The difference between the wage thus determined and the value of the goods actually produced is surplus value, the basis of capitalist profit. Paying workers according to the work they actually perform, the principle of the first phase of communism, overcomes the contradiction in capitalism between abstract principle and real practice. But if bourgeois right is finally realized only in this lower phase of communism, both practical inequity and the alienation of labor nevertheless continue.

alienation of labor

The alienation of labor, first described by Marx in his early Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, consists in the individual's having to work to live, to subsist (1975). When people work only for the sake physical survival, they are subverting their essential human powers. Labor, for Marx, is the defining feature of human beings, distinguishing "the worst architect from the best of bees" (1996, p. 189)the ability to creatively transform and channel the forces of nature to achieve distinctively human goals. The capacity for creative activity or labor arises out of the nature of the human being as a species being, that is, as a being who is directly concerned with the species as a whole. It is this connection of the individual with the human species, as epitomized in the use of language, that raises consciousness beyond the animal level of concern for (mostly) individual needs to the level of universality that constitutes reflective thought itself. Thus, while the animal is satisfied when its present hunger (and that of its immediate family) is appeased, the human individual is not content until the threat of hunger is banished in general, in terms of the future of the group and ultimately of the species as a whole.

Hence, when people survive only by selling their labor, working not to express their creative ability but to prolong their biological existence, they are alienating this distinctive feature of their humanity. Creative, essentially human, activity is barely possible where the necessities of survival force individuals to engage in repetitive physical work for up to sixteen hours per day. The distinctive human gift is squandered when children are forced into mindless labor from an early age. So when Marx examines the Ten Hours Bill, he recognizes the essential core of communist humanism: restricting the amount of time individuals are forced to work to survive and thereby freeing them, however minimally, to develop their own creative powers. Hence, one of the essential demands of the Communist Manifesto is free education for children and the elimination of child labor.

That much of the political platform set forth in the Communist Manifesto has in fact been realized in the course of the later evolution of the Western capitalist societies is therefore evidence, from Marx's point of view, not of the triumph of capitalism, but of the incipient emergence, taking place already within capitalism itself, of what he projects as the outcome of this process, the free development of each of communist society. Only when the prime need of the majority of people is to engage in creative activity is the alienation of labor fully overcome. But the seeds of this development and its embryonic growth begin within capitalism. The historic advances of social democracies face new challenges in the early twenty-first century as an unrivaled capitalism emerges on a global scale beyond the controls of the nation-state. Capitalist economic logic implicitly pits workers of advanced countries against those of newly developing nations without centuries of struggle for the rights of the free development of each. Marx's ringing conclusion to the Communist Manifesto has therefore become even more relevant: Working people of all countries, unite! (Marx and Engels 1976, p. 519)

Communism in the History of Western Philosophy

asiatic communism

Viewed in this way, communism is not an alien social theory inserted abruptly at one juncture into Western philosophy by Marx, and then given a more hospitable reception in non-Western states such as Russia and China. The communism of the Soviet Union and China reflects an altogether different historical dynamic rising out of what Marx called, in his characterization of the socioeconomic structure of this part of the world, the "Asiatic mode of production" (1989, p. 263). In this mode of production the ruler, the tsar of Russia or the emperor of China, centralizes both political and economic power in his own hands. The dynamics of Western capitalism involves, on the contrary, the relative separation of political power from economic evolutiona separation that continues, for Marx, until, with the full development of communism, "the public power will lose its political [i.e., repressive] character" (Marx and Engels 1976, p. 505). From this point of view the "cult of personality" of Joseph Stalin (18791953) in Russia and Mao Zedong (18931976) in China, with state centralization and command of the economy, reflects a kind of Asiatic communism, or a communism developing within the Asiatic mode of production, rather than the communism that Marx discerned as emerging within the womb of Western capitalism. Marx's conception that communism and the market coexist and interpenetrate well after the communist revolution, allowing for a distinct phase of "market socialism," diverges sharply from this "Eastern" approach to communism (Lawler 1998).

possessive individualism

If in terms of content Marx's theory of communism is based on a study of Western society, in terms of philosophical form it is the outcome primarily of one of two major streams in early modern Western philosophy (Lawler 2006). One stream regards the individual as a self-interested being, urged on deterministically by desires arising out of nature, environment, and upbringing, and using reason as a means to achieve maximum individual satisfactions and advantages. The "possessive individualism" (Macpherson 1975) of the modern world sets it apart from the ancient Greco-Roman and medieval views of the individual as constituted by birth or nature for various relatively fixed social functions regarded as necessary for the good of the hierarchically ordered social whole. For the self-interested individual of modern times, the good of the social whole is a means to the individual's own well-being. The classical expression of this trend is the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes, for whom the equal restrictions imposed by the laws of the state (i.e., bourgeois right) establish the civil liberties of capitalist society, including "the liberty to buy, and sell, and otherwise contract with one another; to choose their own abode, their own diet, their own trade of life, and institute [instruct] their children as they themselves think fit; and the like" (1952, p. 113).

Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations propounds an economic justification of this perspective, in which the social good or wealth of nations is the largely unintended outcome of individualistic endeavors of production for the market. But in contrast to Hobbes's emphasis on the laws of the state, for Smith the economy is the base of the social order and the state and its laws of formally equal freedoms constitute a secondary framework. In his conception of the primacy of the economic base in relation to the political superstructure, Marx continues such economic materialism (Marx writes: "The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness" [1989, p. 263]). However, as seen earlier, the "political economy of the working class" or communism enters this picture when the free operation of buying and selling, and production for the market, are restricted by laws directly aimed at promoting the social good. A radically different understanding of the relation between the individual and the community is implied in the emergence of such communist laws.

plato's hierarchical communism

The second line of thought is continuous with the traditional ancient and medieval view that sees the deliberate promotion of the social good as the highest aim of individual flourishing. In the classical formulation of Plato the public good demands communist or communal ownership of property on the part of the ruling guardians of society to prevent them from using their positions of power for private gain. Such public good also requires the perpetuation of what Plato calls a shameful lie, that is, that the souls of individuals are composed of finer or baser metals, from gold and silver for the rulers and their children to brass and iron for the farmers and artisans and their offspring. This is a lie for Plato, because the souls of human beings are not material, and their destinies, evolving over many lifetimes, are ultimately subject to their own choices (1952, book 10, pp. 437441). Nevertheless, for the peace and order of society it is necessary that

none of [the rulers] should have any property of his own beyond what is absolutely necessary. Gold and silver we will tell them that they have from God; the diviner metal is within them, and they have therefore no need of the dross which is current among men, and ought not to pollute the divine by any such earthly admixture. (1952, book 3, 341)

The modern proponents of the social good are not ashamed to propagate openly their Platonic spiritualism. However, like their counterparts in the stream of possessive individualism, they reject the fixed hierarchies of the past and adopt the standpoint of free and equal individuals. But such equality they ground on the freedom of consciousness or spirit.

descartes's egalitarian communism

Modern egalitarian communism replaces ancient hierarchical communism by stressing the primacy of the free, self-conscious individual, whose awareness that "I think" is, for René Descartes, the foundation of modern scientific method. The self-conscious individual in the modern idealist or spiritualist tradition achieves full self-development only by working directly for the good of others, the good of society as a whole, in such a way that each associates with the other cooperatively in rewarding activities of mutual and common endeavor. Thus, for Descartes the highest activity for the individual is the pursuit of scientific truth, and the motive of this activity is the practical application of scientific knowledge for the well-being of all. Descartes continues the medieval view of the primacy of the social whole, but abandons its aristocratic foundations in a hierarchy of social classes. Nothing is so equally distributed as reason or good sense (Descartes 1952, p. 69), and this common reason is the foundation of all science and the quest for those truths that will liberate humankind from the immense suffering that is due to ignorance and error. Each individual is capable of joining in the step-by-step ascent to truth that science elaborates as it progressively gains access to the laws of the natural and human orders. Thus, recognizing the limitations of his own individual accomplishments, Descartes begs

all well-inclined persons to proceed further by contributing, each one according to his own inclination and ability, to the experiments which must be made, and then to communicate to the public all the things which they might discover, in order that the last should commence where the preceding had left off; and thus, by joining together the lives and labours of many, we should collectively proceed much further than any one in particular could succeed in doing. (p. 69)

metaphysical basis of communism: materialism or spiritualism?

Descartes's metaphysical conception of the human individual as a spiritual being occupying a physical body contrasts with Hobbes's materialist view of the human being as primarily a physical being capable somehow of mental phantasmata. Both founders of modern philosophy appeal to the requirements of modern science. But whereas Hobbes regards the new physics of Galileo Galilei as demanding a starting point in the inertial straight-line motion of externally moved matter, Descartes sees the ultimate foundation of science in thinking itself, in the self-conscious "I" that is free to depart from the illusions of sensory perception so as to reconstruct a true picture of the world according to a step-by-step method of thought. While the possessive individualism of Adam Smith's justification of the free market correlates with this first metaphysical option, a fundamentally social orientation, anticipating Marx's theory of species being, follows from the second. It may seem paradoxical to locate Marx's philosophical ancestry in the spiritualism of Plato and Descartes rather than the materialism of Hobbes, but Marx's materialism is a dialectical materialism that is opposed to the mechanistic materialism of Hobbes that was also influential for Smith.

Descartes's metaphysical hierarchy of spirit or consciousness over matter and the body is expressed in practical, ethical, and social requirements. The pursuit of objects that diminish when they are shared with others should be subordinated to the pursuit of objects that are not so diminished. External material wealth diminishes when shared with others, and so one tends to separate oneself from others when one pursues them. However, because one recognizes the good in others, one should freely focus one's mind on the pursuit of those goods that do not diminish when shared, such as knowledge, health, and virtue. So, in a manner reminiscent of Plato's communism, Descartes establishes the community of shared goods as taking precedence over the pursuit of material wealth:

But I distinguish between those of our goods which can be lessened through others possessing the like, and those which cannot be so lessened. But virtue, knowledge, health, and in general all other goods considered in themselves without regard to glory are not in any way lessened in us through being found in many others; and so we have no grounds for being distressed because they are shared by others. (1991, pp. 321322)

When one shares one's ideas with others, one loses nothing, but enriches both oneself and others. It is a win-win situation. When, however, one pursues limited material goods, then what one person gains the other loses. Therefore, scientific philosophy prescribes a social ethics in which the pursuit of goods of the first type has precedence over pursuit of goods of the second type. So Descartes prescribes the basic maxim of a reasonable and good society: from each according to ability, in cooperation with others, and for the good of all. Therefore, a good society is one in which the creative development of each individual is freely associated with that of other individuals, and working together they promote the full development of society as a whole. But that is just Marx's definition of communism in the Communist Manifesto.

leibniz's republic of spirits

Similarly, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's monadic human "spirits" achieve their highest development when they are aware of their harmony with one another and actively promote that harmony. So Leibniz writes that "[s]pirits are of all substances the most capable of perfection and their perfections are different in this that they interfere with one another the least, or rather they aid one another the most, for only the most virtuous can be the most perfect friends" (1951a, p. 342). The outcome of such universal social friendship Leibniz calls, variously, the moral world, the city of God, the republic of spirits (p. 343), and "the kingdom of final causes" (1951b, p. 132).

rousseau's social contract of the poor

Reflecting this latter term of Leibniz in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant calls the pursuit of the "kingdom of ends" the culminating formulation of the categorical imperative. It was not primarily to Leibniz that Kant turned for his moral theory, however, but to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom Kant regarded as the Isaac Newton of moral science (Meld Shell 1996, 8182). Rousseau heightens the critique of the philosophy of individual self-interest with his analysis of the Hobbsean social contract as a deceptive strategy on the part of the rich to mobilize the poor in defense of their property, for the meager concession of gaining formal political rights. He describes with sarcasm the real essence of this social contract of the rich, "You need me, for I am rich and you are poor. Let us come to an agreement between ourselves. I will permit you to have the honor of serving me, provided you give me what little you have for the trouble I will be taking to command you" (1976, p. 186). Rousseau would have appreciated the sardonic remark of the communist writer Anatole France that "[t]he law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread" (1894/1992, p. 550).

If the materialist philosophy of self-interest underlies this deception, Rousseau finds an alternative basis of community in the heart-felt promptings of the human soul, which the wise educator of Émile must nourish by turning the sympathies of youth toward the common human being, those poor and oppressed victims of the fraudulent social contract. Thus, the tutor of Émile counsels:

To excite and nourish this nascent sensitivity, to guide it or follow it in its natural inclination, what is there to do other than to offer the young man objects on which the expansive force of his heart can actobjects which swell the heart, which extend it to other beings, which make it find itself everywhere outside of itselfand carefully to keep away those which contract and concentrate the heart and tighten the spring of the human I ? (Rousseau 1979, pp. 222223)

On such a basis an authentic social contract can be established in which what is emphasized is not the equality of formal legal and political rights (bourgeois right) but relative equality of the conditions of existence. Against the contracted "I" of the philosophy of self-interest, Rousseau emphasizes the expansive "I" that identifies with "the general will." What distinguishes the general will from the particular will is

not so much the number of votes as the common interest that unites [the citizens], for in this institution each person necessarily submits himself to the conditions he imposes on others. And asking how far the respective rights of the sovereign and the citizens extend is asking how far the latter can commit themselves to one another, each to all and all to each. (1976, p. 34)

What is crucial is the prevention of the extremes of wealth and poverty, not a mathematical or formal equality, and the means for doing this involve manifold rectifications of the existent inequalities of conditions of life, involving the use of a progressive income tax and universal public education. A society based on the principle of "each to all and all to each" is just Marx's definition of communism in the Communist Manifesto.

kant's kingdom of ends

Kant takes up Rousseau's general will in his formulations of the categorical imperative, culminating in the conception of a "kingdom of ends," according to which one can "abstract from the personal differences between rational beings, and also from the content of their private endsto conceive a whole of all ends in systematic conjunction" (1956, pp. 100101). Making it clear that he does not primarily have in mind the establishment of formal legal and political rights, Kant stresses economic relations of production and exchange of goods as an integral part of such systematic conjunction of ends or goals united under the moral consciousness. The kingdom of ends formulation of the categorical imperative asserts a systematic hierarchy of ends as follows:

What is relative to universal human inclinations and needs has a market price ; what, even without presupposing a need, accords with a certain tastethat is, with satisfaction in the mere purposeless play of our mental powershas a fancy price ; but that which constitutes the sole condition under which anything can be an end in itself has not merely a relative valuethat is, a pricebut has an intrinsic valuethat is, dignity (p. 102).

Universal respect for the dignity of the human being establishes a community based on common humanity that economic goals must not violate and to which they should be subordinated. Kant repudiates Adam Smith's idea that if everyone pursues their individual interests, the good of all, defined in terms of quantity of goods, will take care of itself. Smith is also far from Descartes's cooperative search for truth, Leibniz's republic of spirits who "aid one another the most," or Rousseau's heart-based community whose maxim is "each to all and all to each," when he writes of the principle of the modern economy:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens (1952, p. 7).

In another formulation of the moral society, Kant, referring with Leibniz to the Gospels, calls the goal toward which all morality ultimately points "the highest good (the Kingdom of God)" (1993, p. 135). Leibniz and Kant interpret the Gospels as promoting a this-worldly kingdom based on spiritual truth, as Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). The highest good is a unity of virtue and happiness in which happiness is "in exact proportion to morality" (Kant 1993, p. 117). That is, it is a society in which people who perform their moral duties are happymeaning, that they have their legitimate needs and wants satisfied. Marx merely reformulates this principle for the highest stage of communism: from each according to ability; to each according to need. That is, with the realization of a society whose governing principle is the highest good, people will perform their duties as creative individuals, working in accord with the good of all, and their needs and wants will be satisfied, from the goods and services provided by society, independently of any strict measurement of their contributions. People who contribute less, materially speaking, but still perform their duty according to their ability, are able to satisfy their particular needs just as freely as those who contribute more. They do not, however, work for the sake of satisfying their needswhich for Kant constitutes heteronomy and for Marx is the general characteristic of the alienation of labor.

ideal of the highest good: a fantasy or an emerging reality?

The problem with this ultimate goal of morality, Kant says, is that it seems unrealizable in the real world that one observes around oneself, that is, the world that is governed by the laws enunciated by Adam Smith and that Marx calls the "political economy of the middle class." In this empirical reality the satisfaction of needs is not based on the performance of moral duty, but on market-based laws of supply and demand that can bring misery and death to whole portions of the population as a result of changes in fashion and fad. Writing about the same time as Adam Smith, and well before the Ten Hours Bill of the next century, Kant sees no clear expressions of a countervailing "communist" tendency in the real world capable of counteracting the actual operation of the economy based on self-interest. But unless the moral principle is capable of being realized, he says, it must be "fantastic, directed to empty imaginary ends, and consequently inherently false" (Kant 1993, p. 120). The whole of Kant's moral theory as he understands it thus hangs on the empirical possibility of its being realizable. The apparent contradiction between moral ideal and empirical reality constitutes what Kant calls "the antinomy of practical reason" (pp. 199126).

Marx again reformulates Kant when he rejects the pursuit of communism as an abstract ideal raised against the real world, as well as Hegel, who opposes the "empty ideal" of a better society and insists that "[w]hat is rational is actual and what is actual is rational" (Hegel 1991, p. 20). Kant's own solution to the problem hinges primarily on the recognition that history does in fact move in the direction of a society based on the moral ideal (Van der Linden 1988). But to justify this conception he must establish the validity of a teleological view of history. His third Critique of Judgment, as well as many of his historical essays, argues for this perspective. In this way Kant paves the way for the historical approach of Hegel, who sees all of human history as the expression of the dynamic of "spirit," which he defines as "'I' that is 'We,' and 'We' that is 'I'" (Hegel 1977, p. 110). Therefore, what is both actual and rational in the course of history, according to Hegel, is what Marx later calls communism (MacGregor 1984).

See also Bakunin, Mikhail Aleksandrovich; Descartes, René; Dialectical Materialism; Engels, Friedrich; Galileo Galilei; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Historical Materialism; Hobbes, Thomas; Kant, Immanuel; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Marxist Philosophy; Marx, Karl; Materialism; Newton, Isaac; Nihilism; Plato; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques; Smith, Adam; Social Contract; Socialism.


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James M. Lawler (2005)


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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


views updated May 11 2018


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.


views updated Jun 11 2018


Between the years immediately after the founding of the Soviet Union in 1917 until its collapse in 1991, the Latin American Communist movement was closely tied to Moscow. The long-term strategy of Communist parties as well as positions on specific issues generally coincided with Moscow's thinking, sometimes referred to as "orthodox Communism." Nevertheless, during this extended period, Latin American Communists occasionally assumed positions and engaged in actions that to varying degrees were temporarily at odds with the official Moscow line.

The basic Moscow-approved Communist strategy during these seven decades (with the exception of the World War II years) was the prioritization of the struggle against imperialism, specifically U.S. domination. The anti-imperialism of the Communist movement was tied to the concept of a dual revolutionary process, which supposedly corresponded to the sequence of the Soviet revolutions of February and October in 1917. According to this scheme, the first revolution was supported by a "national progressive bourgeoisie" and consisted of the establishment of a democratic government that promoted agrarian reform and national industrial development. The achievement of the objectives of the first stage was seen as a prerequisite for advancing to the second stage, which was socialist. While some sectors of the non-Communist left also defended this thesis, others questioned the existence of a "progressive bourgeoisie" in Latin America and argued that this entire class was inextricably tied to the imperialist system.


Communist parties were formed throughout Latin America during the decade and a half following the Soviet revolution. Some, as in the case of Argentina, were split-offs of existing socialist parties, whereas others, such as the Communist Party of Mexico, consisted of many former anarchists. In the case of Chile, the Socialist Workers Party, founded in 1912, changed its name to the Communist Party under the influence of its main leader, ex-typographical worker Luis Emilio Recabarren. The Communist Party of Venezuela, as that of several other countries, was founded in 1931 by nonveterans with little previous organizational ties. The early Communists were students, intellectuals, and other members of the middle sectors; few of them belonged to the working class (the Chilean Communist Party being an exception).

The Communist parties joined the Communist International (the Comintern), which was created shortly after the Soviet revolution and saw itself as one worldwide party. Various international Communist organizers aided in the founding of Communist parties throughout Latin America. The most prominent was M. N. Roy, from India, who unsuccessfully attempted to win over delegates at the Second Comintern Congress in 1920 to the thesis that the political struggles of underdeveloped countries was central to the world revolutionary process.

During its early years, the Latin American Communist movement was more independent than at any other time. The most heterodox thinker was José Carlos Mariátegui, founder of the Peruvian Socialist Party in 1928, which refrained from calling itself "Communist" although it affiliated with the Comintern. Mariátegui glorified the collective spirit that the Peruvian peasants inherited from their Incan past, which he saw as the seeds of a socialist society. In an action that was largely independent of the Comintern, the Salvadorian Communist Agustín Farabundo Martí led an armed insurrection in 1932 that the army brutally crushed. Another icon of the Communist movement, former military officer Luís Carlos Prestes, led an uprising with heavy participation by Brazilian Communists against the government of Getúlio Vargas in November 1935, an insurrection that was contrary to the Comintern's prodemocratic line at the time.

At its Seventh Congress in July 1935, the Comintern initiated its strategy of broad alliances known as "popular fronts," with parties to the right of the Communist parties in opposition to the threat of fascism. At first popular frontism was designed to achieve far-reaching economic and political reforms, but after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 it consisted of Communist support of governments opposed to Germany. The one popular front that came to power was the coalition of the Communist, Socialist, and Radical Parties in Chile, whose candidate Pedro Aguirre Cerda won the presidential elections in 1938. Several Communist parties supported presidents during World War II. Two leading Communists, Juan Marinello and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, entered the cabinet of the first government of Fulgencio Batista (1940–1944) in Cuba; the party of Venezuelan President Isaías Medina Angarita formed an alliance with Communists for the 1944 municipal elections.


In the latter years of World War II, splinter groups emerged in the Communist parties of Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru that were opposed to conciliatory stands, including the "no-strike" policy promoted by Earl Browder, the secretary-general of the U.S. Communist Party. With the beginning of the Cold War in 1946, Latin American Communists hardened their positions and denounced "Browderism." The political polarization set off by the Cold War turned former allies against the Communists. Thus the Radical government of Gabriel González Videla in Chile, elected in 1946 with Communist endorsement as a continuation of popular frontism, passed the Law for the Permanent Defense of Democracy in 1948, which outlawed the Communist Party. While the Chilean Communist Party went underground, its counterparts in countries run by military dictatorships in the 1950s, such as that of Batista in Cuba and Marcos Pérez Jiménez in Venezuela, faced ever harsher repression. Polarization also split the continental labor movement the Confederation of Workers of Latin America (CTAL), which was under the direction of the Mexican trade unionist Vicente Lombardo Toledano and under strong Communist influence. Motivated by Cold War considerations, Serafino Romualdi of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) played an active role in pushing for the CTAL's schism in 1948.

The pro-Soviet Communist movement in Latin America was generally reluctant to support armed movements; not surprisingly, the Cuban Communist Party, known as the Partido Socialist Popular (PSP), at first criticized Fidel Castro's clandestine Movimiento 26 de Julio for being putschist (supporting a military seizure of power). But Castro's advent to power on January 1, 1959, was a milestone event for Latin American Communists and resulted in the merging of the PSP and the Movimiento 26 de Julio into a new Communist Party of Cuba. Most, but not all, Latin American Communist parties opposed Castro's call to arms in the 1960s. Ironically, in Venezuela, which was one of the continent's more solid democracies, the Communist Party initiated the guerrilla struggle in 1962, although it gradually extricated itself from the movement after 1965. Communists in several other nations also engaged in armed warfare. After considerable hesitation, the Communist Party in El Salvador joined the guerrilla front Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in 1979. The party's secretary general, Jorge Handal, became a guerrilla commander and, in 2004, the FMLN's presidential candidate. In the 1960s the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which represented the armed wing of the Communist Party, reactivated the previous decade's armed struggle, known as "La Violencia," between Liberals and Conservatives, and has maintained itself as the nation's largest guerrilla organization since then. Finally, the Communist Party of Chile joined the far-leftist Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) in forming the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR) in 1983; it carried out sabotage, kidnappings of military personnel, and, in 1986, an attempt on the life of dictator Augusto Pinochet.


Beginning in the 1970s, in a phenomenon known as Eurocommunism, European Communist parties rejected long-standing Marxist dogma. This development, together with the liberalization policies known as perestroika, initiated in 1986 by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, inspired some Latin American Communists to follow a flexible line. Eurocommunism influenced Venezuelan Communist Party dissidents to break off from the main party to form the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) in 1971, which advocated a democratic "Venezuelan road to socialism" and soon became the nation's largest leftist party. Ten years later, the Communist Party of Mexico coalesced, with four smaller parties, into the Socialist Unified Party of Mexico (PSUM), which in turn dissolved itself to enter the Party of the Mexican Revolution (PRD), led by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. By uniting organically with leftists who defended diverse ideological currents, the Mexican Communists abandoned dogmatic notions long associated with the international Communist movement.

The developments culminating in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 weakened the Communist movement in Latin America. Thus the Chilean Communist Party (PCC), historically the largest in Latin America dating back to Recabarren, saw its electoral intake severely diminished to 3 percent for its secretary general and candidate Gladys Marín in the 1999 presidential elections. Furthermore, beginning in the late 1980s the Communists' long-standing ally the Chilean Socialist Party maintained an ongoing electoral alliance with the Christian Democratic Party, which excluded the PCC. Those few who stayed in Communist parties hardened their stand after 1991. With the election of Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 1998 signaling leftist electoral inroads, Latin American Communists sided with the radical brand of leftism over the moderate one. Thus the Communist Party of Venezuela avidly supported President Chávez; the Communist Party of Bolivia ran candidates on the slate of Evo Morales's Movement toward Socialism (MAS) and supported his candidacy in 2005 when he was elected president; and the Communist Party of Peru endorsed the candidacy of Ollanta Humala in the 2006 presidential elections. In contrast, the Communist Party of Argentina maintained a more critical attitude toward President Néstor Kirchner, elected in 2003.


Although Latin American Communist parties generally hewed to the Moscow-endorsed line, they occasionally assumed relatively independent positions. Examples include the thinking and actions of first-generation Communist leaders such as Mariátegui, the emergence of anti-Browder Communist factions at a time when the U.S. Communist leader enjoyed considerable prestige, and the influence of the Cuban Communist Party on some Latin American parties at a time when Fidel Castro was considered a maverick within the international Communist movement.

The balance sheet of pro-Soviet Communist influence in Latin America was mixed. On the one hand, the local Communist Party failed to play a major role in the two successful leftist Latin American revolutions, namely that of Cuba in 1959 and Nicaragua in 1979. On the other hand, after defying the Soviets during the first decade of the Cuban revolution, Castro's qualified support for the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 signaled a convergence of Cuban-Soviet positions lasting until 1991. In addition, the Communists maintained major influence over a period of time in a number of labor movements. Examples include the General Confederation of Workers of Peru (CGTP), which was founded by Mariátegui in 1929 and since the late 1960s has been the nation's largest labor confederation; the Chilean Workers' Central (CUT), founded in 1953, as well as its two major precursor organizations; and the Communist-controlled Unionist Confederation of Colombian Workers, founded in 1964. Finally, the colorful careers of various important Communists added prestige to the movement. These figures included, in addition to Mariátegui and Prestes, Julio Antonio Mella, the founder of the Cuban Communist Party who was assassinated in 1929; Gustavo Machado, a long-time Communist head from an aristocratic family; and Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet who died days after the Pinochet-led coup in 1973.

See alsoPérez Jiménez, Marcos; Labor Movements; Aguirre Cerda, Pedro; Batista y Zaldívar, Fulgencio; Cárdenas Solorzano, Cuauhtémoc; Castro Ruz, Fidel; González Videla, Gabriel; Lombardo Toledano, Vicente; Mariátegui, José Carlos; Marinello, Juan; Martí, Agustín Farabundo; Medina Angarita, Isaías; Prestes, Luís Carlos; Rodríguez, Carlos Rafael; Vargas, Getúlio Dornelles.


Alexander, Robert J. Communism in Latin America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1957.

Alexander, Robert J. The Communist Party of Venezuela. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1969.

Caballero, Manuel. Latin America and the Comintern, 1919–1943. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Carr, Barry. "Marxism and Anarchism in the Formation of the Mexican Communist Party, 1910–19." Hispanic American Historical Review 63, no. 2 (1983): 277-305.

Carr, Barry. "Mexican Communism 1968–1981: Eurocommunism in the Americas?" Journal of Latin American Studies 17, no. 1 (1985): 201-228.

Carr, Barry. "Crisis in Mexican Communism: The Extraordinary Congress of the Mexican Communist Party (Part 2)." Science and Society 51, no. 1 (1987): 43-67.

Carr, Barry, and Steve Ellner, eds. The Latin American Left: From the Fall of Allende to Perestroika. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993.

Chilcote, Ronald, H. The Brazilian Communist Party: Conflict and Integration, 1922–1972. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Ellner, Steve. "Factionalism in the Venezuelan Communist Movement, 1936–1948." Science and Society 45, no. 1 (1981): 52-70.

Fuenmayor, Juan Bautista. 1928–1948: Veinte Años De Política. Caracas, Miguel Angel García e Hijo, 1969.

Furci, Carmelo. The Chilean Communist Party and the Road to Socialism. London: Zed Books, 1984.

Halperin, Ernst. Nationalism and Communism in Chile. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1965.

Poppino, Rollie E. International Communism in Latin America: A History of the Movement, 1917–1963. New York: Free Press, 1964.

Ramírez Necochea, Hernán. Origen y formación del Partido Comunista de Chile: Ensayo de historia del partido. Santiago, Chile: Editora Austral, 1965.

Ravines, Eudocio. The Yenan Way. New York: Scribner, 1951. Repr., Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1972.

                                        Steve Ellner


views updated Jun 27 2018


The word Communism has been used in different senses by different authors, but from 1917 onward it was most readily associated with the type of political and economic system established in Russia and the other lands that became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). By the 1970s Communism in this sense of the term prevailed in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and parts of Bessarabia, all of which were incorporated directly into the USSR, as well as in Mongolia, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, Albania, East Germany, North Korea, China, Tibet, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A number of other states, including Nicaragua, Granada, Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, and Ethiopia, were ruled by parties closely allied with the USSR, but whether they were full-fledged Communist states is open to debate. In addition, parties advocating the Soviet model of government formed in most other countries. These states and parties, although they used various names—workers, people's, democratic—were commonly referred to as Communist.

From its earliest period of development Communism made two important claims about its relation to science. The first was that it was itself a scientific theory. The second was that it put science and technology to greater benefit than any competitor political practice. Both claims were disputed by non-Communists.

Marxism-Leninism as Science

Although Communism was not alone among the various schools of socialism in tracing its roots to Marxism, Communists were the most emphatic in asserting the absolute validity of that doctrine. Under Vladimir I. Lenin (1870–1924), the founder of Communism, the scientific claims of Marxism were treated as undeniable dogma. Lenin wrote, "From the philosophy of Marxism, cast of one piece of steel, it is impossible to expunge a single basic premise, a single essential part, without deviating from objective truth, without falling into the arms of bourgeois-reactionary falsehood" (Lenin 1977,
p. 326).

Lenin wrote these words years before he came to rule Russia. Once he took power, the dogmatic spirit they reflect was reinforced by the exigencies of revolutionary government. Lenin's party, first called Bolshevik and later Communist, was a small, elite group. In order to hold onto power its members saw they would have to suppress the opposition, and Lenin made no bones about this. Since he was confident that his party was the authentic representative of the proletariat, any opposition would inevitably reflect hostile class interests that deserved to be suppressed for the sake of human progress.

Thus did Lenin introduce the practice of silencing criticism or dissent. Under his heir, Joseph Stalin (1879–1953), and their disciples in other countries, such as China's Mao Zedong (1893–1976), Communism assiduously policed the expression of opinion, exacting draconian penalties against any deviation from party policy. All of this was accompanied by sweeping assertions of the scientific character of Marxist and Communist doctrine, evidenced by the fact that almost any speech, book, essay, or paper required numerous citations from the texts of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. This semblance of scientific procedure was topped off by the claim that Communism was possessed of a unique form of philosophical reasoning called dialectic or dialectical materialism that somehow offered more penetrating insights than did conventional logic.

In the usage of Lenin and subsequent Communists, calling something science or scientific meant that something was true. To real scientists, the term has nearly the opposite meaning, connoting a search for truth in which all conclusions are provisional.

In the end even Communist leaders themselves acknowledged that the legacy they inherited was less one of science than dogma. In the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev, under the rubric glasnost, reversed the tradition initiated by Lenin and opened the way to freedom of speech. And in China Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997) sought to undo Mao's worship of doctrine, coining the slogan: "It does not matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice."

If free inquiry and acceptance of the notion that all conclusions are subject to revision in the face of new evidence are the touchstones of science, then Communism presented an environment that was inimical to science. This went even a step further in China, where for a time Mao actively discouraged the reading of books and education other than practical training. Peasants, although harshly exploited in collective farms, were nonetheless held by Mao to be the repositories of revolutionary virtue, and urbanites that fell afoul of the regime were often exiled to the countryside to "learn from the peasants." During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1977), schools were closed for years as teenagers were mobilized into perpetual street mobs in byzantine power struggles between rival party factions. All of this fierce anti-intellectualism, so at odds with traditional Chinese reverence for education, was justified as being egalitarian and antielitist. But such contempt for formal learning was also antiscientific.

Communist Achievements in Science and Technology

This is not to say that Communist societies were without their accomplishments in scientific fields. There were some, particularly in engineering and applied research. Great investments were made in military equipment and in other technologies such as space exploration that were part of a symbolic competition with the capitalist world. Moreover Communist regimes were disdainful or indifferent to soft fields of scholarship—the arts, humanities, and social sciences—so that the finest minds of these societies almost necessarily found their outlets in hard science or engineering.

In addition to discouraging free inquiry, Communist regimes sometimes intervened directly in scientific questions, most famously when Stalin directed Soviet biology to embrace the tenets of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (1898–1976). Ironically, in light of Marx and Engels's belief that their theories were analogs to Darwin's, Lysenko was a Soviet scientist who dissented from a key tenet of Darwin's principle of natural selection. Lysenko believed that acquired, as opposed to inherited, traits could be passed on genetically. Because Stalin had a deep fondness for great projects of social engineering, the idea that one might alter life itself in this manner appealed greatly. For some years genetic research in the USSR was forced to devote itself to Lysenko's eventually discredited theories.

Through the concentration of material and human capital, Communist regimes competed effectively, albeit usually coming in second, in the fields of weaponry and space exploration. Sometimes what these endeavors lacked in fine-tuning they made up for in size—for example, less accurate missiles armed with larger warheads. Usually they competed a lot less well in technologies devoted to consumer goods. The lack of marketplace incentives to maintain or improve the quality of products, combined with the general dampening of innovation and the low priority given to economic planning involving consumer goods, resulted in a generally shoddy quality of merchandise. Popular discontent on this score was an important factor that eventually resulted in pressure for political change in China and the USSR.

The most singular episode in the history of technology under Communism was the Great Leap Forward (1957–1960), a program guided by Mao's conviction that a collective farm could produce industrial as well as agricultural goods and thereby become completely self-sufficient. In a fervent national campaign from which dissent was not tolerated, collectives began trying to produce industrial goods including that sine quo non of industry, steel. Mao announced that small backyard smelters could replace large steel mills. One of the many flaws in this theory was the absence of thought given to the question of material inputs for these smelters. Egged on and intimidated, peasants felt compelled to contribute not only scrap but whatever was available in existing tools and utensils, so that these might be melted down to make new steel. Little real steel was produced by this method, but many small tools and even cooking woks were sacrificed. Add to this the sacrifice of peasant labor diverted from the fields, and the result was a mass famine during the years 1959–1962 that most sinologists estimate took some 30 million or more lives.

Ethics: New Ends Justify Any Means

The large-scale loss of life under Communism in China, the USSR, and a few other places, notably Cambodia and North Korea, highlights the ethical issues raised by Communism. Although the facts of these cases were once hotly disputed, for the most part disputes ended when successor Communist rulers acknowledged the respective tragedies. That is, the deaths caused by Stalin's regime in the USSR were decried first by Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), then more fully by Gorbachev. The depredations of Pol Pot (1926–1998) were roundly denounced by the Communists who threw him out of power in Cambodia. And some of the carnage caused by Mao—that associated with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution—was recognized at least implicitly after Deng Xiaoping took the helm in China in 1978, although Mao was not directly blamed.

The needless deaths of large numbers of human beings would in itself seem to constitute a moral transgression of the highest order. And yet under Communism this was not deemed axiomatic. Communists asserted the moral standards that were traditional to Christianity (and in the East to Confucianism or other longstanding codes) were themselves expressive of the domination of the wealthy classes. As Lenin put it: "People always have been the foolish victims of deception and self-deception in politics, and they always will be until they have learned to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises." (Lenin 1969).

Therefore the proletariat would embody its own ethical standards. And these would be closely tied to the fulfillment of its mission to overthrow capitalism and usher in a new historical age. Communism would provide a fulfilling life for all people, and since society would no longer be divided by classes, it would make possible for the first time the emergence of truly universal moral principles.

Since so much is at stake in the triumph of the socialist revolution—nothing short of the achievement of humankind's ultimate destiny—everything must be put at the service of this goal. As Lenin wrote:

"Our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the proletariat's class struggle. When people tell us about morality, we say: to a Communist all morality lies in conscious mass struggle against the exploiters. We do not believe in an eternal morality Communist morality is based on the struggle for the consolidation and completion of communism." (Lenin 1968).

In taking this approach, Lenin rested on a strong but nonetheless ambiguous tenet in Marxist theory. Marx and Engels asserted that all ideas spring from class roots, which suggests that no objective ethical standards exist. Yet their condemnation of capitalism drew its power from its implied moral terms. Marx and Engels often claimed that they had done no more than lay bare the laws of history, showing that capitalism was destined to be replaced by socialism. But if so, there was no reason to work for the advancement of socialism. In practice Marx and Engels worked with all the energy they could muster. They were as much activists as philosophers, and the only explanation for this, even if implicit, was that socialism was not only inevitable but also highly desirable—which implies some standard of good and bad.

At the same time, Marx also proclaimed that "Communism is the riddle of history solved." If indeed this is the case, then it is hard to take exception to Lenin's very instrumental approach to ethics, for nothing else could possibly take priority. The achievement of Communism would be the measure of all things.

A companion aspect of the view that all else must be subordinated to the fulfillment of the destiny of humankind as a whole is that any given individual'swell being might be subordinated to this higher, collective good. As explained by Aleksandr F. Shishkin, author of the leading Soviet text on ethics, Communist morality teaches the individual "not to look upon himself as an end in himself." Rather "the new society cultivates the individual in such fashion as to cause him to see the fullness of human existence to lie in struggle for a common cause and to be able to resolve in favor of society any contradiction arising between the needs of society and his personal ambition" (Shishkin 1978, p. 88).


SEE ALSO Chinese Perspectives;Lysenko Case;Marxism;Marx, Karl;Russian Perspectives;Socialism.


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