(redirected from Communist theory)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal, Financial.


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

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

Origins of Communism

Early Forms and Theories

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

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

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

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

First Responses to Capitalism

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

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

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

The Communist Manifesto

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

The Growth of Modern Communism

Early Years

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

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

Under the Comintern

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold War Years

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

Communism had been vastly strengthened by the winning of many new nations into the zone of Soviet influence and strength in Eastern Europe. Governments strictly modeled on the Soviet Communist plan were installed in the “satellite” states—Albania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany. A Communist government was also created under Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia, but Tito's independent policies led to the expulsion of Yugoslavia from the Cominform, which had replaced the Comintern, and Titoism was labeled deviationist.

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

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

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

The Collapse of Communism

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

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


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

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


  1. a political ideology, deriving from SOCIALISM, and particularly from MARX and subsequent Marxists, which aims at the creation of societies in which private productive property, social CLASSES, and the state are absent.
  2. a form of society which approximates to the socialist ideal.
  3. any society in the 20th century ruled by a communist party.
The term emerged in the 19th century, and was adopted by Marx to designate the ideal society which socialists should attempt to create. With the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, Marx envisaged the emergence of ‘socialist societies’ in which the state would still play a role; only with the transformation of all property relations and the withering away of the state would communism emerge. For most of the 19th-century, even political parties which adhered in some way to this programme still called themselves socialist. In 1918 the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party changed its name to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (BOLSHEVIK Party). From then on the term came to be primarily associated with parties and societies which at some stage were influenced by the USSR, even though, as with Trotskyist (see TROTSKY) and Maoist (see MAOISM) parties, there may have been splits from the USSR. LENIN had a decisive influence on 20th-century communism, primarily through his development of a theory of the party in which the basis of organization was democratic centralism, with a professional revolutionary leadership assuming the role of developing the theory and practice of revolutionary communism. Lenin's view was that without the revolutionary party the working class would rebel and revolt against the capitalist ruling class, with primarily economic rather than revolutionary political aims. Thus communism in the 20th-century is often equated with Marxist-Leninist thought.

Since the late 1920s, the concept has been decisively influenced by STALINISM. The international communist movement has been split over whether this represented a continuation or decisive break from Marxist-Leninist development. Thus supporters of Stalin continued to call the USSR communist, and, from 1948 until 1989, the Eastern European countries were linked to the USSR also. Others, in particular the various postwar European Trotskyist groups, saw these societies as either transitional (moving towards communism), as state capitalist or degenerate workers’ states, or as new forms of society, neither capitalist nor socialist (see also STATE SOCIALIST SOCIETIES). Up until the 1970s, most of the European Communist Parties continued to support the USSR, but from that time on the development of EUROCOMMUNISM saw the emergence of tendencies within the European parties leading them to distance themselves from the Soviet Union and develop policies for political influence regarded as more appropriate to their own countries and the changed circumstances of the late 20th century. By the 1980s, the communist movement in Western Europe was varied, but exhibited declining membership and electoral support.

Outside of Europe, since the 1940s, various communist movements have appeared in the THIRD WORLD. Many of these rose to prominence alongside the nationalist movements for independence (see COLONIALISM and NEOCOLONIALISM). Communist parties came to power most noticeably in China, Vietnam, Angola, Mozambique and Cuba. Most were influenced by the model of party organization, state central planning and one-party policy inspired by Stalinism, even though Maoism in China, with its theoretical view of the primary role of the peasantry, might seem to have offered a theory of revolution more appropriate to the Third World.

For non-Marxist observers, the whole experience of 20th-century communist societies has supported the argument that communism means a lack of democracy, centralized state control over most aspects of society, rigid economies unable to sustain economic growth, and often tyrannical one-man dictatorships, as exemplified by Stalin in the USSR, Mao in China and Castro in Cuba. For some, this led to the development of the concept of TOTALITARIANISM, in which both fascist (see FASCISM) and communist states are contrasted with democratic market-based societies (see also DEMOCRACY, STABLE DEMOCRACY).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) the socioeconomic formation replacing capitalism and founded on public ownership of the means of production; (2) in the narrower sense, a stage or phase in the development of this postcapitalist formation that is more advanced than socialism; “a classless social system with one form of public ownership of the means of production and full social equality of members; under it all-around development of people will be accompanied by the growth of the productive forces through continuous progress in science and technology; all the springs of cooperative wealth will flow more abundantly and the great principle ’From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ will be implemented. Communism is a highly organized society of free, socially conscious working people in which public self-government will be established, a society in which labor for the good of society will become the prime vital requirement of everyone, a necessity recognized by one and all, and in which the ability of each person will be employed to the greatest benefit of the people” (Programma KPSS, 1972, p. 62).

Communist ideas, when they first developed, were based on a demand for social equality founded on a communality of wealth. The idea of communism was raised as a slogan of revolutionary struggle by radical elements of the Hussite movement in the Czech lands in the 15th century (M. Houska), in the peasant wars of 16th-century Germany (Thomas Münzer), in the English bourgeois revolution of the 17th century (G. Winstanley), and in the French bourgeois revolution at the end of the 18th century (G. Babeuf). The theoretical elaboration of the first systematized concepts of a communist way of life was based on the ideology of humanism in the 16th and 17th centuries (Thomas More and Tommaso Campanella) and on the French Enlightenment of the 18th century (Morelly and G. Mably). Early communist literature reflects the transition from petit bourgeois and plebeian revolutionism to that of the proletariat, but the espousal of universal asceticism and of leveling that is characteristic of early communist literature represents a reactionary element within it.

In the early 19th century, Saint-Simon, C. Fourier, R. Owen, and other Utopian socialists added to the concept of a just social order with the ideas of labor as a form of gratification, the flowering of human capabilities, the provision of all the needs of the individual, centralized planning, and the distribution of wealth according to labor. However, in contrast to the ideals of communism, the Utopian socialists accepted the preservation of private property and inequality of wealth in Utopian society. They protested against the capitalist system of oppression and exploitation of the workers, but at the same time they proposed Utopian schemes for eliminating class differences. In Russia the most prominent representatives of the school of Utopian socialism were A. I. Herzen and N. G. Chernyshevskii.

Scientific communism, as a theoretical expression of the proletarian movement directed toward the goal of abolishing capitalism and building a communist society, first arose in the 1840’s, when the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie emerged in the most advanced countries of Europe (the rebellions of textile workers in Lyon in 1831 and 1834, the rise of the Chartist movement in England from the mid-1830’s to the early 1850’s, and the revolt of weavers in Silesia in 1844). Basing themselves on the materialist conception of history and on the theory of surplus value, which revealed the hidden mechanism of capitalist exploitation, K. Marx and F. Engels elaborated a scientific theory of communism expressing the interests and world view of the revolutionary working class and embodying the finest achievements of social thought up to that time. They explained the worldwide historical role of the working class as the gravedigger of capitalism and the creator of a new social order. Developed and enriched in its application to new conditions—by Lenin, by the CPSU, and by the fraternal Communist and workers’ parties—this doctrine has revealed the laws of history by which capitalism must be replaced by communism, as well as the pathways leading to the building of a communist society.

The objective necessity for the elimination of the capitalist system and for the establishment of socialist forms of organization in social production is determined by the development of the productive forces. As a result of their growth, “the monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production that has sprung up and flourished along with and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated” (K. Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Sock, 2nd ed., vol. 23, pp. 772–73). The socialization of labor is the primary material basis for the inevitable advent of socialism. The rise and development of state-monopoly capitalism, as Lenin showed, signifies the most complete material preparation for the new social formation.

The transformation from the capitalist to the communist social formation is not simply the product of economic evolution but the inevitable consequence of the class struggle of the proletariat, which capitalism causes, and the social revolution. Imperialism is the eve of the socialist revolution. The unevenness of economic and political development in the various capitalist countries in the age of imperialism first created the conditions for the victory of socialism in a single, isolated country, the USSR, as a result of the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917. Thus began the era of transition from capitalism to socialism. After World War II, when socialist revolutions were victorious in a series of countries in Asia, Europe, and America, a world socialist system came into being. The new, communist social formation is already taking shape within the system of socialist states. This process will be completed when all the peoples of the world have made the transition to socialism and when communism has become a worldwide social system embracing all countries. The essence of the world revolutionary process today is defined by the fusion of three revolutionary forces into a single current of anti-imperialist struggle: the world socialist system, the international working class, and the national liberation movement. In the vanguard of the political and social movement that is conducting the struggle to overthrow capitalism and build communism stand the Communist and workers’ parties, which base their policies on Marxist-Leninist theory.

Along with the growth of the communist system “in breadth,” through the addition of new countries escaping the imperialist system in increasing numbers as the result of socialist revolutions, there is also a development of communism “in depth”; all the countries that have taken the road of socialism, as well as the socialist commonwealth as a whole, are achieving ever higher levels in the social and economic maturation of the new formation. The transformation of private capitalist ownership and other forms of private ownership of the means of production into public, socialist ownership is the essential characteristic of the transition period from capitalism to socialism. To this transformation there “also corresponds a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” (Marx, op. cit., vol. 19, p. 27).

Historical experience has confirmed the predictions of classical Marxism-Leninism about the universality of a number of general laws of socialist construction in disparate countries, laws that manifest themselves despite the multiplicity of forms, methods, and techniques that exist in the carrying out of socialist transformations. Among these laws are leadership of the toiling masses by the working class, whose nucleus is the Marxist-Leninist party, in carrying out the socialist revolution and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat; the alliance of the working class and the majority of the peasantry and other sections of the toiling masses; the abolition of capitalist ownership and the establishment of public ownership of the basic means of production; a planned development of the economy; the socialist transformation of agriculture; and a cultural revolution. The majority of the socialist countries, having successfully solved the problems of the transition period, entered the socialist phase in the development of the communist social formation in the early 1960’s and turned to the task of creating a developed socialist society. The USSR, which entered the phase of socialism in the 1930’s and built a developed socialist society in the 1960’s is carrying out communist construction now. The new social formation has reached the point in history at which its process of development is no longer reversible. But even at this stage there is still a necessity to emphatically rebuff all attempts by world imperialism to undermine socialist construction and to restore capitalism in one country or another. Difficulties in the development of the new formation are the result not only of the pressure of imperialism from without and the elemental petit-bourgeois mass from within but also of the objective complexity of the task of building a new society in countries at different economic levels, with different social structures. However, having the same social and economic system and coinciding fundamental aims and interests, the countries of the world socialist system are creating the conditions necessary for surmounting the difficulties that exist in the course of the new formation’s development. These countries are also strengthening the unity of the socialist countries on the basis of the principles of Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism.

The communist formation in its first phase assumes the shape that it must have as it emerges after long birth pangs and is “thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society” (ibid., p. 18). The historical genesis of the higher phase of communism is different: this phase represents a kind of new society that develops upon its own foundations, that is, it is established through the refinement of socialist economic relations and is already completely free from vestiges of capitalism. In Lenin’s definition, socialism and the higher phase of communism appear as “stages of the economic maturity of communism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 33, p. 98). The differences between the two phases are seen primarily in the different levels of development in social production and cannot be reduced to the mode of distribution alone. However, these are differences within the framework of a single socioeconomic formation, the communist formation. The term “communism” is applicable in characterizing the socialist system “insofar as the means of production become common property.” But “this is not complete communism,” for in its “first stage, communism cannot as yet be fully mature economically” (ibid.).

Communism is distinguished from socialism primarily by the maturity or degree of development of the economic base of the new socioeconomic formation—that is, the productive forces and productive relations. It is “socialist society in its developed form,” “the highest stage of socialism” (ibid., vol. 36, p. 65; vol. 45, p. 263). When the new formation has reached full maturity, socialism is transformed into complete communism.

The features common to and the differences between the two phases of the communist formation can be summarized as follows: In the higher phase, certain laws and essential features of socialism, characteristic of the communist formation as a whole, undergo further development. These include public ownership of the means of production, mutually collaborative social relations, conscious discipline in labor, planned management of the economy, subordination of society’s economic and cultural progress to the goals of achieving complete material well-being and all-around personal development for each of its members, the social unity of society based on the communality of interests of all working people and on Marxist-Leninist ideology, and the administration of public affairs on the basis of a scientific knowledge of economics and the principles of the communist world view. The historic gains of socialism, such as universal labor and freedom from exploitation and from all forms of social bondage and national oppression, are preserved and strengthened. Under complete communism, or during its development, there is a gradual disappearance of other essential features of socialism that are related to the peculiarities of the new formation’s development upon foundations that are not originally its own. The two socialist forms of public property, state and cooperative, develop and are transformed into a single, communist, form of property. From distribution according to labor, society shifts to distribution according to need. The political and legal elements of the superstructure, which ensure the proper functioning of the socialist base and the evolution of society toward communism, cease to be necessary and wither away. With the rise of certain material and spiritual conditions and through a prolonged process of transformational work, the vestiges of the capitalist heritage in the economy and in people’s consciousness are gradually overcome. The new society takes on a number of additional characteristics and qualities, especially in the system of economic relations—features that cannot exist under socialism. Among these are abundance in both material and spiritual respects, complete social equality, the all-around development of production workers, self-government, labor for the social good as the prime necessity for all members of society, and distribution according to need.

The typical features of communism arise as a result of the development of the foundations of socialism. Capitalism, even at its highest stage, does not create the objective basis upon which society can begin its march to the higher phase of communism. On the other hand, once a society has built socialism it cannot remain at that stage. “Socialism,” Lenin pointed out, “must inevitably evolve gradually into communism” (ibid., vol. 31, p. 180). But the conditions necessary for this do not arise all at once: communism “can only develop when socialism has become firmly established” (ibid., vol. 40, p. 33). The experience of the USSR and other socialist countries shows that only as a result of the total and conclusive victory of socialism and the building of a developed socialist society can the conditions arise for the successful building of communism. The path to the higher phase of communism lies in the discovery and utilization of all the potentialities and advantages of the socialist mode of production. That is the distinctive element in the dialectics of the transition to communism.

The forward movement of society toward communism is organized and directed by the Communist Party. The essential features and chief problems of communist construction are outlined in the Program of the CPSU, adopted by the Twenty-second Congress of the CPSU in 1961. The transition to communism is a prolonged process involving the socioeconomic development of socialism and passing through a number of consecutive stages. The motive force of social development is not the class struggle but cooperation, mutual assistance, and competition among people who are free of exploitation; it is not private interest but public interest. Communism arises under conditions in which there are no antagonistic classes, in which the working class, playing the leading role in the system of socialist production relations and in the building of communism, the collective farmers, and intelligentsia stand in a solid bloc by the Communist Party, which leads the working people on to the victory of communism. The evolution of socialism into communism is a qualitatively new type of social progress. Communist construction in each socialist country is an organic part of the single world revolutionary process, humanity’s passage from capitalism to communism. The tempo and scale of this process is affected by the development of the world socialist system, the struggle of the international working class, the development of the national liberation movement, and the contradictions of world capitalism.

The question of the historic tendency of socialist development, of the evolution to communism, is already being decided in practice in the USSR and several other socialist countries. It has become a key question of ideological struggle. The proponents of the theory of “the convergence of the two systems” try to portray socialism as a system evolving in the direction of capitalism. They contend that a “renovated” capitalism, the best social system, will be the future for socialist society, instead of communism. Equally unfounded are the efforts of bourgeois and petit bourgeois socialist ideologues to depict the socialist system and communism as alternative, mutually exclusive lines of social development and to argue that it is possible to have “socialism without communism”—especially without the transfer of power to the working people under the leadership of the working class and its vanguard, without all-people ownership of the means of production, without Marxist-Leninist ideology, and without the Communist Party taking the leading role. The right-wing revisionists put forward the thesis that the building of communism in the present epoch is “premature.” The “left-wing” revisionists try to argue that socialism is not an “obligatory” stage of development and that it can and must be “passed by,” and they deny such principles as the need for material incentives and cost accounting. All the antiscientific, anticommunist interpretations of socialism and communism agree on one thing: they reject the central conclusion of Marxism-Leninism on the inevitable, gradual evolution of socialism into communism.

Communism is the higher phase of communist society. The chief material condition for the realization of the principles of communism is a productivity of social labor higher than that afforded by capitalism. A decisive factor in achieving a productivity of labor appropriate to communism is a heightened level of scientific and technical equipment for labor, based on the tremendous growth of the productive forces, which leads to a qualitative new stage in their development—the creation of the material and technical base for communism. Other crucial factors are a higher level of organization of labor, production, and management and a rise in the scientific and technical training and skill of the industrial workers themselves. Construction of the material and technical base of communism is defined in the Program of the CPSU as the chief economic task of the party and the Soviet people at the present stage of Soviet development. The construction of such a base presupposes the organic fusion of the achievements of the modern scientific and technological revolution with the advantages of socialism. It involves fundamental changes in the instruments of labor and the technology of production (the introduction of comprehensive mechanization and the transition to the use of automatic machine systems on a massive scale). It also involves changes in power engineering (complete electrification of the country and the widespread use of new forms of energy), in the objects of labor (the development of more economical types of raw materials and the creation of new kinds of materials having desired qualities for use in production), in the application of science to industry (the transformation of science into an immediately productive social force), in the organization of production and management (the introduction of a scientific organization of labor, the shift to management with the use of computers, and the cybernetization of production), and in the treatment of the natural environment (natural conservation and rational use of natural resources).

In the higher phase of communism, “after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished” (Marx, op. cit., vol. 19, p. 20), the preconditions and material base will have been created for the gradual evolution of socialist labor into communist labor. The development of economics, science, technology, culture, and the educational system, the rise in people’s living standards, the improvement and lightening of the conditions of labor—all will enhance the objective possibilities for labor to be conducted according to ability, and ever more favorable conditions will arise for the use and development of each individual’s capabilities. With the advance of the productive forces in socialist society, based on the gains of the scientific and technological revolution, hard and unskilled physical labor and monotonous mental labor will disappear, and the distinctions between industrial and agricultural labor in respect to scientific and technical equipment will be completely overcome. Mental and physical labor will merge organically in the productive activity of the individual, and the meaningful content and creative function of labor will increase regardless of the particular sphere of its application.

With the refinement of economic relations will come the elimination of the remnants of the old division of labor that under socialism created the conditions for continued social distinctions (the distinctions between classes in socialist society; the social and economic divisions between town and country and between intellectual workers and manual workers). Under the new conditions, the primary factor in determining a worker’s area of specialization within the framework of the still-existing occupational division of labor (which is primarily connected with the application of scientific and technical knowledge to production) becomes the general level of cultural and overall development of the individual, for whom labor according to ability has become the prime necessity of life. The consequences of narrow professionalism are overcome; the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor and the alienation of the worker from the spiritually rewarding potential of labor, are eradicated completely on a new, higher productive foundation. The conditions are assured for the complete and rounded development of the individual by having the means of education and of scholarly, aesthetic, and physical improvement available to all members of society, as well as by having a constantly rising standard of living for all working people, a reduction of the workday on the basis of the high level of productivity, and a rational use of leisure time. As a result of the change in the nature of labor and its increased productivity, materially productive work will require relatively less of society’s time, and such work will be carried out under conditions that are more worthy of human beings, allowing them more opportunity to achieve full and rounded personal development and to make use of all their abilities.

The process of building the material and technical base for communism is organically connected with the refinement of socialist production relations and their evolution into communist relations. In the course of socialist economic development the mass of productive resources under state all-people ownership grows unceasingly, and the level of their economic socialization constantly rises through the increased concentration of production, the creation of large-scale economic amalgamation, and specialization and cooperation. The extent of state ownership in the economy constantly expands because of the increasing amalgamation of the two forms of socialist property, state and cooperative, as each is perfected and refined. The refinement of socialist economic relations leads to the merging of the working class, the cooperative farmers, and the intelligentsia; to the strengthened social unity of the people on the basis of Marxist-Leninist ideology, which expresses the interests and communist ideals of the working class; and ultimately to the creation of a society without classes.

During the years of socialist construction in the USSR a new historical community of people has arisen, the Soviet people. Within the framework of communist production relations, the opposition between that which is individual and that which is collective, social, and all-people is objectively removed, and the identity of public and private interests on the basis of full social equality is assured. The distinctive features of such equality are the elimination of class and social differences and the abolition of any privileges or favoritism in consumption or in personal possessions. The positive content of communist equality is revealed in the position of the individual in the system of social production and in the attitude of people toward the material conditions of labor and the means of production, which are the property of the people as a whole. (All members of society are highly skilled and work voluntarily and without compensation to the full extent of their abilities, using them to the greatest advantage for the good of society). The nature of communist equality is also revealed in the attitude toward the labor process (all members of society actively participate in the conduct of public affairs, and control over the process of production is exercised directly by those participating in it, in accordance with the plan adopted by society as a whole), and in the attitude toward the fruit of labor, the social product, which belongs to the society as a whole (each takes from the public fund all of the means of livelihood that are necessary for the full satisfaction of his or her needs and for all-around personal development).

The direct material interest of the working people is viewed as a principle of major importance in the process of building communism. Payment of the individual according to his or her labor remains the basic means of satisfying the needs of society’s members. This principle is exhausted in economic respects when an abundance of material goods has been attained, and labor becomes the prime necessity of life. The perfecting of the socialist system of distribution—that is, payment according to labor, in combination with distribution through the public fund—is the path that leads to distribution according to need. With the evolution of socialist production relations into communist relations, there is the related use of commodity-money relations, the need for which disappears only when the higher phase of communism is reached—when the social and economic heterogeneity of labor disappears and it becomes possible to measure labor costs, not in the form of value, but directly, through the calculation of labor time. In the period of building communism, economic incentives are used and commodity-money relations are perfected, together with the widest possible reinforcement of the role and significance of moral incentives to labor.

The advance of the communist social formation in material production creates the need for continual improvement of the individual in all respects and the conditions for the spiritual flourishing of the new society. Unlike “actual material production,” which remains within “a realm of necessity” even under communism, spiritual life in advanced communist society, flourishing under conditions of abundance upon a foundation of highly productive labor, will constitute, in Marx’s terms, “the true realm of freedom,” in which the development of one’s human powers becomes an end in itself (Marx and Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 25, part 2, p. 387). The development of the capacities of society as a whole under communism coincides with the development of each of its individual members, whereas in antagonistic social formations this development takes place at the expense of the majority of the working classes. The development of individuality under communism is truly free in its affirmation of harmonious relations between the individual and society; the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. Each individual is given the opportunity of using and creating the benefits and values of culture in accordance with his or her own abilities and inclinations. The solution to the problem of the free spiritual development of each individual presupposes not only the necessary material conditions and the attainment of a high cultural level but also the affirmation of communist morality and the communist world view as the essence of social consciousness. In the period of building communism, the ideological work of the Communist Party among the masses acquires the greatest importance. The task of creating a scientific communist world view among the population as a whole and of imparting a new, communist attitude toward labor is posed and resolved properly. This process takes place in the midst of fierce ideological struggle against the influence of ideas alien to socialism and against the survivals of capitalism in people’s consciousness.

An important and necessary tool for building communism is the socialist state, through which the working classes manage production and guide industrial development in the interests of all of society, exercise control over the way labor and distribution are measured, and defend their social gains from hostile classes from without and from “the parasites, the sons of the wealthy, the swindlers, and other ’guardians of capitalist traditions’” (Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 33, p. 102). With the building of socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat is transformed into the political organization of all the people, with the working class playing the leading role under the guidance of its political vanguard, the Communist Party. The political foundation for a society building communism is the alliance between the working class and the peasantry. In the period of communist construction the administration of public affairs and of the life of society as a whole is political in character, and it presupposes that the interests of the population and of each of its component, nonantagonistic social classes and groups are taken into account. The chief directions of development within the state system during the building of communism are the development and perfection of socialist democracy, the strengthening of conscious discipline, the heightening of a sense of responsibility on the part of all citizens, active participation by all citizens in government administration and in the conduct of economic and cultural affairs, improvement in the functioning of the state apparatus and increased popular control over its workings, and the strengthening of law and order. The democratic foundations of management are developed in every way, and the role of workers’ public organizations is heightened. All the processes contributing to the creation of a new society in both the material and spiritual spheres can proceed successfully if the efforts of the masses to solve the problems of communist construction are organized and directed by the Communist Party, armed with its advanced theory. The socialist state is maintained until the complete victory of communism.

With the building of a developed communist society, in which all its members have been drawn into the administration of public affairs, observance of the universal and generally recognized rules of conduct of the communist social community has become an essential need and habit for everyone, and concern for public property, universal labor according to ability, and a high level of labor discipline have become the natural and accepted norm of behavior—the intervention of state power in social relations becomes superfluous, and the exercise of political government over people is replaced by the administration of things and of the processes of production. The socialist state system develops into communist social self-management. The work of economic organization at the level of society as a whole, of individual branches of industry, and of individual enterprises, which is conducted by the state under socialism, will be continued under communism as well.

The essential element in creating the economic organization necessary for communism consists of the increased economic role of the state and the perfection of economic management and planning techniques and of the whole system for managing the economy. The state prepares the mechanism for managing production in the new society, in which the planning and accounting agencies and the administration of the economy and culture will become organs of public self-management. The development of democratic centralism in industrial management and in all spheres of public life, based on the material conditions of communism, will ultimately render superfluous any special apparatus of political power. But the withering away of the state also depends on the external conditions under which communist society exists. As long as capitalism continues to exist in part of the world, the need will remain for a special state body to defend the gains of communism. Marxist-Leninist science has shown that the victory of communism on a world scale may be preceded by the gradual establishment of the foundations for this system in one socialist country or a number of them. The necessary preconditions in foreign affairs for a transition to communism are the development and strengthening of the world socialist system, class solidarity with the peoples struggling against imperialism for their social and national liberation, the assurance of world peace, and the defense of socialist gains from the incursions of world imperialism.

Under communism, on the basis of a complete communality of interests in economic, political, and spiritual respects and of fraternal friendship and cooperation, the communist nations will increasingly tend to draw together until finally they merge voluntarily into a single communist community of nations embracing all humanity and uniting all peoples. The economic foundations for such an amalgamation are gradually maturing in the depths of the world socialist system: the general level of economic and cultural development in the different countries is evening out, socialist economic integration is advancing, the system for an international socialist division of labor is being perfected, and there is a growing tendency in the direction of a future world communist economic unit governed by a single plan.

The potential for unlimited progress in material production, in spiritual culture, in the improvement of human life, and in the perfecting of the individual exists in the communist social formation. The historical development of human society will no longer follow the pattern whereby one formation is succeeded by a higher formation. Communism is the last and highest socioeconomic formation, within whose framework the true history of humanity will unfold.


Marx, K., F. Engels, and V. I. Lenin. O nauchnom kommunizme. Moscow, 1963.
Marx, K., and F. Engels. “Nemetskaia ideologiia.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3.
Marx, K., and F. Engels. “Manifest Kommunisticheskoi partii.” Ibid., vol. 4.
Marx, K. Kapital, vols. 1–3. Ibid., vols. 23–25.
Marx, K. “Kritika Gotskoi programmy.” Ibid., vol. 19.
Engels, F. “Printsipy kommunizma.” Ibid., vol. 4.
Engels, F. “Anti-Dühring.” Ibid., vol. 20.
Engels, F. “Proiskhozhdenie sem’i, chastnoi sobstvennosti i gosudarstva.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Marx, K. “Ekonomichesko-filosofskie rukopisi 1844 goda.” Ibid., vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. “Gosudarstvo i revoliutsüa.” Poln. Sobr, soch., 5th ed., vol. 33.
Lenin, V. I. “Ocherednye zadachi Sovetskoi vlasti.” Ibid., vol. 36.
Lenin, V. I. “O ‘levom’ rebiachestve i o melkoburzhuaznosti.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Velikii pochin.” Ibid., vol. 39.
Lenin, V. I. “Ekonomika i politika v epokhu diktatury proletariata.” Ibid., vol. 39.
Lenin, V. I. “Zadachi soiuzov molodezhi.” Ibid., vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. “O kooperatsii.” Ibid., vol. 45.
Lenin, V. I. “O nashei revoliutsii.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Kak nam reorganizovat’ Rabkrin.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Luchshe men’she, da luchshe.” Ibid. (See also Index volume, part 1, pp. 248–49.)
Programmnye dokumenty bor’by za mir, demokratiiu i sotsializm. Moscow, 1964.
Programma KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Materialy XXIII s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1966.
Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Zadachi bor’by protiv imperializma na sovremennom etape i edinstvo deistvii kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii vsekh antiimperialisticheskikh sil. Moscow, 1969.
Brezhnev, L. I. Leninskim kursom: Rechi i stat’i, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1970–72.
Brezhnev, L. I. O piatidesiatiletii Soiuza Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik. Moscow, 1972.
Suslov, M. A. Izbrannoe: Rechi i stat’i. Moscow, 1972.
Volgin, V. P. Ocherki po istorii sotsializma, 4th ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1935.
Kommunizm i kul’tura: Zakonomernosti formirovaniia i razvitiia novoi kul’tury. Moscow, 1966.
Ekonomicheskie zakonomernosti pererastaniia sotsializma v kommunizm. Moscow, 1967.
Kurylev, A. K. Kommunizm i ravenstvo. Moscow, 1971.
Problemy razvitiia sotsializma: Mezhdunarodnye diskussii marksistov. Prague, 1971.
Leont’ev, L. A. Ekonomicheskie problemy razvitogo sotsializma. Moscow, 1972.
Mnogostoronnee ekonomicheskoe sotrudnichestvo sotsialisticheskikh gosudarstv, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1972. (A collection of documents.)
Fedoseev, P. N. Marksizm v XX veke: Marks, Engel’s, Lenin i sovremennost’. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. advocacy of a classless society in which private ownership has been abolished and the means of production and subsistence belong to the community
2. any social, economic, or political movement or doctrine aimed at achieving such a society
3. a political movement based upon the writings of Karl Marx, the German political philosopher (1818--83), that considers history in terms of class conflict and revolutionary struggle, resulting eventually in the victory of the proletariat and the establishment of a socialist order based on public ownership of the means of production
4. a social order or system of government established by a ruling Communist Party, esp in the former Soviet Union
5. Chiefly US any leftist political activity or thought, esp when considered to be subversive
6. communal living; communalism
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
As the search for the basis of altruism continued, I began to realize that this unselfish generosity lay at the heart of communist theory. Not practice, theory.
Instead, through his contact with Chicago School sociology and Communist theory about the Black Belt Nation, Wright came to appreciate, intellectually and radically, the deep costs of migration for the blacks from the rural South--just as Hurston had through her anthropological studies.
This is also true of Gramsci's concept of hegemony, and numerous other mainstays of supposedly "postmodern" theory, whose practitioners often remain blissfully ignorant of the centrality of the language and conceptual fram eworks provided by communist theory to their work.
China still sticks to some communist theory, but has introduced capitalism to revitalize much of its industry.

Full browser ?