What is Communism? Definition and meaning
Communism is an economic, social, and political ideology in which everything belongs to everybody. Everything belongs to all citizens equally. In other words, there is common ownership. The government controls everything, i.e., it is a command economy. In a communist society, everybody is equal, there are no social classes, and salaries are more or less the same.
Communism is a social and economic system. In this system, the collective society instead of individuals owns nearly all resources.
The Communist Manifesto
In 1848, Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) published the ‘Communist Manifesto.’
Their work formed the basis for the communist system. It represents an analytical approach to the class struggle and the problems of the free market. We also call the free market the capitalist system.
Marx and Engels believed that in a communist society, people’s ability and needs should regulate social relations.
Marx witnessed many profound changes in society in Europe due to the Industrial Revolution. The emergence of new technology made industry and agriculture more efficient.
The creation of the factory system of manufacturing also boosted efficiency. These two factors created enormous wealth for factory owners.
However, industrial workers did not share in this new prosperity. In fact, most of them lived and died in dreadful slums. Furthermore, they worked in horrible and dangerous conditions.
Communism is not the same as socialism. All European socialist parties accept the capitalist system. However, they want to add better safety nets for vulnerable people. Above all, they want to ensure universal access to basic services.
Communism and the state
In a communist society, the state owns the major productive resources. For example, farms, factories, and mines are major productive resources.
In theory, citizens are equally wealthy in this kind of system. The state distributes wealth according to need.
Communism established itself in many countries during the 20th century. Russia, China, Cuba, Eastern Europe, Vietnam, and North Korea are or were once communist.
In fact, in the twentieth century, one-third of the world’s population lived in a communist system.
The decline of communism
During the last two decades of the 20th century, communism collapsed in most of the world. However, it continued in China, Laos, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea.
Cuba and North Korea are the only truly communist regimes today. Whether economic communism still exists in China today is debatable.
China has many private companies. China also has many business millionaires and billionaires.
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party. Mr. Gorbachev’s had a policy of ‘restructuring’ (Perestroika) and ‘openness’ (Glasnost). He introduced freedom of expression; something that had not existed in any of the communist regimes.
Marx and Engels did not know that freedom of expression would disappear in a communist system. Had they known, would they have written their Manifesto differently?
Communism and shortages
All countries in history that have adopted communism have one thing in common. They eventually have to implement rationing.
Rationing becomes necessary because the system does not produce enough goods and services for the population. In other words, the communist system creates shortages.
Mr. Gorbachev also introduced democratic elections for some offices. Additionally, he introduced a series of economic reforms.
The Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe also experienced similar changes. As the iron grip of communist totalitarianism loosened, the communist system rapidly collapsed.
It first collapsed in some Eastern European states. Subsequently, it fell apart in The Soviet Union itself. This happened in the beginning of the 1990s.
Mr. Gorbachev resigned in December 1991, and ‘The Soviet Union’ ceased to exist. Leaders replaced it with the ‘Commonwealth of Independent States.’
Russia, a democratic state, was at the center of the Commonwealth. Communism as a globally important movement had died.
Video – What is communism?
This Khan Academy explains what a communist system is.