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Communism, ideal economic order in which property and the means of production are held in common in a classless society. Elements of communism are as old as the Golden Age described by Greek poets and philosophers as a time long ago when people shared all things equally and lived simply. Primitive forms of communism are also discernible in the communities of early Christians and in the teachings and practices of certain groups considered heretical in the Middle Ages. The Utopia of Thomas More (1478–1535) also exerted a powerful influence on Western culture and politics, adding to that body of writings which inspired attempts to create a more perfect society. But modern communism, as developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels through their writings in the mid to late 19th century, is radically different from its predecessors. As set forth in their seminal work, the Communist Manifesto (1848), the economic progress that accompanied the rise of modern capitalism divided society into 2 hostile camps, the bourgeoisie, who controlled capital and the means of production, and the proletariat or working class, who must sell their labor in order to live. This division was not seen as static but rather as dynamic. It was, in fact, a conflict central to understanding historical events, the development of cultures and civilizations, and the evolution of society. Marx and Engels repeatedly pointed out in their writings that their argument was based upon a study and analysis of actual political and economic developments, especially contemporary events, and was not filtered through or distorted by metaphysical abstraction. They argued that their analyses and conclusions rested on a scientific basis and, according to their analyses, the destruction of the bourgeois social and economic order and the rise and spread of a communist order throughout the world was historically inevitable. These ideas were more fully developed in the succeeding decades culminating in Marx's major work, Das Kapital.

Marx and Engels were careful to distinguish communism from socialism. As Engels explained in the preface to the English edition of the Manifesto (1888), they could not have called their work a Socialist Manifesto because the socialists were either followers of Utopian visionaries like Robert Owen or Charles Fourier, or mere “social quacks” trying to remedy specific working class grievances rather than undertake full-scale revolution.

Communist parties were founded to advance the practical and effective cause of the proletariat and achieve communism through political action based upon strict party discipline. V. I. Lenin's Bolshevik party originally split from its fellow communists by espousing the violent overthrow of established regimes. In 1917, it adopted the title of Communist Party, and, thanks to the success of the Russian Revolution, enjoyed nearly unchallenged authority over international communism until 1948, when Yugoslavia rejected Soviet influence. In the 1960s, China under Mao Tse Tung would create a deeper and much more serious rift among communists.

In the more than 70 years since the Russian Revolution, communist regimes have proliferated, particularly in the Third World. Politically, they have been characterized by one-party rule, corrupt and inefficient bureaucracies, brutal and repressive secret police organizations, forced labor camps, strict censorship and thought control, the systematic murder of political opponents and entire groups of people considered dangerous to the state or the party and numbering in the millions.

Economically, even the larger powers, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, though they have succeeded in creating huge military establishments, have failed to provide for basic needs for their people, including food. Beginning in 1987, major communist regimes, led by the Soviet Union, openly admitted the failures of communism and have been looking to capitalist and pluralist systems in restructuring their governments, economies, and societies.

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