The Social Science Encyclopedia

Authors: Kuper & Kuper
Summary: The entry defines communism, focusing on Marx's definition and the historical experience of communism in the Soviet Union. Communism refers to any economic and social arrangement based on collective or common ownership, production, and government. The most famous classical proposal for communism was that advanced for the guardian caste in Plato's Republic.
In the nineteenth century, communism became synonymous with the system of ideas developed by Marx and Engels. Linked to Marx's critique of capitalism and liberalism, Marxist communism foresaw a proletarian revolution that would overthrow capitalism and establish a society without property, without classes or a division of labor, and without institutions of coercion and domination. Marx saw socialism arising in those countries, like England and Germany, where capitalism was most highly developed. In contrast, Lenin imagined and led a communist revolution in relatively undeveloped Russia. Leninism, the version of communism associated with Lenin, advocates the application of Marxism to countries where capitalism is underdeveloped, and insists on the need for a "vanguard party" of revolutionary elites to lead the proletariat.
The mature form of communist rule was developed in the USSR under the rule of Stalin. In such a regime, the Communist Party proclaims itself the enlightened leadership and claims sole authority to speak for the nation. The chief aim of such a regime is rapid economic growth through a crash program of industrialization, carried out by means of a centralized command economy.