The Encyclopedia of Democracy

Authors: Lipset
Summary: In about 2500 words, this entry defines communism, distinguishes it from socialism, discusses Leninism and Stalinism, and concludes with a look at international communism after World War II.
The entry defines communism as either a sociopolitical system resulting from working class struggles or the working class political movements within a capitalist system. The term originated in the mid-1830s in secret Parisian revolutionary societies, and then spread throughout western Europe. Communism and socialism were used synonymously during much of the 19th century, until Marx and Engels distinguished communism as the final stage of the worker-capitalist struggle, which begins with socialism.
The entry briefly summarizes the turn-of-the-century politics in Russia that led to the rise of Vladimir Lenin, and then examines the period between 1897 and the end of World War I in great detail. This analysis includes Lenin's arrest and exile between 1897 and 1900, his reinterpretation of Marxist doctrine, his leadership of the Bolshevik party, and Joseph Stalin's succession.
Historical reflection reinforces what Rosa Luxemburg saw at the time--Lenin's ultimate undoing was his belief that democracy could and should be postponed until a more stable time. By the 1920s, the Russian communists realized that Lenin's prophesied international revolution was not going to occur, and this left the Soviet Union in an extremely precarious situation politically and economically. Russia's "Stalinization" began vigorously, and its first step was to eliminate any party members not totally loyal to Moscow's central leadership or with any remaining loyalty to the workers. These individuals were replaced with apararchiks, whose only goal was carrying out Moscow's commands. The Stalinist vision controlled the Soviet Union until the last quarter of the twentieth century, when western European welfare states became able to prove many of the communist myths false and Soviet communism began to unravel.