Paradoxes of Communism: Did Communism Deliver its Promises?

From the Lecture Series: The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin

By Vejas Liulevicius, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Communism, as a political, social, and economic system, promised to bring social justice by eliminating social classes and private ownership, but did not entirely deliver on its promises. There were different areas in which theory and practice did not match. Let’s look at these incongruities.

symbol of communism
Communism could not create the just society it promised. (Image: 4thebirds/Shutterstock)

Communism and the Masses

The role of masses and individuals is salient in the communist ideology. They act as vital forces that help in shaping history. Marx had a steadfast belief in the power of masses working in organized and coherent groups. In fact, the revolution was carried out by these masses of workers and revolutionary forces.

However, as it turned out, individuals did not play the expected roles in history. The impact they had in the course of history was constrained by the impacts of other unknown historical or economic factors. History imposes limitations on individuals and prevents them from making history as they desire. These limitations come in many social and economic forms.

Although masses have significant roles in shaping history, it is the elite individuals that determine the course of revolution by leading the masses. Marx himself was the first leader who changed the path communism took towards its destiny, followed by other rulers like Lenin, Mao, and Stalin.

This is a transcript from the video series The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Portrait of the leader of the world revolution. Vladimir Lenin
The communist leaders turned into big paradoxes to the bases of communism. (Image: Beynch Boofer/Shutterstock)

The leaders turned into substantial forces in the history of communism, and this led to yet another unfavorable phenomenon that was most contradictory to the fundamental beliefs of communism. The idea of social justice and eradication of social classes was central to communism. It promised to eliminate the exploitation of labor, which was partly encouraged by the gap between the working class and the bourgeoisie. Ironically, a new class of elites emerged that enjoyed privileges granted to them by the system. So the ideology that promoted the eradication of social classes served as a hospitable environment to develop new classes of privileged elites.

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The Global Spread of Communism

A dream that communism followed from the beginning was to spread the system around the globe. Communists did not want their ideology to be practiced in just one country. In particular, they preferred to establish communism in developed countries. This is because developed countries are naturally home to capitalism, which communism promised to eradicate.

Despite what was expected, the birth country of communism was not the birth land of Marx and Engels – Germany. Instead, it started in Russia with Lenin’s revolution in 1917. Russia was not an industrial and developed country at the time. Rather, it was an agricultural society ruled by the Tsar marked by intense oppression.

Nationalistic Paradoxes in Communism

Another internal contradiction in this belief system was communism’s stance on nationalism. Nationalism was not accepted by Marx and he dismissed it as a delusion. Although nationalism was a powerful model of community, ethnicity, or birthplace were not supposed to give identity to people. On the other hand, workers were supposed to identify themselves with class.

Communist vs Vietnam, Vietnamese abstract smoky mystic flags placed side by side.
Communism could not change nationalism. (Image: vladm/Shutterstock)

However, the communist regimes developed somehow confused attitudes towards nationalism. They supported this ideology as a means of solidifying their power. Most communist parties sought to be portrayed as patriots and followed nationalist policies.

Learn more about Red October: How the Bolsheviks Seized Power.

Communism: Past and Future

Communists were future-minded in their manifestos. They wanted to break all the links with the past and anything related to tradition. By contrast, communism itself became a tradition. As with most social and political ideologies, it developed its own rituals, traditions, and scriptures even to the point of giving them divine status.

Religious Paradoxes in Communism

One of the pillars of communism was science as a guiding principle. Communists wanted to free the working class so that they would have free time to practice creativity and intellectualism. Their ideal population was one consisting of intellectuals who believed in science rather than dogmatic religions. The communists dismissed religion as merely superstitious ideas that belonged to the past.

Quite paradoxically, communism itself turned into a sort of faith, or as some have called it, a political religion. In search of politically correct ideas and beliefs, communists engaged in what is interpreted as secular confession through internal purges and self-criticisms in the communist parties. There was supposed to be one true theory that had to remain unchanged. Therefore, those internal purges served as recommitments to make sure the ideology remains in its purest form.

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The communist ideology which promised to solve all the problems of humankind was not without its internal contradictions and paradoxes. The path of true communists did deviate from the canonical texts written by Carl Marx.

Common Questions about Paradoxes in Communism

Q: What is the communist attitude toward any religion?

Communism dismissed religion as dogma and superstition. It was considered outdated and was to be replaced by scientific beliefs, which was one of the paradoxes of communism since communism eventually turned into a kind of faith.

Q: What is an example of communism?

Communist regimes have ruled many countries in the world. China, Cuba, and North Korea are the most famous ones. A paradox of communism is that it sought to take over the governments in developed countries.

Q: What is the main purpose of communism?

The main purpose of communism is to bring social justice by abolishing private ownership and free markets which were at the core of capitalism. In the absence of social classes, exploitation of labor is eradicated and everything belongs to the public. A paradox of communism is that a new class of elites with special rights emerged in communist societies.

Q: How does religion relate to communism?

Communism and religion are conflicting principles. However, it is one of the paradoxes of communism that religious ideas and rituals have been incorporated into this ideology.

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