What is Communism?

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

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

The term communism was first introduced in the 1840s. Where did it originate from, and how does it compare to other schools of thought like socialism? How does it promise to change human life? Built on the foundations of socialism, Karl Marx’s ideas promised to free the human race of the poverty admired by religions like Christianity and caused by private ownership of capitalists.

USSR. Old school tattoo vector collection. State Emblem of Soviet Union, sickle and hammer, Kalashnikov rifle, astronaut, rocket, space satellite. Propaganda art. Communism and socialism
Communism, pioneered by Karl Marx, changed the world at Vladimir Lenin’s time.
(Image: intueri/Shutterstock)

A Brief History of Communism

Communism was first put forth by the German philosopher, Karl Max, and his associate, Friedrich Engels. It is a method of socioeconomic analysis seeking to establish a social structure that is shaped around social property replacing private ownership to bring justice and equality for all people. All forms of private ownership and markets built to make a profit have to be eliminated in favor of the masses. In other words, nothing exists in communism as private property.

Learn more about the Red Bridge to World Revolution.

Statue of Marx-Engels
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were the pioneers of communism. (Image: pastilio/Shutterstock)

According to this idea, no one can exploit his fellow human beings, and social classes will be a thing of the past. The idea of ending the proletariat working for the bourgeoisie was first introduced by Marx. According to Marx, the bourgeois is the upper-class capitalists who own the means of production. The proletariats are the working class who work for the bourgeois and help them accumulate wealth. However, in communism, all people work based on their abilities and needs. Therefore, in the absence of social classes and private properties and ownership, everything belongs to all.

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

Communism and Religion

The ideology of communism, at its core, bears a resemblance to religious systems in that both of them dismiss the idea of collecting capital and exploiting other human beings to make a personal profit. While religions denounce seeking money and greed as manifestations of evil obstructing the way to divine salvation, communism holds a different view.

According to Marx, communism and religion are different ideologies since religions celebrate poverty as a path to achieving spiritual deliverance. Religions are all about divinity and the afterlife, while communism has nothing to do with life after death. In addition, in a religion like Christianity, it is not money per se, which is considered evil. Rather, it is the love of money that impedes the path to the realm of God.

However, communism is an ideology trying to build a society to structure the lives of human beings in this world. So, according to Marx, there is no resemblance between Communism and religions whatsoever. Communism only aims to establish a system of common control to bring equality.

Learn more about the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital.

Communism and Socialism

Socialism is another social system that has a lot in common with communism. The two ideologies are so similar that they are often considered synonymous, even by Marx himself. Both socialism and communism support the public ownership of properties rejecting systems based on private means of controlling money and capital. In this sense, communism and socialism are both the complete opposites of capitalism, which favors private ownership and control of properties, individuals’ right to own capital, and free markets. They consider capitalism to be the source of all problems in the world.

Vector Set of Retro Soviet Revolution Propaganda Posters Stylization
Despite their fundamental similarities, communism was supposed to be a bettered socialism. (Image: svekloid/Shutterstock)

The difference between communism and socialism, however, is a fine one. The principles mentioned above were shared by the two systems. Yet, they were supposed to be taken to higher and more radical levels by communism. In other words, communism was planned to be an improved version of socialism, although there were changes in ideas and meanings along the way. It seeks to give power to the working class as a crucial step to achieving social justice.

Learn more about the 1871 Paris Commune as a Model of Revolt.

The Global Influence of Communism

Communism was first announced by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels through the Communist Manifesto. However, it was Vladimir Lenin who brought it to life in the real world, following the Russian Revolution in 1917. This revolution, which would have been considered an isolated internal change in a country, had serious consequences for the whole world. The promise of equality soon spread to various parts of the world.

From the emergence of dictators like Hitler and Mussolini to the erection and eradication of the Berlin wall, these consequences are globally significant. The revolution led to the establishment of communist governments in China, North Korea, Cuba, and several other countries. Whether this system managed to deliver its promises or not, it clearly changed the world in a way that affected the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

As one of the most important political, social, and economic systems in the history of the world, communism has had great influences on the world order. It promised to free the world and masses of capitalism and private ownership. In this sense, it has been thought to have a lot in common with other ideologies like religion and socialism. Nevertheless, there is more to communism than that as it seeks to set itself apart from other belief systems.

Common Questions about Communism

Q: What is an example of communism?

Communism was first applied in a government as a political system in Russia after the 1917 revolution. It has also been followed in countries like Cuba and China.

Q: What is the difference between communism and socialism?

Communism and socialism have a lot in common. Both seek to transfer the ownership of the property from private entities to the public and society. However, communism is more radical than socialism.

Q: What is the best definition of communism?

Perhaps, the best definition of communism is found in the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels: ‘the abolition of public property’.

Q: What is the difference between capitalism and communism?

Capitalism and communism could be considered the two ends of the spectrum of property ownership. According to capitalism, the property is owned by private entities and individuals. Communism, on the other hand, holds that all properties have to be controlled by the public, and there is not such a thing as private ownership.

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