Communism: Definition, History, Examples and Weaknesses

What is Communism?

The definition of communism is widely contested. Communism is an ideology used in politics and economics as a way of life in which communities operate without class or status. In a communist society, land and other means of production is owned jointly by members of society as opposed to capitalism and liberalism where individuals have the right to own private land. In this economic system, property and wealth are held communally. Communism can also be defined as an economic system in which the major means of production in a society such as mines, factors, land, and natural resources are owned and controlled by the public. In this system, wealth is supposed to be distributed equally to each citizen according to their proportionate needs.

History of Communism

Communism as a concept in economics and politics can be traced back to the 1840s, but its institutionalization came later. The word communism derives its meaning from the Latin word communis, which means “common” or “shared.”

From Plato’s The Republic, communism is seen through the guardianship of the Prince, who serves the interests of community as a whole. Plato argued that guardians should live in family units where they share material goods. According to Plato, private ownership of goods breeds selfishness.

The early communists were also inspired by religion. Christians formed the Early Church after Jesus ascended to heaven. Through these churches, Christian followers formed small kinds of communities.

Later, modern communism was inspired by the Industrial Revolution. The industrial revolution led to significant economic gains through increased productivity. The miserable state of the working class was improved through industrialization, and countries started to record massive economic growth and development. Karl Marx argued that the progress being made was as a result of class struggles that dominated human societies throughout history. According to Marx, such class struggles inevitably led to a society where everyone would share its prosperity through common ownership of the means of production.

It is through this ideological development that Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong of China started to organize their societies into communist systems. Karl Marx argued that communism is the only way to resolve problems afflicting societies such as poverty, disease, and early death.

Examples of Communism

A good example of communism is the Soviet Union which allowed people to practice agriculture and manage wealth in communal groups. Led by Marxist Vladimir Lenin and his successor Joseph Stalin, the Bolsheviks of Russia implemented a political and economic revolution and introduced communism in the Soviet Union. Central planning system was institutionalized as agriculture, banking and industrial production were subjected to price controls and quotas. A policy known as agricultural collectivization was also introduced by Stalin where people tilled land jointly. Although such efforts were largely successful, the rate of growth in the Communist economy was much slower than that of the capitalist, democratic societies.

Another example of communism is the Communist China, which has recently blended itself with some elements of capitalism. Mao Zedong installed communism in China through his Communist Party which toppled the Chinese Nationalist Party in 1949. After taking over as leader of China, Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China. Populations in rural China were forced by the Communist Party to work in communal land to produce steel in large quantities in order to enhance industrial revolution in China. Elements of Communism still exists today in China as most enterprises are still owned by the state.

Why Communism Failed? Weaknesses of Communism

Communism failed completely in Russia through the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Communism is also fading away in China as the economy is now operating under the ideals of capitalism, although the country is still headed by a Communist Party. The demise of capitalism can be attributed to three major reasons:

  • Absence of incentives for citizens to produce for profit: When people have an incentive to produce, competition and innovation comes in, leading to increased productivity. However, the communist system lacked such incentive and the communist societies lost grip of the world order as other major powers experienced rapid economic growth and industrialization under capitalism.
  • Inherent inefficiencies: communist systems are always characterized by inefficiencies such as central planning, coercion, political suppression, and dictatorship. Centrally planned economies are always too complex to manage efficiently, and political oppression leads to dissent and curtailment of economic progress.
  • Concentration of power: when a few people have the power to make important decisions in the economy, corruption and laziness becomes the norm. Such problems hinder economic development and industrialization because funds are not allocated efficiently in productive sectors.

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