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Communism is a theory and system of social and political organization that dominated much of the history of the 20th century. In theory, communism is a classless society in which all property is owned by the community as a whole and where all people enjoy equal social and economic status. As a political movement, communism sought to overthrow capitalism through a workers’ revolution and redistribute the wealth in the hands of the proletariat, or working class.
Early Communism Communist ideas have existed since ancient times. Primitive humans, living in tribes, worked for the benefit of their entire clan and shared the fruits of their labor.
Many western intellectuals have advocated Communist ideas. In his 4th-century BC work The Republic, the Greek philosopher Plato proposed the communal ownership of property by an intellectual ruling class, to put the welfare of the state above personal desire and moderate the greed of the producing classes.
In 1534 John of Leyden turned the city of Munster into a commune called "New Jerusalem" in expectation of the Second Coming and introduced polygamy (going partway towards Plato's ideal) before the city was taken by a Catholic army, leading to a massacre. Thomas More's Utopia was organized on communistic lines.
The idea floated around during the Enlightenment, exerting varying amounts of influence on the philosophes. The greatest amount was on Rousseau, who was to have the greatest influence on the French Revolution.
Many 19th Century idealists, disgusted by the ongoing oppression and decadence created by the Industrial Revolution, broke away from society to form communal utopias-although most were short-lived. An example was Robert Owen[?]'s New Harmony[?] community in Indiana.
The Ideas of Marx and Engels The ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, epitomized by their Communist Manifesto, transformed communism into a revolutionary movement. Marx and Engels claimed Communism did not have to occur in isolated communities, but globally. According to the Manifesto all history can be explained in terms of class struggles. In each society, a minority of people owned or controlled the means of production, consituting the ruling class. The vast majority of people owned and controlled very little.
At the current stage of capitalism the dominant bourgeoisie (or capitalists who controlled the means of production) exploited and oppressed the proletariat (or industrial workers) by paying low wages while keeping the profits to themselves. In other words, workers were compelled to labor not merely to meet their own needs but also those of the exploiting ruling class. Marx thought it was only a matter of time before the working classes of the world, realizing their common goals, would unite to overthrow the capitalists and redistribute the wealth. The establishment of communism would be the inevitable outcome of a historical process.
According to Marx, capitalism would evolve into socialism then eventually to communism. Marx specified a transitional period in which the workers would form a socialist society. A temporary dictatorship of the proletariat, would be needed to seize property from the bourgeoisie minority.
Communist Countries and Governments Communism is sometimes also used to mean, particularly in capitalist nations, a totalitarian regime run by the Communist Party where central planning[?] is employed as a means of production and distribution. Because totalitarian regimes of this nature have often committed human rights abuses of varying degrees, some regard this idea of Communism as a dangerous ideology, similar to fascism or nazism.
Marxists dispute this usage, reserving the term communism only for the final evolutionary stage of society (see socialism). In Marxism, communism refers to the ideal stateless, propertyless, and classless society with no oppression or exploitation and general abundance and freedom. Society runs in accord with the principle: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
Many nations in the 20th century were run by such Communist Parties, who identified themselves as true communists implementing socialism, and attempted to govern themselves accoring to their interpretation of Marxist principles. The following is a list of countries that have had self-proclaimed socialist republics:
For a general discussion of the practical consequences of communist rule, see communist government. For an exposition of the formal and semi-formal mechanisms of government and constitutional workings in communist countries, see communist state.
Note: According to the 1996 third edition Fowler's Modern English Usage, communism is always written with a small "c". Big "C" Communism (and its related forms) refers to a political party with that name, a member of that party, or a government led by such a party.