Communism is a sociopolitical movement that aims for a classless and stateless society structured upon common ownership of the means of production, free access to articles of consumption, the end of wage labour and private property in the means of production and real estate.
In Marxist theory, communism is a specific stage of historical development that inevitably emerges from the development of the productive forces that leads to a superabundance of material wealth, allowing for distribution based on need and social relations based on freely-associated individuals.
The exact definition of communism varies, and it is often mistakenly used interchangeably with socialism; however, Marxist theory contends that socialism is just a transitional stage on the way to communism. Marxist-Leninists and Leninists revised this theory by introducing the notion of a vanguard party to lead the proletarian revolution and to hold all political power after the revolution in a transitional stage between capitalism and socialism. Some communists, such as council communists and non-Marxist libertarian communists and anarcho-communists, oppose the idea of a vanguard party and transition stage and advocate for the construction of full communism to begin immediately upon the abolition of capitalism.
In the modern lexicon of what many sociologists and political commentators refer to as the "political mainstream", communism is often used to refer to the policies of states run by Communist parties, regardless of the practical content of the actual economic system they may preside over. Examples of this can include the policies the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, where the economic system incorporates "doi moi", the People's Republic of China, where the economic system incorporates "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics", the economic system of the Soviet Union, which was described as "State capitalist" by Vladimir Lenin.
A variety of different forms of communism have developed, each based upon the ideas of different political theorists, usually as additions or interpretations of various forms of Marxism, the collective philosophies of Karl Marx. Marxism-Leninism is the synthesis of Vladimir Lenin's contributions to Marxism, such as how a revolutionary party should be organised; Trotskyism is Leon Trotsky's conception of Marxism and Maoism is Mao Tse Tung's interpretation of Marxism to suit the conditions of China at that time.
Communist theory generally states that the only way to solve the problems existing within capitalism is for the working class, referred to as the proletariat, who is the main producer of wealth in society and is exploited by the capitalist class, as explained in theories such as surplus value, to replace the bourgeoisie as the ruling class to establish a society without class divisions, called socialism, as a prelude to attempting to achieve the final stage of communism.
Pure communism, or the stage in history after socialism, refers to a classless, stateless society, one where decisions on what to produce and what policies to pursue are made in the best interests of the collective society with the interests of every member of society given equal weight in the practical decision-making process in both the political and economic spheres of life. Karl Marx, as well as some other communist philosophers, purposely never provided a detailed description as to how communism would function as a social system. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx lays out a 10-point plan advising the redistribution of land and production to begin the transition to communism.
The origins of communism are debatable, and there are various historical groups, as well as theorists, whose beliefs have been subsequently described as communist. Some theorists have considered hunter-gatherer societies to adhere to a form of primitive communism, whilst historical figures like Plato and Thomas More have been described as espousing early forms of the ideology. The communist movement as it is known today largely took shape in the nineteenth century, when it was developed. In the twentieth century, revolutions led to openly communist governments taking power in many countries, leading to the creation of states like the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Cuba.
In modern usage, communism is often used to refer to the policies of these governments, which were one party systems operating under centrally planned economies and a state ownership of the means of production. Most of these governments based their ideology on Marxism-Leninism. These governments did not call the system they had set up "communism", instead claiming that they had set up a transitional socialist system. This system is sometimes referred to as state socialism. Many, including those on the left, argue that these states never made an attempt to transition to a communist society, while others even argue that they never achieved socialism.
In the 20th and 21st centuries democratic elections led to communist, and communist inspired, governments being elected in other parts of the world such as in Bolivia and Venezuela. Today, although communism is a less influential political force compared to what it was in much of the twentieth century, there are still powerful communist and aligned socialist movements in many parts of the world, especially southern Asia and South America, and since the economic crisis of 2008 there has been a resurgence of interest in communist theory, especially the theories of Karl Marx.
In the schema of historical materialism, communism is the idea of a free society with no division or alienation, where mankind is free from oppression and scarcity. A communist society would have no governments, countries, or class divisions. In Marxist theory, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the intermediate system between capitalism and communism, when the government is in the process of changing the means of ownership from privatism to collective ownership. In political science, the term "communism" is sometimes used to refer to communist states, a form of government in which the state operates under a one-party system and declares allegiance to Marxism-Leninism or a derivative thereof.
"Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution."
Self-identified communists hold a variety of views, including Marxism-Leninism, Trotskyism, council communism, Luxemburgism, anarchist communism, Christian communism, and various currents of left communism. However, the offshoots of the Marxist-Leninist interpretations of Marxism are the most well-known of these and had been a driving force in international relations during the last quarter of the 19th century and most of the 20th century up to around 1989 and what historians refer to as "the collapse of communism." However, other forms of communism worldwide continue to exist in the ideologies of various individual labor movement trade unions worldwide, particularly in Europe and the Third World, and also in communist parties that continue to espouse the ultimate need for communist revolution.
Most communists today tend to agree that the remaining communist states, such as the People's Republic of China, Vietnam and especially North Korea (which has replaced Marxism-Leninism with Juche as its official ideology), have nothing to do with communism, whether as practiced currently within leftist resistance movements and parties, or in terms of the ideologies and programmes held by those movements.