Communism is an economic and political ideology expressed in the Communist Manifesto by German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marx and Engels based their writing in turn on the ideas of the utopian socialists from France and British economists of the 18th century. Although communism came to be transformed by the later influences of historical figures from Vladimir Lenin to Mao Zedong, some of its most essential characteristics remained the same.
Central to communist ideology is the idea that human history is intertwined with economics and class struggle. It begins with primitive communist societies, where all members depend equally on whatever the society produces. Private land ownership has no meaning and individuals are entirely free. An excellent example of such a society is Native American cultures prior to the arrival of Europeans. Eventually, society evolves to a point where wealthy individuals, called the bourgeois, own all property and the means of production. Workers, called the proletariat, are enslaved through wages. Over time, they inevitably recognize their plight and rise up in an international movement to overthrow the bourgeoisie.
Ending Private Ownership of Property and the Means of Production
Communism can never exist with private ownership of property and in order to achieve a classless society, all citizens work cooperatively. The Communist phrase of "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need," means that a person's contribution to production has no effect on their access to what society produces. In this way, there is no need for competition and private property. Since the workers control the means of production, all share equally in the benefit of success or the consequences of failure.
Communism through Socialism
Socialism, referred by Marx as a lower form of communism, is necessary to alter society into a truly communistic state. In a socialized system, the state comes to control all of the utility and major economic systems. Banks and all social services are nationalized. With careful centralized planning, a purely communist society that no longer needs money, trade, profits or wages evolves. Marx believed personal security would end psychological stress that resulted from feelings of isolation and powerlessness over one's destiny and inequality.
Marx believed class warfare and the ultimate evolution of a communist society was an inevitable process within industrialized societies. By the early 20th century, however, communists like Lenin believed the process required revolutionary impetus. Industrialists and monarchies needed to be overthrown and replaced with socialist governments. Political opposition and religion were seen as threats to state cohesion, and thus in most communist nations religion is repressed and only the Communist party rules. Enforced patriotism and loyalty is an expressed goal in communist countries, where the fate and happiness of the individual is inextricably linked to that of the state.
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images