Communism is a political movement that began in 19th century Europe. The main ideals espoused by communists are the abolition of all private property and the rule of the working class. Most communists believed this rule would be obtained by a violent overthrow of monarchies and capitalist governments. Communism commanded a significant following in many European and American countries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Russia became the first nation ruled by the Communist Party in 1918, followed by Mongolia in 1924. Communism faced several significant challenges in its infancy during the 1920s.
Nature of Communism
One of the first challenges faced as the communists gained power in Russia concerned the nature of communism itself. Some leaders, including Leon Trotsky, believed that Communist Party membership should be open to the working class and that communism, to succeed, must be in a state of nonstop revolution until worldwide communism is achieved. Others, including Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin, believed that party membership should be restricted to professional revolutionaries who would rule on behalf of the working class, and that communism could succeed in a single country, temporarily coexisting with capitalist countries and monarchies.
Eventually Lenin and later Stalin came to power, which led to the adoption of the idea of "communism in one country." This was largely a practical concession to the fact that Russia lacked the resources to actively spread communist revolution to other countries. Heading into the 1920s, Russia's economy had been devastated by the constant warfare of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Some communists felt this failure to further spread revolution was a betrayal of communist principles. But Lenin believed that if communism succeeded in Russia, communist revolutions would arise of their own accord in other countries.
Agriculture, Industry and Housing Shortages
In 1922, the Russia joined with Ukraine, the Transcaucasian Republic, and Byelorussia to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Two years later, the USSR helped Mongolia to form a satellite communist government. One of the first challenges these new communist nations faced was meeting domestic need for food, housing and other commodities. During the revolution, the Communist Party had seized all Russian industrial and agricultural production, but lacked the resources to keep the systems functioning. Realizing that workers and farmers must have some incentive to produce, Lenin introduced the New Economic Plan, which reintroduced some elements of capitalism into the Soviet economy and allowed workers to realize some personal profit from their labor. Towards the end of the 1920s, Josef Stalin replaced the NEP with a series of five-year plans designed to strengthen government control over the nation's production.
Communism and Tolerance
The Soviet and Mongolian communist parties tolerated no criticism or political alternatives, and quickly suppressed public opposition in their own countries. Often this was accomplished by persecuting, imprisoning or executing the targets. But the international communist movement suffered significant setbacks in the 1920s as other countries enacted policies in direct reaction to the excesses of communist revolutions. In many countries, communism was outlawed. In others, communists were legally tolerated but viewed with suspicion. In countries that tolerated communism, communists faced opposition from more moderate socialists, who shared many ideals with communists, but favored bringing about reforms through the political process rather than armed revolution.
- Mongolian Ways: A Brief Mongolian History
- Student Pulse: Lenin's New Economic Policy: What It Was and How It Changed the Soviet Union
- BBC Bitesize: Stalin - the Five Year Plans
- Colgate University: Communal Living in Russia
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- Encyclopedia of Chicago: Communist Party
- Marxist History: The Communist International (1919-1943)
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