Communism[a] is a theoretical mode of production characterized by common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes. The term is also used to refer to the movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of this mode of production.
The material abundance and resultant social relations of such a society can be summarized by the slogan: "From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs." which was popularized in Karl Marx's 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program.
In the first volume of Capital, Marx mentions it as "an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labour-power in full self-awareness as one single social labour force"
Its modern usage is almost always traced back to Karl Marx's usage of the term where he introduced the concept of scientific socialism alongside Friedrich Engels. The theory of scientific socialism described communism not as an idealistic, perfect society but rather as a stage of development taking place after a long, political process of class struggle. Marx, however, used the terms socialism and communism interchangeably and he drew no distinction between the two.
Lenin was the first person to give distinct meanings to the terms socialism and communism. The socialism/communism of Marx was now known simply as communism, and Marx's "transitional phase" was to be known as socialism.
Place in historical materialism
In Marx's theory of historical materialism, communism represents the final mode of production. Each mode of production is defined by its relations of production: the class dynamics, the methods of exploitation, the systems of exchange, the level of development of the means of production, etc. Capitalism is defined by the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, commonly referred to as a "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie". Socialism is defined by the same relations, but instead it exhibits a "dictatorship of the proletariat". Socialism still has class dynamics and exploitation, but the proletariat is the class on top.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels described the evolution of society through the material changes as epochs of history. The relationships between opposing ranks such as patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves, merchants, feudal lords and vassals serve as forces of class antagonism. The current stage or epoch after the demise of feudalism at the hands of capitalism only created new classes and forms of oppression, this time between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
Communism has no classes, and therefore no class dynamics. It has no exploitation, and therefore no methods of exploitation. While communism is never meant to be the "end of history", it is certainly the final mode of production as all contradictions of modes of productions have been wiped out.
The implementation of communism became an extremely debated issue after the success of various communist movements. Almost all communist political theory concerns dialectical and historical materialism, socialist transformation and socialist development.
Engels provided some theory about the transition from socialism to communism (now known as the withering away of the state) in Anti-Dühring:
The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property. But, in doing this, it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state. [...] As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary. [...] The state is not "abolished". It dies out.
It is necessary, first of all, to shorten the working day at least to six, and subsequently to five hours. This is needed in order that the members of society might have the necessary free time to receive an all-round education. It is necessary, further, to introduce universal compulsory polytechnical education, which is required in order that the members of society might be able freely to choose their occupations and not be tied to some one occupation all their lives. It is likewise necessary that housing conditions should be radically improved, and that real wages of workers and employees should be at least doubled, if not more, both by means of direct increases of wages and salaries, and, more especially, by further systematic reductions of prices for consumer goods. These are the basic conditions required to pave the way for the transition to communism.
Communism as an ideology
Communism is sometimes described as a political theory: Marxists have Marxism, Darwinists have Darwinism, and Communists have Communism. This term is usually used by liberals, although some communists have used the term communism this way. To have a better understanding of it, Engels stated that:
Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat.
Communism as a movement
According to Marx, communism can be defined as the "the real movement which abolishes the present state of things." The communist movement differs from other workers' movements due to its internationalism and because it represents the entire working class.
- See note in Capital, vol. I – The fetishism of the commodity and its secret
- Mao Zedong (July 1964) On Khrushchov's Phoney Communism and Its Historical Lessons for the World
- Friedrich Engels (1877) Anti-Dühring, Part III, Chapter II
- Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R (1954). Political Economy: 'The Gradual Transition from Socialism to Communism'. London: Lawrence & Wishart.
- Joseph Stalin (1951) Economic Problems of the USSR, Chapter XIII
- Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels (1848). Communist Manifesto: 'Proletarians and Communists'.
- Stephen Gowans (2018). Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom: 'The US Occupation' (p. 77). Montreal: Baraka Books.
- From Latin communis, 'common, universal'