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Communism[a] is a theoretical society characterized by the absence of social classes, state and commodity production, ultimately solving the main contradictions of capitalism. The term is also used to refer to the movement whose ultimate goal is to achieve this society.

A society that has achieved communism is called a communist society.

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"[1]


Before Marx, the term communism was used by many utopian socialists to describe an idealist, egalitarian society.

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.[2]

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.[3]


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.[3]

Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring (1878)

Stalin discusses the topic in his work, Economic problems of socialism in the USSR:

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.[4]

Joseph Stalin, Economic problems of socialism in the USSR

Communism as an ideology

Communism is sometimes described as a political theory: Marxists have Marxism, Darwinists have Darwinism, and Communists have Communism. This usage of the term is usually done by liberals, although some communists have used the term communism this way.


  1. See note in Capital, vol. I – The fetishism of the commodity and its secret
  2. Mao Zedong (July 1964) On Khrushchov's Phoney Communism and Its Historical Lessons for the World
  3. 3.0 3.1 Friedrich Engels (1877) Anti-Dühring, Part III, Chapter II
  4. Joseph Stalin (1951) Economic Problems of the USSR, Chapter XIII


  1. From Latin communis, 'common, universal'