Communism as proposed by Marx and communism as practiced in Russia and China


Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Marxism, first developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, has been the foremost ideology of the communist movement. Marxism considers itself to be the embodiment of scientific socialism; rather than model an “ideal society” based on intellectuals’ design, it is a non-idealist attempt at the understanding of society and history, through an analysis based in real life. Marxism does not see communism as a “state of affairs” to be established, but rather as the expression of a real movement, with parameters which are derived completely from real life and not based on any intelligent design. Marxism, therefore, does no blueprinting of a communist society; it only makes an analysis which concludes what will trigger its implementation and discovers its fundamental characteristics based on the derivation of real-life conditions.

At the root of Marxism is the materialist conception of history, known as historical materialism for short. It holds that the key characteristic of economic systems through history has been the mode of production and that the change between modes of production has been triggered by class struggle. According to this analysis, the Industrial Revolution ushered the world into a new mode of production: capitalism. Before capitalism, certain working classes had ownership of instruments utilized in production. But because machinery was much more efficient, this property became worthless, and the mass majority of workers could only survive by selling their labour, working through making use of someone else’s machinery, and therefore making someone else profit. Thus with capitalism, the world was divided into two major classes: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. These classes are directly antagonistic: the bourgeoisie has private ownership of the means of production and earns a profit off surplus value, which is generated by the proletariat, which has no ownership of the means of production and therefore no option but to sell its labour to the bourgeoisie.

Historical materialism goes on and says: the rising bourgeoisie within feudalism, through the furtherance of its own material interests, captured power and abolished, of all relations of private property, only the feudal privileges, and with this took out of existence the feudal ruling class. This was another of the keys behind the consolidation of capitalism as the new mode of production, which is the final expression of class and property relations, and also has led into a massive expansion of production. It is, therefore, only in capitalism that private property in itself can be abolished. The proletariat, similarly, will capture political power, abolish bourgeois property through the common ownership of the means of production, therefore abolishing the bourgeoisie, and ultimately abolishing the proletariat itself, and usher the world into a new mode of production: communism. In between capitalism and communism there is the dictatorship of the proletariat, a democratic state where the whole of the public authority is elected and re-callable on the basis of universal suffrage; it is the defeat of the bourgeois state, but not yet of the capitalist mode of production, and at the same time the only element which places into the realm of possibility moving on from this mode of production.

An important concept in Marxism is socialization vs. nationalization. Nationalization is merely state ownership of property, whereas socialization is actual control and management of property by society. Marxism considers socialization its goal, and considers nationalization a tactical issue, with state ownership still being in the realm of the capitalist mode of production. In the words of Engels: “the transformation into State-ownership does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution”. This has led some Marxist groups and tendencies to label states such as the Soviet Union, based on nationalization, as state capitalist.

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Communism in Russia began after Tsar Nicholas II lost his power during the February Revolution. The Provisional Government was established under Prince Lvov, however, the Bolsheviks refused to accept the government and revolted in October 1917, taking control of Russia. Vladimir Lenin, their leader, rose to power and governed between 1917 and 1924. The Bolsheviks formed the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, marking the beginning of the Russian Civil War between the revolutionary Reds and the counter-revolutionary Whites. In 1922 the Communist Reds were victorious and formed the Soviet Union. Lenin died in 1924, starting a power struggle which ended with Joseph Stalin seizing power. He was the leader of the Communist Party until 1953. He encouraged political paranoia and conducted the Great Purge to remove opponents of his dominance.

Stalin died in 1953, and the Soviet Union went through “De-Stalinization” under the new leader Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev’s attempts to improve the lives of ordinary citizens were often ineffective. Khrushchev ruled through the years of the Cold War. Leonid Brezhnev was appointed a leader in 1964. Brezhnev governed the era without economic reforms, which led to a national economic decline by the mid-1970s. Yuri Andropov gained power in 1982 and tried to improve the economy by increasing management effectiveness but without making changes to the principles of a socialist economy. Andropov later died in 1984, fifteen months after gaining power.

Konstantin Chernenko led the Soviet Union from 1984 until his death thirteen months later in 1985. Chernenko was unable to consolidate power and effective control of the Communist party. Chernenko did little to prevent the escalation of the cold war with the United States and Western Europe. Mikhail Gorbachev became the last leader of the Soviet Union in 1985 and led until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Gorbachev improved relations and trade with the West and reduced the Cold War tensions. He implemented the Glasnost, which meant that Soviet people had the freedom that they never previously had; this included greater freedom of speech. The press was less controlled and many thousands of political prisoners and dissidents were released. Gorbachev removed the constitutional role of the Communist party. This led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991.


On October 1, 1949, Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The announcement ended the costly full-scale civil war between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), which broke out immediately following World War II and had been preceded by on and off conflict between the two sides since the 1920’s. The creation of the PRC also completed the long process of governmental upheaval in China begun by the Chinese Revolution of 1911. The “fall” of mainland China to communism in 1949 led the United States to suspend diplomatic ties with the PRC for decades.


Communists entering Beijing in 1949.

The Chinese Communist Party, founded in 1921 in Shanghai, originally existed as a study group working within the confines of the First United Front with the Nationalist Party. Chinese Communists joined the Nationalist Army in the Northern Expedition of 1926–27 to rid the nation of the warlords that prevented the formation of a strong central government. This collaboration lasted until the “White Terror” of 1927, when the Nationalists turned on the Communists, killing them or purging them from the party.

After the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931, the Government of the Republic of China (ROC) faced the triple threat of Japanese invasion, Communist uprising, and warlord insurrections. Frustrated by the focus of the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek on internal threats instead of the Japanese assault, a group of generals abducted Chiang in 1937 and forced him to reconsider cooperation with the Communist army. As with the first effort at cooperation between the Nationalist government and the CCP, this Second United Front was short-lived. The Nationalists expended needed resources on containing the Communists, rather than focusing entirely on Japan, while the Communists worked to strengthen their influence in rural society.

During World War II, popular support for the Communists increased. U.S. officials in China reported a dictatorial suppression of dissent in Nationalist-controlled areas. These undemocratic policies combined with wartime corruption made the Republic of China Government vulnerable to the Communist threat. The CCP, for its part, experienced success in its early efforts at land reform and was lauded by peasants for its unflagging efforts to fight against the Japanese invaders.

Japanese surrender set the stage for the resurgence of civil war in China. Though only nominally democratic, the Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-shek continued to receive U.S. support both as for its former war ally and as the sole option for preventing Communist control of China. U.S. forces flew tens of thousands of Nationalist Chinese troops into the Japanese-controlled territory and allowed them to accept the Japanese surrender. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, occupied Manchuria and only pulled out when Chinese Communist forces were in place to claim that territory.

In 1945, the leaders of the Nationalist and Communist parties, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, met for a series of talks on the formation of a post-war government. Both agreed on the importance of democracy, a unified military, and equality for all Chinese political parties. The truce was tenuous, however, and, in spite of repeated efforts by U.S. General George Marshall to broker an agreement, by 1946 the two sides were fighting an all-out civil war. Years of mistrust between the two sides thwarted efforts to form a coalition government.

As the civil war gained strength from 1947 to 1949, eventual Communist victory seemed more and more likely. Although the Communists did not hold any major cities after World War II, they had strong grassroots support, superior military organization and morale, and large stocks of weapons seized from Japanese supplies in Manchuria. Years of corruption and mismanagement had eroded popular support for the Nationalist Government. Early in 1947, the ROC Government was already looking to the island province of Taiwan, off the coast of Fujian Province, as a potential point of retreat. Although officials in the Truman Administration were not convinced of the strategic importance to the United States of maintaining relations with Nationalist China, no one in the U.S. Government wanted to be charged with facilitating the “loss” of China to communism. Military and financial aid to the floundering Nationalists continued, though not at the level that Chiang Kai-shek would have liked. In October of 1949, after a string of military victories, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the PRC; Chiang and his forces fled to Taiwan to regroup and plan for their efforts to retake the mainland.

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The ability of the PRC and the United States to find common ground in the wake of the establishment of the new Chinese state was hampered by both domestic politics and global tensions. In August of 1949, the Truman administration published the “China White Paper,” which explained past U.S. policy toward China based upon the principle that only Chinese forces could determine the outcome of their civil war. Unfortunately for Truman, this step failed to protect his administration from charges of having “lost” China. The unfinished nature of the revolution, leaving a broken and exiled but still vocal Nationalist Government and Army on Taiwan, only heightened the sense among U.S. anti-communists that the outcome of the struggle could be reversed. The outbreak of the Korean War, which pitted the PRC and the United States on opposite sides of an international conflict, ended any opportunity for accommodation between the PRC and the United States. Truman’s desire to prevent the Korean conflict from spreading south led to the U.S. policy of protecting the Chiang Kai-shek government on Taiwan.

For more than twenty years after the Chinese revolution of 1949, there were few contacts, limited trade and no diplomatic ties between the two countries. Until the 1970s, the United States continued to recognize the Republic of China, located on Taiwan, as China’s true government and supported that government’s holding the Chinese seat in the United Nations.


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