History of communism
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Most modern forms of communism are based upon Marxism, a variant of the ideology formed by the sociologist Karl Marx in the 1840s. Some religious societies that have stressed egalitarianism and common ownership of goods have been described as communist, including early Christianity and the Shakers of 19th century America. Marxism subsequently gained support across much of Europe, and under the control of the Bolshevik Party, a communist government seized power during the Russian revolution, leading to the creation of the Soviet Union, the world’s first Marxist state, in the early 20th century.
During ensuing decades, governments using the "Communist" name obtained power in many parts of the world, including most of eastern Europe, eastern Asia and parts of Africa. During the late 1980s and early 1990s most of these "Communist" regimes collapsed and adopted capitalistic economic policies, even though some remained nominally communist, like the People’s Republic of China. Today, nominal communist governments control Cuba and Vietnam.
- 1 Early development (1840–1916)
- 2 International communism: periodization
- 3 The Early Communist States (1917–1947)
- 4 Spreading Communism (1945–1957)
- 5 The Cold War and Revisionism (1957–1979)
- 6 The Collapse of the Communist Powers (1980–1992)
- 7 Contemporary Communism (1993-Present)
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Early development (1840–1916)
Many historical groups have been considered as following forms of communism. Karl Marx and other early communist theorists believed that hunter-gatherer societies, as were found in the Palaeolithic, were essentially egalitarian and he therefore termed their ideology to be "primitive communism". Early Christianity supported a form of common ownership based on the teachings in the New Testament which emphasised sharing amongst everyone equally. Other ancient Jewish sects, like the Essenes, also supported egalitarianism and communal living.
In Europe during the Early Modern period, various groups supporting communist ideas appeared. Tommaso Campanella in his The City of the Sun propagated the concept of a society where the products of society should be shared equally (1601). Within a few centuries, during the English Civil War, various groups on the side of the Roundheads propagated the redistribution of wealth on an egalitarian basis, namely the Levellers and the Diggers. In the eighteenth century the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau in his hugely influential The Social Contract (1762), outlined the basis for a political order based on popular sovereignty rather than the rule of monarchs. His views proved influential during the French Revolution of 1789, in which various anti-monarchists, particularly the Jacobins, supported the idea of redistributing wealth equally among the people, including Jean-Paul Marat and Gracchus Babeuf. The latter was involved in the Conspiracy of the Equals of 1796 intending to establish a revolutionary regime based on communal ownership, egalitarianism and the redistribution of property. The plot was however detected and he and several others involved were arrested and executed. Despite this setback the example of the French Revolutionary regime and Babeuf's doomed insurrection was an inspiration for radical French thinkers such as Compte Henri de Saint Simon, Louis Blanc, Charles Fourier and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who declared that Property is theft!”.
"Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution."— Karl Marx, 1844 
In the 1840s, a German philosopher and sociologist named Karl Marx (1818–1883), who was living in England after fleeing the authorities in the German states, where he was considered a political threat, began publishing books in which he outlined his theories for a variety of communism now known as Marxism. Marx was financially aided and supported by another German émigré, Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), who like Marx had fled from the German authorities in 1849. Marx and Engels took on many influences from earlier philosophers; politically, they were influenced by Maximilien Robespierre and several other radical figures of the French Revolution, whilst economically they were influenced by David Ricardo and philosophically they were influenced by Hegel. Engels regularly met Marx at Chetham's Library in Manchester, England from 1845 and the alcove where they met remains identical to this day. It was here Engels relayed his experiences of industrial Manchester, chronicled in the Condition of the Working Class in England, highlighting the struggles of the working class.
Marx stated that "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles," something that he believed was happening between the bourgeoisie who then controlled society and the proletariat (the working class masses) who toiled to produce everything but who had no political control. He purported the idea that human society moved through a series of progressive stages, from primitive communism through to slavery, feudalism and then capitalism, and that this in turn would be replaced by communism - for Marx therefore, communism was seen as inevitable, as well as desirable.
Marx founded the Communist Correspondence Committee in 1846 through which the various communists, socialists and other leftists across Europe could keep in contact with one another in the face of political oppression. He then published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, which would prove to be one of the most influential communist texts ever written. He subsequently began work on a multi-volume epic that would examine and criticise the capitalist economy and the effect that it had upon politics, society and philosophy; the first volume of the work, which was known as Capital:Critique of Political Economy, was published in 1869. However, Marx and Engels were not only interested in writing about communism, they were also active in supporting revolutionary activity that would lead to the creation of communist governments across Europe. They helped to found the International Workingmen's Association, which would later become known as the First International, to unite various communists and socialists, and Marx was elected to the Association's General Council.
Early development of Marxism
During the latter half of the 19th century, various left-wing organisations across Europe continued to campaign against the many autocratic right-wing regimes that were then in power. In France in 1871, socialists set up a government known as the Paris Commune after the fall of Napoleon III, however they were soon overthrown and many of their members executed by counter-revolutionaries. Meanwhile Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels joined the German Social-Democratic Party, which had been created in 1875, but which was outlawed in 1879 by the German government, then led by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who deemed it to be a political threat due to its revolutionary nature and increasing number of supporters. In 1890, the party was re-legalised, and by this time it had fully adopted Marxist principles. It subsequently achieved a fifth of the vote in the German elections, and some of its leaders, such as August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, became well-known public figures.
At the time, Marxism took off not only in Germany, but it also gained popularity in Hungary, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Netherlands, although it did not achieve such success in other European nations like the United Kingdom, where Marx and Engels had been based. Nonetheless, the new political ideology had gained sufficient support that an organisation was founded known as the Second International to unite the various Marxist groups around the world.
However, as Marxism took off, it also began to come under criticism from other European intellectuals, including fellow socialists and leftists; the Russian collectivist anarchist Mikhail Bakunin for instance criticised what he believed were the flaws in the Marxian theory that the state would eventually dissolve under a Marxist government, instead he believed that the state would gain in power and become authoritarian. Criticism also came from other sociologists, such as the German Max Weber, who whilst admiring Marx, disagreed with many of his assumptions on the nature of society. Some Marxists tried to adapt to these criticisms and the changing nature of capitalism, for instance Eduard Bernstein emphasised the idea of Marxists bringing legal challenges against the current administrations over the treatment of the working classes rather than simply emphasising violent revolution as more orthodox Marxists did. Other Marxists opposed Bernstein and other revisionists, with many, including Karl Kautsky, Otto Bauer, Rudolf Hilferding, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, and Georgi Plekhanov sticking steadfast to the concept of violently overthrowing what they saw as the bourgeoisie-controlled government and instead establishing a "dictatorship of the proletariat."
International communism: periodization
- The War Communism period (1919-1923) which saw the forming of the International, the Russian Civil War. a general revolutionary upheaval after the October Revolution resulting in the formation of the first Communist Parties across the world, and the defeat of workers' revolutionary movements in Germany, Hungary, Finland and Poland.
- The New Economic Policy period (1923-1929) which marked the end of the civil war in Russia and new economic measures taken by the Bolshevik government, the toning down of the revolutionary wave in Europe, and internal struggles within the Bolshevik Party and the Comintern after Lenin's death and before Stalin's absolute consolidation of power.
- The Third Period (1929-1934), an ultra-left turn which saw rapid industrialization and collectivization in the Soviet Union under Stalin's rule, the refusal by Communists to cooperate with Social Democrats in other countries (labeling them "social fascists", and the ultimate rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, which led to the abandonment of the hard-line policy of this period. These years also saw the complete subordination of all Communist Parties across the world to the directives of the Soviet Party, making the Comintern more or less an organ of the CPSU.
- The Popular Front period (1934-1939). It marked the call by Comintern to all popular and democratic forces (not just Communist) to unite in Popular Fronts against fascism. Products of this period were the Popular Front governments in France and Spain. However, this period was also marked by widespread purges of anyone suspected as an enemy of the Stalinist regime, both in the Soviet Union and abroad. These mass purges resulted in the breaking up of the Popular Front in Spain amidst the Spanish Civil War and the fall of Spain to Francisco Franco.
- The period of "advocating peace" (1939-1941), a result of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. In this period, communists were advocating non-participation in World War II, labeling the war as "imperialist". A new term, "revolutionary defeatism" was coined by Comintern in this period, referring to anti-war propaganda by communists in the Western Europe against their national governments.
- The Great Patriotic War period, sometimes called the Second Popular Front (1941-1943). This was the last period of the Comintern, starting immediately after the German invasion of the USSR, with Stalin's 3 July 1941 call to the entire free world to unite and fight Nazism by all means. This was a period of militant anti-fascism, the emergence of national liberation movements all across occupied Europe, and ultimately the dissolution of the Comintern in 1943.
- The Early Cold War 1947-1960 in which the Soviet Union and the red Army installed the communist regime's in most of Eastern Europe (except for Yugoslavia and Albania, which had independent communist regimes). A major effort to support Communist Party activity in Western democracies, especially Italy and France, fell short of gaining positions in the government.
- The Late Cold War 1960-1970s, in which China turned against the Soviet Union, and organized alternative Communist parties in many countries. Intense attention was given to revolutionary movements in the 3rd World, which were successful in some places such as Cuba and Vietnam. Communism was decisively defeated in other states, including Malaya and Indonesia. In 1972-79, there was détente between the Soviet Union and the United States.
- The End of communism in Europe, 1980–91, in which Soviet client states were heavily on the defensive, as in Afghanistan and Nicaragua. The United States escalated the conflict with very heavy military spending. After a series of failed leaders, Michael Gorbachev came to power in the Kremlin and began a policy of glasnost and perestroika, designed to revive the failing Soviet economy. European satellites grew increasingly independent, led by Poland, and in 1989 they all expelled the Communist leadership. East Germany merged into West Germany, with Moscow's approval. In 1991, communism collapsed in the Soviet Union. Communist parties around the world either collapsed, or became independent non-communist entities. However, China, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and Cuba maintained communist regimes. China after 1980 adopted a market oriented economy that welcomed large-scale trade and friendly relations with United States.
The Early Communist States (1917–1947)
The Russian Revolution and the formation of the Soviet Union
At the start of the 20th century, the Russian Empire was an autocracy controlled by the Tsar, with millions of the country's largely agrarian population living in abject poverty, and as the anti-communist historian Robert Service noted, "poverty and oppression constituted the best soil for Marxism to grow in." The man responsible for largely introducing the ideology into the country was Georgi Plekhanov, although the movement itself was largely organised by a man known as Vladimir Lenin, who had for a time been exiled to a prison camp in Siberia by the Tsarist government for his beliefs. A Marxist group known as the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was formed in the country, although it soon divided into two main factions; the Bolsheviks, who were led by Lenin, and the Mensheviks, who were led by Julius Martov. In 1905, there was a revolution against the Tsar's rule, in which workers' councils, known as "soviets" were formed in many parts of the country, and the Tsar was forced to implement democratic reform, introducing an elected government, the Duma.
In 1917, with further social unrest against the Duma and its part in involving Russia in the First World War, the Bolsheviks took power in the October Revolution. They subsequently began remodelling the country based upon communist principles, nationalising various industries and confiscating land from wealthy aristocrats and redistributing it amongst the peasants. They subsequently pulled out of the war against Germany by signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which was unpopular amongst many in Russia for it gave away large areas of land to Germany. From the outset, the new government faced counter-revolutionary resistance from a myriad of forces, including anarchists, scattered tsarist resistance forces known as the White Guard, and Western powers, leading to the events of the Russian civil war, which the Bolsheviks won and subsequently consolidated their power over the entire country, centralising power from the Kremlin in the capital city of Moscow. In 1922, the Russian SFS Republic was officially redesignated to be the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, whilst in 1924 Lenin resigned as leader of the Union due to poor health, and soon died, with Joseph Stalin subsequently taking over control.
Comintern, Mongolia and the communist uprisings in Europe
In 1919, the Bolshevik government in Russia organised the creation of an international communist organisation that would act as the Third International after the collapse of the Second International in 1916 - this was known as the Communist International, although was commonly abbreviated as Comintern. Throughout its existence, Comintern would be dominated by the Kremlin despite its internationalist stance. Meanwhile, in 1921 the Soviet Union invaded its neighbouring Mongolia to aid a popular uprising against the imperialist Chinese who then controlled the country, instituting a Marxist government, which declared the nation to be the Mongolian People's Republic in 1924.
Comintern and other such Soviet-backed communist groups soon spread across much of the world, though particularly in Europe, where the influence of the recent Russian Revolution was still strong. In Germany, the Spartacist uprising took place in 1919, when armed communists supported rioting workers, but the government put the rebellion down violently with the use of a right-wing paramilitary group, the Freikorps, with many noted German communists, such as Rosa Luxemburg, being killed. Within a few months, a group of communists seized power amongst public unrest in the German region of Bavaria, forming the Bavarian Soviet Republic, although once more this was put down violently by the Freikorps, who historians believe killed around 1200 communists and their sympathisers.
That same year, political turmoil in Hungary following their defeat in the First World War led to a coalition government of the Social-Democratic Party and the Communist Party taking control. The communists, led by Bela Kun, soon became dominant and instituted various communist reforms in the country, however the country was subsequently invaded by its neighbouring Romania within a matter of months who overthrew the government, with the communist leaders either escaping abroad or being executed. In 1921, a communist revolt against the government occurred whilst supportive factory workers were on strike in Turin and Milan, northern Italy, however the government acted swiftly and put down the rebellion. That same year, a further communist rebellion took place in Germany, only to be crushed, but another occurred in 1923, which once again was also defeated by the government. The communists of Bulgaria had also attempted an uprising in 1923 but like most of their counterparts across Europe, they were defeated.
Communist parties were tight knit organizations that exerted tight control over the members. To reach sympathisers unwilling to join the party, front organizations were created that advocated party-approved positions. The Comintern, under the leadership of Grigory Zinoviev in the Kremlin, established fronts in many countries in the 1920s and after. To coordinate their activities the Comintern set up various international umbrella organizations (linking groups across national borders), such as the Young Communist International (youth), Profintern (trade unions), Krestintern (peasants), International Red Aid (humanitarian aid), Sportintern (organized sports), etc. In Europe, front organizations were especially influential in Italy and France, which in 1933 became the base for Communist front organizer Willi Münzenberg. These organizations were dissolved the late 1930s or early 1940s.
The Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat (PPTUS) was set up in 1927 by the Profintern (the Comintern's trade union arm) with the mission of promoting Communist trade unions in China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and other nations in the western Pacific. Trapeznik (2009) says the PPTUS was a "Communist-front organization" and "engaged in overt and covert political agitation in addition to a number of clandestine activities." 
There were numerous Communist front organizations in Asia, many oriented to students and youth. In Japan in the labor union movement of the 1920s, according to one historian, "The Hyogikai never called itself a communist front but in effect, this was what it was." He points out it was repressed by the government "along with other communist front groups." In the 1950s, Scalapino argues, "The primary Communist-front organization was the Japan Peace Committee." It was founded in 1949.
Stalinism in the Soviet Union
In 1924, Joseph Stalin, a key Bolshevik follower of Lenin, took power in the Soviet Union. He was supported in his leadership by Nikolai Bukharin but had various important opponents in the government, most notably Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev. Stalin initiated his own process of building a communist society, creating a variant of communism known as Stalinism and as a part of this he abandoned some of the capitalist, free market policies that had been allowed to continue under Lenin, such as the New Economic Policy. He radically altered much of the Union's agricultural production, modernising it by introducing tractors and other machinery, by forced collectivisation of the farms, by forced collection of grains from the peasants in accordance with predecided targets. There was food available for industrial workers, but those peasants who refused to move starved especially in the Ukraine. The Party targeted "Kulaks" (who owned a little land).
Stalin took control of the Comintern, and introduced a policy in the international organisation of opposing all leftists who were not Marxists, labelling them to be "social-fascists", although many communists, such as Jules Humbert-Droz, disagreed with him on this policy, believing that the left should unite against the rise of right wing movements like fascism across Europe. In the early 1930s Stalin reversed course and promoted "Popular Front" movements whereby Communist parties would collaborate with Socialists and other political forces. A high priority was mobilizing wide support for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War.
The Great Terror
The "Great Terror" mainly operated from Dec. 1936 to Nov. 1938, although, the features of arrest and summary trial followed by execution were well entrenched in the Soviet system since the days of Lenin, as Stalin systematically destroyed the older generation of pre-1918 leaders, usually on the grounds they were enemy spies or simply because they were " enemies of the people ". In the Army, a majority of generals were executed. Hundreds of thousands of other "enemies" were sent to the Gulag, where terrible conditions in Siberia led quickly to death.
Pre-war dissident communisms
The International Right Opposition and Trotskyism are examples of dissidents who still claim communism today, but they are not the only ones. In Germany, the split in the SPD had initially led to a variety of Communist unions and parties forming, which included the councilist tendencies of the AAU-D AAU-E and KAPD. Councilism had a limited impact outside of Germany, but a number of international organisations formed. In Spain, a fusion of Left and Right dissidents led to the formation of the POUM. Additionally, in Spain, the CNT was associated with the development of the FAI political party, a non-Marxist party which stood for revolutionary communism.
Spreading Communism (1945–1957)
As the Cold War took effect around 1947, the Kremlin set up new international coordination bodies including the World Federation of Democratic Youth, International Union of Students, World Federation of Trade Unions, Women's International Democratic Federation and the World Peace Council. Kennedy says the, "Communist 'front' system included such international organizations as the WFTU, WFDY, IUS, WIDF and WPC, besides a host of lesser bodies bringing journalists, lawyers, scientists, doctors and others into the widespread net."
The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) was established in 1945 to unite trade union confederations across the world; it was based in Prague. While it had non-Communist unions it was largely dominated by the Soviets. In 1949 the British, American and other non-Communist unions broke away to form the rival International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The labor movement in Europe became so polarized between the Communists unions and Social Democratic and Christian labor unions, and front operations could no longer hide the sponsorship and they became less important.
The devastation of the war resulted in a massive recovery program involving the rebuilding of industrial plants, housing, and transportation, as well as the demobilization and migration of millions of soldiers and civilians. In the midst of this turmoil during the winter of 1946–1947 the Soviet Union experienced the worst natural famine in the 20th century. There was no serious opposition to Stalin, as the secret police continued to send possible suspects to the "Gulag."
Relations with the US and Britain went from friendly to hostile; they denounced Stalin's political controls over eastern Europe and his blockade of Berlin. By 1947, the Cold War had begun. Stalin himself believed that capitalism was a hollow shell and would crumble under increased non-military pressure exerted through proxies in countries like Italy. He greatly underestimated the economic strength of the West, and instead of triumph saw the West build up alliances designed to permanently stop or "contain" Soviet expansion. In early 1950 Stalin gave the go-ahead for North Korea's invasion of South Korea, expecting a short war. He was stunned when the Americans entered and defeated the North Koreans, putting them almost on the Soviet border. Stalin supported China's entry into the Korean war, which drove the Americans back to the prewar boundaries, but which escalated tensions. The US decided to mobilize its economy for a long contest with the Soviets, built the hydrogen bomb, and strengthened the NATO alliance that covered western Europe.
According to Gorlizki and Khlevniuk (2004), Stalin's consistent and overriding goal after 1945 was to consolidate the nation's superpower status and, in the face of his growing physical decrepitude, to maintain his own hold on total power. Stalin created a leadership system that reflected historic czarist styles of paternalism and repression, yet was also quite modern. At the top personal loyalty to Stalin counted for everything. However, Stalin also created powerful committees, elevated younger specialists, and began major institutional innovations. In the teeth of persecution, Stalin's deputies cultivated informal norms and mutual understandings which provided the foundations for collective rule after his death.
The military success of the Red Army in Central and Eastern Europe led to a consolidation of power in Communist hands. In some cases, such as Czechoslovakia, this led to an enthusiastic support for socialism inspired by the Communist Party and a Social Democratic Party willing to fuse. In other cases, such as Poland or Hungary, the fusion of the Communist Party with the Social Democratic party was forcible, and accomplished through undemocratic means. In many cases the Communist Parties of Central Europe were faced with a population initially quite willing to reign in market forces, institute limited nationalisation of industry, and supporting the development of intensive social welfare states: broadly, the population largely supported socialism. However, the purges of non-Communist parties which supported socialism, combined with forced collectivisation of agriculture, and a Soviet-bloc wide recession in 1953 led to deep unrest. This unrest first surfaced in Berlin in 1953, where Brecht ironically suggested that the Party ought to elect a new People. However, Khrushchev's Secret Speech of 1956 opened up internal debate, even if members were unaware, in both the Polish and Hungarian Communist Parties. This led to the Polish Crisis of 1956 which was resolved through change in Polish leadership, and a negotiation between the Soviet and Polish parties over the direction of the Polish economy.
Hungarian Revolution of 1956
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a major challenge to Stalin's control of Eastern Europe. This revolution saw general strikes, the formation of independent workers councils, the restoration of the Social Democratic Party as a party for revolutionary communism of a non-Soviet variety, and the formation of two underground independent communist parties. The mainstream Communist Party was controlled for a period of about a week by non-Soviet aligned leaders. Two non-communist parties which supported the maintenance of socialism also regained their independence. This flowering of dissenting communism was crushed by a combination of a military invasion supported by heavy artillery and airstrikes; mass arrests, at least a thousand juridical executions and an uncounted number of summary executions; the crushing of the Central Workers Council of Greater Budapest; mass refugee flight; and a worldwide propaganda campaign. The effect of the Hungarian Revolution on other communist parties varied significantly, resulting in large membership losses in Anglophone communist parties.
Prague Spring 1968
The Czechoslovak Communist Party began an ambitious reform agenda under Alexander Dubcek. The plan to limit central control and make the economy more independent of the party threatened bedrock beliefs. On 20 August 1968, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev ordered a massive military invasion by Warsaw Pact forces that destroyed the threat of internal liberalization. At the same time the Soviets threatened retaliation against the British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt. The upshot was a collapse of any tendency toward détente, and the resignations of more intellectuals from Parties in the West.
West Germany (and West Berlin) were centers of East-West conflict during the Cold War, and numerous Communist fronts were established. For example the Society for German-Soviet Friendship (GfDSF) had 13,000 members in West Germany, but it was banned in 1953 by some Länder as a Communist front. The Democratic Cultural League of Germany started off as a series of genuinely pluralistic bodies, but in 1950–51 came under the control of Communists. By 1952 the U.S. Embassy counted 54 'infiltrated organizations', which started independently, as well as 155 'front organizations', which had been Communist inspired from their start.
The Association of the Victims of the Nazi Regime was set up to rally West Germans under the antifascist banner, but had to be dissolved when Moscow discovered it had been infiltrated by "Zionist agents".
China's Great Leap Forward
Mao Zedong and the Communist party came to power in China in 1949, as the Nationalists fled to the island of Taiwan. In 1950-53 China engaged in a large-scale but undeclared war with the United States, South Korea and United Nations forces in the Korean War. It ended in a military stalemate, but it gave Mao the opportunity to identify and purge elements in China that seemed supportive of capitalism. At first there was close cooperation with Stalin, who sent in technical experts to aid the industrialization process along the line of the Soviet model of the 1930s. After Stalin's death in 1953 relations with Moscow soured—Mao thought Stalin's successors had betrayed the Communist ideal. Mao charged that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was the leader of a "revisionist clique" which had turned against Marxism and Leninism was now setting the stage for the restoration of capitalism. The two nations were at sword's point by 1960. Both began forging alliances with Communist supporters around the globe, thereby splitting the worldwide movement into two hostile camps.
Rejecting the Soviet model of rapid urbanization, Mao Zedong and his top aide Deng Xiaoping launched the "Great Leap Forward" in 1957-61 with the goal of industrializing China overnight, using the peasant villages as the base rather than large cities. Private ownership of land ended and the peasants worked in large collective farms that were now ordered to start up heavy industry operations, such as steel mills. Plants were built in remote locations, despite the lack of technical experts, managers, transportation or needed facilities. Industrialization failed but the main result was a sharp unexpected decline in agricultural output, which led to mass famine and millions of deaths. The years of the Great Leap Forward in fact saw economic regression, with 1958 through 1961 being the only years between 1953 and 1983 in which China's economy saw negative growth. Political economist Dwight Perkins argues, "enormous amounts of investment produced only modest increases in production or none at all. … In short, the Great Leap was a very expensive disaster. Deng, put in charge of rescuing the economy, adopted pragmatic policies that the idealistic Mao disliked. Mao for a while was in the shadows, but he returned to center stage and purged Deng and his allies in the "cultural revolution" (1966-1969).
Early post-war dissident Communisms
Following the Second World War Trotskyism was wracked by increasing internal divisions over analysis and strategy. This was combined with an industrial impotence that was widely recognised. Additionally, the success of Soviet-aligned parties in Europe and Asia led to the persecution of Trotskyite intellectuals, such as the infamous purge of Vietnamese Trotskyists. The war had also strained Social Democratic parties in the West. In some cases, such as Italy, significant bodies of membership of the Social Democratic Party were inspired by the possibility of achieving advanced socialism. In Italy this group, combined with dissenting communists, began to discuss theory centred on the experience of work in modern factories, leading to Autonomist Marxism. In the United States this theoretical development was paralleled by the Johnston-Forrest tendency. In France a similar impulse occurred.
The Cold War and Revisionism (1957–1979)
Maoism and the Cultural Revolution in China
The Cultural Revolution was an upheaval that targeted intellectuals and party leaders from 1966 through 1976. Mao's goal was to purify communism by removing pro-capitalists and traditionalists by imposing Maoist orthodoxy within the Party. The movement paralyzed China politically and weakened the country economically, culturally and intellectually for years. Millions of people were accused, humiliated, stripped of power, and either imprisoned, killed, or—most often—sent to work as farm laborers. Mao insisted that these "revisionists" be removed through violent class struggle. The two most prominent militants were Marshall Lin Biao of the army and Mao's wife Jiang Qing. China's youth responded to Mao's appeal by forming Red Guard groups around the country. The movement spread into the military, urban workers, and the Communist Party leadership itself. It resulted in widespread factional struggles in all walks of life. In the top leadership, it led to a mass purge of senior officials who were accused of taking a "capitalist road", most notably Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. During the same period Mao's personality cult grew to immense proportions. After Mao's death in 1976 the survivors were rehabilitated and many returned to power.
The Cuban Revolution
The Cuban Revolution was a successful armed revolt led by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement against the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. It ousted Batista on 1 January 1959, replacing his regime with Castro's revolutionary government. Castro's government later reformed along communist lines, becoming the present Communist Party of Cuba in October 1965. The U.S. response was highly negative, leading to a failed invasion attempt in 1961. The Soviets decided to protect its ally by stationing nuclear weapons in Cuba in 1962. In the Cuban Missile Crisis the U.S. vehemently opposed the Soviet move. There was serious fear of nuclear war for a few days but a compromise was reached by which Moscow publicly removed its weapons, and the U.S. secretly removed its from bases in Turkey and promised never to invade.
An important trend in several countries in Western Europe from the late 1960s into the 1980s was "Eurocommunism." It was strongest in Spain's PCE, Finland's party and, especially in Italy's PCI, where it drew on the ideas of Antonio Gramsci. It was developed by members of the Communist Party who were disillusioned with both the Soviet Union and China, and sought an independent program. They accepted liberal parliamentary democracy and free speech, and with some conditions accepted a capitalist market economy. They did not speak of the destruction of capitalism but sought to win the support of the masses and by a gradual transformation of the bureaucracies. In 1978 Spain's PCE replaced the historic "Marxist-Leninist" catchphrase with the new slogan, "Marxist, democratic, and revolutionary." The movement faded in the 1980s and collapsed with the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.
The Collapse of the Communist Powers (1980–1992)
Contemporary Communism (1993-Present)
With the fall of the communist governments in the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc, the power that the state-based Marxist ideologies held on the world was weakened, but there are still many communist movements of various types and sizes around the world. Three other communist nations, particularly those in eastern Asia, the People's Republic of China, Vietnam and Laos, all moved toward market economies but without major privatization of the state sector during the 1980s and 1990s; see Socialism with Chinese characteristics and doi moi for more details. Spain, France, Portugal and Greece have very publicly strong communist movements that play an open and active leading role in the vast majority of their labor marches and strikes, and also anti-austerity protests, all of which are large, pronounced events with much visibility. Also, worldwide marches on International Workers Day sometimes give a clearer picture of the size and influence of current communist movements, particularly within Europe.
Cuba has recently emerged from the crisis sparked by the fall of the Soviet Union given the growth in its volume of trade with its new allies Venezuela and China (the former of whom has recently adopted a "Socialism for the 21st Century" according to Hugo Chavez). Various other countries throughout South and Latin America have also taken similar shifts to more clearly socialistic policies and rhetoric, in a phenomenon academics are calling the "pink tide".
North Korea has had less success in coping with the collapse of the Soviet bloc than its counterparts, which led that government to "supersede" its original Marxism-Leninism with an ideology called Juche. For this reason among others, there are no significant communist movements, whether State-based or local, who consider North Korea to have any connection to communism whatsoever. Cuba, however, does apparently have an ambassador to North Korea, and China still protects North Korean territorial integrity even as it simultaneously refuses to supply the state with material goods or other significant assistance.
In Nepal, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) leader Man Mohan Adhikari briefly became Prime Minister and national leader from 1994 to 1995, and the Maoist guerrilla leader Prachanda was elected Prime Minister by the Constituent Assembly of Nepal in 2008. Prachanda has since been deposed as PM, leading the Maoists to abandon their legalistic approach and return to their typical street actions and militancy and to lead sporadic general strikes using their quite substantial influence on the Nepalese labor movement. These actions have oscillated between mild and intense, only the latter of which tends to make world news. They consider Prachanda's removal to be unjust.
The previous national government of India depended on the parliamentary support of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and CPI(M) leads the state governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. The armed wing of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) is fighting a war against the government of India and is active in half the country; the Indian government has recently declared the Maoists its chief objective to eliminate.
In Moldova, the communist party won the 2001, 2005 and 2009 parliamentary elections. However, the April 2009 Moldovan elections results, in which the communists supposedly won a third time, were massively protested (including an attack on the Parliament and Presidency buildings by angry crowds) and another round was held on July 29 in which three opposition parties (the Liberals, Liberal-Democrats, and Democrats)won and formed the Alliance for European Integration. However failing to elect the president, new parliamentary elections were held in November 2010 which resulted in roughly the same representation in the Parliament. According to Ion Marandici, a Moldovan political scientist the Moldovan Communists differ from those in other countries, because they managed to appeal to the ethnic minorities and the anti-Romanian Moldovans. After tracing the adaptation strategy of the Party of Communists from Republic of Moldova, he finds confirming evidence for five of the factors contributing to the electoral success, already mentioned in the theoretical literature on former Communist parties: the economic situation, the weakness of the opponents, the electoral laws, the fragmentation of the political spectrum and the legacy of the old regime. However, Ion Marandici identified seven additional explanatory factors at work in the Moldovan case: the foreign support for certain political parties, separatism, the appeal to the ethnic minorities, the alliance-building capacity, the reliance on the Soviet notion of the Moldovan identity, the state-building process and the control over a significant portion of the media. It is due to these seven additional factors that the successor party in Moldova managed to consolidate and expand its constituency. According to Ion Marandici, in the post-Soviet area the Moldovan Communists are the only ones who have been in power for so long and did not change the name of the party.
In Ukraine and Russia, the communists came second in the 2002 and 2003 elections, respectively. In the Czech Republic, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia came third in the 2002 elections, as did the Communist Party of Portugal in 2005.
Brazil has the Communist Party of Brazil as a member of the governing leftwing coalition led by president Lula da Silva; his party, Workers' Party (Brazil), itself has many different communist and democratic socialist tendencies within it.
In South Africa, the South African Communist Party (SACP) is a member of the Tripartite alliance alongside the African National Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Sri Lanka has communist ministers in their national governments.
Colombia is in the midst of a civil war which has been waged since 1966 between the Colombian government and aligned rightwing paramilitaries against two communist guerrilla groups; the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People's Army (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
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Philosophers Karl Marx and Frederich Engels met to research their Communist theory in Chetham's Library
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