Criticism of communism

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Criticism of communism can be divided into two broad categories: those concerning themselves with the practical aspects of 20th century Communist states,[1] and those concerning themselves with communist principles and theory.[2] Authors who are critical of communism are typically opposed to both communist principles and historical policies, though they may focus exclusively on one or the other aspect in their writing.

Some anti-communists argue that communist theory is directly responsible for the problems of 20th century communism, while others separate theory from practice while maintaining that they are both flawed in their own way. Likewise, some communists defend both theory and practice, while others argue that historical practice diverged from communist principles to a greater or lesser degree.

One may agree with communist principles but disagree with many policies adopted by Communist states (this is quite common among Trotskyists), or, more rarely, agree with policies adopted by Communist states but disagree with communist principles.

Criticism of communist party rule[edit]

The actions of one-party states ruled by parties that identify their official ideology as Marxism-Leninism (often known as Communist states) have been subject to a range of criticism.

Differentiated from both liberal democracy and traditional forms of autocratic rule such as tsarism, communist party rule, notably in the Soviet Union, one of two world superpowers for nearly four decades after the end of World War II, and the People's Republic of China, the world's most populous state, has represented an important and distinct type of modern political regime.[3] Criticisms of these regimes have related to their effects on the domestic development of various states, and their role in international politics, including the Cold War, and the collapse of the Eastern bloc and later the Soviet Union itself in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

After the Russian Revolution, communist party rule was consolidated for the first time in Soviet Russia (later the largest constituent republic of the Soviet Union, formed in December 1922), and criticized immediately domestically and internationally. During the first Red Scare in the United States, the takeover of Russia by the communist Bolsheviks was considered by many a threat to free markets, religious freedom, and liberal democracy. Meanwhile, under the tutelage of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the only party permitted by the USSR constitution, state institutions were intimately entwined with those of the party. By the late 1920s, Joseph Stalin consolidated the regime's control over the country's economy and society through a system of economic planning and five-year plans.

Between the Russian Revolution and the Second World War, Soviet-style communist rule only spread to one state that was not later incorporated into the USSR; in 1924, communist rule was established in neighboring Mongolia, a traditional outpost of Russian influence bordering the Siberian region. However, throughout much of Europe and the Americas, criticism of the domestic and foreign policies of the Soviet regime among anticommunists continued unabated. After the end of World War II, the spread of communist rule throughout Eastern Europe coincided with the early years of the Cold War. In the West, critics of communist rule stated that the Soviets were imposing Stalinist regimes on unwilling populations in Eastern Europe. Following the Chinese Revolution, the People's Republic of China was proclaimed in 1949 under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Between the Chinese Revolution and the last quarter of the 20th century, communist rule spread throughout East Asia and much of the Third World, and new communist regimes became the subject of extensive local and international criticism.

Western criticisms of the Soviet Union and Third World communist regimes have been strongly anchored in scholarship on totalitarianism, which asserts that communist parties maintain themselves in power without the consent of the populations they rule by means of secret police, propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, repression of free discussion and criticism, mass surveillance, and state terror. These studies of totalitarianism influenced Western historiography on communism and Soviet history, particularly the work of Robert Conquest and Richard Pipes on Stalinism, the Great Purge, the Gulag, and the Soviet famine of 1932-1934.

Western criticisms of communist rule have also been grounded in criticisms of socialism by economists such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who argued that the state ownership and economic planning characteristic of Soviet-style communist rule were responsible for economic stagnation and shortage economies, providing few incentives for individuals to improve productivity and engage in entrepreneurship.

Ruling communist parties have also been challenged by domestic dissent. In Eastern Europe, the works of dissidents Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Václav Havel gained international prominence, as did the works of disillusioned ex-communists such as Milovan Đilas, who condemned the "new class" or "nomenklatura" system that had emerged under communist rule.

Communism: Promise and Practice (1973) detailed what its author termed flagrant gaps between official Soviet policies of equality and economic justice and the reality of the emergence of a new class in the U.S.S.R. and in other communist countries, which thrived at the expense of the remaining population; see Nomenklatura.

Criticism of Marxism[edit]

Main article: Criticisms of Marxism

Criticisms of Marxism have come from various political ideologies and academic disciplines.

These include general criticisms, criticisms related to historical materialism, arguments that it is a type of historical determinism or that it opposes individual rights, issues with the implementation of communism and economic issues such as the distortion or absence of price signals, and reduced incentives. In addition empirical and epistemological problems are frequently identified.[4][5][6]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bosteels, Bruno. The actuality of communism (Verso Books, 2014)
  • Blackmer, Donald LM, and Sidney Tarrow, eds. Communism in Italy and France (Princeton University Press, 2015)
  • Priestland, David. The Red Flag: A History of Communism (Grove Press, 2009)
  • Resnick, Stephen A., and Richard D. Wolff. Class theory and history: Capitalism and communism in the USSR (Routledge, 2013)
  • Taras, Raymond C. The Road to Disillusion: From Critical Marxism to Post-communism in Eastern Europe (Routledge, 2015)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bruno Bosteels, The actuality of communism (Verso Books, 2014)
  2. ^ Raymond C. Taras, The Road to Disillusion: From Critical Marxism to Post-communism in Eastern Europe (Routledge, 2015).
  3. ^ See "Communist party states" in Oxford Companion to the Politics of the World, 2e. Joel Krieger, ed. Oxford University Press Inc. 2001 for an overview of communism as a distinct type of regime in the history of the 20th century.
  4. ^ See M. C. Howard and J. E. King, 1992, A History of Marxian Economics: Volume II, 1929–1990. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
  5. ^ Popper, Karl (2002). Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. Routledge. p. 49. ISBN 0-415-28594-1. 
  6. ^ John Maynard Keynes. Essays in Persuasion. W. W. Norton & Company. 1991. p. 300 ISBN 978-0-393-00190-7