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World communism, also known as international communism or global communism, is a form of communism that involves international scope. The long-term goal of world communism is a worldwide communist society that is stateless (lacking any state), which may be achieved through an intermediate-term goal of either a voluntary association of sovereign states (a global alliance) or a world government (a single worldwide state). A series of internationals have worked toward world communism; they have included the First International, the Second International, the Third International (the Communist International or Comintern), the Fourth International, the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the World Socialist Movement, and variant offshoots. These are a quite heterogeneous group despite their common ultimate goal of a stateless and global communist society.
During the Stalinist era, the idea of Socialism in One Country, which many international communists considered unworkable, became part of the ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as Joseph Stalin and his supporters concluded that it was naive to think that world revolution was imminent. This caused great disillusionment among many communists worldwide, who agreed with Marx and Lenin that international scope was vital to communist success. Other currents of national communism, especially after World War II, tempered the prewar popularity of international communism.
The end of the Cold War, which brought the revolutions of 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is often called the fall of communism; and a broad consensus since then is that any advent of international communism is not likely. Nevertheless, some international communists remain among some factions of Maoists, left communists, some present-day Russian communists, and others.
Early era (1830s–1930s)
Marxist philosophy held that because capitalism had become global (and thus capitalists could be expected to cooperate internationally to maintain dominance in class conflict), the proletariat would need to cooperate internationally as well, via proletarian internationalism, to avoid continued subjugation via divide and rule (thus the rallying cry of workers of the world, unite!). In this view, after a period of international socialism, the terminal stage of development of the (future) history of communism would be world communism. Such theory may treat world communism as a peaceful and prosperous end result, something almost anyone could endorse, but it is the transition to world communism that is contentious. World communism is to be achieved by world revolution, according to a theory that was popular in the period 1917 to around 1933 (at least). World communism is incompatible with the existence of nation states, because most communists believe that nations should unite, whether in supranational unions of sovereign states or world government, until such time as either abolition of the state or withering away of the state would occur because governance would no longer require state institutions. In other words, the people of a communist society would be self-governing via direct democracy so direct that the state would not even exist.
Abolition of the state is not in itself a distinctively Marxist doctrine. It was held by various socialist and anarchist thinkers of the nineteenth century, as well as some present-day anarchists. (Libertarians are anti-statist typically in a subtly different sense, in that they support small government although not absence of government or state.) The crux here is a text of the Friedrich Engels, from his Anti-Dühring. It is often cited as "The state is not 'abolished,' it withers away.” This is from the pioneer work of historical materialism, a formulation of Marx's idea of a materialist conception of history. The withering away of the state is a graphic formulation, that has passed into cliché. The translation (Engels was writing in German) is also given as: "The state is not 'abolished'. It dies out." Reference to the whole passage shows that this happens only after the proletariat has seized the means of production. The schematic is therefore revolution, transitional period, ultimate period. Although the ultimate period sounds like a utopia, Marx and Engels did not consider themselves utopian socialists but rather scientific socialists. They considered violence necessary for resistance of wage slavery.
Whereas for Engels the transitional period was reduced to a single act, for Vladimir Lenin, 30 to 40 years later, it had become extended and "obviously lengthy". In the same place he argues strongly that Marx's conception of communist society is not utopian, but takes into account the heritage of what came before.
This gives, at least roughly, the position on world communism as the Comintern was set up in 1919: world revolution is necessary for the setting up of world communism, but not as an immediate or clearly sufficient event.
Stalinist and Cold War era (1930s-1980s)
During the Stalinist era, the idea of Socialism in One Country, which many internationalists considered unworkable, became part of the ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as Joseph Stalin and his supporters concluded that the transitional period would indeed be very long and complicated. Advocates of Socialism in One Country had not abandoned the goal of ultimate world communism, but they considered it naive to think world revolution was imminent. Thus the Soviet Union dissolved the Third International during World War II. However, despite this one-country approach, Stalin did not intend to implement isolationism. Despite retaining the earlier Bolshevik terminology equating imperialism with capitalism and thus decrying empire, the Soviet Union instead pursued a de facto empire of satellite states, similar in ways to the czarist Russian Empire although Soviet ideology could not admit that, to counter the influence of capitalist countries. It also supported revolutionary socialism around the world to continue to work toward world communism, however distant it might be. Thus it backed the 26th of July Movement in the Cuban Revolution, the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War, and the MPLA in the Angolan Civil War. The domino theory of the Cold War was driven by this intent, as anti-communists feared that isolationism by capitalist countries would lead to the collapse of their self-defense.
Post-Soviet era (1990s–present)
The reform and opening of China and the restructuring and openness of the Soviet Union, although they were quite different, both marked a change of direction away from the proselytizing nature of international communism as Lenin and Trotsky had known it. The end of the Cold War, which brought the revolutions of 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is often called the fall of communism, and a broad consensus since then is that any advent of international communism is not likely. Nevertheless, some international communists remain among some factions of Maoists, left communists, some present-day Russian communists, and others. The Revolutionary Internationalist Movement is one type of present-day world communism.