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Karl Marx (1818–1883), most influential theoretician of communism in the 19th century.
François Noël Babeuf (1760–1797), an important early socialist during the French Revolution

Communism ( Latin communis , 'common') is a political-ideological term that emerged in France around 1840 and has several meanings: First, it describes socio- theoretical utopias based on ideas of social equality and freedom for all members of society, on the basis of common property and collective problem solving.

Second, the term, based essentially on the theories of Karl Marx , Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin , stands for economic and political doctrines with the aim of building a society free of domination and class .

Thirdly, it is used to describe movements and political parties (cf. Communist Party ) that pursue the goal of converting societies to communism or putting such teachings into practice.

Fourthly, it describes - as a foreign name differentiated from the first meaning - the resulting systems of rule. The most powerful of these reached their greatest expansion during the Cold War with the Soviet Union and its allied Eastern Bloc states as well as China . Mass crimes occurred in some of these communist party dictatorships ( real socialism ) (such as the Great Terror in the Stalinist Soviet Union in the 1930s or in the Maoist Cultural Revolution in the People's Republic of China in the 1960s and 1970s). Most of the real socialist states collapsed around 1990.

A demarcation from socialism is not always possible.


The term communism stands for a permanently socially just and free future society and was coined in the 19th century. After Lorenz von Stein , the French revolutionary François Noël Babeuf was the first communist (see also Conspiracy of Equals ). The best-known representative of communism was Karl Marx (1818–1883). According to the theory of Marx and his close companion Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), communism can only emerge from capitalism , an economic order in which the capitalist class and the working class (proletariat) oppose each other ( class struggle ) through a revolutionary transition society ( Dictatorship of the proletariat ) develop. During this rule of the working class, private ownership of the means of production and the associated exploitation would be abolished. In the Communist Party's manifesto as well as in the “Demands of the Communist Party in Germany”, Marx and Engels call for nationalization. In the foreword to the English edition of the Communist Manifesto of 1888, Engels later modified the relationship to the state and mere nationalization: “Compared to the immense further development of large industry since 1848 and the accompanying improved and grown organization of the working class, compared to practical experience, first the February Revolution and even more so in the Paris Commune , where the proletariat held political power for two months for the first time, today this program is in places out of date. In particular, the Commune has provided evidence that the working class cannot simply take possession of the finished state machine and set it in motion for its own purposes. ”(Friedrich Engels, MEW 21, p. 358) After the experiences of the Paris Commune (1871 ) it remained with the general demand for nationalization as a first step. Engels wrote in his work The Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science , published in 1880 : "The proletariat seizes state power and initially transforms the means of production into state property." (MEW 19, 223) However, Engels sharply distinguished this type of socialist nationalization of means of production from Bismarckian state socialism . According to theory, the elimination of private ownership of the means of production gradually eliminates all class antagonisms. With this transition to classless communism, the state, which is a product of political-economic conditions and an expression of political class rule, will not be abolished, but will die out when it is no longer necessary, i.e. superfluous. How the social form of communism, i.e. the classless society, should look more precisely, was not prescribed by Marx, but would be shown following the theory of Marx on the basis of concrete social developments and contradictions. Marx outlines the developed communism with social wealth and the principle "Everyone according to his abilities, everyone according to his needs!" Marx also describes communism as the end of the prehistory of humanity, because only in this form of society can people consciously and independently shape their history instead of being determined behind their backs by the historical laws of their previous forms of society.

From the beginning, the term communism denoted different directions in the anti-capitalist conflicts and activities triggered and carried out by its supporters . That is why it still refers to several company plans and attempts to implement them today.

Primeval and early communism

The idea of ​​common property (as opposed to private property) presupposes the fundamental equality of all people with regard to work and the acquisition of their food. This concept is called an egalitarian society . This idea is ancient and is reflected in the myths of a great many ethnic religions , but also in monotheistic religions.

After Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels , the first societies in human history were organized in a primordial communist way. These secured their survival with only a minor division of labor with primitive means (cf. hunters and gatherers # social organization ) collectively. It was only through the development of social productive forces through the increased division of labor, technical innovations and other developments in the course of the Neolithic Revolution that more work products emerged than were necessary for the preservation of society. It was only at this stage of development that the permanent exploitation of foreign labor and thus the appropriation of foreign labor products could be realized, since the labor was for the first time able to produce more than it consumed itself. This is how private property came about. With the hierarchical division of labor, exploitation developed, and with it the first class societies and states. ( The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State , 1884, MEW , Vol. 21). With the abolition of private property based on the exploitation of foreign labor, a restoration of communist common property and the classless, stateless society at a higher level takes place, which was only made possible by the highly industrialized, labor-based capitalist mode of production .

The dominant mode of production in European and Near Eastern antiquity was the slave-holding society , which was mostly based on religion. The only exception in the Middle East was early Israel, which was organized as a loose twelve-tribe union . Its Torah demands the regular redistribution of land ownership in favor of the dispossessed as a consequence of the belief in YHWH , the slave-liberator (Lev 25). Socially critical prophets of Israel up to Jesus of Nazareth (Lk 4,16 ff.) Recalled this right , so that the Jerusalem early community practiced a community of goods in connection with Jewish welfare for the poor .

This way of life was already stylized as a bygone ideal in the second generation of Christians, who also belonged to socially better-off social classes as a result of the mission, and since the change in Constantine it was displaced by the major churches. While their representatives leaned closely on political systems of rule and were intertwined with them through official privileges, various minorities in the course of European Christian history tied to biblical traditions that demand social justice. However, attempts at reform by the church and society regularly failed due to the balance of power. In the Middle Ages, dominated by the Roman Catholic Church , a change in society in favor of underprivileged classes was only possible if economic and political conditions could protect those who invoked the Bible against the Church.

This was the case at the earliest since the Reformation . Luther's attitude to the peasant uprisings , however, encouraged the princes of all denominations to brutally suppress them. Feudalism and monarchy were thus secured for the next 300 years.

(for details see Religious Socialism )

Consumption Communism

The concept of communism of consumption , coined by Marx (but rejected in substance), describes a social order or economic mode in which all those involved receive an equal share in the goods produced. It is not a question of who produced the goods or who owns the means of production, but only of their fair distribution. An example of this was the practice of distributing the booty in the army of the Roman slave leader Spartacus .

Utopian socialism

Unrealized, utopian vision of the New Harmony colony , drawing by F. Bate, printed in 1838

The humanism of the sixteenth century - parallel to the peasant uprisings caused by economic misery - developed ideas of a just social order that was equally supported by all citizens, which in turn drew on the ancient polis and its ideas of democracy . The Latin educational novel " Utopia " by the English constitutional lawyer Thomas More from 1516 was particularly momentous. Without knowing the term, More presented a kind of communism as a counter-image to European feudal rule: everyone works and owns everything together, including and especially land ( the means of production at that time); at the same time everyone may cling to the faith that is appropriate to him.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, natural sciences and manufacturing techniques made rapid advances. In manufacturing and publishing, they already allowed the mass production of products without any mechanical means of production. This changed the living conditions and interests for large sections of the population enormously.

In the course of the Enlightenment , the idea of human rights gave rise to ideas of an equal and domineering coexistence. In numerous secret societies and associations - always threatened by the authorities - penniless craftsmen, farmers and intellectuals sought a forum and supporters for their ideas. They were hardly interested in the scientific collection of empirical data, but developed their ideas from the contradicting experience of disappointed democracy hopes and relative legal advances. But only with the emancipation of the bourgeoisie did these ideas gain political impetus.

Since Karl Marx , these early socialist equality and democratization efforts, which also extended to the economy, have been summarized as utopian socialism . In broad terms, they were largely in agreement with communism in their vision. Instead of inventing social conditions, Marx and Engels derived their ideas on the basis of their systematic analyzes of human history and economic conditions. In “utopian socialism”, for example, the historically derived consistent class antagonism and the question of the conditions for a successful revolution played no role.


Friedrich Engels (1891)
The Communist Party Manifesto

The Communist Party Manifesto

The Manifesto of the Communist Party of 1848, also called The Communist Manifesto , is a kind of founding document of modern communism, which sees itself as the opposition and overcoming of capitalism. It was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in London as a program for the League of Communists .

This emerged from the early communist Union of the Just , which the Christian tailor and first German theorist of communism Wilhelm Weitling had founded and led until it was replaced by Marx in 1847. It consisted of a group of German journeymen, craftsmen and left-wing liberal citizens who had emigrated to France . Weitling for his part already distinguished himself from the early socialists (including Pierre-Joseph Proudhon , Henri de Saint-Simon , Charles Fourier ) and propagated a not only political but also a social revolution of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. He strove for the abolition of money as a medium of exchange and the direct, systematic and jointly administered exchange of goods.

With the manifesto, Marx and Engels completed the theoretical demarcation from Weitling's utopian socialism and its forerunners, as well as from other early socialists, of whom they sharply criticized. They propagated the international class struggle of the wage-dependent working class against the bourgeoisie and also described the position of the communists within the overall movement as the most decisive part of it, which had a theoretical insight into the conditions, the course and general results of the class struggle of the rest of the mass of the proletariat. However, the Communists were expressly not supposed to form a separate party. As for the next purpose of the communists, like all other proletarian parties, the manifesto declared: "Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of bourgeois rule, conquest of political power by the proletariat". It thus assigns them a political leadership role on the one hand, and subordination to the overall proletarian interest on the other: namely to find a form of society in which “everyone should be active according to his capabilities” and the wealth produced should be open to “everyone according to his needs” (Marx: Critique of the Gothaer program ).

The class struggle, which is seen as an inevitable expression of social conditions, was regarded as the basis of the revolution and what Marx himself called the global theory . In the final section of the manifesto it says:

“The communists disdain to hide their views and intentions. They openly declare that their purposes can only be achieved through the violent overthrow of all previous social systems. May the ruling classes tremble before a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose in it but their chains. You have a world to win. Proletarians of all countries, unite!"

From England this script was spread throughout Europe and beyond. However, it did not yet have any notable influence on the course of the bourgeois March Revolution in Germany. Only after their violent suppression did the workers gradually begin to organize themselves in their own associations, the forerunners of the trade unions .

The capital

Karl Marx's capital

With his main work Das Kapital , Marx formulated a comprehensive critique of political economy (subtitle). Here he analyzed the regularities of capitalism based on the fundamental division of society into owners of capital (capitalists) and wage workers .

Capital arises when the circulation of commodities, which are exchanged for money for other commodities, becomes independent and turns into a use of money for commodity production in order to achieve more money ( surplus value ) with their sale . Living work, which should actually be human self-realization and produce socially useful products, would then become a commodity that should be bought and exploited as cheaply as possible. The workers thus always received less wages than the capitalist could (on average) gain by selling the commodity ( profit ). This “ law of value ” is at the core of the class antagonism between capital employed by the bourgeoisie and labor carried out by the proletariat.

For Marx, therefore, class rule is not a coincidental, but a lawful consequence of exploitation . However, this is not a bad will of the capitalists, but a compulsion: in order to be able to compete in the market dominated by capital, they have to exploit living labor that produces surplus value. The competition leads to ever greater concentration of capital ( monopoly and cartel formation) and thus inevitably to sales crises and wars. They force the owners of capital to keep labor costs as low as possible and to strive for the greatest possible profit in order to be able to invest them in technological innovations. This in turn leads to an ever greater awareness of the need for a revolution. According to Marx, the socialist revolution is therefore inherent in capitalist relations themselves. The bourgeois form of society does not appear to be morally condemnable, but rather a form of class rule that can be soberly seen through. Their analysis aims to reveal the real starting points for the upheaval of power and property relations.

The capital consists of three volumes. The first volume appeared in 1867: The Production Process of Capital by Karl Marx. After Marx's death in 1883, Friedrich Engels compiled two further volumes from his manuscripts and published them as Volume II: The Circulation Process of Capital 1885, and Volume III: The Overall Process of Capitalist Production 1895. This work forms the heart of social theory, which Marx and Engels called scientific socialism and is now called " Marxism ". In contrast to all idealistic and utopian ideas, it claims to be strictly empirical, that is, to be falsifiable and correctable through real developments. Like other sciences at that time - e.g. B. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution - it puts a materialistic worldview against any religious irrationalism.

Communism in Sociology

In early sociology , Ferdinand Tönnies subtitled communism in “Community and Society” (1887) as an “ empirical form of culture ”. According to his theory, this is only possible in manageable communities; on the other hand, in larger social contexts it is always only about "socialism". Since with him a society can emerge from communities, but he considers the reverse process to be impossible, with him socialism can never become communism. Even Max Weber sees communism as pooling if it for example to the family communism and the monk Communism points.

Equal Rights for Women

Alexandra Kollontai is one of the most important communist women's rights activists

None of the early communist and socialist ideas assumed gender equality . From Robert Owen to the German Council Republics in 1918, they assumed the family as a common basis. Companies and military units should send their representatives to higher bodies: these consisted almost entirely of men. Only later was the family itself criticized.

The special oppression of women , following on from Charles Fourier's sentence, The status of women characterizes the status of society, was also a topic of Marx and Engels. They believed that with the abolition of capitalism and the end of class society, the oppression of women would also end, as would the exploitation of man by man in general. Already in the Communist Manifesto they declared themselves to abolish the family through free love, abolish the "position of women as mere instruments of production" as well as the "exploitation of children by their parents" and to raise children in society.

The emerging real socialist states only partially met this. There, the genders were usually on an equal footing in society, as women were given equal rights, wages and opportunities for advancement in production. In everyday life and in private households, however, they were partially subject to existing patriarchal structures .

Marxism versus anarchism

Buenaventura Durruti , most important figure in Spanish anarchism

From the ideas of the Enlightenment and various early socialist approaches, the ideas of modern anarchism developed at about the same time as the communist ideas of Weitling and Marx and in mutual delimitation from them. The political contradictions between Marxists and anarchists led to historically conflictual disputes.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was an early pioneer of syndicalism and is considered the founder of the anarchist directions of federalism and mutualism . He came in 1840 in his work Qu'est-ce que la propriété? (“What is property?”) To the conclusion: “Property is theft!” In doing so, he placed private property at the center of his criticism of the prevailing, political and social conditions in capitalism. This, like the bourgeois state, which is supposed to protect it, must be fought directly and immediately and replaced by self-organized forms of common property.

Proudhon dealt with Marx in an exchange of letters. It turned out that both assessed the questions of power , the freedom of the individual , the role of the collective as a revolutionary subject very differently. Proudhon argued more strongly with philosophical and ethical principles, while Marx criticized these as merely moral ideals and lacked a scientific analysis of the contradictions between capital and labor. For him, not all private property in itself, but private property in the means of production was the basic evil.

Proudhon's followers Mikhail Bakunin ( collectivist anarchism ) and later Pyotr Alexejewitsch Kropotkin ( communist anarchism ) combined his theories with the agitation for a social revolution, which is necessary for the radical overturning of property relations. On this point they agreed with Marx and Engels. Bakunin rejected the leading role of a revolutionary cadre party as well as state hierarchies and thus rejected Marx's demand for the establishment of communist parties as a revolutionary elite in the individual states as well as the thesis of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, which should lead to a classless society . He did not believe that the workers first had to achieve political state power so that socialism could be built up and the state withered away, but wanted to abolish it directly. He called this conception anti-authoritarian socialism.

From 1864 to 1872, anarchists and Marxists and other groups belonging to the labor movement formed the International Labor Association (IAA). After the ideological conflict between Bakunin's and Marx's supporters escalated, Bakunin was expelled from the IAA in 1872 at Marx's instigation. This broke this First International. In 1876 it was officially dissolved. This was the first time that the international labor movement was divided. Since then - according to Rudolf Rocker - anarchists have fundamentally distinguished themselves from Marxism in the following points:

  • Rejection of the Marxist “theories of fate” coined by Hegel. In history there is no inevitability at all ('historical necessities', 'inevitability of historical events'), "only conditions that are tolerated and which sink into nothing as soon as people see through their causes and rebel against it" (Rocker) .
  • Rejection of "historical materialism". Not all “political and social events” can be explained from the economic situation.
  • Anarchism understands people as acting individuals, rejects the view of people as a mass.
  • Fundamental rejection of a state. Handing over the means of production from the private sector of a state "only leads to a dictatorship by the state" (Rocker).
  • Rejection of laws and legislators. Decisions are made decentrally, collectively and by consensus. "Only the free agreement, 'could' be the only moral bond of all social relationships between people." (Rocker)
  • Rejection of a transition phase (workers' state) from capitalism to a classless society. The “will to power” must be fought in principle in a free society.
  • radical rejection of all capitalist terms:

“All concepts of value as we know them today are all capitalist concepts. Air, sunlight, rain, soil moisture, humus, in short, many of the most important factors of production are today capitalistically worthless because they could not be monopolized. [...] With the cessation of the concept of ownership of the means of production, every concept of value for the individual also ceases. "

Communist anarchism goes back to the theories of the Russian anarchist Pyotr Alexejewitsch Kropotkin . He advocated the theory that communism and anarchism do not contradict each other , as postulated by Marx and Lenin, but only function together. The central demand is the complete break with capitalism and the immediate abolition of the state as a social institution, which is then replaced by collectivist networks in the form of workers' councils and communal communes. The workers are not rewarded with money, but with shared resources, since money itself is supposed to disappear as a means of payment. Leadership of the working class by socialist-communist parties is rejected, as is the Marxist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. A distinction must be made between communist anarchism and Mikhail Bakunin's “collectivist anarchism”.

Communist anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists call the concept of workers self-government without the leadership of a party "libertarian communism". A well-known representative alongside Kropotkin is Gustav Landauer .

Communism versus reformism

At the turn of the century, European social democracy mostly referred theoretically to Marx and the Communist Manifesto. In spite of existing internal conflicts, socialist parties shared the goal of a communist social order, which at best differed conceptually from socialism. At the end of the 1890s, however, the terms lost their clarity, as a contrast between the more union-oriented “reformists” and the revolutionary Marxists developed. Both in 1899 in the German and in 1903 in the Russian labor movement there was a power struggle in both directions.

In the SPD, the co-author of the Erfurt program of 1890, Eduard Bernstein , triggered the revisionism debate . He demanded the renunciation of the goal of the proletarian revolution, since capitalism seemed to modernize itself flexibly and to allow the workers to participate in social prosperity also through parliamentary channels. Although the majority of the party rejected this, reformism prevailed in the SPD until the First World War .

The main reason was the material and legal betterment of the workers and the blurring of class boundaries through education and the increasing importance of intellectual work. In the course of the successful struggle for better living conditions, the goal of overturning the conditions of production fell out of view. The political conquest of power also seemed to many legally attainable. The looming of the First World War also reinforced national priorities among other socialist parties and undermined the proletarian internationalism that Marx had postulated. This was an essential prerequisite for the SPD parliamentary group's approval of the war credits .

This broke the Second International . Revolutionary groups then split off from most of the socialist and social democratic parties and founded new, now expressly communist, parties.

Soviet communism


Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Following Marx, Lenin distinguished between a lower and a higher phase of communist society, the first being called socialism (dictatorship of the proletariat) and the second called communism (classless society). The socialist phase is assigned the socialization of the means of production and remuneration according to performance, the communist phase the need principle.

After the successful October Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks set the standards for the subsequent development in Russia and established a new state and social leadership with the Communist Party of Russia (later the CPSU). For the first time there was now a regime that wanted to build communism and realize it. At the head of this so-called workers-and-peasants state , Lenin stood as the undisputed leading authority. In the civil war that followed, they extended their rule to neighboring countries. In 1922 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) - or in short: Soviet Union (SU) - was founded .

The socialist council system had been the social basis for the rise of the Bolsheviks and their revolutionary success in 1917. But in the course of the civil war there were famines and riots. After the Kronstadt sailors' uprising in 1921, the Bolsheviks ousted the Soviets in order to stabilize the Soviet Union and thus its rule. Marxist and critical social analysts such as Karl August Wittfogel , Rudolf Bahro and Rudi Dutschke later saw this as one of the main reasons for the failure of the Soviet Union.

In 1922 Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy in order to stimulate the peasants' initiative and pursuit of profit under state supervision and thus to increase their yields. He wanted to allow self-sufficiency and the development of market structures for a transitional period in order to nationalize agriculture again later . The Bolsheviks had established the "dictatorship of the proletariat" in a country that had no developed capitalist industry and only 10 percent industrial workers, trusting the future victory of the German revolutionaries. Until 1923, they continued to rely on a rapid continuation of the November Revolution as an impetus for the world revolution . (See also German October .) But with the failure of the Ruhr uprising and the Hamburg uprising , the last attempts at a socialist social order in Germany broke up, so that the Soviet Union remained isolated. Shortly before his death in 1924, Lenin issued a will warning against Stalin's despotism .

The split between German Social Democrats and Communists had been insurmountable since the Third International was founded in 1919. Since then, communism in the West has almost always been equated with dictatorship in general, and democracy above all with capitalism, although communists and socialists also claim the realization of democracy and the reconciliation of individual freedom with social justice.

Marxism-Leninism and Stalinism

Leonid Brezhnev
Nikita Khrushchev
Mikhail Gorbachev

From 1924 onwards, Josef Stalin expanded the party's sole rule to unrestricted power without any social corrective. In the internal power struggle in the CPSU he ousted the " Left Opposition " around Leon Trotsky and Lev Borisovich Kamenev until 1927 and thus achieved sole rule. To do this, he used the terror of the Cheka , as Lenin had already practiced during the civil war. He then consolidated his dictatorship with forced resettlements, forced labor camps ( gulags ), Stalinist purges and the establishment of a personality cult . The forced collectivization of agriculture served a dual purpose. On the one hand, through collectivization, the state came into possession of the country's crop yields, a good part of which flowed into exports, accepting terrible famines, and thus served to finance industrialization . This industrialization was primarily aimed at the production of armaments. On the other hand, forced collectivization offered the possibility of using the victims of collectivization as cheap forced labor in building up industry. In 1928 central administration was introduced across the board.

Just as in the Soviet Union established Stalin in the 3rd International to Marxism-Leninism as a new rule doctrine and caused the sharp differentiation from all the forces that opposed the leadership of the Soviet Union and the "socialism in one country" in particular the "Trotskyists" on the one hand, the " social fascists " (social democrats) on the other.

The clashes between reformist social democrats and Stalinist communists in the Weimar Republic favored the rise and takeover of power by the National Socialists . The term socialism, which was largely equated with democracy in the 19th century, was adopted, abused and permanently corrupted. This prevented effective alliances between social reformers and communists in Europe as well as in China. In the Spanish Civil War , anarchists, democrats and communists fought together for the last time from 1936 to 1939, but unsuccessfully against Francisco Franco .

The Stalinist "purges" culminated in the Great Terror from 1936 to 1938 : Stalin now had the generation of the October Revolutionaries banished and murdered as his possible domestic opponents, including the leadership of the Red Army . This was one of the reasons for the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939, which was supposed to save him time for military reorganization.

After the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union succeeded in establishing Stalinist regimes in the states of Eastern Europe. The so-called “ Eastern Bloc ” in the Cold War era was postulated as a territorial opponent or potential enemy of the “capitalist” West. After the death of Stalin in 1953, the new state and party leader headed Nikita Khrushchev , the Stalinization and thus defined Marxism-Leninism, now independent from Stalinism, new. This “new” Marxism-Leninism then largely determined the policy of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc states until the fall of Khrushchev in 1964. Under his successor Leonid Brezhnev , however, de-Stalinization was hardly pursued any more, and reforms that had been started in party and state were stopped or even withdrawn . It was not until Mikhail Gorbachev took office in 1985 that a new wave of reforms began with glasnost and perestroika , which fundamentally changed the political system and the ideological orientation of the Soviet Union and its satellite states . The 1989 revolutions accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union , which eventually led to its dissolution in 1991.

At present, only Cuba , Vietnam and Laos in particular refer to Marxism-Leninism as the official state doctrine.

In the existing communist parties , such as the DKP or the MLPD in Germany , Marxism-Leninism still plays a role, while other parties or organizations can be assigned to reform or Eurocommunism or refer to Trotskyism .


Leon Trotsky

In contrast to Stalin's thesis of a possible “ socialism in one country ”, Leon Trotsky stood for consistent internationalism. According to his theory of permanent revolution , socialism as a society in transition to communism can only function on an international level, which is why the whole world must be liberated from capitalism through revolutions . If the world socialist revolution fails to materialize, the Soviet Union will inevitably revert to capitalism. The starting point for Trotskyism is, above all, the study written by Trotsky in 1936: Revolution Betrayed. What is the Soviet Union and where is it going? In it he worked out an analysis of the bureaucratization of the countries, often referred to as degenerate workers' states, in which a proletarian revolution had taken place. Trotskyists, like many other Marxist currents, see themselves as representatives of Leninism or as its further development.


The People's Republic of China looked after the 1949 Revolution led by Mao as a special part of the "world communism" and used the "brother friendship" with the Soviet Union under Stalin. After his death in 1953, his successor Nikita Sergejewitsch Khrushchev initiated a de-Stalinization in 1956 . Then they parted ways: Mao resigned from the Soviet Union. Since then, the “communist camp” has been split into two hostile large states with similar state ideology but competing claims to leadership. The Soviet Union now took the line of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist West, while China insisted on the world socialist revolution . His sphere of influence included North Korea and North Vietnam , at times also Cambodia and Laos , while India and the Caucasus region tended to lean towards the Soviet Union. Mao's program of the great leap forward , with which China should become an industrial great power in a few years, failed and led to one of the greatest famines in human history (20 to 40 million deaths).

In many countries in Asia , Africa and Latin America the "bloc powers" USA , USSR and PR China waged proxy wars with one another. The Korean War (1950–1953) z. B. was actually a Sino-American conflict in which the US first considered using nuclear weapons again after 1945 . In Mongolia, on the other hand, the Soviet Union and China fought over borders with threatening gestures and military skirmishes. They also supported various revolutionary groups and goals in the “ Third World ”. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, for example, invoked "Maoism" at times. Up to two million people fell victim to their brief reign (1975–1979). Maoism was also noticed in Europe, for example Albania under Enver Hoxha orientated itself to his politics between 1968 and 1978 ( see below ). There was a democratic protest movement under the Chinese Communist Party in the 1980s, but it was bloodily suppressed. After that, the capitalist mode of production was allowed in some provinces and cities in order to increase productivity. On the one hand, this had a significant impact on the country's prosperity and consumer goods production. On the other hand, this measure intensified the class antagonism between a newly rich bourgeoisie of private entrepreneurs and state functionaries and a rightsless proletarian migrant workers. The majority of smallholders without rights is also becoming increasingly impoverished and is largely decoupled from economic development.

On March 14, 2004, the abolition of private property was officially withdrawn and the protection of private property was anchored in the constitution.

Maoism also played an important role in the heyday of the student movement in the 1960s ; Alongside Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, Mao became a revolutionary model for part of this movement.


Josip Broz Tito 1965

Communism as a state and global political description of the state of affairs differed further in the course of the Cold War: with Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito , a special form of independence from Soviet leadership was added, which in turn was an authoritarian one-party government, but clearly more liberal features than the Eastern Bloc States and China. The so-called non-alignment was also important in communism with a Titoist character, so Tito founded the movement of non-aligned states in Belgrade in 1961, together with the Egyptian head of state Nasser , the Indian premier Nehru and the Indonesian president Sukarno , which were neutral in the east-west conflict . In domestic politics, Titoism pursued a comprehensive federal concept, so Yugoslavia was divided into six republics ( Slovenia , Croatia , Bosnia-Herzegovina , Serbia , Montenegro and Macedonia ), which had extensive rights of self-determination, the two provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina became largely autonomous conceded. Another important pillar of Titoism was the so-called workers' self-administration , which allowed every employee of a company to exert influence on the company's management.

Between 1944 and 1948, under the leadership of Koçi Xoxe , Titoism also played a role in neighboring Albania , and accession to the Yugoslav Federal Republic was also considered.

Titoism also had a decisive influence on Alexander Dubček , who in 1968 also introduced workers' self- government in the so-called Prague Spring , which was abolished after the Warsaw Pact troops marched in.

Real socialism

The term "real existing socialism" (real socialism for short) is a name given to the former or existing socialist social systems with mostly a one-party system and a Marxist-Leninist state ideology. This primarily includes the former socialist countries of the Warsaw Treaty Organization and the Council for Mutual Economic Aid (for example the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic ). This term, which was both self and external, expresses on the one hand that socialism actually exists and on the other hand this term is also used critically to express a discrepancy between the theory and the actual political conditions of socialism / communism.

In order to realize the rule of the proletariat called for by Marx, Lenin created a " party of a new type " ( What to do?, 1902, and One step forward - two steps back , in theoretical and practical discussion of the conditions for the seizure of power and subsequent preservation of socialism) 1904), which was organized according to his principle of democratic centralism . In Marxist theory, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the way to the goal of a classless society . Lenin referred to the phase after the proletariat had seized power and subsequently defended power as socialism, and viewed this - including the necessary dictatorship - as a preliminary stage to complete communism proper, in which the state was identified with society and therefore no longer felt as a coercion.

Since in the real existing socialism many theorems and practical suggestions of Marx were tried to realize with their state ideology, this system was often seen as the logical result of his original ideas. Common features of the so-called “people's democracies” or “people 's republics ” such as the sole rule of a communist party are often identified by supporters and opponents with the “dictatorship” intended by Marx.

As a result of its expansion of power through and after the Second World War in 1945 and also since the successful Mao Zedong revolution in the Republic of China (establishment of the People's Republic of China ) in 1949, so-called real socialism gained a global political counterweight to the market economy-oriented countries led by the United States of America . The systems installed and dominated by the Soviet Union after 1945 were referred to as the “ Eastern Bloc ” in the Western world because they had no real autonomy, but were in fact satellite states of the Soviet Union, which was controlled by the Politburo of the CPSU .

This contrast determined the Cold War and the prevailing understanding of "communism" in the West. It also often put socialist and social democratic parties under pressure, which had to defend themselves against defamation, such as being the “fifth column of Moscow” ( Konrad Adenauer's campaign slogan ) or neglecting the “defense of freedom” within the framework of the Western military alliance ( NATO ).

The real socialist regimes collapsed in the late 1980s. The reasons for this included internal opposition movements, the desolate economic situation, the inefficiency of the planned economies operated in these regimes and the competition between the more successful social state models of the West . In 1989 there was also mass exodus to the Federal Republic of the GDR.

Communist liberation movements

Ernesto Che Guevara , symbolic figure of communist anti-imperialism

In contrast to European imperialism and colonialism , Marx's ideas had found supporters since 1900 even in many non-industrialized countries ruled by the world market and Western hegemony .

The development in the Soviet Union was criticized in part by socialists and communists, who nevertheless did not give up their basic solidarity with the Soviet Union in view of the rising fascism. With the victories of the Soviet Union over Hitler's Germany and the Cold War that followed, the idea of ​​the antagonism between two camps gained new plausibility among them too.

Especially after Fidel Castro's successful revolution in Cuba in 1958, many liberation movements in the so-called Third World picked up Marxism-Leninism and developed it further as anti-imperialism for their own situations.


Nicolae Ceaușescu

Romania also managed to achieve relative independence from the Soviet Union under Nicolae Ceaușescu ; the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was condemned, as was the boycott of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles , in which Romania was the only Eastern Bloc state to take part.

The downside of the independence course, however, was a grotesque personality cult around Ceaușescu, the omnipresent secret police Securitate and a dramatic impoverishment of the population. This dictatorship was overthrown in a bloody coup in 1989.


Enver Hoxha

After the Second World War, Albania initially leaned closely to Tito's Yugoslavia, but broke with Tito in 1948 and became a close ally of the Soviet Union. In 1949 the country joined COMECON and was one of the founding members of the Warsaw Pact .

As a result of the de-Stalinization and the associated thaw, Enver Hoxha broke with the Soviet Union, and in 1968 he left COMECON and the Warsaw Pact. From then on, Albania leaned on Maoist China, and Maoism was now elevated to the status of the new state doctrine.

The death of Mao in 1976 and the subsequent reforms of Deng Xiaoping triggered another change in policy. Albania officially broke away from Maoism and pursued a new Albanian path to socialism, which was characterized by a particularly isolationist, self-sufficient policy.

North Korea: Chuch'e and Sŏn'gun ideology

Kim Il-sung

In North Korea in 1977 the Chuch'e ideology developed by Kim Il-sung replaced Marxism-Leninism as the basis of the constitution as a further development and departure . Their goal is no longer a classless society, but just a kind of "class friendship". In addition, there is a strong national component that puts one's own interests above those of the international movement. Furthermore, it is emphasized that it is not the communist party or the proletariat that is supposed to transform society, but a single “workers leader” to whom unconditional loyalty is to be granted. In 2009, under Kim Jong-il, the Chuch'e ideology was supplemented by a constitutional amendment to include the Sŏn'gun ideology, which established the primacy of the military . At the same time, all direct references to communism were deleted from the constitution.

Reform Communism East

In the Eastern bloc states with an older democratic tradition, attempts to independence and emancipation from the “big brother” in Moscow have been made since 1953 . These efforts to reform on a continued state socialist basis are classified as reform communism . They began with the more anti-communist than reform communist uprising of June 17, 1953 in the GDR , which first called for working hours and wage reforms, then questioned the SED's monopoly on power and also aimed at German reunification . The Hungarian uprising of 1956 and the Prague Spring 1968 in Czechoslovakia led to a revival of the councils and cooperatives , combined with a cautious liberalization of the economy and the authorization of private companies. These attempts were always supported by broad strata of the population and were forcibly suppressed by the Red Army whenever the separation from the Warsaw Pact and thus from the Soviet Union came within reach.

Also in the state-independent trade union movement Solidarność in the People's Republic of Poland there were initially prominent representatives with reform communist approaches. B. called for control over food distribution in Poland. After the August strikes in Poland in 1980 , the invasion of Soviet troops was barely avoided when General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law in December 1981 , which remained in force until 1983.

Eurocommunism West

In Western Europe, communist movements were widespread in many states until 1939. In Italy , after preparatory work by Antonio Gramsci, so-called “ Eurocommunism ” emerged after 1945 , which distinguished itself from Stalinism and wanted to achieve economic and social reforms through parliamentary majorities. In France , the PCF, supported by relatively strong trade unions, represented or represents eurocommunist positions in the 1970s and since the collapse of the Eastern bloc .


The critical theory of the Frankfurt School wanted to contribute to the development of a new revolutionary subject out of the “formed society” of late capitalism , around the “authoritarian character” ( Erich Fromm ) and “one-dimensional people” ( Herbert Marcuse ) of both fascism and orthodox state communism to overcome. In its wake is the criticism of value from authors such as Michael Heinrich , Robert Kurz and Moishe Postone .

Communist splinter parties

In the Federal Republic of Germany, where the Communist Party was banned in 1956, the political tension after the student movement gave rise to numerous so-called K-groups, which often competed strongly against one another and, depending on the model, leaned on one or more “real” communist states.

Critique of Real Socialism

Inner Marxist, socialist and liberal approaches to criticism

The criticism of the actually existing systems with communist claims starts on several aspects:

  • Lack of grassroots democracy : The ban on parties and factions imposed by Lenin paralyzes the necessary social participation and initiative of the workers and thus endangers the development of socialism ( Rosa Luxemburg ).
  • Bureaucracy : The isolation of Soviet Russia enabled a new layer of bureaucrats to "seize power", which led to the "degeneracy" of the workers' state ( Leon Trotsky ).
  • Calculation problem : The distribution of services and goods is hardly possible without free pricing, since it has no basis for calculation and it is impossible to reasonably coordinate and balance the interests of all individuals with one another. ( Ludwig von Mises , Friedrich August von Hayek )
  • Centralism : The top-down Soviet cadre party is structurally incapable of solving the country's economic problems ( Wolfgang Leonhard ).
  • Ideological manipulation: Stalin's and Mao's “Marxism-Leninism” is a break with the original ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin and perverts them ( George Orwell , Oskar Negt , Iring Fetscher ).
  • Totalitarianism : The form of rule of the USSR structurally does not allow democratization and completely eliminates the free development of people, similar to fascism ( Hannah Arendt ).
  • The social formation of the Soviet Union and China is not socialism / communism, but a bureaucratically rigid form of Asian despotism ( Karl August Wittfogel , Rudolf Bahro , Rudi Dutschke ),
  • Imperialism : The domestic dictatorship and economic weakness of the Soviet Union lead to an external urge to expand and hegemonic claims that endanger world peace (consensus among reform communists, anti-communists and some liberation movements in the Third World)

One-party rule, which was and is the common hallmark of the “people's democracies”, is at the center of many criticisms. Formally, e.g. For example, there are other small parties in the GDR's block party system, but they were aligned with the SED and were never allowed to endanger its majority.


The totalitarianism theory has been comparing the political systems of fascism with that of Marxism-Leninism or Stalinism since its emergence in the 1920s . Their representatives assume that the systems and party concepts are similar in form and content. Critics, especially in Germany , accuse them of denying the uniqueness of National Socialism and playing down its crimes. The Constitutional Court of Ukraine found in 2019 that both the National Socialist and the Communist regimes terrorized the Ukrainian population through equal totalitarian and arbitrary control and that a ban on the symbols of both totalitarianisms is therefore constitutionally justified.

Left communism

As early as the 1920s, left communism emerged as a separate current within the communist movement . The best-known representative was the Italian Amadeo Bordiga (1889–1970). He criticized both the Stalinization within the communist parties and Trotskyism. While most communist organizations defended the socialism that actually existed after 1945, Bordiga and the International Communist Party set out in several writings why the Soviet Union and the other real socialist states were not socialist for them, but represented a special form of capitalist development. Other left communist theorists who, in contrast to Lenin, sought council rule of the proletariat in the 1920s ( council communism ) were Anton Pannekoek and Otto Rühle , as well as Karl Korsch and other representatives of the “ultra-left” wing of the KPD, who was in the process in 1925/1926 were ousted from the party following Stalinization. Unlike Rühle and Pannekoek, they related positively to Leninism. Korsch and Rühle's reception influenced the German student movement two generations later .

Post-communism of the present

Post communist parties

After the end of the real existing socialism, many of the communist parties that had previously supported the state reformed and gave themselves new programs and names. These parties relied on concepts such as grassroots democracy and democratic socialism instead of a dictatorship of the proletariat and the claim to leadership of a single party.

Post-Marxist Approaches

Building on the critical theory , an alternative critical examination of the bourgeois-capitalist social order emerged, especially in academic milieus. Certain ideologies and tendencies such as work fetish , personalization of abstract relationships, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism are criticized as expressions of this form of society . The critics refer not only to Karl Marx, but above all to the proponents of "critical theory" ( Adorno , Horkheimer ). In the 1990s, two new socially critical, post-Marxist currents emerged in the left-wing alternative spectrum , which got a boost especially after September 11, 2001 : “ Value critics ” and, in addition, in Germany and Austria the “ anti-Germans ”.

Both currents want to process the bourgeois-capitalist relationships and transform them into a “liberated” society. Capitalism is subjected to a newly accentuated analysis. The aim is to use a discussion and transformation process to create an informal and communal society in which people and their needs are the focus. The anti-Germans in particular insist on the ban on images proclaimed by Adorno ( Negative Dialectic , Minima Moralia ), i.e. the conscious renunciation of painting the liberated future.

Both currents are sharply demarcated from traditional Marxism , as this sees the proletariat as a so-called “revolutionary subject” and has a positive connotation for the term “work”. Work, on the other hand, is severely criticized as a specifically capitalist human activity torn out of everyday life. Even the Marxist class struggle - rhetoric is as personalization rejected. The degree of organization of the two currents is deliberately low; these are loosely connected groups.

The post-Marxists analyze the “real existing socialism” as a specific form of development dictatorships which, under the guideline (and in the belief) of building a socialist society, only achieved a catching-up industrialization on the basis of commodity-producing socialization.

See also


  • The rise and fall of communism (alternative title: The history of communism ). 12-part documentation series. A Spiegel TV production on behalf of ZDFinfo . Germany 2016


General story

Criticism and counter-criticism

Scientific journals

Web links

Wiktionary: Communism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Communism  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Text collections
Wikisource: Communism  - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Lorenz von Stein: History of the social movement in France. Volume 1. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1959, p. 320.
  2. “Between the capitalist and the communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of one into the other. This also corresponds to a political transition period, the state of which cannot be anything other than the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. ”- Karl Marx, Critique of the Gothaer Program, MEW 19, 28.
  3. ^ Frank R. Pfetsch , Thomas Kreihe: Theoreticians of politics: from Plato to Habermas. Wilhelm Fink, Munich 2003, p. 453 .
  4. ^ Frank R. Pfetsch : Theoreticians of politics: From Plato to Habermas. Wilhelm Fink, Munich 2003, p. 454; Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party , 1848: “We saw above that the first step in the workers' revolution is the elevation of the proletariat to the ruling class, the fight for democracy. The proletariat will use its political rule to gradually wrest all capital from the bourgeoisie, all instruments of production in the hands of the state; H. of the proletariat, organized as the ruling class, to centralize and to increase the mass of productive forces as quickly as possible. This can of course only be done by means of despotic interventions in property rights and in bourgeois relations of production, i.e. by means of measures that appear economically inadequate and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, drive themselves beyond themselves and are inevitable as a means of overturning the entire mode of production . “MEW 4, p. 481.
  5. Andreas Arndt : Karl Marx: attempt on the context of his theory. Academy, Berlin 2012, p. 90 f. ; Friedrich Bohl: Farewell to an illusion. Overcoming socialism in Germany. Currently 1990, p. 23.
  6. ^ Walter Euchner , Helga Grebing (Ed.): History of social ideas in Germany. 2nd edition, VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2005, p. 211 .
  7. "The state is not abolished, it dies." - Friedrich Engels: The development of socialism from utopia to science . MEW 19, p. 224; Willi Albers: Concise Dictionary of Economics , 1982, p. 5 .
  8. “In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaved subordination of individuals to the division of labor, so that the opposition between mental and physical labor has also disappeared; after work has become not only a means to life but itself the first necessity of life; After the all-round development of the individuals, their productive forces have grown and all springs of cooperative wealth flow more fully - only then can the narrow bourgeois legal horizon be completely exceeded and society can write on its banner: Everyone according to his abilities, everyone according to his needs! " Karl Marx: Critique of the Gotha Program , MEW 19, 21.
  9. ^ Otto Wittelshöfer:  Weitling, Wilhelm . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 41, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1896, p. 624 f.
  10. ^ Marx / Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party, MEW 4, 474.
  11. Josef Esser : Communism. In: Dieter Nohlen (Ed.): Lexicon of Politics, Volume 7: Political Terms. Directmedia, Berlin 2004, p. 314.
  12. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wehler : German history of society. Vol. 5: Federal Republic and GDR 1949–1990 . CH Beck, Munich 2008, s. 359 ff.
  13. ↑ Finding out about the constitutional conformity of the prohibition of communist and national socialist propaganda. Constitutional Court of Ukraine, July 16, 2019, accessed September 4, 2019 (Ukrainian).
  14. Marcel Bois: Left Communism . In: Wolfgang Fritz Haug u. a. (Ed.): Historical-critical dictionary of Marxism . tape 8 / II . Hamburg 2015, p. Sp. 1180-1193 .
  15. On the history of the “ultra-left” cf. Ralf Hoffrogge : For Lenin, against Stalin - left-wing radicals in the Weimar Republic , from: analysis & criticism , No. 596, August 2014.
  16. ↑ The rise and fall of communism. In: Retrieved May 8, 2018 .
  17. ↑ The rise and fall of communism. In: Retrieved May 8, 2018 .