Communism is a theory and system of social and political organization that negates the capitalist profit-based system of private ownership and argues for a communist society in which the means of production are communally owned. Largely shaped by the socialist movement of nineteenth-century Europe, modern communism derives its structural and logical core from the Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848. In the last half of the nineteenth century, the terms socialism and communism were often used interchangeably. Marx and Engels, however, came to see socialism as merely an intermediate stage of society in which most industry and property were owned in common but some class differences remained. They reserved the term communism for a final stage of society in which class differences would finally disappear, people would live in harmony, and the state would no longer be needed. Once again the meaning of the word communism shifted after 1917, when Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) and his Bolshevik Party seized power in Czarist Russia. The Bolsheviks changed their name to the Communist Party and installed a repressive, single-party regime clearly devoted to the implementation of socialist ideals.
   The origin of the communist notion can be traced back to ancient times, such as in Plato’s The Republic; or in the life of the early Christian Church, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. As early as the sixteenth century, Thomas More, in his treatise Utopia (1516), envisioned a society based on common ownership of property, whose rulers administered it by applying pure reason. Enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) in Germany and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) in France criticized the idea of private property. The upheaval generated by the French Revolution brought forth a flurry of communistic ideas. A revolutionary firebrand, Francois-Noel Babeuf (1760–1797) argued for the common ownership of land and total economic and political equality among citizens.
   French socialist Louis Blanc (1811–1882) advocated “associations of workers” or “social workshops,” funded by the state and controlled by the workers. According to him, these would promote the development of balanced human personalities, instead of cutthroat competition encouraged by capitalism. Louis Blanc is perhaps the best known for developing the social principle, later adopted by Karl Marx that clarifies the distribution of labor and income. Another French revolutionary of the nineteenth century, Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805–1881), made an important contribution to communism, although by promoting the idea that a working-class revolution could not succeed without a small group of disciplined conspirators to lead the way.
   In the late nineteenth century, Marxism increased in popularity, particularly in countries whose urban population was impoverished and whose intellectuals were given no voice in government. Marx and Engels flung themselves into national and international political movements dedicated to promoting socialism and their end goal of communism. They were active in the International Workingmen’s Association - popularly known as the First International - an alliance of trade-union groups founded in 1864. A less disjointed union of socialist parties, the Socialist International (also known as the Second International), was formed in 1889 in Paris, France. Just before the revolution in Russia, in 1912 its constituent political parties claimed to have 9 million members.
    Aptheker, Herbert, ed. Marxism & Democracy. Monograph Series Number One. New York: American Institute for Marxist Studies/Humanities Press, 1965;
    Collier, Andrew. Socialist Reasoning: An Inquiry into the Political Philosophy of Scientific Socialism. London: Pluto Press, 1990;
    Furet, Francois, and Deborah F. Furet. Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999;
    Patsouras, Louis, and Thomas, Jack Roy. Essays on Socialism. San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1992.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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