communism

noun
com·​mu·​nism | \ ˈkäm-yə-ˌni-zəm How to pronounce communism (audio) , -yü-\

Definition of communism

1a : a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed
b : a theory advocating elimination of private property

2 capitalized

a : a doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism that was the official ideology of the U.S.S.R.
b : a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production
c : a final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably
d : communist systems collectively

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Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, and Democracy

Communism, socialism, capitalism, and democracy are all among our top all-time lookups, and user comments suggest that this is because they are complex, abstract terms often used in opaque ways. They're frequently compared and contrasted, with communism sometimes equated with socialism, and democracy and capitalism frequently linked.

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that the word communism has been applied to varying political systems over time. When it was first used in English prose in the mid-19th century, communism referred to an economic and political theory that advocated the elimination of private property and the common sharing of all resources among a group of people; in this use, it was often used interchangeably with the word socialism by 19th-century writers.

The differences between communism and socialism are still debated, but generally English speakers use communism to talk about the political and economic ideologies that find their origin in Karl Marx’s theory of revolutionary socialism, which advocates a proletariat overthrow of capitalist structures within a society; societal and communal ownership and governance of the means of production; and the eventual establishment of a classless society. The most well-known expression of Marx’s theories is the 20th-century Bolshevism of the U.S.S.R., in which the state, through a single authoritarian party, controlled a society’s economic and social activities with the goal of realizing Marx’s theories. Socialism, meanwhile, is most often used in modern English to refer to a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control. (The term is also often used in the phrase democratic socialism, which is discussed here.)

Communism and socialism are both frequently contrasted with capitalism and democracy, though these can be false equivalencies depending on the usage. Capitalism refers to an economic system in which a society’s means of production are held by private individuals or organizations, not the government, and where products, prices, and the distribution of goods are determined mainly by competition in a free market. As an economic system, it can be contrasted with the economic system of communism, though as we have noted, the word communism is used of both political and economic systems. Democracy refers not to an economic system but to a system of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised through a system of direct or indirect representation which is decided through periodic free elections. For discussion about whether the United States is accurately described as a democracy or as a republic, see the article here.)

Readers should consult the individual entries for a full treatment of the various ways in which each of these four words is used.

Examples of communism in a Sentence

On one side stood Hitler, fascism, the myth of German supremacy; on the other side stood Stalin, communism, and the international proletarian revolution. — Anne Applebaum, New York Review of Books, 25 Oct. 2007 … I grew up in an idyllic midwestern town in the 1950's, when America was obsessed with the threat of communism. In Lawrence, Kansas, people felt the cold war as something real and very close. In the first grade, my teacher pointed to a giant orange blob on the map. That was Russia, Mrs. Postma announced. They were bigger than we were, and they were out to destroy us. — Sara Paretsky, Booklist, 1 May 2003 Like me, he has lived his adult life in the context of the cold war. He was … in some sense always justified, at the back of his mind, by a concept of freedom, of America, that took sharpness from contrast with Communism. — John Updike, New York Times Book Review, 5 Aug. 1990 Communism is a religion of the state, committed to the extinction of the Church. — Flannery O'Connor, The Habit Of Being, 1979
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Recent Examples on the Web

Few hospitals have been built in Romania since the 1989 fall of communism, a situation most blame on endemic government corruption. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Metallica donates to Romanian pediatric cancer hospital," 15 Aug. 2019 Like other eastern Europeans, most Hungarians saw the rejection of communism as a victory not so much of liberalism or capitalism as of national identity. The Economist, "How Viktor Orban hollowed out Hungary’s democracy," 31 Aug. 2019 Puhoi, like all villages in Moldova, has changed a lot since the fall of communism in 1991. Madeline Roache / Puhoi, Time, "'You’re Not a Person if You Don’t Drink.' How This Tiny European Country Developed the World's Worst Drinking Problem," 29 Aug. 2019 Get our daily newsletter Given all that, one might imagine their leaders would be looking for ways to commemorate and ponder the fall of communism. The Economist, "Church leaders in central and eastern Europe remain surprisingly loth to condemn their old adversary," 11 Aug. 2019 Employment was hard to find for returning soldiers, there were strikes and Americans' fears about the potential rise of communism pervaded. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "To Remember the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, Commemoration Project Looks to Public Art," 30 July 2019 Their advocates made extravagant promises of freedom, justice and prosperity after the collapse of communism, claiming that capitalism was the only viable model left standing at the End of History. Pankaj Mishra, Twin Cities, "Pankaj Mishra: Putin’s wrong, but so are liberals," 11 July 2019 Stalin had no problem with centralised despotic states per se, but still saw Asian communism as a force to support. The Economist, "But their new partnership makes China a lot more equal than Russia," 25 July 2019 After communism fell in 1990, the lands on which the bunkers sat returned to their original owners, who tried to make the best of them. Laura Mallonee, WIRED, "Cold War–Era Bunker Mania Forever Altered Albania," 23 July 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'communism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of communism

1840, in the meaning defined at sense 1b

History and Etymology for communism

French communisme, from commun common

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Statistics for communism

Last Updated

15 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for communism

The first known use of communism was in 1840

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More Definitions for communism

communism

noun

English Language Learners Definition of communism

: a way of organizing a society in which the government owns the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) and there is no privately owned property

communism

noun
com·​mu·​nism | \ ˈkä-myə-ˌni-zəm How to pronounce communism (audio) \

Kids Definition of communism

: a social system or theory in which property and goods are held in common

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Comments on communism

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