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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Frequently Asked Questions About communism

What is the difference between communism and socialism?

English speakers generally use the word communism to talk about 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 refers to a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control. The conception of that control has varied significantly over time. In the modern era, "pure" socialism has been seen only rarely and usually briefly in a few Communist regimes.

What exactly is communism?

When it was first used 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. Today, the word communism usually refers to the political and economic ideologies originating from 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.

What countries are communist?

The countries of China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, and North Korea are the existing countries typically identified as being communist.

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 Moore’s pamphlet paralleled the Eisenhower administration’s approach to international aid policy at a time when the Unites States’ major concern was to limit the spread of communism. Aaron Timms, The New Republic, "Making Life Cheap," 18 May 2020 Along with Eduardo Bolsonaro, Jordy wants to make the defense of communism a criminal offense in Brazil. Vincent Bevins, The New York Review of Books, "In Brazil, Bolsonaro Gambles on a Coronavirus Culture War," 23 Mar. 2020 In my formal learning, Ronald Reagan was a president responsible for inequality, not for providing the strong, steady hand that reversed the creep of communism. WSJ, "Capitalism, Socialism and Haley’s Comment," 3 Mar. 2020 Since the collapse of communism NATO has ranged far and wide, fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and pirates off the Horn of Africa. The Economist, "NATO’s Watford summit features a troublesome trio," 1 Dec. 2019 In 2016, Fidel Castro, who led his rebels to victorious revolution in 1959, embraced Soviet-style communism, and defied the power of 10 US presidents during his half-century of rule in Cuba, died at age 90., "In 1783, the British evacuated New York during the Revolutionary War.," 25 Nov. 2019 President Kennedy began to escalate the secret war as Cuba embraced communism and became a Soviet satellite. USA Today, "JFK files: CIA spy in Cuba ‘befriended’ Castro, Che; played key role amid nuclear-war fears," 21 Nov. 2019 In American and Soviet homes, the capitalism-communism divide was a topic of conversation at many a kitchen table — and, most famously, in one model kitchen. Madeline Roache, Time, "Is Capitalism or Communism Better for Women? How the Kitchen Debate Gave a New Meaning to the Cold War 'Home Front'," 24 July 2019 President Donald Trump’s deportation machine isn’t moved by dictatorship, chavismo, castrismo, or communism’s hold on our hemisphere. Fabiola Santiago, miamiherald, "Trump is deporting Venezuelans to dictator Nicolás Maduro’s hell. This is why.," 14 June 2018

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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Time Traveler for communism

Time Traveler

The first known use of communism was in 1840

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Statistics for communism

Last Updated

25 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Communism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for communism


How to pronounce communism (audio)

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


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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