com·​mu·​nism ˈkäm-yə-ˌni-zəm How to pronounce communism (audio)
: a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed
: a theory advocating elimination of private property
or Communism
: a doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism that was the official ideology of the Soviet Union
: a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production
: a final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably
: communist systems collectively

Frequently Asked Questions

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
Recent Examples on the Web Still others will question whether China would be amenable to such a relationship, given its leaders’ conviction that Washington’s endgame is to destroy Chinese communism. Ryan Hass, Foreign Affairs, 24 Oct. 2023 Fretting that the New Deal was welfare masquerading as communism, Protestant leaders—who until then had largely set themselves outside and above the political realm—began making common cause with political opponents of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Elle Hardy, The New Republic, 23 Oct. 2023 Turnout was projected at almost 74%, the highest level in the country's 34 years of democracy and surpassing the 63% who turned out in the historic 1989 vote that toppled communism. Danielle Wallace, Fox News, 16 Oct. 2023 Both men invoked Berlin and cast Hong Kong as the new center of a global struggle between democracy and communism. Timothy McLaughlin, The Atlantic, 4 Nov. 2023 President Vladimir Putin has sidelined those who have done most to research the crimes of seven decades of communism, perhaps loath to invite comparison with his own suppression of dissent, or blur the patriotism needed to drive his war in Ukraine. Kevin Liffey, The Christian Science Monitor, 2 Nov. 2023 Whereas the first of these conferences was sunk by doctrinal disagreements and international political disputes, the second benefited from the intellectual and political convergence that followed the fall of communism and the end of the Cold War. Barry Eichengreen, Foreign Affairs, 24 Oct. 2023 Over a century later, armed with a burning desire to quash revolutions and stem communism, Pinochet emerges on the other side of the world, in Chile. Jessica Kiang, Variety, 31 Aug. 2023 Bursting with Irish Catholic earnestness, Tim dreams of helping his idol Joe McCarthy (Chris Bauer) save the world from the scourge of Soviet communism. TIME, 23 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'communism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


French communisme, from commun common

First Known Use

1840, in the meaning defined at sense 1b

Time Traveler
The first known use of communism was in 1840

Dictionary Entries Near communism

Cite this Entry

“Communism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


com·​mu·​nism ˈkäm-yə-ˌniz-əm How to pronounce communism (audio)
: a social system in which property and goods are owned in common
also : a theory that favors such a system
capitalized : a system of government in which a single party controls state-owned means of production with the aim of establishing a stateless society
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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