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 is one of our top all-time lookups, and user comments suggest that’s because it is often used in opaque ways. In some sources, communism is equated with socialism; in others, it is contrasted with democracy and capitalism. Part of this 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, communism referred to an economic and political theory that advocated the abolition of private property and the common sharing of all resources among a group of people, and 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 used communism to refer to 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, controls a society’s economy and social activities with the goal of realizing Marx’s theories.

Communism is often contrasted with capitalism and democracy, though these can be false equivalencies depending on the usage. Capitalism refers to an economic theory in which a society’s means of production are held by private individuals or organizations, not the government, and where prices, distribution of goods, and products are determined by a free market. It can be contrasted with the economic theories of communism, though the word communism is used of both political and economic theories. Democracy refers 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. Democracy is contrasted with communism primarily because the 20th-century communism of the U.S.S.R. was characterized by an authoritarian government, whereas the democracy of the 20th-century U.S. was characterized by a representative government.

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

Americans usually remember the end of communism as the result of a binary battle between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, while most Europeans tend to see that era through the prism of their own national memories. Anne Applebaum, The New York Review of Books, "The Lure of Western Europe," 6 June 2019 Some European countries that were spared the ordeal of communism would have suffered it. John Cullen, Harper's magazine, "Donald Trump Is a Good President," 10 Jan. 2019 As in Nazi Germany, work was compulsory under communism. Dominic Green, WSJ, "‘Burning Down the Haus’ Review: East German Punks," 20 Sep. 2018 In the Cold War, the gradual entrance of Western products into the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites played a significant role in undermining faith in communism. Jon Talton, The Seattle Times, "Behind the fight over Google’s China project, a battle for the company’s soul," 21 Aug. 2018 An estimated 17,000 of Mongolia’s Buddhist monks perished under communism, starting in the 1930s. Staff, The Christian Science Monitor, "Meanwhile in ... Mongolia, Millennial monks are running the country’s monasteries," 21 June 2018 Under communism, this chapter of Polish history was suppressed. Marc Santora And Steven Erlanger, New York Times, "Why Are Poland’s Nationalists So Popular? Ask a Local Librarian.," 3 Mar. 2018 All of that language about scientific freedom, particularly in the late 1940s, early 1950s, is about drawing a heightened contrast with the way science was supposedly operating under communism. Rachel Becker, The Verge, "Cold War propaganda spread the myth that science isn’t political," 11 Dec. 2018 During the Cold War, the Saudis—avowed enemies of atheistic Soviet communism—were in Washington’s camp. Angela Stent, WSJ, "Vladimir Putin’s Big Push Into the Middle East," 15 Feb. 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

23 Jun 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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More from Merriam-Webster on communism

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with communism

Spanish Central: Translation of communism

Nglish: Translation of communism for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of communism for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about communism

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