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 Hoping to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, the United States sends more aid and military advisers to help the South Vietnamese government. Cnn Editorial Research, CNN, "Vietnam War Fast Facts," 25 Apr. 2021 The guilt of complicity, yes—many of us now lived in the country that had enabled the regime’s practices, as part of its touted war against communism—but more important, the guilt of survival. Daniel Loedel, The Atlantic, "My Sister Was Disappeared 43 Years Ago," 17 Jan. 2021 America has experienced surges of mainstream anarchism, socialism, and communism, most profoundly during the late 19th century, amid the Great Depression, during the Soviet-American alliance of World War II and afterward, and in the 1960s. Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, "Where Did the New Mad Left Come From?," 15 Dec. 2020 Biden did underperform in heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade County, as Republicans were successful in casting the former vice president as a socialist threat in communities where people have up close and personal memories of socialism and communism. Wayne Washington, USA TODAY, "Inside the Dems' Florida flop: Turnout, rural success propelled Trump in the Sunshine State," 8 Nov. 2020 In speeches, in commercials and online, President Trump consistently stoked the fears of voters who have lived under true socialism and communism by suggesting Biden would implement similar policies here in the U.S. Mario Ariza,, "How Trump won big with Latinos in Florida — and then some," 4 Nov. 2020 The Saint John Paul II National Shrine is dedicated to the memory of a pope best remembered in the United States for fighting against communism, especially in his native Poland. Nicholas Rowan, Washington Examiner, "Trump to visit shrine to John Paul II amid unrest," 2 June 2020 Cuba was pushed towards its unique brand of tropical communism—and the waiting arms of the U.S.S.R. Tony Perrottet, Smithsonian Magazine, "The Florida Resort That Played an Unlikely Role in the Bay of Pigs Fiasco," 16 Apr. 2021 Namajunas’s family is originally from Lithuania and fled communism for the United States. Emma Colton, Washington Examiner, "'Better dead than red': UFC fighter won't back down from anti-communist remarks made ahead of fight with Chinese competitor," 15 Apr. 2021

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

6 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Communism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for communism



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

Comments on communism

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