Communism and its Different Forms

The term communism is generally applied to the Marxist-Leninist political and socioeconomic doctrines. This system, associated with the collective ownership of the means of production, central economic planning, and rule by a single political party. We will include in this section the basic idea of Maoism.


Marxism is a body of social, political, and economic thought derived from the writings of Karl Marx and his collaborator, Friedrich Engels. At the center of Marx’s work is his analysis of capitalism: how it arose, how it works (for whom it works better and for whom worse), and where it is likely to lead. Concentrating on the social and economic relations in which people earn their livings, Marx saw behind capitalism’s legal facade a struggle of two main classes: the capitalists, who own the productive resources, and the workers, or proletariat, who must work for wages in order to survive. The main theories that make up this analysis is the theory of alienation, the labor theory of value, and the materialist conception of history must all be understood with this focus in mind. Even Marx’s vision of socialism emerges from his study of capitalism, for socialism is the unrealized potential inherent in capitalism itself for a more rational and egalitarian social order in which people can develop more fully their distinctively human qualities.

On Alienation

Marx’s theories about capitalism are best understood as answers to his pointed questions about its nature, effects, and development. How do the ways and conditions in which people earn their living affect their bodies, minds, and daily lives? In the theory of alienation Marx gives his answer. The people who do the work in capitalism own none of the means (machines and raw materials, for example) that they use in their work. These are owned by the capitalists, to whom workers must sell their “labor power,”or ability to do work, in return for a wage. This system of labor displays four relations that lie at the core of Marx’s theory of alienation. The worker is alienated from his or her productive activity, playing no part in deciding what to do or how to do it. The worker is alienated from the product of that activity, having no control over what is made or what becomes of it. The worker is alienated from other human beings, with competition and mutual indifference replacing most forms of cooperation. Finally, the worker is alienated from the distinctive potential inherent in the notion of human being.

On the Theory of Value

It is primarily concerned with the more basic problem of why goods have prices at all. The slave owner takes by force what slaves produce. The feudal lord claims as a right some part of what is produced by the serfs. Only in capitalism is the distribution of what is produced a function of markets and prices. Marx’s explanation of this anomaly concentrates on the separation of the worker from his or her means of production and the sale of his or her labor power that this separation makes necessary. As a result of this separation, all the things that workers produce become available for exchange, indeed are produced with this exchange in mind. “Value” is the general social form taken by all the products of alienated labor (labor to which the four relations of alienated labor apply). Such products could only sell (have “exchange values”) and serve (have “use values”) in ways that express and contribute to this alienation. Surplus value, the third aspect of value, is the difference between the amount of exchange and use value created by workers and the amount of value returned to them as wages. The capitalist’s control over this surplus is the basis of their power over the workers and the rest of society. Marx’s labor theory of value also provides a detailed account of the struggle between capitalists and workers over the size of the surplus value. Because of competition among capitalists, workers are constantly being replaced by machinery, enabling and requiring capitalists to extract ever-greater amounts of surplus value from workers remaining. Paradoxically, the amount of surplus value is also the source of capitalism’s greatest weakness. Because only part of their product is returned to them as wages, the workers, as consumers, cannot buy a large portion of what they produce. Under pressure from the constant growth of the total product, the capitalists periodically fail to find new markets to take up the slack. This leads to crises of “overproduction,” capitalism’s classic contradiction, in which people are forced to live on too little because they have produced too much.

On Materialistic Conception of History

The actual course of history is determined by class struggle. According to Marx, each class is defined chiefly by its relation to the productive process and has objective interests rooted in that relation. The capitalists’ interests lie in securing their power and expanding profits. Workers, on the other hand, have interests in higher wages, safer working conditions, shorter hours, job security, and because it is required to realize other interests a new distribution of power. The class struggle involves everything that these two major classes do to promote their incompatible interests at each other’s expense. In this battle, which rages throughout society, the capitalists are aided by their wealth, their control of the state, and their domination over other institutions schools, media, churches that guide and distort people’s thinking. On the workers’ side are their sheer numbers, their experience of cooperation however alienated while at work, trade unions, working-class political parties (where they exist), and the growing contradictions within capitalism that make present conditions increasingly irrational. Marx believed that once most workers recognized their interests and became “class conscious,” the overthrow of capitalism would proceed as quickly and democratically as the nature of capitalist opposition allowed. The socialist society that would emerge out of the revolution would develop the full productive potential inherited from capitalism through democratic planning on behalf of social needs. The final goal, toward which socialist society would constantly build, is the human one of abolishing alienation. Marx called the attainment of this goal communism.


Lenin was not only a revolutionist but a prolific writer who made important additions to the theory of Marxism and created a doctrine for professional revolutionists that gained considerable influence in the economically backward areas of the world. In his pamphlet What Is to Be Done? (1902) he called for an elitist, disciplined party of professional revolutionists to lead the working class toward communism. The principles of “the leading role of the party” and “democratic centralism” meaning an almost military organizational discipline within the party were supposed to be practiced by all Communist parties. Lenin also preached flexibility in strategy and tactics, by which he meant a willingness to adapt party programs so as to enlist the support of the peasantry and oppressed national minorities without giving up the goal of communism.


Although the Chinese Communist party gave lip service to the doctrines of Lenin and Stalin, its Marxism was shaped by its own unique experience and blended with the ideas of Mao. Mao saw humans as engaged in a permanent struggle against nature. Society was driven by contradictions between classes (antagonistic contradictions) and between groups (nonantagonistic contradictions). The antagonistic contradictions could be solved by revolution, but after the revolution it was necessary to work out the nonantagonistic contradictions that existed among the people and even within the party. Mao also believed that the revolution did not end when the Communists came to power; it had to be waged continually against vestiges of the old culture and against bureaucratic habits. Under Mao, China was subjected to startling shifts in policy that began with the elite and were carried downward through all parts of society.

Communism & Socialism

The term socialism is commonly used to refer both to an ideology: a comprehensive set of beliefs or ideas about the nature of human society and its future desirable state and to a state of society based on that ideology. Socialists have always claimed to stand above all for the values of equality, social justice, cooperation, progress, and individual freedom and happiness, and they have generally sought to realize these values by the abolition of the private-enterprise economy and its replacement by “public ownership,” a system of social or statecontrol over production and distribution. Methods of transformation advocated by socialists range from constitutional change to violent revolution. Some scholars believe that the basic principles of socialism were derived from the philosophy of Plato, the teachings of the Hebrew prophets, and some parts of the New Testament (the Sermon on the Mount, for example). Modern socialist ideology, however, is essentially a joint product of the 1789 French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution in England (i.e. the word socialist first occurred in an English journal in 1827).

Varieties Of Socialism

The following are forms of Socialism:

1. Marxism

Developed by the German thinkers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and has been generally regarded as the most sophisticated and influential doctrine of socialism. Marx, who was influenced in his youth by German idealist philosophy and the humanism of Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach, believed that human beings, and particularly workers, were “alienated” in modern capitalist society

2. Moderate Socialism (a.k.a. social democracy, Fabianism)

These moderates sought to achieve socialism by parliamentary means and by appealing deliberately to the middle class. It did not, like Marxism, look toward the complete abolition of private property and the disappearance of the state but instead envisaged socialism more as a form of society in which full democratic control would be exercised over wealth, and production would be controlled by a group of responsible experts working in the interests of the whole community;

3. Christian Socialism

Christian Socialist in the main supported moderate social democracy, emphasizing what they understood as the central message of the church in social ethics, notably the values of cooperation, brotherhood, simplicity of tastes, and the spirit of self-sacrifice; d) Radical Socialism: Under this category is Anarchism: whose immediate aim is the abolition of the State. Anarchists, influenced mainly by the ideas of the Frenchman Pierre Joseph Proudhon and later of the Russian Mikhail Bakunin were intent on immediately overthrowing the capitalist state and replacing it with small independent communities. Unlike the Marxists, whom they bitterly criticized, anarchists were against the formation of socialist parties, and they repudiated parliamentary politics as well as the idea of revolutionary dictatorship.