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Communist state

In the West, a
communist state is one ruled by a single political party following the principles of Marxism-Leninism. It is also called Marxist-Leninist state, Marxist-Leninist government, Marxist-Leninist dictatorship. The usage of the term communist state sharply contrasts with Marxist political theory, according to which "communism" is the final stateless stage of society following the overthrow of capitalism and the "withering away" of socialism. Therefore these states called themselves socialist states.

Table of contents [hide]

1 Political classification

Communism as a form of government
1.2 Theory and practice
2 Particular states

2.1 People's
Republic of China
3 References
4 Quotations

Political classification

While the West generally divides governments into (1) the "Free World", (2) the Communist bloc and (3) the "Third World"; advocates of communism generally classify societies by their economic system, especially "capitalist" vs. "socialist". Both sides identify themselves as the true representatives of democracy, however they differ as to the very notion of democracy besides the literal meaning of the word.

There has never been a leader of a state who has called his state communist (lower case 'c'). In these states the distinctions between state and party become blurred and there is usually a command economy. Communist states (e.g. states that called themselves socialist states but which some westerners call communist states) have usually modelled their political and economic systems after that of the Soviet Union which in the mid-20th century appeared to them to offer a mechanism for rapid economic development.

This contrasts with governments in multi-party systems, in which the governing elites, though they emerge from highly disciplined political parties, govern through state rather than party structures, and exercise less control over the state and economy. It also contrasts with those one-party states where the party is based on fundamentalist religious or on non-Leninist nationalistic principles, and states with military dictatorships.

In terms of English usage "
communist state" needs to be distinguished from "Communist state". Whereas the former is a generic term applicable to political systems, style guides tend to restrict the use of latter to circumstances where a state is governed by a formally organized "Communist Party".

A communist party run government typically arises during a time of general international unrest as a result of a revolution led by a national communist party. Such a party may have operated illegally for a period prior to the revolution and have developed a disciplined and effective structure and a cadre of competent committed leaders marked by both idealism and great skill at organizing successfully among the disaffected classes of the preceding state, generally workers intellectuals and, especially in the case of China, peasants. Following a successful revolution, a switch in orientation must be made from seizing power to building a new society.

In the twentieth century, a number of countries were
communist states, most notably the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. All European communist party run governments abandoned communism in the early 1990s. The twenty-first century communist states are the People's Republic of China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos and Vietnam.The People's Republic of China has significantly modified its system and now deviates from the general pattern. Cuba and Vietnam remain communist party run states, but differ somewhat from the general pattern. North Korea remains a traditional totalitarian communist party run country.

This article is an exposition of the formal and semi-formal mechanisms of government and constitutional workings in communist countries. For a more general discussion of the practical consequences of communist rule, see communist government.

Communism as a form of government

In the 20th century, a number of Communist parties organized successful coups or revolutions and established governments in various countries; currently they are the only legal, governing parties in China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam after the dismantlement of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

Communist parties and Worker's in power draw on the writings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin for inspiration and legitimacy. Towards the end of the 20th Century nearly one third of the world's population was ruled by Communist governments. Today, the figure is one quarter. Although they promote collective ownership of the means of production, they are also characterized by strong state apparatuses. Many have characterized the old Soviet command model as "state
socialism" or "state capitalism".

The dominant form of
communism today is based on Marxism and is sometimes called Marxism-Leninism, a theory of history in terms of class relations based on a political and economic philosophy derived from the teachings of Karl Marx. Various revolutionaries in the twentieth century have contributed to Marxist theory, especially Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Mao Zedong. In the twentieth century, a number of countries attempted to put Marx's ideas into practice, especially in the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China; at various times they have had to allow or even encourage certain forms of private property. China today is moving toward more market allocation, what they call "market socialism" or "socialism with Chinese characteristics". Communist China claims to have preserved socialism under this framework, sustaining the world's highest rate of per capita economic growth for over two decades.

Communist theory claims that capitalist systems exist through the exploitation of the working class by the ruling class and argues that this system is destined to be replaced by a classless communist stage of society, after the socialist state "withers away". However, critics have often claimed that as practiced in nations such as the former Soviet Union it created a new division of power (see nomenklatura). The term is also used to refer to historical instances of totalitarian
socialism (as distinct from democratic socialism).

Regimes described as communistic have, according to most Western observers, generally been despotic and extremely abusive of human rights. Examples are the Soviet Union, the People's
Republic of China and Cuba. Democratic movements that arose within a framework of communist theory, such as that instituted by Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring, have been forcibly put down.

In Marxist theory,
communism is the final stage of social development, coming after socialism. Marx specified that the workers would rise up to destroy capitalism and replace it with socialism, but he did not explain how socialism would transform into communism, which anti-communists consider a serious theoretical flaw. In theory, prior to this final stage, the state holds the property on behalf of its citizens.

The term "
communism" and ideology has a history that predates Marx, however, closely associated with libertarian socialism (also known as anarchism, though that term has come to be associated with other political philosophies). According to Marxist theory, the state will eventually wither away because the class divisions that underlie the existence of the state will have disappeared. Prior to this final stage, however, state ownership is supposed to exist during a what is ostensibly a transitional period that Marxist theory describes as socialist. No Marxist government actually claimed to have instituted a "communist" society; instead, the official doctrines of these regimes held that their governments were only transitional socialist regimes.

There are various kinds of
communism or socialism; some kinds of communism are varieties of ideology, while others are terms for practices or styles of governance. Marxism holds--among other things--that human history has had and will have a developmental structure, alternating between slow development of technology/economy (and the according philosophy/religion) and a rapidly changing short period of technology/economy.

The short-lived Paris Commune of 1871, a brief revolutionary government after the defeat of France in
the Franco-Prussian War, was an early attempt at instituting a socialist regime, and Marx wrote approvingly of it. Bolshevism and Menshevism were also two early forms of communism-in-practice, advocated by Russian (mainly ex-patriate) communists in the late 19th and early 20th century; the Mensheviks favored peaceful change, while Bolsheviks called for, and eventually organised, a revolution, putting power in the hands of the soviets of workers and peasants. Leninism is the name given to Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin's system of thought, which emphasises a type of governming structure known as democratic centralism, and the need to spread the revolution to other countries, and to exclude any compromise with the bourgeoisie.

Lenin's rule gave way to Joseph Stalin's and Stalin's style of communist dictatorship is known as Stalinism; Stalin's government was violently repressive of individual liberties and of political dissidents and featured more five-year plans as well as massive industrialization, as a means of constructing
socialism in one country. Leon Trotsky opposed the doctrine of "socialism in one country", and criticized Stalin's regime as being a "bureaucratically deformed" worker's state. Followers of Trotsky are known as Trotskyists.

The practices of Mao Zedong are known as Maoism. Maoism differs from the traditional Marxism in the fact that the peasants are perceived as a revolutionary force as opposed to the proletariat.

Theory and practice

Communist states themselves do not use that name to describe themselves. Within Marxist theory, world communism is the final evolutionary phase of society at which time the state would have withered away. For them communism refers to the ideal stateless, propertyless, and classless society in which is no oppression or exploitation. Supporters of current Marxist-Leninist regimes consider these states to be practicing socialism, and not communism. In addition, current states are either in the capitalist or socialist phase of history, and the role of the Communist Party is to pull a nation toward the communist phase of history by first implementing socialism.

Political scientists, however, have developed the concept of
communist state to reflect claims made by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and others that the revolutionary state must be a "dictatorship of the proletariat," and that the working class is represented by the Communist Party. In practice, according to this theory, state and the party are effectively identical, and govern all aspects of the society -- economic and cultural, as well as political.

In the Soviet Union for example, the General Secretary of the Communist Party did not necessarily hold a
state office like president or prime minister to effectively control the system of government. Instead party members answerable to or controlled by the party held these posts, often as honorific posts as a reward for their long years of service to the party. On other occasions, having governed as General Secretary, the party leader might assume a state office in addition. For example, Mikhail Gorbachev initially did not hold the presidency of the Soviet Union, that office being given as an honor to a former Soviet Foreign Minister.

Within most communist states there are no restrictions in theory and few restrictions in practice on the power of the state, resulting in state structures which are either totalitarian or authoritarian. Some political scientists have argued that there are deep similarities between communist states and fascist ones and that both are examples of totalitarian states. The mainstream branch of
Marxism-Leninism sees restrictions on state power to be an unnecessary interference in the goal of pulling the society toward communism. Other Marxist-Leninists have argued that a state with absolute power is incapable of moving society towards a democratic system such as communism.

One controversial doctrine that was popular in the 1980s was the Kirkpatrick doctrine which argued that communist states were inherently "totalitarian" while right-wing dictatorships which the United States supported were "authoritarian".

Many Marxists and
Marxist-Leninists argue that most communist states do not actually adhere to Marxism-Leninism but rather to a perversion heavily influenced by Stalinism. This critique is particularly strong among social democrats and some critical theorists who hold that Marxism is correct as a social and historical theory, but that it can only be implemented within a multiparty democracy. Trotskyists argue that the bureaucratic and repressive nature of communist states differs from Lenin's vision of the socialist state.

The history of communist party run governments since 1917 is varied and complex, but it is possible to make some valid generalizations which apply to most examples: communist party run governments have been characterized by public ownership of productive resources in a centrally planned economy of the Soviet-type, or a mixed economy like China's "
socialism with Chinese characteristics"; and sweeping campaigns of economic restructuring such as nationalization of industry and land reform, in the forms of quasi-private agriculture in China, collective farming, or state farms. In some communist party run states, such as the Stalinist-era Soviet Union, a large secret police apparatus closely monitors the population. Autocratic methods are often employed to crush opposition.

Advocates of
communism praise Communist parties for running countries that have sometimes leaped ahead of contempary "capitalistic" countries, offering guaranteed employment. Critics of communism typically condemn Communist parties by the same criteria, claiming that they countries they run all lag far behind the "Free World" in terms of industrialization and general prosperity. They regard the Communist practice of making it illegal to quit one's job, or to hire a dissident or his relatives, tantamount to slavery.

Other claims include generous social and cultural programs, often administered by labor organizations. Universal education programs have been a strong point, as has the generous provision of universal health care. Western critics charge that Communist compulsory education is replete with pro-Communist and atheistic propaganda and that it severely punishes critical thinking.

Central economic planning has in certain instances produced dramatic advances, for example, rapid development of heavy industry during the 1930s in the Soviet Union and later in their space program. Yet other examples touted by advocates of
Communism, such as the development of the pharmaceutical industry in Cuba, have according to Western critics produced few discoveries of note (it is rather the West, particularly the US, which has produced the bulk of new drugs and vaccines). Early advances in the status of women were also notable, especially in Islamic areas of the Soviet Union. See Gregory J. Massell, The Surrogate Proletariat: Moslem Women and Revolutionary Strategies in Soviet Central Asia: 1919-1929, Princeton University Press, 1974, hardcover, 451 pages, ISBN 069107562X

Particular states

The nature of each example of the communist party run state differs widely both between countries and within each individual state. Policies which incorporate the policies and techniques of the orthodox Stalinist state of the 1930s are characteristically more totalitarian, impoverished, militaristic, and static as can be seen in the examples of North Korea and Albania. Attempts to incorporate democratic principles as in the case of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev, socialist principles as in Yugoslavia, or capitalistic techniques as in China result in some mitigation of the negative features of the communist party run state but sometimes result in dynamic situations which may undermine the control of the party over the state or even lead to its collapse.

Anti-Marxist one party states such as Nazi Germany and authoritarian regimes such as 1960s Republic of China (on Taiwan) do not adhere to Marxism-Leninism and are therefore not communist states. Conversely, the governments of the Indian states of Kerala and West Bengal, while ruled by communist parties, operate in a multiparty framework.

Communist states which have existed during the 20th century include the Soviet Union, (and its satellite states Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Mongolia), the People's
Republic of China, Albania, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. For brief periods communist regimes existed in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique and in other developing countries.

The Soviet Union, its satellites (including Mongolia and Romania), Yugoslavia, (which under Josip Broz Tito consistently protected its independence from Moscow) and the hard-line Stalinist regime in Albania, abandoned
communism in the early 1990s. The People's Republic of China has modified its system and now significantly deviates from the general pattern. Cuba, Vietnam and Laos remain communist states, but differ somewhat from the general pattern. North Korea remains a traditional totalitarian communist state.

People's Republic of China

In Mainland China, it has been firmly established that the party is subordinate to the state and the state has the power to regulate the party. This and the receding of the Chinese state from the economy has caused some political scientists to question the applicability of the term "communist" to the Chinese governing elite, and thus whether the term communist state remains an accurate description of the Chinese system.

Marxism-Leninism constitutionally remains the basis of the Chinese state and the Communist Party of China retains extensive influence over the state. Furthermore, although the Marxism-Leninism has been reinterpreted to allow extensive debate on some economic and political issues, the validity of Marxism-Leninism is still not subject to open debate. As a result, the term communist state is used by many, though not all, political scientists to describe China's current system of government.

For a complete discussion, see Politics of the People's
Republic of China.

Andrew G. Walder (ed.) Waning of the Communist State: Economic Origins of the Political Decline in China & Hungary (University of California Press, 1995) hardback. (ISBN 0520088514)
Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Panne, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stephane Courtois, Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, September, 1999, hardcover, 858 pages, ISBN 0674076087
Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History, Broadway Books, 2003, hardcover, 720 pages, ISBN 0767900561

Vladimir Putin "Anyone who doesn't regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart...Anyone who wants it restored has no brains." [1]

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