Communism is a political, social, philosophical, and economic doctrine that aims to equalize the two classes of society—the working class and the wealthier "capitalist class"—so that the capitalist class will no longer profit at the expense of the working class. To achieve this aim, communism discards the capitalist economy, which revolves around private ownership of means of production (manufacturers, factories, and suppliers) and profit. Instead, communism adopts an economy in which the means of production are owned by all of the people (i.e., the government) rather than a few private individuals. In theory, this arrangement should enable more equal distribution of wealth and resources, with the government ensuring everyone gets an equal share. In practice, such balance has proven more elusive.
Communism is rejected by most western countries, especially the capitalist, democratic nations in Europe and the Americas, who feel that it results in a restrictive state-controlled economy and invasive, totalitarian government that greatly decreases its citizens' personal and financial freedoms. While many countries were previously under communist rule, what countries are still communist today? The answer may surprise you.
China is one of the few remaining Communist countries. The Communist Party of China is the founding and sole governing political party of the People's Republic of China. Vietnam, also known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is also one of the four remaining Communist countries. In Vietnam's third constitution, written in 1980, the Communist Party was stated as the only party to represent the people and lead the country.
Cuba is currently a communist country. Cuba is ruled by the Communist Party of Cuba, whose role is described in the Cuban constitution as the "leading force of society of the state." The Communist Party of Cuba adheres more strictly to the tradition of Marxism-Leninism and the Soviet model than the communist parties of other countries. Laos, or the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is one of the remaining communist countries. The country's only political party is the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, whose general secretary, Bounnhang Vorachith, is also the president.
North Korea is considered a Communist country; however, it does not consider itself one. North Korea is a "dictatorship of people's democracy." After the Soviet Union collapsed, North Korea revised its constitution to remove all references to Marxism-Leninism. All references to communism were removed from the North Korean Constitution in 2009. Cambodia was a communist state under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, which took over in 1970. Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy in 1993 with a king as head of state, a prime minister as head of government, and a parliamentary form of government.
Technically, Russia today is a "multi-party representative democracy." In fact, experts are even split as to whether Russia's former state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), was a communist, socialist, or "state capitalist" government. At any rate, Russia's 1993 constitution declared the country a democratic, federative, law-based state with a republican government. Russia has a dual executive consisting of a president and prime minister with the president, currently Vladimir Putin, as the dominant figure.
That said, few would argue that Russia is a truly free democracy, given the current administration's habit of jailing (or eliminating) political opponents, prohibiting a free press, preventing fair elections, and amending the constitution to enable Putin to remain in power until 2036 (the previous constitution would have required him to step down when his current term expires in 2024).
What are the significant differences between capitalism and communism? The largest difference is economic. Capitalism is an economic system involving free trade and industry that is owned and controlled by individuals, with the goal of making a profit for those same individuals. Wealth distribution is unequal. Every person needs to work for themselves to generate wealth.
Unlike capitalism, communism does not allow private ownership of trade or industry. Instead, profit-making enterprises have common ownership, which is to say they are owned by the community (in practice, this means the government). As in capitalism, all profits earned by the enterprise go to the owner—but in the case of communism, because the owner is all of the people, the profits are distributed among all the people. This is an egalitarian system, in which all people are equal and receive equal rights and opportunities. This is the theory. In real-world applications, as previously noted, capitalist elements are difficult to completely remove and the distribution of profits tends to be less balanced.
A second big difference between capitalism and communism is the level of control granted to the government. Capitalism favors a democratic system in which the government has very little influence over an individual's personal and economic freedoms. Communism, on the other hand, endorses a totalitarian government that is deeply involved in many aspects of life, from the price of goods to the salary one earns. This is one of the main reasons western countries dislike communism.
A true communist country is governed by a single party, and the foundation of the ruling leaders' decisions is based on the philosophies of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, two philosophers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818. Born in Germany, Marx grew up to become a philosopher who based his beliefs on economics, history, journalism, political theory, revolutions, and sociology. He established a way of thinking known as Marxism. At its core, Marxism advocates for the working class of an economy. It zeroes in on the differences between classes and how those differences impact the functioning of a society. Marx viewed capitalism as the source of many problems, including lower wages, heightened selfish behaviors, and greed surrounding wealth, as well as the ever-present emphasis on productivity in capitalist societies.
Through Marxism's lens, the political agenda that communism promotes is seen as a form of socialism. The two phases of communism, as identified by Marx, explain how communism unfolds and becomes regularly practiced in a country. The two phases identified by Marx are capitalism and socialism. Marx suggested that the end goal of this two-step process is a country that operates under communist ideologies, but that countries must understand capitalism before moving onto the elevated state that communism provides.
For example, if the understanding that people need to be paid based on the quality and quantity of their work is not already deeply ingrained in a society, then too many people would act selfishly and seek success for themselves at the expense of everyone else. Once the basics have been instilled, the country will be able to enter the second phase: fully-realized communism, in which equality is a universal goal of all people and class divisions and government are no longer needed.
Born on April 22, 1870, Vladimir Lenin followed in Marx's footsteps and crafted political theories based upon his observations about the state of the world. Lenin did not have identical beliefs to Karl Marx, but his ideologies were similarly rooted in communism and greatly resemble those of Marx.
Leninism goes so far as to proclaim that socialism can only be achieved once the working class reaches a level of political consciousness that government officials withhold. Under Leninist beliefs, the working class can only overthrow the government and successfully instill socialism once the people understand how the government works. The basic idea is to get inside the heads of government officials, figure out how they operate, and devise ways to unravel their power.
Under the combined political theory of Marxism and Leninism, the concept of private property and an economy centered on profits are replaced with public ownership and shared earnings. Communal control of both natural resources and the means of production are also characteristics of communism. This includes open access to mills, factories, and mines, to name a few sources of production. While the Soviet Union's economy was arguably communist (and arguably state capitalism, a closely related concept), it was also inefficient, which led to the country's collapse into 15 smaller countries in the early 1990s.
*Russia is generally recognized as the successor to the U.S.S.R., and assumed the former country's political appointments (such as to the United Nations), debts, and owned territories.
As World War II came to an end, many European countries allied with one of two international groups, based on the political ideologies they supported. Some countries supported democratic capitalist principles and joined what would eventually become the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Others supported communist ideologies (or were controlled by the U.S.S.R.) and joined the Soviet-controlled group that became known as the Eastern Bloc.
Additional Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries that were once communist include:
China, Laos, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam are the only Communist countries in the world.
A total of five countries are considered Communist: China, Laos, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam.