Political Theories for Students. Editor: Matthew Miskelly & Jaime Noce. Volume 1. Detroit: Gale, 2002.
Communism is a political and economic system in which citizens share property and wealth based on need. Private ownership does not occur. The idea of communism was set forth by Plato in The Republic in the 300s B.C. Plato’s ideas were followed by those of Sir Thomas More, who in the sixteenth century described utopias based on common ownership. Communism did not become a formal political system until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when Karl Marx brought communistic ideas to center stage. It was further developed and implemented by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, and after World War II, began to spread to countries such as East Germany, China, and Poland.
As the twentieth century drew to a close, communism began to experience problems. Though the most oppressive form of communism, known as Stalinism, had become obsolete, the state-owned systems were not able to provide for the public. One-party systems seemed to disturb personal freedom and create massive unrest. China began to allow private ownership in the 1970s and 1980s. Mikhail Gorbachev reformed the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and other communist regimes began to crumble in the 1990s. Many of these countries are still feeling the pains caused by decades of mandatory communism.
Communism is not a new idea. Industrial and political power was used for thousands of years to control the masses. Social prophets were born from this inequality, and they began to imagine a better system. The ideas that they came up with were communal.
Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah of the biblical Old Testament all examined the possibilities of a different existence, free from control and exploitation and full of life, equality, and vigor. Jeremiah, born in 650 B.C., imagined a new beginning. Everyone would be provided for equally, young and old would commune together, and justice would be the fabric to hold everything together. Similarly, Jesus Christ suggested a utopia as well, created from love. Jesus felt that a communal life would arise naturally from spiritual and social development. It would lack selfishness and cruelty and would thrive with the spirit of humility, service and communism.
The Greek philosopher Plato (428-348 B.C.) had more detailed ideas about how to improve upon reality. Plato lived during a war between Athens and Sparta and was inspired to invent a world without war. After having seen corruption thread its way through society, he became suspicious of any idea that allowed an individual to have greater importance than society as a whole. It was this sentiment that gave birth to his book, The Republic.
Plato’s ideas were based upon a desire for justice and equality that he longed to see in his society. . All necessities would be provided, but wealth would be prohibited. He argued that wealth creates negativity and laziness and that poverty begets apathy and a general distaste for life. He predicted that his perfect society would eat corn, wine, barley, and wheat. They would sleep on yew beds, wear garlands, and sing while they drank their wine. Plato’s Republic would consist of three classes: the artisans would build and produce food and clothing; the warriors would protect the city from whatever threats it encountered; and the guardians would preside over the city. The guardians were the smallest and most important group and should therefore be very carefully chosen and vigorously trained.
In the early centuries A.D. there were several Roman writers who focused on the ways in which society could be improved. They wrote about the evils of corruption and class struggle. They argued that community and shared material would foster a better system. The poet Virgil (70-19 B.C.) described a utopia with no fences or boundaries. Everything was shared.
During the reign of Henry II, towns sprouted up all over England. The towns needed to be able to provide for themselves, so the surrounding land was of great value to the inhabitants. However, gradually the nobility began to claim this land for its own purposes. Land that had formerly been communal for pasture was falling into private hands. The peasants, accustomed to cooperative production and communal living, were horrified by the nobles’ appropriation of the land. In 1381, communal ideals were asserted in the Peasants’ Revolt as the common folk demanded the return of the land.
Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) was affected by the tales of exploration that he had heard in his childhood. He was intrigued by the description of the people on the islands in Northern Africa who had no property but shared all the riches and despised the idea of personal property and status. These travel tales inspired More’s Utopia.
More wanted a new social organization. Utopia contains a slightly different version of communism than earlier works. It described a sailor who found the island of Utopia (the Greek word for nowhere.) The people of Utopia lived in harmony and communion without the crime and indignity so common in England.
Through his explanation of the sailor’s experiences on Utopia, More criticized the English legal system, inequality, and described the evils of private property. Utopia was an agrarian state, supporting itself with its agriculture. Many citizens conducted trade during part of the year but returned to the land to help during the harvest. Each person had his own specialty.
On Utopia, each day was divided into eight hours for sleeping and six hours for work. The remainder of each day was spent freely. Any surplus labor was used to repair highways. There was a monthly exchange of goods through communism. Families gave away everything they were not using and took whatever they were in need of. Though no one owned anything, everyone was rich in that they were entirely provided for. Money and the collection of gold or riches were forbidden. Formerly valued items were used in the most common way possible. Gold and silver, for example, were made into utensils and chains rather than coins.
Utopia’s government was made up of its people. Each group of thirty families elected a magistrate. Each ten magistrates elected an “archpilarch,” and they elected a prince. Criminals were sentenced to slavery and the slaves would do the work that no one else in the community wanted to do. Utopia was the most substantial communal idea written since Plato’s Republic.
Utopia became an English word to describe a flawless society. There were more examples and ideas of utopian communities, and these ideas spread throughout Europe. In the seventeenth century, John Locke (1632-1704) argued with other philosophers about whether or not communism existed in nature. Locke felt that it did not.
Other utopian writers and social reformers continued to speckle the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with new ideas about equality. Each had his own ideas of how to organize a perfect existence, and each thought that he had finally figured it out. Peter Chamberlen (1560-1631), a social reformer, introduced the idea that the backbone of any society was the worker who owned nothing. He made up the army, did the work, and had as much of a claim on the earth as did the noblemen. The abolition of wealth, he said, would simultaneously end poverty. If the rich were honest and strong of heart, the poor would not exist.
In 1817, Robert Owen (1771-1858) began to tackle the problem of unemployment with his theories. England had recently gone through a year of overproduction, and the need for relief grew until the House of Commons created a Committee on Poor Laws. Owen wrote a paper for this committee, explaining that the world had been taken over by wealth. Machinery had decreased the need for labor and the common man was not able to earn enough to buy what he needed to support his family. Owen felt that the best solution was communism and cooperative creation. He advocated self-contained communities, though not isolated from the rest of the world.
Anxious to attempt his own utopia, Owen bought Harmony, Indiana in 1824. He came to America and tried to create perfection in his colony, New Harmony. It failed. The failure was blamed on absolute equality of payment, regardless of the work put out. Despite the failure, Owen continued to write and publish works advocating communism. Utopianism swept through the United States and the idea of community gathered momentum in Europe.
The Beginnings of Marxism
Karl Marx (1818-1883) started as an advocate of communism and eventually developed his own theory with the help of Frederick Engels (1820-1895). Karl Marx founded the Communist League in 1847. When he published The Communist Manifesto in 1848 with Frederick Engels, a new brand of communism arose. The Manifesto explained that communism was the natural last step in the progression of society In order to get to this socialist state, a country must first evolve through slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. It was the dissatisfaction with capitalism and the realization of the working class of its lot in life that would spark the revolution needed to overthrow the former way of government and begin anew. Marx and Engels argued that industry and power would fall into fewer and fewer hands and that, at the breaking point, revolution would bring properties back to a base at which they would be shared. A central committee would govern over a society of equal members. Marx described this as socialism, using the word communism only to describe the perfection eventually achieved after the wrinkles of socialism were ironed out.
The French Revolution in 1848 created massive socialist excitement. Government had been so thoroughly corrupted that people revolted against the minority that had been controlling them for so long. A provisional government was set up in Paris, promising employment and a new standard of living for all. Democracy began to appeal to more people than communism, and over the next century Karl Marx’s ideas lost importance in much of Europe, giving way to the beginnings of democracy and reform.
The Soviet Union
At the same time, however, communism was gathering speed in Russia. Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924), the leader of an underground communist movement and a devout Marxist, became the leader of Russia when his Bolshevik party overthrew the provisional government in 1917. By this time, communism had become somewhat different than the utopia described by Plato. It was a totalitarian system with a single political party controlling the government and the means of production and distribution. The new regime, the Comintern, held its first congress in 1919. The Comintern established 21 conditions by which it would define itself. The communists wanted to set themselves apart from all other political movements. They wanted to be seen as unaffiliated with other related ideologies such as the older Social Democratic parties.
After Lenin’s death in 1924, a power struggle ensued between Joseph Stalin (1879-1953), the general secretary for the Comintern, and Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), the commander of the Red Army. Stalin eventually won the struggle and Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929. Stalin followed some of Lenin’s ideals, including economic policy and his interest in strengthening the Soviet state. Stalin completed the transition from marxism to communism, altering industry and agriculture to become communal. Stalin and Lenin agreed upon the need for industrial advances, but this is where their similarities ended.
Stalin felt that, rather than waiting for revolution to come to pass in capitalist countries, the Soviets could stand on their own. He believed in a one- country system and structured his regime accordingly. Communist policy changed dramatically when Russia and Germany entered a ten-year peace agreement in September 1939. Adolf Hitler, chancellor of Germany, was free to wage war against France and England. Until Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Communist parties were told to condemn the allied powers of Western capitalism.
Stalin also required the other Communist parties to conduct purges similar to his own. The purges were designed to eliminate disloyalty and skepticism in the ranks and resulted in the deaths of many members of the Soviet party. Stalin asserted his power through personal agents and through the secret police rather than through party channels, as Lenin had. Police violence quashed objections and this oppressive version of communism became known as Stalinism. Because of this change in policy, the party structure weakened. Internationally, other Communist party leaders mimicked Stalin’s hierarchy and it became the defining nature of Communism.
When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, much of the world expected a quick Soviet defeat. Stalin held his ground, however, and many of the evils of his rule were forgotten as he impressed the international community with his military prowess.
The Spread of Communism
While the Soviet Union and Germany were at war, Yugoslavia’s Communist movement, led by Marshal Tito (1892-1980), fought its way to power. Communism in Yugoslavia was modeled after the strict Stalinism. In other countries, Communist ideology was slowly replaced with anti-Nazi ideals. In 1943, the Comintern dissolved. It was no longer a tool for Stalin’s control, and its end gave weight to Stalin’s claim that the Soviet Union had abandoned its revolutionary ideas in favor of nationalism and security.
Stalin’s political and military superiority led him to create new policy. He decided to establish political regimes in the countries bordering the Soviet Union and that his country should be internationally recognized as the authority on Communism. His army, still in Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and East Germany when World War II ended in 1945, installed regimes similar to its own. Communism was also implemented in Czechoslovakia and North Korea. Yugoslavia and Albania also became Communist, but on their own accord rather than under the fist of Soviet Russia.
There were three phases under which the countries adopted Communism. The first was a coalition of Communist and Socialist parties in the name of genuine improvement, which lasted for several years in Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia. In East Germany and Poland, there was a much weaker coalition that gave deference to the Communist parties. Yugoslavia and Albania had even less Socialist party freedom. The Communists required fusion of all other Socialist parties and silenced opposition with varying degrees of legality. By 1949, all of the Communist countries existed in the third phase, without freedom of parties and subject to oppression and violence. The Socialist and peasant parties were attacked and extinguished.
Yugoslavia was different. The Communists, led by Tito, were heavily supported because of their role in the war. The People’s Democracy set up in the country was more closely related to Communist political structure than to other democratic countries.
In European countries outside of the Soviet bloc, the Communist parties had trouble clinging to the status they had held during the war. The parties in Italy and France retained relatively high percentages of support, but never held high office. Their power was limited to acts of disorder in line with Soviet policy.
After the war, several Communist parties had evolved in Asia because of the Western resistance to nationalism. In 1948, Communist movements erupted in Malaya, Indonesia, and Burma. After the surrender of Japan in September 1945, the communists under Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) collected power in Indochina. By the end of 1946, the Communists in the north were fighting the south. This was the beginning of the Vietnam War, which lasted until 1975. India’s Communist party gathered momentum after having supported Britain and experimented with Soviet-style violence after India’s independence but refuted this policy in 1950.
In China, Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976), also known as Mao Zedong, led the Chinese Communist Party to power in 1949. Though his party had developed with the help of the Soviets, Mao was not interested in being recessive. His party had won after a long guerrilla war. Stalin was unhappy with Mao’s autonomy and had planned to treat China as he treated the other countries in the Soviet bloc. Geographically and economically, however, China was in a stronger position to become its own entity and, furthermore, to become the Communist standard by which the rest of Asia measured itself. Other Southeast Asian countries did follow China’s example. North Vietnam became communist in 1954. In the 1970s, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia also became communist.
There was increasing dissension between the Soviet Union and China. In essence, both countries wanted to be the international Communist leader. On the surface, they fought over doctrine and details.
The Struggle for Power and Reform
Stalin continued to purge his population and those of the border countries. His expansion provoked a counter-offensive from the West, including the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, which created a permanent defense for Western Europe, and the creation of the atomic bomb which, from 1945 to 1949, remained in sole possession of the United States. Stalin refused the offer of the Baruch Plan, calling for international control of atomic weapons. Instead, he finally succeeded in creating his own atomic bomb in 1949, and the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States had begun.
Trouble was brewing between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Tito was unwilling to succumb entirely to Soviet control, and Stalin was unwilling to allow the Communist country to remain autonomous. The Yugoslav Communist Party was expelled from the Cominform, the new group of Communist parties. Yugoslavia’s independence created a new ideal—it had survived its challenge to the Soviet Union. The Yugoslavian Communists could now speak more freely about Soviet Communism.
Reacting to Yugoslavia’s breach, Stalin tightened his grip on the remaining countries and renewed the force with which he purged his population of anything anti-Stalin. The countries in the Soviet bloc were overflowing with anti-Stalin sentiment by the time he died in 1953, largely because of his quest to eliminate such feelings.
In the east, Korea was having a struggle of its own. After the defeat of Japan, Korea had been split in two with a Communist government in the north and a non-Communist government in the south. Both claimed to be the government for the whole country, and when North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, the United Nations condemned the aggression and approved American assistance to South Korea. There were now Communist struggles under way in Vietnam, Korea, and Eastern Europe.
When Stalin died in 1953, another power struggle ensued in the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971), the first secretary of the Communist Party, ultimately won control. He wanted desperately to undo what Stalin had put in place and to create a Communism not synonymous with misery and mass murder.
Khrushchev developed a policy of cooperation and integration with the satellite Communist countries. This replaced Stalin’s policy of exploitation. He established economic and political freedoms as well. He also tried to reconcile with Tito and Yugoslavia. The Soviet Union signed an agreement with Yugoslavia in 1956, stating that each Communist country was its own entity with none having the right to subject authority over others.
Also in 1956, Khrushchev delivered a speech critical of Stalin. Though this speech was not published in the Soviet Union, its text was published by the United States and was widely circulated among Communists worldwide. His comments sparked a feeling of freedom in the Soviet Union and began a wave of public criticism that had been suppressed for 25 years.
Internationally, Khrushchev’s statements began a wave of criticism toward Stalin-like leaders in other countries. Hungary’s leader was unseated and revolution began. The Soviet Union invaded Hungary in 1956 to end the revolution. After this seemingly contradictory act, Communists began to question Soviet leadership.
In 1957, Communist parties met in Moscow. At China’s insistence, the Soviet Union retained its leadership and, for a while, the rift between China and the Soviet Union seemed to evaporate. In 1959, however, the chasm widened. China grew suspicious of Soviet talks of “peaceful coexistence” with the United States, and the Soviet Union did not support China in its attacks on India. Economic relations were severed and the Sino-Soviet split continued.
In 1961, the Soviet Union began a public criticism of China. The struggle increased and destroyed the idea that Communism was a single viewpoint. The Soviet claim of leadership was weakening, and Communist parties divided themselves into pro-Soviet or pro-Chinese factions. The fact that there was a dispute at all allowed greater debate and freedom within the Communist movement. Soviet control steadily declined. When the Soviet Union tried to swallow Romania into its bloc, Romania resisted and remained outside.
When Khrushchev lost power in 1964, his successors tried to reunify the Communist movement. In 1969, 75 Communist parties met in Moscow. However, only 9 of the 14 parties in power were there. Asia and Africa were not well represented, and Cuba sent an observer rather than a representative. The conference was unsuccessful at rejuvenating the Communist union.
Reform was a reoccurring problem in Communist countries. The only country to attempt reform with mild success was Yugoslavia, who allowed its collective farms to fade away after their creation. Yugoslavia also created the Workers’ Councils to provide a voice to the factory workers. Furthermore, Yugoslavia argued that revolution was not necessary for Communism, that the Communist party did not need to be a one-party system, and that war grows from multiple powers in conflict, not simply from threats from the United States.
In Czechoslovakia, reform was chaotic. Alexander Dubcek (1921-1992) came to power in 1968 and tried to liberalize the country. He wanted to install civil liberties, a judiciary, and other democratic ideas. The Communists asserted their intentions to remain in the system, but Soviet leaders responded by invading Czechoslovakia in 1968 to protect against reform. This invasion surprised the international community and was seen as a Communist attack against other Communists.
Hope of détente, or peaceful coexistence with the West, gathered momentum in the 1970s. The international community began to envision acceptance between the Communist and non-Communist states. However, the Soviet leadership stated that it had no intention of changing its position, and countered this with its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
Eventually, the Soviet Union began to face trouble. Its economic growth slowed down, and criticism of its policies thrived in the intellectual community. Mikhail Gorbachev became the general secretary of the Soviet Union in 1985 and the president in 1988. He supported structural reform. Gorbachev announced that the Communist revolution had no place in his country, and his relaxed policies allowed increased freedom in the satellite countries.
Though Communism was waning in Europe, the Soviet Union, and Africa, it was gaining speed in Cuba, North Korea, China, and Vietnam. The Tiananmen Square student demonstrations in China in 1989 were violently suppressed in an attempt to prevent anarchy. Though China had also reformed some of its policies, advocating foreign investment, relaxing collective agriculture, and expanding personal freedom, its Communism remained relatively unchanged.
Communism has not succeeded in many ways. It is synonymous with the Cold War, Castro’s oppression of his people, the Tiananmen Square uprising, and of the continual struggle of the countries in Eastern Europe. It is difficult to say what lies ahead, and whether or not Communism will yet prove itself to be a viable system or if it will continue to lose ground.
Theory in Depth
Communism is a very general idea. Of ancient origin, communism means a system in which society owns property collectively. Wealth is shared according to need. Specific ideas on communism have evolved over the years, ranging from the utopian versions of Plato and Sir Thomas More to the more dictatorial creation of Joseph Stalin.
The first utopian communities were founded in the nineteenth century, but communism took a different road when examined by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels later in the century. Their Communist Manifesto was the first book identified as such, explaining the differences between the classes and the need for revolution to bring equality and, ultimately, Marxism.
Marxism has three main areas—philosophy, history, and economics. Philosophically, Marx agreed with George Hegel (1770-1831), a philosopher that he studied while he was creating his own theory. He believed that history was a series of conflicts arising from two opposing forces, a thesis, and an antithesis. When the two forces collided, they formed a third entity, the synthesis. This synthesis then became its own thesis, inspired an antithesis, and spawned a new synthesis.
Marx also felt that philosophy had to become real. He did not feel that it was enough to be an observer, He argued that, though observation was useful, little would happen until someone actually did something. One must attempt to change the things that he or she was unhappy with, rather than continually philosophizing about them.
Marx felt that history was made up of different methods of provision. He identified five: the slave state; the feudal state; capitalism; socialism; and finally, Marxism. The slave state exploited the slaves too much to succeed indefinitely, the feudal state did not allow enough freedom, capitalism created too much inequality, socialism would begin to iron out the wrinkles, and Marxism would step in as the ultimate social achievement.
He also explained that the most important aspect of society was the way in which it provided for itself. Its economic means could include hunting and gathering or grocery stores and factories. The tools used and the groups who owned the modes of production were also important aspects to any given society.
Economically, Marx discussed class struggle. He focused on capitalism, arguing that it stole freedom from its citizens and created false feelings of security and equality. He felt that the blue collar workers focused on the ways in which they were not exploited rather than on the ways that they were.
Marxism included the idea of alienation as well. With capitalism, a worker produced goods. He was paid the same wage regardless of the profit his product generated for the capitalist. Marx felt that this separation from the direct profit of the good alienated the worker. He also felt that by selling one’s labor as a commodity, one was alienated from oneself. Workers were not paid for their value, but rather were given an amount which would allow them to provide for themselves.
When Lenin took power in Russia in 1917, communism had become a fusion of Marxism, Russian revolutionary tradition, and the personal ideas of Lenin. Lenin’s version of marxism came to be known as Marxism-Leninism, and was a sort of transition step between marxism and communism. The general idea of communism remained the same, that is that wealth is shared and that no one takes precedence over another.
The Frankfurt Declaration of International Socialism in 1951 identified the goals and tasks of democratic socialism. The Declaration includes several ideas. It argued that socialism is international and does not demand rigid guidelines. Without freedom, socialism cannot exist, and socialism can only be reached through democratic channels.
The Declaration specifies that socialism would replace capitalism to ensure full employment, increased productivity and standard of living, equality of property, and social security. Public ownership might occur through nationalization or through private cooperatives. Trade unions were needed and economic decisions did not rest solely in the hands of the government.
Finally, the Declaration insisted that workers be compensated for their efforts. Socialism attempted to erase discrimination between social groups, races, and sexes. Imperialism was rejected, repression and oppression were shunned, and peace was reached through freedom. It was these ideas that defined the socialist movement in the twentieth century.
Theory in Action
The Soviet Union
Russia under Lenin
Vladimir Lenin brought marxism to the Soviet Union. While Russia was in the middle of the World War I, civil unrest swept through the country. The monarchy was forced out, and Tsar Nicholas II was ousted during a peaceful revolution. The tsar was replaced with a Provisional Government designed to promote democracy and capitalism. Lenin was against capitalism and desperately wanted to bring communism into his country. Lenin’s Bolshevik party encouraged peasants to seize land. The Bolsheviks infiltrated trade unions, political parties, and local governments. They slipped in through the cracks. At the end of 1917, though they had only won twenty-five percent of the vote in the free elections the previous summer, they took control by force. The Bolsheviks removed the Provisional Government and claimed power for themselves.
Lenin turned the land over to the peasants and began negotiations to get the newly created Soviet Union out of the war, and his popularity jumped. However, his practices gradually began to differ from marxist theory. Soon after he took power, he began to silence opposition and eliminate threats. He justified political and social atrocities and seemed willing to ignore the ideals of a Marxist communist, equality and freedom, in order to reach his goals. He closed newspapers that were not pro-Bolshevik and he got rid of the Constituent Assembly, which had been elected in 1917.
Lenin collectivized agriculture and confiscated goods and products from the peasants. He redistributed the materials to his troops. He felt that this was a first step to socialism, but the peasants revolted and civil war sprouted up all over the country. The Bolsheviks changed their name to the Communist Party in 1919. Civil war continued until 1921. It was between the Bolsheviks and virtually everyone non-communist, the Whites. The Whites received support from Britain, France, and the United States. Under the direction of Leon Trotsky, Lenin’s Red Army won, and by 1921 the civil war had ended.
A massive famine killed 5 million Russians from 1921 to 1922. Lenin’s confiscation of goods had left the peasants without provisions and without the desire to create more. Lenin reevaluated his policies and decided that his people would starve if he didn’t change his confiscation practices. He had hoped that his ideals would be easily put into place, but was finding it harder than he had anticipated.
In 1921, Lenin began his New Economic Policy, a concession to capitalism. It allowed for limited private property and compensation for goods taken from the peasants. Lenin wanted to stimulate production in workshops and farms through profit and efficiency incentives. This policy allowed Russians to support themselves for seven years, through Lenin’s death and the power struggle between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin.
Before Lenin died in 1924, he was concerned about corruption in the party. He had believed the Marxist ideal that, under socialism, there would be no crime or greed because everyone would be provided for. His party leaders, however, had become intoxicated with the power and fear that they held over the people. Communism had begun in earnest. There were frequent abuses of power and Lenin was terrified for the future of his country.
When Lenin died, there were two contenders for his position. Leon Trotsky was the head of the Red Army and the favored man for the job. Joseph Stalin was the crafty general secretary for the Communist party, who eventually won the power struggle through his cunning and political backing.
Stalin created a new theory that he called “socialism in one country.” Both Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin had thought that revolution would be contagious and that the movements in neighboring countries would feed off each other. Stalin saw no evidence of this, however, and felt that the Soviet Union could stand on its own. In order to succeed, he felt that his country needed to substantially improve its technology and industry.
By 1928, Stalin was controlling the government. He decided to alter the economic policy initiated by Lenin and instituted the first of many Five-Year Plans. His goal was to collectivize agriculture and to bring Soviet industry up to speed. The state already had control of the railroads, mines, large factories, and banks. Stalin took control of the smaller factories and peasant farms. He declared a need for communism in order to protect the Soviet Union from its capitalist enemies.
His first Five-Year Plan began in 1929. He ordered heavy industry to grow by 330 percent and general industry to grow by 250 percent. He also collectivized agriculture. Stalin felt that agricultural production would be increased on large, collective farms with machinery. Private ownership went against communist principles and was outlawed. Stalin needed to increase agricultural efficiency so that he could transfer some of the agricultural labor to his industrial labor needs.
Small peasant farms were closed and their land and tools confiscated. Stalin forced his ideas and, when he met opposition, he snuffed it out. Roughly seven million peasants were killed between 1929 and 1933. Many peasants slaughtered their livestock instead of giving their animals to the state. The productivity at the collective farms was poor. The peasants didn’t want to be there. They were paid little and they worked little. Famine swept through the country in the early 1930s. Stalin called it “war by starvation.”
In time, perhaps because Stalin realized that if everyone died there would be no one left to work, the peasants were allowed to farm small personal plots. Though these plots amounted to only three percent of Soviet farmland, they produced one third to one half of the potatoes, vegetables, meat, and eggs. Stalin had expected the collective farms to produce surplus, which he could export in exchange for machinery. Given that there was no surplus of goods, Stalin directed virtually all of the Soviet resources to industrial advances, leaving the collective farms to fend for themselves.
Stalin’s second Five-Year Plan was similar to his first. Though the plans did not achieve the agricultural success that Stalin had projected, they did make remarkable gains in industry. Steel and oil production tripled, with electricity and coal production close behind. The standard of living had plunged, however, for the Soviets that were still alive.
During the second half of the 1930s, Stalin began the Great Purge. Both he and Lenin had conducted purges to eliminate dissent and unrest, but the Great Purge was a much larger murder campaign than anything that had come before it. Millions of citizens were killed or sent to the labor camps where they were worked to death. Stalin eliminated three-quarters of the Communist Party leadership and crippled the economy as the military silenced dissension at every level. The Great Purge ended abruptly in 1938, after at least eight million deaths, and things returned to business as usual.
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the international community expected a quick Nazi victory. When his troops held their own, Stalin gained international respect for his military prowess. The Red Army defeated Germany, and pushed the Germans across its borders. It kept pushing throughout eastern Europe as well, and while occupying the region, installed puppet communist governments in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.
Communism spread along with Soviet power. When Stalin died in 1953, the Soviet Union was the world’s second military and industrial power after the United States. Millions of its citizens were either locked in labor camps or living in extreme poverty, but Stalin had created a superpower with the blood of his people.
Reformation in the Soviet Union
After Stalin’s death, reform came almost immediately. Attempts were made to increase food and consumer supplies. Party leaders spoke of the need to improve the standard of living, and Nikita Khrushchev, a peasant who had become an important Communist, became the new leader of the Soviet Union. He challenged the ideas of both Lenin and Stalin and tried to set his country on a new path.
On February 25, 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin and his methods in a secret speech which lasted four-and-a-half hours. His speech triggered mayhem. His “Destalinization” was designed to remove Stalin’s ideology from the previous communist theorists.
Khrushchev declared that, despite marxist claims, capitalism and communism could coexist. He argued that war was not necessary to choose a winner, but that the system better able to provide for its citizens would prevail. He felt that communism would be that system and, after 1956, spent much of his time trying to increase the standard of living so that communism would be the victor. His housing program was more successful than his farming program, but overall he won support. He reduced censorship and increased freedom. He insisted on communism, however, and power remained in the Communist Party exclusively.
Khrushchev also tried to improve foreign relations. He wanted to end the Cold War, the period of time after the World War II when the United States and the Soviet Union were relentlessly competing to outdo the other militarily. In 1962, however, the two countries almost went to war. The Soviets tried to put missiles in Cuba to aim at the United States. The United States threatened war, and Khrushchev backed down. His countrymen were furious at this embarrassment and he never fully recovered. The Communist Party leadership removed him from power and he was voted out of office by its Politburo in 1964.
Khrushchev was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982), one of the men who had unseated him. Brezhnev led the Soviet Union for 18 years until his death in 1982. He reversed Khrushchev’s economic decentralization program and tried to reinstate Stalin’s reputation. He continued to try to curb tensions with the United States and signed a nuclear arms control treaty in 1972.
Many Soviets wanted a return to Khrushchev’s reforms, calling for increased freedom and reduced state control. They began to resent communism, and a few Soviets openly criticized the limited freedom. Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989), the leading Russian nuclear scientist at the time, wrote a letter to the Soviet government in 1968. He argued that freedom was imperative and that, without it, the Soviet Union would cripple itself. He was put under house arrest and sent into exile. Not until Gorbachev’s glasnost policies in 1986 was Sakharov allowed to return to Moscow.
Also in 1968, the government issued the Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated that the Soviet Union would forcefully stop any of its satellite countries from turning to capitalism. The Doctrine claimed that socialism was irreversible—but the vow to forcefully stop any capitalist uprising seemed to be a contradiction of the Marxist doctrine of inevitable and everlasting communist revolution. Protests broke out, particularly among the minorities.
The Soviet economy was flagging and military spending usurped money that could have been used elsewhere. During the Khrushchev era, appliances common in the American home were almost nonexistent in the Soviet Union, particularly because these goods were not only rarely produced, but also almost never imported. It wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that an effort was made to produce great quantities of refrigerators, washing machines, and televisions. And yet, even when these things became common in the Soviet home, it took forever to get them repaired. Moreover, the United States and other Western countries were almost half a century into the transportation age before a car on the streets of Moscow became something other than a rarity.
Everyday services Americans took for granted were woefully poor in Soviet Russia in the 1960s. Since the government controlled the economy, there was no supply and demand. Thus, there was no incentive for people to provide quality service. Today’s Isms illustrates the typical frustration of a Soviet consumer: The Soviet shopper had to stand in line three times to buy something—in one line to see if an item was available, in a second line to pay, and in a third to exchange a receipt for the item. “A few supermarkets and self-service stores opened during the late 1960s, and more appeared during the 1970s,” note the authors, “but these made little dent in traditional Soviet methods of retailing.”
As frustrations mounted for Soviet citizens, bartering and bribery went on behind closed doors—indeed, sometimes the authorities knew but looked the other way. Quality items smuggled in from the West sold at outrageous prices. Domestic prices were kept low by the government, but the ordinary citizen didn’t have very much money anyway and there wasn’t always a huge selection of things to buy. Furthermore, union workers couldn’t address grievances because unions were expected to follow communist policy. The conditions of Soviet workers, in terms of worker’s rights and fringe benefits, were only a step or two above the conditions of workers in capitalist countries before the Industrial Revolution. Government housing favored intellectuals and government officials before the ordinary citizen. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that the Soviet government came out in favor of private home ownership. During this time, alcoholism grew as a means to escape prolonged misery.
When Brezhnev died in 1982, his country was struggling to keep itself alive. Millions of Soviets had ceased to believe in communism and felt its corruption rather than its ultimate goals of equality. Brezhnev was then replaced by Yuri Andropov (1914-1984) who died after fifteen months in office. Andropov was followed by Konstantin Chernenko (1911-1985) who tried to keep the country afloat. Chernenko died in 1985 after a year in office and Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-) stepped onto the Soviet stage.
Collapse of the Soviet Union
Gorbachev believed in Marx’s and Lenin’s ideas. He felt that his country needed reform but was not past the point of no return. He called for restructuring (perestroika), openness (glasnost), democratization (demokratizatsia), and new thinking (novoye myshlenie). Gorbachev met strong Communist Party opposition to his ideas of reform, but he decided to continue in spite of it.
In 1987, Gorbachev announced a list of changes. His reforms allowed citizens to establish private businesses. He lessened state power over factories and even began converting some of the military factories into civilian factories. In 1989, he allowed farmers to rent land for private business. Censorship dissipated and Soviets gained access to banned books and films. They learned the lies that the government had used to mislead them and saw themselves from a different perspective.
Also in 1987, Gorbachev signed an arms control agreement with U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1911-) The agreement eliminated medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe and did wonders for relations between the two countries. Gorbachev publicized his intent to cooperate with the West. He removed Soviet troops from Afghanistan to deflate increasing anti-communist activism.
In 1989 the first Russian elections since 1917 were held, and non-communists replaced communists all over the country. The Congress of People’s Deputies became the new governing body. Boris Yeltsin was elected to the Congress after having lost his job for criticizing Gorbachev. The mood in the Soviet Union grew more restless—there were strikes, and calls for independence from republics such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Gorbachev remained in power, but was coming under heavier and heavier fire, particularly in the Congress.
Things were even worse in other areas of society. The communist economy imploded before a capitalist economy could replace it. Shortages plagued the country and prices flew upward for the items in the free market. Food rationing began and workers went on strike. Russians began to organize non-communist parties and non-Russians, who made up almost half of the Soviet population, grew weary of their poverty.
Gorbachev’s popularity took a nose dive. Conservative communists criticized his reforms, and reformers, including Boris Yeltsin, who had left the Communist party in 1990, argued that his changes were too gradual. Communism began to crumble in many of the Eastern European satellite countries as well. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down in Germany. The following day, the Bulgarian communist government fell. Czechoslovakia installed its first non-communist government since 1948, and other countries followed suit.
The Soviet bloc collapsed, leaving only Yugoslavia and Albania to represent its communist power. Yugoslavia’s communism ended with its civil war in 1991, and the government of Albania disintegrated the same year. Gorbachev did not try to stop communism from crumbling. Reformers were still furious with the limitations of his reforms, and conservative communists were equally irate with the changes he had made.
On August 18, 1991, a group of conservative communists tried to return to the former version of communism. They took control of the government and put Gorbachev under house arrest. Though the coup failed, hundreds of thousands of Russians took to the streets in protest. Boris Yeltsin, who had been elected as the president of the Russian republic two months prior, led the resistance.
After three days of mayhem, Gorbachev was back in Moscow as the president of the Soviet Union. He didn’t last long, however, and the remaining shards of communism were swept away. Communist party officials were forced out of office and their documents were confiscated. Statues of communist leaders were knocked down and towns and streets were renamed. Gorbachev resigned his post and allowed Boris Yeltsin to take his place.
As communism ended in the Soviet Union, the country itself collapsed. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia had been trying to secede since the late 1980s. The Soviet government gave them independence. In December, Boris Yeltsin met with the leaders from Ukraine and Belarus and created the Commonwealth of Independent States, a lax union of states independent from one another. Communism had died, and had taken the former Soviet Union along with it.
The Rise of Mao Tse-tung
Communism crept into China after World War I. The successful Bolshevik revolution in the Soviet Union and the government that followed gave hope to a similar creation in China. Also, China had supported the Allies in World War I. The Chinese expected the German occupied zones of China to be returned to them, but the Western powers allowed Japan to gain control of them. The Chinese were furious and they lost faith in the Western powers and in their democracies.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was founded in 1921, with Soviet help. The party leadership was shared between Chen Duxiu (1879-1942) and Li Dazhao (1889-1927). The CCP took direction from Moscow. Moscow ordered the CCP to fuse with the Guomindang, the nationalist party, to form a “united front” that would unify China and effectively drive the Western powers out of Asia. In 1927, however, the leader of the Guomindang turned against the CCP and murdered thousands of its members. The alliance ended, and the communists who survived fled to the countryside to restructure. Mao Tse-tung was among them.
Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976) was the son of a peasant farmer who went against family wishes and attended primary school. He became interested in revolutionary literature and became a Marxist in 1921. He was a founder of the CCP and, after its victimization in 1927, decided that his party would never again be unable to defend itself. He felt that Chinese revolution would need to be based upon the peasantry rather than the proletariat, as Western Marxists argued.
The CCP party leaders did not agree with Mao’s ideas, and continued to take their direction from Moscow. Mao and his supporters were out of reach on their mountain base, however, and did as they pleased. In order to win the support of the peasantry, Mao and his followers treated them with respect. By 1931, Mao had amassed enough support to declare the independent state of the Chinese Soviet Republic. It was an island in the middle of the Republic of China, run by the Guomindang government led by Chiang Kaishek (1887-1975). Mao controlled his republic however, seizing properties from landlords and giving the reigns to the peasants.
Chiang Kaishek tried to crush Mao’s regime. He succeeded in 1934 and the communists fled China in what was to be known as the Long March. In a year, they walked over 6,000 miles. One hundred thousand began the march, but only 10,000 finished. When they ended the march in northeastern China, Mao became the party leader and built his new headquarters.
In 1937, Japan invaded the Chinese region of Manchuria. The war crippled the Guomindang forces. Chiang Kaishek was forced to sign a second agreement with the CCP in order to drive the Japanese out. During World War II, Mao developed the “Yanan Way,” named after his party’s base town. The Yanan Way comprised several ideas. The first was the “mass line,” meaning that the peasants were not second class. The party leaders needed to live and learn with the peasants in order to make decisions in their best interest while leading them toward socialism. The Yanan Way included a system of rigid control over the troops, as well as intense training. Nationalism was important as well.
By 1943, Mao was the chairman of the party. Communists were studying his writings and he was called the “Great Savior of the People.” When the Japanese were finally defeated in 1945, Mao and CCP had increased their stronghold to 90 million people and hundreds of thousands of square miles. The CCP was much more popular than the Guomindang, and by 1949, the CCP controlled the whole of mainland China. The Guomindang fled to Taiwan where it had American support. Mao was named the chairman of the People’s Republic of China.
Life Under The CCP
Initially, Mao followed Stalin’s example, but within two years began to deviate from the Russian model. In 1953, Mao instituted his first Five-Year Plan. His plan included the collectivization of agriculture, though different from that of the Soviet attempt. Peasants were asked to join collectives voluntarily. Those who did not join voluntarily were persuaded with threats of violence and execution.
Within four years, 90 percent of the country’s peasants were working on collective farms. The CCP began to divide, however, and when peasants had to give up their land, they resisted. Organizational problems spawned from lack of experience, and Liu Shaoqi led a movement to slow down the collectivization. Mao was bitterly opposed. Eventually, Mao continued at his pace but with some concessions, such as peasants being permitted to keep their own animals and personal farming plots.
The Five-Year Plan included industrial growth as well. Steel, electricity, and coal grew quickly, contrasting with the slow growth in agriculture, similar to the Soviets’ example. The population grew faster than the grain production. In order to combat some of the problems, Mao created the Great Leap Forward. He tried to tap into the revolutionary excitement of the populace to create a stronger work ethic.
Communes replaced collectives. The average commune farmed 100,000 acres with 25,000 workers. In order to promote equality, people were paid the same wage regardless of the work they did, and the peasants were asked to build factories on their communes so that they could work on industry after hours. Mao promised “hard work for three years, happiness for a thousand.” The Great Leap Forward was a dramatic failure. China lost Stalin’s economic aid. The commune factories produced worthless steel, equal wages created apathy, and China’s economy lurched downward. As
Mao continued as the party chairman but lost his post as the president. He was replaced by Liu Shaoqi who reversed many of the changes made by the Great Leap Forward. The communes were divided into “production teams” similar to collective farms. Peasants were once again allowed to farm small personal plots and within three years, China’s economy had righted itself. The road to recovery was paved with famine, however, and more than 20 million people died along the way.
The CCP split into the Reds and the Experts. Mao’s Reds subscribed to socialist ideals and communal living. Liu’s Experts argued that personal farming plots did not undermine socialism but, in fact, created successful workers.
When Joseph Stalin died in 1953, the gap between the Soviet Union and China began to grow. Mao had been unwilling to succumb to Soviet control, and China continued to create its own version of communism instead of following the Soviet model. Mao opposed Stalin’s successor, Khrushchev, and disliked his methods and ideas. Mao felt that Khrushchev was infected with capitalism and wanted nothing to do with him. In 1960, Khrushchev withdrew all aid from China. In 1962, Mao criticized Khrushchev for recalling his missiles from Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Antagonism between the two continued unabated.
In 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution and restored himself to power. Mao felt that Liu had been corrupted by capitalism, and he created the Red Guards, an organization of teenagers who had done poorly in school and welcomed an opportunity to act out their frustrations. His Red Guards grew to 11 million youths. Under Mao’s direction, the Red Guards attacked everything that was foreign, including Western art, books, and intellectuals infested with foreign ideas.
Plays, ballets, and operas were banned. China was enveloped by chaos. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were killed. Though he withdrew from the public eye in 1969, Mao remained in control until his death in 1976. After a failed attempt to gain control by the “Gang of Four,” Communist radicals, he was succeeded by Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), a supporter of Liu’s Experts.
Beginnings of Communist Decline
Deng began to unravel the sweater of communism. He instituted “The Four Modernizations,” allowing competition, incentives, farming independence, and management autonomy. Deng allowed economic freedoms based on capitalist ideals, but still cracked down on basic rights such as freedom of speech. Nonetheless, the Chinese economy improved as private enterprise was introduced. Moreover, Deng’s policies sought foreign investment and the creation of a thriving tourist industry. Western styles and customs began to appear in the youth culture.
A push for democratic reforms increased in strength during the 1980s. By the end of the decade, things had reached their breaking point. In May 1989, during a summit meeting between Deng and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, student protesters were such a vocal presence that the long-awaited summit turned into an embarrassment.
When the summit ended, thousands of students and other citizens congregated in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest corruption and call for reforms. After officials failed to convince the students to disperse, Deng declared martial law. The government pulled the plug on foreign broadcasts of the demonstration; many observers felt China was on the brink of civil war. Then, on June 3, 1989 the military was brought in to clear the students from the Square. Hundreds died as tanks rolled through the streets and bullets. The uprising was supressed, but China’s reputation in the international community suffered.
China has been trying to rebuild its reputation following Tiananmen Square. In the years preceding and following Deng’s death in 1997, Chinese leaders have been committed to opening up the country’s economy, even at the expense of introducing more capitalist aspects. Communism has started to decompose in modern day China. Deng’s legacy is that of a leader who was draconian in the area of human rights, but also of one who did a great deal to raise the standard of living and bring the Chinese economy into the modern world.
Today China more closely resembles the West in terms of the bustling street-side shops, lifestyles of teenagers, and relative economic freedom than any communist country in history. But the government has learned that their concessions to economic freedom have come with a price: the citizens begin to want other freedoms, too. However, it must be made clear that, although capitalist reforms have been introduced and have improved the economy, China is still a communist country.
Fidel Castro (c. 1926-) brought communism to Cuba. In the fall of 1958, Castro led a revolt against the government of Fulgencia Batista. Batista fled the country at the beginning of 1959 and, within a week, Castro and his Fidelistas were in control of the capital, Havana. Initially, many Cubans were happy with the revolt. They had been frustrated with the corruption of Batista’s government and looked to Castro to wipe the slate clean. However, it soon became clear that Castro intended to bring communism to Cuba.
Regime of a Dictator
Castro became the head of the armed forces and, within months, the president. Castro had gained support through his promises of a restored constitution, civil liberties, and honesty. Once in power he was more radical, however. Castro created a dictatorial one-party government. He instituted a centrally planned economy, nationalizing Cuba’s commerce and industry. He organized collective farms and cooperatives to produce sugar cane, confiscating land owned by foreigners to do this. The international community and the Americans in particular were outraged by Castro’s land confiscation. Under Castro, only Cubans were permitted to own land, and they were restricted in how much they could have. At the same time, Castro expanded social services to all Cubans regardless of stature. Employment was guaranteed and education and health care were made available to everyone. Cuba’s economy struggled, however, and Castro was an unsuccessful economic manager. Cuba depended on the Soviet Union for many of its necessities.
In May of 1959, Castro’s government signed the Agrarian Reform Bill. The bill was designed to change the ownership of the agricultural land. Less than 10 percent of the Cuban landowners owned over 70 percent of the land. The bill set a 1000-acre limit of ownership. Another Agrarian Reform Bill in 1963 changed the guidelines to allow for only 167 acres per landowner. Roughly 100,000 Cubans were given 67-acre plots to farm. Most of the land confiscated from the foreigners was turned into collective farms. Communism had begun in earnest.
In 1960, the First Deputy Premier of the Soviet Union, Anastas Mikoyan, visited Cuba. He gave Cuba a loan of 100 million dollars and pledged that the Soviets would purchase 5 million tons of sugar. China offered trade and loans, followed by the Soviet satellite countries.
Cubans who did not support the new regime were killed or imprisoned. Thousands of dissenters went underground or fled Cuba, often to the United States. Castro denounced the United States and accused the country of planning to invade Cuba. American citizens lost enormous investments that they had made in Cuba. Castro confiscated property and though he promised to compensate those he took from, he often did not.
Reactions to Castro
For two years, other Western governments tried to establish friendly relations with Cuba. At the beginning of 1961, the president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), ended the camaraderie. Castro accused Havana’s United States Embassy of plotting activities against his revolution. Eisenhower ended diplomatic relations and implemented a complete export embargo. He canceled sugar importation and closed the door to Cuba. Other countries followed suit. Except for Mexico, the other Latin American countries cut their ties with Cuba. In a 1962 conference of the Organization of American States, Cuba was voted out of the organization.
The United States, working with Cuban refugees who wished to overthrow Castro’s regime, planned an invasion of the island nation. The Central Intelligence Agency launched an attack of 1500 Cuban refugees on April 17, 1961. They landed at the Bay of Pigs, 90 miles from Havana. Over 1000 of them were imprisoned and their attempted coup was a failure.
In 1962, United States president John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) imposed an embargo on virtually all trade with Cuba. The Soviet Union signed a massive 700 million dollar trade arrangement with Castro, however, the Cuban economy was decaying. The industrial plants that Castro confiscated had broken down for lack of materials to keep them running. Agriculture waned and there was a food shortage. In March 1962, Castro began to ration food.
The Soviet Union began to ship military goods to Cuba, claiming that the goods were only for Cuba’s defense. The Soviet Union also said that it was sending only technicians to Cuba, not military personnel. In October 1962, tensions between the United States and Cuba came to a head as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. U.S. intelligence began to suspect that the Soviet Union was bringing missiles to Cuba to aim at the United States. Photographs from spy planes confirmed the presence of missile silos being constructed in Cuba. President Kennedy felt a threat to his country and called for a “quarantine” on the Soviet ships carrying the missiles and military cargo to Cuba. He stated that a Cuban attack anywhere in the West would be interpreted as a Soviet attack on the United States and that he would retaliate with nuclear weapons.
The United States was ready for war. The United States Navy hovered in the Caribbean until the Soviet ships turned away with their cargo. Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier, sent a letter to Kennedy offering to remove the missiles in exchange for Kennedy’s assurance that he would not invade Cuba. Kennedy agreed, the missiles were withdrawn, and the crisis settled.
Conditions between the United States and Cuba improved slightly. At the end of 1962, Castro offered to trade the prisoners he had taken at the Bay of Pigs for over 50 million dollars worth of food and drugs. In 1965, Castro allowed Cubans with American relatives to migrate to the United States. Many Cubans left the country in what became known as the “Freedom Flights.” Over 300,000 Cubans came to the United States between 1965 and 1973.
Soviet support for Cuba continued at roughly one million dollars per day. Cuba’s industrialization went poorly, and Castro continued to focus on agriculture.
Relations between the Soviet Union and Cuba began to sour in the later 1960s. After Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, the Soviet leadership had become more moderate and democratic. Castro continued his dictatorship, however, despite Soviet displeasure. In 1968, several Cubans in the Communist Party were arrested for siding with the Soviets. Relations improved for part of the 1970s, and the Cubans supported the Russians in the Angolan civil war in 1975 and 1976.
In 1976, Cuba instituted its first socialist constitution. A National Assembly of the People’s Power was led by the Council of States and the position of Premier was annulled. Castro was elected to be the president of the Council of States in 1976. In 1977, relations between Cuba and the United States continued to improve. The countries signed agreements on fishing rights and boundaries.
In 1980, almost 10,000 Cubans sought asylum in the embassies of Havana. When Castro loosened his emigration restrictions and opened the port of Mariel, 125,000 Cubans scrambled to the United States. The Americans tried to send them back, but Castro resisted. In December 1984, an immigration policy was developed between the two countries and the Cuban exiles were deported back to Cuba.
Later that year, Cuba suspended the immigration agreement after the United States began broadcasting radio programs to Cuba. When Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev began to reform the Soviet Union, Castro refused to change his policies to meet those of the new Soviet leader. In 1989, Gorbachev visited Castro and outlined cutbacks in Soviet aid. The Soviets had been giving five billion dollars annually and needed the money for their domestic struggle. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1990, the aid stopped completely. Castro was left without his largest supporter and trading partner. Shortages grew worse in Cuba and rationing became tighter. The Cuban economy flagged and Castro was forced to relax his economic policies to allow capitalistic ventures. However, he kept his tight grip on politics. Castro continues to enforce communism, and Cuba continues to struggle.
In June 1918, the Korean People’s Socialist Party was begun in Siberia. The party wanted freedom from Japanese control. The Koreans felt that the Soviet Bolsheviks would be able to help them with this cause and in 1919 changed their name to the Korean Communist Party.
Lenin contributed financially but did little else to help the Korean communists. On April 25, 1925, the new Korean Communist Party (KCP) was formed by a group of young intellectuals. The Japanese arrested as many communists as they could find between 1925 and 1928 and almost eliminated the communist support in Korea.
By the 1940s, the Japanese had so completely usurped control of Korea that communism dwindled. When the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II in 1945, the KCP tried again to increase its numbers. There was a struggle among the communists between the “domestic faction,” Kim II Sung’s (1912-1994) section, and the “Yan’an returnees” from China. Kim’s section accompanied the Soviet army to Korea.
In September 1945 the domestic faction began to rebuild the KCP. Kim II, however, began a branch of the KCP in North Korea and became its secretary in October 1945. In December, the group became known as the North Korean Communist Party (NKCP.) The NKCP merged with the NDP in August 1946. The NDP had been concentrating on the middle class, while the NKCP had focused on the peasantry and working class. Together, the parties became known as the North Korean Workers’ Party (NKWP).
Soon after, the KCP merged with the NDP in South Korea to form the South Korean Workers’ Party (SKWP). The SKWP struggled during the United States’ occupation after 1946. The riots and strikes that the party staged helped to keep some cohesion, but the SKWP became a guerilla party. At its peak, it may have had 370,000 members.
The South Korean government squashed radical leftists, driving many of the prominent communists into North Korea. In June 1949, the SKWP merged with the NKWP and formed the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) chaired by Kim II Sung.
The communists began the Korean War in June 1950. The Northern army had occupied most of the South by August, but the United States’ intervention prevented a victory. The truce in 1953 prevented the North from forcing communism on the South. Kim II Sung purged his ranks in 1956 and 1958 and got rid of all of the opposition that he could find.
Kim focused on a need to “koreanize” communism. He wanted to establish self-determination and nationalism. By the late 1970s, the KWP had an estimated 2.5 million membership. The party was organized similarly to Soviet party organization. The Politburo governed the party, followed by the Central Committee.
In 1973, Kim began the Three Revolution Team Movement. His goal was to speed economic development and eliminate old ideas. He sent teams of young intellectuals to factories and businesses to guide them into modernity until 1975.
Kim continued to rule until his death on July 8, 1994. His son, Kim Jong II, became the next leader in North Korea. In the 1990s, many high officials left the country and the economy struggled. There were also serious food shortages. U.S. sanctions decreased when a summit between North and South Korea improved their relationship. North Korea is still communist.
Analysis and Critical Response
Twentieth century communism has had disappointing results. The Soviet Union, her satellite states, China, Vietnam and East Germany have all gone through massive bloodshed in the name of communism. There are several speculations on why communism has met with so much trouble.
When the Bolsheviks came into power in the Soviet Union in 1917, the Soviets were weary from their tsarist history. They were poor, uneducated, and desperate for food. Their economy and industry was in the gutter and they were tired of losing their sons to war. Lenin pledged to change all of that, bringing goods to those who needed them and ending the war. He did get his country out of the war and he tried to create collective agriculture which provided for the country, but a shortage of resources meant that the little produce that existed was confiscated and given to his Red Army.
Many communist governments’ programs of forcing socialism or modernization on its people met with disastrous results. In China, Mao’s Great Leap Forward was a nightmare for many areas of society, particularly the education sector. The government interfered with teachers in the universities, and revolutionary ideals and nationalism replaced the standard curriculum.
Modern day China, with its economy thriving largely due to concessions to capitalism, is perhaps one of the strongest indictments against communism. Even the most dedicated Marxist would have a tough time arguing that the capitalist reforms of Deng haven’t been good for China. With continuing pressure from abroad regarding the government’s human rights policies and with Tiananmen Square still fresh in the minds of the people, many analysts feel Chinese communism won’t survive the twenty-first century.
And yet, there are many communist thinkers today who believe China is on the perfect Marxian path, that its economy was never truly socialist in Mao’s time, but rather an updated version of feudalism. With its introduction to capitalist reforms in the late twentieth-century, these communist thinkers say that China’s economy will become more capitalist until it has fully matured and will then make way for the true socialist revolution.
In the summer of 2001, Chinese President Jiang Zemin announced that the Communist Party would begin to accept private entrepreneurs as party members. However, even a small step toward democracy such as this probably had ulterior motives; it remains to be seen.
Another problem with communism could be the justification of the end by the means. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and other leaders proclaimed a desire for communism that would provide equality and freedom for the people. In order to reach such a state, however, the leaders ignored equality and freedom. They forced compliance with their decrees and crushed anything in their path. Millions of people were killed in order to reach utopian socialism, which has yet to occur.
The violent tactics used by most communist leaders have created a worldwide distaste for communism. The word conjures up images of East Germany misery, of the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989 when protesters were killed, and of Fidel Castro’s control of Cuba. Communism has seemed to come in tandem with dictatorship. This has meant a lasting dictatorship and an abuse of power rather than an ideal state which provides for everyone and exists without crime.
Marx felt that with marxism, crime would dissolve. He argued that criminals were driven to act because of their poverty and misery, but that with socialism there would be no such misery and, therefore, crime would dissipate. Rather than a lessening of crime, communism seemed to create a justification for heinous abuses of power. Because of dictatorships and forced compliance, leading members of the Communist parties were able to induce fear and acquire virtually anything they wanted. Their control allowed them to do as they pleased, and many of them did.
Marx also argued that the ruling class would only surrender after violence. Because of this, marxism and communism came to power after bloody struggles, both to overthrow the previous government and to convince the population of the need for communism. Violence is not the only option, however. All over Europe, slavery was abolished on paper and the ruling class allowed the slaves to improve their positions without a violent fight. Perhaps the bloody beginnings of communism led to its bloody future.