Communist party

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A communist party is a political party that seeks to realize the socio-economic goals of communism. The term communist party was popularized by the title of The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. As a vanguard party, the communist party guides the political education and development of the working class (proletariat). As a ruling party, the communist party exercises power through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Vladimir Lenin developed the idea of the communist party as the revolutionary vanguard, when the socialist movement in Imperial Russia was divided into ideologically opposed factions, the Bolshevik faction ("of the majority") and the Menshevik faction ("of the minority"). To be politically effective, Lenin proposed a small vanguard party managed with democratic centralism which allowed centralized command of a disciplined cadre of professional revolutionaries. Once a policy was agreed upon, realizing political goals required every Bolshevik's total commitment to the agreed-upon policy.


In contrast, the Menshevik faction, which initially included Leon Trotsky, emphasized that the party should not neglect the importance of mass populations in realizing a communist revolution. In the course of the revolution, the Bolshevik party which became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) assumed government power in Russia after the October Revolution in 1917. With the creation of the Communist International (Comintern) in 1919, the concept of communist party leadership was adopted by many revolutionary parties, worldwide. In an effort to standardize the international communist movement ideologically and maintain central control of the member parties, the Comintern required that its members use the term "communist party" in their names.

Under the leadership of the CPSU, the interpretations of orthodox Marxism were applied to Russia and led to the emergence of Leninist and Marxist–Leninist political parties throughout the world. After the death of Lenin, the Comintern's official interpretation of Leninism was the book Foundations of Leninism (1924) by Joseph Stalin.

Mass organizations

As the membership of a communist party was to be limited to active cadres in Lenin's theory, there was a need for networks of separate organizations to mobilize mass support for the party. Typically, communist parties built up various front organizations whose membership was often open to non-communists. In many countries, the single most important front organization of the communist parties was its youth wing. During the time of the Communist International, the youth leagues were explicit communist organizations, using the name 'Young Communist League'. Later the youth league concept was broadened in many countries, and names like 'Democratic Youth League' were adopted.

Some trade unions and students', women's, peasants', and cultural organizations have been connected to communist parties. Traditionally, these mass organizations were often politically subordinated to the political leadership of the party. After the fall of communist party regimes in the 1990s, mass organizations sometimes outlived their communist party founders.

A propaganda poster of the Communist Party of Vietnam in Hanoi HanoiPropagandaPoster.JPG
A propaganda poster of the Communist Party of Vietnam in Hanoi

At the international level, the Communist International organized various international front organizations (linking national mass organizations with each other), such as the Young Communist International, Profintern, Krestintern, International Red Aid, Sportintern, etc. Many of these organizations were disbanded after the dissolution of the Communist International. After the Second World War new international coordination bodies were created, such as the World Federation of Democratic Youth, International Union of Students, World Federation of Trade Unions, Women's International Democratic Federation and the World Peace Council. The Soviet Union unified many of the Comintern's original goals among its East European allies under the aegis of a new organization, the Cominform.

Historically, in countries where communist parties were struggling to attain state power, the formation of wartime alliances with non-communist parties and wartime groups was enacted (such as the National Liberation Front of Albania). Upon attaining state power these Fronts were often transformed into nominal (and usually electoral) "National" or "Fatherland" Fronts in which non-communist parties and organizations were given token representation (a practice known as Blockpartei ), the most popular examples of these being the National Front of East Germany (as a historical example) and the United Front of the People's Republic of China (as a modern-day example). Other times the formation of such Fronts were undertaken without the participation of other parties, such as the Socialist Alliance of Working People of Yugoslavia and the National Front of Afghanistan, though the purpose was the same: to promote the communist party line to generally non-communist audiences and to mobilize them to carry out tasks within the country under the aegis of the Front.

Recent scholarship has developed the comparative political study of global communist parties by examining similarities and differences across historical geographies. In particular, the rise of revolutionary parties, their spread internationally, the appearance of charismatic revolutionary leaders and their ultimate demise during the decline and fall of communist parties worldwide have all been the subject of investigation. [1]


A uniform naming scheme for communist parties was adopted by the Communist International. All parties were required to use the name 'Communist Party of (name of the country)', resulting in separate communist parties in some countries operating using (largely) homonymous party names (e.g. in India). Today, there are a few cases where the original sections of the Communist International have retained those names. But throughout the twentieth century, many parties changed their names. Common causes for these shifts in naming were either moves to avoid state repression[ citation needed ] or as measures to generate greater acceptance by local populations.

An important example of the latter was the renaming of many East European communist parties after the Second World War, sometimes as a result of mergers with the local social democratic and democratic socialist parties. New names in the post-war era included "Socialist Party", "Socialist Unity Party", "People's (or Popular) Party", "Workers' Party" and "Party of Labour".

The naming conventions of communist parties became more diverse as the international communist movement was fragmented due to the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s. Those who sided with China and Albania in their criticism of the Soviet leadership, often added words like 'Revolutionary' or 'Marxist-Leninist' to distinguish themselves from the pro-Soviet parties.


In 1985, approximately 38 percent of the world's population lived under "communist" governments (1.67 billion out of 4.4 billion). The CPSU's International Department officially recognized 95 ruling and nonruling communist parties. Overall, if one includes the 107 parties with significant memberships, there were approximately 82 million communist party members worldwide. [2] Given its worldwide representation, the communist party may be counted as the principal challenger to the influence of liberal-democratic, catch-all parties in the twentieth century. [3]

In the capitalist counter-revolutions of 1989–1991 in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, most of these parties either disappeared or were renamed and adopted different goals than their predecessors. In the 21st century, only four ruling parties on the national level still described themselves as Marxist-Leninist parties: the Chinese Communist Party, the Cuban Communist Party, the Communist Party of Vietnam, and the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (North Korea has abandoned Marxism-Leninism from its 2009 constitution but its ideology (Juche) is still considered a variant of Marxism-Leninism). As of 2017, the Communist Party of China was the world's second largest political party (until now), [4] holding nearly 89.45 million (2017). [5]


Although the historical importance of communist parties is widely accepted, their activities and functions have been interpreted in different ways. One approach, sometimes known as the totalitarian school of communist studies, has implicitly treated all communist parties as the same types of organizations. Scholars such as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Francois Furet have relied upon conceptions of the party emphasizing centralized control, a top-down hierarchical structure, ideological rigidity, and strict party discipline. [6] In contrast, other studies have emphasized the differences among communist parties. Multi-party studies, such as those by Robert C. Tucker and A. James McAdams, have emphasized the differences in both these parties' organizational structure and their use of Marxist and Leninist ideas to justify their policies. [7]

Another important question is why communist parties were able to rule for as long as they did. Some scholars have depicted these parties as fatally flawed from their inception and argue they only remained in power because their leaders were willing to use their monopoly of power to crush all forms of opposition. [8] In contrast, other studies have emphasized these parties’ ability to adapt their policies to changing times and circumstances. [9]

See also

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Leninism is a political ideology developed by Russian Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin that proposes the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat led by a revolutionary vanguard party as the political prelude to the establishment of communism. The function of the Leninist vanguard party is to provide the working classes with the political consciousness and revolutionary leadership necessary to depose capitalism in the Russian Empire (1721–1917). Leninist revolutionary leadership is based upon The Communist Manifesto (1848), identifying the communist party as "the most advanced and resolute section of the working class parties of every country; that section which pushes forward all others." As the vanguard party, the Bolsheviks viewed history through the theoretical framework of dialectical materialism, which sanctioned political commitment to the successful overthrow of capitalism, and then to instituting socialism; and, as the revolutionary national government, to realise the socio-economic transition by all means.

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Trotskyism is the political ideology and branch of Marxism developed by Ukrainian-Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and some other members of the Left Opposition and Fourth International. Trotsky self-identified as an orthodox Marxist, a revolutionary Marxist, and Bolshevik–Leninist, a follower of Marx, Engels, and 3L: Vladimir Lenin, Karl Liebknecht, and Rosa Luxemburg. He supported founding a vanguard party of the proletariat, proletarian internationalism, and a dictatorship of the proletariat based on working-class self-emancipation and mass democracy. Trotskyists are critical of Stalinism as they oppose Joseph Stalin's theory of socialism in one country in favour of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution. Trotskyists criticize the bureaucracy and anti-democratic current developed in the Soviet Union under Stalin.

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The Communist International (Comintern), also known as the Third International, was a Soviet-controlled international organization founded in 1919 that advocated world communism. The Comintern resolved at its Second Congress to "struggle by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the state". The Comintern was preceded by the 1916 dissolution of the Second International.

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Communism is a far-left sociopolitical, philosophical, and economic ideology and current within the socialist movement whose goal is the establishment of a communist society, a socioeconomic order centered around common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange—allocating products to everyone in the society. It also involves the absence of private property, social classes, money, and the state. Communists often seek a voluntary state of self-governance, but disagree on the means to this end. This reflects a distinction between a more libertarian approach of communization, revolutionary spontaneity, and workers' self-management, and a more vanguardist or communist party-driven approach through the development of a constitutional socialist state followed by Friedrich Engels' withering away of the state.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hoxhaism</span> Variant of anti-revisionist Marxism–Leninism

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Anti-revisionism is a position within Marxism–Leninism which emerged in the 1950s in opposition to the reforms of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Where Khrushchev pursued an interpretation that differed from his predecessor Joseph Stalin, the anti-revisionists within the international communist movement remained dedicated to Stalin's ideological legacy and criticized the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and his successors as state capitalist and social imperialist.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Orthodox Marxism</span> Official philosophy of the majority of the socialist movement until World War I in 1914

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  1. McAdams, A. James. Vanguard of the Revolution: The Global Idea of the Communist Party. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.
  2. These calculations are based on parties for which sufficient data is available. See Richard Starr, "Checklist of Communist Parties in 1985," Problems of Communism 35 (March–April 1986): 62–66, and the V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) Dataset at
  3. See A. James McAdams, Vanguard of the Revolution: The Global Idea of the Communist Party (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2017), pp. 3–4.
  4. "Nieuws". PVDA. Retrieved 25 February 2015.[ verification needed ]
  5. "Why the Communist Party is alive, well and flourishing in China". The Telegraph. 31 July 2017. ISSN 0307-1235.
  6. See Carl Joachim Friedrich and Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965); François Furet,, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917–1991 (New York: Free Press, 1995).
  7. Franz Borkenau, World Communism (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1962); Robert C. Tucker, The Marxian Revolutionary Idea (New York: W. W. Norton), 1969; McAdams, Vanguard of the Revolution;
  8. Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1989); Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy; and Andrzej Walicki, Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom: The Rise and Fall of the Communist Utopia (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997).
  9. See George Breslauer, Five Images of the Soviet Future: A Critical Review and Synthesis (Berkeley, CA: Center for International Studies, 1978); Stephen F. Cohen, Rethinking the Soviet Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986; and Martin K. Dimitrov, ed., Why Communism Did Not Collapse: Understanding Authoritarian Regime Resilience in Asia and Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013)