“From each, according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This is one of the phrases that crystallize the meaning of communism. It isn’t easy to get an unbiased definition of communism, but one of the better ones describes it as socialism that abolishes private ownership and seeks to create a classless society.
Communism has been a major historical theme since the Bolshevik Revolution of Russia in 1917. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels popularized the communist ideology in their 1848 work, Communist Manifesto. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, founder of the Bolshevik Party, was inspired by this work and eventually became the first Communist ruler of Russia.
Communism sounds like a good idea. In the purest form of communism, all people hold all land, factories and so on in trust, as it were. In this way, all goods are shared equally by the people. There is no poverty — nor is there an upper class. In the Depression-era America of the 1930s, many people joined the Communist Party because it seemed to be sympathetic to the needs and desires of the worker, rather than to the bosses.
Unfortunately, communism in practice tends to be somewhat different, as those who have lived in the 20th century know. Communism as practiced by Lenin, Stalin and Chairman Mao is an entirely different proposition. This kind of communism sets up an authoritarian government, with the best goods and services going to those in government.
It was not uncommon in Soviet Russia for people to vie for government jobs — not because they were such fans of communism, but because they got a larger apartment. Capitalists gripe about corruption, but communist governments are just as rife with it as capitalist systems. Government members tend to rationalize that they deserve the best of everything because they are governing for the people.
Another problem with political communism is that governments tend to focus on “production” as the ultimate goal. Production is usually defined as that which comes from factories and farms. As a result, the arts may suffer under a communist regime. This was certainly true for years in China, when Chairman Mao instituted the “cultural revolution.” Since these governments tend to become insular and paranoid, they also usually form a secret police force to quash any hint of revolution by the people.
Communism would probably function well if humans didn’t have the unfortunate tendency toward greed. Some argue that if everyone had the same, no one would want more. This, of course, has been proven to be a fallacy over and over again. If there are no goals to achieve, and nothing to work toward except a production quota, where is the incentive to excel? Capitalism is not a perfect system either. It just functions better in the face of human greed than other systems do, as it offers the carrot of financial gain for hard work.
An article like this cannot delve into the minutiae of communism. However, there are many excellent resources on the Internet that discuss communism as an ideology as well as a political system. Communism is worth researching for a better picture of an ideology that helped shape history in the 20th century.