From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism ” --Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
"The Opium of the Intellectuals" --Raymond Aron
"George Orwell, a democratic socialist, wrote two of the most widely read and influential anti-communist novels, namely Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, both of which featured allusions to the Soviet Union under the rule of Joseph Stalin."--Sholem Stein
Communism (from Latin communis - common, universal) is a revolutionary socialist movement to create a classless, moneyless and stateless social order structured upon common ownership of the means of production, as well as a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of this social order. This movement, in its Marxist–Leninist interpretations, significantly influenced the history of the 20th century, which saw intense rivalry between the "socialist world" (socialist states ruled by communist parties) and the "Western world" (countries with capitalist economies).
The origins of communism are debatable, and there are various historical groups, as well as theorists, whose beliefs have been subsequently described as communist. German philosopher Karl Marx saw primitive communism as the original, hunter-gatherer state of humankind from which it arose. For Marx, only after humanity was capable of producing surplus, did private property develop. The idea of a classless society first emerged in Ancient Greece. Plato in his The Republic described it as a state where people shared all their property, wives, and children: "The private and individual is altogether banished from life and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and in some way see and hear and act in common, and all men express praise and feel joy and sorrow on the same occasions."
In the history of Western thought, certain elements of the idea of a society based on common ownership of property can be traced back to ancient times. Examples include the Spartacus slave revolt in Rome. The 5th century Mazdak movement in Iran has been described as "communistic" for challenging the enormous privileges of the noble classes and the clergy, criticizing the institution of private property and for striving for an egalitarian society.
At one time or another, various small communist communities existed, generally under the inspiration of Scripture. In the medieval Christian church, for example, some monastic communities and religious orders shared their land and other property (see Religious and Christian communism). These groups often believed that concern with private property was a distraction from religious service to God and neighbour.
Communist thought has also been traced back to the work of 16th century English writer Thomas More. In his treatise Utopia (1516), More portrayed a society based on common ownership of property, whose rulers administered it through the application of reason. In the 17th century, communist thought surfaced again in England, where a Puritan religious group known as the "Diggers" advocated the abolition of private ownership of land. Eduard Bernstein, in his 1895 Cromwell and Communism argued that several groupings in the English Civil War, especially the Diggers espoused clear communistic, agrarian ideals, and that Oliver Cromwell's attitude to these groups was at best ambivalent and often hostile. Criticism of the idea of private property continued into the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, through such thinkers as Jean Jacques Rousseau in France. Later, following the upheaval of the French Revolution, communism emerged as a political doctrine. François Noël Babeuf, in particular, espoused the goals of common ownership of land and total economic and political equality among citizens.
Various social reformers in the early 19th century founded communities based on common ownership. But unlike many previous communist communities, they replaced the religious emphasis with a rational and philanthropic basis. Notable among them were Robert Owen, who founded New Harmony in Indiana (1825), and Charles Fourier, whose followers organized other settlements in the United States such as Brook Farm (1841–47). Later in the 19th century, Karl Marx described these social reformers as "utopian socialists" to contrast them with his program of "scientific socialism" (a term coined by Friedrich Engels). Other writers described by Marx as "utopian socialists" included Saint-Simon.
In its modern form, communism grew out of the socialist movement of 19th century Europe. As the Industrial Revolution advanced, socialist critics blamed capitalism for the misery of the proletariat—a new class of urban factory workers who laboured under often-hazardous conditions. Foremost among these critics were Marx and his associate Friedrich Engels. In 1848, Marx and Engels offered a new definition of communism and popularized the term in their famous pamphlet The Communist Manifesto. Engels, who lived in Manchester, observed the organization of the Chartist movement (see History of British socialism), while Marx departed from his university comrades to meet the proletariat in France and Germany.
The 1917 October Revolution in Russia was the first time any avowedly Communist Party, in this case the Bolshevik Party, seized state power. The assumption of state power by the Bolsheviks generated a great deal of practical and theoretical debate within the Marxist movement. Marx predicted that socialism and communism would be built upon foundations laid by the most advanced capitalist development. Russia, however, was one of the poorest countries in Europe with an enormous, largely illiterate peasantry and a minority of industrial workers. Marx had explicitly stated that Russia might be able to skip the stage of bourgeois rule. Other socialists also believed that a Russian revolution could be the precursor of workers' revolutions in the West.
Its leading role in the Second World War saw the emergence of the Soviet Union as a superpower, with strong influence over Eastern Europe and parts of Asia. At the same time the existing European empires were shattered and Communist parties played a leading role in many independence movements.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union and relaxed central control, in accordance with reform policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The Soviet Union did not intervene as Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary all abandoned Communist rule by 1990. In 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved.
The Situationist International was a restricted group of international revolutionaries founded in 1957, and which had its peak in its influence on the unprecedented general wildcat strikes of May 1968 in France.
With their ideas rooted in Marxism and the 20th century European artistic avant-gardes, they advocated experiences of life being alternative to those admitted by the capitalist order, for the fulfillment of human primitive desires and the pursuing of a superior passional quality. For this purpose they suggested and experimented with the construction of situations, namely the setting up of environments favorable for the fulfillment of such desires. Using methods drawn from the arts, they developed a series of experimental fields of study for the construction of such situations, like unitary urbanism and psychogeography.
They fought against the main obstacle on the fulfillment of such superior passional living, identified by them in advanced capitalism. Their theoretical work peaked on the highly influential book The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. Debord argued in 1967 that spectacular features like mass media and advertising have a central role in an advanced capitalist society, which is to show a fake reality in order to mask the real capitalist degradation of human life. To overthrow such a system, the Situationist International supported the May 1968 revolts, and asked the workers to occupy the factories and to run them with direct democracy, through workers' councils composed by instantly revocable delegates.
After publishing in the last issue of the magazine an analysis of the May 1968 revolts, and the strategies that will need to be adopted in future revolutions, the SI was dissolved in 1972.
According to the political theorist Alan Johnson, there has been a revival of serious interest in communism in the 21st century led by Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou. Other leading theorists are Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Gianni Vattimo, Alessandro Russo, Jodi Dean (The Communist Horizon), and Judith Balso, as well as Alberto Toscano (translator of Alain Badiou), Terry Eagleton, Bruno Bosteels, and Peter Hallward. Many of these advocates contributed to the three-day conference, "The Idea of Communism", in London in 2009 that drew a substantial paying audience.
Theoretical publications, some published by Verso Books, include The Idea of Communism, edited by Costas Douzinas and Žižek; Badiou's The Communist Hypothesis; and Bosteels's The Actuality of Communism. The defining common ground is the contention that "the crises of contemporary liberal capitalist societies—ecological degradation, financial turmoil, the loss of trust in the political class, exploding inequality—are systemic; interlinked, not amenable to legislative reform, and requiring 'revolutionary' solutions".
- Mass killings under Communist regimes
- Communist culture
- Class conflict
- Cold War
- Do Communists Have Better Sex?, 2006, a documentary by André Meier
- Fall of the Berlin Wall
- Fall of communism
- Property is theft
- Left-wing politics
- Paris Commune
- Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
- Tragedy of the commons
- Industrial Revolution
- Socialist realism
- Common ownership
- The Communist Manifesto
- Surplus product
- The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks
- Proletarian revolution
- Redistribution of wealth
- You have two cows
- “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism .”
- Red Terror