Communist state

Communist state
A map showing the current (2011) states with self-declared communist governments. They are China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, and North Korea.
Map of countries that declared themselves or were declared to be socialist states under the Marxist-Leninist or Maoist definition between 1979 and 1983
History of
communist states
Present Communist States

North Korea

Elected Communist Parties by Country


Historical Communist States

East Germany

North Vietnam
South Yemen
Soviet Union

v · d · e

A communist state is a state with a form of government characterized by single-party rule or dominant-party rule of a communist party and a professed allegiance to a Leninist or Marxist-Leninist communist ideology as the guiding principle of the state. According to this principle public ownership of all means of production is necessary for the possibility to further the interest of the working class. According to Marxists, a multi-party capitalist state allows parties to represent interests of subgroups instead of the coherent whole, and because it allows private fortune, it allows private fortune to distort the political decision-making.

However, these states do not refer to themselves as "Communist states", but instead constitutionally identify themselves as socialist states or Workers' states. The primary goal of these states, and their justification for single-party rule, is to guide their respective countries in the process of constructing socialism.

Communist states may have several legal political parties, but the communist party is usually granted a special or dominant role in government,[1] often by statute or under the constitution. Consequently, the institutions of the state and of the communist party become intimately entwined, such as in the development of parallel institutions.

In the 20th century, most communist states adopted planned economies. However, there were exceptions: The Soviet Union during the 1920s and late 1980s and Yugoslavia after World War II allowed limited markets and a degree of worker self-management, while China, Vietnam and Laos introduced far-reaching market reforms after the 1980s.

The fundamental concepts of communist states often diverge from the original socio-economic ideologies from which they develop. As a result, many adherents of these ideologies often oppose the political systems commonly associated with these states. For example, activists describing themselves as Trotskyists or communists were often opposed to the communist states of the 20th century, claiming either that they have nothing to do with 'real' communism or that the ideology of such states has reached a point of irrevocable corruption.


Types of communist states

While historically almost all claim lineage to Marxist thought, there are many varieties of communist states, with indigenous adaptions. For Marxist-Leninists, the state and the communist party claim to act in accordance with the wishes of the industrial working class.

For Maoists, the state and party claim to act in accordance to the peasantry. Under Deng Xiaoping, the People's Republic of China proclaimed a policy of "socialism with Chinese characteristics". In most communist states, governments assert that they represent the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat.

These "Communist states" often don't claim to have achieved socialism or communism in their countries; rather, they claim to be building and working toward the establishment of socialism in their countries. For example, the preamble to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's constitution states that Vietnam only entered a transition stage between capitalism and socialism after the country was re-unified under the Communist party in 1976[2], and the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Cuba states that the role of the Communist Party is to "guide the common effort toward the goals and construction of socialism".[3]

Alternative names that states adhering to an officially "communist" ideology may assign themselves is socialist state or socialist republic. This is because these nations have not yet transcended capitalism or state capitalism and progressed toward pure communism in the Marxist sense, which can only be achieved once capitalism exhausts itself.

State institutions

Communist states share similar institutions, which are organized on the premise that the communist party is a vanguard of the proletariat and represents the long-term interests of the people. The doctrine of democratic centralism, which was developed by Lenin as a set of principles to be used in the internal affairs of the communist party, is extended to society at large.[4]

According to democratic centralism, all leaders must be elected by the people and all proposals must be debated openly, but, once a decision has been reached, all people have a duty to obey that decision and all debate should end. When used within a political party, democratic centralism is meant to prevent factionalism and splits. When applied to an entire state, democratic centralism creates a one-party system.[4]

The constitutions of most communist states describe their political system as a form of democracy.[5] Thus, they recognize the sovereignty of the people as embodied in a series of representative parliamentary institutions. Communist states do not have a separation of powers; instead, they have one national legislative body (such as the Supreme Soviet in the Soviet Union) which is considered the highest organ of state power and which is legally superior to the executive and judicial branches of government.[6]

Such national legislative politics in communist states often have a similar structure to the parliaments that exist in liberal republics, with two significant differences: first, the deputies elected to these national legislative bodies are not expected to represent the interests of any particular constituency, but the long-term interests of the people as a whole; second, against Marx's advice, the legislative bodies of communist states are not in permanent session. Rather, they convene once or several times per year in sessions which usually last only a few days.[7]

When the national legislative body is not in session, its powers are transferred to a smaller council (often called a presidium) which combines legislative and executive power, and, in some communist states (such as the Soviet Union before 1990), acts as a collective head of state. In some systems, the presidium is composed of important communist party members who vote the resolutions of the communist party into law.

State social institutions

Another feature of communist states is the existence of numerous state-sponsored social organizations (trade unions, youth organizations, women's organizations, associations of teachers, writers, journalists and other professionals, consumer cooperatives, sports clubs, etc.) which are integrated into the political system.

In some communist states,[which?] representatives of these organizations are guaranteed a certain number of seats on the national legislative bodies. In all communist states, the social organizations are expected to promote social unity and cohesion, to serve as a link between the government and society, and to provide a forum for recruitment of new communist party members.[8]

Political power

Historically, the political organization of many communist states has been dominated by a single-party monopoly. Some communist regimes, such as North Korea, East Germany or the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic have or had more than one political party, but all minor parties are or were required to follow the leadership of the communist party. In communist states, the government may not tolerate criticism of policies that have already been implemented in the past or are being implemented in the present.[9]

In addition, communist states are widely seen as being de facto dictatorships by historians and sociologists, as rigged elections have been commonplace under some communist governments.[10] Nevertheless, communist parties have won elections and governed in the context of multi-party democracies, without seeking to establish a one-party state. Examples include San Marino, Republic of Nicaragua [11], Republic of Moldova (since 2001), Cyprus (presently)[12], and the Indian states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura.[13] However, for the purposes of this article, these entities do not fall under the definition of communist state.

Objections to use of term

Not every country ruled by a communist party is viewed by left communists[14] and Trotskyists[15] as a communist state, and the term "communist state" has traditionally been used in Western political scientists and mass-media to refer to a specific type of one-party state.

Some communists, such left communists,[14] dispute the validity of the term "communist state". In classical Marxism, communism is the final phase of history at which time the state would have "withered away"[16] and therefore "communist state" is a contradiction in terms under premises of this theory. Current states are either in the capitalist or socialist phase of history – making the term "socialist state" preferable to many communists and marxist theorists[17].

Some socialists like left communists[14] oppose the idea of a vanguard party pulling a nation towards communism, and thus the term "socialist state" is liable to cause confusion. Others assert that the role of the communist party (i.e. the vanguard party) is to pull a nation toward the communist phase of history.

Some Marxists[14] have also opposed the usage of the term "communist state". Their critique may be based on a variety of arguments, but nearly all anti-Stalinist communists[14] argued that the Soviet model did not represent the interests of the working class. As such, Trotskyists[18] referred to the Soviet Union as a "degenerated workers' state" and called its satellites "deformed workers states".[18]


From the moderate liberal viewpoint

Totalitarian communist regimes have been criticized for their one-party dictatorships, totalitarian control of the economy and society and repression of civil liberties by the Council of Europe,[19] economic focus on heavy industry at the expense of consumer goods, sometimes resulting in shortages of vital products or even famine by Leonard E. Hubbard,[20] and militarism and propaganda to cover up the mistakes of the government by Peter Kenez.[21]

From the communist and socialist viewpoints

Within the socialist and communist movements themselves, there are a number of criticisms of using the term "communist states". Left communists,[22] Anarchists and some Trotskyists[23] point out the fact that the so-called "communist" or "socialist" states or "people's states" were actually state capitalist and thus cannot be called "socialist".

Modern period

List of current communist states

The following countries are one-party states in which the institutions of the ruling communist party and the state have become intertwined; hence they fall under the definition of Communist states. They are listed here together with the year of their founding and their respective ruling parties:[24]

However, in modern times it is questionable how communist these countries really are.[26][27][28][29] While these countries share a similar system of government and ideological roots, they make use of diverse approaches to economic organization and activity. In addition, the various communist states now use different terms to identify themselves and their social systems. The only communist state which still traditionally follows Marxist-Leninist doctrine and maintains a largely planned economy is Cuba, which describes itself as "a socialist state guided by ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin and in transition to a communist society". Cuba has adopted some market reforms, but very little in comparison to China, Vietnam, and Laos and is still very heavily a planned economy. North Korea has even more of a planned economy than Cuba, but officially follows Juche instead of Marxist-Leninism.

Democratic states with communist governments

There are multi-party states that currently have communist parties in government. Such states are not considered to be communist states as the countries themselves allow for multiple parties, and do not provide a constitutional role for their communist parties.

Moldova is perhaps the best example of a state where there is a large communist party that observes and operates within a democratic state.

Communist parties as part of other ruling coalition

In Cyprus, the ruling Communist party did not come to power by formenting a successful revolution, but rather by being elected to power and thus operate according to the norms of a multi-party system. In Nepal, the ruling Communist parties participate in a multi-party coalition government, an alliance of 22 parties that holds 350 seats in the 601-member constituent assembly. There are also some parties that participate as junior partners in ruling coalitions, as listed below.

See also


  1. ^ "The first defining feature of a Communist system is the monopoly of power of the Communist Party" : Archie Brown, The Rise and Fall of communism, Vintage Books, 2009, page 105
  2. ^ VN Embassy - Constitution of 1992 Full Text. From the Preamble: "On 2 July 1976, the National Assembly of reunified Vietnam decided to change the country's name to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; the country entered a period of transition to socialism, strove for national construction, and unyieldingly defended its frontiers while fulfilling its internationalist duty."
  3. ^ Cubanet - Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, 1992 Full Text. From Article 5: "The Communist Party of Cuba, a follower of Martí’s ideas and of Marxism-Leninism, and the organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, is the highest leading force of society and of the state, which organizes and guides the common effort toward the goals of the construction of socialism and the progress toward a communist society,"
  4. ^ a b Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, pp. 8-9.
  5. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 12.
  6. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1987, p. 13.
  7. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 14.
  8. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 16-17.
  9. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 18-19.
  10. ^ United Nations Human Rights Website - Treaty Bodies Database - Document - State Party Report - Germany
  11. ^ Kinzer, Stephen (15 January 1987). "NICARAGUA'S COMMUNIST PARTY SHIFTS TO OPPOSITION". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "Country profile: Cyprus". BBC News. 3 March 2011. 
  13. ^ Kerala Assembly Elections-- 2006
  15. ^ Tony Cliff: The Nature of Stalinist Russia
  16. ^ The oft-cited quote is borrowed from a variation of the English translation of Anti-Dühring 1878 by Friedrich Engels, Part III: Socialism - «The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property. But, in doing this, it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state. Society thus far, based upon class antagonisms, had need of the state, that is, of an organisation of the particular class, which was pro tempore the exploiting class, for the maintenance of its external conditions of production, and, therefore, especially, for the purpose of forcibly keeping the exploited classes in the condition of oppression corresponding with the given mode of production (slavery, serfdom, wage-labour). The state was the official representative of society as a whole; the gathering of it together into a visible embodiment. But it was this only in so far as it was the state of that class which itself represented, for the time being, society as a whole: in ancient times, the state of slave-owning citizens; in the Middle Ages, the feudal lords; in our own time, the bourgeoisie. When at last it becomes the real representative of the whole of society, it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the state really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society—the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society—this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not "abolished". It dies out
  17. ^ Badiou, Alain. The Communist Hypothesis, transl. by David Macey and Steve Corcoran; (New York: Verso, 2010
  18. ^ a b Leon Trotsky: The Revolution Betrayed
  19. ^ Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Resolution 1481 (2006) Need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes
  20. ^ The Economics of Soviet Agriculture by Leonard E. Hubbard, p. 117-18
  21. ^ Kenez, Peter (1985). The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521313988. 
  22. ^ STATE CAPITALISM | International Communist Current
  23. ^ Tony Cliff, for example. See: Tony Cliff's Internet Archive
  25. ^ Kim Jong-Il (31 March 1982). "On the Juche Idea". Retrieved 2007-01-03. 
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^

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