[ kom-yuh-niz-uhm ]
/ ˈkɒm yəˌnɪz əm /
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a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.
(often initial capital letter) a system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party.
(initial capital letter) the principles and practices of the Communist Party.


How To Use The Terms "Socialism" vs. "Communism"

Socialism and Communism are two words that fall under the category of: learned it a while ago, probably should know it, but actually don't because these are confusing are hard. So what do these terms mean?

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Origin of communism

From the French word communisme, dating back to 1835–45. See common, -ism


an·ti·com·mu·nism, nounpro·com·mun·ism, noun, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is communism?

Communism is an ideology or system based on the idea that the property of a community should be owned collectively and shared among everyone. In such a system, there are ideally no classes and everyone has equal power.

The word Communism is sometimes capitalized. When it is, it often refers to a political ideology.

The noun communist refers to someone who supports communism. It can also be used as an adjective to describe things involving communism or that operate under communism, such as countries or economies. It is also sometimes capitalized.

In a purely communist system, no one owns property individually. For example, people may work at a factory, but ownership of the factory or the machinery inside is collective and equal. The things made at the factory are shared by everyone or given to the people most in need of them. Under this form of communism, no one becomes richer than anyone else and so there are no economic classes of wealthy and poor.

In contrast, under a system of capitalism, the majority of property is privately purchased (with money) and owned, and the law protects the possession of it. In capitalism, a wealthy class often owns the businesses and a less wealthy class works for the business owners.

Political systems regarded as examples of Communism generally carry out (or aim to carry out) the economic theory of communism in a specific way. The transition to such a system is often thought to involve the elimination of capitalist society and the introduction of a one-party state that is supposed to ensure that everyone has equal wealth and equal access to any of the things that they need.

However, there are many varying interpretations as to what communism truly entails, and many common misconceptions related to it.

Communism is often compared to or confused with socialism. Communism is based on socialism and is often seen as an extreme or the ultimate form of it. Socialism is also based on community ownership of the means of production, often in the form of a centralized government. However, individuals can own the products created by the community. Communism, on the other hand, is generally based on the elimination of private property. Politically, Communism does not allow for a democratic form of government.

Communism is associated with (and often developed from) the theoretical system of Marxism, in which socialism is considered a middle stage in the transition from capitalism to communism.

Why is communism important?

Communism is a controversial and divisive concept and practice, and it has had a significant and lasting impact on modern history and global politics.

The first records of the word communism come from around 1835. It comes from the French word communisme, which combines the word common (in the sense of “equally shared or belonging to the whole community”) and the suffix -ism, which refers to an ideology or set of ideas.

Radical socialists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels heavily influenced the modern understanding of communism. Specifically, their 1848 book The Communist Manifesto influenced many political thinkers and leaders. Leaders such as Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro put Marx and Engels’ idea of communism into practice and formed totalitarian states with the stated goal of establishing communism.

Communism is associated with violent revolution, which many communists view as necessary to end capitalist systems they view as unjust. All of the above examples of Communist leaders are associated with such revolutions. They are also associated with their oppressive regimes, which are often cited as examples of the dangers of communism by those who oppose it.

Relatedly, communism is often viewed as the opposite of capitalism. The clash between Communist nations and those that oppose Communism has led to wide scale conflicts, notably the Cold War.

Did you know ... ?

Communism has historically been associated with the color red. Communist parties have often used red flags. This association has led to use of the word Red to describe things involving communism (including, sometimes, in a derogatory way by those who oppose it).

What are real-life examples of communism?

Historians and economists debate about what societies and systems constitute examples of Communism. Still, many nations have established systems labeled or widely regarded as Communism. Notably, the Soviet Union was widely regarded as Communist (though its name—the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—used the word socialist). Modern China is widely regarded as a Communist nation.

The topic of communism is extremely controversial, and many people have strong opinions about it in relation to their political beliefs and worldview.


Quiz yourself!

True or False?

The word communism always means the same thing as socialism.

How to use communism in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for communism

/ (ˈkɒmjʊˌnɪzəm) /

advocacy of a classless society in which private ownership has been abolished and the means of production and subsistence belong to the community
any social, economic, or political movement or doctrine aimed at achieving such a society
(usually capital) a political movement based upon the writings of Marx that considers history in terms of class conflict and revolutionary struggle, resulting eventually in the victory of the proletariat and the establishment of a socialist order based on public ownership of the means of productionSee also Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, socialism
(usually capital) a social order or system of government established by a ruling Communist Party, esp in the former Soviet Union
(often capital) mainly US any leftist political activity or thought, esp when considered to be subversive
communal living; communalism

Word Origin for communism

C19: from French communisme, from commun common
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for communism


An economic and social system envisioned by the nineteenth-century German scholar Karl Marx (see also Marx). In theory, under communism, all means of production are owned in common, rather than by individuals (see Marxism and Marxism-Leninism). In practice, a single authoritarian party controls both the political and economic systems. In the twentieth century, communism was associated with the economic and political systems of China and the Soviet Union and of the satellites of the Soviet Union. (Compare capitalism and socialism.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.