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The term communism describes a system of goverment based on a political and economic philosophy advocating collective public ownership of property, especially of means of production, derived from the teachings of Marx and Lenin. The term communism may also refer to the philosophy itself or to the final stage in social development held by Marxism to come after socialism. It is a development of classical forms of communalism and socialism.

Communism advocates the abolition of the division of society into classes, although critics have often claimed that as practiced in nations such as Russia it created a new division (see nomenklatura. The term is also used to refer to historical instances of totalitarian socialism (as distinct from democratic socialism). Regimes described as communistic have, according to most Western observers, generally been despotic and extremely abusive of human rights. Examples are the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China and Cuba.

In Marxist theory, communism refers to the final stage of social development. In theory, prior to this final stage, the state holds the property on behalf of its citizens. In practice, communist ideology is widely regarded as failing to live up to its stated ideals, with members and especially high-ranking officials constituting a new privileged class (see Nomenklatura). The term "communism" and ideology has a history that predates Marx, however, closely associated with (socialist) anarchism. According to Marxist theory, the state will eventually wither away because the class divisions that underly the existence of the state will have disappeared. Prior to this final stage, however, state ownership is supposed to exist during a what is ostensibly a transitional period that Marxist theory describes as socialist. No Marxist government actually claimed to have instituted a communist society; instead, the official doctrines of these regimes held that their governments were only transitional socialist regimes.

There are various kinds of communism or socialism; some kinds of communism are varieties of ideology, while others are terms for practices or styles of governance. Marxism holds--among other things--that human history has had and will have a developmental structure, alternating between slow development of technology/economy (and the according philosophy/religion) and a rapidly changing short period of technology/economy.

The short-lived Paris Commune of 1871, a brief revolutionary government after the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, was an early attempt at instituting a socialist regime, and Marx wrote approvingly of it. Bolshevism and Menchevism were also two early forms of communism-in-practice, advocated by Russian (mainly ex-patriate) communists in the late 19th and early 20th century; the Mencheviks favored peaceful change, while Bolsheviks called for, and eventually organised, a revolution, putting power in the hands of the soviets of workers and peasants. Leninism is the name given to Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin's system of thought, which emphasises a top-down party structure known as democratic centralism, and the need to spread the revolution to other countries, and to exclude any compromise with the bourgeoisie.

Lenin's rule gave way to Joseph Stalin's and Stalin's style of communist dictatorship is known as Stalinism; Stalin's government was violently repressive of individual liberties and of political dissidents and featured more [[five-year plans]] as well as massive industrialization, under the un-Marxist pretext of constructing "socialism in one country". Leon Trotsky opposed the doctrine of "socialism in one country", and criticized Stalin's regime as being a "bureacratically deformed" worker's state. Followers of Trotsky are known as Trotskyists.

The practices of Mao Tse Tung are known as Maoism.

See also:

Opposing view: classical liberalism.