A Communist party is a party which advocates Communism. Many such parties formally use the term "Communist" in their official name. Communist Parties first began to be established in various countries across the world after the creation of the Communist International by the Russian Bolsheviks.
Throughout the 20th century, Communist Parties held power in several nations of the world. The total number of countries that have been ruled by a Communist Party at one point or another in their history is 21.
Many Communist Parties, especially in Europe, were created in the 1920s as a result of a split between two dominant tendencies within most of the Socialist Parties that existed at the time. The split was over the issue of whether revolution was necessary to achieve socialism. Those who supported revolutionary methods called themselves communists. Those who wanted a gradual transition from capitalism to socialism (evolution rather than revolution) kept the name socialists or social democrats. Shortly after the split, more differences between the two sides began to emerge. During the 1920s, the rift was characterized by the fact that the communists supported Marxism-Leninism, while the socialists supported only Marxism and rejected Leninism. Over time, however, this rift grew even wider, with both sides starting to develop separate branches of their own (for example, most mainstream social democrats had abandoned Marxism by the 1950s, and many communist parties were arguably drifting far away from the original Marxist-Leninist position during the same period, since they were under the influence of Stalin).
Most communist parties organized themselves according to the principle of democratic centralism. This, however, did not last very long. In theory, a party congress would elect a central committee, which elected a Politburo. In practice, the Politburo soon became self perpetuating and started to control the central committee, which also started to control the party congresses.
During the period of Stalinist domination of world communism (1929-1953), communist parties across the globe fell more and more under the influence of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its leader, Joseph Stalin. Stalin's opponents were purged first from the CPSU, then from the Communist International, and finally from most local communist parties, giving him absolute control over the communist movement. Anti-stalinist communists did attempt to regroup, largely under the leadership of Leon Trotsky and members of the Left Opposition, but the onset of World War II nullified most of their efforts.
Following Stalin's orders, the Communist International was dissolved in 1943. In the period between 1945 and 1949, following the end of World War II, Moscow-controlled communist parties were put in power throughout much of Central and Eastern Europe (7 countries in total). In Yugoslavia, communist guerrilas liberated the country from Nazi occupation and established a government without Soviet assistance. As a result, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia was not controlled from Moscow (and, indeed, it opposed the Soviet Union vigurously). Albania was liberated by communist partisans in a similar fashion, but it developed in a very different way from Yugoslavia. The Albanian government sided with the Soviet Union early on, then took the side of the Communist Party of China in the Sino-Soviet split.
Members of communist parties were persecuted in many countries in the early Cold War period, when anti-communist sentiment was fueled by Western governments as part of their Cold War strategy. Nevertheless, in countries such as Italy and France, large Communist Parties gathered a lot of popular support and played a prominent part in politics through the post-war decades. They developed a variant of communist ideology known as Eurocommunism. This called for a socialist planned economy under the administration of a democratic government, and a multi-party system of free elections. This was a clear break with the Soviet line, but many of these parties continued to maintain good, or at least diplomatic, relations with the Soviet Union.
In the third world, communist parties became popular in some areas because they promised the overthrow of a governmental structure that many people considered oppressive. Often, communists played the dominant role in struggles for independence against colonial powers. However, the resulting wars usually became emeshed into the Cold War, with the Soviet Union supporting communist forces and the United States supporting anti-communist ones.
There were major differences of vision within the communist movement, however. Besides the original split between stalinists and non-stalinists (mentioned a few paragraphs above), there were also a series of secondary ones. Within the "stalinist camp", the Sino-Soviet split between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China in the early 1960's was by far the most important, with global consequences.
During the last two decades of the Cold War, a number of countries have had short-lived communist governments. Besides these, however, there were also two long-term gains by communist parties: Vietnam and Laos.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, communist parties lost power in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In many places, communist parties re-organized themselves as new socialist or social democratic parties, while in other places they remained communist. At this point in time, communist parties are in power in Cuba, the Peoples Republic of China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. However, in the People's Republic of China, and to a lesser extent Vietnam and Laos, the ruling communist parties have significantly altered their ideology, towards adopting market-oriented economics. This has sparked some major controversy, particularly in the case of the Communist Party of China, which is considered by many communists to have completely abandoned communism.
Meanwhile, in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, the Communist Party was elected back into power. However, as of 2004, this nominally communist government has not distinguished itself in any significant way from the capitalist government which preceded it.
Communist parties currently (October 2004) participate in coalition governments in Cyprus, Venezuela, Nepal, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Senegal, Syria and Iraq (interim government appointed by occupation forces). Over the past 15 years, communist parties have also participated in coalition governments in France, Italy, Greece and India.
There over a hundred of communist parties in existence today, and their fortunes vary widely. Some are growing, others are in decline. See the List of Communist Parties and World Communist Movement for more details.
Structure of Communist Parties
Communist parties have a number of commonalities of structure, which are based on democratic centralism and the structure of the original Russian Communist Party. In principle, a party congress elects a central committee which elects a politburo which, in turn, elects a general secretary. In practice, elections were rarely contested after Stalin consolidated power in the Soviet Union and, ultimately, over the majority of the communist movement. By the 1930s, the membership of the central organs of the party was determined by internal negotiations. The present-day situation differs from party to party.
- Karl Marx, laid the theoretical groundwork for communism.
- Fredrick Engels, Marx's friend and collaborator.
- Rosa Luxemburg, co-founder of the Communist Party of Germany
- Karl Liebknecht, co-founder of the Communist Party of Germany
- Vladimir Lenin, architect of the Russian Revolution and leader of Soviet Russia
- Josef Stalin, highly controversial leader of the Soviet Union
- Leon Trotsky, founder of the Red Army, leader of the Left Opposition against Stalin.
- Nikolai Bukharin, architect of the New Economic Policy, leader of the Right Opposition against Stalin.
- Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin's successor, instituted destalinization
- Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the USSR from the mid-1960s to 1982
- Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet reformer and last leader of the USSR and CPSU
- Josip Broz Tito, leader of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
- Edvard Kardelj, Yugoslav Communist
- Milovan Djilas, Yugoslav Communist and critic
- Enver Hoxha, hardline Stalinist leader of Albania
- Georges Marchais, long time leader of the French Communist Party
- Enrico Berlinguer, long time leader of the Italian Communist party
- Fidel Castro, leader of Cuba
- Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China
- Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam
- Pablo Picasso, artist and member of the French Communist Party
- Bertolt Brecht, playwright and German Communist
- Bob Avakian, Maoist theorist and leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA
See also: List of socialists
- List of Communist Parties
- World Communist Movement
- Euro Communism
- Communist State