Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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A system of social organization in which goods are held in common.

Communism in the United States is something of an anomaly. The basic principles of communism are, by design, at odds with the free enterprise foundation of U.S. capitalism. The freedom of individuals to privately own property, start a business, and own the means of production is a basic tenet of U.S. government, and communism opposes this arrangement. However, there have been, are, and probably always will be communists in the United States.

As early as the fourth century B.C., Plato addressed the problems surrounding private ownership of property in the Republic. Some early Christians supported communal principles, as did the German Anabaptists during the sixteenth-century religious Reformation in Europe.

The concept of common ownership of goods gained a measure of support in France during the nineteenth century. Shortly after the French Revolution of 1789, François-Noël ("Gracchus") Babeuf was arrested and executed for plotting the violent overthrow of the new French government by revolutionary communists. Etienne Cabet inspired many social explorers with his Voyage en Icarie (1840), which promoted peaceful, idealized communities. Cabet is often credited with the spate of communal settlements that appeared in mid-nineteenth-century

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North America. Louis-Auguste Blanqui offered a more strident version of communism by urging French workers during the 1830s to organize insurrections and establish a dictatorship for the purpose of reorganizing the government.

Communism received, however, its first comprehensive intellectual foundation in 1848, when Germans KARL MARX and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto. As technology increased and industry expanded in nineteenth-century Europe and America, it became clear that the GENERAL WELFARE of laborers was not improving. Although the new democratic governments gave new freedoms to workers, or "the proletariat," the capitalism that came with democracy had created different means of oppression. By drawing on existing theories of materialism, labor, and historical evolution, Marx and Engels were able to identify the reasons why, despite periodic drastic changes in government, common laborers had been doomed to abject poverty throughout recorded history.

In the first chapter of The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels argued that human history was best understood as a continuing struggle between a small exploiting class (the owners of the means of production) and a larger exploited class (laborers in factories and mills who often worked for starvation wages). At any point in time, the exploiting class controlled the means of production and profited by employing the labor of the masses. In the capitalism that developed alongside democracy, Marx and Engels saw a progressive concentration of the powers of production placed in the hands of a privileged few. Although society was producing more goods and services, the general welfare of the middle class, they believed, was declining. According to Marx and Engels, this disparity or internal contradiction in capitalistic societies predicted capitalism's doom. Over time, as the anticipated numbers of the middle class, or "bourgeoisie," began to decrease, the conflicts between laborers and capitalists would sharpen, and social revolution was inevitable. At the end of The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote that the transfer of power from the few to the many could only take place by force. Marx later retreated from this position and wrote that it was possible for this radical change to take place peacefully.

The social revolution originally envisioned by Marx and Engels would begin with a proletariat dictatorship. Once in possession of the means of production, the dictatorship would devise the means for society to achieve the communal ownership of wealth. Once the transitional period had stabilized the state, the purest form of communism would take shape. Communism in its purest form would be a classless societal system in which property and wealth were distributed equally and without the need for a coercive government. This last stage of Marxian communism has as of the early 2000s never been realized in any government.


In October 1917, VLADIMIR LENIN and Leon Trotsky led the Bolshevik party in a bloody revolution against the Russian monarch, Czar Nicholas II. Lenin relied on violence and persistent aggression during his time as a Russian leader. Although he professed to being in the process of modernizing Marxist theory, Lenin stalled Marx's communism at its transitional phase and kept the proletariat dictatorship to himself.

Lenin's communist philosophy was designated by followers as Marxist-Leninist theory in 1928. Marxism-Leninism was characterized by the refusal to cooperate and compromise with capitalist countries. It also insisted upon severe restrictions on HUMAN RIGHTS and the extermination of actual and supposed political opponents. In these respects, Marxist-Leninist theory was unrecognizable to democratic socialists and other followers of Marxist doctrine, and the 1920s saw a gradual split between Russian communists and other European proponents of Marxian theory. The Bolshevik party, with Lenin at the helm, renamed itself the All-Russian Communist party, and Lenin presided over a totalitarian state until his death in 1924.

JOSEPH STALIN succeeded Lenin as the Communist party ruler. In 1924, Stalin established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) by colonizing land surrounding Russia and placing the territories within the purview of the Soviet Union. The All-Russian Communist party became the All-Union Communist party, and Stalin sought to position the Soviet Union as the home base of a world revolution. In his quest for worldwide communism, Stalin sent political opponents such as Trotsky into exile, had thousands of political dissidents tortured and murdered, and imprisoned millions more.

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Between 1938 and 1969, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hunted political radicals. In hundreds of public hearings, this congressional panel set out to expose and punish citizens whom it deemed guilty of holding "un-American" views?fascism and communism. From government to labor, academia, and Hollywood, the committee aggressively pursued so-called subversives. It used Congress's subpoena power to force citizens to appear before it, holding them in CONTEMPT if they did not testify. HUAC's tactics of scandal, innuendo, and the threat of imprisonment disrupted lives and ruined careers. After years of mounting criticism, Congress renamed HUAC in 1969 and finally abolished it in 1975.

In the late 1930s, HUAC arose in a period of fear and suspicion. The United States was still devastated by the Great Depression, and fascism was on the rise in Europe. Washington, D.C., feared spies. In early May 1938, Representative Martin Dies (R-Tex.) called for a probe of...

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