Communist state

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Map of countries that declared themselves to be socialist states under the Marxist–Leninist or Maoist definition—that is to say, "Communist states"—between 1979 and 1983. This period marked the greatest territorial extent of Communist states.

Communist state is a term used by Western historians, political scientists, and media to refer to states that are governed by a single party adhering to some variation of Marxist–Leninism as its guiding ideology.[1] However, contrary to Western usage, these states do not describe themselves as "communist" nor do they claim to have achieved communism. They refer to themselves as Socialist states or Workers' states that are in the process of constructing socialism.[2][3]

A "Communist state" is ruled by a one-party that professes Marxist-Leninism or some variation thereof, and aims to achieve socialism and then progress toward communism. Most communist states have been states with a form of government characterized by one-party rule or a dominant-party system, organized around the political structures of democratic centralism with the party supposedly representing the Vanguard of the working class.

Communist party as the leader of the state

In the theories of German philosopher Karl Marx, a state in any society is an instrument of oppression by one social class over another, historically a minority exploiter class ruling over a majority exploited class. Marx saw that in his contemporary time, the new nation states were characterized by increasingly intensified class contradiction between the capitalist class and the working class it ruled over. He predicted that if the class contradictions of the capitalist system continue to intensify, that the working class will ultimately become conscious of itself as an exploited collective and will overthrow the capitalists and establish collective ownership over the means of production, therein arriving at a new phase of development called Socialism (in Marxist understanding). The state ruled by the working class during the transition into classless society is called the "dictatorship of the proletariat". Vladimir Lenin created revolutionary vanguard theory in an attempt to expand on the concept. Lenin saw that science is something that is initially practicable by only a minority of society who happen to be in a position free from distraction so that they may contemplate it, and believed that scientific socialism was no exception. He therefore advocated that the Communist party should be structured as a vanguard of those who have achieved full class consciousness to be at the forefront of the class struggle and lead the workers to expand class consciousness and replace the capitalist class as the ruling class, therein establishing the Proletarian state.

Development of communist states

During the 20th century, the world's first constitutionally socialist state was in Russia in 1917. In 1922, it joined other former territories of the empire to become the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). After World War II, the Soviet Army occupied much of Eastern Europe and thus helped establish Communist states in these countries. Most Communist states in Eastern Europe were allied with the USSR, except for Yugoslavia which declared itself non-aligned. In 1949, after a war against Japanese occupation and a civil war resulting in a Communist victory, the People's Republic of China was established. Communist states were also established in Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A Communist state was established in North Korea, although it later withdrew from the Communist movement. In 1989, the Communist states in Eastern Europe collapsed under public pressure during a wave of non-violent movements which led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, the existing Communist states in the world are in China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam.

These communist states often do not 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,[4] 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".[5]

State institutions in Communist states

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 Vladimir Lenin as a set of principles to be used in the internal affairs of the communist party, is extended to society at large.[6]

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.[6]

The constitutions of most socialist states describe their political system as a form of democracy.[7] Thus, they recognize the sovereignty of the people as embodied in a series of representative parliamentary institutions. Such 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.[8]

Such national legislative politics in socialist 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 socialist states are not in permanent session. Rather, they convene once or several times per year in sessions which usually last only a few days.[9]

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 socialist 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

A feature of socialist 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 socialist states,[which?] representatives of these organizations are guaranteed a certain number of seats on the national legislative bodies. In socialist 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.[10]

Political power

Historically, the political organization of many socialist states has been dominated by a one-party monopoly. Some communist governments, such as North Korea, East Germany or Czechoslovakia 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 socialist states, the government may not tolerate criticism of policies that have already been implemented in the past or are being implemented in the present.[11]

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, Nicaragua (1979-1990),[12] Moldova, Nepal (presently), Cyprus,[13] and the Indian states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura.[14] However, for the purposes of this article, these entities do not fall under the definition of socialist state.


Communist states were criticized as one-party dictatorships, with totalitarian control of the economy and society and repression of civil liberties,[15] economic focus on heavy industry at the expense of consumer goods, sometimes resulting in shortages of vital products or even famine,[16] and militarism, censorship, and propaganda to cover up the mistakes of the government .[17]

In his critique of states run under Marxist–Leninist ideology, economist Michael Ellman of the University of Amsterdam notes that such states compared favorably with Western states in some health indicators such as infant mortality and life expectancy.[18] Similarly, Amartya Sen's own analysis of international comparisons of life expectancy found that several Marxist–Leninist states made significant gains, and commented "one thought that is bound to occur is that communism is good for poverty removal."[19]

Modern period

A map of states described as communist as of 2015

List of current states described as communist

The following countries are one-party states in which the institutions of the ruling communist party and the state have become intertwined. They are generally adherents of Marxism–Leninism in particular. They are listed here together with the year of their founding and their respective ruling parties:[20]

Country Since Party Leader(s)
 People's Republic of China 1 October 1949 Communist Party of China Xi–Li Administration:
 Republic of Cuba 1 July 1961 Communist Party of Cuba Raúl Castro
 Lao People's Democratic Republic 2 December 1975 Lao People's Revolutionary Party Choummaly Sayasone
 Socialist Republic of Vietnam 2 September 1945 (in the north)

2 July 1976 (unified)

Communist Party of Vietnam Tetrarchy:

North Korea

Multi-party states with governing communist parties

There are multi-party states with communist parties leading the 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 and Guyana have also recently had officially Marxist–Leninist ruling parties.

See also


  1. Busky, Donald F. (20 July 2000). Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Praeger. p. 9. ISBN 978-0275968861. In a modern sense of the word, communism refers to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Wilczynski, J. (2008). The Economics of Socialism after World War Two: 1945-1990. Aldine Transaction. p. 21. ISBN 978-0202362281. Contrary to Western usage, these countries describe themselves as ‘Socialist’ (not ‘Communist’). The second stage (Marx’s ‘higher phase’), or ‘Communism’ is to be marked by an age of plenty, distribution according to needs (not work), the absence of money and the market mechanism, the disappearance of the last vestiges of capitalism and the ultimate ‘whithering away of the state.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Steele, David Ramsay (September 1999). From Marx to Mises: Post Capitalist Society and the Challenge of Economic Calculation. Open Court. p. 45. ISBN 978-0875484495. Among Western journalists the term ‘Communist’ came to refer exclusively to regimes and movements associated with the Communist International and its offspring: regimes which insisted that they were not communist but socialist, and movements which were barely communist in any sense at all.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 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."
  5. 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,"
  6. 6.0 6.1 Furtak, Robert K. The political systems of the socialist states, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, pp. 8-9.
  7. Furtak, Robert K. The political systems of the socialist states, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 12.
  8. Furtak, Robert K. The political systems of the socialist states, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1987, p. 13.
  9. Furtak, Robert K. The political systems of the socialist states, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 14.
  10. Furtak, Robert K. The political systems of the socialist states, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 16-17.
  11. Furtak, Robert K. The political systems of the socialist states, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 18-19.
  12. Kinzer, Stephen (15 January 1987). "NICARAGUA'S COMMUNIST PARTY SHIFTS TO OPPOSITION". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Cyprus elects its first communist president", The Guardian, 25 February 2008.
  14. Kerala Assembly Elections-- 2006
  15. "Assemblée parlementaire du Conseil de l'Europe".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. The Economics of Soviet Agriculture by Leonard E. Hubbard, p. 117-18
  17. Kenez, Peter (1985). The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-31398-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Michael Ellman. Socialist Planning. Cambridge University Press, 2014. ISBN 1107427320 p. 372.
  19. Richard G. Wilkinson. Unhealthy Societies: The Afflictions of Inequality. Routledge, November 1996. ISBN 0415092353. p. 122
  20. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook: FIELD LISTING :: GOVERNMENT TYPE
  21. "DPRK has quietly amended its Constitution". Leonid Petrov's KOREA VISION.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>