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A communist state is a state with a form of government characterized by single-party rule or dominant-party system by a communist party (referred as Dictatorship of the Proletariat by its proponents) and a professed allegiance to a Leninist or Marxist–Leninist ideology as the guiding principle of the state. Technically, "communist state" is a contradictio in terminis as a communist society is in principle stateless. From this perspective, the term Marxist-Leninist state is more appropriate.
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. The state ruled by the working class during the transition into classless society is called the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Russian theoretician Vladimir Lenin further expounded upon this concept with the understanding of the revolutionary vanguard. 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 Communist state.
In a Communist state, the Communist party is the nucleus of socialist society. Other parties may function alongside the Communist party occasionally, but parties advocating the restoration of capitalism are typically prohibited. Using Marxism-Leninism as a method of understanding the material and social conditions of society, the Communist party governs according to what the society's historical and national characteristics demand in order to unleash the productive forces and further advance towards communism. This has been done through a variety of methods in conforming to local circumstances. For example, in Russia and the Soviet Union in the 1920s, a regulated market economy was initially implemented due to the country's lack of infrastructural development and to overcome the devastation of civil war. But into the 1930s, the economy of the Soviet Union was characterized by assessment planning, heavy industrialization, and a centralized bureaucracy headquartered in Moscow. Similarly, the People's Republic of China operated almost entirely along plans of development until the 1980s when it opened its economy to foreign investment, allowing for market development alongside planned development. Reliance on markets and planning have varied in different Communist states, but most such states are characterized by state monopoly over land ownership, full union representation in the workforce, and social security systems to provide for those unable to work.
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. After the Second World War, 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, Laos, Vietnam, and Cuba.
While historically almost all claim lineage to Marxist thought, there are many varieties of socialist states, with indigenous adaptions.
These Socialist 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, 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".
Alternative names that states adhering to an officially communist ideology may assign themselves is socialist state, socialist republic or "people's republic". This is because these nations have not yet transcended capitalism or state capitalism and progressed toward pure communism in the Marxist sense, which can only be achieved once capitalism exhausts itself.
Marxist-Leninist 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.
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.
The constitutions of most socialist states describe their political system as a form of democracy. 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.
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.
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.
Another 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.
Historically, the political organization of many socialist states has been dominated by a single-party monopoly. Some communist governments, such as North Korea, East Germany or the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic 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.
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, Republic of Nicaragua, Moldova, Nepal (presently), Cyprus, and the Indian states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. However, for the purposes of this article, these entities do not fall under the definition of socialist state.
The states ruled by communist political parties nonetheless self-identified as socialist states rather than as "communist states", because they did not consider themselves to have achieved the classless and stateless society known as communism. In Marxism, communism is the final phase of history at which time the state would have "withered away" and therefore "communist state" is a contradiction in terms under premises of this definition. Current states are either in the capitalist or socialist phase of history – making the term "socialist state" preferable to many communists and Marxist theorists.
Totalitarian communist regimes have been criticized for their one-party dictatorships, totalitarian control of the economy and society and repression of civil liberties by the Council of Europe, economic focus on heavy industry at the expense of consumer goods, sometimes resulting in shortages of vital products or even famine, and militarism and propaganda to cover up the mistakes of the government .
Within the socialist and communist movements themselves, there are a number of criticisms of using the term "socialist states". Left communists, Anarchists and some Trotskyists contend that because these countries were not technologically developed enough for communism or even socialism to be feasible, they cannot be called "communist" or "socialist", as they actually had state capitalist economies.
The following countries are one-party states in which the institutions of the ruling communist party and the state have become intertwined; hence they fall under the definition of Socialist states that officially support communism. They are generally adherents of Marxism-Leninism in particular and as such represent a particular ideology that many communists may not share. They are listed here together with the year of their founding and their respective ruling parties:
|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:|
These are multi-party states that currently have 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.
There are also some parties that participate as junior partners in ruling coalitions, as listed below.
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