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A map showing the current communist states. They are China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, and North Korea.
Map of countries that declared themselves or were declared to be socialist states under the Marxist-Leninist or Maoist definition between 1978 and 1989
History of
communist states
Present communist states

North Korea


Elected communist parties by country



Formerly communist

East Germany

South Yemen
Soviet Union


A communist state is a sovereign state with a form of government characterized by single-party rule or dominant-party rule of a communist party and a professed allegiance to a communist ideology as the guiding principle of the state.

Communist states may have several legal political parties, but the communist party is usually granted a special or dominant role in government,[citation needed] often by statute or under the constitution. Consequently, the institutions of the state and of the communist party become intimately entwined, such as in the development of parallel institutions.

Most communist states adopted planned economies. However, there are exceptions: The Soviet Union during the 1920s and Yugoslavia after World War II allowed limited markets and a degree of worker self-management, while China and Vietnam have introduced far-reaching market reforms since the 1980s.

Fundamental concept of communist states may diverge from the original socio-economic ideologies from which they developed. This may mean that adherents of the ideologies are actually opposed to the political systems commonly associated with them. For example, activists describing themselves as Trotskyists or communists are often opposed to the communist states of the 20th century.


Types of communist states

While almost all claim lineage to Marxist thought, there are many varieties of communist states, with indigenous adaptions. For Marxist-Leninists, the state and the communist party claim to act in accordance with the wishes of the industrial working class.

For Maoists, the state and party claim to act in accordance to the peasantry. Under Deng Xiaoping, the People's Republic of China proclaimed a policy of "socialism with Chinese characteristics." In most communist states, governments assert that they represent the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat.

State institutions

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 Lenin as a set of principles to be used in the internal affairs of the communist party, is extended to society at large.[1]

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.[2]

The constitutions of most communist states describe their political system as a form of democracy.[3] Thus, they recognize the sovereignty of the people as embodied in a series of representative parliamentary institutions. Communist 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.[4]

Such national legislative politics in communist 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 communist states are not in permanent session. Rather, they convene once or several times per year in sessions which usually last only a few days.[5]

When the national legislative body is not in session – that is, most of the time – its powers are transferred to a smaller council (often called a "presidium") which combines legislative and executive power, and, in some communist states, acts as a collective head of state. The presidium is usually composed of important communist party members and votes the resolutions of the communist party into law.

State social institutions

Another feature of communist 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 communist states, representatives of these organizations are guaranteed a certain number of seats on the national legislative bodies. In all communist 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.[6]

Political power

Communist states maintain their legitimacy by claiming to promote the long-term interests of the whole people, and communist parties justify their monopoly on political power by claiming to act in accordance with objective historical laws. Therefore, political opposition and dissent is regarded as counter-productive or even treasonous. Some communist states have more than one political party, but all minor parties are required to follow the leadership of the communist party.

Criticism of proposed future policies is usually tolerated, as long as it does not turn into criticism of the political system itself. However, in accordance with the principles of democratic centralism, communist states usually do not tolerate criticism of policies that have already been implemented in the past or are being implemented in the present.[7] However, communist states are widely seen as being de facto dictatorships by historians and sociologists, since the elections they held tended to be heavily rigged.[8]

Objections to use of term

Some communists, such left communists[9], dispute the validity of the term "communist state". In classical Marxism, communism is the final phase of history at which time the state would have "withered away"[10] and therefore "communist state" is a contradiction in terms under premises of this theory. Current states are either in the capitalist or socialist phase of history – making the term "socialist state" preferable to communists[citation needed] – and the role of the communist party (i.e. the vanguard party) is to pull a nation toward the communist phase of history.

The reason why most Western scholarsprefer the term "communist state" rather than "socialist state" to describe these countries is because some socialists like left communists[9] oppose the idea of a vanguard party pulling a nation towards communism, and thus the term "socialist state" is liable to cause confusion.

Some Marxists[9] have also opposed the usage of the term "communist state". Since the 1930s, anti-Stalinist Marxists have argued that the existing communist states did not actually adhere to Marxism, but rather to a perversion of it that was heavily influenced by Stalinism. This critique was based on a variety of arguments, but nearly all anti-Stalinist communists[9] argued that the Soviet model did not represent the interests of the working class. As such, Trotskyists[11] referred to the Soviet Union as a "degenerated workers' state" and called its satellites "deformed workers states"[11].

Not every country ruled by a communist party is viewed by left communists[9] and Trotskyists[12] as a communist state. As noted above, the term "communist state" has been created and used by Western political scientists to refer to a specific type of one-party state.

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 (in the 1980s),[citation needed] Republic of Moldova (since 2001),[citation needed] Cyprus (presently),[citation needed] and the Indian states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura.[13] These countries and states do not fall under the definition of a communist state.



From liberal viewpoint

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,[14] economic focus on heavy industry at the expense of consumer goods, sometimes resulting in shortages of vital products or even famine by Leonard E. Hubbard,[15] and militarism and propaganda to cover up the mistakes of the government by Peter Kenex.[16]

From socialist viewpoint

Within the socialist movement, there are a number of criticisms of using the term "communist states". Left communists[17], Anarchists and some Trotskyists[18] point out the fact that the so-called "communist" or "socialist" states or "people's states" were actually state capitalist and thus cannot be called "socialist".

List of current communist states

The following countries are one-party states in which the ruling party declares allegiance to Marxism-Leninism and in which the institutions of the party and of the state have become intertwined; hence they fall under the definition of Communist states. They are listed here together with the year of their founding and their respective ruling parties.

Countries where institutions of the communist party and state are intertwined:

While these countries share a similar system of government, they have adopted very different economic policies over the past 15 years. For instance, the People's Republic of China has introduced sweeping market reforms. In addition, the various communist states use different terms to identify themselves and their social systems. Laos has removed all references to Marxism-Leninism, communism and socialism from its constitution in 1991.[citation needed]

North Korea has removed references to Marxism-Leninism from its constitution and officially describes itself as following the ideology of Juche.[19] Vietnam is "in transition toward socialism in the light of Marxism-Leninism" and Cuba is "a socialist state guided by ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin and in transition to a communist society". China calls its system socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Currently, democratically elected communist parties head the governments of three states.[citation needed] However, the states themselves allow for multiple parties, and do not provide a constitutional role for the communist party, so they are not communist states.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, pp. 8-9.
  2. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, pp. 8-9.
  3. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 12.
  4. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1987, p. 13.
  5. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 14.
  6. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 16-17.
  7. ^ Furtak, Robert K. "The political systems of the socialist states", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986, p. 18-19.
  8. ^ United Nations Human Rights Website - Treaty Bodies Database - Document - State Party Report - Germany
  10. ^ The oft-cited quote is borrowed from a variation of the English translation of Anti-Dühring 1878 by Friedrich Engels, Part III: Socialism - «The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property. But, in doing this, it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state. Society thus far, based upon class antagonisms, had need of the state, that is, of an organisation of the particular class, which was pro tempore the exploiting class, for the maintenance of its external conditions of production, and, therefore, especially, for the purpose of forcibly keeping the exploited classes in the condition of oppression corresponding with the given mode of production (slavery, serfdom, wage-labour). The state was the official representative of society as a whole; the gathering of it together into a visible embodiment. But it was this only in so far as it was the state of that class which itself represented, for the time being, society as a whole: in ancient times, the state of slave-owning citizens; in the Middle Ages, the feudal lords; in our own time, the bourgeoisie. When at last it becomes the real representative of the whole of society, it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the state really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society — the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society — this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not "abolished". It dies out
  11. ^ a b Leon Trotsky: The Revolution Betrayed
  12. ^ Tony Cliff: The Nature of Stalinist Russia
  13. ^ Kerala Assembly Elections-- 2006
  14. ^ Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Resolution 1481 (2006) Need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes
  15. ^ The Economics of Soviet Agriculture by Leonard E. Hubbard, p. 117-18
  16. ^ Kenez, Peter (1985). The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521313988. 
  17. ^ STATE CAPITALISM | International Communist Current
  18. ^ Tony Cliff, for example. See: Tony Cliff's Internet Archive
  19. ^ Kim Jong-Il (31 March 1982). "On the Juche Idea". Retrieved 2007-01-03. 


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