Which Countries are Communist, Which Countries are Socialist (2020)
What is Socialism?
What is Communism?
Why Do We Perceive Communism and Socialism as We Do Today?
Which Countries were Socialist, Which Countries were Communist?
Which Countries are Socialist, Which Countries are Communist?
What is socialism? What is communism? And which countries are communist, which countries are socialist today?
Let’s open with a caveat and disclaimer – we are a travel company and it would be a little too much to expect an incredibly detailed and comprehensive account of political and social movements and concepts on the blog of such a company, so caveat emptor when it comes to the text below!
That said these terms; Communist and Socialism, are bandied about a lot on some of the areas we work in, so they are deserving of a look here for sure.
Send us any opinions you have about this blog, but please be constructive and don’t just rise up and overthrow us with the might and historical inevitability of the rise of the popular masses!
So, let’s start with definitions.
Socialism is a theory regarding the organisation of society which posits that the means of the creation of wealth (so, making stuff, moving it, selling it, speculating with it) should be controlled by the workers; those who actually labour to create the stuff in the first place.
This is basically what people are referring to when they refer to the ‘relationship to the means of production’. If you make something then you have a close relationship to it, if you simply own a place where things are made then you have a more distant relationship to it but under capitalism the owner will benefit more than the person doing the actual making.
This is seen as deeply unfair, unnatural, and the overthrown of that system and the replacement by a more equitable one (Socialism) is inevitable.
Marx (more on him in a bit) claimed that creating socialism is a way to overcome alienation (not the ‘my parents don’t understand me’ type though, Marxist alienation means the distance between the guy making the stuff and the actual profit from the stuff he made).
Understand? Hope so!
Many see Communism as simply a stronger version of Socialism (full sugar Coke vs Socialism’s Coke Zero?) and there is some truth to this, as Marx & Co saw one as developing out of the other (inevitably he believed, like some kind of more boring socio-economic Thanos).
Communism is (very) basically a movement with the goal of making the means of production, production itself, ownership of all things, common within a society.
Everyone contributes and everyone gets what they need out of it, fairly and equitably.
Note: not simply equally, this is different to equitably: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” being a famous Marx quote which sums this up.
So we all dive in together, pool our skills, and all benefit from what we produce, not just Mr. Moneybags who owns the land because his father owned the land because his great x 10 grandfather was given the land by the King.
You get the gist I hope!
Concepts like those found in communism and socialism; being fair to people, helping others, not exploiting workers, seeing some benefit from your own hard work, members of society being stakeholders in the society they build, and so on are pretty popular and seem reasonable enough.
Mostly it is the things done historically in countries that have hoisted the red flag and had a crack at Socialism/Communism/whatever they decided to call it, that put people off.
Not many folks really want to line up for bread after all and would rather just buy it in a shop or online (obviously having lines for bread isn’t the greatest crime any nation has committed, but if you have read this far you probably have some idea of those crimes and we can proceed under the assumption that we all know what we refer to here).
Also, people who have done well tend to not want to have the fruits of their labour taken and redistributed among other people.
This is pretty natural, even squirrels hide their nuts from other squirrels after all, but still those folks tend to pay tax, use public roads, use public hospitals and such, so they do take part in collective activities that some ultra-hardliners may consider to be Socialist (or ‘socialised’ which some seem to think supporting is the same as being a full on Commie, not so!)
Anyway we are not trying to come out on one side or the other. Or the other; there are loads of different sides actually. Look at the history of the left wing groups that took part in the Spanish civil war and spent the whole time killing each other rather than opposing their mutual enemy..!
In this complicated debate, we are a simple small travel company after all, but lets quickly look at who started all this stuff.
Who started all this communism and socialism stuff?
It is mostly credited to various angry European men with beards in the 19th and early 20th Century, but Hegel didn’t have a beard and he was the guy said to have influenced Marx and all the rest who came after him and simplified what he wrote about.
Mainly because he wrote it in a very lengthy, sometimes quasi-mystical, and deeply confusing (and alienating! How ironic) way.
We can pause here while you go off and read his works, they can all be found in the public domain at the amazing Project Gutenberg.
Yeah, its super-boring, anyway next up was Engels, who is usually considered a bit of a second division thinker, which is unfair really, but he did have a beard at least (Marx’s was bigger though).
He was a mate of Marx, a writer, and a German who moved to Manchester to be a businessman, while there he witnessed and wrote about the miserable life of the new urban working classes; the squalour, the exploitation, the degradation (he frowned upon all this), and Marx agreed.
Marx was also a German, a journalist and troublemaker, so he moved to England also and together they wrote their seminal book The Communist Manifesto in 1848 (Marx followed this up by going solo and having a hit with the 3-volume Das Kapital later on).
These are all in the public domain too (imagine if they weren’t, what a betrayal of principles that would be!) so you can find them online.
These books are a bit of a drag but they are very much like watching the Lord of the Rings film series, while Hegel is like reading the whole book, plus the prequels and associated materials, in a different language.
These ideas were taken up by all manner of bearded and sometimes non-bearded men and women.
The Paris Commune set up a short-lived socialist state (lots of blood spilled), and as various workers rights movements grew in power, gaining votes, suffrage, land rights, and so on it looked as if the process was indeed developing as planned.
Then Russia just decided to go full-Red and Lenin and the lads (mostly with beards, although Lenin shaved his for a bit while he smuggled himself from Finland to Russia dressed as a woman) made lots of bold speeches and promises, staged an initially-somewhat-bloodless revolution, then followed it up with an exceptional amount of blood (some of it Royal) and the Soviet Union, the largest country in the world, was born.
Thanks to the successes of that state (many of which were real, many made up) other countries decided to follow suit, many of them were not too keen on Marx & Engels’ claims that they had to spend a load of time building an urban proletariat who would then suffer under alienation and rise up to form the vanguard of a historically inevitable revolution and decided to skip all that and go straight from mostly being peasants to being communists, shooting anyone who disagreed or tried to suggest other options.
By the second half of the 20th Century, a vast area of the world was painted red. From the iron curtain of Europe to the far east, and down into South East Asia, dotted across Africa various liberation movements claimed socialism as an inspiration, and in South America too.
But then it all came crashing down (for so many reasons, let’s not go there right now!) and in a very short period of time almost all of these states went defunct, changed political direction entirely, or ceased to exist.
Some of them, of course, just opportunistically changed their tie and claimed to always be a capitalist/nationalist/god-emperor/whatever and carried on much as before.
So here we are today in the 21st Century. There are still socialists around in public, but Bernie Sanders was never going to try to get the navy to revolt against the Tsar/President, and Jeremy Corbyn was probably not going to have the queen shot.
So, they are a different and lighter variety these days.
Some countries, though still raise the flag, pay their tribute to the bearded ones, and even invoke clever-sounding terms like dialectical materialism from time to time.
Let’s see who the hangers on (or those who know it will all come around again!) are.
Russia doesn’t count – just because Putin was in the KGB doesn’t actually make the country he runs a Communist Country and just because something was doesn’t mean it always must be (Ethiopia has been a monarchy, a communist country, a democracy all in the last few decades, things change!).
Being a member of a communist party doesn’t actually make you a communist. It just makes you a member of a club (loads of people join clubs and don’t believe the principles, that’s normal).
So, Russia is something else.
Scandinavian countries aren’t socialist or communist just because people pay a load of tax and enjoy quality schools and hospitals.
To be honest we don’t know all that much about it, but although the last couple of presidents have made plenty of speeches about seizing control from plutocrats and handing it to the workers, plus nationalizing key industries, this is mainly seen by most people as just being governing rather than actual socialism (of course there are many who see any government intervention as socialism, but it is not), so we will leave them out of this list, but with a ‘maybe’ hanging in there still!
Just because many of the Presidents of the stans used to be General Secretary of the stans previously doesn’t make them or their countries commies. Lets politely call many of them ‘post-socialist’ as some of them did keep some of the structures in place but gave up on pretending to be following the path set by the bearded chaps.
Not many at all, there are basically just five countries in the world that still claim in some way to be Communist or Socialist, they are.
Ruled since 1949 by the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party.
The party of Mao Zedong and reigning civil war champions.
They forced the Nationalist Party (of who many of the red top-brass used to be members, things change!) out of power and declared the path to Communism to be underway.
China as a peasant country at the time wasn’t willing to follow Marx’s model (although he was liked enough to have his portrait, and that of Engels, hung on Tiananmen gate for quite some years in the early days) and decided to skip ahead a few chapters in the Communist Manifesto, basically just to go straight to the conclusion, it didn’t really work and what we have now is what is often described as “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
Those ‘characteristics’ seem to be state ownership and control of key industries (many of whom are simply propped up in this way) plus a often-vibrant and somewhat unrestrained form of hyper capitalism, those who do this best are usually members of the Communist Party though, so perhaps under some way of looking at it this makes them all Communists?
It is fair to say, without judgment, that Marx and Engels would probably scratch their heads and stroke their beards if they came to today’s China and were told that this is the society that they themselves envisioned, but whatever man, post-modernism (which they didn’t see coming either!), says that you can interpret another’s work to mean what you see it as meaning.
The last remaining communist country in SE Asia, a place that used to be a sea of red (apart from Thailand, who stayed royal throughout).
Laos is a country with a one-party system, strong (for which read; intolerant of alternative views) government, state ownership of key industries and so on.
Still it is hard to go to Laos and see it as particularly communist when most people seem to work in small businesses, own land (at least de facto), and not really be that politically engaged. Maybe it is a kind of soft stealth socialism being built?
There was collectivization of agriculture in the country in the early days (a key event seen as necessary to build a socialist/system) but it didn’t take on so well and has been largely (again, de facto at least) abandoned. So, if you travel to Laos (do! it is amazing!) don’t expect to see much in the way of actual living Communism.
Easier to find the less-living kind still in the monuments and statues of eastern Europe and former-USSR.
Vietnam has a red flag, with a star, classic commie iconography!
Also fought decades of wars for this flag to fly so isn’t likely to just softly give up on a core principle and jack it all in as something tried and found wanting.
Vietnam also has as its most famous person of all time Ho Chi Minh, communist leader and icon of a million t-shirts, so giving up on the legacy of Uncle Ho would be a tough one to do entirely.
Private ownership is allowed, private business proliferates, economic growth has been impressive under a more relaxed system, and alienation of workers from the means of production has probably increased, so while the red flag may fly yet, the average person is perhaps less committed to 19th Century European socio-economic ideals than the hardliners may want them to be!
Plenty of state ownership in Cuba still.
One of the things it is most famous for!
Also, super-low wages that are topped up by the munificence and benevolence of the state (you work hard, get paid little, but you get a flat to live in).
Most pundits with more knowledge of this place than we have of it have written much about how things have changed/are changing/etc. and while the top brass still make the right speeches (at great length!) it seems the day is done.
Communism in the Caribbean always seemed a strange combination to many, but it has clung on in name at least for many decades here. Few see it lasting much longer even in a diluted and adapted form.
That’s North Korea, or DPRK (the place we run the tours to, come with us!).
Do they actually claim to be Communists there?
Do they claim to be Socialists?
Not really either.
Instead when you ask folks in the DPRK about this there is usually a somewhat nebulous answer given about how these are foreign ideas that are useful as a basis for the political system in use, but which have been outgrown and absorbed/discarded (a bit like how Galen was the be-all and end-all of medicine for centuries despite being completely wrong about most of his first principles, still a useful basis).
The guiding principle of the DPRK is claimed to be the Juche Idea, credited to Kim Il Sung, this is the mother lode of politics and society in North Korea, and it doesn’t exist in a single publication but is rather a kind of distillation of the ideas of the Great Leader gleaned through study and familiarity with the body of work he produced. Which is enormous (it is claimed he authored literally tens of thousands of ‘works’; from songs, aphorisms, pamphlets, and books).
So, the conclusion to this question in the case of North Korea would be; not really. But also yes, its confusing, just like the country itself, and this whole subject!
Comrade reader - If you made it this far but are unsatisfied with the conclusions drawn, then draw hope for yourself from Marx and Engels.
You labored long to read this blog, committed energy to it and gained not enough in return while we gained valuable SEO from your time spent on this page despite doing not enough to earn this value.
So, rise up comrade!
Shoot your own generals, march on Koryo Tours, plant the red flag securely in our office, collectivise the office plants, and start a glorious new page/reign of terror in our place; this is a historical inevitability, and who are we to stand in the way of what is inevitable?