Marxism–Leninism is a communist ideology and was the main communist movement throughout the 20th century. It was the formal name of the official state ideology adopted by the Soviet Union, its satellite states in the Eastern Bloc, and various self-declared scientific socialist regimes in the Non-Aligned Movement and Third World during the Cold War as well as the Communist International after Bolshevisation. Today, Marxism–Leninism is the ideology of several communist parties and remains the official ideology of the ruling parties of China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam as unitary one-party socialist republics, and of Nepal in a multiparty democracy. Generally, Marxist–Leninists support proletarian internationalism and socialist democracy, and oppose anarchism, fascism, imperialism, and liberal democracy. Marxism–Leninism holds that a two-stage communist revolution is needed to replace capitalism. A vanguard party, organised hierarchically through democratic centralism, would seize power "on behalf of the proletariat", and establish a communist party-led socialist state, which it claims to represent the dictatorship of the proletariat. The state controls the economy and means of production, suppresses the bourgeoisie, counter-revolution, and opposition, promotes collectivism in society, and paves the way for an eventual communist society, which would be both classless and stateless. Due to its state-oriented approach, Marxist–Leninist states have been commonly referred to by Western academics as Communist states.
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As an ideology and practice, it was developed by Joseph Stalin in the 1920s based on his understanding and synthesis of orthodox Marxism and Leninism. After the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, Marxism–Leninism became a distinct movement in the Soviet Union when Stalin and his supporters gained control of the party. It rejected the common notions among Western Marxists of world revolution, as a prerequisite for building socialism, in favour of the concept of socialism in one country. According to its supporters, the gradual transition from capitalism to socialism was signified by the introduction of the first five-year plan and the 1936 Soviet Constitution. By the late 1920s, Stalin established ideological orthodoxy among the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), the Soviet Union, and the Communist International to establish universal Marxist–Leninist praxis. The formulation of the Soviet version of dialectical and historical materialism in the 1930s by Stalin and his associates, such as in Stalin's book Dialectical and Historical Materialism, became the official Soviet interpretation of Marxism, and was taken as example by Marxist–Leninists in other countries. In the late 1930s, Stalin's official textbook History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) (1938) popularised Marxism–Leninism as a term.
The internationalism of Marxist–Leninist socialism in one country was expressed in supporting revolutions in other countries, initially through the Communist International and then through the concept of socialist-leaning countries after de-Stalinisation. The establishment of other Communist states after World War II resulted in Sovietisation, and these Communist-led states tended to follow the Soviet Marxist–Leninist model of five-year plans and rapid industrialisation, political centralisation, and repression. During the Cold War, Marxism–Leninism was a driving force in international relations for most of the 20th century. With the death of Stalin and de-Stalinisation, Marxism–Leninism underwent several revisions and adaptations such as Guevarism, Ho Chi Minh Thought, Hoxhaism, Maoism, socialism with Chinese characteristics, and Titoism. This also caused several splits between Marxist–Leninist states, resulting in the Tito–Stalin split, the Sino–Soviet split, and the Sino–Albanian split. The socio-economic nature of Marxist–Leninist states, especially that of the Soviet Union during the Stalin era, has been much debated, varyingly being labelled a form of bureaucratic collectivism, state capitalism, state socialism, or a totally unique mode of production. The Eastern Bloc, including Marxist–Leninist states in Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Third World socialist regimes, have been variously described as "bureaucratic-authoritarian systems", and China's socio-economic structure has been referred to as "nationalistic state capitalism."
Criticism of Marxism–Leninism largely overlaps with criticism of communist party rule and mainly focuses on the actions and policies implemented by Marxist–Leninist leaders, most notably Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. In practice, Marxist–Leninist states have been marked by a high degree of centralised control by the state and communist party, political repression, state atheism, collectivisation, and use of forced labour and labour camps as well as free universal education and healthcare, low unemployment and lower prices for certain goods. Historians such as Silvio Pons and Robert Service stated that repression and totalitarianism came from Marxist–Leninist ideology. Historians such as Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick have put forward other explanations and criticise the focus on the upper levels of society and use of Cold War concepts such as totalitarianism which have obscured the reality of the system. While the emergence of the Soviet Union as the world's first nominally Communist state led to communism's widespread association with Marxism–Leninism and the Soviet model, several academics and economists, among other scholars, have stated that the Marxist–Leninist model was in practice a form of state capitalism, or a non-planned administrative-command system or command economy.