Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

Communism is a social, economic and political view that proposes an end to class-based society and abolition of private property; in effect communal ownership (of the means of production).

explanatory context

This is, of course, to paraphrase a complex global movement that has many facets and which is also closely linked with socialism.


Communism, as it is most widely understood today, is rooted in the political writings of Marx and Engels, founded on the basis of historical materialsim. Numerous successful and unsuccessful revolutions have moulded the idea of communism. The most profound effects have come from the Russian and Chinese revolutions and the contributions to communist theory made by Lenin, (Trotsky and Stalin) and Mao Tse-tung.


Communism is, historically, the stage coming after socialism when social classes cease to exist.


At one time communism and socialism were seen as similar. Now communism is generally seen as a ‘higher’ stage in the evolution of social structures.


Confusion about and between the two terms in general use is based upon a distinction between revolutionary socialist and democratic socialist. The democratic socialism of the British Labour Party up to 1980, for example, is quite distinct from the notion of (revolutionary) socialism prior to 1870.

analytical review

Engels (1847) in The Principles of Communism wrote::

What is Communism? Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat.

What is the proletariat? The proletariat is that class in society which lives entirely from the sale of its labour and does not draw profit from any kind of capital; whose weal and woe, whose life and death, whose sole existence depends on the demand for labour – hence, on the changing state of business, on the vagaries of unbridled competition. The proletariat, or the class of proletarians, is, in a word, the working class of the 19th century.


Elwell's Glossary of Sociology (undated) defines communism as:

A set of egalitarian political and economic ideas associated with Karl Marx in which the means of production and distribution system would be owned by the community. "Communism" as developed by Lenin and institutionalized throughout Eastern Europe (until 1990) and China bears little resemblance to Marx's vision.


The McGraw-Hill (2004) Sociological Theory site Glossary defines communism as :

The social system that permits, for the first time, the expression of full human potential. It would involve collective decision making that would allow the needs of the many to be taken into account. (Marx)


Richard Schaefer (2017):

Communism: As an ideal type, an economic system under which all property is communally owned and no social distinctions are made on the basis of people's ability to produce.

associated issues

Difference between socialism and communism

The differences between communism and socialism are difficult to pin down in detail as there are theoretical accounts of socialism and communism and there are also attempts in various countries to put these ideals in practice. There are very few exmples of a communist state in the form Marx would have recognised, for example, and where they have had the potential to develop, they have faced extreme economic sanctions in an attempt to destroy them, notably Cuba. In the larger communist states, USSR and China, for example, the dictatorship of the proletariat became embodied in a one-party state, resulting in increasing disctatorial power for the leaders and no evidence of the withering away of the State in an advanced form of communism.


Diffen (undated) has attempted to differentiate communism and socialism as follows:

In a way, communism is an extreme form of socialism. Many countries have dominant socialist political parties but very few are truly communist. In fact, most countries - including staunch capitalist bastions like the U.S. and U.K. - have government programs that borrow from socialist principles. "Socialism" is sometimes used interchangeably with "communism" but the two philosophies have some stark differences. Most notably, while communism is a political system, socialism is primarily an economic system that can exist in various forms under a wide range of political systems.


Diffen (undated) has provided a table summing up the differences.

related areas

See also




Diffen, undated, 'Communism vs Socialism' available at, accessed 2 February 2013, still available 1 June 2019.

Elwell's Glossary of Sociology, undated, available at, page not available 20 December 2016.

Engels, F., 1847, The Principles of Communism, in Engels, F., 1969, Selected Works, Volume One, p. 81-97, Moscow, Progress Publishers, available at, accessed 2 February 2013, still available 1 June 2019.

McGraw-Hill, 2004, Sociological Theory: Glossary , available at, accessed 14 May 2013, page not available 14 December 2016.

Schaefer, R. T., 2017, 'Glossary' in Sociology: A brief introduction, Fourth Edition, originally c. 2000, McGraw-Hill. Available at, site dated 2017, accessed 11 June 2017, page 'not found' 1 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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