What is this episode about?
Learn about communism, how it started and how it lost its strength in this new Do You Know episode from English Plus Podcast.
What if nobody was rich and nobody was poor? Suppose valuable things like land and factories belonged to everyone. Imagine a world in which everyone worked, but no one got paid. Why? Because everything would be free. These are among the basic ideas of a movement called communism.
HOW WAS COMMUNISM BORN?
The ideas of communism became popular in the early 1800s. At that time, the first big factories were forming. Most workers in these factories earned low wages. Meanwhile, the factory owners were getting rich. This made many workers angry.
Two Germans, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, turned this anger into a political movement. They announced the goals of this movement in their 1848 book, The Communist Manifesto.
Marx and Engels said that all through history, different classes had been at war. They said the warring classes of their time were the owners of businesses and the people who worked for them.
Marx and Engels called for a world in which the workers themselves owned all businesses. They said that if workers were in charge, everybody would get what they needed to live good lives. Marx explained these ideas further in a book called Das Kapital.
THE SPREAD OF COMMUNISM
The ideas of Marx and Engels spread through Europe. In Russia, a man named Vladimir Lenin said workers needed a small, organized group to lead a revolution on their behalf. To do this, he formed the Bolshevik Party.
In 1917, a revolution overthrew the emperor of Russia. In the fighting that followed, Lenin’s party took over. Soon, his communist government owned all the land, factories, stores, and businesses in Russia.
The communists in Russia conquered some neighboring countries, too. They called their new empire the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), or Soviet Union for short.
After Lenin died, Joseph Stalin took power in the USSR. He used brutal force to make the Soviet Union into a communist country. Stalin killed, imprisoned, and tortured millions of people. He built a country in which everyone worked for the government. The government made almost all decisions for the people.
HOW DID COMMUNISM SPREAD?
In World War II, the Soviet Union fought on the side that won. When the war ended in 1945, the Soviet Union gained control over most of the countries in Eastern Europe.
In China, meanwhile, a communist leader named Mao Zedong was rising in power. He seized control of his country in 1949. China, with its huge population, became the biggest communist country of all.
WHY DID COMMUNISM LOSE STRENGTH?
Many noncommunist countries fought to keep communism from spreading. They feared that communism would keep expanding and threaten noncommunist countries. The United States led the fight against communism, while the Soviet Union supported communist movements around the world. This struggle is known as the Cold War. It lasted for more than 40 years.
By the 1980s, communism was failing. Under communism, the Soviet Union could not produce enough goods for its people. It grew poor. Eastern European countries began to break away from the Soviet Union. In 1991, the Soviet Union itself broke apart into 15 separate countries. None of these countries have communist governments today.
In China, the Communist Party still holds power. But China is allowing privately owned businesses to grow again. Other communist countries today include Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, and North Korea. As a world movement, communism appears to be losing its appeal.