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Few words have generated more enthusiasm, condemnation, persecution, threats of war, and war itself than communism. This essay briefly defines the term and then grounds it in the international political context of the 20th century.

Political philosophers and historians have referred to communist societies as those that existed before modernization, industrialization, and systems of stratification based on wealth and power. Communist societies were often seen as pristine and primitive communities organized around community and sharing, relying on hunting, gathering, or rudimentary agriculture for survival.

In the corpus of his writings, the economic and political theorist Karl Marx discussed societies based on different modes of production. Feudalism was the predecessor to the mode of production, capitalism, which was the subject of the bulk of his life’s work. For ...

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