Thought Co / Melissa Ling
During the time of the Soviet Union (1922–1991), communist countries could be found in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. Some of these nations, like the People’s Republic of China, were (and still are) global players in their own right. Other communist countries, such as East Germany, were essentially satellites of the U.S.S.R. that played a significant role during the Cold War but no longer exist.
Communism is both a political system and an economic one. In politics, communist parties have absolute power over governance, and elections are single-party affairs. In economics, the party controls the country’s economic system, and private ownership is illegal, although this facet of communist rule has changed in some countries like China.
By contrast, socialist nations are generally democratic with multi-party political systems. A socialist party does not have to be in power for socialist principles—such as a strong social safety net and government ownership of key industries and infrastructure—to be part of a nation’s domestic agenda. Unlike communism, private ownership is encouraged in most socialist nations.
The basic principles of communism were articulated in the mid-1800s by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, two German economic and political philosophers. But it wasn’t until the Russian Revolution of 1917 that a communist nation—the Soviet Union—was born. By the middle of the 20th century, it appeared that communism could supersede democracy as the dominant political and economic ideology. Yet today, only five communist countries remain in the world.
While the world has just five truly communist countries, socialist countries (countries whose constitutions include statements about the protection and rule of the working class) are relatively common Examples include Portugal, Sri Lanka, India, Guinea-Bissau, and Tanzania. Many of these nations, such as India, have multi-party political systems, and several are liberalizing their economies, like Portugal.