Communism: the theory and some of the countries that practice it

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Those of you who watched the Olympic Games in Los Angeles may have marveled at the fantastic performances of such superstars as America's Carl Lewis, the world's fastest sprinter, and Britain's Daley Thompson, the world's greatest all-around athlete.

The only disappointment to many sports fans was that so many world-class athletes from communist countries didn't participate. The Soviet Union led the ban because it said Los Angeles wouldn't be safe for its athletes. In quick succession its communist partners found similar reasons not to come.

But remember the outstanding gymnasts from Romania and China? They came from communist countries. So did athletes from Yugoslavia.

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This shows that not all communist countries act together. China and Yugoslavia are examples of communist countries that don't take their lead from the Soviet Union. Romania, which is an ally of the Soviet Union, takes a somewhat independent stand in foreign policy.

Albania, a tiny communist country, also has a fiercely independent spirit. It did not take part in the Olympics.

What is not in doubt is that the Soviet Union is still regarded as the most important and most powerful communist country. It was also the first government in the world controlled by Marxists.

Today about half the people in the world live under governments regarded as Marxist. Some examples of Marxist countries are these: Soviet Union, China, Poland, Cuba, East Germany, Vietnam, and Ethiopia.

Marxist is the term often used to describe communists, even though in its method and approach Marxism is not an exact definition for communism.

The word ''communist'' comes from the word ''community.'' It means that the public at large, and not the individual, owns property and that the benefits are distributed for the common good.

Capitalism, which is the system generally in practice in the West, stresses individual ownership and initiative, not that of the community or, as it is interpreted in the communist world, the state.

Marxism is simply the term used to describe the political system that gave rise to communism. Marxism was named after Karl Marx, who was born in 1818 in what is now known as West Germany and who died in England in 1883. His epitaph on his tombstone sums up his philosophy: ''Workers of all lands unite.''

Marx saw the history of society as a class struggle involving workers. He believed that the workers of the world were owned or controlled by a ruling class that exploited them. By exploitation he meant that the ruling class, a minority of the people, was getting the most out of people for the smallest amount of payment.

Only revolution by the working class would put a stop to that situation. Marx identified the ruling class with capitalism - a system he said was run by people driven to make profit only for their own benefit and not for society as a whole.

But it was not until the Russian Revolution in 1917 that the first communist state, called the Soviet Union, was established by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The term Marxism-Leninism comes from the combination of the theories of Marx and Lenin. It was Lenin's belief that revolution could only be carried out by a highly disciplined revolutionary party. That led to the formation of the Communist Party, which controlled all other social and economic organizations.

Communist parties that didn't maintain absolute control and that watered down or revised communist principles were branded as revisionists. This was the case in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 when the Soviets sent in tanks to demonstrate their control and make sure that Moscow stayed the center of the communist world.

The Chinese, however, went off on their own because of a split with Moscow in the 1960s. The Chinese adopted Maoism, a variation of communism that was named after their leader Mao Tse-tung. The Chinese communists thought that Maoism was more suitable for their country, which was more rural and backward, than Marxism-Leninism, which had more meaning to the masses in the cities and seemed to apply more to the situation in the Soviet Union.

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