Communism Timeline

UPDATED: JUL. 9, 2019 – ORIGINAL: DEC. 14, 2018


Since its start a century ago, Communism, a political and economic ideology that calls for a classless, government-controlled society in which everything is shared equally, has seen a series of surges—and declines. What started in 1917 Russia, became a global revolution, taking root in countries as far-flung as China and Korea to Kenya and Sudan to Cuba and Nicaragua.

Communism launched from Lenin’s October Revolution and spread to China with Mao Zedong’s rise to power and to Cuba, with Fidel Castro’s takeover. It was the ideology behind one side of the Cold War and saw a symbolic decline with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today just a handful of countries remain under communist rule. Below is a timeline of notable events that shaped Communism’s arc in history.

Soviet Union Emerges From October Revolution

• February 21, 1848: German economist and philosopher Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels publish The Communist Manifesto, calling for a working-class revolt against capitalism. Its motto, “Workers of the world, unite!” quickly became a rallying cry.

• November 7, 1917: With Vladimir Lenin at the helm, the Bolsheviks, ascribing to Marxism, seize power during Russia’s October Revolution and become the first communist government. Later that month, the leftist Socialist Revolutionaries defeat the Bolsheviks in an election, but, despite his promises of “bread, land and peace,” Lenin uses military force to take power. It’s during this period the Red Terror (executions of the Czar’s officials), prisoner-of-war labor camps and other police state tactics are established.

Communism Takes Hold in China and Beyond

• July 1, 1921: Inspired by the Russian Revolution, the Communist Party of China is formed.

• January 21, 1924: Lenin dies at age 54 of a stroke, and Joseph Stalin, who had served as Lenin’s general secretary, eventually takes over official rule of the Soviet Union until his death in 1953 from a brain hemorrhage. He industrialized the country through a state-controlled economy, but it led to famine. Under his regime, detractors were deported or imprisoned in labor camps, and, as part of the Great Purge, 1 million people were executed under Stalin’s orders.

• 1940 to 1979: Communism is established by force or otherwise in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Yugoslavia, Poland, North Korea, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, China, Tibet, North Vietnam, Guinea, Cuba, Yemen, Kenya, Sudan, Congo, Burma, Angola, Benin, Cape Verde, Laos, Kampuchea, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Vietnam, Somalia, Seychelles, Afghanistan, Grenada, Nicaragua, and others.

Cold War Begins

• May 9, 1945: The U.S.S.R. declares victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. With Japan’s defeat, Korea becomes divided into the communist North (which the Soviets occupied) and the South (which had been occupied by the United States).

• March 12, 1947: President Harry S. Truman addresses Congress in what would come to be known as the Truman Doctrine, calling for the containment of communism, and later, leading to U.S. entry into wars in Vietnam and Korea to provide defense from communist takeovers. The doctrine becomes the basis for America’s Cold War policy.

• March 5, 1946: Great Britain Prime Minister Winston Churchill makes his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in Missouri, alerting Americans to the division between the Soviet Union and the Western allies.

• October 1, 1949: Following a civil war, China’s Communist Party leader, Mao Zedong declares his creation of the People’s Republic of China, leading the United States to end diplomatic ties with the PRC for decades.

• July 5, 1950: Leading United Nations forces, the first U.S. troops engage in the Korean War, after communist North Korea invaded South Korea with the intent of creating a unified communist state. The war would last until July 27, 1953, with North Korea, China and the United Nations signing an armistice agreement.

Communists Win in Cuba, Vietnam 

• January 1, 1959: Fidel Castro overthrows the corrupt Fulgencio Batista regime, and Cuba becomes a Communist state.

• April 25, 1976: Following the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War, South Vietnam’s capital is seized by communist forces. A few months later, in July, the nation is reunified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under communist rule.

• October 25, 1983: The United States invades Grenada under orders of President Ronald Reagan to secure the safety of American nationals under the country’s communist regime, led by Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. The pro-Marxist government was overthrown in about a week.

• June 4, 1989: After weeks of protests, the Communist Chinese government sends in its military to fire on demonstrators calling for democracy in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The bloody violence ends in hundreds to thousands of deaths (no official death toll was ever released).

Berlin Wall Falls, Soviet Union Dissolves

• November 9, 1989: The Berlin Wall—that separated communist East Berlin from democratic West Berlin for nearly 30 years—falls. The years 1989-90 see the collapse of communist regimes in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Benin, Mozambique, Nicaragua and Yemen.

• December 25, 1991: With the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union is dissolved. New Russian President Boris Yeltsin bans the Communist Party. Communism soon ends in Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Congo, Kenya, Yugoslavia and other nations. China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam remain under communist rule. North Korea remains nominally communist, although the North Korean government doesn’t call itself communist.


“History of Communism,” Stanford University
“Communism: Karl Marx to Joseph Stalin,” Center for European Studies, University of North Carolina
“From Tsar to U.S.S.R.: Russia’s Chaotic Year of Revolution,” National Geographic
“The Truman Doctrine, 1947,” U.S. Department of State
“The Chinese Revolution of 1949,” U.S. Department of State
“The Korean War: Timeline,” CBS News
“Tiananmen Square Fast Facts,” CNN
“United States Invades Grenada,” Politco

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Communism Timeline

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December 25, 2020


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Last Updated

July 9, 2019

Original Published Date

December 14, 2018

The Nuremberg Code

  1. The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.
    This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved, as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision. This latter element requires that, before the acceptance of an affirmative decision by the experimental subject, there should be made known to him the nature, duration, and purpose of the experiment; the method and means by which it is to be conducted; all inconveniences and hazards reasonably to be expected; and the effects upon his health or person, which may possibly come from his participation in the experiment.
    The duty and responsibility for ascertaining the quality of the consent rests upon each individual who initiates, directs or engages in the experiment. It is a personal duty and responsibility which may not be delegated to another with impunity.
  2. The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.
  3. The experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study, that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment.
  4. The experiment should be so conducted as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.
  5. No experiment should be conducted, where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur; except, perhaps, in those experiments where the
    experimental physicians also serve as subjects.
  6. The degree of risk to be taken should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment.
  7. Proper preparations should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the experimental subject against even remote possibilities of injury, disability, or death.
  8. The experiment should be conducted only by scientifically qualified persons. The highest degree of skill and care should be required through all stages of the experiment of those who conduct or engage in the experiment.
  9. During the course of the experiment, the human subject should be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end, if he has reached the physical or mental state, where continuation of the experiment seemed to him to be impossible.
  10. During the course of the experiment, the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage, if he has probable cause to believe, in the exercise of the good faith, superior skill and careful judgement required of him, that a continuation of the experiment is likely to result in injury, disability, or death to the experimental subject.

[“Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10”, Vol. 2, pp. 181-182. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1949.]

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Killer Leaders.

The first man mentioned was not necessarily a leader of nations; but instead, he was a leader of an idea, and eventually, a movement that led to the revolutionary war and other dire consequences.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx began exploring sociopolitical theories at university among the Young Hegelians. He became a journalist, and his socialist writings would get him expelled from Germany and France. In 1848, he published The Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels and was exiled to London, where he wrote the first volume of Das Kapital and lived the remainder of his life.

In Berlin, he studied law and philosophy and was introduced to the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel, who had been a professor at Berlin until his death in 1831. Marx was not initially enamored with Hegel, but he soon became involved with the Young Hegelians, a radical group of students including Bruno Bauer and Ludwig Feuerbach, who criticized the political and religious establishments of the day.

Paris was the political heart of Europe in 1843. There, along with Arnold Ruge, Marx founded a political journal titled Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals). Only a single issue was published before philosophical differences between Marx and Ruge resulted in its demise, but in August of 1844, the journal brought Marx together with a contributor, Friedrich Engels, who would become his collaborator and lifelong friend. Together, the two began writing a criticism of the philosophy of Bruno Bauer, a Young Hegelian and former friend of Marx’s. The result of Marx and Engels’s first collaboration was published in 1845 as The Holy Family.

In Brussels, Marx was introduced to socialism by Moses Hess and finally broke off from the philosophy of the Young Hegelians completely. While there, he wrote The German Ideology, in which he first developed his theory on historical materialism.

At the beginning of 1846, Marx founded a Communist Correspondence Committee in an attempt to link socialists from around Europe. Inspired by his ideas, socialists in England held a conference and formed the Communist League, and in 1847 at a Central Committee meeting in London, the organization asked Marx and Engels to write Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (Manifesto of the Communist Party).

In London, Marx helped found the German Workers’ Educational Society, as well as a new headquarters for the Communist League.

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Socialism begets Communism – The Russian Social Democratic Party, was renamed the Communist Party after seizing power in the October Revolution of 1917

Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin founded the Russian Communist Party, led the Bolshevik Revolution and was the architect of the Soviet state. He was the posthumous source of “Leninism,” the doctrine codified and conjoined with Marx’s works by Lenin’s successors to form Marxism-Leninism, which became the Communist worldview. He has been regarded as the greatest revolutionary leader and thinker since Marx.

Exiled to his grandfather’s estate in the village of Kokushkino, Lenin took up residence with his sister Anna, whom police had ordered to live there as a result of her own suspicious activities. There, Lenin immersed himself in a host of radical literature, including the novel What Is To Be Done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky, which tells the tale of a character named Rakhmetov, who carries a single-minded devotion to revolutionary politics. Lenin also soaked up the writing of Karl Marx, the German philosopher whose famous book Das Kapital would have a huge impact on Lenin’s thinking. In January 1889, Lenin declared himself a Marxist.

In 1904 Russia went to war with Japan. The conflict had a profound impact on Russian society. After a number of defeats put a strain on the country’s domestic budget, citizens from all walks of life began to vocalize their discontent over the country’s political structure and called for reform.

During World War I Lenin went into exile again, this time taking up residence in Switzerland. As always, his mind stayed focus on revolutionary politics.

The situation was heightened on January 9, 1905, when a group of unarmed workers in St. Petersburg took their concerns directly to the city’s palace to submit a petition to Emperor Nicholas II. They were met by security forces, who fired on the group, killing and wounding hundreds. The crisis set the stage for what would be called the Russian Revolution of 1905.

Hoping to placate his citizens, the emperor issued his October Manifesto, offering up several political concessions, most notably the creation of an elected legislative assembly known as the Duma.

But Lenin was far from satisfied. His frustrations extended to his fellow Marxists, in particular, the group calling itself the Mensheviks, led by Julius Martov. The issues centered around party structure and the driving forces of a revolution to fully seize control of Russia.

His defeat of an opposition that wished to keep Russia tethered to Europe’s capitalist system, ushered in an era of international retreat for the Lenin-led government. Russia, as he saw it, would be void of class conflict and the international wars it fostered.

But the Russia he presided over was reeling from the bloody civil war he’d helped instigate. Famine and poverty shaped much of society. In 1921, Lenin now faced the same kind of peasant uprising he’d ridden to power. Widespread strikes in cities and in rural sections of the country broke out, threatening the stability of Lenin’s government.

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Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin rose to power as General Secretary of the Communist Party in Russia, becoming a Soviet dictator after the death of Vladimir Lenin. Stalin forced rapid industrialization and the collectivization of agricultural land, resulting in millions dying from famine while others were sent to labor camps. His Red Army helped defeat Nazi Germany during World War II.

In February 1917, the Russian Revolution began. By March, the tsar had abdicated the throne and was placed under house arrest. For a time, the revolutionaries supported a provisional government, believing a smooth transition of power was possible. 

But in April 1917, Bolshevik leader Lenin denounced the provisional government, arguing that the people should rise up and take control by seizing land from the rich and factories from the industrialists. By October, the revolution was complete and the Bolsheviks were in control.

He made shrewd appointments and consolidated his power so that eventually nearly all members of the central command owed their position to him. By the time anyone realized what he had done, it was too late. Even Lenin, who was gravely ill, was helpless to regain control from Stalin.

After Lenin’s death, in 1924, Stalin set out to destroy the old party leadership and take total control. At first, he had people removed from power through bureaucratic shuffling and denunciations. 

Many were exiled abroad to Europe and the Americas, including presumed Lenin successor Leon Trotsky. However, further paranoia set in, and Stalin soon conducted a vast reign of terror, having people arrested in the night and put before spectacular show trials. 

Potential rivals were accused of aligning with capitalist nations, convicted of being “enemies of the people” and summarily executed. The period is known as the ‘Great Purge’ eventually extended beyond the party elite to local officials suspected of counter-revolutionary activities

As war clouds gathered over Europe in 1939, Stalin made a seemingly brilliant move, signing a nonaggression pact with Germany’s Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. 

Stalin believed that collectivism would accelerate food production, but the peasants resented losing their land and working for the state. Millions were killed in forced labor or starved during the ensuing famine.

Any resistance was met with a swift and lethal response; millions of people were exiled to the labor camps of the Gulag or were executed.

It’s estimated that Stalin killed as many as 20 million people, directly or indirectly, through famine, forced labor camps, collectivization, and executions.

Some scholars have argued that Stalin’s record of killings amounts to genocide and makes him one of history’s most ruthless mass murderers. 

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Mao Tse-tung

Mao Tse-tung served as chairman of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 1959 and led the Chinese Communist Party from 1935 until his death. Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and the Cultural Revolution were ill-conceived and had disastrous consequences, but many of his goals, including stressing China’s self-reliance, were generally laudable.

In 1918, Mao Tse-tung graduated from the Hunan First Normal School, becoming a certified teacher. That same year, his mother died, and he had no desire to return home. He traveled to Beijing but was unsuccessful in finding a job. He finally found a position as a librarian assistant at Beijing University and attended a few classes. At about this time, he heard of the successful Russian Revolution, which established the communist Soviet Union. In 1921, he became one of the inaugural members of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mao Tse-tung had supported both the Kuomintang and the Communist Party, but over the next few years, he adopted Leninist ideas and believed that appealing to the farming peasants was the key to establishing communism in Asia. 

Mao helped establish the Soviet Republic of China in the mountainous area of Jiangxi and was elected chairman of the small republic. He developed a small but strong army of guerilla fighters and directed the torture and execution of any dissidents who defied party law.

With the Japanese defeat in 1945, Mao Tse-tung was able to set his sights on controlling all of China. Efforts were made — by the United States in particular — to establish a coalition government, but China slid into a bloody civil war.

Over the next few years, Mao Tse-tung instituted sweeping land reform, sometimes through persuasion and other times through coercion, using violence and terror when he deemed it necessary. 

In January 1958, Mao Tse-tung launched the “Great Leap Forward,” attempting to increase agricultural and industrial production.

At first, reports were promising, with accounts of overwhelming advancement. However, three years of floods and bad harvests told a different story. Agricultural production had not come close to expectations, and reports of massive steel production proved to be false. Within a year, an appalling famine set in, and entire villages died of starvation. In the worst manmade famine in human history, an estimated 40 million people died of hunger between 1959 and 1961.

In 1966, Mao Tse-tung made his political return and launched the Cultural Revolution. …He calculated correctly that the young wouldn’t remember much about the failure of the Great Leap Forward and the subsequent famine.

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Benito Mussolini

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, who went by the nickname “Il Duce” (“the Leader”), was an Italian dictator who created the Fascist Party in 1919 and eventually held all the power in Italy as the country’s prime minister from 1922 until 1943. An ardent socialist as a youth, Mussolini followed in his father’s political footsteps but was expelled by the party for his support of World War I. As dictator during World War II, he overextended his forces and was eventually killed by his own people in Mezzegra, Italy.

In 1902, Mussolini moved to Switzerland to promote socialism. 

On March 23, 1919, Mussolini founded the Fascist Party, which organized several right-wing groups into a single force. The fascist movement proclaimed opposition to social class discrimination and supported nationalist sentiments. Mussolini hoped to raise Italy to the level of its great Roman past.

Capitalizing on public discontent following World War I, he organized a paramilitary unit known as the “Black Shirts,” who terrorized political opponents and helped increase Fascist influence.

Impressed with Italy’s early military successes, German dictator Adolf Hitler sought to establish a relationship with Mussolini.

Influenced by Hitler, Mussolini instituted discrimination policies against the Jews in Italy. 

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler was chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, serving as dictator and leader of the Nazi Party, or National Socialist German Workers Party, for the bulk of his time in power. 

Hitler’s fascist policies precipitated World War II and led to the genocide known as the Holocaust, which resulted in the deaths of some six million Jews and another five million noncombatants.

Hitler personally designed the Nazi party banner, appropriating the swastika symbol and placing it in a white circle on a red background. He soon gained notoriety for his vitriolic speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians, Marxists, and Jews. 

During Hitler’s nine months in prison in 1924, he dictated most of the first volume of his autobiographical book and political manifesto, Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”), to his deputy, Rudolf Hess. 

In the first volume, Hitler shared his Anti-Semitic, pro-Aryan worldview along with his sense of “betrayal” at the outcome of World War I, calling for revenge against France and expansion eastward into Russia. 

The second volume outlined his plan to gain and maintain power. While often illogical and full of grammatical errors, Mein Kampf was provocative and subversive, making it appealing to the many Germans who felt displaced at the end of World War I.

Anointing himself as Führer (“leader”) and having achieved full control over the legislative and executive branches of government, Hitler and his political allies embarked on a systematic suppression of the remaining political opposition. 

From 1933 until the start of the war in 1939, Hitler and his Nazi regime instituted hundreds of laws and regulations to restrict and exclude Jews in society. These anti-Semitic laws were issued throughout all levels of government, making good on the Nazis’ pledge to persecute Jews. Additional legislation restricted the number of Jewish students at schools and universities, limited Jews working in medical and legal professions, and revoked the licenses of Jewish tax consultants. 

The Nuremberg Laws also set forth the “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour,” which banned marriage between non-Jewish and Jewish Germans; and the Reich Citizenship Law, which deprived “non-Aryans” of the benefits of German citizenship.

Jewish doctors were also barred from treating “Aryan” patients. Jews were required to carry identity cards and, in the fall of 1938, Jewish people had to have their passports stamped with a “J.”

Hitler’s eugenic policies also targeted children with physical and developmental disabilities, later authorizing a euthanasia program for disabled adults. 

Between the start of World War II, in 1939, and its end, in 1945, Nazis and their collaborators were responsible for the deaths of at least 11 million noncombatants, including about six million Jews, representing two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe. 

As part of Hitler’s “Final Solution,” the genocide enacted by the regime would come to be known as the Holocaust.

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