An economic, social and political system theoretically based on common property and an equal distribution of income and wealth, communism may be seen as temporary or part of an evolutionary process, or as inherently repressive and a menace which can only be avoided if the system is prevented democratically or otherwise from obtaining power. Many opponents of the system see no alternative to the latter interpretation.
Throughout history a variety of communist movements and societies have existed sporadically. Modern communism is exemplified by Marxism or Marxism-Leninism but the ideology of communism is still evolving and new forms and compromises with communist utopian theory are emerging in western Europe and Asia.
It has been estimated that, at a minimum, the social cost of communism appears to have involved 50 million fatalities. Summary executions in the process of taking power involved at least 1 million people in the USSR, several million in China, about 100,000 in eastern Europe and at least 150,000 in Viet Nam. If execution of political opponents after the acquisition of power is included, the combined total has been about 5 million. The extermination of people belonging to certain social categories deemed to be hostile, increases this by some 3 to 5 million. The liquidation of the independent peasantry adds a further 10 million. Fatalities associated with mass deportation and forced resettlement put the number of victims in the USSR at between 7 and 10 million, and in China at about 27 million. The execution or death of purged communists in labour camps resulted in the liquidation of over 1 million between 1936 and 1938. In eastern Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s tens of thousands of communists were killed or imprisoned. In China, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, it is estimated that several million must have suffered a similar fate.
Despite the overthrow of communist monopolies in eastern Europe, local communist parties are using the new democracies to create a new role for themselves. In some former republics, its institutional structures have survived in their entirety, while in all of them millions of cadre officials remain in reserve. Its roots remain embedded in the consciousness and life of the people. In contrast with the crowds in the streets and their fledgling political competitors, the communist parties have the political habit, know-how and organization to encourage their ambitious and able members to seek a new role through which to influence the evolution of their societies. Given the weakness and fragmentation of their competitors, possibly following the immediate changes, there is some probability that their influence could predominate once again. Indeed, in 1992 and 1993, respectively, communist governments were elected in Lithuania and Poland. Other former Soviet-bloc countries have revamped their communist governments by casting out old ideologies and adopting new names and new, younger leaders. Most notable are Serbia, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine. Communist-type parties remain active forces in the political scene in Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Latvia.
The end of communism acclaimed in 1990, was primarily of significance in Europe. Of the 1.7 billion people living under communist rule in 1989, 1.4 billion continued to do so in 1993.