Communism: The Promise and the Reality

Communism: The Promise and the Reality

2000, Politics  -    -  Playlist 155 Comments
Ratings: 6.24/10 from 130 users.

CommunismThis a PBS documentary which looks into how Communism started with Vladimir Lenin's Bolsheviks revolution. Also offers testimony of members of the Red Guard, party activists, students, and workers striving to build a modern industrial state.

Communism is a social structure and political ideology in which property is commonly controlled. Communism (written with a capital C) is a modern political movement that aims to overthrow capitalism via revolution to create a classless society where all goods are publicly owned. Karl Marx posited that communism would be the final stage in human society, which would be achieved through a proletarian revolution and only becoming possible after a socialist stage develops the productive forces, leading to a superabundance of goods and services.

"Pure communism" in the Marxian sense refers to a classless, stateless and oppression-free society where decisions on what to produce and what policies to pursue are made democratically, allowing every member of society to participate in the decision-making process in both the political and economic spheres of life.

In modern usage, communism is often used to refer to Bolshevism or Marxism-Leninism and the policies of the various communist states which had government ownership of all the means of production and centrally planned economies. Communist regimes have historically been authoritarian, repressive, and coercive governments concerned primarily with preserving their own power. Episodes included: 1. Red Flag, 2. Fallout, 3. Brave New World, 4. Great Leap Forward, 5. Guerrilla Wars, and 6. People Power.

More great documentaries

Notify of

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Glossing-over the millions of poor peasants that Lenin Ruthlessly butchered seems a bit disingenuous to me. Lenin was a sadist and a madman. He promised poor people a better life. Then when he gained absolute power he began systematically murdering anyone who spoke against his party. He burned every church he could find and killed religious leaders all over the country. This film is pro communist propaganda. They trot out some ancient hardline communist party members and anti-capitalist socialists in an effort to make Marxism look like a good thing. Seeking to deceive a new generation? Communism is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of people world-wide. Marx was a lunatic, Lenin was a sadist and communism is a failure.

David Dieni
2 years ago

Just the Facts: US Military Interventions

Envío team

The US population has a strong self-image of charity toward those "less fortunate," both at home and abroad. Many, as a result, cannot comprehend the common use in the Third World of the term imperialist to describe the United States, or the frequency with which the slogan "Yankee Go Home" is written on walls all over Latin America. Equally incomprehensible, it would appear, is the response of many Latin American nations to the current US military invasion of Panama. Their demands for non-intervention, for the recognition of sovereignty and self-determination, fall on the deaf ears of those in the United States proud of their government's role as "policeman" of the region—a self-appointed role consecrated in the Monroe Doctrine of 1922 and carried out unilaterally ever since.

We list below the nearly 100 US military interventions in and occupations of Latin American countries since 1798. The list does not include US-sponsored military coups such as in Guatemala in 1954; destabilization efforts such as those the US implemented in Chile in 1970-73; or US-financed wars by local allies such as that fought in Nicaragua for the past eight years.

Mexico: 1806, 1814-25, 1836, 1842, 1844, 1846-48, 1859, 1866, 1870, 1873, 1876, 1913, 1914-17, 1918-19.

Cuba: 1814-25, 1822, 1823, 1824, 1825, 1898-99, 1906-09, 1912, 1917-33, 1933, 1956-58, 1961, 1962.

Dominican Republic: 1798-1800, 1814-1825, 1903, 1904, 1914, 1916-24, 1961, 1964, 1965.

Haiti: 1888, 1891, 1914, 1915-34, 1957.

Puerto Rico: 1814-25, 1898-99.

Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad, Bermuda, St. Lucia, Bahamas: 1940

Grenada: 1983.

Guatemala: 1920, 1962

Honduras: 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924, 1925.

Nicaragua: 1853, 1854, 1857, 1894, 1896, 1898, 1899, 1910, 1912-25, 1926-33.

Costa Rica: 1921

Panama: 1856, 1865, 1885, 1903-14, 1918-20, 1921, 1925, 1959, 1964, 1989

Colombia: 1860, 1868, 1873, 1895, 1901, 1902.

Brazil: 1894

Peru: 1835-36.

Paraguay: 1859

Chile: 1891

Uruguay: 1855, 1858, 1868

Argentina: 1831-32, 1833, 1852-53, 1890.

4 years ago

greed will never let it work

Gus Brum
6 years ago

Anti-communist propaganda. So blatantly wrong from the historical point of view, that it borders the unwatchable.

6 years ago

communism is a disease. democracy is no better. it is more of the attempt to run the machinery of civilization by the mob

6 years ago

Looks like this doco has a low rating, because of the communists not liking the truth.
Human nature dictates that communism will never work.
Communism is based on force, and theft.

7 years ago

Summary: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Rod Hertz
7 years ago

Let's get down to the brass tacks and remove Marx's and his successors labels and ideology and see what a "communist" state actual is or perhaps resembles: USSR and China were/are respectively empires. A central nation ruling other states/ethnicities over vast territories is an empire. No two ways about it! It can be argued they can be categorized as theocratic empires because the ruling state imposes a dogma over its "assimilated" lands. Questioning the sacrosanct message carries huge penalties. Smaller states (Cuba, Vietnam, etc.) are client kingdoms or vassals or what have you.

A rose by any other name, ladies and gentlemen. I would argue that revolutionaries Lenin, Mao, and their inner circles used Marx's body of work (silly shit at best) to trick their respective motherlands peasant population into trading one type of despotism for another. It is undeniable that Tsar and Emperor were exchanged for Premier and Chairman respectively.

Quite the ruse.

Nom De Ploome
7 years ago

In fact that, quite simply, is precisely what this country - not to mention many, many others! - should do right away.

Nom De Ploome
7 years ago

If greed were made a capital offence and evident displays of greed were legally punishable in a court of law, the result would make an infinitely better and far more equable society - which, as far as I can see, would make everyone's lives - except the demonstrably greedy, of course - so very much better. Indeed, downright civilised all round. How "COOL" is that...???

Nom De Ploome
7 years ago

Which, of course, means that Capitalism is the root of all evil. Because it inevitably invites greed as the overall controlling element and therefore always LEADS to war...!

Nom De Ploome
7 years ago

delia ruhe is absolutely right. And Capitalists are absolutely wrong. Why...?

Because they are ALWAYS the ones on the lookout for ways to amass more and more money - solely for themselves...!

delia ruhe
8 years ago

After a while you get tired of blaming soviet communism on Marx. Marx definitely did not figure into his theory an attempt to outspend the US military. Indeed, nowhere in the Marxian model will you even find a standing army.

It also pays to remember that Lenin was no Marxist. Marx didn't envision a vanguard that would do all the governing while the people would do all the labour -- a sure recipe for oppression of the masses.

Some very useful Marxist principles can be woven into a steady-state capitalism, but the point-one-percent would never permit an economic system without the growth that leads to excesses of wealth for the rich and environmental destruction for the rest of us.

8 years ago

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov...Lenin was a pseudonym to help him escape capture and certain death, unfortunately, his pseudonym didn't help, c. 1896/97 he was arrested, imprisoned, and sent into exile to Siberia.

8 years ago

Who was the director?

8 years ago

The Russian people continue to respect Lenin and the Soviet state.

Their judgement should count for something.

And Christianity and Islam cost a lot of sacrifices, too.

Peter JC
8 years ago

Deterioration of ancient mummies may be caused by climate change

8 years ago

Communism: the monopoly of everything by the biggest and most powerful evil corporation of them all.

8 years ago

five minutes on the legendary cuban revolution? nothing on yugoslavia? and not the most unbiased documentary I have ever seen...

8 years ago

so you are saying that the biggest capitalist nation in the world has not killed one singel person in the name of liberty?Or that theres no such thing as capitalist nations with poor and starving people?
wow....are you serious??

P.S as far as know dictatorship and communism are two different things....

8 years ago

so you are saying that the biggest capitalist nation in the world has not killed one singel person in the name of liberty? or capitalist nations with starving people?? are seriuos??

as far as know dictatorship and communism are two different things....

9 years ago

It is horrific what these communist regimes did, the genocide and denial of basic civil liberties. You have to remember though that there are many communists who want total economic equality within a democratic system, who are totally disgusted by the USSR and who view that supposed form of "communism" as totally alien. All dictatorships and totalitarian states are in my mind fascist, whatever ideological claims they make themsleves.

It is a mistake to view communism as monolithic and to say the ideology is responsible for these crimes and so communists of whatever stripe are somehow complicit. Supporters of capitalism are no more responsible for the many millions who have died under capitalist systems, during the pursuit of profit (largely under European Imperialism), than are communists for the Great Leap Forward. FYI not a communist.

9 years ago

If only communism didn't have to own up to its track record and live by its results... but it does. A tough fact for the privileged adolescents who made all these worthless comments and whose power will never be more than theoretical.

Hobidias Orion
10 years ago

I love the people who talk about Marx, but never read him. I love the people who talk about Communism, but cant define it correctly.I love the people who talk about communism as if it was a super welfare state. I love the people who talk about Lenin, as if Bolshevism wasn't a complete failure and a divergence from communist analysis. I love the people who talk about the Soviet Union, but cant give respectable critique that isn't a false regurgitation of what their parents told them. I love the people who talk about the success of capitalism, even though it has been the most destructive and murderous economic system that has ever existed.

You will find all these people on this thread. Enjoy the facepalm.

10 years ago

I loved the remark at the 2:20 time mark, "the fruits of their labor will be hospitals, housing, and schools." In America, the left has controlled education for years. Government dispensing money to schools, with socialist strings attached, and the Federal government has taken over student loans. Housing is also controlled by the federal government through regulations, the Federal Reserve, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae under the guise of providing "Affordible Housing" for the poor. Healthcare was nationalized through Obamacare and its just a time before all healthcare workers become De facto government employees .

Jenna Miller
10 years ago

this whole "in theory, communism is a good idea" is just WISHFUL THINKING.. good ideas WORK.. bad ideas FAIL.. communism is a FAILURE everywhere it has been tried.. any attempts to shift blame from communism to the failure of pathocrats is just like moving the goalpost.. oh.. if only this leader or that leader did exactly has how marx infinitum.. the problem is that communism's "champions" won't apply critical thinking to their own ideas.. they whisper these ideas like prayers hoping for a great outcome, and like the religionists that they hate, they can't let go.. they simply can't.. communism is a MACRO-SOCIAL EVIL and a MORAL EVIL.. it relegates people into objects/material producers, it doesn't generate intellectuals and idealists, just conformists and cynics.. every. damn. time. #ponerology

10 years ago

Capitalism could have been a great idea, but it isn' enterprise sounds awesome...if only it were free... the trickle down theory sounds great but it doesn't work .. Capitalism in today's world is about making the most amount of money without spending alot ...its about deregulation...its about outsourcing ...its about multi billion dollar corporations setting up shop in impoverished countries to make obscene amounts of money but not giving anything back to the community that its feeding off of.
Its not style of government or economic system that is flawed its the corrupt people/rulers/presidents/CEO's running these practices that are flawed. It looked like Communism had a good start with Lenin, but he died before Communism had a chance to solidify and then Stalin took over this brand new form of government which was still being birthed and turned it into a weapon against the people, so blame Stalin not Communism. then we had the whole "Red Scare" witch hunts developed by our government to incite fear into the public and that fear still lingers today ...Democratic Socialism on the other hand has a good chance in the 21st century a system of government that focuses on social issues not profit.

10 years ago

Communism would work if there was no human greed, however there are things that wouldnt work. People have opinions, and have dreams, and will never give that up. You need to think about it more as a human being, no nationality or race. The countries will fall, but in todays "communist" societies there will be no fairness, because all humans have greed. Everyone should be able to experience love, religion, and not be forced into doing what some person that has never met them decides for them to do. Whats the point in life if you just do what has been laid out for you. Listen to Charley Chaplin's "Machine Men" speech. Id rather die on my feet than live on my knees.

10 years ago

I have to say I was a bit disappointed because of several reasons:
1. there are no statistics (at least estimates) of how many people died from the regimes, were sent to the work camps etc.
2. the second part has practically nothing to do with communism - it´s about the international competition for who will get further in the field of mass destruction weapons, which is interesting, but doesn´t really talk about communism.
3. there is practically no information on how the WWII evolved and ended (with occupation of many countries by the soviet union) - where the soviet union stood in the beginning and at the end of the war.
4. some communist regimes have been kept out of the movie almost completely - there is only a 5 min material on Cuba (just about the guerilla wars, no insight at all in what happened in Cuba after Castro took control) and absolutely nothing about Africa and guerilla wars there.
5. the last episode is dedicated to the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the soviet union, but it mentions only a few countries that separated and doesn´t talk at all about regions like the Baltic states (which in the whole documentary aren´t mentioned even once) and the fight for freedom there as if they were non-existing.
All in all it´s ok, but there´s a whole host of things and facts that are missing.

11 years ago

if it does not include a MacDonnalds i am out!

11 years ago

Silvia, you should get your head checked out, if you can find a good neurologist in your communist Serbia...

11 years ago

Dear Julia Tyler Baizley: I'm very sorry to hear that. And unfortunately, there has always been, and there will always be poverty. And all the communism in the world never changed that. In fact, quite the opposite. I've never lived a grand life, but I've lived in both spectrums, and I can tell you, the only people people who get rich are the government, and their hand picked favorites that destroys competition..and guess what? You pay what they TELL you to pay. That's what happens when you nationalize an economy. I really wish people would start reading up on Lenin, Marx, Darwin and the like. Maybe throw in some Communist Manifesto, Stalin, Hitler, and Moa reading. See what communism brought starving peasants, and the aforementioned mens' reaction to it. It's chilling. I've seen firsthand what Soros did to Hungary introducing capitalism after the Soviets. If that's capitalism, then I'm Santa Claus. By the way, the poor in America are RICH compared to the poor in Europe. That is all for now. I do truly wish you a speedy recovery, and good health. Don't give up. It'll get better...but socialism, aka communism isn't the answer.

11 years ago

So many success stories for you all to share. Communism, Fascism, and Socialism have killed millions. How smart you all are to put your faith in the hands of a few, mere mortals. YOU ARE SO STUPID. Live in Europe and see how you like it. I AM. And capitalism rocks. #Serbia

Maxov Max
11 years ago

In the entire history of mankind, a communist state has never existed and none do right now. The USSR wasn’t communist, China isn’t, North Korea isn’t. For most people this will be a shock – but it is entirely true. In reality, what most people think of as communism is actually socialism. 

11 years ago

The only reason communism doesn't work is because it is controlled by a central authority. Peer-peer communism has never been tried. Voluntary communism has never been tried. The problem is authority, not sharing resources.

11 years ago

Besides, if you don´t like the oppresive-mass-media-monopolistic system where you live you can always leave for a "less capitalist" country (there are a few yet). No steel wall would stop you. Could people leave their beautiful communist paradises so easily?

11 years ago

Marx was on of the greatest critics of capitalism and probably one of the best thinkers in his time. However, he was just that, a thinker. His theories completely ignored what human nature is all about. It was not people who seized power in October 1917 Revolution, but an all-powerful oppressive and greedy bureaucracy. Did Marx really expect what would the practical developments of his theory turned out to be? Of course he couldn´t see them. He firmly expected that the state would eventually disappear, when it turned out to be just the opposite. It´s just the dangers of beautiful theories when put into practice.

Of course, there are many t they things don´t want me to see in western newspapers, but at least I can freely talk or write about them even if I don´t know what they really are. Can they do the same in communist country or in any dictatorship?

11 years ago

Communism is the biggest lie in history. A failured and inefficient system promises a paradise on earth to those who believed (some still do) that the only way to defeat capitalism is by means of left-wing dictatorships and personality worship. It´s hard to find substantial differences between them and fascist "Hitler styled" gobernments. Just have a look at the remains of communism nowadays: Cuba and North Corea. They have become monarchy systems supported by official propaganda and thorough brainwashing, while many of their people starve and demand freedom secretly. Of course many people in western countries starve, but at least I can learn it from newspapers.

Alberto, Madrid, Spain

12 years ago

so what will be the next big experiment?

12 years ago

communism is a very interesting idea that can only be gradually achieved. any great social change that still requires men or women to be in charge can only go one direction and that direction will always be dictatorship.
with the growing energy crisis, food shortage and lack of equal health care coupled with the increasing freedom of information, intellectual property and soon physical property i can only assume that the answer to all our problems is the gradual devaluing of all materials.

as soon as we live in a society that has abundant energy, food and health care then the need for money will slowly disappear and the result will be communism. machines are the best way to produce the things we need, we will very soon be able to produce all the food we need in labs and hydroponic systems, we will soon (although not nearly soon enough) be totally detached from our need for oil and therefore the crippling monetary and social constraints that go with it. slowly but surely, the better we get at this and the more efficient our technology then it will be only a matter of time before people realize that paying for something that accessible is ridiculous. it has already happened with music and film (intellectual property) thanks to the incredible accessibility given to us by the internet.

this (i believe) is the only way to truly reach our human potential to learn, express, create and be free. not "free" to buy this product or that product but truly free.
we've come an incredibly long way in the last 200 years even with (Lenin would have said because of) the tremendous set backs of mass genocide and inequality and in my opinion the uphill struggle that we started almost 200,000 years ago is leveling out in some pretty spectacular ways. i have great faith in what lies ahead.

12 years ago

I grew up under the communism and my country is still under its control. I don't know what was Karl Marx's theory about communism for I have never read his book. But in my country, communism means denial of personal identity. You cannot protect your private property and safety of you and your family. The government can take away anything from you. They can kill you at any moment for no reason and then they lie to other people so that everyone believe that you are guilty. Many of my countrymen immigrated to the western countries and they are still afraid to criticize the communist party in public with real name for the fear of secret police.

12 years ago

'KC you said “Communism is at its heart a flawed and inherently evil system.” I just want to point out that there has never been a communist system ever! Those that called themselves communist were in fact distorted versions of their ideological selves, plagued with totalitarianism and a state which does not exist under a true communist system. We have never seen true communism as it was intended by Marx.'

This is ceertainly true. Although I do not support a comunist system, I do not believe that it has ever been achieved.

'and filled with the ugly truth of this jewish ideology, which amounts to nothing more than Gentile pest control. Peter'

Anti-semitism filth. I am an athiest and hate biggots like you. If there is a hell your type will rot in it.

12 years ago

Characteristics od Communist :

1. He works less and expects more.
2. He fights for rights but forgets resposibilities.
3. He is never satisfied with any system.
4. He is always envious towards employer, dreams to make him poor.
5. He Speaks language of philosophy.
6. He always hates Americans, Jews and Hindus.

12 years ago

Most of the people here know about Communism what they read or hear about it. I did not need to do any reading, for I lived through it in the first 20 some years of my life. The extreme poverty, the unlimited power of the security police to take away, torture and kill people at will (sometime for their own personal sadistic pleasure) and the constant fear from everyone. Even your best friend could have been black- mailed to report on you. To me that is what Communism IS, not the ideological fairy tail from Marx. The leaders of the communist countries are responsible for murdering more people during the 70 years than all the dead, fallen or killed, during WW2. Only Hitler came close to them, but fortunately for the world he was in power for much shorter time. Though what we have here today makes me agitated time to time, yet the choice is absolutely clear: no Communism for me again, ever!!!

12 years ago

What's missing in this is that Marx, was the sone of a jewish rabbi, and was approached by a goup of front-men for the International Banking house of Rothschilds to create a systen that could be used to polarize the world. And, Brett, i read the Manifesto, and was one of the more rediculous books i ever read - may communism be abandoned forever, it has only ever brought pain to human beings. Read the "Black Book of Communism" , 18 yrs. of research, several think tanks of largely former communists, and filled with the ugly truth of this jewish ideology, which amounts to nothing more than Gentile pest control. Peter

12 years ago

KC, I am a sociology major and I can tell you honestly that communism is not a "flawed and inherently evil system." The only way you could have come to that conclusion is by judging communism by the deeds of the nations that have identified themselves as such. If you ever get a chance to read the "Communist Manifesto" do so. It is very enlightening.

12 years ago

KC you said "Communism is at its heart a flawed and inherently evil system." I just want to point out that there has never been a communist system ever! Those that called themselves communist were in fact distorted versions of their ideological selves, plagued with totalitarianism and a state which does not exist under a true communist system. We have never seen true communism as it was intended by Marx.

13 years ago


I couldn't agree more. True Communism would infer commonality, a commonality amongst all men. A universal rule or motto that creates and strengthens a bond between us all. The only challenge then is to reinvent a system where any position of authority can not be corrupted, where there is no benefit to corruption. Call it communism call it what you will. A pipe dream maybe? But if the opportunity is to present itself where the people "the commons" can overcome counterrevolution, socialism, totalitarianism, is it not possible that we could create a technological based system that produces mass goods on a level that satisfies the basic needs of the entire civilization without the loss of human dignity, without the fear of exploitation from shadow influences? Only then can communism truly have a chance for reinvention, sustainability.

13 years ago

A bit subjective but it was historically correct wasn't it?
Though Mao did a lot of great for the country in the 50's but for the failures of the cultural revolution and the great leap forward, blame his dictatorship, not the economy system that is communism. Same with Stalin, the guy was a dictator with a communist economy system.
Even the 14th Dalai Lama said: "The failure of the regime in the former Soviet Union was, for me, not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I still think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist."

13 years ago

i basically think we should have as much freedom as possible as individuals and capitalism seems to offer this. I think helping others should be a choice we make rather than forced by communsim (i.e. working for others). So capitalism with a conscience seems the best to me.

However, I'd like to learn more about socialism, it seems like a bit of a mid way between capitalism and communism because capitilism can be too selfish and communism too selfless....