A List of Current Communist Countries in the World

Post-Soviet Communism Is on the Wane

Communist countries of the world

ThoughtCo / 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.

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China (People's Republic of China)

Chinese flag

Grant Faint / Photodisc / Getty Images

Mao Zedong took control over China in 1949 and proclaimed the nation as the People's Republic of China, a communist country. China has remained consistently communist since then, and the country has been called "Red China" due to the Communist Party's control.

China does have political parties other than the Communist Party of China (CPC), and open elections are held locally throughout the country. That said, however, the CPC has control over all political appointments, and little opposition typically exists for the ruling Communist Party.

As China has opened up to the rest of the world in recent decades, the resulting disparities of wealth have eroded some of the principles of communism. In 2004, the country's constitution was changed to recognize private property.

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Cuba (Republic of Cuba)

Cuban flag flying over Havana
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A revolution in 1953 led to the takeover of the Cuban government by Fidel Castro and his associates. By 1965, Cuba became a fully communist country and developed close ties to the Soviet Union. At the same time, the United States imposed a ban on all trade with Cuba. Because of this, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba was forced to find new sources for trade and financial subsidies. It did so in countries including China, Bolivia, and Venezuela.

In 2008, Fidel Castro stepped down and his brother, Raul Castro, became president; Fidel died in 2016. During U.S. President Barack Obama's second term, relations between the two nations were relaxed and travel restrictions loosened. In June 2017, however, President Donald Trump rolled this back and tightened travel restrictions on Cuba.

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Laos (Lao People's Democratic Republic)

Laotian flag

Iwan Gabovitch / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Laos—officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic—became a communist country in 1975 following a revolution supported by Vietnam and the Soviet Union. The country had previously been a monarchy.

Laos' government is largely run by military generals who support a one-party system grounded in Marxist ideals. In 1988 though, the country began allowing some forms of private ownership, and it joined the World Trade Organization in 2013.

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North Korea (DPRK, Democratic People's Republic of Korea)

North Korean flag
Alain Nogues / Corbis via Getty Images

Korea was occupied by Japan during World War II, and after the war, it was divided into a Russian-dominated north and an American-occupied south. At the time, no one thought the partition would be permanent, but the division has lasted.

North Korea did not become a communist country until 1945 when South Korea declared its independence from the North, which quickly declared its own sovereignty in return. Backed by Russia, Korean communist leader Kim Il-Sung was installed as leader of the new nation.

The North Korean government doesn't consider itself communist, even if most world governments do. Instead, the Kim family has promoted its own brand of communism based on the concept of juche (self-reliance).

First introduced in the mid-1950s, juche promotes Korean nationalism as embodied in the leadership of (and cult-like devotion to) the Kims. Juche became official state policy in the 1970s and was continued under the rule of Kim Jong-il, who succeeded his father in 1994, and Kim Jong-un, who rose to power in 2011.

In 2009, the country's constitution was changed to remove all mention of the Marxist and Leninist ideas that are the foundation of communism, and the very word "communism" was also removed.

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Vietnam (Socialist Republic of Vietnam)

Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh
Rob Ball / Getty Images

Vietnam was partitioned at a 1954 conference that followed the First Indochina War. While the partition was supposed to be temporary, North Vietnam became communist and was supported by the Soviet Union while South Vietnam became democratic and was supported by the United States.

Following two decades of war, the two parts of Vietnam were unified, and in 1976, Vietnam as a unified country became communist. Like other communist countries, Vietnam has, in recent decades, moved toward a market economy that has seen some of its socialist ideals supplanted by capitalism.

The U.S. normalized relations with Vietnam in 1995 under then-president Bill Clinton.

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Countries With Ruling Communist Parties

Nepal flag
Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

Several countries with multiple political parties have had leaders who are affiliated with their nation's communist party. However, these states are not considered truly communist because of the presence of other political parties, and because the Communist Party is not specifically empowered by the constitution. Nepal, Guyana, and Moldova have all had ruling communist parties in recent years.

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Socialist Countries

Portugal flag

David Stanley / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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. 

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Rosenberg, Matt. "A List of Current Communist Countries in the World." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/communist-countries-overview-1435178. Rosenberg, Matt. (2020, August 28). A List of Current Communist Countries in the World. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/communist-countries-overview-1435178 Rosenberg, Matt. "A List of Current Communist Countries in the World." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/communist-countries-overview-1435178 (accessed March 30, 2023).