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Communism Essay

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Communism is a relatively new term but still holds its place across numerous societies across the world. Communism is a social and economic system in which all resources, such as property, are owned collectively by the classless society. This essay will look into what communism looked like in South East Asia in the 20th century and some of the various conflicts that saw the west fighting to keep their way of life and attempting to prevent the spread of communism which threatened western power and control. These battles such as the Vietnam War and the battle of Dien Bien Phu demonstrated western countries becoming involved in order to fight off the threat of communism spreading across the world. This western involvement in these conflicts was rationalized by the use of the domino theory developed by American politicians which will be analyzed in this essay to demonstrate the fear that the western world held around the potential power of communism.

Communism ideology was founded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who both wrote and published The Communist Manifesto. They spoke of ending capitalism and felt as though people being assigned a social class was a means of exploitation, especially for the working class. In a communist society, all privately owned possessions, such as land and food, were eliminated and would belong to the community as a whole. Communism is most associated with people contributing what they can based on their ability and receiving in accordance with their needs and this promoted society being put first as opposed to the specific needs of a single person. Communism does not only focus on items or possessions but it also abolished distinct titles or categories, for example, communism promoted no difference between intellectual and manual labor. This not only extended opportunities to significantly more people but also opened up the way for unlimited human potential. While communism is still present today, there are still relevant criticisms but also elements of communism that appeal to individuals and societies. One of the main criticism of communism is the fact that some communist societies have little tolerance for other ideals, customs, and even religion which often leads to a totalitarian leadership that does not align with the traditional ideals of the communist ideology. From an economic perspective, there are also reproaches around trade and the impact a communist society could have on trade and production where there could be possible limitations on incentives to turn a profit. Alternatively, communism can also be effective in quickly achieving the goals of the society as a whole as the ideology overrides the self-interest of the individual. It is not difficult to imagine the threat that this ideology posed to the way of life in the west during the 20th century where the upper class was profiting and enjoying the advancements of the industrial revolution, the reformations in society, and having the capacity to enjoy lavish possessions. Communism threatened the very way of life and indulgence of the west and was almost considered insulting to think of a society where all were considered equal in standing and in possessions and wheat.

There are many reasons why the west did not like the idea of communism however the main fear was that of losing power and control.

World War II:

A western presence has already been established in South East Asia in the 20t century and at the time of World War II. During this time, Japanese forces invaded Vietnam, and to fight them off, the political leader of Vietnam at the time formed the Viet Minh or the League for the Independence of Vietnam. This was inspired by Chinese and Soviet communism and it was hoped that this would not only push back the Japanese but would also expel the French colonial administration which had been present since the 19th century.

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The Domino Theory:

To justify its involvement in the Vietnam War and support South Vietnam’s non-communist ruler, the United States of America used the Domino Theory. The Domino theory was a notion to arise from the Cold War that suggested that a communist government or leadership in one country would quickly result in communist takeovers in neighboring countries and each subsequently falling to communism much like a game of dominos. It was feared that communist control in Vietnam would lead to communist victories in neighboring countries such as Thailand, Caboaid, and Laos and eventually reach Japan, India, and even Australia, and New Zealand. This theory was spread and stressed the strategic importance of the United States of America involving themselves in the war in order to prevent the successful spread of communism.

Vietnam War:

The most prevalent example of this was the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War essentially pinned the communist government of North Vietnam again South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States of America. Over 50, 000 Americans were killed in this war and more than half of the dead were Vietnamese civilians. Communist forces put an end to the war by gaining control of South Vietnam in 1975 and the following year the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. After the Vietnam War, Vietnam is united under communism and Laos also becomes communist.

Dien Bien Phu

The battle of Dien Bien Phu is another example of communist societies threatening western ideals and controls. The battle took place in 1954 and was fought between the communist-led Viet Minh and the French at a valley bordering China call Dien Bien Phu. The battle ended with the French defeated and consequently also defeated the French colonial rule in Aisa. The French significantly underestimated the military strength of their counterparts and discounted the support and reinforcement of the communist campaign.

Soviet Union

What could arguably be the initial seeds of fear planted within the leadership of the western world during the 20th century was the formation of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union came about after Russia emerged from a civil war in the early 1900s. This Marxist-Communist state would become one of the largest and most influential nations in the world. The history of the formation speaks of revolutionaries overthrowing the autocratic rulers of Russia at the time and ending decades of Romanov leadership. A civil war was ensured until a treaty was formed by the official Union of Soviet Socualused Republics (USSR). The established communist party which was led by Marxist politicians took control of the government and would expand the USSR to include 15 Soviet Socialist Republics. The cessation of World War II saw the Soviet Union’s wartime alliance with the United States of America and Great Britain diminish and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed as a show of western power in the face of potential communist influence across America and Great Britain. This retaliated with the Soviet Union’s consolidated power with other Eastern countries to form a rival alliance called the Warsaw Pact which instigated the Cold War. The Soviet Union continued to gain power and wealth sometimes at the expense of the citizens and this inevitably led to its downfall with its dissolving in the early 1990s. The Soviet Union did not have a dominating presence in East Asia in the 20th century, it sets the scene as to what other communist influences in the world are impacting the western dislike of a communist society.

In summary, it is evident that the West was challenged by an idea of communism that diminished the power and control of the leaders and upper class. This threat not only came from South East Asia but also other powerful communist forces such as the Soviet Union in Russia. In attempts to maintain power and control, wars were waged and thousands of lives have been lost. This is best evidenced by the Vietnam War and World War II where communism appealed to many and threatened western ideals by spreading through the South East Asian countries. The battle of Dien Bien Phu is another example where communists were underestimated and thought of as nothing more than a bunch of farmers with handmade weapons which saw the embarrassing defeat of the French. Overall, it is clear that the idea of communism and eliminating the class system threaten the very way of life that was present in the west and would promote an ideal for all men to be equal.


  1. Henderson, William. “Communist movements in South East Asia.” Journal of International Affairs 8, no.1 (1954): 32-42.
  2. Ball, W. Macmahon. ‘The Communist Problem in East Asia-A Western View.’ Pacific Affairs 24, no. 3 (1951): 241-55. doi:10.2307/2753726
  3. Kroef, Justus. Communism in South-East Asia. London: Palgrave, 1981, 1-69.
  4. Wade, Geoff. ‘The Beginnings of a ‘Cold War in Southeast Asia: British and Australian Perceptions.’ Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 40, no. 3 (2009): 543-65.
  5. Vlekke, B. H. M. ‘Communism and Nationalism in South East Asia.’ International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944) 25, no. 2 (1949): 149-56.
  6. Hett, Benjamin. ‘The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe.’ Canadian Journal of History 52, no. 1 (2017): 139-41.
  7. Mawdsley, Evan. “World War II, Soviet Power, and International Communism”, last modified 2017.
  8. Matray, James. ‘Southeast Asia – Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot”. The Journal of Asian Studies 54, no. 3 (1995): 907.
  9. History Channel. “Vietnam War”, last modified 2019.
  10. Guan, Ang Cheng. ‘The Vietnam War, 1962-64: The Vietnamese Communist Perspective.’ Journal of Contemporary History 35, no. 4 (2000): 601-18.
  11. Cambodia suffers under the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal communism in the late seventies. Indonesia has a strong communist party, which is influential under its first president, Sukarno (1901–1970). However, the military purged thousands of suspected communists in 1965.
  12. There were sixteen thousand American advisers in South Vietnam in 1963; during the next ten years, some three million American soldiers would serve there
  13. With independence, several Southeast Asian countries turn to democracy or constitutional monarchy. However, struggles between communist and anticommunist factions plague the region for much of the 1960s and ’70s.
  14. But many scholars believe Indonesia’s invasion was tacitly approved by the United States and Australia to prevent communists from taking control of East Timor. Indonesia occupied East Timor from 1975 to 1999.

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