Dictators have been the driving force behind communism, even from the very beginning. Some of the more influential communist dictators include:
- Vladimir Ilich Lenin: Although Marx is considered the father of communism, Lenin is the one who put his theories into practice, effectively turning Russia from a czarist nation to a communist one. Lenin ruled Russia from 1917 until his death in 1924.
- Joseph Stalin: As Lenin's extremely powerful successor, Stalin took communism to new heights when he governed the Soviet Union from 1922 until 1953.
- Mao Zedong: Mao founded the communist movement in China and ruled the country for more than 25 years until his death in 1976.
- Ho Chi Minh: Once a covert agent for Moscow, Ho Chi Minh is credited with spreading communism to Vietnam. A devoted follower of Stalin, he is probably best known for his guerilla warfare tactics.
- Kim Il-sung: Father of North Korea's current leader, Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung worked closely with the Soviet Union and China to spread communism. North Korea has always remained very isolated from the rest of the world, often causing panic over the country's nuclear capabilities.
- Fidel Castro: Castro resigned as president of Cuba on Feb. 19, 2008, concluding a nearly 50-year reign. Castro and his revolutionaries overtook the country in 1959 and began a Marxist communist government. Thus, Cuba became the Western Hemisphere's inaugural communist state. Power has really been in the hands of Castro's brother Raul since 2006, when Castro's health began to wane. Raul succeeded his brother as dictator in 2008 [source: New York Times].
Rise of the First Communist Nation
Russia was a czarist nation when the philosophies of communism started to take hold. For centuries, Russia was ruled by a monarchy that wielded absolute power over the people: the Romanov Dynasty. Czar Nicholas II and his wife resisted the shift toward democracy that much of the world was making. The members of Russia's lower classes had long suffered in poverty. These two factors, combined with the huge losses suffered during World War I, made the czar very unpopular. In addition, he and his family were living in luxury while their subjects struggled for basic necessities [source: First World War].
By February 1917, the war had taken a massive toll on Russia -- both in the loss of human lives and in the form of a severe nationwide famine. When a metalworking plant closed, resulting in the loss of many jobs, strikes and protests broke out. Russia was in a state of chaos. The army was sent in to control the situation, but many of the soldiers sympathized with the workers and defected, choosing to support them instead. As many as 150,000 soldiers joined the massive protest -- which is now known as the February Revolution.
The situation went downhill so fast that the military lost control completely. With virtually no support from the military, Czar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate his throne. The Russian Provisional Government was set up to take his place, effectively ending the Romanov Dynasty. In July 1918, the Bolsheviks assassinated the czar and his family.
In the next section, we'll learn how Vladimir Lenin orchestrated the Communist Party's uprising.