Webster's Dictionary 
(n.) A scheme of equalizing the social conditions of life; specifically, a scheme which contemplates the abolition of inequalities in the possession of property, as by distributing all wealth equally to all, or by holding all wealth in common for the equal use and advantage of all.
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 
a theory of "community of property," often attempted to be realized in practice.
I. Communistic Ideas In The Religious And Philosophical Systems Of Ancient Paganism . — The most ancient form of communism known to us is found in the monasteries of Buddhism, in attempts to reach an ideal of sanctity by renouncing marriage and property. In the history of Greece, a form of society based upon community of goods is ascribed to the order of Pythagoreans. But by far the most important representative of communistic ideas in pagan antiquity is Plato, whose work on the ideal state still ranks among the best that has ever been written in favor of communism. Plato regards the possession of private property as the source of every evil for the state of avarice, of egotism, of a low character. He therefore allows only the lowest of the three classes, into which, according to him, the state is divided, and which he excludes from a participation in the government of the state, to possess private property. The two ruling classes, the archontes and the warriors, are subjected by Plato to compulsory communism in the widest sense of the word.
As both classes were to live exclusively for the state, and any private possession appeared to Plato as productive of egotism, he not only demanded for these two classes community of property, but, under certain restrictions, to be regulated by law, community of women. After the establishment of Christianity, the Neo-Platonic philosopher Plotinus was a prominent representative of communistic ideas, and applied to the Roman Emperor Gallienus for permission to establish a state according to the Platonic ideal, upon the ruins of a destroyed city of Calabria.
II. Communism Among The Jews . — Among the Jews, the sects of the Therapeutae and the Essenes, whose fundamental principle was the dualism of the Eastern religions, formed, like the Buddhists, communistic societies, the former on Lake Moeris in Egypt, the latter in the deserts near the Dead Sea. (See Therapeutae Essenes).
III. Monastic Communism And Socialism In The Ancient Christian Church. — The infant Christian Church at Jerusalem has been held up as at once an example of communism and an argument for it ( Acts 2:42; Acts 2:44; Acts 2:46). But the passage in Acts does not imply either an absolute, total, or compulsory community of goods. There is no trace in the New Testament of Jewish Essenism or of modern communism. Christianity carefully guards the individuality of each member, and considers love as the only law by which Christians are bound. It is true, however, on the other hand, that a communistic tendency existed in the Church, which developed itself in the 4th century in the establishment of the communities of anachorets and monks. (See Monachism).
The reformation of the monastic orders, began principally through the efforts of Bernard de Clairvaux in the 12th century, gave a new socialistic and communistic impulse to the laity, and led to the formation of religious bodies, united by vows of life-long poverty and asceticism. Such were the Humiliates (q.v.), who made vows of voluntary poverty, chastity, and fasting, but were not distinguished from the people in dress, though living together as a religious community; the Beghards (q.v.), a society of unmarried men, who lived in community under a master, and devoted themselves to manual labor and devotions; and a similar female association, formed as early as the 11th century, under the name of Beguines (q. v). These lay associations differed from the clerical communities by considering poverty and continence as essential rules, and bore more of a socialistic than a communistic character. In the 13th century, the Mendicant orders (q.v.) united the socialistic organization to the clerical character, and cast the lay brotherhoods in the shade. Another sort of communistic union was that of the Fratres et sorores liberi sptritus, (See Brethren Of The Free Spirit), (13th century), who held that the original state anterior to the Fall should be restored, and that the distinctions created by the law, of Church, state, society, should be abolished. In their secret assemblies (paradises) the principles of the community of goods and of women was advocated by naked preachers before naked audiences of both sexes. This sect extended under different names through France, Italy, and Germany. A similar sect, under the name of Adamites (q.v.), advocating the community of women, arose during the Hussite wars, but was put down by the Hussite general Ziska.
IV. Communistic And Socialistic Associations Of The Times Of The Reformation . — A socialistic impulse, tending to a universal division of property, lay at the foundation of the peasant war of Germany in the early days of the Reformation. The twelve articles of the peasants, however, demanded only the abolition of feudal privileges, not a total subversion of society. The Heavenly Prophets , instituted by Nicholas Storch in 1521, went further; they advocated the community of goods, the substitution of polygamy for monogamy, and the abolition of all civil and ecclesiastical authority. Munzer (q.v.) went still further; his doctrine of the absolute community of all possessions was pure communism. These doctrines were admitted to the fullest extent by the Anabaptists (q.v.) of Munster. Some isolated followers of Anabaptism in the Netherlands disseminated these doctrines afterwards in France and the north of Germany. Following in the same road we find the Libertines of Geneva, whom Calvin strenuously opposed, and the Familists of Holland and England, about 1545. The communistic element is also apparent in a pure form in the organization of the Herrnhuters (Moravians), and in some communities of Auvergne, which are unions of families under one head, by whom work is divided according to different individual capacities.
V. Modern Communism And Socialism . — By the side of the above religious communistic doctrines arose the modern communism, taking its source in the new antagonism to the institutions of the Middle Ages, which recognized two classes of people — the rulers, nobles and clerks, and the ruled, civilians and peasants. All the privileges belonged to the former, all the burdens to the latter. For the old divisions of society — nobles and peasants — were substituted gradually two new classes, a Moneyed aristocracy and a Proletariat . The recognition of the principle of equality tended to overthrow all conventional authority and privileges.
In Great Britain the germs of communism are to be found in Roger Bacon's New Atlantis; in More's De optima republicae statu (1516); and in Harrington's Oceana (1656); but no practical form of socialism appeared till the 18th century, when the Buchanites (q.v.) of Scotland formed a religious communistic association, which lasted fully for half a century. In the 19th century, Robert Owen (q.v.) attempted to better the condition of the cotton-weavers of New Lanark. He published his system (A new View of Society, 1813), in which, starting from the principle that all men are born equal, he maintains that they become good or bad through the influence of outward circumstances. But his political radicalism obliged him to leave England, and he came to the United States, where he founded the colony of New Harmony. The experiment was successful so long as money lasted, but this failing, it was abandoned in 1826. (See Owen).
In the mean time, the Owenites had founded another colony at Orbiston, near Edinburgh, Scotland, under the guidance of Abram Combe, but it was dissolved after his death in 1827. Owen, having returned to England, became the founder and director of the National Labor Equitable Exchange, and the Community Friendly Society of Manchester. These Owenite working associations brought forth the Chartists, who aimed at the suppression of the powers of the clergy, the land-owners, the large capitalists, and all privileged classes.
In France, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, in 1789, laid down the principle of equality as the foundation of the state organization. The Constitution of 1791 acknowledged the right of property, but recognized also the corresponding right of employment for those destitute of property. The Constitution of 1793 aimed to establish greater material equality, and Marat often expressed the idea that real equality could only be established on the basis of equality of rights and equality of tastes. Under Napoleon and the Restoration these ideas were for a time forgotten, until the Revolution of July, 1830, showed again their existence and power among the proletariat. The Socialists before the Revolution, whose way had been prepared by other Utopists, such as Fenelon (Republique de Salente, Voyage dans l'ile des plaisirs, etc.), are but few in number, if considered as distinct from the advocates of equality. Among their works the most remarkable are La Basiliade, a novel by Morelli (Paris, 1753); Le Code de la Nature (1755), presenting the idea of systematizing labor. The materialist and atheistic works of Holbach, Helvetius, Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, Reynal, full of Utopian theories, greatly damaged the authority of existing institutions.
Communism did not practically take its modern form until after the end of the Reign of Terror; but after the Constitution of 1795 had made the franchise of voting to depend on property, the remaining terrorists joined the disfranchised classes in their opposition to all right of individual property. They aimed at bringing back society to the state of nature, claiming that in a true state of society there should be neither rich nor poor; that a common education would make all equal in their attainments. The heads of the party were Babeuf and his followers. After the fall of Babeuf, and under the military rule of Napoleon, arose the socialistic doctrines of St. Simon and Fourier. The former explained his views in Le Catechisme des Industriels and Le nouveau Christianisme, in the formed of which he proposed to establish an industrial system on the basis of perfect equality; while in the latter he attempts to demonstrate that this equality is a result of the divine commandment to love one another as brethren. In order practically to arrive at the object of St. Simon, Bazard proposed that after the teatn of a person, the community at large, instead of his family, should inherit his estate. Fourier expounded his system in La Theorie Des Quatre Mouvements , and Le Traite de I'Association Domestique Agricole (1822, 2d edit. 1841). He aims at the practical perfection of mankind, and considers happiness as the aim of all living creatures. Wealth is to be increased and disseminated, and this is to be accomplished by dividing the common property and by regulating labor, uniting persons to work in groups, industrial series, and phalanges, according to their capacity for labor; the result of the joint labor to be divided among the producers in proportion to their capital, labor, and talent. Fourier succeeded in gaining the public ear after the fall of St. Simonism, and was greatly helped by Victor Considerant. He published a newspaper, Le Phalanstere, in 1832, and in 1836 another, La Phalange, Journal de la Science Sociale, to disseminate his ideas.
St. Simonism and Fourierism gave rise to an immense number of publications in France. Among the most eminent writers are found, among the Socialists, Lamennais, who, in his Essais sur Indifference (1827), attempts to bring the socialistic idea into unison with religious dogmas, while in his pamphlet D'avenir he calls the people back to union with the Church of Rome on the ground that it upholds the doctrine of equality before God, from which social equality will follow. For this he was put under the ban by the pope. Stung by this treatment, he published the Paroles d'un Croyant; Politique a I' Usage du Peuple; Pays et Gouvernement, which are among the most radical works extant. Of a more abstract and speculative character are the works of Pierre Leroux, Essais sur ‘ Egalite (1837), and De l'Humanite (1840), wherein he considers the principle of equality as a dogma, and recognizes no distinctions of country, family, or property. The latter point is the foundation of Proudhon's doctrine; he attempts to prove that the right of property is unnatural in his work Qu'est-ce que la Proprite? (1840), to which question he returns the significant answer, La Propriete c'est le Vol. This work was followed by De la Creation de l' Ordre dans l'Humanite (1843), and the Philosophy of Misery (1846). As the advocate of socialism among the newspapers, Louis Blanc stands first. His principal object is the organization of labor, to be accomplished by using state competition to destroy private competition; the state acting as capitalist, and rewarding each worker according to his deserts. Buonarotti's ( † 1837) History of the Conspiracy of Babeuf (La Conspiration de Babeuf ) (Paris, 1828), gave fresh circulation to Babeuf's theories, which found organs in Le Moniteur Republicain, 1837-38, and L'homme libre, after August, 1839.
A practical application of these principles was prevented by the insurrection of the Societe des Saisons, May 12th, 1839, led by Blanqui and Barb's. The failure of that enterprise damped the communistic spirit, and for a while there were only a few solitary attempts made, such as Quenisset's (1841). Still, secret societies continued to be organized, such as the Societe des Travailleurs Egalitaires, composed of the remaining followers of Barbes, who pushed the communistic principles to extremes, and considered materialism as the immutable law of nature. Opposed to them were the Reformistes, comprising the greater part of the workingmen, who aimed at community of labor; a newspaper advocating their principles, L'Atelier, appeared in 1840. The Icarian Communists, headed by (Cabet, strove to realize an ideal system of communism, depicted by the latter in his Voyage en Icarie (1840) The state, in this system, has no property, money, o distinct function; there are no distinctions of classo or ranks, and yet the state is immensely rich, as every thing belongs to it; the integrity of the family is preserved, and marriage held sacred, but the women are employed in the general workshops; all affairs are to be settled by the Comitd, from whose decisions there is no appeal. These ideas were further disseminated in Cabet's newspaper, Le Populaire. An extreme sect of these communists was established in 1843 by Dezamy who, bringing everything back to the individual, arrived at the fundamental maxim, We must do as we can; consequently, one may take all he requires for the time being. In this system no God is necessary, and man satisfies himself with what he finds in nature.
VI. Communism And Socialism Since The Revolution Of February , 1848. — This revolution gave at first a new impulse to socialism. The words Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, posted on all the walls and appended to all the decrees of the republic, seemed to contain all that Socialists could wish for. The government itself was composed in part of Socialists. The result was the organization of the national work-shops, which only served to prove again the impracticability of these theories. But communism began to lift its head by the side of socialism, and made great progress with the lower classes. Both united in the insurrection of June, 1848. The putting down of the movement by General Cavaignac dispersed the leaders, some of whom took refuge in England; but their doctrines, nevertheless, continued to gain adherents among the lower classes of France. In 1850 a secret socialistic society was discovered, whose ramifications, from its center at Beziers, extended almost through the whole of southern France, and which had completed a plan of general insurrection. This also led to the discovery, in Paris, of the secret society La Nemesis, whose members, at their initiation, swore to defend the inalienable rights of man to liberty, equality, and fraternity.
The Socialism and Communism of Switzerland and Germany present no particularly new features, being mostly based on French theories. After the failure of the Revolution of 1849, the leaders fled from Germany to England, from whence they continued to direct the operations of the Communist Association of Labor, divided in circuits and communities, and strongly organized in Germany. But the alliance of the governments in 1850, the lack of energy among the confederates, and the publication of the aims of the society in June, 1851, by a tailor's apprentice, Peter Nothjung, at Leipsig, materially injured the organization. In Belgium French communistic ideas also obtained to some extent, and were upheld in several newspapers. In 1845 Considerant went to Brussels to advocate the Fourierite theories, but found no opportunity of carrying them into practice. These ideas, however, took a firmer hold among the lower classes of Italy; Pius IX, in a letter to the Italian bishops and archbishops, December 9th, 1849, recommended them to use all efforts to prevent the propagation of socialism. That the existence of these communistic societies depends on the personality of their founders, and not on their own excellence, has been demonstrated. After the death of the leading spirits, the organizations invariably degenerate, if they do not entirely disperse. In the United States a number of attempts have been made to establish communistic colonies, partly upon a merely humanitarian, and partly upon a religious basis. Among the former belong the communistic colony established by Cabet at Nauvoo, several colonies established by the German communist Weitling and his adherents, and several phalanges established by the admirers and followers of Fourier. They have all perished. Among the second class of communistic associations belong the Shakers (q.v.) and the German Seventh-day Baptists (q.v.), who enjoin universal celibacy, the colonies Economy and Zoar, established by Separatists from Wurtemberg, and the Oneida Community (q.v.), which teaches a community of women as well as of property. — Pierer, Universal-Lexikon, s.v.; Herzog, Real-Encyklopidie, iii, 21; Romang, Bedeutung des Communismus aus den Gesichtspunct des Christenthums (Bern, 1847); Reybaud, Etudes sur les Reformateurs on Socialistes Modernes (2 tom. Paris, 1843); Sudre, Hist. du Communisme (4th edit. Paris, 1850); L. Stein, Der Socialismus u. C. d. heutigen Franicreichs (Lpz. 1842; 2d ed. 1848); Gesch. d. socialen Bewegung in Frankreich v. 1789 b. a. unsere Tage (Lpz. 1850, 3 vols.); Karl Grun, Die sociale Bewegung in Frankreich u. Belgien (1845); Th. Mundt, Die Gesch. d. Gesellschaft in ihren neueren Entwickelungen u. Problemen (1844); Williams, The Harmony Society at Economy, Pennsylvania (New Haven, 1867). (See Socialism).
The Nuttall Encyclopedia 
Community of property in a State.