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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Communalism \Com"mu*nal*ism\, n. A French theory of government which holds that commune should be a kind of independent state, and the national government a confederation of such states, having only limited powers. It is advocated by advanced French republicans; but it should not be confounded with communism.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1871 (in reference to Paris), from communal + -ism.


n. 1 The communal ownership of property 2 Any social system based around a community

  1. n. the practice of communal living and common ownership

  2. loyalty and commitment to the interests of your own minority or ethnic group rather than to society as a whole


Communalism usually refers to a system that integrates communal ownership and federations of highly localised independent communities. A prominent libertarian socialist, Murray Bookchin, defines communalism as "a theory of government or a system of government in which independent communes participate in a federation", as well as "the principles and practice of communal ownership".

This usage of communalism appears to have emerged during the late 20th century to distinguish commune-based systems from other political movements and/or governments espousing (if not actually practicing) similar ideas. In particular, earlier communities and movements advocating such practices that were often described as " anarchist", " socialist" and/or " communist".

Many historical communities practicing utopian socialism or anarchist communism did implement internal rules of communalist property ownership in the context of federated communalism. It is at least theoretically possible for a federation of communes to include communes which do not practice communalist rules of property, which is to say, that the overall national government may be a federation of communes, but that private property rather than communalist property is the order within each such commune. Karl Marx, often viewed as the founder of modern communism, criticized older forms, including primitive communism and/or utopian socialism, as poorly conceived and/or prone to disintegration in practise.

Communalism in the form described above is distinct from the predominant usage in South Asian forms of English: allegiance to a particular ethnic and/or religious group rather than to a broader society. As such, this usage is synonymous with sectarianism and associated with communal violence.

Communalism (South Asia)

Communalism is used in South Asia to denote attempts to construct religious or ethnic identity, incite strife between people identified as different communities, and to stimulate communal violence between those groups. It derives from history, differences in beliefs, and tensions between the communities.

The term communalism was constructed by the British colonial authorities as it wrestled to manage violence between religious, ethnic and disparate groups in its colonies, particularly Africa and South Asia, in early 20th century.

Communalism is not unique to South Asia. It is found in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Australia.

Communalism is a significant social issue in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Communalism (political philosophy)

Communalism (spelled with a capital C to differentiate it from other forms) is a libertarian socialist political philosophy coined by author and activist Murray Bookchin as a political system to complement his environmental philosophy of social ecology. Communalism proposes that markets and money be abolished and that land and enterprises - i.e., private property - be placed increasingly in the custody of the community – more precisely, the custody of citizens in free assemblies and their delegates in confederal councils. (However, Communalism makes allowances for personal property.) The planning of work, the choice of technologies, the management and distribution of goods are seen as questions that can only be resolved in practice. The maxim " from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is taken as a bedrock guide for an economically rational society, where all goods are designed and manufactured to have the highest durability and quality, a society where needs are guided by rational and ecological standards, and where the ancient notions of limit and balance replace the capitalist imperative of "grow or die".

In such a municipal economy – confederal, interdependent, and rational by ecological, not only technological, standards – Communalists hold that the special interests that divide people today into workers, professionals, managers, capitalist owners and so on would be melded into a general interest (a social interest) in which people see themselves as citizens guided strictly by the needs of their community and region rather than by personal proclivities and vocational concerns. Here, it is hoped, citizenship would come into its own, and rational as well as ecological interpretations of the public good would supplant class and hierarchical interests.

Usage examples of "communalism".

George Miranda had just completed a documentary film about communalism, interviewing Hindus and Muslims of all shades of opinion.

Later, when advanced technology and information systems make it possible for much of the work of society to be done at home via computer-telecommunication hookups, communalism will become feasible for larger numbers.

  Apparently he taught them a kind of martian communalism based on principles of the local biochemistry.

Apparently he taught them a kind of Martian communalism based on principles of the local biochemistry.

He concludes that the establishment of shutaisei in Japan is especially difficult because of, among other reasons, the cultural and social forces of conformism and communalism that envelop the individual.

The Church fostered communalism: ev­eryone helped you build your new barn, or repaint your house, and you did the same for them.

She loves the communalism, the tribal identity, the basic life with few demands and no responsibility.

Like communalism and animism, non-nuclear family structures provide a poor defense against the corrosive effects of cities, where African culture is being redefined as deforestation tied to overpopulation drives peasants out of the countryside.