Originally a theory of society. As the name of a political or economic theory which rests upon the abolition of the right of private property, especially the means of production and distribution, and seeks the overthrow of capitalism by revolutions, it is attested from 1850, a translation of German Kommunismus (itself from French), in Marx and Engels' "Manifesto of the Communist Party." Compare communist.
By 1919 and through and mid-20c. it was a general a term of abuse for revolutionaries, implying anti-social criminality without regard to political theory.
Each [i.e. socialism, communism, anarchism] stands for a state of things, or a striving after it, that differs much from that which we know; & for many of us, especially those who are comfortably at home in the world as it is, they have consequently come to be the positive, comparative, & superlative, distinguished not in kind but in degree only, of the terms of abuse applicable to those who would disturb our peace. [Fowler]
It forms all or part of: amiss; amoeba; azimuth; common; commune; communicate; communication; communism; commute; congee; demean; emigrate; emigration; excommunicate; excommunication; immune; immutable; incommunicado; mad; mean (adj.1) "low-quality;" mew (n.2) "cage;" mews; migrate; migration; mis- (1) "bad, wrong;" mistake; Mithras; molt; Mstislav; municipal; munificent; mutable; mutant; mutate; mutation; mutatis mutandis; mutual; permeable; permeate; permutation; permute; remunerate; remuneration; transmutation; transmute; zenith.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit methati "changes, alternates, joins, meets;" Avestan mitho "perverted, false;" Hittite mutai- "be changed into;" Latin mutare "to change," meare "to go, pass," migrare "to move from one place to another," mutuus "done in exchange;" Old Church Slavonic mite "alternately;" Czech mijim "to go by, pass by," Polish mijać "avoid;" Gothic maidjan "to change."
"policy of adopting actions to circumstances while holding goals unchanged," 1870, originally a word in continental politics; see opportune + -ism. Compare opportunist. Later, in the jargon of socialism and communism, "policy of concession to bourgeois society in the course of developing socialism."
1831, "of or pertaining to political reaction, tending to revert from a more to a less advanced policy," on model of French réactionnaire (19c.), from réaction (see reaction). In Marxist use by 1858 as "tending toward reversing existing tendencies," opposed to revolutionary and used opprobriously in reference to opponents of communism. Non-political use, "of or pertaining to a (chemical, etc.) reaction" (1847) is rare. As a noun, "person considered reactionary," especially in politics, one who seeks to check or undo political action, by 1855.
1853 in the literal sense (witch-hunting is from 1630s), from witch (n.) + hunt (n.). The extended sense is attested from 1919, American English, later re-popularized in reaction to Cold War anti-Communism.
Senator [Lee S.] Overman. What do you mean by witch hunt?
Mr. [Raymond] Robins. I mean this, Senator. You are familiar with the old witch-hunt attitude, that when people get frightened at things and see bogies, then they get out witch proclamations, and mob action and all kinds of hysteria takes place. ["Bolshevik Propaganda," U.S. Senate subcommittee hearings, 1919]
"quality of being distinct or individual, individuality," 1815, from individual + -ism. As the name of a social philosophy favoring non-interference of government in lives of individuals (opposed to communism and socialism) first attested 1851 in writings of J.S. Mill.
Is it not the chief disgrace in the world, not to be an unit; not to be reckoned one character; not to yield that peculiar fruit which each man was created to bear, but to be reckoned in the gross, in the hundred, or the thousand, of the party, the section, to which we belong; and our opinion predicted geographically, as the north or the south? [Emerson, "The American Scholar," 1837]
1922, "protection of the consumer's interest," from consumer + -ism. It also was used mid-20c. as an alternative to capitalism to describe the Western consumer-driven economic system as a contrast to state-centered Soviet communism. By 1960 it had shaded into "encouragement of consumption as an economic policy." Related: Consumerist (1965, n.; 1969, adj.).
Coined words are often spurious. When assayed they lack the pure gold of true meaning. But here is one, minted by an engineer named Sidney A. Reeve, which looks like legal tender. As the bank tellers say, it stacks. The word is "Consumerism." [Collier's, March 1, 1924, quoting the magazine's editorial of June 3, 1922]