What Are The Differences Between Socialism And Communism?

The hammer and sickle, a symbol of communism previously used in Soviet Russia.
The hammer and sickle, a symbol of communism previously used in Soviet Russia.

A number of different political theories are used to approach government and economic management around the world. Most individuals are familiar with these terms and can give a basic definition if asked. Two of these political concepts in particular, however, seem to be commonly confused. So confused, in fact, that even politicians often use the terms interchangeably: socialism and communism. Despite the fact that these two political terms are thrown around with little regard to their true meaning, socialism and communism are actually quite different. This article takes a closer look at the specific differences between socialism and communism.

The Theory Of Communism

The theory of communism is rooted in the critique of capitalism in the marketplace. The idea behind communism is that a capitalistic economy will allow the highest socio-economic elite of a population (who make up the minority) to take advantage of the lower socio-economic individuals in the same population (who make up the majority). Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, often considered the founders of communist thought, instead proposed a society and economy in which the socioeconomic status of all individuals is equal. This equality could only be achieved through renouncing personal possessions and money and by working together as individuals. Additionally, communism requires individuals to produce only enough goods and services to fulfill the basic needs of the population. Not one individual owns the means of production; these means are instead controlled by the government. The residents of a communist society hold common ownership of the goods and services produced. In turn, these goods and services are distributed based on need, rather than on the amount of work an individual achieves.

In an ideal communist society, the population lives without socioeconomic classes and private ownership does not exist. In a more advanced communist society, there would be no need for government to oversee production and people would survive and live by working together to meet the needs of everyone.

The History Of Communism

In modern history, communism as a form of government is most frequently associated with the Bolsheviks rise to power, led by Vladimir Lenin, in Russia during the early 20th century. With this group in power, Russia underwent a civil war that resulted in the Soviet Union for over 70 years. Although the Soviet Union was run by the Communist party, the country never achieved communism in its purist form. Social classes continued to exist and the government was never dissolved. During the beginning half of the Communist party’s control, the government claimed that it was in the process of establishing communism. During this time, the working class was said to be ruled by a dictator government and this was justified as one of the required beginning stages prior to establishing a true communist society.

The result of most attempts at communism (the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Mao’s China, and Cuba as examples) has resulted in politicians earning large profits from state-run production means, rather than the elimination of the need for money.

The Definition Of Socialism

The theory of socialism is older than communism, but is also rooted in the desire to create a society based on equality and improved living conditions for all of its inhabitants. All actions, including political and economic, are taken with the good of the collective society in mind. Socialism, in its original form, is the idea that all individuals should act together to address social concerns (like poverty and oppression) rather than living an individualistic existence. Additionally, this political ideology suggests that common means of production (like land and manufacturing facilities) should be owned by the society as a whole with the government acting as a representative on behalf of the population. In this regard, socialism has more possible outcomes than communism. For example, in a socialist society, the means of production may also be controlled by the government, or by co-ops (groups of similar individuals, like farmers, who work together to achieve production goals. It also promotes the idea of redistributing power and wealth as a means of achieving equality.

The History Of Socialism

Socialism gained ground after the end of World War II. It became primarily concentrated throughout the western regions of Europe and in the newly independent, post-colonial nations of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Countries like France, Italy, the UK, and Norway leaned toward socialism following the war, implementing state welfare programs and broad taxation policies. Additionally, these governments attempted wealth redistribution, social reform programs, and nationalized public utilities. Under these socialist approaches, tax-supported, free health care became available to the population as a whole, as well as state-funded educational programs and housing for the working class.

In more recent times, many movements and governments have utilized pieces of socialist ideology to form their operating framework. One example of this is seen with liberation movements, feminist movements, and civil rights movements, which all incorporate some factors of socialism to promote their ideals.

The Differences Between Socialism And Communism

One of the primary differences between socialism and communism is how these types of economies may be achieved. According to the original communist theory, communism may only be achieved when the working class rise up in violent protest against the middle class and elite. According to the theorists of communism, this type of violent revolution would be the only approach that could take down capitalism.

In contrast, socialism allows for its establishment via a pre-established electoral process. By participating in the electoral process of their country, citizens may elect socialist parties to lead the government. This approach to reform allows for a slower implementation of socialism and allows some order to be maintained within the legal and political parameters of a country.

Additionally, socialism and communism differ in the principles of ownership. As previously mentioned, under communism, goods and services are distributed throughout the society based on individual need rather than individual contribution to production. The opposite is true for socialism, which allows for the distribution of goods and services based on an individual’s contribution to production.

Although these political ideologies are quite different, not one nation in the world today can claim to be purely socialist or purely communist. Researchers note that most governments employ a combination of factors from several economic models in order to exercise power and provide social services.


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