In a way, communism is an extreme form of socialism. Many countries have dominant socialist political parties but very few are truly communist. In fact, most countries - including staunch capitalist bastions like the U.S. and U.K. - have government programs that borrow from socialist principles. "Socialism" is sometimes used interchangeably with "communism" but the two philosophies have some stark differences. Most notably, while communism is a political system, socialism is primarily an economic system that can exist in various forms under a wide range of political systems.
|Ideas||Human societies have divided into conflicting classes. Existing class structures become unsustainable as the technology progresses, resulting in contradictions which can only be resolved by having the subordinate class overthrow the ruling class.||All individuals should have access to basic articles of consumption and public goods to allow for self-actualization. Large-scale industries are collective efforts and thus the returns from these industries must benefit society as a whole.|
|Religion||Abolished - all religious and metaphysics is rejected.||Freedom of religion, but usually promotes secularism.|
|Key Proponents||Karl Marx, Fredrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky.||Robert Owen, Pierre Leroux, Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels, John Stuart Mill, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Thorstein Veblen, Emma Goldman.|
|Economic Coordination||Economic planning coordinates all decisions regarding investment, production and resource allocation. Planning is done in terms of physical units instead of money.||Planned-Socialism relies principally on planning to determine investment and production decisions. Planning may be centralized or decentralized. Market-socialism relies on markets for allocating capital to different socially-owned enterprises.|
|Philosophy||From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. Free-access to the articles of consumption is made possible by advances in technology that allow for super-abundance.||From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution. Emphasis on profit being distributed among the society or workforce to complement individual wages/salaries.|
|Economic System||The means of production are held in common, negating the concept of ownership in capital goods. Production is organized to provide for human needs directly without any use for money. Communism is predicated upon a condition of material abundance.||The means of production are owned by public enterprises or cooperatives, and individuals are compensated based on the principle of individual contribution. Production may variously be coordinated through either economic planning or markets.|
|Political System||No leader, directed directly by the people. This has never been actually practiced, and has just used a one-party system.||Can coexist with different political systems. Most socialists advocate participatory democracy, some (Social Democrats) advocate parliamentary democracy, and Marxist-Leninists advocate "Democratic centralism".|
|Political Movements||Leninism, Trotskyism, Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, Left-Communism.||Democratic Socialism, Communism, Libertarian Socialism, Anarchism, Syndicalism.|
|Private Property||Abolished. The concept of property is negated and replaced with the concept of commons and ownership with "usership".||Two kinds of property, personal property, such as houses, clothing, etc. owned by the individual. Public property includes factories, and means of production owned by the state but with worker control.|
|Key elements||An enhanced form of the principle of "Production for use".||Economic activity and production especially are adjusted to meet human needs and economic demands. "Production for use": useful goods and services are produced specifically for their usefulness.|
|Free Choice||In a communist society, where a leader does not exist, everything is chosen freely.In those that have been practiced though, all choices, including education, religion, employment and marriage, are controlled by the state.||All choices, including education, religion, employment and marriage, are up to the individual. All health care and education is provided free to everybody.|
|Social Structure||All class distinctions are eliminated.||Class distinctions are diminished.|
|Way of Change||Government in a Communist-state is the agent of change rather than any market or desire on the part of consumers. Change by government can be swift or slow, depending on change in ideology or even whim.||Workers in a Socialist-state are the agent of change rather than any market or desire on the part of consumers. Change by the workers can be swift or slow, depending on change in ideology or even whim.|
|Discrimination||In theory, all members of the state are considered equal.||The people are considered equal, laws are made when necessary to protect people from discrimination.|
|Definition||A theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, with actual ownership ascribed to the community or state.||A theory or system of social organization based on the holding of most property in common, with actual ownership ascribed to the workers.|
|Ownership structure||The means of production are commonly-owned, meaning no entity or individual owns productive property. Importance is ascribed to "usership" over "ownership".||The means of production are socially-owned with the surplus value produced accruing to either all of society (in Public-ownership models) or to all the employee-members of the enterprise (in Cooperative-ownership models).|
|Examples||Hypothetical system based on material abundance and free-access. Small-scale examples exist such as the open-source and peer-production process.||Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR): Although the actual categorization of the USSR's economic system is in dispute, it is often considered to be a form of centrally-planned socialism.|
Economic differences between socialists and communists
In a Socialist economy, the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy. On the other hand, in a communist society, there is no centralized government - there is a collective ownership of property and the organization of labor for the common advantage of all members.
For a Capitalist society to transition, the first step is Socialism. From a capitalist system, it is easier to achieve the Socialist ideal where production is distributed according to people's deeds (quantity and quality of work done). For Communism (to distribute production according to needs), it is necessary to first have production so high that there is enough for everyone's needs. In an ideal Communist society, people work not because they have to but because they want to and out of a sense of responsibility.
Socialism rejects a class-based society. But socialists believe that it is possible to make the transition from capitalism to socialism without a basic change in the character of the state. They hold this view because they do not think of the capitalist state as essentially an institution for the dictatorship of the capitalist class, but rather as a perfectly good piece of machinery which can be used in the interest of whichever class gets command of it. No need, then, for the working class in power to smash the old capitalist state apparatus and set up its own—the march to socialism can be made step by step within the framework of the democratic forms of the capitalist state. Socialism is primarily an economic system so it exists in varying degrees and forms in a wide variety of political systems.
On the other hand, communists believe that as soon as the working class and its allies are in a position to do so they must make a basic change in the character of the state; they must replace capitalist dictatorship over the working class with workers’ dictatorship over the capitalist class as the first step in the process by which the existence of capitalists as a class (but not as individuals) is ended and a classless society is eventually ushered in.
Video: Socialism vs. Communism
This is a very opinionated video that explains the differences between communism and socialism.