Communism vs. Socialism


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.

Comparison chart



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.
Definition International theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, with actual ownership ascribed to the community or state. Rejection of free markets and extreme distrust of Capitalism in any form. A theory or system of social organization based on the holding of most property in common, with actual ownership ascribed to the workers.
Ideas All people are the same and therefore classes make no sense. The government should own all means of production and land and also everything else. People should work for the government and the collective output should be redistributed equally. 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.
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.
Key elements Centralized government, planned economy, dictatorship of the "proletariat", common ownership of the tools of production, no private property. equality between genders and all people, international focus. anti-democratic. One party system. Economic activity and production especially are adjusted by the State to meet human needs and economic demands. "Production for use": useful goods and services are produced specifically for their usefulness.
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 Usually takes the form of totalitarianism as Marx described in The Communist Manifesto. Cronyism common. 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, Stalinism. Democratic socialism, communism, libertarian socialism, social anarchism, and 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.
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.
Religion Abolished - all religious and metaphysics is rejected. Freedom of religion, but usually promotes secularism.
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).
Social Structure All class distinctions are eliminated. Class distinctions are diminished. Status derived more from political distinctions than class distinctions. Some mobility.
Free Choice Either the collective "vote" or the state's rulers make economic and political decisions for everyone else. Religion, jobs, & marriage are up to the individual. Compulsory education. Free, equal access to healthcare & education provided through a socialized system funded by taxation. Production decisions driven more by State decision than consumer demand.
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 nominal agent of change rather than any market or desire on the part of consumers. Change by the State on behalf of 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. Immigration is often tightly controlled.
Earliest Remnants Theorized by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the mid-19th century as an alternative to capitalism and feudalism, communism was not tried out until after the revolution in Russia in the early 1910s. In 1516, Thomas More write in "Utopia" about a society based around common ownership of property. In 1776, Adam Smith advocated the labor theory of value, ignoring the previous Cantillonian view that prices are derived from supply and demand.
Examples Ideally, there is no leader; the people govern directly. This has never been actually practiced, and has just used a one-party system. Examples 0f Communist states are the erstwhile Soviet Union, Cuba and North Korea. 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.

Contents: Communism vs 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.

Political differences

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

The following is a very opinionated video that explains the differences between communism and socialism:


Share this comparison:

If you read this far, you should follow us:

"Communism vs Socialism." Diffen LLC, n.d. Web. 21 May 2015. < >

Related Comparisons Follow Diffen
Top 5 Comparisons
Make Diffen Smarter.

Log in to edit comparisons or create new comparisons in your area of expertise!

Sign up »

Comments: Communism vs Socialism

Anonymous comments (12)

September 5, 2010, 5:47pm

No political system works the way it should because in every system there are always going to be those who have the power and change the system to make themselves more powerful. That is the way of Humanity. Politics is a twin to religion in that no person agrees with every tenet of their party/group/sect and has their own views as to how things should be, or what is the truth. People thrive on conflict/competition and because of that there is no "system" that will work for everyone, or in every situation, because we all seem to "agree to disagree" about almost all issues. Everyone wants more...most cannot be content just being content and need to feel "better" than someone to feel good about their own situation. Political leaders are usually in it for the power that comes with the office, not to really make a change for the good of the many. NO decision is for the good of everyone, except possibly the "keep the stupid from breeding" thing, but, good luck with that!

— 98.✗.✗.193

March 23, 2014, 4:47am

To the person making the cow joke:

A corporate factory farm owns 10,000 cows, which are kept locked up in a tiny stall for their entire lives, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and fed genetically modified corn which produces its own insecticide. An immigrant worker is paid minimum wage to care for more cows than he has time for, leading to beatings and horrible animal abuses. The CEO bribes state legislators to pass an agricultural gag law which criminalizes the recording of animal abuse, and which classifies the person recording the abuse as a "terrorist." A giant manure pit pollutes the groundwater, which goes unnoticed by an understaffed EPA which is rendered impotent by regulation loopholes written by corporate lobbyists. Got milk?

— 76.✗.✗.223

March 23, 2014, 3:51am

Socialism is a non-profit system in which people pay only for the cost of something, without paying extra to enrich a shareholder who didn't actually do any work. Imagine replacing corporations with nonprofit cooperatives. The workers benefit, because they keep the money they receive for their labor. The consumers benefit, because they get things at cost. We already do this for certain services, like public roads, police and fire departments, libraries, and public parks. Socialism is compatible with democracy and freedom.

Corporate capitalism is an insane system that adds a third party into the transaction who overcharges the consumer, underpays the workers, and pockets billions for himself. Those billionaires use the money they steal to bribe politicians and hire lobbyists who then write the rules to benefit the billionaires and harm you. Billionaires also hire armies of propagandists to get gullible rubes to vote against their own interests, and support policies that give the billionaires more control over the economy. (Some of the comments here are rantings from the brainwashed minions of Roger Ailes.) This is why capitalism is not compatible with democracy and freedom. It degrades into a plutocracy (or oligarchy of the wealthy) in which the masses serve the needs of the elite few. Workers in the US have steadily increased in their productivity since WWII, while their standard of living has decreased. All of the benefit of that extra productively has been siphoned off to create a parasitic class of billionaires. (Billionaires are not something to be proud of, but rather a symptom of a failed economic system in which profits are distributed according to authority, rather than contribution.)

Marx believed that socialism was a transition to communism, but he was wrong about that, and many other things. Communist movements have all quickly degraded into facist dictatorships. Stalin for example executed the communists and hijacked the Russian revolution. Communism is not a realistic system for any group larger than a small tribe.

— 76.✗.✗.223

November 6, 2013, 12:53am

And to comment on 109, those are all true, but you forgot one. In America, you have 2 cows, the government takes them, and promises to pay you fair price for them, then goes bankrupt.

— 192.✗.✗.2

April 17, 2013, 12:24pm

Socialists has been in america since the late 1800s and has played an important role in organizing strikes and unions in the country. With out them there may have been a lot more starving people during the great depression

— 165.✗.✗.67

November 30, 2009, 7:15am

hello i am bharath from india hyderabad
its very nice to read your points
the political difference i feel wrong. politically socialism is the dictator ship of working class over capitalists. and the communism is simply class less society i.e. no capitalists or workers. so no question of class rule. no question of oppression. regarding overthrough of capitalist rule after the great paris commune karl marx said that with the ready made state of capitalists we can not built socialim hence we have to demolish the system to build a new. and the process in not sudden. we will have to build the socialist administrative peoples committees in capitalism itself as soviats in ussr during the period of com.lenin

— 118.✗.✗.247

May 18, 2014, 10:54pm

This is wrong. First of all, neither are political systems and both are inherently democratic. Secondly, communism does not abolish religion. In a communist society religion is personal, not dogmatic. The "right to property" doesn't mean a house or personal possessions, it means owning a means of production without working it. If you own a business and run it entirely by yourself then you're fine, if you hire someone to do 50% of the work than 50% of the business belongs to them.

— 74.✗.✗.128

March 1, 2014, 9:11pm

Actually, political terms are always somewhat ambiguous and are used in different ways by different people, often in very self serving ways. To some extent this is true of economic terms as well. I would agree that there are no "pure" systems.

— 71.✗.✗.50

November 27, 2013, 6:04am

You guys are so funny, that it gives me some hope for the future of humanity! Communism is simply not possible, even in theory, whereas Socialism powers Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and some other prosperous European countries with very high standard of living and economical stability. One disadvantage - people there are like zombies and life is boring. Read about Jante Law.

— 89.✗.✗.247

November 6, 2013, 12:46am

#209 is completely correct. Throw away Marx. Anarchy-communism is the way to go. As far as I'm concerned, neither matter because power crazed people are put in charge, and/or promised change never comes.

— 192.✗.✗.2

June 10, 2013, 5:06am

After seeing PRISM, years of illegal wiretapping, unlawful detainment, ad nauseum, as well as the destruction the "freedom" of capitalism has caused to the world and lives of individuals (most notably in other countries other than the US so I guess it's OK to shit on your neighbours) these comments look so misguided and asinine it's sickening. All you need to do is actually educate yourself about current events and see that the economic system as it is is unsustainable and destructive.
But the people that read the difference between socialism and communism still believe propaganda and equate the two. Just pathetic. Typical to squabble over pennies while the rich rake in billions and horde it all for themselves even though they do a minor fraction of the actual work. The poor and middle class do virtually all the work and are owned by the rich simply because the rich have more numbers in their accounts.

— 198.✗.✗.213

November 11, 2009, 3:34pm

capitalism is worse than both, the rich have all the power, despite what you might think, the poor are fucked over by the rich people, the rich people in power give the other rich people more power and money. in socialism the poor and rich would be equal, the harder working poorer people would have a larger share, the people who in capitalism enherit their wealth would become poor because of their lack of skill and motivation. communism is unfair to all parties. i think i prefer socialism.

— 206.✗.✗.253


Up next

Capitalism vs. Socialism