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

Communism versus Socialism 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.
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 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. Usually anti-democratic with a 1-party system. Calculation in kind, Collective ownership, Cooperative common ownership, Economic democracy Economic planning, Equal opportunity, Free association, Industrial democracy, Input–output model, Internationalism, Labour voucher, Material balancing.
Key Proponents Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Peter Kropotkin, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, Emma Goldman, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Josip Broz Tito, Enver Hoxha, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro. Charles Hall, François-Noël Babeuf, Henri de Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, Louis Auguste Blanqui, William Thompson, Thomas Hodgskin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Louis Blanc, Moses Hess, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Mikhail Bukinin.
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.
Political System A communist society is stateless, classless and is governed directly by the people. This however has never been practised. Can coexist with different political systems. Most socialists advocate participatory democracy, some (Social Democrats) advocate parliamentary democracy, and Marxist-Leninists advocate "Democratic centralism."
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.
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. A society in which everyone is both the owners of the means of production and their own employees. Class distinctions are diminished. Status derived more from political distinctions than class distinctions. Some mobility.
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.
Religion Abolished - all religious and metaphysics is rejected. Engels and Lenin agreed that religion was a drug or “spiritual booze” and must be combated. To them, atheism put into practice meant a “forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Freedom of religion, but usually promotes secularism.
Free Choice Either the collective "vote" or the state's rulers make economic and political decisions for everyone else. In practice, rallies, force, propaganda etc. are used by the rulers to control the populace. 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.
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.
Discrimination In theory, all members of the state are considered equal to one another. The people are considered equal; laws are made when necessary to protect people from discrimination. Immigration is often tightly controlled.
Political Movements Marxist Communism, Leninism and Marxism–Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Dengism, Prachanda Path, Hoxhaism, Titoism, Eurocommunism, Luxemburgism, Council communism, Left-Communism. Democratic socialism, communism, libertarian socialism, social anarchism, and syndicalism.
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.
Variations Left Anarchism, Council Communism, European Communism, Juche Communism, Marxism, National Communism, Pre-Marxist Communism, Primitive Communism, Religious Communism, International Communism. Market socialism, communism, state socialism, social anarchism.
View of war Communists believe that war is good for the economy by spurring production, but should be avoided. Opinions range from prowar (Charles Edward Russell, Allan L. Benson) to antiwar (Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas). Socialists tend to agree with Keynesians that war is good for the economy by spurring production.
Means of control Theoretically there is no state control. Usage of a government.
View of the world Communism is an international movement; Communists in one country see themselves in solidarity with Communists in other countries. Communists distrust Nationalistic nations and leaders. Communists strongly distrust "big business." Socialism is a movement of both the worker and middle-class, all for a common democratic goal.
History Major Communist parties include the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1912-91), the Communist Party of China (1921-ON), the Workers' Party of Korea (1949-ON), and the Communist Party of Cuba (1965-ON). Historic socialist examples include the Paris Commune, the Strandha Commune, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria; none continue to have Communist governments.
Modern Examples Recent far-left dictatorships include the USSR (1922-1991) and its sphere throughout eastern Europe. Only five nations presently have Communist governments: China, North Korea, Cuba, Laos and Russia. Modern examples of socialist countries include Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Norway and Ireland; all are democratic.
Literature The Communist Manifesto, “Das Kapital”, The State and Revolution, The Jungle, Reform or Revolution, Capital (Vol I: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production), Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, the Grapes of Wrath. The Communist Manifesto, “Das Kapital”, The State and Revolution, The Jungle, Reform or Revolution, Capital (Vol I: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production), Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, the Grapes of Wrath.

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:


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