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.
|Economic System||Wealth redistributed so that everyone in society is given equal shares of the benefits derived from labor. All means of production are controlled by the state.||Wealth redistributed so that everyone in society is given somewhat equal shares of the benefits derived from labor, but people can earn more if they work harder. Means of production are controlled by the workers themselves.|
|Political System||No leader, directed directly by the people. This has never been actually practiced, and has just used a one-party system.||Multiple parties, but the ruling party usually goes by the name "Socialist".|
|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 in addition to receiving a wage.|
|Social Structure||All class distinctions are eliminated.||Class distinctions are diminished.|
|Religion||Abolished.||Freedom of religion|
|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, Leo Tolstoy, Emma Goldman.|
|Ideas||Human societies have always been divided into warring classes. The Industrial Revolution has enriched the wealthy and impoverished the poor. The workers must overthrow the bourgeois.||All people should be given an equal opportunity to succeed. Workers should have most say in their factory's management. The free market suffers from problems like tragedy of the commons. Government regulation is necessary.|
|Economic Coordination||Government controls all business, as well as business decisions.||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.|
|Private Property||Abolished.||Two kinds of property, private property, such as land, houses, clothing, etc. owned by the individual. Public property, factories, and means of production owned by the state but with worker control.|
|Political Movements||Leninism, Trotskyism, Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, Left-Communism.||Democratic Socialism, Communism, Libertarian Socialism, Anarchism, Syndicalism.|
|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.|
|Free Choice||In real communism, 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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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).|
|Variations||Include Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism.||Libertarian-socialism, and anarcho-socialism, anarcho-syndicalism.|
|Means of control||Proletariat engages in violent rebellion.||Proletariat engages in taking charge of the factories and means of production.|
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.