The Difference Between Socialism and Communism

Communist leaders and dictators.
The difference between socialism and communism explained.


Socialism is an economic and ideological system that seeks to achieve equality between members of society. Communism, on the other hand, would be the result of the implantation of socialist ideas, where the main objective is an egalitarian society. Thus, the government, which would be formed by the working class, would have the decision-making power in all matters.

Table of contents

  1. Origin and Idea of Communism
  2. Origin and Idea of Socialism
  3. Symbols of Socialism and Communism
  4. Main Economic Differences Between Communism and Socialism
  5. Main Political Differences Between Communism and Socialism
  6. Communism and Socialism in Practice
  7. Summary: Socialism Vs Communism

Origin and Idea of Communism

Communism originated in the Communist Manifesto, a pamphlet by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels presented in 1848. It contains the theory about the struggle between the economic classes. The struggle would end with a violent overthrow of the capitalist society. Similarly to the elimination of feudal society during the French Revolution.

After the communist revolution, workers would take control of the means of production. In time, the government would disappear, as workers would build a classless society and an economy based on common property.

According to the theory, production and consumption would reach a balance. This equilibrium is a direct consequence of the premise “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs“. In addition, religion and other institutions of social control would also be abolished.

This revolutionary ideology of Marx inspired social movements of the 19th and 20th century like the Paris Commune. Another example was the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, which overthrew Russia’s last monarch and, after a civil war, established the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union was ruled by the Communist Party. However, it did not achieve a classless, stateless society in which the population collectively owned the means of production. In other words, this country was never really communist.

Origin and Idea of Socialism

Socialism takes advantage of some Enlightenment ideas. The initial ideas were articulated by Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) and his followers who developed utopian socialism.

These thinkers presented ideas about a more equal distribution of wealth and better working conditions. As well as common ownership of productive resources and a sense of solidarity among the working class.

Some also advocated that the state assume a central role in the production and distribution of goods. Marxism emerged in this medium and Engels called it scientific socialism.

Symbols of Socialism and Communism

Socialism identifies itself with a star, while communism uses the hammer and sickle. The communist symbol depicts the hammer of the working class (proletariat) and the sickle of the peasants. It symbolizes the union between the peasantry and working-class.

The symbol was depicted on the flag of the Soviet Union, imprinted on the constitution and incorporated in the flags of the Soviet republics. These were usually completely red, with the name of the republic written in gold letters.

The interesting thing is that both currents of thought opted for the color red as an ideological symbol.

Main Economic Differences Between Communism and Socialism

Socialism and communism imply that the resources of the economy must be collectively owned. However, they differ in matters of management and control of the economy.

In socialism, citizens make economic decisions through communes or councils. In communism, on the other hand, a single authoritarian party is responsible for controlling its economy.

Socialism and communism also differ in the way wealth is produced and distributed. Socialism argues that the goods and services produced must be distributed based on the productivity of each individual. In turn, communism believes that wealth must be shared based on the needs of each individual.

Another big difference concerns property. In socialism there are two types of property: private property of an individual and the common property that belongs to society. For example, individuals may have a television, but they cannot maintain a factory that produces it. In such systems, all production capacity would be jointly owned and managed by the state. In contrast, in communism, all goods and services are public property.

Main Political Differences Between Communism and Socialism

The differences between socialism and communism are tenuous, since communist society would only be established after socialism has run its course. However, with the doctrinal divergences throughout the 19th and 20th century, we can highlight some distinctions.

In communism, there are no class distinctions, as all are effectively treated in the same way. Socialism, on the other hand, aims to reduce inequality. Nevertheless, class distinctions would still exist, as there are ways for some people to have more wealth than others.

Communism sees the transition from capitalism as a violent revolution, where it would be destroyed as workers rebelled against the middle and upper classes. On the other hand, socialism advocates a gradual transition from capitalism through legal and political processes, especially through elections.

Communism and Socialism in Practice

There has never been a purely communist state. The Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea are the closest examples, although none of them has achieved a purely communist structure.

Governments in these countries have a dominant role. However, they never reached the end of personal property, the abolition of money and the elimination of class systems.

Socialism was also never fully adopted in any country. However, some countries such as Norway, Sweden and Canada have many socialist policies. For example, free healthcare systems, as well as a dominant role for the government in many sectors.

Summary: Socialism Vs Communism

  • In socialism, the resources of the economy are managed and controlled by the people themselves through councils. In communism, management and control are in the hands of a single authoritarian party.
  • Socialists distribute wealth on the basis of each individual’s productive efforts, while communists do so according to each person’s needs.
  • Socialists can have personal property, whereas in communism all goods are collective.
  • Socialism allows capitalism to exist in its midst, while communism seeks to abolish capitalism.

  Socialism Communism
Definition An economic system that seeks to achieve equality among members of society, maintaining private property and production of collective goods. Economic and political system that defends a classless society. In it, the means of production and other goods belong to the government and production is divided equally among all.
Political system It can coexist with different political systems, but most socialists defend participatory democracy. A communist society is stateless, since the entire working class would be united by an ideal greater than that of the nation state.
Philosophy Each contributes according to their abilities and receives according to their collaboration. Each cooperates according to their abilities and receives according to their needs.
Origin of idea In 1516, Thomas More wrote in his book “Utopia”, about a society based on common property. It was theorized in the middle of the 19th century, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as the alternative to capitalism.
Private property There are two types of property: personal property (items that belong to the individual, such as a house and clothing) and public property, which includes the means of production. These are state-owned, but under workers’ control. Does not exist. The concept of property is replaced by that of common goods.
Social structure Class distinctions are diminished. Status results mainly from political distinctions and not from class distinctions. There are no class distinctions. All are owners of the means of production and their own employees.
Economic system The means of production are owned by public companies or cooperatives. Individuals are compensated based on the principle of individual contribution. The means of production are common property and production is organized to meet human needs only (not to profit).
Religion Religion, being a bourgeois expression, must be eliminated from a socialist society. Abolished.
Political movements Democratic socialism, libertarian socialism, social anarchism and unionism. Marxist communism, Leninism and Marxism-Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism.
Examples in history Historical socialist examples include the Paris Commune, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. However, none of these continue to have socialist governments. The main communist parties include the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1912-1991), the Communist Party of China (1921-present), the Korean Workers’ Party (1949-present) and the Communist Party of Cuba (1965-present).


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