Difference between Socialism and Communism

Updated on February 24, 2018

They look similar to many people, mainly because they have the same root beliefs, but communism and socialism are two different ideologies, and knowing the difference between the two is important for any person who wants to have an educated opinion about political actions. Knowing the difference between them can also help you understand the way in which some countries are governed.


Picture taken at the Museum of Communism in Prague

Socialism is an economic system which encourages the equal division of common goods. This is the main reason why so many governments have the possibility of implementing social programs when they want to extend a helping hand. Socialism can also be combined with political visions of state government such as democracy, making social democracy one of the most popular options in the world today. It means that while resources are divided equally among the members of the society, decisions in the state can be taken by the people.

Production is adjusted to meet the people’s needs. Everyone participates according to individual abilities and the outcome of collective labor belongs to the society as a whole. Socialists see themselves as progressive thinkers because they tend towards a social system which is entirely man-made. Unlike capitalism, which derived naturally from industrialization and gaining capital off the use of private property, socialism sets out to create a perfect society where all men are equal, equally well fed and clothed, with a place of employment and a say in how things are run, and without class and wage gaps.

Communism was born as a form of criticizing capitalism, which is a form of economic ideology that helped the rich get richer, while the poor, who only had their labor force to depend on for their livelihood, were sentenced to work hard for low wages and had no say about anything. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels coined the term and stated that capitalism meant an immoral pursuit of wealth which stripped the workers of their products in exchange for little pay. Their view was of a society without classes, without hierarchy, without money, without property and the possibility of accumulating capital beyond one’s immediate needs.

Production is collective and participation is mandatory. The communist state controls all means of production and all resources, along with the right to distribute everything based on arbitrary conceptions of people’s needs.

The idea of communism has been around since ancient times and it envisioned a Utopian society where everything was shared. In its most extreme forms, even women and children were seen as common property of the entire society. In reality, communist regimes took the people’s leverage in the form of property and replaced it with decisions taken by the state for the common good, an arbitrary division of goods and a place for every member of society in a production line.

Socialism vs Communism

So, what is the difference between socialism and communism?

Communism is thought to be the extreme version of socialism, taking the concept of common property from the hands of the people and placing it in the hands of the all-knowing state. While socialism is an economic system, communism widely applies the same principles in a form of government which can often drift into dictatorship.

Socialism claims to empower the people, while communism empowers the state as made up by a ruling class of individuals. While socialism sets out to eliminate the wage gap and the class system, communism builds one great divide between the ruling communists and the people who have to abide by everything that is being decided for them. Socialism leaves room for democratic decisions, makes all individuals equal when it comes to deciding for the common good as well as when getting a share of the common wealth. The opposite is true for a communist system which makes all the decisions and enforces them on the people.

While socialism is more flexible, recognizing some forms of private property for items of direct use, such as clothing and housing, communism is strict in all aspects. Freedom of choice is possible in socialism but not in communism, where even religion is abolished in view of diverting all of the individual’s attention to the state.

Despite the idealistic visions and plans of socialism, if not strongly backed by political forms of government which empower the individual after having been stripped of private property, socialism can easily turn into a communist dictatorship. This usually happens because the bringing together of all state resources and the abolishing of classes means piling up on resources while creating a power void. In a state where there is one party and no other means of control, the outcome is obvious. The difference between socialism and communism is the different between ideology and human nature.

Comparison Chart

Economic systemPolitical system
Can be associated with other means of governmentCan turn into a dictatorship
Empowers the individual by freeing him from a class divided society and giving him equal rightsEmpowers the state and the one party in government
Recognizes some forms of private propertyDoes not recognize private property
There is freedom of choiceThere is no freedom of choice
Common goods belong to the peopleCommon goods belong to the state
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