Differences between Socialism and Communism (comparative table)

We explain what the differences are between socialism and communism, what they have in common and what is the history of both terms.

difference between socialism and communism
Socialism and communism try to fight against the inequality of capitalism.

What is the difference between socialism and communism?

Very often, the terms communism and socialism are used synonymously, to refer to any leftist political stance that one wishes to label as radical.

The reason for this is that both concepts come from a similar political and economic philosophy, developed throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a response to the problems of insurmountable inequality, oligopoly and exploitation of the working class by the big capitalists, owners of the means of production.

But despite the similarities between both terms, it is important to know the differences that distinguish them, so that we can refer to one or the other with absolute property.

Let’s start by saying that both “communism” and “socialism” are terms that each group together a set of schools of thought and philosophical views of society. That is, it is not about absolute and universal concepts, but about philosophical and political orientations that can be translated, in practice, into very different proposals from each other.

Historically, the first term to emerge was socialism, whose first mentions date back to the second half of the 18th century, when it was used by defenders of the social contract such as the monk Ferdinando Facchinei (1725-1814) or the philosopher Appiano Bonafede (1716- 1793). Later it came to be used by the followers of the Welsh philanthropist Robert Owen (1771-1858), who preached the doctrine of human brotherhood.

With its current meaning, the term socialism appeared in 1830, when numerous political sects that emerged from the French Revolution of 1789 declared themselves followers of Robert Owen, Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier and other revolutionary thinkers. With that name the critical positions to the tremendously unequal world brought about by the Industrial Revolution, and to the capitalist system that sustained her.

For its part, talk of communism began around ten years later, in France, as a result of a famous banquet of more than a thousand impoverished diners that took place in Paris on July 1, 1840, and in which the need was discussed. to promote social and political changes to achieve “true equality”.

The “communists” of the time considered themselves Cabetists (followers of Étienne Cabet) and Neo-Babuvistas (heirs of Francois Babeuf), and their efforts gained such national and international notoriety (especially in Germany at the time) that the term “Communist” began to displace or at least be used in conjunction with that of “socialist.”

Nevertheless, the communists distinguished themselves from their cousins ​​the socialists in that they professed a more confrontational political view, which gave the class struggle a central place in his proposal for a workers’ revolution. It was for this reason that Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), the German philosophers who reinvented this terminology, always preferred to speak of communism in their writings.

Marx renamed the socialist tendencies prior to his philosophical work as “utopian socialism”, meaning that they proposed paths to socialism that were not based on the rigorous study of reality, nor did they propose a method for it, unlike his proposal -now known as a Marxist- which he called “scientific socialism” or simply communism.

In Marx’s work, however, all this referred to the historical march towards a society devoid of social classes; a society that he baptized with many terms, such as “positive humanism”, “kingdom of free individuality”, “free association of producers“, “socialism” or “communism”.

Later scholars of his work, on the other hand, understood that these last two terms had to be understood as different stages in this long journey: being so For Marxism, socialism would be the transitional stage, intermediate between capitalism and communism..

Post-Marx thinkers, such as Max Weber (1864-1920), for example, preferred to be more practical and call a “rational” variant of communism socialism, which they distinguished from “domestic communism” in that the production of goods and services, thus like their consumption, it had to be orchestrated in socialism collectively, while in “domestic communism” they were entirely free, but had an always common goal and origin.

In any case, and as we have seen so far, the use of these terms has changed a lot over time and it is not always used with historical fidelity or theoretical precision.

Throughout the 20th century there were many attempts at the application of communism, with catastrophic results leading to genocides, dictatorships, and other similar horrors, while more modern and lax variants of socialism achieved relative success in the form of social democracy, i.e. , through its coexistence with the free market and with the democratic political system.

In an absolutely strict sense, however, there has never been a nation capable of implementing total communism or socialism. For better and for worse.

Differences between communism and socialism

Like the use of its terms, the concrete differences between socialism and communism can vary depending on who enunciates them or in what historical context we discuss them. Today, the distance between communism and socialism can be roughly summarized in the following terms:

It is the result of a violent and revolutionary insurgency of the working classes, thus imposing a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and eliminating any attempt at opposition.Being a less rigid ideology, it is possible to approach socialism through gradual processes of reform and transformation, instead of a revolutionary outbreak.
Private property is totally eliminated, all assets become community property, managed by a strong central State.Private property is respected, but the dynamics of production and redistribution of wealth are led by a democratically elected state for the common welfare.
The central State dictates what each person receives free of charge, depending on their basic needs for accommodation, food, education and medical care.A free market system is maintained in which individual effort is rewarded, but the State has its resources available to redistribute wealth and achieve a more egalitarian society in basic matters: food, education, medical care.
The central state controls and directs economic and cultural production, giving rise to more or less totalitarian societies.The State can sponsor and subsidize assets that are considered of social interest, and eventually take actions to interfere in the market, always under the protection of the law and respecting the republican order.
Today the economic system of countries such as China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos and Vietnam is considered.Today social democracy is the form of socialism that coexists with democratic and free market systems, with notable success in countries such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden and other European nations.