Communism Vs. Socialism: Distinguishing Features You Must Know

Communism Vs. Socialism
Communism and socialism are two different concepts, which are quite similar, but have certain differences. The following article discusses communism vs. socialism.
Both socialism and communism advocate the ownership of the means of production in the hands of the workers and the centralized planning of resource distribution in the economy. These ideologies owe their growth and maturity into organized systems of thought, to the political philosophy of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto, published in 1847, was a short but effective argument against the exploitative and restrictive practices of capitalism and how a progressive communalization of society and means of production can lead to a greater balance between men and the equal distribution of wealth. The theories might be very similar in nature, however, they do have certain distinguishing features which can be identified.

Communism is related to both the economic and political system.Socialism only refers to the economic system.
Distribution of goods and services takes place according to the individuals needs. Distribution of goods and services takes place according to the individuals efforts.
Capitalism cannot exist in a communist economy.Capitalism can exist in a socialist economy
Communist economy does not require many people to control the economy.Many people can control the economy in the socialist society.
In the communist economy, the power is concentrated in the hands of the people centrally.In the socialist economy, the power is mainly in the hands of the workers.

Socialism: A brief overview

Socialism encapsulates a range of philosophical views and its roots can be traced back to ancient times. One of the earliest proponents of socialist ideas was a Persian priest named Mazdak (died c. 524 or 528), who advocated a system of communal possessions and social welfare, gaining a respectable following and influence with the king, before he was ostracized and hunted down by the nobles and killed. The term Socialism is often attributed to a French aristocrat and social thinker of the late 18th century, Henri de Saint-Simon, who along with early socialist thinkers such as Robert Owen and Pierre Leroux were firmly against the philosophy of individualism, blaming it for the evils of poverty and inequality of income pervading society.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Socialism as - any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

In terms of economic theory, a socialist system is a method by which the production and distribution of goods is so structured as to satisfy consumer demand in a direct manner, and not created merely for the generation of profits by select individuals or groups. Here the socialist concept of production for use is given prime importance, rather than the capitalist concept of production for profit, which leads to hoarding of resources and the exploitation of the worker-class. Socialism can also be seen as a stage of development of human civilization in terms of its economic and social growth, from the base forms of primitive communism, men living in tribes and sharing their resources, to the establishment of a feudal system, where they labored under a monarchy, to the more modern nation-states of capitalism, where some men of power, choose for those without it. The progression of a capitalist economy to a socialist one is the next step, as the suppressed workers unleash a social revolution to transfer power from the few to the many. Let's take a look at some defining characteristics of socialism.
  • Direct allocation of resources: Socialism in its essence requires the production of goods which could be directly distributed to the population in proportion to their efforts, a system that calculates resources in terms of physical units, rather than financial quantities. In a pure Socialist economy this would lead to an eventual end of economic entities such as money, rent, interest and profit.
  • Ownership of factors of production: Socialism advocates the co-operative ownership of the factors of production, rather than the capitalist practice of individual or corporate ownership.
  • Self-governance: Since the factors of production are owned in a co-operative manner or even by society as a whole, its management can be relegated to the workers who operate the machinery. Thus, self-regulation can be practiced in a socialist economy without the need of a governing body, which may hold undue power over the greater majority.
  • Planned economy: The type of economy that a socialist system would follow, was a debated topic among political philosophers of socialism. The Soviet economy was probably the greatest example of a planned economy, a task that was undertaken by the Soviet high command, in a centralized fashion. The policies and measures radiated outwards from the politburo and were implemented in the various parts of the economy according to an established command structure. However, political thinkers like Leon Trotsky were not in favor of a centralized economy, as a central command structure would find it near impossible to understand economic conditions at the regional levels.
Socialism is often explained as a transitory stage between capitalism and communism, when the economic and social structure of a society goes from the privately owned, money-driven institutions that control the demand and supply of goods, physical or otherwise, to the worker-driven, self-managed and self-owned apparatus of government and economic variables.

Communism: A brief overview

Referring to the Merriam-Webster dictionary once again, we find the following as a definition of communism - A system of government in which the State plans and controls the economy, and a single, often authoritarian party, holds power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people.

The word communism derives its roots from the Latin word communis, which means common, and its meaning in the modern context of socioeconomic ideology is also just that, a common, classless society, without the need of restrictive institutions like money, private ownership, nation-states and is based on a common ownership of the factors of production. It can be said to be a form of revolutionary socialism, in that it takes the worker-owned, worker-driven societies evolved from capitalism to the next level, where the traditional machinery of government and economic planning are pulled down and replaced by a new system of thought, that of the common good. It is an economic, political as well as philosophical catharsis among the populace, who rise up against the bourgeois in charge of running things and replace them with the class of workers, the majority who are the logical end to the process of production.

The development of communism as a socioeconomic theory in the 19th and 20th centuries can be chiefly attributed to the work of two pioneering German philosophers, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Karl Marx studied the development of society and economics and the ways by which men produce the necessities of life, in the context of history, he analyzed the progression of human civilization from the hunter-gatherer, nomadic states of its existence, right up to the industrial revolution and the establishment of nation-states and the economic theories that govern the production and distribution of goods today. Marx referred to this idea as Historical materialism, a concept similar to the theory of Dialectic materialism propounded by the German socialist thinker Joseph Dietzgen, which outlines that an economic system tends to grow to the point of maximum efficiency over time, while simultaneously creating certain anomalies in the working of the system itself, eventually leading to its decay.

Karl Marx's reasoning led to the formation of the Marxist theory, a theory that defines the communist ideals a society must assimilate, as it transits from capitalism to socialism and finally to communism. Marxism postulates that the seed of social revolution is planted due to the emergence of class-struggle, in fact, this conflict of classes is central to the understanding of communist theory. Class differences arise primarily as a result of improvements in the techniques of production, when the output of a society increases beyond its capacity to consume, there emerges a class of owners, or bourgeois, who although small in number, control the means of such production and even the resources needed to maintain it. The generation of profit takes precedence over the needs of the workers and this causes discontent and ultimately upheaval. Once the revolution establishes a social order, where the means of production are owned and operated by the units of society, still within the framework of the earlier form of capitalism, this can then give way to full communism, a society where there are no class boundaries, currency exchanges or private ownership of property. Karl Marx in his 1875 publication Critique of the Gotha Program, coined the famous slogan of communism- From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. This is the ultimate aim of a communist society.

Communism Vs. Socialism: A Soviet case study

How then, do these two philosophies stack up against each other? The rise of communism was unprecedented in the early part of the 20th century, as one after another, countries in the Eastern hemisphere went under its fold. The most prominent of these was of course the erstwhile USSR, where the Bolsheviks under the leadership of future premier Vladimir Lenin, wrested power from the Tsar in the October Revolution of 1917. This led to the establishment of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (RSFSR), the first openly socialist state in the world. Lenin went on to implement social reforms such as the nationalization of private property and distribution of land earlier held by nobles, to the peasants and farmers in the Russian countryside. In 1922 the RSFSR took over many new Eastern European territories becoming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the Soviet Union, the largest country in the world. It is interesting to note that the Bolsheviks formed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a vanguard one-party system to govern the country, with a bureaucratic leadership and centralized planning. The aspects of socialism were being replaced by the tenets of communism from the top down, and over the years the Soviet Union devolved from an attempt at socialist nation-building into what many scholars refer to as State-sponsored capitalism.

Capitalism is defined by the over-production of goods and services and their consumption, which leads to a loop of demand and supply, an establishment of industries which do not add to the satisfaction of needs but only act as support structures for the already burgeoning superstructure of the economy. This is what communism purports to eliminate, it guarantees the production and distribution of goods according to every man's need. The reality, as we can see from the Soviet experiment, is far from the truth. The Soviet politburo did just what any capitalist corporation would do, to keep an economy running. It established industries, increased production and generated employment to guarantee consumption.

The difference between socialism and communism is blatantly apparent in the case of the Soviet Union. Socialism does not advocate the seizure of private property, it advocates the nationalization of the means of production. Communism on the other hand takes away everything, leaving nothing for the individual but what the State deems enough. Socialism requires that the part of profit that the worker earns in the factory be given to him, as the fruits of his labor, so he may consume more and be happier, communism, on the other hand, requires that distribution of surplus be done according to the needs of each person, a quantification which may be impossible in the real world. Full communism is therefore not a realistic proposition, when taking into account man's inherent nature to create, possess and consume, and as the philosopher Ayn Rand stated, men can eat together, they cannot digest the food in a collective stomach.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there remain only China, Laos, Cuba and Vietnam that are defined as Communist States, however, all these countries have systems which are more attuned towards socialism and State-sponsored capitalism rather than full-blown communism as defined under the Marxist-Leninist banner. The argument today is not between communism and socialism as acceptable forms of government and economy, but more about how a country can survive in a global economy, using its comparative advantages to gain maximum economic traction in the world.