Differences Between Communism and Socialism

I was hoping someone here would be able to clarify the differences between the two. The majority of readily available articles online are woefully vague, not to mention contradictory. As I understand it:

1. Both Socialists and Communists believe workers should seize the means of production.

2. Both Socialists and Communists want to solve the problem of class hierarchy by abolishing financial inequality.

3. Socialism is a purely economic system whereas Communism is both an economic and a political system?

4. Socialism can be conveyed via different forms of government, whereas Communism must involve a strong state in which a political elite handle everything relevant to a society?

5. Socialism pushes for nationalisation but allows for the existence of small enterprises and the accumulation of capital by its individual workers? Whereas Communism involves complete nationalisation; capital is abolished and distribution is handled by the state, based upon need rather than work done?

6. Privatisation of property is permissible under Socialism, though not privatisation of major businesses? Whereas Communism enforces nationalisation of both?

7. Marx regarded Communism as the telos of Socialism?

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Not exactly.
Not exactly.
Not exactly only according to ML's
Not exactly.
Not exactly
No he regarded it as a component
You really should read theory instead of asking for answers, otherwise you won't get too good of an understanding.

It depends on the context in which you're asking. Marx used 'communism' and 'socialism' interchangeably to refer to a society where organized workers have overthrown the capitalist class and begun doing away with wage labor, commodity production, private property, etc. Marx didn't elaborate much further on what communist/socialist society would look like, but did argue for workers to "seize" control of the state.

In the context of 20th century Western politics, 'socialism' and 'communism' can also refer to socialist and communist parties. Socialist parties are older and usually participated in democratic elections, attempting to organize workers and implement economic or political reforms to strengthen the power of the working class, in order to eventually establish a socialist state, hopefully through nonviolent political change. Communist parties ended up forming after the 1917 Russian Revolution, had close ties with the USSR, and usually endorsed a more direct revolutionary program to form a vanguard party and violently overthrow the capitalist state in the name of the working class. Communist and socialist parties have often opposed each other for a variety of reasons.

it varies depending on source


Socialism is "each according to his contribution" and Communism is "each according to his need."

these, the redefinition of Marx's 'initial-stage communism' into socialism and 'later-stage communism' into communism was by Lenin I believe.
further redefines 'socialism' to 'social democratic' - more specifically left-social democratic which is these days usually called 'democratic socialism' to differentiate it from right-socdem (attempt at resolution to class conflict via social programmes, class collaboration etc.)

from a Marxist perspective your questions themselves are a bit off-mark.
2) in the Marxist class paradigm (as opposed to the Weberian) financial inequality is by itself irrelevant, what defines class is the relationship to the means of production
3) there are no purely economic or purely political systems, the economic system largely defines the form politics will take
4) if we follow Lenin's definition of communism, communism is 'from each according to ability, to each according to need', a free-exchange society where state enforcement of economic order is no longer necessary (and thus the state has 'withered away'). communists don't create communist societies when they take power as in the USSR, but rather societies striving towards communism.
5) no, not even in the socialism = socdem and communism = marxism-leninism model. many of the ML-led eastern european countries allowed private businesses, most famously post-1956 Hungary with their Kadarism
7) you can read Marx in such a way that communism is the telos of human existence, but it would be quite a break from his dialectical materialism. a communist society will have its own contradictions, there is no end of history.
I suggest you read some Marx. Wage, Labour and Capital is short and easily accesible.

Communism is a stateless classless society while socialism is the economic system under which it will operate. Limiting myself to Marx's own words the higher phase of communism, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need", would be a socialist gift-economy. The lower phase of communism, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution", would likely be a more collectivist/voucher system of socialism.

Personally I think that with a collapsing climate and various shortages that vouchers of some sort would still be a good idea for luxury goods in the higher phase of communism while of course all real needs are still met in full.

Socialism is an economic system while communism is a social structure without state or hierarchy. The definition gets confused because there wasn't any need for Marx to clarify such an obvious thing when he was alive and people now days read a fairly narrow selection of books on the topics.

So would you say that the Soviet Union was a Socialist government ultimately aiming for the development of a Communist environment? How would they have gone about this self destruction of state? Would this not simply be classed as an ideal form of anarchy? What measures were going to be put in place to ensure the communistic environment didn't degrade?
This is confusing; I'm also familiar with the fact that small privately owned businesses are allowed under China's Communist government because they regard workers owning small enterprises as "more socialist" than state ownership. However, I thought the main contention surrounding not socialism was that it wasn't truly socialist because Hitler allowed for privatisation?

This is unhelpful. If you feel I have misunderstood something, you should be able to provide a concise explanation, as all good Communists would. "Go read this book" is Sargon tier sophistry.

A society where the workers own the means of production. Most of them are communists but some even believe in a free market aka Market Socialism(Communism, Market Socialism, Individualist Anarchism)
A stateless, classless society where the workers COLLECTIVELY own the means of production.
You see I wrote collectively in capital letters, because under Market Socialism there is the individual ownership of the means of production (not private)

Centralized Planning isn't actual Communism or Socialism, the state owns the means of production, not in any way the workers

Communism is always part of Socialism, but not all Socialists are Communists

As I understand it communism contains some elements of anarchism because of Lenin's idea of communism being a stateless society. I don't see how such a thing is possible or even good, so that's why I only consider myself a socialism.

How do you define a worker then? Does a worker not become bourgeois when he, as an individual, takes on ownership of a productive mean?

Individual there should be capitalised. What I mean to say is: I can understand how collective ownership of the means of production is fundamental to Communism. What I don't understand is how Socialism can allow for a free market, private ownership of minor businesses, and even individual ownership of means, apparently, while still being called Socialism.

How is individual ownership anything other than private? Surely if a company isn't owned either by the state, or by a collective - but by one person, it must be termed private?

1-3, 5-7. Communism and Socialism were initially used interchangeably, the distinction is largely mutations to differentiate socdems from revolutionaries and the ML state from their supposed end goal. Socialism/Communism aims to abolish class and property, is a political movement, and isn't the end of history.
4. Communism is stateless, in both anarchist and marxist useages of "state". If there is a political elite who handle everything your revolution dun goofed and you'll get capitalism soon enough, if not already.

Communism can be thought of as a particular kind of socialism. There are several different kinds of socialism.

That is true.

That is not true. Class is hierarchal by its very nature. The ultimate elimination of class is the goal of the communist as well as most other kinds of socialists.

Communism has two different meanings: one is a movement, and the other is a system. Communism the movement refers to a concerted effort to achieve communism the system. Communism the system is the global stateless, moneyless, classless society that will ultimately result from the disintegration of class-based society. On the other hand, socialism can be understood as an economic system in which the working class controls the means of production. Note that class still exists. The Leninists, along with their numerous branches, complicate this by declaring that their version of socialism is simply put a society where the classical value form has been eliminated and goods are produced for use rather than for exchange.

Socialism may or may not have a state. Communism the system is an anarchy. It has no state. Communism the movement can employ a variety of methods to achieve communism. Leninist socialism features a state that acts as the bourgeois class does in capitalist society. The Leninists postulate that their state will disintegrate as the working class grows in power and takes progressively greater control of the economy. Of course, there are wacky offshoots of socialism out there like North Korean Juche, but it would take forever to explain their brand of insanity.

No, none of this is correct. Nationalization only makes any sense as a concept so long as a state exists, and that immediately rules it out for all of the anarchists, which includes half the communists. Social Democrats (reformist "socialists" of the most dubious credentials) will employ nationalization where capitalism still exists in an effort to make a particularly vital service (say power generation, health care, or some critical industry) more responsive to the needs of the general public. Leninists do something called "central planning" which at first blush appears similar to nationalization but has some distinctions. Lenin himself had wanted the various industries to remain under the direct control of the soviets–large democratic union-like bodies composed entirely of the workers in a particular industry and region. Subsequent Leninist leaders like Stalin flipped the soviet system on its head turning the democratic bodies into a top-down system featuring a Supreme Soviet, rather defeating the purpose if you ask me.

The private sector is anathema to socialism, although the mutualists would beg to disagree. In terms of property, communists and other socialists differentiate between private ownership (ownership of a particular thing by an individual who does not personally utilize it) and personal ownership (ownership of a particular thing by an individual who does personally utilize it). Private ownership is definatively exploitative, as it allows the owner to profit from another person's need for that thing. Personal ownership, on the other hand, is ideal for everything other than the means of production. The means of production–those things that people need to produce the things that they produce–are to be publically own, that is to say that they are held in common by everyone, not merely by proxy as with nationalization. That allows society to see to its own needs, and it ensures that no one can be denied access to them. Businesses may exist in market systems like mutualism or Marshall Tito's unique market socialism, but they are exceptional.

No, that is Lenin's thing. Marx postulated that a world-wide working class revolution would occur some time after capitalism had expanded to dominate the entirity of the planet and its inherent contradictions had begun spinning it apart. The way Marx figured it, the period of revolution would feature a "dictatorship of the proletariat" in which the working class would directly control the direction of society the same way that the bourgeois class does now. Then, when the revolution is won the proletariat will gradually destroy the class distinctions that define it which will leave the world free of exploitation. That's when Star Trek happens.

If workers seizing the means of reproduction is fundamental, how could the Soviet Union call itself Socialist/Communist when these means were instead owned by the State?

Given that over half the posters here consider the USSR to be (state) capitalism, you're asking in the wrong place.

As I said, Leninists use their own definition of "socialism" which is a society in which the value form has been eliminated and production is done specifically for use instead of for exchange. Of course, even under that definition the USSR's claim to socialism is suspect. The USSR was indeed "communist" in so far as it was at least ostensibly working toward achieving the stateless, moneyless, classless communist system of the future.

That said, I do not want to detract from the singular and extraordinary accomplishments of the USSR. Their central planning system was spectacularly successful in terms of industrializing Russia, and the extremely rapid restructuring of Russian society was faster than anything that humankind has seen before or since. Ultimately, the question of just how socialist it actually was is merely one of semantics.

Claiming you're working towards an abstract is hardly difficult. What were they doing in the real to ensure a classless society where everything would be held in common and the State would be a distant memory?

Because it wasn't socialist. Stalin was a traitor to the revolution. Lenin himself described what they had as a form of state capitalism in a speech given before he died.

Lenin and Stalin first had to create a proletariat in the Soviet Union that was large enough to ascend to power. Russia's proletariat during the revolution was small and confined primarily to Petrograd and a few other industrial centers. Rather than being working class, most Russians were peasants–small land holders who worked the land themselves. Thus, in order to enlarge the proletariat as well as to create wealth, Stalin in particular utilized central planning to industrialize the Soviet Union. It had the desired effect of transforming the peasant population into working class individuals.

While this was going on, Stalin correctly predicted that foreign capitalist powers would invade the Soviet Union as soon as they were able to get the Great Depression under control. To prepare for this inevitability, he centralized as much power and authority as he possibly could. It worked, but it left the new Soviet proletariat with very little real power. When Stalin died, Khruschev attempted to return power to the soviets, but he failed to offer any incentives to workers and left the economy stagnant. Things became worse as the bureaucracy entrenched itself and began exploiting the system for personal gain. The history of the USSR is a cautionary tale of both the efficacy and the failings of centralized political power.

What sort of history are you reading bud?

The kind that knows what "proletariat" means.