Communism, Socialism. Same Difference, Right?

MarxHow often have you, either in jest or out of frustration, referred to someone as a communist?  What about, horror of horrors, a socialist?  I will admit that I often besmirch my husband’s good name as a result of failure to appreciate the splendor that is the game of baseball.  The term “communist” is not infrequently hurled in his direction during baseball season.  (He’s a remarkably patient man in that respect). Seriously, though, these two terms are often used interchangeably and usually to cast aspersions on someone’s political ideology.  Scratch the surface, though, and the common understanding of these terms is fairly shallow.  That’s not to denigrate anyone’s intellectual abilities.  It’s simply that as Americans, we tend to have a visceral reaction to these terms.  A vestige of the Cold War, for those of us that experienced it.  (Another vestige of the Cold War, for your viewing pleasure).  This election cycle seems likely to bring these terms to the forefront again, particularly with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.  I, for one, am very interested to see how he handles running on a democratic-socialist platform.  It seems like a good time for a quick primer on the distinction between communism and socialism.

Both socialism and communism are primarily economic models.  The basis of both is a common ownership in the means of production.  Socialism is practiced widely in Europe and for some reason, Americans tend to equate socialism with healthcare. While certainly state ownership of the healthcare system (commonly referred to as a “one payer system) can be a component of socialism, the reality is that socialism is much more than social programs. There are a number of different variations of socialism, as there are in democracy (see this post).  State socialism denotes state ownership of the means of production.  When you hear of industries being nationalized (France and their semiconductors), this is an example of state socialism.  You can easily see how state socialism may lend itself to inherently non-democratic tendencies – Venezuela and the oil industry under Hugo Chavez.  Libertarian socialism, on the other hand, explicitly rejects state ownership as oppressive and seeks to place ownership in the hands of workers (unions) and prefers a weak, decentralized state. Communism takes socialism a step further, advocating for a society without classes, and ultimately without a state apparatus.

While socialism holds that “common ownership” can mean public-private cooperatives in the ownership of the means of production,  pure communism posits that the state only exists to exploit the workers.  The Marxist ideal is the working class coming together to manage their society for the betterment of all. You may be familiar with the Marxist maxim, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”  In other words,  commune=communist.  Soviet style communism can be described as a stalling of the Marxist Revolution.  While they may have skipped the rule of the bourgeoisie, as predicted by Marx, they never completed the evolution of communism to the eradication of the state apparatus.  In fact, the opposite happened.  The government became larger and larger and increasingly powerful.  One could argue that anarchy bears a closer resemblance to the Marxist ideal than did the Soviet state. It should be noted that this a very high level discussion of the two ideologies, but it should be enough to give a basic understanding of the differences.  Socialism and communism are certainly in the same family, but perhaps cousins as opposed to siblings.  Additionally, as with democracy, both socialism and communism exist as a rather wide spectrum.  There are no pure communist countries, just as there are no pure democracies.

Posted on June 18, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on Global Security, Privacy, & Risk Management and commented:

    Dr. Heather Mark talking about the differences of Socialism and Communism.

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  2. This is a very intelligent, meaningful post. I will recommend it to my students who are convinced that Communism is “something like fascism.”

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