Communism and socialism have always been some rather hotly debated topics. Everyone seems to have an opinion about them. All of us know the terms, sure, but do we really know what they entail? Moreover, do we really know the differences between the two?
No worries! It’s never too late to learn! Here are some of the basic differences between socialism and communism.
A note to remember: The intricacies of both ideologies are linked to several Marxist theories. However, I’ll refrain from getting into the theoretical details of Marxism, which is a topic unto itself. However, two things do warrant a mention: Firstly, socialism existed long before Marx; Secondly, although communism is the practical application of Marxism, it is not the same. Communism as it is understood today was largely developed by Lenin, and not Marx.
Socialism began with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Europe. During those times, more and more people began working in factories instead of farming. The ones who got rich as a result of this system were just a handful of industrial owners. The rest were living in abject poverty. The laborers then decided that enough was enough! Why should they slog day and night for someone else? The system had to be changed! Thus, socialism was born.
Socialism proposes a complete change in the production system, wherein wealth is divided among everyone. And how do you accomplish that, you ask? Taxation is the key! Under socialism, the government is responsible for making sure that the rich are taxed heavily. These taxes then help in giving benefits to the poor. Basically, a socialist government is like an institutional Robin Hood.
However, today, we are moving in the opposite direction economically. With globalization and multinational corporations cropping up everywhere, the governments of the world don’t seem to have any power to regulate them. Socialists don’t like this one bit! Because of the economic framework that is so prevalent today, of all the different theories of socialism, democratic socialism has developed as the most viable option.
Democratic socialism does not advocate any change to the existing democratic political structure. It does, however, suggest major revisions to the idea of private ownership of the means of production. It celebrates the idea of a Welfare State, where people automatically receive social security payments from the local government, including free healthcare, free education, pensions, etc., as seen in countries like Sweden, Norway and Canada. That, my friends, is what Bernie Sanders wishes to accomplish!
Communism can be understood as a more extreme form of socialism. Communism does not believe in the power of the government. Karl Marx, the main theoretical mind behind Communism, understood the world in just two positions: the rich or the ‘bourgeoisie’ who owned the factors of production, and the poor or the ‘proletariat’, who actually worked towards production. The government was seen as a part of the bourgeoisie. Thus, according to Marx, they wouldn’t bother to liberate the poor.
So, how do you bring about a change in a system so skewed towards the needs of the rich? A revolution, of course! A revolution that would overthrow not just the rich, but also the existing government. A handful of the proletariat would then take over the administration. However, what would stop them from becoming the new ‘bourgeoisie’? What would stop them from amassing all the wealth themselves? Simple! Entirely remove wealth from the system! No wealth would mean that there would be neither an upper or lower class.
In a purely communist state, as proposed by Vladimir Lenin, the new one-party government owned all the factors of production. It dispersed all the wealth collected amongst its people equally. Therefore, the people of a communist state don’t really buy anything. Instead, they are given everything by the government itself. With so many stringent details, it’s no wonder that pure communism failed almost immediately when it began in the USSR. In fact, over the years, USSR’s economy leaned more towards a centralized form of socialism, rather than communism. Of course, that too collapsed. to form the capitalist Russia that we know today.
As a matter of fact, communism has never worked well for a long period of time. It could be argued that the only successful application of communism has been in Cuba, but even that tiny island country is slowly moving towards embracing capitalism.
So, now you know the basic difference between socialism and communism. Remember to bring this knowledge to the table the next time someone confuses socialism with communism.