More often than not, in media and in conversation the concepts of Communism and Socialism are used interchangeably to refer to the essentially the same economic/political philosophy. In reality these are two different philosophies that while having some similarities also have some very stark differences. Understanding the similarities and the differences can be useful in terms of appreciation the nuances of Communism vs. Socialism in discussions or publications.


Communism and Socialism both arose in the context of the Industrial Revolution and largely as a response to a time when business owners were becoming extremely wealthy by exploiting their workers. Through different processes both philosophies looked at the current situation as being unsustainable and eventually societal pressures would result in drastic changes.

Other key similarities include:

  • Each is built on the premise that individual will contribute to society based on their own ability.
  • Both advocate that institutions are centralized and either controlled by government or by collectives, this effectively removes private business as a producer of goods and services.
  • Government (or some form of it) plays a large role in economic investment and planning, either in a centralized form or decentralized to local government bodies.


While there are certainly key similarities in the philosophy's of Communism and Socialism, there are differences that make considering them interchangeable incorrect. The most fundamental difference is that under Communism individuals are provided for or compensated based on their needs, in effect meaning that in a true communist system you wouldn't have money and you'd simply be given what the government thinks you need in terms of food, clothing, accommodation, etc. Central to socialism is that individuals are compensated for based on their individual contribution, so people that work harder or smarter would receive more than those that don't contribute. This difference highlights a key flaw in the Communist model, where no one has any motivation to work harder or smarter as it would have no impact or benefit for them.

Other key differences include:

  • Communism views all property as being public property and effectively there is no personal property or items held by individuals. Socialism rather sees individuals still having their personal property but all industrial and production capacity would be communally owned and managed by consensus or government.
  • Socialism is at its core an economic philosophy, whereas Communism is economic and political in its requirement that government be the central owner and decision maker in all matters.
  • Communism rejects any religion and in a true Communist state religion is effectively abolished. As Socialism is economic only in its focus, freedom of religion is allowed, though some interpretations see it as promoting secularism in its nature (even if religion is not effectively banned).
  • Communism sees the complete abolishment of class distinctions as everyone is effectively treated the same. Socialism sees a diminishment here but class distinctions would still exist as there is capacity for some to achieve more wealth than others.
  • Communism sees the transition from Capitalism as being a violent revolution where the existing system is effectively destroyed as the workers rise up against the middle and upper classes. Socialism rather sees a gradual transition from capitalism through legal and political processes that see everyone essentially being treated equally at birth. People would still have the ability to excel and enter the equivalent of the middle class, but their children would have to work just as hard as they did to achieve the same.

Communism and Socialism in Practice

Contrary to what many would think there has never actually been a purely Communist state since the philosophy was created. The Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea are the closest examples, although none of them fully achieved (or have yet achieved) a purely communist structure. Personal property, the abolition of money, and elimination of class systems are all areas where Communism wasn't achieved even in these near examples. These countries focused more on the central government's dominant role in all aspects of the economy, politics, and decision making.

Socialism similarly has never been fully adopted in any country since the philosophy was created. Some countries such as Norway, Sweden, France, and Canada have many socialist policies (such as free health care and a dominant government role in many shared services) but still have very strong capitalist structures and traditions in place.

Only time will tell if either of these economic/political philosophies will ever be realized.