Communism vs. Socialism?

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    What is the difference between communism and socialism? And what is a Socialist Libertarian?


    The definition of “Socialism” depends upon whether they are trying to convince you you are wrong to describe someone as a Socialist, or whether they’re trying to persuade you of the glorious wonders and diversity of Socialism. Under the first definition, Socialism is defined narrowly, in it’s putative original sense as the State ownership of the means of production. Under the later, “no, you just don’t understand, there is a wide variety of Socialisms, including market Socialism, and the Socialism espoused by European Social-democratic parties,” or the Socialism of the Newsweek cover “We’re All Socialists Now,” the Socialism of Norman Thomas, of the Fabians, and of Alynskists. These didn’t boil down to instant nationalization and de jure ownership of the means of production: after all, why be saddled with the full responsibility, when you can control them through bureaucratic directive, and retain the de jure owners for management of the details and as scapegoats when things go wrong? The wily Socialist soon realized it was possible to separate power from responsibility, and that to control a thing didn’t mean they had to outright take over full responsibility.

    Communism is the state-of-affairs that never comes to pass because it is premised upon the idea that the Socialist state that owns and controls everything will “wither away” and voluntarily self-liquidate after it transforms people as Marx describes. (Note there are non-Marxist versions but these are almost trivial in their ongoing intellectual influence). “Communist” parties ran Socialist states with the ostensible goal of reaching communism, but of course the apparatchiks never had any real intention of putting themselves out of their jobs.

    Note that most people define Socialism in economic terms, but while Socialists themselves, in their descriptions, originated this misconception, their interests were *always* primarily social and cultural – fundamentally transforming social relations. The economic aspect was just seen as the means for that. However, by the 1920s a lot of insightful people realized that 1) the economic predictions of Marx weren’t coming to pass but 2) they wanted the social transformation anyhow, this was their real goal and 3) it could be achieved via cultural means. So you get the strain of thought beginning with Gramsci et al, which transmitted itself to the U.S. via people like Erich Fromm, Theodor Adorno, Marcuse, et al: cultural socialism.

    This has proven much, much more effective and is intellectually ascendent now. It’s a variant strain that allows itself to make a peace (of a modus vivendi sort) with bureaucratic-capitalism (the non-free market “mixed economy” we currently enjoy, with private ownership of property but under public control and direction) as a milk-cow to finance their social engineering schemes. (The later made them natural partners with the Progressive movement, so the two became inseparably intertwined).

    This FEE Lecture by Bradley Thompson is pretty good on the inherent inhumanity of Marxism, despite it’s claims to and reputation of “at least they meant well, but it’s never really been tried.” Turns out it is the Marxist despots who understood it most fully and it was the most bloody of them that put it into practice most according to Marx’s original intent.

    “Libertarian Socialism” is an oxymoron, probably the latest term-of-art for Left-Anarchists wanting to make themselves popular. At best it means Libertine Socialism, but it’s still everything for the mass, nothing outside the mass, nothing against the mass.


    This is how the difference was explained to us children in primary/secondary school, in our Socialist country at that time…

    Communism is the Ideal that our society is striving to achieve. It’s the social setup with “from everyone according to their capacities, to everyone according to their needs”. Such system would, for example, not need money because everything would be fully-fully determined by the state, and life would be easy, efficient, free and beautiful. Man would be maximally free from harsh realities of physical living such as hunger, disease, crime, etc. Daily grind of having to go to work would be much lighter and the hours minimal and short, everything being made so efficient, so everyone would have plenty of time to do whatever one pleases, like personal development through art, sports, hobbies, or just leisure. To make it short, it would be as blissful living for every single individual in the society as theoretically possible to achieve, ever. In other words Communism is the pure, perfect, utmost Socialism.

    Now, the real life “Socialism” is a necessary preliminary stage of Communism. In Socialism, the society slowly rearranges itself, slowly evolving towards the ideal (Communism), as it takes a lot of time to achieve that Ideal.. people being simply stubborn and ignorant, and stuck with their old ways. So, in Socialism we still have money, some limited markets, the State not involved in everything yet, etc, etc. And it’s not fixed, but is changing, constantly getting better and better… on its happy march towards the Ideal.

    So, Communism is pure perfection, the one and only, like absolute zero temperature in physics. Socialisms are many and evolving and having to compromise with previous social orders and traditions, and so each country has its own, depending on how far they got with the process of State absorbing every social process into itself.


    Thank you for explaining!


    By the by, on this Thanksgiving day it is appropriate to point out that experiments in communism – at least of the pre-Marxist kind – really are “as American as apple pie.”

    To that end it’s worth checking out this book on the Plymouth colony, both the section on p.120 where the experiment was ended and an experiment with private property and freedom of exchange begun, and preceding sections. The “common course and condition” was an attempt at communism; goods weren’t owned by a State but were held in common (“several property,” collective ownership – communal ownership). Here is a FEE article summarizing the episode and here is a Forbes article. If only today’s statists & communalists “had the humility to learn from their initial mistakes and embrace freedom.”

    There’s also this 1875 book on Communistic Societies in the United States, including a chapter on “New Harmony,” an experiment in Owenite communism.

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