Modern socialism aims to improve on previous socialist attempts, such as that of the former Soviet Union, by emphasizing democracy.
Around the time of Sander’s first presidential campaign, I realized I didn’t know anything about socialism. It was a subject I needed to study.
Conducting Google searches for “socialism” made me feel subversive, at first. Search results implied that socialism and communism are practically the same thing. Yikes! my inner child cried (that child who hunkered under her desk during many an air raid drill during elementary school). Maybe socialism is a dangerous slippery slope, after all, leading straight to communism.
And yet, the level-headed, morally courageous Bernie Sanders proclaimed himself to be a “Democratic Socialist.” I continued to research.
Soon I came upon Professor Richard D. Wolff, host of Economic Update, and began to learn a thing or two about modern socialism. Wolff is a Marxist economist and historian. He advocates for worker-owned-and-managed enterprises. In fact, he founded Democracy at Work. Wolff maintains that a democratic nation should be characterized by the democratic workplace.
Still, I continued to wonder about the difference between socialism and communism.
Is There a Difference Between Socialism and Communism?
If we look at the common dictionary definitions for “socialism” and “communism,” we see that both systems mention community ownership and control. A workplace is a community. (Thank you, Dr. Wolff.)
Socialism – a theory or system of social organization that advocates the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, capital, land, etc., by the community as a whole, usually through a centralized government.— Dictionary.com
Communism – a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.— Dictionary.com
The two definitions are hardly distinguishable from one another. Later in my research, I learned that communism is a type of socialism, which may explain why the terms are often used interchangeably. But more significantly, the two definitions allow that both socialist and communist systems could also be controlled by the state or government (instead of a community).
State-controlled socialism frightens people. It is authoritarian and, therefore, presents a threat to human rights. That is particularly the case if the state/government controls all or most of the political, social, and economic systems within a country.
On the other hand, people seldom give community-controlled socialism a thought. But if they do think about it, they might appreciate how beautifully it dovetails with democracy. Hey–that must be how someone came up with the idea for democratic socialism.
So, back to the difference between socialism and communism. From what I can tell, there is no essential difference between the two ideologies. It’s all socialism.
And socialism provides an alternative to capitalism.
Where Does Capitalism Fit In?
Western economic systems have changed over time. There has been slavery, then the feudal system, and capitalism reigns today. The new kid on the block is socialism. Get ready, because modern socialism will be the first economic system to empower workers.
All I want to add here, is that capitalism and democratic socialism do not cancel one another out. Mingled together, private enterprise and worker cooperatives spur a healthy competitive business environment.
INSIDE SECRET: Wealthy corporations and billionaires hate democracy, socialism, unions, AND competition.
(Yeah. Keep connecting those dots.)
Proper Tension Creates Balance
Meanwhile, most social-economic systems are a combination of various approaches. The proper tension across diverse force fields can create balance. In the case of democratic socialism and regulated capitalism, a balanced distribution of wealth and power curbs excessive inequality.
To get a sense of the variety of socialist systems, read 15 Socialist Countries that Have Succeeded | Yahoo News. And keep your eye on Chili, which just elected a socialist president: Chile’s Socialist Resurgence Is a Century in the Making | Jacobin.
For Further Investigation
You may want to investigate the work that scholars of socialism offer. Follow the blue links provided in this post. Visit Prof. Wolff. Watch the video below. If you’re really inspired, read Karl Marx.
As you expand your research into socialism, you’ll notice material about socialist countries that are failing. But I leave you with a finale thought, that you may apply where applicable…. Nothing works as intended, if it is corrupted.