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What's the difference between a socialist and a communist?

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yoda's walking stick
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Jul 29 2011 21:49
What's the difference between a socialist and a communist?

I've always understood the word socialist as an umbrella term which encapsulated a number of positions that advocated collective control of the means of production. But I understand for many people, socialist and communist carry very different definitions. What do you mean when you say communist? What do you mean when you say socialist?

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RedEd
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Jul 29 2011 23:58

I'm afraid I don't think this question is specific enough to be meaningful. Both words have served lots of different purposes in lots of different times and places, and continue to do so today. Additionally, a given person's political ideas are massively under-determined by the label they or others apply to themselves. In other words, you can't tell what some one thinks by the word used to describe them.

Maybe some comments on specifics are still worth while however. Within the anarchist tradition communism expresses a distinct theoretical trend differing certain others, including mutualism, collectivism and much more recently parecon (if this can be said to be compatible with anarchism). So when anarchists call themselves communists, they are expressing agreement with the ideas whose first well known proponent was Kropotkin about the mode of production and distribution proper to anarchism. However, since communism is such a dominant view in anarchist organisations today, it is perhaps a slightly redundant term in many contexts. The other positions mentioned are socialist but not communist in terms of the usage of the words in the history of anarchist thought.

It's probably also worth saying that anarchism is a type of socialism under a 'maximalist' definition of socialism, and that anarchist communism is therefore a type of socialism. Some confusion may arise from various definitions, from that of social democracy to that of the economic neo-liberals, which conflate socialism with state control of production and distribution, something anarchists and non-social democratic marxists tend to reject.

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Shorty
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Jul 30 2011 09:46

I don't get it, is there meant to be a punch line?

evolve
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Jul 30 2011 18:18

Communism = a stateless,classless , non-hierarchical society where the means of production are collectively owned and managed.

Socialism = A political system where the means of production are collectively owned and managed.

So all communists are socialists, but not vice versa (i.e. democratic socialists (which is a term social democrats like to use).

yoda's walking stick
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Jul 30 2011 19:19
evolve wrote:
Communism = a stateless,classless , non-hierarchical society where the means of production are collectively owned and managed.

Socialism = A political system where the means of production are collectively owned and managed.

So all communists are socialists, but not vice versa (i.e. democratic socialists (which is a term social democrats like to use).

Would it be fair to say that's the commonly accepted definition among socialists? Because that's what I'm looking for.

radicalgraffiti
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Jul 30 2011 20:08

i don't think there is a common definition among those who consider themselves socialists

yoda's walking stick
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Jul 30 2011 21:21
radicalgraffiti wrote:
i don't think there is a common definition among those who consider themselves socialists

That's so frustrating. I feel like words need some kind of commonly accepted meaning in a specific context to be useful.

working class
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Jul 30 2011 21:46

Marx never regarded the two terms as being distinct from each other.

Alexander Roxwell
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Jul 30 2011 22:27

I feel that we are often "trapped" by the definitions of words that others have defined and those "others" are often our enemies. Political words are especially corrupted by the definitions that are skewed by television and other mass media that is owned and controlled by guess who.

Who "owns" the language? The word "communist" has been claimed by early Christians and ancient Spartans - it has become a swear word in the United States, something akin to calling someone a "shithead." What is the definition of "shithead"? What is the "difference" between a "shithead" and a "fuckface"? Is the question about the "difference" between a "socialist" and a "communist" as meaningless?

We have to use the language and we have to do the best we can with a set of words that have been twisted and transformed by people of all types.

I think this is probably not a good place to start. State what you believe as best you can and use words that you believe will convey those ideas as best you can. I find that there is alot of "debate" - especially on the left - over the meanings of "words" that often make infinitesimal differences over trivia look like gigantic differences that cause people to think they can't work with one another.

At one point I thought the best description of myself was a "social syndicalist" because I find the anarchist philosophy to be incomprehensible nonsense even as I find many of their "positions" on things to be right on the money. Then I read an early piece by William Z. Foster in his anarchist phase entitled “What is Syndicalism” or something like that and that repelled me from that word as well. I like the word "communist" but I do not have anything in common with top down authoritarians let alone people who murder one another over differences of opinion and that is the "popularly held" definition of a "communist." In the 1940s everyone was some kind of "socialist" - even the Nazis were "national socialists" so what does that tell us.

thomas.mas
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Jul 31 2011 16:43

Socialist is broadly speaking the common ownership and management by society (or government as an agent of society) of land and capital.

Communism is a common ownership and management by society of land and capital as well as a classless society where production and distribution of societies goods and services are based on common sharing of the fruits of common labor according to the principle "from each according to ability, to each according to needs".

Non-communist socialism could involve different classes of producers who receive goods and services to a greater or lesser extent based on the type of labor they perform "to each according to deed"