“Socialism” vs “Communism” | Etymosemanticology


Around the beginning of the nineteenth century
the world, especially Europe, started to change. Machines were used more, animals were used
less and people started migrating from farms to cities. Different people had very different
reactions to this, and a lot of different words started getting coined and thrown around
to describe people’s attitudes towards these changes, two of which would wind up sticking
around for a very long time: socialism and communism.
These two words were originally used more or less interchangeably to describe a lot
of different people with vastly different ideas like Robert Owen, Saint-Simon, Louis
Blanc, Pierre-Joseph and plenty of others. All of these guys did focus on some common
themes, they all talked about how how the onset of the industrial revolution was making
it possible for a few entrepreneurs to exploit their workers in order to make themselves
very rich, and they all talked about how society needed to be radically reorganized in order
to make things more fair, but after that their agreement ended. Like, if not these rich business
owners, who should own the factories and how should they be managed? Should we even have
property? How should goods be distributed and by who, how should we motivate people
to work? Each socialist and each communist would have given you a different answer.
One of the many documents from this early period was “The Communist Manifesto.”
It was written by Karl Marx, who you’ve probably heard of, and Friedrich Engels, who
you might have? Maybe? I dunno, anyway, according to them, a communist was someone who, among
other things, wanted – Abolition of land as private property
– Free education – The requirement that everyone who can work
does work – Centralization of banks, communication,
transportation and everything else I think? It’s a bit unclear.
The way the document talks about things, it seems like they viewed communism as an extreme
type of socialism, where socialists are just anyone who wants to help the average worker
but communists are people who want to completely overturn the current social order.
Now, this document became incredibly influential, but the terminology it uses, with “communist”
as a particularly radical subset of socialist, didn’t really catch on. The word “communism”
fell out of favor, and people started describing themselves mostly by how much they agreed
with Marx. So, instead of communism as a subset of socialism, we wound up with “marxism”
as a subset of socialism. Over the course of the 1800s, a lot of countries
in Europe started getting a lot more democratic, and political parties started forming to compete
in elections. A lot of these political parties were socialist, and they tended to be dominated
by marxists, especially the SDP in Germany. Here’s the problem, though: a big part of
orthodox marxism was the belief that the working class would have to revolt in a glorious,
violent revolution, because the ruling bourgeoisie would never willingly relinquish power. So
the fact that marxists were actually winning some elections wound up kinda discrediting
marxism. In response other more moderate forms of socialism started popping up, like, for
instance, Fabianism in the UK. The Fabian socialists believed that the average worker
would benefit best by a slow, peaceful, gradual transition to a more equitable, state-directed
economy, and they would become very influential in the early days of the British Labour Party.
Meanwhile, in Russia, things were taking a different turn. The leader of the Russian
revolution, Vladimir Lenin, differed from orthodox Marxists on some issues, but unlike
the more moderate socialists gaining ground in Europe he still believed that revolution
was the only way forward. Lenin and his followers broke off from the Russian socialist party
and named themselves the “Communist Party of the Soviet Union,” which as far as I
can tell was the beginning of a revival of the word “communist.” It seems like they
were using it in much the same way Marx had: as a way to separate themselves from other,
more moderate socialists. After they gained power, a split formed in
socialists around the world. On one hand were those who wanted to follow the example of
the soviet union, who began calling themselves “Communists.” They frequently formed their
own parties specifically to challenge the other socialists, and sometimes they were
really successful. On the other hand there were the other socialists. Some were hardcore
marxists and some were moderate gradualists, but they all thought that the Soviet Union
was a terrible example to follow. During World War II there was an uneasy alliance
between socialists, capitalists and communists as they all struggled against their common
enemies, but when that was over and the cold war started socialists around Europe started
becoming progressively more moderate. They started defining themselves as democratic
socialists, people who yes, wanted some government control over industry, but were committed
to doing so by democratic means, unlike the communists in the USSR. The labour party won
the 1945 election in Britain on a socialist platform, and the UK didn’t exactly turn
into Russia. They created a national healthcare system and nationalized major utilities, and
when they lost the elections to the conservatives in 1951 they peacefully relinquished power.
In Germany, the Marxist SDP had become one of Germany’s most powerful political parties,
but after loosing a few elections in a row really badly they basically completely rewrote
their platform, giving up on Marxism and instead embracing a moderate form of socialism where
the government would protect the rights of workers while still allowing the existence
of capitalism, what they called a “social market economy.” All across Europe, “socialism”
stopped meaning “complete over through of current capitalist institutions” and started
meaning “more government influence over the economy than exists right now.”
Meanwhile, in the United States, things worked out a bit differently. We had our own socialist
party for a while, and during the first few decades of the twentieth century it even got
a few congressmen elected. But socialism existed for us as the same time as progressivism,
a much more moderate movement that wound up being very influential in the early days the
US’s left wing, while the socialist party basically just kind of died out. Later, during
the cold war, the words “socialist” and “communist” both became permanently linked
to our arch-nemesis, the USSR, and ever since the two words have been treated basically
like curse words in American politics. So today we’ve wound up in a bit of a weird
semantic situation, where “socialist” might just mean “vaguely left-wing” or
it might mean “soviet freedom-hating russian” depending on who you talk to, a confusing
mess which I hope this video has made at least a little more clear.




Comments
  1. During WW2 Germany was a national-socialist country, and I've heard that in one of his speeches Hitler said something like "Hands off of the socialist Russia!". Soo yeah….
    Someone in the know could comment on the exact phrase.

  2. Hi! Friendly Marxist here. Three years late but who's counting løl

    The definition of 'socialism' is "the workers are in control of the means of production", as given in the Communist Manifesto. We usually don't call the earlier traditions pre-Marx 'socialist', some refer to them as 'proto-socialist' (like Thomas Paine, if you read his Agrarian Justice which was heavily based on geoism and common ownership of natural resources and banning private ownership of said resources, could be called a proto-socialist). 'Communism' refers to the end goal of socialism, that is, the state withers away over time and resources are completely controlled and managed by the people who work them (this is different from anarchism for reasons that would involve me citing a lot more theory than I really want to here). It wasn't the Union of Soviet Communist Republics because communism hadn't been achieved yet; it was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but the CPSU was the Communist Party because their goal was communism.

    The term used to describe Labour, the SPD, Bernie Sanders, et al is usually 'social democrat'. Social democrats aren't socialists and are basically left-wing liberals, since they don't believe in worker control of the means of production and instead favor highly regulated capitalism (liberalism is a term for people who like change but nothing that really threatens the current superstructure of society). Social democrats have their own spectrum: Jeremy Corbyn could be seen as being on the left-wing of social democracy, whereas Sanders would be on the right, and the present-day SPD isn't even social-democratic anymore.

    The idea that communism means 'big government' has to do with various misconceptions around the nature of the state, which is an extremely expansive topic. I highly suggest Lenin's State and Revolution (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/index.htm) for more about the nature of the capitalist conception of the state, dictatorship of the bourgeoisie vs dictatorship of the proletariat, et al.

  3. Socialism is communism. Socialism is a gradual blood letting and communist is a swift blood bath. They are generally atheists and worthless parasites backed by the Jew

  4. In my Political Science classes I understood Socialism to be an economic theory while Communism was a political theory. No?

  5. Excellent video on the topic! I only wonder why it is so hard for some people to say abbreviations. Please don't take this as an offense, but you repeatedly said "SDP" instead of "SPD". This kind of happens a lot with German abbreviations, and would really like to know why 🙂

  6. I think you forgot to say that, for Marx, comunism is the natural evolution of the socialism, or something like this.

  7. So fun to see a video on this topic … in Europe socialism definitely sounds positive and good to people while you have to make a video on this topic … it would happen here. And communism is accepted in Europe. Marx is taught at school to all kids and there is no shame or problem with being a communist. And being a socialist is just being "normal" because quite everyone is.

  8. You are so wrong… Socialist still means that the workers own the means of production, while communism also aims for the state to wither away…

  9. The communist party was socialist. That's why they named their country the USSR.

    In theory anyway but the point still stands. Socialism is intrinsically connected to communism.

  10. I don't mind that Americans are misusing the word socialist.
    Because they misuse every other political term anyways, like "liberal" and "conservative" which don't mean what they mean in US partisan politics.

  11. I dont think people really understand socialdemocrat when you say socialist. I mean yes even in Spain we have a "socialist party" that is socialdemocratic but everyones aware of it. I can tell you NOBODY outside america thinks liberal means what you guys think it means though.

  12. My favorite part is how aside from learning some interesting history, I already had the more or less the same idea of what the 2 systems were. Many people argue over exactly what either is, but one thing to agree on is that socialism=communism lite. That's pretty much all I need to know to know I want it as little as possible. Now can people stop telling me I don't know what socialism and communism are when 2 self proclaimed socialists can't even agree on the what socialism is.

  13. You have preety great confusion between socialdemocracy and democratic socialism. You also don't understand what socialism and communism are. Communism is the continuation of socialism. As was for Marx, socialism is just the step before communism.

  14. I found this video surprisingly accurate, however there is one thing you got wrong socialism also advocates for violent revolution. Communists want the government to (temperaly) control the economy on behalf of the workers. Socialists (like myself) want the workers to directly control the economy.

  15. 3:47 showing the PRC flag is a little inaccurate. Sure the Chinese communists were fighting, some. But the ruling and legitimate power was the Nationalists who were neither Communists or Capitalist as heart.

  16. The entire philosophy is idiotic and insane. There are countless problems with it. And every communist and socialist country has failed. With the response that isn’t real communism.

  17. Hitler, a capitalist, purged the communist from Germany, Poland, and all the countries he invaded. And you wonder why we thing we should revolt?

  18. yeah this is why I started referring to myself as a Marxist instead of a Socialist.
    Bernie Sanders made everything much more complicated by running on the platform of a New Deal Democrat, or a Social Democratic Liberal but calling himself a "democratic socialist".

    in far-left circles,
    democratic socialist – someone who wants to collectivize the economy and put it in the hands of a democratic institution
    social democrat – a liberal who wants a privately owned, capitalist economy, but with taxes to pay for welfare, healthcare, other "public services"
    New Deal Democrat – kinda like the old-school "progressives" of the first half of the 20th century

  19. That video is not pretty acurate (in fact it confuses so many things that it doesn't even tell exactly the differents of socialism and communism). Seriously, if someone wants to know more about socialism and communism, this is not the video.

  20. honestly we'd be better off living in a society built on help each other rather than constant day in day out servitude to a higher authority

  21. Everything is communist for Americans. They even call liberals "leftists" when liberals are clearly right wing or centrists. FRD's New Deal was moderate socialism and noone speaks about it. Yes, Soviet communism was evil, but so was far right conservativism and racism in the South. Why do you have to see extremes as a means for argumentation everywhere? If the state doesn't govern, why does it even exist? Bernie would have been a good president, but Americans are too much right wing. Things like healthcare doesn't seem to work, that's why Europeans prefer Western Europe for immigration nowadays. From European.

  22. I find it amusing that the "freedom loving conservatives" elected a freedom hating despot that idolizes Putin and does everything Putin tells him to do. Hows that retreat from Syria feeling there Rambo?

  23. i think we need some socialist people in the american office im tired of the liberals and conservatives controlling america

  24. There are some inaccuracies here, primarily that Communism and socialism were used interchangeably by Marx but are now often used to describe the difference between a Dictatorship of the Proletariat and a society without classes whatsoever. Further, it was not the Russian Socialist Party, but the Russian Social Democratic party. During the late 1800s, Social Democracy was another term for Socialist, with everyone from Marxists to Fabianists using the term. Socialists winning elections didn't discredit Marxism, it just discredited many Socialists that were getting elected and not doing anything revolutionary. During the onset of WW1, the Second International broke up, as "Socialists" that supported WW1 and favored nationalism split from those that opposed the war. The ones that supported the war kept the label Social Democrats. The ones that didn't often took the name Communist.

  25. Interestingly, most of Marx' students thought that Marx was too extreme and taught a more moderate form of socialism as Marxism. Stalinism was a lot closer to Marx' visions than what was taught as Marxism.

    "The socialist is not motivated by righteous compassion for the oppressed but by insatiable hatred for the oppressor." Orwell

  26. A very relevant and one of my fav quotes: “what’s an idea that benefits everyone and almost everyone can agree with but is strongly disagreed with when named? Socialism”

  27. First of all, Socialism and Communism aren't political systems (Communism is but partly) but economic ones like Feudalism and Capitalism. There can be Democratic Socialism, Dictatorship Socialism (e. g. Soviet Union), Democratic Capitalism (e. g. Conservative parties, Social-Democratic parties), Dictatorship Capitalism (e. g. Fascism, National-Socialism and no, Nazis aren't socialists). Socialism is a state between Capitalism and Communism. Video almost got it right. However, Communism isn't a radical Socialism. It's a classless, stateless, moneyless society.

    https://www.socialism101.com for more info.

  28. Finland wasn't communist. It was and is a democracy, where social democrats (not democratic socialists) held a lot of power.
    SDP if you want to search it up.

    We were forced to have a communist party but it never became succesful. That doesn't mean we were communist.

  29. Old video, yes, but I still feel obligated to complain that Finland was painted as communist after WW2. Ruskies never took us over, Finland is and always has been a social democracy, the Nordic way.

  30. The SPD never was marxist the God sake they ordered the military to find and execute the uprising communist party leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht who really wanted to put the means of production out of capitalists hands

  31. What do you think about creating a series where you just explain the etymology of words and compare them to similar ones? Honestly, five words per video would be very cool

  32. And so the SPD began its long transition from a party of the working class to a neoliberal centrist party that functions as the "opposition" in Germany

  33. Okay. So you have got a few things wrong about the difference between socialism and communism. Socialism is the transition stage between capitalism and communism, which is equal to what Marx, Engels and Lenin termed as the "dictatorship of the proletariat". Here, "dictatorship" is not exactly equal to the meaning of autocracy that laymen commonly associate, but it refers to the concentration of power and here power is concentrated in the hands of the working class (the proletariat), as opposed to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, where power is in the hands of the capitalists.

    Communism is the goal that Marxists want to achieve. It is a classless, stateless and moneyless society. I have seen many people stupidly calling socialist states as "communist", when in reality neither of the socialist states had achieved communism nor did they claim to achieve communism. Just because a vanguard Party which is leading the post-revolutionary consolidation of the working class and peasantry calls itself "communist", doesn't make a socialist country a communist one. Alas, such stupidity can come from US Cold Warriors who pronounce "communism" with an unnecessary and comical stress on the very first syllable.

    Also Marx and Engels wrote a lot of stuff besides The Communist Manifesto and I think in a video describing the etymology of words it is a disservice when we are not involving the other works of Marx and Engels. I think instead of using the Manifesto you could have used Engels' Principles of Communism as that is the like the AMA of Marxist theory in Marx's and Engels' day. Heck, even Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (again by Engels) would be a good place to start to understand the difference between the kind of socialism Robert Owen practiced and the kind of socialism Marx and Engels were propagating.

    Also in Marx's day, "socialism" and "communism" we're used interchangeably as you hinted towards. That is why, Marx used "the lower stage of communism" for "socialism" and the "higher stage of communism" for "communism". It was again Vladimir Lenin who emphasized that socialism and communism can never be equal in meaning and scope. His The State and Revolution makes it very, very clear.

    Lastly, here are a bit of name changes of the Russian vanguard Party (since you compressed names and historical timelines like a boss):

    1) The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (1898-1903, as an unified entity but since the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in November, 1903, both factions used the RSDLP name with the hope with the two factions would eventually unify. By 1912 it was clear that unification was not gonna happen and so each faction formalized the split).

    2) The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (bolsheviks) [RSDLP(b), 1912-1917; the faction led by Vladimir Lenin after the split was formalized].

    3) The Russian Communist Party (bolsheviks) [RCP(b), 1917-1922; the vanguard Party of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Note that the USSR hadn't formed yet and the constituent republics of the USSR were still independent and had their own communist parties leading the revolution and fighting the White Armies during the Russian Civil War. This was also the time when the Third (Communist) International was formed and those who wanted to follow the Marxist-Leninists had to change their party names to "Communist Party of (country's name)"].

    4) The All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks) [AUCP(b), 1922-1952; the Party was renamed after the formation of the USSR and when the Communist parties of the USSR's constituent republics federated into one single Party even though Party organizations and leaders at the all-Union level and at the republican level were different].

    5) The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU, 1952-1991).

  34. This was surprisingly unbiased for a video involving socialism and communism. Now try throwing social democracy, anarchism, collectivism, centralism, Hoxhaism, Maoism, De Leonism, primitivism, mutualism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Posadism, Titoism, state capitalism, bolshevism, menshevism, Makhnovism, federalism, confederalism, Juche communism, revisionism…

  35. Lenin did everything he did for vengeance. He used Socialist/Communists because they were easily manipulated.

  36. this is not 100% correct. in Orthodox Marxist theory communism refers to the stateless, classless society resulting from the progression of socialism

  37. i knew it before this wideo and i even asked my mother whats the difference betwen soclialism and comunism and she said that its all the same. (poland here)

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