So Brendan sent me a message a while back in which he asked:
whats the difference between socialism, communism, leninism, and marxism?
This is no simple question, but I will attempt to be brief as possible. To start off with its necessary to know a few back details.
Starting with capitalism, capitalism dates back on average 200 to 300 years (it developed in Europe, and Europe then spread it throughout the world). This is tied in with a number of key markers, firstly a political revolution, normally this results in the abolition of a monarchy, and the rest of the aristocracy. Britain is an exception here, Britain had its capitalist revolution early, as such capitalism was weak and could not totally break the monarchy. The bourgeoisie (French for middle class), then made up of merchants, business men etc, steadily growing in power became the ruling class in society, the classic example would be the French revolution.
We also see the development of the modern nation state, with a centralised government, usually a parliament full of representatives of the bourgeoisie, this leads to a single set of laws, currency, measurements and market. Which ended the often regional mess that dogged feudal society, you can imagine merchants struggling to trade between two towns because of the 20 different systems of measurements they each used. With this we also see the development of nationalism, often used by imperialist powers to justify their expansionism.
We also see the simplification of the class system, the old feudal classes like the peasantry, who were bound to the land owned by their Lord, and so on disappear. As this happens people wander into towns and cities often to "seek their fortune", however as we know they'd typically end up spinning wool or cotton for 14 hours a day just to get enough to eat.
We see the beginnings of the ruling class of capitalists, who own the tools, factories, materials etc. And the people who have to work for the capitalists in order to live.
By 1850 or so, the capitalist mode of production was the dominant one, the last traces of serfdom were being wiped out. In the last 50 or so years the number of capitalists had been dramatically reduced, put out of business due to the competition from the new technologies to increase production, and profitability.
This led many to question the system, production had increased say 4 times thanks to the technology of the industrial revolution, yet workers weren't being paid 4 times as much. This put forward the question of where profits come from, by the 1820s many socialists were coming to the conclusion that profits were the unpaid wages that the workers didn't get paid, the capitalists were pocketing the difference.
It took Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels to come up with a detailed description of what is going on in capitalist society. Anyway from there, I think we can talk about what socialism and communism are.
Socialism and communism is essentially the same thing, the goals of both are the establishment of a communist society (although not all socialists accept communism will follow). Various communist sects have existed throughout history, going back maybe a couple of thousand years, their goal to create a better world. It wasn't until Karl Marx did they actually have their feet on the ground.
Karl Marx said that now it is actually achievable, thanks to the direction capitalism was developing in. It was creating a class of people worldwide, who could lead a revolution and end the class war that has raged for thousands of years by making the means of production, the economic power base of every ruling class, public property, where not a minority control them but everybody democratically.
A socialist society, or the lower phase of communist society. Is one which has the workers as the new ruling class, and one where the means of production are under their control, as a whole, not through a tiny minority.
A socialist society would look similar to a capitalist one, there would be a state, there would be money, and people would go to work and get paid. However the place they went to work would be owned collectively by the society, and as such also controlled by the society.
As we see in Venezuela today some factories have been taken over by the workers, in some cases they meet each morning to manage the operations of the factory for that day, in some cases they elect a management to do this for them. There are many ways the people can control the economy democratically.
There will also be a few other key differences to the workplace; technology will no longer be feared. In capitalist society if a robot can help a worker do a job, in many cases the capitalist will sack the worker to increase profits.
In a socialist society, the profit motive does not exist. Assume a robot costs £100 and can double the production of a single worker, who is paid say £1000 a month.
We can either halve the cost of the commodity (plus the £100 investment for the robot, materials etc) as it costs the same amount of time to make twice as many commodities.
Or we halve the amount of time the worker spends at work, the same amount of goods get produced so he still gets the £1000 a month, minus the £100 for the robot.
Lastly we can double the wages of the worker to £2000 a month (minus £100 for the robot and extra materials used).
In practise I suspect all three will happen more or less together. Socialism would bring about a technological revolution like none ever seen before in human history. Everybody will want technological progress because everybody will benefit from it, everybody will have an incentive to improve production.
Communism, or the higher phase of communist society is a society in which the state has dissolved, money has dissolved the concept of "work" has changed beyond recognition and countries and nations are confined to the history books.
As the classes dissolve due to everybody both working and collectively owning the means of production. Everybody in the society will share the same relationship to the means of production, no one group will own and no one group will work for the other group. The state, which we saw develop with the first class societies will no longer need to exist to defend the ruling class from those beneath. It will wither away just like it slowly evolved into existence.
Thanks to production being so high, people's needs will be fulfilled, money will be a non-issue, thanks to technology work won't be seen as a necessary evil, but as something we just do. Obviously to get this developed may take some time, many generations perhaps.
To touch on Marxism, Leninism, social-democracy, anarchism, Stalinism etc.
Marxism I suppose has a couple of main components, dialectical materialism, historical materialism and the labour theory of value. All of which are too much to go into in this blog post. Essentially nowadays most socialists are Marxists, either by descent or by influence, very few areas of socialism were left untouched by Marxist thinking.
Leninism has a few components, the theory of imperialism which explains how the most developed countries exploit the 3rd world by owning their means of production. And also a method for bringing about the revolution, typically how the Bolsheviks did it in 1917, after the more mainstream left-wing leaders had been paid off by the capitalists, a democratic centralist party made up of committed revolutionaries would strike the final blow against capitalism. I believe Leninism is a valid continuation of Marxism, however I don't necessarily believe a small democratic centralist revolution party is the way to go in a western parliamentary democracy. I'd also lump Trotskyism in here too, typically Stalinists use it to insult anti-Stalinists, some Marxists use it to differentiate themselves from Stalinism.
Social-democracy (up until that time socialists were in parties usually called Social Democratic, or Socialist Democratic Labour), has the nickname the social-bourgeois split from the socialist movement in 1914 following the outbreak of the First World War. They supported the nationalistic bloodshed; genuine socialists urged the troops not to fight, but to turn their guns on their leaders who had sent them off to war. Social-democracy is something that has led the workers up the hill, only for their leaders to be brought out and lead the workers back down again.
Anarchists share the goal of socialists, in that they want a communist society. They differ on how to achieve it. Anarchists believe communism can be brought about over-night simply by smashing the state. They don't think the workers should make use of the things we have won, like the right to vote etc like Marxists and other socialists do.
Stalinism, often mistakenly called socialism or communism refers to the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and beyond, and also other countries influenced by Moscow after that date, China until the 90s or so, Korea, Eastern and Central Europe, and to a lesser extend Cuba. Stalinism (and Maoism) has a few key points, its strongly nationalistic, in contrast to the internationalism of Marxism, it almost always features a personality cult, a great man to look up to, and it is always a dictatorship of a small minority, typically it also features a nationalised economy which this minority rule over.
Anyway I hope that helps answer your question.