I was just asked about the difference between socialism and communism, and I wrote what I think is a potentially helpful response, and since there’s so much confusion around those, I wanted to share:

Under capitalism, one can use money to make money. That’s why wealth concentrates under capitalism–you get a little rich, you can start getting even richer even faster.

Under socialism, you can’t use your money to make more money. The only way to make any money is by actually working productively. Socialists believe that only labor, not money, can generate wealth. Socialism is viewed as a transitional stage (it’s sometimes called “the lower stage of communism”) where society is still trying to overcome old capitalist ideas and arrangements. There are a lot of different ideas about how to conduct politics and economics in such a system, but the basic principles are true democracy and, like I said above, one can only earn money (money being the right to the goods and services others produce) by producing goods and services oneself.

Communism is a stateless, classless, moneyless society. We commies believe that the state (the police/military/prison apparatus) exists pretty much entirely because society is divided into haves and have-nots, so we believe that after socialism has truly democratized society, we will only very rarely have a need for force to produce order. As for the moneylessness of communism, you may have heard the phrase “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” That first part sounds tyrannical, but it really just means “however much you’re willing and able to contribute.” The second part is “take whatever you want, in good conscience.” Marx observed (and I agree) that some people are just more able to be productive in some way–does that mean they deserve nicer things in this life? So where socialism is “to each according to their *work*,” communism is “to each according to their *need*.” We keep track of how much each individual is taking in socialism, but under communism people and technology are such that we don’t need to keep track of individual consumption (or at least don’t focus on it). Communism would be sort of how it is within a circle of friends or a nuclear family now–everyone takes what they feel is fair, and everyone pitches in what feel is fair (with peer pressure as a motivation if they aren’t quite doing what they should be). That’s how it was among humanity for tens of thousands of years, so I think it’s possible for us to get back there, or at least much closer than we are now.