Fascism Vs. Communism: The Difference Between Communism and Fascism
The simplest way to understand the terms is to look at NAZI Germany in the 20’s and early 30’s. Germany’s two major parties, the Fascist nationalist socialist NAZI, and the Socialist Communists opposed each other. These two extreme forms of socialism disagreed violently, and this is the clearest way to understand that they are very different.
The difference revolves around the argument over what extreme socialism should look like, should it be inclusive and global (Communism) or exclusive and nationalist (Fascism). The divide is between left-wing and right-wing versions of extreme socialism, not between other political ideologies. In these comparative terms, Fascism is the extreme right-wing and Communism is the extreme left-wing.
During WWII, Mussolini, an ex-Socialist, and Hitler, a Nationalist, were fascists in practice, but, so was the ex-Democratic and later Republican Senator Joe McCarthy (who ironically headed a committee to prevent Fascism and Communism in America).
The extreme totalitarian versions of fascism and communism can be ugly, and it is no wonder people confuse the two. Given the complexity, and the fact that they almost destroyed the world, both terms merit a closer examination.
TIP: It is a mistake to assume both Hitler and Stalin (or Mussolini and Lenin) were purely left-wing (or right-wing for that matter). I strongly suggest not trying to scapegoat political terms here, as each ideology comes in many forms (see the many types of socialism and nationalism Germany in the 1920’s alone). Zeroing in on term like socialism or nationalism can really confuse the conversation and make us think social liberal policy or nationalist policy (and not extreme nationalist nativist fascist policy and extreme communist policy) is the key here. It isn’t. Loosely speaking, from a modern frame, Stalin is like Bernie Sanders on evil steroids and Trump is like Hitler on evil steroids. If you think both Hitler and Stalin are like modern centered social liberals (or modern centered conservative nationalists), you’ll miss many of the lessons WWII taught us… And that sounds like the beginning of a sentence that ends in, “and are thus doomed to repeat it”. Socialism and Nationalism are slippery slopes, but the real red flag here is extremes, not any specific broad ideology. National Fascism/Socialism and Communism are the extreme forms, and each has a lesson to teach about the extremes of left and right respectively from this frame. It is a lesson for all, not just left-wingers or right-wingers. Learn more about why Hitler was a right-wing fascist and not a left-wing socialist… despite the NAZIs being the National Socialist party and fascism being born from ideologies like socialism and nationalism if you need more clarification on this complex but vital point.
Communism and Fascism. Socialism is the ideology that comes after liberalism and conservatism. It is a mix of both. Fascism and Communism are complex systems that combine aspects of liberalism and conservatism. If you aren’t clear on this, understanding WWII era terms will be challenging. See a history of liberalism here to explain the story or see our page on liberalism vs. conservatism.
TIP: When looking at WWII, it’s important to realize that Marxist Communism (as in a system structured as suggested by Marx) was never truly implemented. Meanwhile, Hitler implemented what I would define as Fascist National Socialism. If you were the perfect German, you saw a pure form of fascism, nationalism, and socialism. Hitler loved Germany; he was an imperialistic bloodthirsty tyrant as well. This isn’t true for Stalin, who took power after Lenin. Lenin died before he could create the system he envisioned. Stalin was a paranoid tyrant who cared nothing for philosophy. He used Communist ideology to justify the forced labor that industrialized Russia and helped defeat Hitler at Stalingrad. As many as 60 million Russians died, possibly an overestimate, under his watch, with as many as 50 million, again probably an overestimate, directly linked to Stalin. For Stalin, Communism was just an excuse for totalitarianism. Both Hitler and Stalin are widely considered to have brought great harm to the world; these negative versions of Fascism and Communism serve well for comparison. Of the three rulers, only Hitler implemented the system he promised as Lenin, not Stalin, was the one who admired political philosophy.
Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler Full Documentary. Stalin and Hitler aren’t “the same,” and neither are Stalin and Lenin. If you can see the difference between Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and Marx, you can understand the concepts on this page.
TIP: The debate over political correctness is related to these two terms. Being overly PC is a type of “cultural Marxism” (an intolerance of intolerance), but being anti-PC can be either a type of “cultural fascism” (roughly an intolerance of tolerance) or “cultural laissez-faire-ism” (a tolerance of intolerance). The PC debate is a modern take on the debate surrounding tolerance. See more on that theory on our “tolerance as a form of intolerance” page.
Is Socialism the Same as Communism or Fascism?
It is vital to understand that communism and socialism are different as are socialism and fascism.
Just as there is more than one type of democracy or more than one way to structure a republic, or more than one type of capitalism, there is more than one type of socialism. Learn more about the forms of government or the ideologies that all parties are based on.
It’s also vital to understand these are socio-economic systems and not just economic systems. China is a communist state with a capitalist subsystem. Mises was a bit of a fascist when it came to his absolute dedication to capitalism and individualism; I can’t think of anyone less of a socialist.
These terms are broad, but that is exactly why we are analyzing them.
Below we look at the commonalities and differences between Fascism and Communism in theory and practice, using the very well constructed diffen.com chart as a starting point and (heavily) editing.
The main goal of this page will be to point out that nationalism and socialism can be good, but they are ripe fruit for authoritarians and totalitarians. In this, they show their weakness, as dictators are almost always harmful to their countries and there is nothing they love more than a centralized one-party state.
Nazi and Communist posters: a comparison. Both Fascists and Communists have very similar ideologies. Each a form of intolerance is advocated for in a different way. As you can see, differences aside, the propaganda was very similar.
A Comparison of Communism and Fascism
Communism and Fascism are both systems based on conformity. The main difference is Communism is an ideal utopia for all and Fascism promises a militaristic utopia for nationals only. Either way, they can both be described as a type of centralized national socialism. Despite core differences, their conforming nature makes them a favorite of authoritarians, especially in countries where the average citizen is suffering economically and is thus easily dominated.
TIP: Communism is a socio-economic system, not a purely economic system. China is a Communist state but has a capitalist sub-system. It’s hard to argue that China doesn’t work when we look at the top ten companies in the world. It’s also hard to argue Fascism doesn’t work when we look at Sparta or aspects of Rome. Socialism is a successful social strategy; it comes in many forms, these are the two most extreme forms:
|Philosophy||The philosophy of Marx, a peace-loving socialist who believed Communism could only work in enlightened post-industrial societies.
Communism is a socio-economic system that promotes the establishment of a classless, stateless society based on common ownership of the means of production. An ideal utopia where everyone is equal, whether they like it or not.
|A radical form of nationalism, as old as Sparta (an early national socialist state), but resurfacing as a term after WWI.
Fascism is a social system that favors sameness to promote nationalism. It’s all about empowering a nation through conformity. It is essentially communism for nationals, but isn’t a comment on a type of economic system and is almost always militaristic and imperialistic as the core group of nationals is implicitly so great that it must rule all.
|Ideas||All people are the same, and therefore classes make no sense. The government should own all means of production and land and also everything else. People should work for the government, and the collective output should be redistributed equally. The ownership of property and capitalism is the root of all the worlds evils. Thus this society protects against that.||All national citizens are the same, and a central authority is best suited to lead them. There is no need for economic systems or class. The government should own all means of production, land, and everything else. People should work for the government. The collective output should be redistributed equally. Civil liberties aren’t needed; the government knows best, and thus laws are pointless. The only thing that matters is “making X country great again.”|
|Key Proponents||Type A: Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels were both philosophers and both co-creators of Communist philosophy. FDR increased income taxes to expand the New Deal programs related to banking and social welfare.
Type B: Vladimir Lenin was a radical revolutionary and idealist inspired by the German Marxists. Joseph Stalin was a tyrant who took Russia into the industrial age by brutal force. After his leader Lenin had died, he used Lenin’s Communism to ensure his dictatorship. TIP: Stalin shows us why communism is dangerous; it can be pivoted into totalitarianism. Stalin doesn’t show us what Marxism looks like. Marx would probably have hated Stalin and cursed his name. Marx didn’t think Russia was industrialized enough to become communist; Lenin knew this and made up his own version of the Communist philosophy.
|Type A: Abraham Lincoln felt that you must be part of the Union economically and politically and can’t own slaves; slavery was un-American. He felt that he needed to make America great again.
Type B: Benito Mussolini was an ex-socialist who wanted to make Italy great again after WWI. He inspired Hitler. Adolf Hitler felt that people should be German nationals or die. His view was that the Jews and other Europeans destroyed the economy after the war, but the German is great and deserves to rule the world. He was determined to make Germany great again.
|Key Elements||Centralized government, planned economy, the central organization of the “proletariat” (working people, the wage earners), common ownership of the tools of production, no private property. Equality between genders and all people, international focus. Usually anti-democratic with a 1-party system. Its pitfall is not its core ideology, but its central planning, which is almost always exploited by the Stalins of the world. It is radical socialism.||Idealism, centralized government, social Darwinism (and negative eugenics), planned economy (typically anti-capitalist), anti-democratic, meritocratic, extremely nationalistic, militaristic, racist (Nazism). Traditional and exaggerated gender roles. One party system. Its pitfall is not the core ideology of national pride and making X country great again; it is the central planning, which is exploited by the Hitlers of the world. It is radical national socialism.|
|Definition||International theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, with actual ownership ascribed to the community or state. Rejection of free markets and extreme distrust of Capitalism in any form. A propaganda machine in practice.||An extremely nationalistic, authoritarian state usually led by one person at the head of one party (a dictator). No democratic election of representatives. No free market (a social market or pure communist economy). No individualism or individual glory. The State controls of the press and all other media. A propaganda machine by nature.|
|Political System||A communist society is stateless, classless and is governed directly by the people. This, however, has never been practiced.||One charismatic leader has absolute authority. Often the leader is the symbol of the state. Advisers to Government are picked by merit rather than election. Cronyism is common.|
|Political Movements||Leninism, Trotskyism, Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, Left-Communism, Stalinism.||National Socialism, Falangism, Nazism, Strasserism, neo-Nazism, neo-fascism, national-Bolshevism.|
|Private Property||Abolished. The concept of property is negated and replaced with the concept of commons and ownership with “usership.”||Nominally permitted. Contingent upon service, obedience, or usefulness to the State. More like a carrot on a stick than a natural right. The state owns everything, and rewards are given, including property.|
|Economic Coordination||Economic planning coordinates all decisions regarding investment, production and resource allocation. Planning is done in physical units instead of money.||Businesses are nominally privately owned; the State dictates outputs and investments. Planning is based on projected labor output rather than money.|
|Ownership Structure||The means of production are commonly owned, meaning no entity or individual owns the productive property. Importance is ascribed to “usership” over “ownership.”||The means of production are nominally privately owned but directed by the State. Private ownership of business is contingent upon submission to the direction and interests of the State.|
|Economic System||The means of production are held in common, negating the concept of ownership in capital goods. Production is organized to provide for human needs directly without any use of money. Communism is predicated upon a condition of material abundance.||Autarky (national self-sufficiency). Keynesian (mostly). Large public works, deficit spending. Anti-trade union and syndicalism. Strongly against international financial markets and usury. In theory, it gets as close to a communist economic system as possible, but historically has just been very cronyist in practice.|
|Social Structure||All class distinctions are eliminated.||Strict class structure believed necessary to prevent chaos (Italian Fascist). All class distinctions are eliminated (German Nazi). Nazism believes in a “superior” race. Italian Fascism was not racist in doctrine originally.|
|Religion||Abolished – religion and metaphysics are rejected.||Fascism is a civic religion: citizens worship the state through nationalism. The state only supports religious organizations that are nationally or historically tied to that state; e.g., the Iron Guard in Romania supported the Romanian Orthodox Church.|
|Free Choice||Either the collective “vote” or the state’s rulers make economic and political decisions for everyone else. In practice, rallies, force, propaganda, etc. are used by the rulers to control the populace.||The individual is considered meaningless; they must submit to the decisions of the leadership. Traditional gender roles are upheld and exaggerated.|
|Way of Change||Government in a Communist state is the agent of change rather than any market or desire on the part of consumers. Change by the government can be swift or slow, depending on a change in ideology or even a whim.||The government in a fascist state is the agent of change instead of change being created by a market or desire on the part of consumers. Change by a government can be swift or slow, depending on a change in labor output or even at the whim of the dictator.|
|Examples||Ideally, there is no leader; the people govern directly. This has never been practiced and has just used a one-party system. Examples 0f Communist states are the erstwhile Soviet Union, Cuba, and North Korea.||Fascist governments are headed by one person: a dictator. This is not an aberration of doctrine; in fact, it is an important component of it.|
|Discrimination||In theory, all members of the state are considered equal.||Belief in one superior race (Nazism). Belief in a superior nation (Fascism & Nazism) and gender (F & N). People with mental or physical handicaps, mental illness, alcoholism, homosexuality, including LGTB population, Roma, and Jews (Nazi), as well as the ideological and political opposition, trade unions (F&N) were all actively persecuted.|
|Means of control||Theoretically, there is no state control.||Fascism employs direct force using secret police, government intimidation, concentration camps, and murder as well as propaganda enabled by State-directed, heavily-censored media, rallies, etc.|
|Earliest Remnants||Theorized by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the mid-19th century as an alternative to capitalism and feudalism, communism was not tried out until after the revolution in Russia in the early 1910s. Marx did not think an uncivilized nation like early 1900’s Russia could properly implement communism; thus one can say true Marxism was never actually tried. Lenin knew Marx’s views and re-wrote his brand of communism.||The Roman Empire, which could be argued was a fascist entity especially post-Julius Caesar. The earliest fascist theories were based on examples left behind by the Roman Empire. For example, Mussolini’s “Roman salute” is from the Romans and was copied by Hitler. Sparta, which existed before the Roman Empire, is an earlier example of Fascist National Socialism working effectively. Athens’ pure Democracy rose up next door without much fighting between the two nations. Sparta had no capitalist system and practiced eugenics.|
|View of the world||Communism is an international movement; Communists in one country see themselves in solidarity with Communists in other countries. Communists distrust Nationalistic nations and leaders. Communists strongly distrust “big business.” Brotherhood is based on ideology, not skin color or sex. Thus, anyone can assimilate, and those who share the ideology are “comrades” in theory. It tends to be a bit more like the ultra-nationalists in practice.||Fascists are ultra-nationalists who identify strongly with other Nationalistic nations and leaders. Fascists distrust internationalism and rarely abide by international agreements. Fascists do not believe in the concept of international law. More than not abide, they are almost always an imperialistic force, so they rarely have any true allies. They are nationalists so they can only at best assimilate others who fit their mold.|
TIP: Content in this table is from diffen.com. It has been edited and annotated. We typically avoid any copy-paste on this site, but the subject is complex, and this was well written. Will probably ween ourselves off their format over time, but we want to make sure due credit is given.