Have you ever wondered what the difference is between fascism and communism?

Reading your 20th century history textbook, it may not be particularly obvious. In part, this is because the difference between fascism and communism is theoretical, whereas in practice, both are quite similar. Here is the breakdown of fascism vs. communism according to various criteria including central philosophy and political and social structure.

Philosophy and Operating Principles

In theory, communism’s operating principle is this: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” A perfect communistic system would therefore have it that everyone would receive equal resources. Each would give according to his or her gifts, and receive whatever resources were needed for survival. Everyone would receive fair pay, and nobody would want for food, shelter, medicine, or other basic life needs.

Fascism’s operating tenants are a bit less clear, but tend to include tenets of nationalistic romanticism, and an attempt to revive the past glory of bygone epochs. The majority of fascistic nations have been actively imperialistic, though some have kept to themselves. Fascism is totalitarian, meaning that within the fascist state, no value can be defined outside of the state, and therefore the state becomes godlike in its relationship to its citizens. Gender roles, religion, race, and other individual aspects of human identity are regulated and controlled within the fascist state.

Political and Social Structure

Benito Mussolini, leader of Italy's National Facist Party from 1922-1943 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Benito Mussolini, leader of Italy’s National Facist Party from 1922-1943 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a fascist state, there is generally a single leader with total authority, whereas in socialism—in theory—there should be no leader, and the people themselves should be calling all the shots.

In socialism, there should be no class distinctions, because everyone’s needs should be served equally, whereas in fascism there are strict social-class separations and those perceived as “inferior” may be outright eliminated. Economically, a mix of public and private production are essential to fascist states. Socialism supports wealth redistribution so that everyone can get what they need. Socialism abolishes the concept of personal property and religion.

Reality: Not So Different

While the theoretical divergences are massive, what are the real life differences in communism vs. fascism? Not too much. Why? Because no socialist system in real life has ever actually resembled socialism as it exists in theory. There has never been a socialist government without either a solitary leader with total power or a small oligarchy of rulers. The social classes were never eliminated. The resources did not properly distribute. People went hungry.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx, author of “The Communist Manifesto” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Furthermore, the theory behind socialism does not recognize the full concept of what “need” is to the majority of human beings. One thing that many human beings need is autonomy and freedom. Whereas in theory, no social classes would mean that people could make their own choices, in real “socialistic” states, people have been educated according to what the state considered their gifts and been placed in jobs accordingly, whether or not it was what they wanted or truly excelled at.

Furthermore, the abolition of religion and property is a restriction of individual expression, in line with fascistic ideals—though in a fascist economy, the two would simply be regulated.

This is why it is impossible to distinguish a real life difference between countries like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Both operated most closely in line with fascist ideals and political structures, despite the fact that the Soviet Union went under the label of socialist and bitterly opposed its competing fascist state, Nazi Germany.