Socialism, Communism, Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc are different political idioms with some similarities in ideology. But my question is about their differences:

Question: What are the main theoretic and pragmatic differences between above ideologies?


4 Answers 4


Your list includes ideologies and broad descriptive terms.

For a history of Marxism as a history of ideas I strongly recommend Leszek Kołakowski's Main Currents of Marxism in three volumes. I strongly disagree with Leszek on a wide number of points, but his survey was adequate as of 1967.

Restricting this answer to varieties of Marxism:

Since Karl and Fred a number of splits have occurred over major issues:

  • Reform (Reformism)
  • Or Revolution (Anti-reformism)
    • Party acting for the Class? (Leninisms)
      • With a hollow attitude towards popular democracy? (Stalinisms, pre "New Left" Trotskyisms)
      • With a serious attitude towards popular and even potentially class democracy? (Some Maoism, "New Left" Trotskyisms)
    • Or Class acting through Parties? (Ultralefts, councilism, Autonomism, etc.)

Marx and Engels produced a Marxism, which was transformed in the 2nd International into a broadly shared schematic position which competed with "Reformism," a kind of fabian Marxism.

Reformism viewed revolution as an impossibility, and gradual "democratic" form as capable of substituting for a violent transfer of social property. Reformism was most strongly associated with the German Social Democratic Party, and eventually transformed into "Social Democracy" in Europe, shedding remnants of Marxism as it progressed.

Prior to the First World War a variety of alternate views were being generated in the Victorian Socialist Party (Australia), under De Leon in the US, by Syndicalists who were also Marxists, by Luxemburg, by Lenin. We could broadly call these "anti-reformist" Marxism.

The stress of the First World War separated reformism and anti-reformism. As did new lessons learnt by the industrial working class which fed into a variety of anti-reformist practices:

  • Left wing communism (in general)
  • Leninism
  • Council Communism

Leninism was based on a belief that the working class was incapable of producing agency in history (a belief shared with the Reformists), but, that gradual parliamentary reform was impossible. At the core of Leninism is the "Party." From my perspective, which lies closer to Council Communism, this is substituting an organ organised along bourgeois lines for workers' self-activity and dooms social action to failure in revolutionary terms.1

Trotskyism, Stalinism, Titoism and Maoism are varients upon Leninism. Maoism is probably most influential, in that it recast the Party-Class relationship in ways which have on occasion meant that workers pressured the party ("Yan'an period"). Trotskyism eventually produced social-movement parties in the 1960s that have been moderately influential in the Anglosphere and Europe. The UK SWP's many children are probably most notable here. In one way this is a healthy emphasis on the "popular" democratic that Stalinism actually denied. In another way it is a retreat from the workplace. Stalinism is a more or less thin cover for class rule by party and state nomenklatura, though at times when connected with recent revolutionary activity it has produced liberatory ideas (Milovan Djilas, Imre Nagy (and his "co-conspirators"), Alexander Dubček). Though like in 1914-1921, this is only when the working class is pressuring Marxism.

Council Communism and Left Communism in general was an irrelevant rump, except in Germany where the councilists outnumbered the Leninists until 1921 or so. This tradition pops up irregularly out of factory based activity (Harry Braverman, Solidarity (UK), Operaismo, Autonomism). Unlike the Leninisms, the chief social agent in this tendency in Marxism is the working class itself. Parties are viewed as limited self-selected sections of the class, or tools of the class. Agency and revolution are viewed as dispersed amongst collective self-activity rather than concentrated in a point.

Pragmatically they're all riding the tiger of working class self-activity and all their pronouncements and declarations matter little. Class organisation happens inside the factory, not inside the heads of intellectuals.1 Lenin would disagree, read State and Revolution, What is to be Done and Left-wing communism if you seek his opinion on pragmatics and proletarian spontaneity.

There is also such a thing as "Academic Marxism." I think Althusser's example of structuralist Marxism; and his post-structuralist contenders; or the Frankfurt School are examples here. I think the dismissal of this in the introduction to Harry Cleaver's Reading Capital Politically is adequate, as is Marx's 11th thesis on Feuerbach (something which Frankfurt influenced Marxists in fact hanker after), "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."


1: This opinion is fairly specific to my own political tendency. I put it because I believe it best represents the evidence available to me.

  • 1
    Acedemic marxism == cultural marxism, what is taught in almost every major university in the Western World! Commented May 14, 2015 at 20:02
  • 3
    While your studying, pick up a copy of, "The Road To Serfdom". Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 4:58

Socialism: This includes a number of different things. Karl Marx described socialism as the class dictatorship of the proletariat. For Marxism, socialism is a transitionary period, in which classes and state may exist, to the communism, when classes and the state will disappear. There will be a type of law, there will not be much more freedom than there exists under capitalism, unlike what will be the case in communism - the stateless, classless society. Although Venezuela is not a dictatorship of the proletariat, leaders like Hugo Chavez may, on the other hand, call themselves socialist. This is a non-Marxist socialism or revisionism.

Another main principle of socialism is from each according to their ability, to all according to their deeds.

Dictatorship of the Proletariat: The counter of the bourgeois dictatorship - just like how, in capitalism, bourgeois exercise dictatorship over the proletariat, in the dictatorship of the proletariat, proletariat will exercise a dictatorship over the bourgeois. Proletariat will use this tool of oppression, state mechanism, i.e., proletariat themselves organised as the state, for the elimination of property, classes and state.

Marxist theory of state holds that it is there to suppress the irrecognisable class antagonism and with the disappearances of class differences, the state will disappear too.

Communism: Differently from socialism, in communism, from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs is the main principle. Communism is the stage in which the state, property, money, etc., are eliminated. National barriers fade and so on.

Leninism: Leninism, or Marxism-Leninism as used today, takes a more voluntarist approach to Marxism and puts it into practice - revolution. The label is there due to splits between Lenin and Bolsheviks, and the reformist Marxists on the one hand and other so-called orthodox Marxists like on the other.

Stalinism and Trotskyism: Due to a historical split between Stalin and Trotsky, these names came to rise. Although Stalin always described himself a Marxist-Leninist and today Stalinists call themselves Marxist-Leninists, the label is to separate the advocates of Stalin's theories and actions than the Marxist-Leninists who do not, as well as Trotskyists.

On the theoretical side, Stalin claimed that Soviet Union was experiencing socialism in one country while Trotsky claimed it was, instead, degenerated workers state. Best information on this split can be found in Stalin's congress speeches and Trotsky's Revolution Betrayed.

Maoism: Following the Sino-Soviet split, orthodox Marxist-Leninists who denounced the Soviet revisionism found themselves in the so-called Maoist bloc. Differently from the Marxist-Leninists who denounced the Soviet Union but did not pronounce Mao Zedong Thought, the Maoists attempted a revolution relying on the population of peasants, a revolution from the country to the urban. Other Marxist-Leninists who were not on the Maoist bloc (and mind you, I am not referring with Marxist-Leninists to the pro-Soviet folk - I would never call them Marxist-Leninists) had a split from the Maoists, arguing their respective countries' situations were more similar to Russia in 1917 than China, and a revolution would preferably start in the urban.

Mao's opportunism and Hoxhaism: In the 70's, Mao and Chinese Communist Party began adhering to a theory called Three Worlds Theory, which held that superpowers were the first world, their allies (developed nations) the second and the developing nations (their colonies or otherwise independent poor countries) were the Third World. Third Worldism held, that Third World had to unite against this imperialist attitude towards itself and under the adherence of the TWT, Chinese Communist Party celebrated numerous fascists, dictators, etc., in the Third World for their anti-Sovietisms. Mao, as it was clear by now, was collaborating with the United States. Mao supported Pol Pot against the Vietnamese and the Soviets, Pinochet in Latin America, etc...

Denouncing Mao's opportunism, Enver Hoxha in Albania split from the Chinese Communist Party. (Sino-Albanian split.) Now, orthodox communist parties were, whether they called themselves Maoists or Hoxhaists, naturally on the so-called Hoxhaist bloc. Orthodox Marxist-Leninists of the old who were always ready to betray Marxism-Leninism had, on the other hand, found themselves on Mao's and later Deng Xiaoping's side. (Today, such so-called Marxists defend North Korea, China, Vietnam, etc., are socialist states. Historically, they denounced the socialist uprising against the Chinese government in 1990s - Tianenmen Square Massacre - and supported the government's violent suppression of the protests.)

Hoxha's primary contributions to Marxism and Marxism-Leninism are, today, his reflections on imperialism and (on the Soviet Union's side) social imperialism.

  • I think it's a good overview of the diverse party-marxisms, but can you reread your post? Some sentences lack words or don't make sense otherwise. +1 from anyway.
    – mart
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 8:44
  • Socialism comes after a revolution and is a required workaround to its way to communism, introduced to break the old bourgeois-lifestyle. In sozialism different classes still exists but workers took control.
  • Communism is a theoretical system without classes, without rich, without poor. The modern communism defined by Karl Marx: in communism money does not exists anymore, you go into a bakery and took your bread. (Yes, in china rule the CPC(中國共產黨) but its more a tribute to Mao and a big history-joke than a communists party).
  • Leninism is the concretized form of Marxism before, during and after the revolution (marxism-leninism (ML) is the radical (radix) revolutionary stream) washed-up by revisionist so ML was forbidden in revisionistic GDR.
  • Stalinism is not a system, its a term that was introduced after the death of Stalin and the return to capitalism 1948-1964 and describe this ages.
  • Maoism also is a term introduced by revisionists to wash-up the bolshevik ideas, in science what you call maoism is the political mainstream in 1949-1954.

For Marx, Engels, and the Socialist Party of Great Britain (WSM) since 1904 Socialism/Communism mean the same thing: a global moneyless, classless, wageless, stateless society where production is for use and there is free access to all that's produced, a system of society that cannot be established until the overwhelming majority of the worlds workers understand the concept of and want to organise for such a society. (source)

Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Castroism. etc. all follow the idea Communism/Socialism could/can be established by an elite leading the workers to C/S (Vanguardism). Anyone who has read Marx would know this isn't possible and goes against Marxist theory as Marx pointed out "the emancipation of the working class, must be the work of the workers themselves" and the last words in the 'Communist Manifesto' are @workers of the world unite' (source)

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