Could anyone highlight the main difference between these 3? Also, i remember reading about the concept of communism which is very beautiful, however i do not really understand why there has been no country that has successfully become a communist state. Could anyone explain why?

  • Your question is very good, but it would require a team of cross-disciplinary experts to answer it. If you study, e.g. the history of Russia/USSR before the revolution you can see why the project failed. They had many problems that had been swept under the rug for a long time before the revolution. They simply were not ready, and so you ended up with a development program, a sped up state-capitalism under the typical "strong-man", Czar such as Stalin. As for the smaller countries, once the Western intelligence services got up to speed, there was hardly any chance that they could succeed.
    – Gordon
    Jan 5, 2018 at 7:09
  • We evolved into capitalism, and if we ever reach anything like communism we would probably have to evolve into it, not do it through a revolution. But again, there will be a lot of analysis of this history in the coming years.
    – Gordon
    Jan 5, 2018 at 7:14
  • Ohhh, thank you for the enlightenment @Gordon Jan 5, 2018 at 7:26
  • Thank you. I don't know that I provided much help. :) Your question is good, but very broad. I just pointed to a couple of things that I have noted as I have looked at this issue myself.
    – Gordon
    Jan 5, 2018 at 7:38
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    It seems to me your question is more suitable for Politics SE or History SE, unless you can highlight some relevant philosophical issue. Why something did or did not historically happen is not a philosophical question. But on any SE, as Gordon said, you will have to narrow it down considerably.
    – Conifold
    Jan 5, 2018 at 8:07

7 Answers 7


Your question is somehow very unspecific.

Generally there are three forms of Amount of Rulers: One, Some, All citizens and the differentiating them by Altruistic(good) and Egoistic(bad) introduced by Aristotle.

This creates a table of the Form: Altruistic | Egoistic

  • One: (Philosopher)King | Tyranis

  • Some: Aristocracy |Oligarchy

  • All: Polity/Democracy | Ochlocracy/Democracy

Therefore the Tyranis(Dictatorship) is generally separated from Democracy based on the Amount of citizens having a say and possibly the Form (depends on your understanding of Democracy). The Dictator focuses on his Egoistic Goals enriching himself on the cost of the citizens.

The understanding of Democracy varies depending on who you read. While Aristotle sees Polity as the legitimate form and Democracy(random selection of officials common in ancient Athens see: Demarchy) as the illegitimate form. Polity is understood in this context as Constitutional Parliamentary Government decided by enlightened citizens. This section is mainly to show the broadness of the Terminology.

I support more the distinguishing with the Terms of Polybios to address the modern situation, where Democracy is a positive Term. In opposition to democracy you have Ochlocracy or "mob-rule" as the negative form of "All".

We arrive at grave Problems when looking at communism, since A) communism is again a very broad often used and misused term and B) establishing the Form of Communism.

I want to focus first on B) here. Polybios describes an Anacyclosis(cyclical theory of constitutions/political evolution). Since communism sees itself as "freeing of the cycles of the past" it is debatable if the forms used to describe historical cyclical occurring patterns can be used for communism at all. Or in other words if forms of state organisation can be used to describe something that's not a state.

(Now comes the rather personal understanding of me part.) However if we view forms as relational structures between a group of people the application is justified. To simplify matters in this regard it seems to be the easiest to conceptualize communism as special form of anarchism.

The relations between the people are power relations. Power has the characteristic of not being distributed equally in any given time. Furthermore power can be subdivided into authority(accepting someone freely) and violence(usage of physical intimidation to generate acceptance). State forms organize the power distribution in a certain way using usually authority and violence but to different degrees. Anarchism/Anarchistic states(f.e. revolution or civil wars) (often) do not organize or organize to a lesser degree. Leading to a more "law of the jungle/mob-like" power structure that is prone to demagoges (Robespierre/Hitler/Lenin/Mao/Pol-Pot/Kim Il-sung/Mussolini ect.). Making it's form the bad "All" form, where basically anyone can rise to power, where traits needed are bruttality and deception to hold your position.

Polybios describes in his Anacyclosis that 1 monarchy becomes(->) 2 Kingship -> 3 tyranny -> 4 aristocracy -> 5 oligarchy -> 6 democracy -> 7 ochlocracy ->1. I however think the 7 -> 1 part is questionable. It seems to be the case that out of 7, 3 arises aswell/or at least rather quick. Since you need violence to cement your position. (See Party Purges under lenin 1921, aswell as founding f.e. the cheka)

We can therefore conclude that communism understood as anarchistic is a very unstable state of powerrelations that tends to lead to tyrany and violence seemingly following the Anacyclosis more or less.

However to have a bit a clearer understanding of communism we should look at it a bit more closley (A).

Communism is an Idealism, based on an idealized view of reality(humans are per definition good, power can be evenly distributed, ect.) and fundamentally fails at this part. Positive intention does not implie positive outcome. The supporters of this totalitarian ideology fail to see the necessary leading to totalitarianism due to the idealized nature of communism. Because the supporters imply that the positive intention is sufficient. The idealization itself makes communism force people to being something their not, demanding a control and forcing structure (communistic parties) that guarantees that they stay something they are not. This structure accumulates power and as history shows missuses this power(f.e. killing mentally retarded people for "not being equal enough").

Consider that communism is not based on the usage of violence(violence is only used to transition to communism), since violence seems to imply an illegitimate state like powerstructure. It rather is based on authority of certain ideas that should be morally ensured. However we know that based on variations of Individuals in morality of Populations that there exist extreme cases of moral frameworks despite the moral dominant frameworks not supporting it at all (f.e. serial killers, pedophiles ect.).

If the state doesn't exist as a framework of violent power negating/punishing this acts of violence by individuals, theres either no structure to prevent murder, or it is based on initiative of self proclaimed protectors, that themself have a specific moral framework which themself justifiy their violence and accumlate power. However unlike democracy that limits the competence of the people with justification to use violence, this is not the case for the "communist case" where it's unrestricted and mob-like vengeance actions like killing the pedophile/serial-killer can take place. Which itself leads to overextensiv use of force generally leading to a tyranny of "one" or "some" powerfull people. The acummulation of power does never end since the idealized state is never realised, therefore one can always justify new restrictions torwards possible opponents by drawing the lines closer and closer to ones personal view.

So a communist state is an utopia that can not be reached. It also seems to attract people who see themself as godlike figures that could, if only given the chance, create a real communist utopia and cure the world. Overestimating themself by idealizing themself, this is not only arrogant but also false. There are plenty of countries that have become communist states, they all are expieriencing simular outcome despite vastly different cultural backgrounds. If the result is always the same thats what communism looks like. Just because it's not how you expected the process to turn out doesn't negate the fact that it is what happens when you implement communism. The result is that it is a failure with tens of Millions of Dead people in just one century, everytime leading to totalitarian dictatorship and godlike person cult. Breading on the positive intentions of the naivie dreamers to create a fall of the current structure to allow powerhungry maniacs, that don't want to obey conventional moral/cultural laws, to rise to the top, and rather use violence to achieve their goal namley being in power.

Making Democracy a just and legitimate system, while communism is a demagogic illegitimate system that leads to unnecessary harm and death.

I personally hope this ideology is dead for good.


A dictatorship is a society ruled over by a dictator. Democracy has been used to refer to various different political systems such as the voting system in ancient Athens, the first past the post voting system in the UK, and proportional representation in other countries such as Israel.

Communism is a system in which property (or just capital) is owned by the community and distributed from each according to his ability to each according to his need. Many people who hear about this think it sounds beautiful. In reality, communism is irrational and evil. Any particular physical object is controlled by some person or group. One way to decide who gets to control a resource is to have a system that assigns a right to dispose of that object to some particular - a system of ownership. The other way to decide who gets to have control of the resource is a war of all against all which awards deception, assault, battery and murder. What does it mean to say something is "owned by the community"? It might mean that there is some particular organisation that claims to represent the community who owns everything and gets to do whatever it likes. This group has the power to injure or kill anyone it likes. Or it might mean that nobody owns it and people fight like animals for control over stuff with no rules governing their conduct. Another alternative is that the group representing the community is supposedly bound by some rules. Since communists typically don't actually specify how their system is supposed to work, they do some ad hoc mix of all of those possibilities.

There are lots of problems with communism.

First, the formula from each according to his ability to each according to his need sez that some people deemed able are beasts of burden for everyone else. The able have no right to live unless they provide for those who are deemed not to be able. So communism is a system that endorses slavery. And since managing a slave requires being willing to use physical force against slaves who disobey or slack off, this underwrites assault, battery and murder as well as taking goods from the slaves without their consent.

Second, a system in which property isn't governed by agreements that people voluntarily enter into leads to irrationality. If property isn't transferred by such agreements then people have unanswered criticisms of the way in which property is being transferred. This leads to chronic mistakes in how property is transferred. It also makes planning for how to use property in the long term impossible since that property might be taken away at any time. Restricting this to capital isn't much use for a couple of reasons. A good is a capital good by virtue of how it is used: it is indirectly to satisfy consumer wants rather than directly. So stopping an owner from making plans about such a good doesn't just screw up the use of that particular item, but also all of the stuff it would have been used to make. Also, in many cases a good is sometimes used as capital and sometimes used as a personal item, e.g. - a computer may be used by an entrepreneur to run his business and also to conduct his personal life. So is he supposed to timeshare the computer with other people or what?

For some insight into the moral problems with communism see "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. For detailed criticisms of the economic ideas behind communism see "Time will run back" by Hazlitt.

  • 1
    Your critique of communism is odd. If the problem with it is communal property and involuntary agreements then survival of Western countries is miraculous since there is plenty of that there. Getting from Morelly's formula to slavery in two sentences is even more bemusing since usually it is criticized for being too vague to mean anything in particular. It is also hard to see how any of this relates to the failure of historical "communist" states which never came close to implementing such idealities.
    – Conifold
    Jan 5, 2018 at 10:33
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    Western countries have capital markets that allow voluntary exchanges of capital goods. Western governments do a lot of harm by obstructing voluntary agreements on many issues but they're currently not quite bad enough to destroy capital markets. Communist states attacked all markets including capital markets. People who attack Morelly's formula for being vague are missing the point. If some people who are deemed able must provide for other people then the able are slaves. If you used some term other than able, like flooperjibbet, the substance of the problem wouldn't change.
    – alanf
    Jan 5, 2018 at 10:42
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    What is this evil thing? According to Maximilien Rubel, Marx was really an anarchist, he had no liking for government, and he had in mind something like co-opts. I think that is what he wrote. When the Op asks what is communism, that is a very good question. I have come to agree with Ernst Bloch and Marcuse that the key thing to do is to preserve historical possibilities. People argue that Hegel only looked back, maybe so, but at least the cunning of reason is still at work, although at a terrible price. At the high tide of capitalism, that will be its undoing. Watch.
    – Gordon
    Jan 5, 2018 at 16:28
  • Here is the essay, marxists.org/archive/rubel/1973/marx-anarchism.htm It seems that we are moving to a situation now where the contradictions of capitalism can only be controlled by authority. Strangely enough, if this structure begins to control and direct the ends of capital, then could be a step closer to what could evolve into socialism. At any rate, this will be an interesting century, to put it mildly.
    – Gordon
    Jan 5, 2018 at 16:40
  • I have pointed out specific problems above, none of which are addressed by your comments.
    – alanf
    Jan 5, 2018 at 16:44

I'll try to answer your last point re why there has been no communist society and, hopefully, cover some of your other points on the way.

Firstly, I'm going to focus on a Marxist approach as that's been the basis for most non-trivial attempts at forming a communist society.

So, what is communism? From a Marxist standpoint it is a society that follows the inevitable transformation from agrarian to bourgeois capitalist to state socialist to communist society.

Marx believed that it would be characterised by the lack of a state, lack of class difference and where each would produce according to their ability and each would consume according to their need. This is, presumably, the beautiful thing that you heard about.

Many people, particularly in the early 20C, also believed this to be beautiful. As such, there were numerous attempts to institute state socialism either from an existing capitalist state or bypassing that entirely (as was the case in Russia).

Up to this point, this analysis is reasonably uncontroversial. The next bit is my view that I've not heard elsewhere.

My view is that, up to a point, Marx was right. Although not inevitable (some societies spotted the flaw before the transformation), there does appear to be a natural transformation between societal structures. Unfortunately, the thing that follows state socialism, and consequently what many see as communism, turns out to have a somewhat different character to Marx's conception. Specifically, it turns out to be a totalitarian, police state where everyone is equally badly off except for a small, dictatorial elite.

So you see the dichotomy. In my view, we have seen communism i.e. what follows state socialism. It's just very, very different from what Marx thought (hoped?) it would be.

BTW following Marx's transformation idea, it does appear that there is also a natural transition from this totalitarian communism to democratic capitalism cf Eastern Europe. My personal view is that the reason for the Marxist concept of an "inevitable" progression is fairly straightforward: people tend to find similar solutions to similar problems and similar societies often have similar problems.

I'd also argue that anyone who thinks that democratic capitalism is the end state isn't really taking notice of history.


In an attempt to give you bare conceptual definitions:

Dictatorship : a form of governance in which absolute power is exercised by a sole authority

Democracy : a form of governance in which power is divided to the demos (the people)

Communism : a form of organization of an oikos in which one privileges the production of value that is shared in "common" (as opposed to exclusivizable forms of products, values and priviledges).

To me there's zero need to have hypercomplex definitions of these things as that's often used to obfuscate the underlying ideas and replace them with particular iterations or particular conceptions as though they somehow foreclose the human capacity to think anew. There are as many past, present and possible iterations of democracies as there are of communisms.

To your sub-question regarding iterations of communism, one needs to first ground it but understanding and articulating what is the meaning of a political concept. Is a concept a thing? Or is it designed to express the "essence" or necessary criteria of something? This is why I prefer bare concepts. You strip ones mental representations of what is contingent and unnecessary from it. If a US politician called some modest reform of capitalist exploitation "communism" but it does nothing to change or even alter the extent of exclusivizable privilege, you can say with relative certainty that although the name is used for purposes of epithet, it is not conceptually (factually) accurate to say it is communism. The same with a State that may have x y z as potential goals or slogans. Does something make an earnest attempt at or achieve something that undoes capitalist exploitation (as exercized by either capitalist or State)? If not, one should seek a more accurate, perhaps more nuanced description of it (e.g. Soviet State Capitalism).

If I were the first person to create a TV, and the TV kinda sucked, it had a lot of static, it's black and white, it's too big and clunky and complicated and expensive, it can be a TV, still have a shitload of problems, but I wouldn't even be aware of just what one could do with that idea 50 in the future. This is very basic and uncontroversial a statement in any area of discussion, with the exception of things that have the potential to disturb relations of established power. This is why despite being a planet of 7-8 billion people with tons of brilliant minds, we passively "buy-in" to this idea that there's only one form of economic relations of production that can work and more than that, we admonish people for even thinking about fixing the sources of the problem and global capitalist watchdogs like the US actually physically attack, subvert, and even promote coups in nations that want to exist outside of the sphere of neo-liberal capitalism.

  • It seems to me that what you describe as communism contains merley it's economic dimension. I think this is insuficient if you view communism as not only talking about negation of economic class powerstructures. I think in this regard the anti-church, or in china anti-culture, operations shows that this view is simplified. Btw. When you write "Does something make an earnest attempt at OR [...]? If not, [...] seek a more accurate [...] description." Are you suggesting that all the attempts to install Communism f.e. in the Udssr, China ect where not earnest?
    – CaZaNOx
    Jan 5, 2018 at 22:49
  • Communism, like capitalism is politico-economic. It is not in itself a concept of governance, but of course has implications for any because it has implications for the governance of any given oikos. To me you don't really have to be strict about a separation between the two arenas but I always start with the economic because it's conceptually precursory. A communist politics is simply one that leads to the economic definition. Jan 5, 2018 at 23:43
  • To your latter question regarding earnestness, no I'm not saying that at all. It is entirely meaningless to speak about a State project of many generations in terms of earnestness because you all sorts of complexities of interests interacting with and competing with the interests of every other person exercizing power within in. To me, a conflict between a given represented desire or intention and an outcome begins at the level of an "act" (or lack thereof). This is a reason IMO why highlighting the product (the production of the common) and not the political representations is so critical. Jan 6, 2018 at 0:00

I've read a few of the answers and have to agree that it can be a complex issue.

But, I take note of your question. You've asked someone to highlight the main differences between the three. That means avoiding all the various in-depth explanations that cut across political science, sociology, and economics.

Disclaimers :P

However, before I give you my simple solution I'd like to provide some caveats and assumptions:

  • There are many types and combinations of dictatorship, communism, and democracy.
  • These are not mutually exclusive and can occur in varying strengths. You could say that authoritarianism is a soft form of dictatorship, socialism a soft from of communism, and democracy a form of populism.
  • While there are ideological and social aspects of these terms, I'm assuming you are looking for the most common usage, which is political. The other perspectives are really based on the analysis of justification / ideology and impacts of these political concepts. That is, I'd argue that the more complex discussions on this topic are derivative and theoretical.
  • That the simplest and most direct way to explain these concepts as political... that is, relate to the government and control structures of a society.

My 'simple' answer coming now..

Dictatorship: Control of government is concentrated in a single person. This is mostly bad. Some people have argued that Singapore is benefiting from a 'benevolent dictatorship' in Mr Lee. But by and large, dictatorships are corrupt, criminal, and in every case - repressive. Maybe it only works for very small populations who willingly accept a single-person ruler, but if that type of ruler has the genuine support of their people, then they are almost a type of perpetually elected president. The reality is that a dictator is not voted in or out, and only survives by force.

Communism: Control of government by committee - peers who nominate and support each other. Just like Dictatorship, there is no opportunity for the population to have any say, and the views of the committee are inflexibly applied to all. It's similar to a dictatorship in many ways. However, I'm sure there are many people who will want me to include the economic and ideological aspects of Communism, as these elements are intrinsically linked. Communism also differs from Dictatorships and Democracies in that it includes rules on how resources are allocated amongst its citizens. However, Communism is NOT intrinsically linked to religion or personal ideologies as some people state. That is Leninism, Stalinism, or Maoism. These leaders created additional layers to their version of Communism. There are many religious Kibbutz in Israel that practice Communism - so religion is not strictly an issue. Hippies also set up their own communes.

Democracy: Control by people who are only temporarily allowed to sit in a position, based on whether they can remain elected to those positions. The structure of these positions can vary, with concentration of power in a single person (president, but balanced by congress) or in a party (parliament, but balanced by the houses of parliament). Electoral power is held by voters, and over time this has included only the elites and educated, or the general population. Even until the recently, blacks and women were barred from voting in most democracies. The general concept is that one person carries one vote, but with the electoral college in the US, and the practice of gerrymandering, it's possible to give some votes more value than others. While still imperfect, the the advantage of this governing structure is that it provides far more incentive to remove corruption and govern for the good of the people.

Hope this is what you're after



Your question is rather simple and general at one level, but in historical specificity complex, never fully definable, and rife with paradoxes, such as the "dictatorship of the proletariate." I see that the mention of communism has elicited the usual misleading "gulag" rants, so I offer another point of view.

Dictatorship may be thought of as equivalent to Tyranny, as generally abhorred by Plato, Aristotle, and most Athenians. Though they recognized some good tyrants, such as Peisistratus. In fact, the term "Dictator" comes from ancient Rome and was a man (sic) appointed in a crisis, usually war, to take full authority and make unilateral decisions. It was, as I say, an appointed role and not hereditary. So more like a CEO or military commander. The problem is generally how to un-appoint them. Hence the esteem for dictators like Lucius Cincinnatus who do the job, then step down quietly.

Democracy comes from the "demos" of ancient Athens, part of the system of rule "by the people" developed by Cleisthenes. The demos were somewhat random social divisions meant to break up and realign the warring clans, noble families, and factions that destabilize the Polis. Institutional power was divided and all designated "citizens" allowed to vote. And this would continue to be the basic definition, though with many constitutional forms. Both Plato and Aristotle, and many thinkers since, believed that all the blessings of democracy notwithstanding, it generally led via the wiles of rhetoric and impetuosity of the masses to Tyranny. Most notable philosophically is that such conditional sovereignty tends to arise through conscious social planning.

Communism is, as you say, a beautiful concept because it has generally been a concept only. Marx referred to both primitive and future communism, but largely as an image and ideal. He never specified government systems and only gestured towards the short-lived Paris Commune as a potential example. As a derisory Cold War term, it is very misleading. It shares the root term with "community" and "communication." At a minimum, Marx saw it arising out of a world revolution of workers assuming fairly distributed shares of the surplus made possible by industrial division of labor. This would presumably bring an end to violent hierarchies, dispossession and poverty, radical material inequality, cyclical crises, alienation, and the other recurring ills of capitalism.

Socialism seeks similar ends in a variety of possible institutional forms, including democratic. But "communism" is best thought of a general, abstract term, a "communal" state of society whose government structure so far eludes us, at least at any large scale. The American pairing of "communism" and "evil" is odd to say the least, since it is religious communities that may offer the closest examples. As for the various multi-party or single-party oligarchies floundering within global, digital capitalism today... well, hard to know what to call them and the historical jury is still out.


Dictatorship: Government by a dictator where one person has almost absolute political authority over rules and the law.

Democracy: A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

Communism: A political theory derived from Karl Marx, advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.

As I have pointed out on Politics Stack, these systems can overlap. Marxist communism believes that there are multiple stages to communism with socialism being a stage of communism. In his work Critique of the Gotha Program, Karl Marx mentions the dictatorship of the proletariat, a form of the state where members of the working class take control of the state and nationalize the means of production in order to make everything publicly owned and improve the standing of the current community.

Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. -Karl Marx

This is a form of lower stage communism/socialism and what we saw in the USSR and Maoist China. Unfortunately, none of these states have reached the final stage of communism where, after victory over capitalism or a significant amount of advancement, the dictatorship of the proletariat collapses and replaced with a stateless society. The USSR's collapse in 1991 means we will never know if it could achieve this final stage. Some Marxists like Lenin and Stalin believed the stateless final stage of communism could only be achieved when international capitalism was defeated, so the attempts to make a perfect communist society will always fail as long as capitalism is the main international economic system.

That said, there are non-Marxist communists who believe that a method other than the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat can be used to achieve communism, such as syndicalism which believes in democratic socialism with the means of production controlled by workers' union. While democracies by there very nature oppose pure dictatorships, some democracies can implement policies that can turn the system into a very autocratic state as shown with the democracy-dictatorship index.

tl;dr: These three systems are different things, but there can be overlap & connection between some forms of socialism/lower stage communism being dictatorships/autocratic states, some forms of democracy giving a lot of autocratic power to one person or group, and many forms of communist thought embracing democracy. Different thinkers have different ideas for why these attempts at the final stage of communism and the creation of a stateless society with each person earning resources according to their abilities and needs.

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