In political circles and polite conversation, people often use the terms ''Marxism,'' ''socialism,'' and ''communism'' interchangeably, as if the three philosophies are the same. However, they have important distinctions. Each philosophy builds upon the other. Marxism is the theoretical framework which lays the foundation for the economic and political philosophies of socialism and communism.

The Basics of Marxism

Karl Marx, writing with Friedrich Engels, developed a theory of social and economic principles and a sharp critique of the capitalist form of government in the mid-1800s. Marx believed that workers, under the capitalist system of government, sold their labor and that this labor became a commodity. This commodity, or "labor power" translated into surplus value for the capitalist, but not for the worker. Marx concluded that this created an inherent conflict between the working class (proletariat) and the ownership class (the bourgeoisie). Because capitalism has this "built in" inequality, Marx argued that the working class would eventually take power over the ruling class, reconstructing society. This reconstruction would take place in stages. The next stage after capitalism, according to Marx, would be a socialist form of government.

The Economics of Socialism

Socialism advocates public ownership of property and natural resources rather than private ownership. The socialist system of government values cooperation over the competitiveness of a free market economy. Socialists believe that all people in society contribute to the production of goods and services and that those goods should be shared equally. This differs from the capitalist system in which individual efforts trump the collective and the free market determines the distribution of goods. Examples of socialist policies include a living wage, free higher education and universal health care. Advocates of socialism believe that capitalism creates vast inequality and that it ultimately leads to imperialism, a hyper-form of capitalism.

Communism: The Last Stage

The communist doctrine differs from the socialist worldview because communism calls not only for public ownership of property and natural resources, but also for the means of production of goods and services. Karl Marx argued that capitalism, with its strict adherence to free market principles, divided people because of competition. He believed communism was the solution. According to Marx, communism would give people a chance to develop into their very best. He concluded that communism was a natural progression from socialism and would occur in two stages. First, the working class would gain control of society and push the ownership class out. Second, society would evolve into a classless one without government. According to, Marx and Friedrich Engels defined communists in their "Communist Manifesto" as, "The most advanced and resolute section of the working class which parties every country, that section which pushes forward all others."

Marxism, Socialism and Communism Throughout the World

Many countries have adopted various forms of Marxism, socialism and communism. The former Soviet Union is the most famous example of a communist system of government, lasting from 1922 to 1991. The People's Republic of China has a communist government, although, China has developed a more mixed market economy with private ownership and state ownership of entities such as media. European countries like France, Italy and England have mixed economies with free market and socialist policies such as universal health care and free collegiate education. The United States, a capitalist mixed economy, has examples of socialist policies such as public schools, libraries and health care support in the form of Medicaid and Medicare for low income people and senior citizens.