Political leaders, particularly ones from the Republican Party (but not exclusively), misrepresent socialism whenever they get a chance. They use the “S” word to scare you; they bring up horror stories about Stalinist Russia, gulags, and the specter of communism. (I don’t know how many times I’ve heard them use a failed state like Venezuela as an example of what socialism gets you. What they should do is show you what a successful socialist country looks like.) Canada is socialist. So is France, Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Norway, Finland and a half dozen other countries in Europe alone. Australia and New Zealand are socialist. Citizens living in socialist countries enjoy higher standards of living than people residing in the United States; and every single country I mentioned is a genuine democracy where people are free to own private property, marry who they want, practice a religion (or not) if they want, participate in elections, form political parties, and so on and so forth.
Communism is one of many forms of socialism; it is accurate to say communism is socialism. However, it is not accurate to say socialism is necessarily communism. This is because there are different types of socialism (communism being only one kind). When most people hear the word “socialism” it is actually being used in reference to something called Fabianism; this word is an allusion to the “delay tactics” used to slow the invading armies of Carthage by the Roman General Quintus Fabius Maximum Verrucosus (280-203 BCE) during the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE). Fabians reject the revolutionary doctrines of Marxism, recommending instead a gradual transition to a socialist—or more equitable—society. Fabians do not want to abolish private property or do away with fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech. On the contrary, Fabian socialists (or “socialists”) are trying to mitigate some of the worse aspects of capitalism—like exploitation and massive wealth inequality—by introducing social reforms like progressive taxation, enacting minimum wage laws, improving working conditions, and guaranteeing the right of workers to bargain collectively and to strike.
I wrote this because I’ve heard even Democrats (e.g. presidential candidate Julian Castro) conflate “socialism” with “communism”. The Demorats are supposed to be the “reasonable” ones but they appear to be just as ignorant of it as any Republican.