The confusion extends beyond just an understanding of economic systems into the cultural realm. Many people within the African community will tell you that socialism and communism are "white man ideologies" and therefore ill relevant to the African liberation struggle. This dialogue seeks to clarify these points of confusion.
First, socialism/communism are universal principles. They are systems with values and cannot be evaluated based on the behavior of people who claim to represent them anymore than Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Anarchism, Buddhism, and any other way of life can be evaluated based solely on the people who claim to be adherents. Socialism/communism, being systems based on principles, are only able to be evaluated if one understands the principles that govern those systems. No understanding of the principles, no ability to make a proper assessment. In other words, once you understand the principles, you are then in the position to make an assessment of whether the system calling itself socialist is indeed that. Otherwise, what you are looking at is people and practices that fall short of the principles of socialism/communism. This is an indictment of those people, not socialism/communism. For example, Halle Mengistu Mariam from Ethiopia, claimed to be a socialist during his rein as leader in that country. All of the countries of Eastern Europe, or the old Socialist Bloc, from East Germany to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) claimed to be socialist/communist. If one knows the principles of socialism/communism, one would know none of those governments pass the test of socialist/communist principles, but not knowing those principles, you are unable to make that assessment. The same can be said for other countries like Canada, Britain, the Scandinavian Countries, etc., that are often mistaken for socialist/communist countries. All of these countries are dominated by corporate, or capitalist, capital, so they cannot be socialist, but yet the confusion persists because of the lack of understanding of those principles.
Before we define the socialist/communist principles, it's important to address the second confusion previously mentioned related to culture. Since socialism/communism are universal systems with principles, they cannot belong to any one culture no different than physics or music belong to any one culture. Since they are universal systems, it is incorrect from a dialectic perspective to say Newton "discovered" physics. He couldn't discover anything. All he could do is record the results of experimentation. The laws of physics were around long before him and they are around long after he is gone because they are universal. Well, socialism/communism should be viewed as the same. Especially since the belief that Karl Marx "invented" socialist and communist theory is incorrect. He certainly recorded the system of capitalism, but the truth is Marx wrote very little about socialism/communism. He never organized a political party that brought those systems into practice. He mostly wrote about the demise of capitalism. Other people, like the Tunisian Ibn Kaldoun - that means he was an African - wrote about labor and surplus during his time in the 12th Century, long before Karl Marx knew how to write. This is not to mention that much of Marx'es vision about a collective economic society (socialism/communism) evolves from the communal reality of Africa some eight thousand years ago. So any effort to credit Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc., with solely being the voices of socialist/communist ideology is very limited and uninformed when Africans and other people of color do it and very racist when Europeans do it. Also, we believe ideology comes from culture so as Africans, we cannot be Marxist/Leninist. We respect that ideology for Europeans, but our ideology has to reflect our experience and material reality so we advance Nkrumahist/Tureist ideology as the ideas that guide the African revolution taking it's lead from Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Ture those African ideologues and practitioners for African liberation, socialism and world communism.
Finally, those principles we spoke of reflect values that must be in place in order for socialism to exist. I say socialism, and not communism because a proper understanding of economic history tells us that the dominant economic system has evolved repeatedly throughout history based on people's ability to evolve and advance. People's culture and contributions always move and evolve. The first recorded organized system of social interaction was communalism where the means of production (the water, food, natural resources) were utilized collectively for shared benefit. Then, as society grew and advanced, and men figured out that patriarchy would permit men to physically dominate and advance power, slavery became the dominant system of economics. Then about seven thousand years ago, feudalism, or kingdoms, took center stage thus consolidating patriarchy, taxation, and oppression by class. Five hundred years ago, the tri-angular slave trade provided the seed money for industrialization which fueled the development of capitalism where the means of production are controlled by private interests for profit purposes. Capitalism, having institutionalized patriarchy, added white supremacy to its menu of appendages. Now, we are in the epoch where socialism is the next level of advancement. We know this because Nkrumah was correct when he said the primary contradiction today is the struggle between the classes, the struggle between the haves and the have nots. This struggle seeks to answer the critical question of our time; who will own and control the means of production? Either some will own it (capitalism) or all will own it (socialism). Thus as socialist revolution becomes more of a reality - and we are of the belief that revolution is the only way we can achieve socialism, not through the capitalist ballot box system - it serves its historical purpose as the system where class systems are eradicated. Thus, it is the transition between capitalism and communism. So, back to those principles. During this socialist period, we will be looking for a planned economy where the resources of the society are identified and planned for production based on the needs of that society. For example, 10 million people? How many jobs are needed based on the ability to produce cocoa, rice, diamonds, etc., to feed all of those people and properly run our society? That's planning. Then, free education, free health care, guaranteed employment, state caps on wealth and housing expenses. All of this doesn't diminish incentive as the capitalist would have us believe because incentives are based on collective goals like eliminating white supremacy, patriarchy, AIDs, other diseases, houselessness, other problems in society, not getting rich from monetary accumulation.
Finally, we strive towards communism, but understand there is no communism in the world today and there has never been any communism. Anyone who has called any society that exists a communist society is trying to fool you and anyone who falls for that trickery is uninformed. Communism is a society without class structures. Or, a society where class has been eliminated as a system of exploitation. Therefore, in order for communism to exist, the majority of the world would have to be socialist. Obviously, we are quite a ways from seeing that happen. The point of socialism is to do the work of eliminating class structures. That's why education is free because eventually, backward ideas are wiped away and the conditions for making positive social change are evident. State apparatus is eliminated during communism because people have reached the level of consciousness where police and social service are no longer necessary as agencies. The people take on those responsibilities themselves.
Now, we know this analysis won't move some of you because no matter what's said, you are going to be anti-socialist/communist, but for those who genuinely wish to properly understand these concepts, hopefully this will help us come that much closer to a better understanding. You should want that because whether you like it or not, socialism is on it's way baby!