The real question is: who owns the government?
Under capitalism, the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) owns all the capital, the physical tools, machines and buildings required to produce stuff (constant capital) and the ability to feed workers before they've actually produced anything (variable capital). The capitalist class doesn't "own" the government outright, but they exert a dominant influence — by choosing who can run for office, and by disseminating an enormous amount of propaganda — that they might as well own it. Since the capitalist class dominates the government, the government on the whole acts in the interests of the capitalist class.
Even though the people are occasionally asked to vote on which faction of the capitalist class to give official state power, our present government can justly be termed a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
The goal of communism is to (somehow) implement a government dominated by the people who work for a living (the proletariat), and that thus acts in the interest of the workers: to implement a dictatorship of the proletariat. When the government really is dominated by the workers and acts in their interest, the government then can "own" all the capital.
(While there will probably be some changes to how we construct ownership of ordinary personal property, they need not be as profound and radical as the changes to ownership of capital. You might not "own" your house in the sense of accruing an increase in value, but your rights of tenancy — to stay in the house and live in it as you see fit (with responsible limitations) — would be strengthened.)
A lot of people consider the model of a monolithic one-party central government that micromanages the entire economy as the sine qua non of communism. It seems true that both the USSR and PRC employed this model to some extent. Whether or not this model was correct for the USSR and PRC, it is just one model among many, in the same sense that fascism is one model among many for implementing capitalism.
It's important to understand the specific historical circumstances surrounding the implementation of communism in the USSR and PRC:
- Both the USSR and especially the PRC lacked even basic industry
- The people of the USSR and PRC were mostly illiterate and lacked basic education
- Before their revolutions, the USSR and PRC were subject to severe imperialist domination by the West
- Both the PRC and the USSR were facing unrelenting violent hostility from the West; the USSR accurately believed they would be invaded by the West.
There are good arguments that a monolithic government has severe limitations and there are better models compatible with the fundamental principles of communism. Still, we have to give credit where it's due. The monolithic one-party governments of the USSR and PRC developed industrial societies in decades; the capitalist West required centuries to achieve the same. Not to engage in apologia — injustice is always wrong and mistakes should always be corrected — but the injustices perpetrated by the communist governments of the USSR and PRC as well as the catastrophes resulting from their mistakes are mild compared to those of the capitalist West.
If we communists must squarely face up to the injustices and mistakes of Stalin, Mao, Castro, et al. as communist errors — and we must — the capitalists must squarely face up to the injustices and mistakes of Hitler, Pinochet, Somoza, Pahlavi, et al., capitalist governments all. If we communists must squarely face up to the famines of the USSR and PRC, the capitalists must face up to the Irish famine and the 1918 flu pandemic.
The comparison is especially favorable to communism if we compare the USSR and PRC to the capitalist monolithic one-party governments: Germany, Italy and Japan of the late 1930s to early 1940s. Compared to less than a decade of Nazi or Japanese imperialist rule, Stalin, Mao and Castro come off as exemplars of grandfatherly kindness.
I do not intend an apologia for the errors of communist governments; it would be a tu quoque fallacy to excuse these errors by noting equally or more severe capitalist errors. I merely note that all human endeavors are fraught with peril, and egregious, catastrophic errors at worst fail to differentiate capitalism and communism; at best — if we count two world wars, centuries of imperialism and colonialism, and the hyper-exploitation of women and minorities in the West — they show communism in a better light than capitalism.
In any event, a monolithic one-party central government that micromanages the economy is simply not warranted for the specific economic, political and social circumstances that obtain in the West. With a pre-existing industrial base, a literate and relatively well-educated population, and a tradition of individual relatively responsible liberty, we in the West can move much more quickly towards the guiding slogan of the communist revolutions of the early 20th century — All power to the soviets! — true grassroots participatory democracy and true self rule by a responsible, compassionate citizenry.