I write this with great pleasure because as many of you are aware, the right-wing PR machine has long equated the word "liberal" with "socialist", "communist", and "Satan". Communism isn't a particularly good government system, but then again, neither is dictatorship or monarchy. Communism has such a bad rap in the US because of the Cold War and the fact that our #1 rival for the 50 years following WWII was Communist Russia. I think it's pretty obvious that if Americans were given the choice between Communism, Dictatorship, or Monarchy, the latter two would be leading the race easily. That's probably why Socialism gets the same reaction - Communism is a radical branch of Socialism. The Right has accused the Left of being socialist for years, with their programs like Social Security, Welfare, Medicare, etc. Barring any relative benefits or detriments of the programs, the fact that the USSR was Communist was enough to turn these accusations into smears.
In a Socialist society, you wouldn't have factory owners and factory workers. The workers would be the owners. Americans find this idea highly repugnant for some reason, and many of the greatest critics of Socialism tend to be Objectivists and Libertarians. Of course, controlling your own destiny is about as Objectivist and Libertarian an ideal as I can imagine, but I digress. They actually criticize central planning more than pure Socialism. The point is, Socialism basically means everything is up for a vote. Ownership is limited to one's self only and a single person cannot exert control over another. (That's why Soviets called each other "Comrade" - to make themselves believe they were all equal.)
Socialism has, over the years, evolved and when people talk about socialized medicine, for example, they basically refer to centralized control over medical distribution. But the core concept remains that no individual can withhold or dispense medicine at his or her will - it is available for all equally. Social Security, of course, is administered by the government, but its core premise is that every American deserves a retirement whether they made the choices necessary to save for one or not. And conservatives have been against these programs, basically arguing that because they made the right choices (or plan to), they should reap rewards that are different than those who did not or will not.
The funny thing is that Republicans have become Socialist over the past 5 years. Forget the Medicare prescription drug plan, which many are uncomfortable with - that was a political move. Some basic tenets of 21st century Republicanism are inherently Socialist. Take the FCC's battle against indecency. No matter how you feel about nudity or sex or violence on TV (although who really cares about violence on TV anymore? It's all about the nippleage today), Republicans want the government to act on behalf of the citizenry to tell owners of media companies that they cannot produce "indecent" programming. Forget that there are owners of these companies who feel that they are the ones who should make the decisions. Citizens (Comrades) want their products to conform to their standards. Normally the Republican position is that the market takes care of deviant behavior. Unpopular products don't make money, so unpopular behavior should go away. But sex sells and Republicans don't like that so they embrace Socialist behavior.
But why stop there? The owners of Eckerd and CVS pharmacies want to run their businesses as they see fit, allowing anyone who comes in to get their prescriptions filled. But Republican legislation in South Dakota and Arkansas allow pharmacists to ignore their employers wishes and act on their own behalf, while acting in the employ of aforementioned owners. Legislation under consideration elsewhere, including in Illinois, deny pharmacies the right to even ask prospective pharmacists their views on the matter. If Republicans should ever be taken seriously again when complaining about government regulation over business and about Socialist legislation, they can hardly expect the rest of us not to notice when they turn around and do the same thing.
By the way, the Democratic position is not in favor of Socialism. However, it does favor some Socialist programs because it feels those programs are worthwhile. Endorsement of those programs does not imply endorsement of Republican Socialist programs. Democrats are not Socialists any more than Republicans are. Interpret that as you like.