Definitions
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Hello!

There are a lot of misconceptions around what different political terms mean, so, in the interest of clear and cogent debate, I thought I’d make a post to clear them up. Please comment if you find any of the explanations insufficient or inaccurate.

Economic Systems

  • Capitalism is an economic system where investors pool their resources to fund corporations, which generate profits to give back to the investors. In a capitalist economic system, corporations are incentivized to maximize profits. Capitalism is currently the hegemonic economic system in the world.
  • Socialism (also known as “economic democracy”) is a proposed economic system similar to capitalism but with public investments taking the place of private investments. In a socialist economic system, corporations are incentivized to improve society. A variety of socialist economic models exist; some propose a market system with competing democratically-managed corporations, whereas others propose a command economy with central planning. Socialist and semi-socialist economic models have been attempted with various degrees of success throughout history.
  • Communism is a proposed economic system with all property held in common, following the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Communism has been attempted with various degrees of success throughout history. Someone who wishes to implement a communist economic system is a communist.

Political Philosophies

  • Leftists want to improve society to get closer to a theoretical utopia.

  • Rightists want to keep the current system and are skeptical of utopian thinking.

  • Radicals want to quickly and fundamentally change society, typically through revolutionary action.

  • Moderates want to change society gradually and incrementally and work for change within the existing system.

  • Fascism (radical rightist) is a political philosophy that holds that modern liberal individualism has undermined societal strength. Fascists wish to “revitalize” their country and return it to an idealized past by establishing a “totalitarian” one-party state, achieving autarky by nationalizing industry, and pursuing an imperialist foreign policy. National Socialism (also known as Nazism) is a variant of Fascism that holds that some races are superior to others and that inferior races must be eliminated through eugenics.

  • Conservatism (moderate rightist) is a political philosophy that holds that the current political and economic system cannot be significantly improved, and any attempts at change will inevitably lead back to the current system due to the inflexibility of human nature. Classical conservatives oppose democracy due to the belief that people are too stupid to make decisions for themselves, and oppose capitalism due to its excessive individualism and consumerism. Instead, classical conservatives support some form of monarchism, theocracy, and/or oligarchy. On the other hand, neoconservatives (also known as liberal conservatives) have a more open attitude towards liberal concepts like representative democracy and capitalism, considering them to be proven mechanisms to organize a stable society. Historically, most societies have been classically conservative, but neoconservatism has eclipsed classical conservatism’s role in modern society and is now very popular in the United States and much of Europe.

  • Liberalism (historically moderate leftist; now considered centrist) is a political philosophy that holds that all humans have fundamental rights and governments only have legitimacy when they respect these rights. Liberalism is generally said to have three historical phases: classical liberalism, social liberalism, and neoliberalism. Classical liberals (also known as right-libertarians or libertarian capitalists) want an unregulated free-market economy with minimal government intervention. Social liberals want the government to intervene in the economy to promote social justice and reduce economic inequality. Neoliberals want the government to intervene in the economy to promote capitalism and economic development.

  • Social democracy (moderate leftist) is a political philosophy derived from Marxism. Rather than overthrow and eliminate the bourgeoisie, Social Democrats seek to improve the welfare of the working class in the short term by building a robust welfare state and regulating predatory businesses, and improve the bargaining power of the working class by strengthening trade unions. Social Democracy is the dominant political philosophy in many European and Latin American countries, and is gaining popularity in the United States.

  • Marxism (radical leftist) is a political philosophy based on the writings of Karl Marx. Marxists claim that liberal democracy is actually a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” in which the wealthy control the government and use it as a tool to oppress the poor. They believe that the working class (the “proletariat”) needs to overthrow all governments and establish a global “dictatorship of the proletariat” instead, which will oversee the transition to a socialist economic system. Orthodox Marxists (also known as “council communists” or “democratic socialists”) believe that the dictatorship of the proletariat is by nature democratic and should by governed by workers’ councils with free elections, whereas Marxist-Leninists interpret the dictatorship of the proletariat as a highly organized literal dictatorship led by a Communist Party that suppresses dissent but allows internal debate. Most “communist” states of the 20th century were Marxist-Leninist. Democratic socialism has never been implemented in practice.

  • Anarchism (radical leftist) is a political philosophy that attempts to eliminate all hierarchy, domination, and inequality. To that end, anarchists are “anti-state and anti-capitalist,” that is, anarchists want to find out ways to replace the government as well as hierarchical corporations with institutions that value every single person equally and don’t allow anyone to have power over another. Anarchism has been attempted at various times at small scales but has never seen great success.

Additional Notes

  • Libertarianism can mean both a more radical variant of classical liberalism or a more moderate variant of anarchism. As such, the term “libertarian” should be avoided when discussing politics with a diverse group of people.
  • Not all socialists/leftists are alike, and similarly not all capitalists/rightists are alike. So please don’t say something like “socialists are really just ultra-authoritarian Soviet apologists” or “classical liberals are really just fascists”; that would make you not only wrong, but also fallacious since it’s a strawman argument.
@mtn
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Regarding Communism, from my understanding, the core value isn’t that all property is held in common, but that all production equipment (building/machines/resources) is held in common. I know that there are decades of debates in the communist community if private property should be allowed at all and to what degree. E.g. I think most of the communist agree that the cloths I’m currently wearing are mine.

I’m not really convinced by the split in Economic Systems and Political Philosophies. There I’m more for a split in the in kind https://politicalcompass.org/ is doing it. In an economics and a social dimension. Then Social democracy should be in the economics dimension and Marxism is a mix-up between both.

  • economics dimension: Communism - Socialism - Social democracy - Neoliberalism
  • social dimension: Fascism - Conservatism - Liberalism - Anarchism

Regarding Anarchism and small scales/never seen great success: In the past there have been two areas that have opposed these claims, especially when considering the causes of failure

And they are still existing Areas heavily influenced by Anarchist ideals like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebel_Zapatista_Autonomous_Municipalities and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rojava

@nutomic
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You forgot Neoliberalism, its important cause its the main ideology of western capitalism. And I feel like you “Marxist” definition has a lot of scare quotes lol. Also not sure why you put Marxism in the center seemingly, when Social Democrats are for capitalism in practice.

Also there is nothing wrong with discussing fascism, as long as its not promoted. You cant fight something if you dont understand it.

@jwinnie
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21Y

You forgot Neoliberalism, its important cause its the main ideology of western capitalism.

Neoliberalism is under “liberalism.”

Also not sure why you put Marxism in the center seemingly, when Social Democrats are for capitalism in practice.

I didn’t intend for there to be any particular order. But now that you’ve pointed it out, I’ll fix the ordering.

Also there is nothing wrong with discussing fascism, as long as its not promoted. You cant fight something if you dont understand it.

Ah okay, thanks for the permission. I will research a bit and add a section in.

Metawish
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As a former CX debator, definitions is part of each individual debate, and is sources from somewhere, for context. Though to be fair, those definitions were more policy oriented and often times are moving targets, whereas this is more understanding political theory where an agreed upon definition is standard.

I will point out, the definition of utopia is left up in the air and should have a definition too. I would think both leanings you mention are moving towards their own version of utopia so it’s not a good word to use in describing a particular leaning. Utopia can be defined in many ways.

Also, I agree that libertarianism is more of a rightist leaning than leftist.

I think it’s also pretty interesting how you defined the economic systems. In Capitalism specifically, orienting the definition around investors and investment. I would never have defined it that way and would have said capitalism is an economic system that orients itself to have workers who answer to bosses who answer to CEOS. Essentially define the difference on the worker orientation, not so much the investment/profit location. Or you had ownership kinda included but not uniformally on all three definitions. That’s also a good place to start the differences.

No country has a socialism economic system, because like you said we have a hegemonic capitalist system at play. What you described I would say is Social Capitalism, where the same system of work is implimented, but the location of the investment is moved.

It’s tough to try and describe economic systems without mentioning political systems since those two are so closely interconnected. Can a Capitalist economic model exist in a leftist tendency? Can Communism in a rightist one? So another definition you’ll have to include is what / is/ an economic system and political system? What are the goals of them? What do they stand for? Why do we have them seperated? There must be a reason.

@RandomSovietKid
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@jwinnie
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Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I’m an anarchist personally so my ideas obviously differ quite a bit from yours. I hope we can still agree on some basic definitions though!

Leftists don’t necessarily want a “theoretical utopia”. Some tendencies do, but so do some rightist tendencies.

Which rightist tendencies want a theoretical utopia?

The leftist tendency that I uphold — Marxism-Leninism — has been tried many times with considerable success, so not an utopia. You’re correct that we want to change the current system, but not towards a theoretical utopia, but towards a very real other system.

Marxism-Leninism still wants a communist utopia as a long-term end-goal, right?

Defining socialism as “economic system similar to capitalism but with public investments taking the place of private investments” is misleading at the very least, and doesn’t get the key features of socialism, such as a central planning (which removes many of the problems of capitalism). “In a socialist economic system, corporations are incentivized to improve society.” — No, corporations in the form that they are under capitalism will be abolished under socialism. The revenue that the corporations take for themselves under capitalism will be used for building infrastructure and public services — “improving society”, if you want to call it that.

Not all socialisms are centrally planned; some socialisms follow decentralized planning and/or market economics (see Kevin Carson’s Mutualism, Participatory Economics, and Richard Wolffe’s market socialism).

You bring up a good point though; I should expand on the definition of socialism to include several different socialist economic models.

I don’t disagree with this definition of communism. But I want to point out that rather than realize such a system immediately, communists want to establish socialism first, as a kind of transition stage.

Only Marxists want to do that. Anarcho-communists want to establish communism immediately.

I wouldn’t call liberalism leftist. It’s rather centrist, or even rightist. You say that “Rightists want to keep the current system”. And the current system in, for instance, the EU and the USA (and also in many other states), is liberalism, somehow mixed with conservatism and social democracy.

I tend to consider liberalism to be leftist because it’s idealistic and shares core values with leftist tendencies (e.g. liberty, democracy, justice, equality/meritocracy). Plus, liberalism has been historically leftist and is still leftist in many countries (e.g. China, Turkey).

How is social democracy derived from Marxism? Marx criticized socdems at various times. I’m not too sure about the theoretical roots (feel free to correct me if you can show a socdem theoretic actually basing their work to Marx’s theories), but the social democracy that is dominant in Europe is definitely nothing that Marx ever endorsed or based on his works anyhow.

The “fathers” of Social Democracy (at least according to Jacobin Magazine) - Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky - were both Marxists. But you’re right to say that it’s very different from Marxism today.

What do you mean with “socialists don’t want to re-establish the Soviet Union”? I mean, material conditions are different for every country, and you can’t “re-establish the Soviet Union” in countries that never belonged to the Soviet Union. And of course we don’t want to copy everything from the USSR one-by-one. But we don’t consider the USSR a big failure either — it did have flaws, it did make mistakes that ultimately made it collapse, but still it was the first in the world country to build socialism, it could recover from a devastating civil war, defeat the German fascist invaders, and become a world superpower that could rival the USA. We want to take what was good and repeat it, while avoiding the mistakes that made it fall.

That’s fair. I put that in there because a lot of people (especially people in the U.S.) tend to equate leftism/socialism with Stalinism and Soviet apologia, which is definitely not true since many socialist tendencies exist, many of which have consistently opposed the Soviet Union.

@developred
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@jwinnie
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Calling people “vulgar revisionists” isn’t going to foster constructive debate. If you want to debate social democracy vs. revolutionary Marxism I would encourage you to open a new thread about that.

@developred
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@RandomSovietKid
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@jwinnie
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