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Glossary of Socialist Terms

Notes:

  • Try to keep each term to 3 sentences max.
  • Keep the definitions as simple as possible, ~ELI 10 years old.

Terms

Term Definition
Capitalism A system that allows private individuals to own the means of production, with the goal of extracting a profit from the sale of commodities produced by wage workers.
Profit / Surplus Value The difference between the value a worker adds, and the value that they receive (such as a wage) and are able to use for themselves. This surplus value goes to another leeching party that controls production (capitalists, slavemaster, etc).
Surplus Value = Worker Value Added - Wage Paid.
Synonymous with unpaid labor, profit, exploitation, and wage theft.
Communism A stateless, moneyless, and classless system where the means of production are democratically owned and controlled by the community, for the benefit of all. Wage labor is non-existent, and production is planned for human needs, rather than private profit.
Socialism A range of social and economic systems characterized by social ownership of the means of production. It can also mean the transitional stage between capitalism and communism, sometimes referred to as the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Anarchism A political philosophy that critiques hierarchical organization, and emphasizes free assocation. The main two branches are social anarchism, and individualist anarchism.
Social Democracy Originally synonymous with socialism, then evolutionary socialism, then restricted capitalism. Social democracy is an ideology that supports economic interventionism to promote social justice whilst retaining a capitalist economy. It is often seen by socialists as supporting "welfare-state" band-aids to capitalism.
Welfare State A state that provides social services on behalf of the well-being of its citizens, while retaining capitalism. It often refers to Germany, the UK, and the Nordic countries, but can refer to any state with social services.
State Capitalism An economic system where some means of production are owned by the state, surplus labor is still extracted, and wage labor still exists. The state decides how to distribute the surplus. Engels argued that the state form would be the final stage of capitalism.
Liberalism A political ideology that emerged in the 19th century that justifies capitalism, free markets, representative democracy, freedom of the press, free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to own property. It conceptualizes rights as individual-being, rather than species-being or as collective human rights.
Slavery A system that allows individuals to own other human beings, in order to extract a surplus from their labor.
Feudalism An arrangement predominating in the middle ages, where a local lord would allow serfs to live and sustain themselves on his land, as long as they provided him labor and military support.
Fascism A multi-definition term generally characterized by hyper-nationalism, racial supremacy, a cult of personality around a "strong" leader as superior to democracy, crushing of labor unions and organizations, and an alliance between big and small capitalists.
Late Stage Capitalism As human labor becomes more unecessary, the rate of profit tends to fall. This new extreme polarization, the increasingly absurd and cruel ways our society copes and justifies such stark inequality, and the horrible things capitalism forces people to do to survive, is called Late Stage Capitalism.
Means of Production Physical, non-human inputs used for the production of economic value, such as workplaces, factories, machinery, or tools. Synonymous with Capital.
Private Property Means of production, when owned by private individuals, whose ownership is claimed through title, and not use, with the aim of extracting rent from the actual users or workers. Synonymous with absentee property.
Personal Property Property for personal use and consumption. Put simply, your house, and everything in it. Neither socialism nor communism intends to do away with personal property.
Socialized Property Means of production, when democratically and socially owned and controlled, put to use to benefit people. Surplus value may still exist, but democratic decision-making decides how to use it.
Proletariat The wage-earning class which lives entirely from the sale of its labor and does not draw profit from any kind of capital; whose weal and woe, whose life and death, whose sole existence depends on the demand for their labor power (their ability to work).
Bourgeoisie The social class that came to own the means of production during modern industrialization and whose societal concerns are the value of property and the preservation of capital, to ensure the perpetuation of their economic supremacy in society.
Class Struggle A tension that exists between competing classes, caused by contradictory interests, that can only be resolved through violent confrontation. The competing classes are determined by the economic mode of society: In Slavery, the master and slave. In Feudalism, the lord and serf. In Capitalism, the capitalist and wage worker.
Class Consciousness A state of awareness of the class system and membership to a class, as well as understanding the true collective interests of each class.
Petit Bourgeoisie The lower subset of the bourgeoisie made up of small-scale capitalists such as shop-keepers and workers who manage the production, distribution, and/or exchange of commodities and/or services owned by their bourgeois employers. It often refers to "small business owners", and is contrasted with the haute bourgeoisie, or the big capitalists.
Bourgeois Democracy The name that socialists use to refer to modern representative liberal democracies, criticized as being democracies for the rich only, since representatives and the media in capitalist countries are often the puppets of the capitalists themselves.
Reformism A position that advocates gradually transforming a capitalist economy into a qualitatively different socialist system through political and economic reform, in contrast to revolutionary socialism. Synonymous with evolutionary socialism.
Revisionism A pejorative term used by Marxists to refer to the common practice of "watering down", or blunting the revolutionary spirit of historical figures and theories, in order to make their ideas more acceptable to the ruling class. It often refers to bourgeois scholars transforming revolutionary icons into pacifists, or to socialist societies that have abandoned progress towards communism.
Cultural Hegemony The domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class who manipulate the culture of that society—the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores—so that their imposed, ruling-class worldview becomes the accepted cultural norm; the universally valid dominant ideology, which justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural and inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class.
The State In Leninism, the state is a special organization of force used for the suppression of one class by another. Under capitalist society, the state upholds capitalism and wields force to suppress the working class. In general terms, a state is any politically organized community under a single government.
Imperialism The domination of a weaker country by a stronger one; referring primarily to the conquering and exploitation of the land, labor, and natural resources of the weaker country. In Leninism, imperialism is the final stage of capitalism, where finance capital is exported to undeveloped economies, resulting in the colonization and division of the world amongst capitalist monopolies. Geopolitical conflict ensues over this economic exploitation, and the resulting super-profits permit businessmen to bribe native politicians and labor leaders, and intervene militarily to suppress worker revolts.
Nationalism An ideology which emphasizes nations (and often specific races living in those nations), self-governance, national identity, and patriotism over internationalism. Communists want working-class internationalism, but also defend the right of nations to be free from imperialism.
Revolution A fundamental change in political power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time when the population rises up in revolt against the current authorities. In Marxism, a revolution is expropriation and smashing of existing property relations, with the proletariat being the only truly revolutionary class that can enact this social transformation.
Praxis The act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. Theory in action.
Dictatorship of the Proletariat A transitional state of affairs, between capitalism and communism, in which the working class holds political power, and is in the process of changing the means of production from private, to social ownership. Dictatorship doesn't refer to an autocracy, but rather that the working class now dictates what happens in society.
Dialectical Materialism The evolution of the natural world and the emergence of new qualities of being at new stages of evolution. It also recognizes that the mode of production is the main motive force of history, and contains contradictions (such as class struggle), whose resolution results in the development of new modes of production and social organization.
Labor theory of value A theory of value that argues that the economic value of a good or service is determined by the total amount of average socially necessary labor required to produce it, rather than by the use or pleasure its owner gets from it.
Socialism in one country A theory by Joseph Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin, that given the failure of the European revolutions of the early 1900s (except in Russia), that the Soviet Union should strengthen itself internally, and postpone world-revolution. Also called siege socialism.
Permanent Revolution In Marxism, the strategy of a revolutionary class to continue to pursue its class interests independently and without compromise, despite overtures for political alliances, and despite the political dominance of opposing sections of society. In Trotskyism, PR holds that the only way to achieve world communism is to allow the revolution to spread unimpeded from nation to nation, the theory that a revolution in one nation would ignite revolutionary fervor worldwide, and that full scale working class revolution must be allowed to germinate.
Right of nations to self-determination In Lenin's words: "The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content that we unconditionally support. At the same time, we strictly distinguish it from the tendency towards national exclusiveness." In short, its much easier to fight a one front war against local capitalists, than a two front war against much more powerful imperialists.
Democratic Centralism A tenet of Leninism, described by him as, diversity in discussion, unity in action. After decisions are reached, they are followed the group.
Vanguardism A strategy whereby the most class-conscious and politically advanced sections of the working class form organizations in order to draw larger sections of the workers towards revolutionary politics and serve as manifestations of proletarian political power against its class enemies.
Two Stage Theory Argues that underdeveloped countries, such as Tsarist Russia, must first pass through a stage of capitalism before moving to a socialist stage.
Mass Line In Maoism, a method of growing class consciousness and communism, where communists consult the masses, interpret their ideas and suggestions within the framework of Marxism-Leninism, decide how to best solve those problems through collective action, and then enforce those resulting policies.
Mass Strike A strike action in which a substantial proportion of the total labor force in a city, region, or country participates, spreading class consciousness, and forcing capitalist concessions. Rosa Luxemburg identified it as one of the most powerful tactics available to workers.
Alienation A term used by Marx to denote the estrangement of workers under capitalism from the products of their labor, and themselves; the worker loses the ability to determine life and destiny, when deprived of the right to think of themselves as the director of their own actions; to determine the character of said actions; to define their relationships with other people; and to own the things produced by their own labor. Although the worker is an autonomous, self-realized human being, as an economic entity, this worker is directed by the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production with which they must work to survive.
Cultural Revolution In Maoism, the idea that capitalist values do constantly re-appear within the communist party, although not uniformly. It is up to the people, who are the real motive force in world history, to call out and denounce capitalist values and corrupt people in positions of authority, and "bombard the headquarters", to ensure the elimination of bourgeois values and cement proletarian power. In short, "it is always right to rebel."
United Front In Trotskyism, an initiative whereby communists propose to join with all workers belonging to other parties and groups and all unaligned workers in a common struggle to defend the immediate, basic interests of the working class against the bourgeoisie. Through united struggle, many workers can be won over to revolutionary socialism.
Transitional Demand In Trotskyism, an agitational demand made by a socialist organization with the aim of linking the current situation to progress towards their goal of a socialist society. Transitional demands differ from calls for reform in that they call for things that governments and corporations are unwilling or unable to offer, and therefore, any progress towards obtaining a transitional demand is likely to weaken capitalism and strengthen the hand of the working class. Examples of transitional demands would be "Employment for all" or "Housing for all"; demands that sound reasonable to the average citizen, but are practically impossible for capitalism to deliver on.
Dual Power A tenet of Leninism, in which two powers, one proletarian (workers' councils / direct democratic organizations) and one capitalist (the official state apparatus) coexist and compete for legitimacy, during the transition away from capitalism.
New Democracy A tenet of Maoism that holds that the national-bourgeois in semi-feudal and semi-colonial countries has a dual character in that although it is an exploitative capitalist force, it can also (though not always) side with the proletariat against colonialism and imperialism.
Protracted Peoples War In Maoism, a strategy for achieving communism that includes winning the support of the locals(usually the peasantry) in areas away from capitalist strongholds, and waging unconventional guerrilla warfare, while building institutions of dual power to replace capitalist ones.
Workers Militia An important focus of Trotskyism, where local, self-organized working-class militias, fighting for their class interests, are the primary vehicle to achieve socialism.
Accelerationism The support for increasing the oppression of capitalism in the hope that class contradictions will reach a point that revolution will become more likely. A metaphor might be that accelerationists see our current situation as boiling a frog in water slowly, while a stark uptick in oppression will cause workers to revolt. Few communists or anarchists support it, bec it harms working people, and historically increased oppression hasn't lead to increased chance of revolt. What leads to revolution is actually socialist organization efforts, and a growth in class conciousness.
Intersectionality A term that signifies that the various forms of social stratification, such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, creed, disability and gender, do not exist separately from each other but are interwoven together, and must be attacked equally without neglecting any one axis.

Branches

Branch Description
Marxism A socialist tradition created by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, that places emphasis on the means of production, your relation to them, and the inherent class struggle involved between those who control production, and those who don't.
Leninism A branch of Marxism developed by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks drawn from their experiences in early 20th century Russia. Important concepts include vanguardism, dictatorship of the proletariat (and how to transition to communism), dual power, the right of nations to self-determination, imperialism, and democratic centralism. The goal of Leninism is the development of a worker state capable of withstanding capitalist encirclement(often called siege socialism), in order to protect and continue the transition to communism, as well as aid other anti-imperialist nations.
Marxism-Leninism (ML) A term created by Joseph Stalin to refer to the ideology of the USSR, generally synonymous with Leninism.
Maoism A Marxist tendency developed by Mao Zedong. Important concepts include protracted people's war, new democracy, the mass line, cultural revolution, contradiction, and agrarian socialism.
Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM) A resurgent tendency of Maoism formalized by the revolutionary internationalist movement in 1993, generally synonymous with Maoism.
Anarcho-communism A theory of anarchism which advocates the abolition of the state, capitalism, wage labour, and private property (while retaining respect for personal property), and in favor of common ownership of the means of production, direct democracy, and a horizontal network of voluntary associations and workers' councils with production and consumption based on the guiding principle: "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need". Primarily based on the ideas of Kropotkin.
Egoist Anarchism An individualist school of anarchist thought that originated in the philosophy of Max Stirner, defining an egoist as one who has no political calling, but rather "lives themselves out" without regard to "how well or ill humanity may fare thereby". Stirner held that the only limitation on the rights of the individual is his power to obtain what he desires.
Trotskyism A branch of Leninism created by Leon Trotsky, a leading bolshevik. Important concepts include permanent revolution, world revolution, the transitional programme, transitional demands, the united front, workers militias, and criticism of the soviet union under Stalin as a deformed workers state.
Luxemburgism A branch of Marxism created by Rosa Luxemburg, a leading figure in the German revolution of 1919. Important concepts include Revolutionary Spontanaeity, emphasis on low-level democracy, the mass-strike, opposition to reformism, and criticism of bolshevism.
Left-Communism A range of communist viewpoints held by the communist left, which criticizes the political ideas and practices espoused by Bolsheviks, Marxist-Leninists, Anarchists, and social democrats. Proponents of left communism include Amadeo Bordiga (Italian tradition), Herman Gorter, Anton Pannekoek (Dutch tradition). Left communists assert positions which they regard as more authentically Marxist and proletarian than other traditions.
Syndicalism A proposed economic system, that suggests that workers, industries, and organizations be systematized into confederations or syndicates. It can also refer to the tactic of using general strikes to build trade unions.
Democratic Socialism A branch of socialism that emphasizes democratic management of enterprises within a socialist economic system. The redundant adjective "democratic" is often used to distinguish it from the Marxist-Leninist branches, whom democratic socialists view as not being democratic enough.
Council Communism A type of socialism that rejects vanguardism and democratic centralism, opposes the state, and advocates workers councils as the basis for dismantling the class state.
Hoxhaism A branch of Marxism-Leninism by Enver Hoxha, communist leader of Albania, that distinguishes itself by a strict defense of the legacy of Joseph Stalin, the organisation of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and fierce criticism of virtually all other communist groupings as "revisionist".
Autonomism A set of anti-authoritarian left-wing political and social movements and theories, emerging from Italy in the 1960s. It involves a call for the independence of social movements from political parties in a revolutionary perspective which seeks to create a practical political alternative to both authoritarian socialism and contemporary representative democracy.
Bordigism A variant of Left communism espoused by Amadeo Bordiga. Bordigists refuse on principle any participation in parliamentary elections.
Titoism A branch of socialism by Josip Broz Tito, leader of Yugoslavia, a once socialist state independent of the soviet union. Characterized by policies and practices based on the principle that in each country, the means of attaining ultimate communist goals must be dictated by the conditions of that particular country, rather than by a pattern set in another country. During Tito’s era, his ideas specifically meant that the communist goal should be pursued independently of (and often in opposition to) what he referred to as the Stalinist and Imperialist policies of the Soviet Union.
Communalism A system that integrates communal ownership and federations of highly localised independent communities, developed by libertarian socialist Murray Bookchin.
Utopian Socialism A collection of socialist ideas that predated Marx, namely those of Owen, Fourier, and Saint-Simon. They focus on the presentation of visions and outlines for imaginary or futuristic ideal societies, with positive ideals being the main reason for moving society in such a direction. Later socialists such as Marx and Engels criticized utopian socialism as not being grounded in the material conditions of existing society, and for not identifying the wage-earning class capable of making the transition, and relying on wealthy utopian reformers acting within a capitalist framework.

Sources

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