Socialism has been associated with communist/socialist dictatorships at the time of the Cold War, and the nowadays dictatorships such as China and North Korea.

The biggest argument against socialism and communism is that they failed in every system to which they've been applied so far. But a socialist/communist doesn't necessarily agree with what socialist/communist governments did so far.

So the question is: if one believes in true socialism/communism without agreeing with dictatorships and anti-democratic states, how would that person be called?

  • 9
    One can believe (or not believe) in socialism completely independently of their opinions of dictatorships. So, to answer your question, that person would simply be called a 'socialist' or 'communist' (depending on their beliefs).
    – user1530
    Jul 13, 2014 at 16:59
  • 5
    I'm not sure human nature is the problem. I think there is a logical contradiction. As communism and socialism by definition require severe restrictions on freedom, totally free communism is self-contradictory. This question isn't so much hypothetical as nonsensical.
    – Publius
    Jul 14, 2014 at 0:54
  • 6
    @DVK The shortest definition for Socialism (the theoretical perfect form - not what was in Russia/Cuba/China/... (Not to mention the differences in politics between those states)) is "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need". This principle can be seen in every aspect of human life - in social relations, business relations (Intra-company. If my college needs something I will help him without asking how it helps me; It will help me indirectly by helping the company). And what about tribes like the Nuer, Bemba, Tiv? It doesn't get much more natural than that.
    – user45891
    Jul 15, 2014 at 17:12
  • 7
    @user45891 - and how are you going to make me give some lazy bum what HE decides he "needs" without forcing me via dictatorship? For that matter, do YOU agree to give me everything I claim to "need" no matter what I ask for?
    – user4012
    Jul 15, 2014 at 18:07
  • 8
    @user45891 - even more importantly: (3) without dictatorship, how will you force me to give according to my ability?; and (4) Without dictatorship, how will you stop those with best abilities from escaping your socialist paradise for market-based neighbour, where THEY can have a much better life without needing to give to the less able everything demanded of them? Google "Berlin Wall" and "Brain Drain".
    – user4012
    Jul 15, 2014 at 18:10

14 Answers 14


I think the question is put backwards. If you would have asked "What's the right terminology for a dictatorial socialism/communism?" it would have been much easier. Then the answer would be stalinism or maoism. But to answer your question you would have to list all the various branches that are for a democratic, free and and anti-dictatorial society. Some that could be mentioned are social democracy, libertarian socialism (that includes syndicalism, anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism), libertarian communism, anarchist communism, left communism and so on.

  • 3
    Most likely proper Stalinists (and Stalin himself) would argue that Stalinism is not a dictatorship of Stalin. Even more, they most likely would deny the term "Stalinism" altogether, asserting they just Marxists-Leninists.
    – Anixx
    Aug 30, 2014 at 15:49
  • 7
    ... I'd add Marxists-Leninists to the terms that describe dictatorial socialism.
    – mart
    Nov 13, 2015 at 7:54
  • 1
    My understanding is that social democracy allows private ownership of the means of production, while full communism does not. Jul 5, 2021 at 23:59
  • 1
    @Acccumulation But it's still authoritarian.
    – liftarn
    Aug 16, 2021 at 9:01
  • @Anixx Stalinism is the term used for the sum total of Stalin's rule, which includes both his practical political decisions and his dictatorship as well as his declared ideology which he apparently called Marxism-Leninism. So just because he didn't call it Stalinism doesn't mean that it isn't his brainchild and is aptly called Stalinism. Not sure how much it evolved since Stalin though.
    – haxor789
    Dec 2, 2022 at 14:07

To explain this, we have to go back to the split in the First International, specifically the Hague Congress of 1872. At this point Karl Marx expelled Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin had been critical of what he thought of as Marx's "authoritarian socialism".

Bakunin rejected Marx's "dictatorship of the proletariat" and said: "If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself". Bakunin believed that Marx's socialism would merely replace the ruling elite instead of destroying the old system entirely.

From this split we have an obvious distinction between Communists (Marx) and Anarchists (Bakunin). The latter believe in a total transformation of society through the creation of a wholly democratic model. During the Russian Civil War anarchists inspired by Bakunin formed the 'Black Army', which fought against both White and Red Armies. In the end they were backstabbed by the Red Army and destroyed.

Their leader, Nestor Makhno, was loved by many of his followers, largely because he was mostly true to his anarchist ideals. Whenever towns were added to the "Free Territory" prisoners were released and locals were told they now have free speech and free association, and were left to manage themselves as cooperatives.

From this we can understand that the ideological flow, from Marx to Lenin to Stalin or Mao, was consistently authoritarian and authentically Communist. Anarchism in comparison is a radical and revolutionary democratic socialism, while a reformist or moderate alterative would be the sort of democratic socialism achieved through parliamentary systems.

Since the collapse of the USSR most have transitioned from Democratic Socialism proper to Social Democracy, which gives up the public ownership of the means of production as an objective. For example, in 1995 when Britain's Labour Party gave up Clause IV of their party constitution.

So a socialist who wants freedom of expression and is against dictatorship would either be a Democratic Socialist (like George Orwell, Clement Attlee, Milovan Djilas, Mikhail Gorbachev, Vaclav Havel, Albert Einstein, etc) or an Anarchist (like Bakunin, Makhno, etc).


According to Lenin, socialism is the dictatorship of proletariat in the sense one class dictates its will to the others. Similarly, in his view capitalism is dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

According to him, dictatorship of proletariat is the highest form of democracy because the power belongs to those who works and produces the goods, and also proletariat is (at least was at his time) the largest class numerically.

A person who adheres to these views is properly called Marxist-Leninist or Communist.

A dictatorship of a person or a close circle would be thus contrary to Communist principles.


The two concepts are not interchangeable. Otherwise, we might also say that fascism and capitalism are interchangeable.

To answer the question: Social-democracy. But that completely depends on one's definition of those concepts. Many would not think of as Soviet-Russia as a proper example of communism, let alone socialism. if you think of socialism as a philosophy where the principle is to have high solidarity between the classes than most of Western Europe, Japan, British Commonwealth is socialist. And distinguish between the Rhineland model (co-operation) and Anglo-Saxon (conflict) model.

Also, what's your measure of success? Onw can make a good case that present day America is an abject failure, because it doesn't manage to provide even basic functions to as much people as possible. 20 percent of Americans live under the poverty line, inter-generational undernutrition is a real problem and check out obesity in West-Virginia. In many respects, Cuba is more successful than America (except for big box stores and 72 kinds of cereal...of course. Which, incidentally is a waste of resources.)

As long as countries like Costa Rica and Czechia manage to beat you with regards to ANY social indicator, with HALF the wealth or less, you're failing as a country.

Suggestions for improvement of the question:

  1. This association you speak of was limited only to (rightwing) America. Did not exist in Europe, "socialism" is a perfectly acceptable 'ism'. Same goes for communism. There were/are many communist parties in Western-Europe.

  2. Your question is also leading on two other points: That of 'total failure':

  • China is a resounding success, while being a one-party rule communist state, personality cult and 5 year plans and all. Also: Universal health care! (if that doesn't make them 'socialist' ....)
  • Whether Soviet-Russia was a good application of socialism/communism is highly debatable.
  1. The world wide financial crashes of 1929, 1997 and 2008 speak against the American extremist capitalism as a model of success, as well as the fact that America performs so miserably on so many essential social indicators: teen pregnancy has been 10 times higher than Europe for decades (https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/U-S-teen-birth-rate-higher-than-Western-Europe-s-2462254.php), poverty is much higher, health care is FAR worse. Nobody in Europe dies because of lack of health care, in America: 45.000 people per year. America is a good country for millionaires, but not for the poor or the middle class. The poor run the risk of serving 25 to life for merely shoplifting (https://bit.ly/3F9cEor) Caveat: It's also good for those earning more than $150-200K, provided of course, they're not black nor Hispanic. Caveat two: it's also not a good country for millionairs of color who dare to speak out. Same goes for white women, but somewhat lesser: their risk for street executions of the cop kind (with impunity) are virtually zero.
  • 2
    I'm from (West) Germany and to this day "Die Linke" in the weird position of always being under 10% in elections while approval rates for virtually all individual positions is way over 50%. While the "Marxistisch-Leninistische Partei Deutschlands" is barely noticeable. What I'm saying is that the Red Scare is, though only marginally now, still alive (Yes we also had a Red Scare - Radikalerlass/Berfusverbot) and kicking. Oh as a recent example 'Putinversteher' (Person who tries to understand Putin) for all people who actually try to listen to the big, bad, red enemy.
    – user45891
    Aug 27, 2014 at 21:20
  • 3
    "Cuba is more successful than America"...? I live in Cuba and despite being an island you need an insane amount of money to be able to eat fish. There are a lot of videos on the internet that you can check on the long lines to buy chicken. We get paid literally 20-40 dollars a month with prices usually 100% higher than Americans. There are 95% of people below the poverty line, the hospitals and schools are destroyed but our liders are awfully wealthy. How is this better than America in any way?
    – devconcept
    Oct 4, 2019 at 20:09
  • @user45891 Die Linke have 3 problems: regionality. marketing marketshare + competition [A] they are seen as an eastern party, [b] their image is really LEFTY LEFT WING. and [C] their political platform points are already promoted by bigger parties. They're like no-brand Coke trying to appeal because their drink contains as much sugar as the big brands Jun 14, 2020 at 11:29
  • 2
    Even after the crash, the US had a higher GDP per capita than most countries. Teen pregnancy is hardly the first thing that I think of when I think of key indicators, and it's 18.8 per thousand in the US (cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/about/index.htm), 41.7 for Easter Europe, 307. for Northern Europe, 18.2 for Western Europe, and 17.6 for Southern Europe (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24004102). I could keep going, but the comment box is too small to go over everything wrong with this BS socialist propaganda of an answer. Jul 6, 2021 at 0:12
  • "Teen pregnancy is hardly the first thing that I think of when I think of key indicators".... Thanks for this live demonstration of elitist thinking which partly explains the US high teen pregnancy. Corrected for GDP per capita, the US should've had a 20 percent LOWER teen pregnancy rate. not just a bit higher, Also, the EU teen pregnancy rate is around 3.7 not as high as your biased US (commercial?) source indicates. Oh well. ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/-/… Nov 13, 2021 at 6:04

So the question is: if one believes in true socialism/communism without agreeing with dictatorships and anti-democratic states, how would that person be called?

Let's break this down through the multiple questions you ask.

true socialism/communism

This person would be called a "sectarian" for believing they have special knowledge of a future and as yet unrealised society, and holding their views above all others and above experimental determination of what is possible.

if one believes in communism

One is called a Communist or an Anarchist. There's a minor tendency going around to call for "Full Communism Now," as in "higher" communism, as in a stateless society immediately. Obviously a large number of Anarchists have been calling for this for over a hundred years.

if one believes in communism without agreeing with... states

Still a communist or an anarchist.

without agreeing with dictatorships and anti-democratic states

So there's obviously an area where some socialists or communists agree with some kinds of states. Let's break this down:

Support revolutionary councils of workers directly controlling their own society, and repressing the bourgeoisie

Council Communists, Left-wing Communists, some Bolsheviks / Leninists, Bordigists, some Anarchists (often dispute that this is a state due to a different definition of "state" to most Marxists).

The general term for these is either Anarchists, or, Libertarian Communists, or, simply, Communists.

Support revolutionary councils of workers OR state-capitalism governed by an ideologically pure party controlling society

This is generally Bolshevism / Leninism and its off-spring.

Support parliamentary style representative democracy either with direct workers council control of the economy or state-capitalist nationalisation in parliamentary hands

This is generally known as "Social Democracy", though social democracy has abandoned this programme, and a number of former communist parties have taken it up ("Eurocommunism" / "New Times"). This is also occasionally seen as a more maximal demand by Labour Parties in the British / Australian / New Zealand mould, though these have abandoned any element of this programme too.

Though, given the argument that bourgeois parliaments are dictatorships, either Bolsheviks / Leninists who advocate traditional forms of states (bureaucracies, parliaments, etc.) and continued wage labour (state capitalism) should be included here. Similarly the argument has been put that Social Democracy is anti-democratic and dictatorial because it ends up implementing the wishes of the bourgeoisie against the workers when it achieves power in a bourgeois parliamentary state.


Your question is confusing, democratic and free are not the same thing. Any form of socialism that is administered by the government will always be authoritarian to some degree because it will always involve the use or threat of violence to subvert the means of the individual in order to achieve the aims of the collective. Even if a socialist government came out of a democratic process this would still be the case.

So socialist governments are just socialist governments, state coercion is implied, the only difference is the degree of control.

As for freedom, if you have a economically and politically free population any system can exist within that population group. Free people can and do choose to set up voluntary collectives that are run on socialist principles.

  • 9
    I don't see where a government that is democratically chosen and accountable is automatically authoritarian because they administer a political and economic system in keeping with the will of the electorate. Apr 17, 2017 at 21:51
  • 2
    @PoloHoleSet coercion is used to subvert the will and means of the individual to achieve government policy. Apr 17, 2017 at 23:56
  • 8
    Or it's called living as a part of a society, with rule of law. That's quite different from authoritarian oppression. Free market capitalist societies that have laws would also seem to fit your definition. It feels more like you have a definition of what you think all forms of socialism must be, rather than having a set definition of those terms and seeing if they fit on a case by case basis. This is an old post, so I'll let it be. Thanks for the response, though. Apr 18, 2017 at 13:35
  • I guess I'm taking issue with is explaining one easily abused term using another easily abused term without elaboration: whether "authoritarian" here refers to authoritarian oppression or simply the monopoly on the use of force.
    – DKNguyen
    Dec 6, 2022 at 15:31

Such a person would be called a Social Democrat, examples of successful Social Democracies can be found in countries following the Nordic Model.

Put Simply, Socialism and Communism are economic systems, systems which could be blended with any number of political control mechanisms: Authoritarianism, Democracy, Republic, Absolute Monarchy, Constitutional Monarchy,etc.
For example, many Arab states could be called Socialist Monarchies: Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia to name a few. Although, few would profess to be practicing such, in terms of State distribution and control of wealth, it is more or less akin to a blended form of benevolent socialism distributed through a welfare state.

Who says communism has failed? Cuba has some of the best healthcare in the third world, their medical schools are some of the best in the region. Life expectancy in Cuba is higher than in many other nations.

Arguably less famine, and suffering exist in socialist republics/democracies than in Authoritarian systems, in that, with absolute power comes inequality, and mismanagement, for an example see Canada, or Ecuador, Vs. Lao, Cambodia, China, and the USSR.

  • 7
    I would strongly recommend comparing the amount of people who risk death to swim the ocean to reach Cuba from USA (or simply wishing to emigrate there, sans life-threatening escape), to people doing the opposite direction.
    – user4012
    Aug 28, 2014 at 10:47
  • 3
    Right, but from an economic,socialist perspective, it is successful in redistributing wealth equally. Obviously, like most people, probably wouldn't want to live there either. The United States is facing a similar problem with it's baby boomers, having watched their retirements vanish in the housing and stock market meltdown, many are now economic refugees from America. Mostly in places like Mexico, Ecuador, Thailand, and other places with affordable, quality health care. Does that mean the State regulated capitalism of the USA is a failure? No, just mismanaged, as is Cuba's.
    – Cbaker510
    Aug 28, 2014 at 19:25
  • 2
    "many"? Care to point out the exact amounts?
    – user4012
    Aug 28, 2014 at 19:28
  • 4
    "The Social Security Administration currently sends 613,650 retirement-benefit payments outside the U.S., more than double the 242,128 benefit payments sent abroad in 2002." marketwatch.com/story/…, also: fool.com/investing/general/2014/08/24/…
    – Cbaker510
    Aug 28, 2014 at 19:46
  • 1
    Cuba, like other authoritarian regimes, fudges its numbers.
    – user76284
    Aug 20, 2021 at 21:37

So the question is: if one believes in true socialism/communism without agreeing with dictatorships and anti-democratic states, how would that person be called?

It depends on how one understands socialism/communism. The Marxist view is that those who control the means of production (i.e., the economy) also have the political control - since they can always use their economic power to help those parts of the population that support them and to punish the opponents. This is usually decried as crony capitalism - the corporations ("the rich") exerting influence on the government. It is often overlooked that this abuse involves two parties - those who influence the government and the government bureaucrats who (ab)use their influence (in exchange for some favors.)

Socialism/communism (Marx himself used these terms interchangeably) suggest resolving this problem by transferring the ownership of the means of production to "people", but in reality this means giving the control over the means of production to the government bureaucracy - essentially concentrating the financial and the political power in the same hands. If economic power is indeed the determinant of the political power, as Marx suggests, then we have a recipe for dictatorial power.

Thus, "if one believes in true socialism/communism" as described in Marx, they essentially subscribe to an establishment of a dictatorship (or even a totalitarian regime, systematically intruding in personal lives.) Whether non-Marxist forms of socialism/communism are compatible with democracy is more difficult to discuss due to the vagueness of the definitions.

  • This answer would probably benefit if you differentiate between Marxist analysis and Marxist-Leninist application. Also when Marx was around democracy wasn't as progressive as we know it now, there was limited suffrage, census voting rights, parliamentary allowances weren't the standard, so chances are the capitalists didn't so much "influence" the government, then WERE the only class that could afford to BE the government. While limiting the role of the government to interfere in matters of economic power struggles. Which is a double edged sword, capable of protecting or oppressing people.
    – haxor789
    May 5, 2023 at 14:19
  • Also according to Marx, at least afaik, the problem is NOT one of crony capitalists and individual malice, for all intents and purposes the capitalists could be angles. But the economic power of large amounts of capital allows to allocate resources and workpower to an extend that it can change society and and the world. And which should be under democratic control where everybody has agency and not just a handful plutocrats. A good example is Bill Gates' fight against Polio, where it's ~200 Nations in the UN and 1 guy. And that's a good cause, he could spend that influence way worse.
    – haxor789
    May 11, 2023 at 12:19

As far as terminology is concerned, it is just that: socialism/communism. Most advocates of socialism/communism today would argue that there is a way to implement one of these systems without it being a dictatorship. So there is no need to find any special term here. Socialism/communism in principle does not say if it is a dictatorship or not.

It is a completely different question, if socialism/communism can exist in a free society or in a democratic society. This has nothing to do with the original question.

Historical evidence suggests that the more socialistic/communistic a society becomes, the more dictatorial it has to be to keep it (temporarily) stable. It seems that people just do not function the way it would be necessary to keep socialism/communism stable without government force.

The states in Europe and America are somewhere between a capitalistic (free) and socialist (dictatorial) society. Most of them are still free/capitalistic enough so that open dictatorship is unnecessary. Still these governments force their citizens/foreigners to many things that would be unnecessary in a completely free society (e.g. restriction of drug use, restriction of abortion, detention of citizens/foreigners without due process etc.), so they have already clear signs of dictatorship.


If you read Hayek, such a thing is not possible. In his 1944 book the Road to Serfdom, Hayek argues that socialism ultimately leads to dictatorship & subjugation & oppression of the masses.

Socialism, while presented as a means of assuring equality, does so through "restraint and servitude", while "democracy seeks equality in liberty". Planning, because it is coercive, is an inferior method of regulation, while the competition of a free market is superior "because it is the only method by which our activities can be adjusted to each other without coercive or arbitrary intervention of authority."

Centralized planning is inherently undemocratic in Hayek's view, because it requires "that the will of a small minority be imposed upon the people". The power of these minorities to act by taking money or property in pursuit of centralized goals, destroys the Rule of Law and individual freedoms. Where there is centralized planning, "the individual would more than ever become a mere means, to be used by the authority in the service of such abstractions as the 'social welfare' or the 'good of the community'". Even the very poor have more personal freedom in an open society than a centrally planned one. "While the last resort of a competitive economy is the bailiff, the ultimate sanction of a planned economy is the hangman." Socialism is a hypocritical system, because its professed humanitarian goals can only be put into practice by brutal methods "of which most socialists disapprove". Such centralized systems also require effective propaganda, so that the people come to believe that the state's goals are theirs.

  • 2
    Amazing that correct arguments get promptly downvoted on years-old questions simply because they critique literal communism. The Overton window around here is severely lopsided. May 8, 2023 at 13:25
  • 1
    Downvote is for the simplistic views. Also for the obvious error saying "Centralized planning is ... the will of a small minority imposed upon the people" when in a free democracy which the question asks about it is the will of the majority. May 11, 2023 at 13:23
  • 1
    And for the second obvious error of saying that "free socialist democracies cannot exist" when in fact there are dozens of examples. May 11, 2023 at 13:28

A democratic, free, socialist place is called a "democracy".

If it's democratic and free then it is free to choose socialist policies at any point in its existence, and also to 'unchoose' socialist policies at any time in the future, without changing its system of government. This is what democracies do.

It can also be called "socialist" while it remains socialist, and if you want to combine them it can be called "democratic socialist" (although in many countries this is a party name and might be misunderstood.

  • Oh, a downvote with no explanation. May 7, 2023 at 13:25

What's the right terminology for a democratic, free and and anti-dictatorial socialism/communism?

capitalism vs. communism is about economic structures. democracy vs. dictatorship is about political structures.

as such, you can have all sorts of mixes:

1) capitalism + dictatorship: singapore, taiwan, skorea, until recently.

2) communism + dictatorship: ussr, china, cuba, nkorea, ...

3) communism + democracy: most western nations are on the verge of getting them. I think it is called progressivism today.

4) capitalism + democracy: most western nations prior to 1950s? conservatism maybe?

  • No you can't separate them that neatly. Both does the economic structure of a society influence the social and political structure and the political structure most common occupation is with economic questions...
    – haxor789
    May 7, 2023 at 16:47

Heaven on earth is the name for such a system. And anyone who believes there is salvation on earth is usually called a "fool". To quote James Madison, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." And any society attempting to pretend that men are something other than what they are ends up being predatory towards men who exhibit imperfections. And these predatory tendencies inevitably snowball and produce tyranny.

  • "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." - James Madison May 7, 2023 at 2:05

The simplest (if perhaps not the best) answer would be to call such a person a Trotskyite. Trotsky advocated the emancipation of the working class through democratic means. His understanding of a 'dictatorship of the proletariat' was more or less indistinguishable from mass democracy; the only sense in which it was a 'dictatorship' is that it vested sole and complete power in the entire body politic. If Stalin hadn't won out and had Trotsky assassinated, the entire Marxist project would have had a very different appearance.

But a deeper and more analytical answer would point out that the term 'communism' refers to a pure, classless society in which the historical and economic foundations of dictatorship and oppression have been erased. Likewise, the term 'socialism' (in Marxist parlance) refers to an intermediary stage in which the government is ostensibly in the process of erasing class mindsets and the historical and economic foundations of dictatorship and oppression. Either 'communist' or 'socialist' would suffice to point to someone who advocates a non-capitalist form of democracy and liberty, except that in the US these terms have been co-opted by the more rabid proponents of capitalist statism, who use them as boogiemen.

Keep in mind (if we're going to be fair) that very few of the nations that call themselves free and democratic are overtly free or democratic. The ideals of liberal democracy are often used by dictators, tyrants, and nationalists to foster oppression and feed their own hunger for power. Should we judge socialism and communism for not having achieved their ideals when we Western liberal are doing a piss-poor job of achieving our own? Can we really pat ourselves on the back for being democratic when we see the Jan 6th insurrectionists storming the capital to overturn a free and fair election and install their own preferred choice as president? As they say, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and democracy is always a glass house.

  • 2
    Having experienced both, I can vouch that the "Western liberal" is infinitely closer to its ideal democracy (Jan 6th and all included) than anything in the Eastern bloc was to the socialist (let alone communist) ideal.
    – Zeus
    Jul 7, 2021 at 1:46
  • Putting Trotsky up as the sole representative of any non-dictatorial socialism is doing injustice to every other movement of that kind and also gives Trotsky a lot of credit given his role in Lenin's rise to power and the establishment of the system that Stalin inherited and build upon. Also it's Marxist-Leninist parlance, Marx apparently used that term differently and even if it would have been about material conditions not erasing history and mindsets... Not sure why it got that much hate, but there are some points where it's lacking.
    – haxor789
    May 17, 2023 at 14:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .