Socialism has been associated with communist/socialist dictatorships at the time of the cold war, and the nowadays dictatorships such as China and North Corea.

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 that socialist/communists 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?

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    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 '14 at 16:59
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    I'm not sure I understand the objections in the comments. What would keep a democratically elected government from controlling the means of production? With all the Marxists out there, it must be at least conceivable that there could be enough to form a majority in some self determining political unit somewhere and then use majority tyranny (still democracy) to enforce thier control of society into a reasonably communist state. – lazarusL Jul 14 '14 at 2:33
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    @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 '14 at 17:12
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    @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 '14 at 18:07
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    @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 '14 at 18:10

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.

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    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 '14 at 15:49
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    ... I'd add Marxists-Leninists to the terms that describe dictatorial socialism. – mart Nov 13 '15 at 7:54

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.


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.

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    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. – PoloHoleSet Apr 17 '17 at 21:51
  • @PoloHoleSet coercion is used to subvert the will and means of the individual to achieve government policy. – user1450877 Apr 17 '17 at 23:56
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    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. – PoloHoleSet Apr 18 '17 at 13:35
  • Any government will always be authoritarian regardless of the brand. – liftarn Feb 19 '18 at 7:58

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, Br.Commonwealth is socialist. And distinguish between the Rhineland model and Anglo Saxon model.

Also, what's your measure of success? You 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)

As long as countries like Costa Rica and Czech Republic manage to beat you in 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 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
    • Whether Soviet-Russia was a good application of socialism/communism is debatable.
  3. The financial crash speaks against the American extremist capitalism as a model of success, as well as the fact that America perform so miserably on so many social indicators: teen pregnancy is 10 times higher than Europe, 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.

  • 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 '14 at 21:20

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.


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.

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    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 '14 at 10:47
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    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 '14 at 19:25
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    "many"? Care to point out the exact amounts? – user4012 Aug 28 '14 at 19:28
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    "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 '14 at 19:46

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.

  • It does say (at least, Lenin does), see my answer. – Anixx Aug 30 '14 at 15:40
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    How Capitalism can be democratic, if the wealth(and power) belongs to private persons rather than to democratically elected bodies? It is logical that the less power the state has, the less democratic regime is, because it is only state power that is elected (there are elections in corporations also, but those elections are not based on the principles of democracy, but rather on wealth and inheritance) – Anixx Aug 30 '14 at 15:41
  • "the more socialistic/communistic a society becomes, the more dictatorial it has to be to keep it (temporarily) stable" - how do you measure whether a society becomes more dictatorial? – Anixx Aug 30 '14 at 15:44

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.


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?

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