Both political parties use snarl words to denigrate policies or views they don't like. I have a bit of a rant on what a snarl word is in another question I answered. While that question is primarily focused on Republican used snarl words, I believe both political parties, and plenty of other groups, make heavy use of them.

I've noticed communism is a common snarl word used by the US political right to refer to ideas, groups, or people they want to denigrate but which don't fit the actual definition of communism. It makes a certain degree of sense, The red scare was a huge political issue around 1920 and even after the Soviet Union's collapse we have had...disagreements with various communist nations since. There is a lot of US modern education and political system that makes us distrust communism even today. As such it seems a reasonable bogyman to build into a snarl word.

I find it odd that it seems that it's the right who primarily toss it around. I've run into far fewer cases of the left using it. I'm curious why it's far more commonly used by one side and not the other when it seems like it would make an acceptable bogyman for either side to abuse. Why does one side utilize it more heavily?

To be clear, I'm asking only about when communism is used explicitly as a snarl word. In this case, I mean situations when it's used to refer to an idea or group that is not communist and the word is being used not as a valid label to describe them but instead to denigrate or inspire hostility towards the group or idea.

Since I believe every faction of humanity out there will resort to snarl words I will not accept answers that claim only the right uses snarl words, or that they make significantly heavier use of them unless you can provide very strong evidence, in the form of a validly done study with sufficiently large sample size and no obvious flaws or systemic biases. I'm not asking why a snarl word is used, I'm asking why this one, in particular, seems to be utilized only by one side of the political spectrum when it seems like it would be a good neutral term either side could throw around as a snarl word.


5 Answers 5


Communism is associated with socialism because Marxism considers socialism to be a stepping stone to communism. The U.S. political right generally opposes socialism and socialist ideals, whereas the left is more amenable to socialist ideas.

The right uses "communism" as a snarl word to denigrate people or ideas that they consider to be leaning toward socialism* (e.g. the U.S. political left). Since the left doesn't usually criticize socialism, they have no need to use "communism" in this way. They could in theory use it as a snarl word for something else associated with communism, but the people they want to denigrate (the right) are more easily denigrated with terms like "fascist".

*As pointed out in the comments, "socialism" has multiple definitions in use in the U.S. The classic definition that is actually associated with communism has to do with the government taking control of property and the economy. But a lot of people in the U.S. use "socialism" to refer to tax-funded government welfare programs. The U.S. political right tends to oppose this kind of socialism as well. Even though this later definition isn't really associated with communism, the right still uses "communism" as a snarl word for it because of the overlap in terminology

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    and the "bad kind of communism" (what Stalin and others did) is referred to with the snarl word "tankie" which hasn't fully caught on yet Apr 4, 2023 at 12:56
  • I think "tankie" has definitely caught on in leftist circles, though I would agree that it hasn't caught on in others. Apr 6, 2023 at 0:42

Communism is considered a far-left ideology:

Communism (from Latin communis, 'common, universal')[1][2] is a left-wing to far-left sociopolitical, philosophical, and economic ideology within the socialist movement,[1] whose goal is the establishment of a communist society, a socioeconomic order centered around common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange that allocates products to everyone in the society.[3][4][5]

Therefore, it's not surprising that it's used as a caricature by people on the right. By associating moderately leftish policies with far-left communism, they would be making those policies seem extreme.


Snarl words aren't always completely devoid of actual meaning and referents.

Originally the use of "communist" to criticise the left was probably based on actual arguments that some left-leaning policies would move the country "closer" to communist ways of doing things (in a manner that the speaker didn't like). It often doesn't really have even that much content anymore, it's just a label used to signal "I don't like this and neither should my audience". But the things it can seem like a label for still have some vague nebulous coherence; not an actual definition, but the general populace still has a "vibe" of the kind of things that can be called communist. Those things are more-or-less connected to the idea of increasing government control over the distribution of money/goods/services being bad; or perhaps more generally (and cynically) anybody on the left. It simply doesn't make much sense to use "that's communist!" to criticise policies like decreasing regulation and taxes on stock trading; some people might agree that that's bad, but saying it's bad "because it's communist" wouldn't cut through.

This is in much the same way that "liberal" is often used as a snarl world by the right to refer to the left; it's often devoid of any actual content related to the actual definition of "liberal" (i.e. in statements like "the liberals want to take away your guns", the speaker is criticising policies of restrictions on gun ownership and is advocating for more liberal gun ownership policies, if we use the meaning of "liberal" literally). But you still can't really denounce someone on the right as a "liberal"; it just doesn't make sense.

So basically the left doesn't use communist as a snarl word as much because the kinds of policies that can be criticised as "communist" are (for the most part) the policies of the left; calling their opponents "communist" just doesn't fit the general idea people have of the appropriate way to use the snarl word "communist". (It would make sense for a moderate on the left criticising another more radical leftist, but not as a general insult from the left to the right)

  • "Liberal" isn't used by the right as a snarl word due to its meaning, it's used because the left used the term for self-identification. In other words, "liberal" literally means "left" in that specific usage; ignoring the semantic load of the term in history or political sciencec.
    – user4012
    Apr 6, 2023 at 18:54

As formulated this seems like an odd question to ask, unless someone knows nearly nothing about the right vs left divide and their ideological affinities and historical inspiration. Or at least their claimed affinity and inspiration, according to their opponents.

You could flip the question around by asking why the Left likes to throw out Fascism as a snarl word, rather than the Right doing so and it would be equally naive. And, to be honest, equally pushy.

It seems trivial to state that each party has an interest in using snarl words applicable to a cartoonish extremist version of their rivals' position, rather than using one that could be applied to how their own position might be caricatured.

Republicans will be saying "Sanders is Communist", rather than "Sanders is Fascist".

While Democrats will say "Trump is Fascist", rather than "Trump is Communist".

This answer makes no claims with regards to the frequency with which either side likes to throw out words meant as an insult. Or which accusations are more grounded in reality. Only that there is an obvious choice of insulting terms to use.

  • Apparently in the 90s Russia the term used to be commo-fascists or red-brown. Apr 6, 2023 at 11:20

The Bolshevik party which seized the rule in then-Russian Republic and turned it into a Communist state with no private means of production and criminalization of any enterpreneurship...

Were a branch of Russian Social Democrat Workers' Party.

I.e., they were Left, and not only that, but a close relatives of other Social Democrat movements, such as German ot Swedish Social Democrats - respectable political forces who often rule as democratically elected majority parties in their countries. Lenin was a member of Second International of socialist and labor parties.

This validates the Right when they want to snarl upon the Left: "so you are saying you want to have a prosperous and equal society and are a Social Democrat. You know who was also a Social Democrat? Lenin. And Stalin. You are a communist."

And indeed, the communist terror against any resistance to their rule is a direct continuation of tradition of Social Democrat and Social Revolutionary (i.e. Left) terrorism in the Russian Empire, which was applauded by all kinds of Russian "moderate" Left on any occasion.

For the Left this is highly inconvenient, since they usually are not great fans of Russia (except Tankies), which in fact went through all the Left ideas and emerged from the far end. The Left tend to downplay their relation to Communism.


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