Socialism Words for New Comrades

I’ve been reading a lot about the history of socialism. People throw around a lot of words that supposedly mean some things, but it can bog you down real fast. I decided to make simple definitions for what some of these words mean (although additional research is DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED).

The basics:

Socialism: A philosophy with the purpose of bringing about an egalitarian society based on shared ownership of the means of production and the removal of hierarchical structures. Has economic, political, and material implications.

Means of production: Anything that takes inputs of raw materials and outputs something valuable.

Labor: The human will acting upon the means of production, causing value to be created.

Proletariat: Manufacturing laborers. Often considered separate from “peasants” or agricultural laborers.

Wage Slavery: The result of labor relationships, where the laborer creates value and the owner of the means of production (who is not the laborer) benefits from the value created. The laborer is paid rent for their labor-time (i.e. a wage), which is now owned by the renter.

Alienation: The process by which a person is made separate and foreign to their own lives. The most famous is when a person rents out their labor, so that the work they do–and the life-time they spend doing it–does not belong to themselves.

Consciousness: The realization of one’s material status in the relational framework of a society. This definition of the word is specific to socialism, as this word means other things in other fields.

Revolution: The process by which the systems that maintain the labor relationships (and other hierarchies) within a society are broken down and replaced with a classless society. This looks different to different socialists.


Here’s a list of some current and historical socialist movements, and what makes these movements unique from others. This is not exhaustive, and does not attempt to outline every feature of each movement.

Communism: Socialism as envisioned by Marx and Engels. Relies upon a violent revolution of the proletariat, which eventually leads to a classless society based on something akin to direct democracy. Between the revolution and the classless society is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which is used promote the new social order and forcefully repress reactionary and anti-revolutionary action. (Note: I am aware that the word “communism” is also used to refer to the final, classless society, but in most daily usage, when people say “Communism,” they are referring to the Marxist approach).

Democratic Socialism: Believes that the revolution can be achieved through non-violent political action within a democratic framework.

Anarchism: A philosophy that believes that the state’s primary purpose is to impose the current status quo, and people would be able to organize into something better without the need for a state if it could be removed.

Anarcho-Socialism: Socialism and anarchism together. Seeks to achieve the socialist revolution and a stateless society at the same time. Can also be interpreted to mean a non-political revolution that occurs without the need for a political apparatus.

Vanguardism (aka Leninism): An implementation of Communism that uses a small group of conscious actors to form a vanguard party. The purpose of this party is to be professional revolutionaries to change the status quo for the benefit of the unconscious masses.

Stalinism: A variant of Vanguardism. After the vanguard party has seized control of government, form a totalitarian regime based off from a powerful bureaucracy that centrally controls all production.

Trotskyism: A variant of Vanguardism and alternative to (i.e. is critical of) Stalinism. After the vanguard party has seized control of government, planning is carried out by local democratically elected counsels.

Those are basically all the words I can think of to write definitions for today. I hope someone finds this useful, and maybe I’ll be back with a part two later on.

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