ALIENATION - Forced separation. In economics, the forced separation of the worker from his/her products. Under capitalism, workers produce for the benefit of others but the surplus is immediately expropriated from them as the profit handed to the capitalists. This turns work into a negative and oppressive experience.
ANARCHY, or ANARCHISM - Complete absence of government or law, disorder within a sphere of activity. As a political philosophy, it advocates for the immediate abolition of both private property and the state with the expectation that a fully communist system will naturally result in their absence. In the words of Jim Lane, today's anarchists tend to be middle class radicals with strong ideas about what they oppose, a few ideas about what they want, and almost no thoughts about how to get there.
ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM - The belief that trade unions can accomplish revolution without the guidance of a revolutionary political party. It's often associated with the Industrial Workers of the World, but not necessarily with their agreement.
ARMCHAIR SOCIALIST - Someone who may be very vocal about radical politics, but doesn't leave the house to do anything about it. See also: praxis
BLANQUISM - A trend in the early socialist movement in France, led by Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881). Lenin wrote that Blanqui did not believe socialism would result from the working class, but from a small conspiracy of intellectuals.
BOLSHEVIK - Russian for "majority" or "one of the majority". Usually used to refer to the majority faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, later the Russian Communist Party, who agreed with Lenin that capitalism cannot be reformed into socialism but that reforms can only serve to bring about the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist political system. See also: menshevik, Leninism
BOURGEOISIE (n), or BOURGEOIS (adj) - French for what existed under the feudal aristocracy as the "middle class" who derived its income from mercantilism. After the overthrow of the feudal system, the bourgeoisie became the ruling class and 'liberated' the surfs to become the proletariat for their exploitation. See also: capitalist
BOYCOTT - A tactic often used within the working class against the capitalist class. The workers refrain from some common activity, usually buying a particular product, in hopes of having their demands met.
CAPITAL - Anything that can be used as a tool or resource to produce a commodity. Fixed capital, or constant capital, consists of raw materials, energy, and machinery used in the production process. Variable capital consists exclusively of the human labor necessary to carry out the production process. Capital can also be used informally in reference to the capitalist class or the capitalist system as a whole.
CAPITALISM - A mode of production that arose within and later replaced feudalism in which the means of production are private property and the institutions that govern them are privately run for profit. Fixed capital is owned by a minority of society - the capitalists - within a competitive market, while the variable capital of labor power is owned and sold by the majority - the workers - for a fraction of the value it generates.
CAPITALIST, or CAPITALIST CLASS - A person, or group of such persons, who owns fixed capital as private property and derives their income through such ownership, including direct proprietorship (high liability) or stock investments (limited liability). See also: bourgeoisie
CHAUVINISM - An extreme and unreasoning partisanship on behalf of any group to which one belongs, especially when the partisanship includes malice and hatred towards rival groups. Jingoism is the British parallel form of this French word, when referring to nation. A contemporary use of the term in English is in the phrase male chauvinism.
CIVILIZATION - A state of human society, in which some level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached.
CLASS - A group of people in a society who have a common social relationship to the means of production and the economy as a whole.
CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS - The level of awareness on the class struggle taking place and one's own position and interests within it.
CLASS CONFLICT, CLASS STRUGGLE - The driving force behind all politics and the historical development of modern society. A sometimes out in the open and sometimes under the veil confrontation of conflicting class interests each pursuing their logical ends.
COMMODITY - Anything that can be bought or sold as a good or service for either direct consumption or reinvestment in the production of another good or service.
COMMUNE - A society of freely associated individuals within which there is a homogeneous social relationship to material surroundings, including all capital. Often associated with the Paris Commune of 1871 which is widely seen as the first workers' socialist government in history and a glimpse of what future communism will resemble.
COMMUNISM - A classless society free of want or coercion, a society of material abundance, where there is enough of everything for everybody and wealth can be distributed according to the principle of “from each according to one's abilities, to each according to one's need.” In such a society, coercive government structures that manage people, such as police, courts, prisons etc., will be fully dismantled and the government of society will be a democratic practice devoid of class antagonisms. Classless humanistic values could finally triumph and people could live according to the principle of “one for all, all for one,” and see that their interests as individuals depend on advancing the entire society.
COMMUNIST (n) - Someone with socialist consciousness who recognizes communism as the end goal of the class struggle and is thus fully dedicated to its realization.
CONSERVATIVE - To be opposed to change and in favor of conservation, either economically or socially. Often used paradoxically in reference to those who are hostile to conservation efforts and support the unregulated and unrestrained exploitation of natural resources and the total elimination of natural preserves. May be used in reference to the conservation of using public resources to interfere in the private-dominated economy, or social conservatism to restrain natural human desires and impulses in order to conform to ideas of purity.
DEMOCRACY - A process of administrating affairs in which all participants have an equal say and the majority decision is carried out within the bounds of established rights and laws. Capitalist democracy was initially only open to capitalists, but has gradually expanded to become more inclusive on the surface. In practice, public engagement only happens on issues that have little economic significance and can divide an exploited class against itself, while more profound decisions are made by more exclusive and often anti-democratic bodies.
DIALECTICS - The understanding that all things exist as an opposite to something else, and are constantly changing and in fluid motion within a fourth dimensional continuum. Just as the concept of light cannot exist without the concept of dark, so too can the capitalist class not exist without the working class, and vice versa. This duality of opposites is the logical framework in which the two hemispheres of the human brain process and form an understanding of the material universe. Once a thesis and antithesis, through change over time, become resolved as a synthesis, then neither of the original two opposites exists.
DICTATORSHIP - A system of dictating, or decision making, on behalf of one group of society as opposed to another. The term Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie refers to the pseudo-democratic system of dictating the development of society used by the capitalist class, while the term Dictatorship of the Proletariat refers to the the increasingly genuine democratic system of dictating society's development used by the working class.
DIVISION OF LABOR - How labor is divided and arranged in production. It is important in understanding social history because its improvements greatly increased productivity, as also did the addition of new machinery. It was especially noteworthy when assembly line production became the norm.
DOGMATISM - Rigid belief that cannot be changed even upon receiving new information.
ECONOMIC DETERMINISM - Emphasis on economic factors as the sole reasons for social developments. The "Economists" and "Spontaneists" argued that revolutionary activity was not necessary because socialism would replace capitalism sooner or later anyway.
EMPIRICISM - The principle that knowledge is primarily acquired through experience, such as experimentation or natural observation, as opposed to being acquired primarily through thought and logical deduction.
EXPLOITATION - A parasitic economic relationship in which a person or group is systematically deprived of all that they produce and is given only a fraction of it back in the form of wages, benefits, and public services. The remaining amount is given to the host who does not produce anything but may claim to possess the means of production in the form of private property.
FABIANISM - The Fabian Society, an organization of reformist socialists founded in 1884 by a group of intellectuals in England. See also: reformism, social democracy
FASCISM - Open terrorist rule by the most reactionary faction of the capitalist class. Much like a wounded animal is the most prone to bite, it is the last resort that capitalists in many countries have used in order to preserve their rule over society when the majority of the public would prefer to continue without them. It was inspired by the total-military society arising during World War I and is characterized by extreme nationalism, militarism, and violent hostility towards dissent.
FETISHISM - Total devotion to a single tactic, method, or idea, without any regard for effectiveness.
FRAMING - Narrowing the discussion on an issue so that only the desirable outcomes are allowed.
GRADUALISM - A political theory that all meaningful change must occur in small incremental steps, as opposed to qualitative change or revolutions. See also: reformism
HARDLINER - Someone who sticks to established doctrines without consideration of fallibility. See also: dogmatism
HEGEMONY - Dominance of one group over another, often within the same government.
HISTORICAL MATERIALISM - Understanding history as a process of dialectical transformation of society within the context of class struggle around the mode production; history as a study of how peoples' relationships to the material world have changed over time.
IDEALISM - A philosophical assertion that the observable universe only exists as a reflection of human thoughts, that it is an imperfect or distorted version of a perfect 'ideal' version, and that the existence of the universe independent of human perception is either doubtful or irrelevant. Idealists believe that the true nature of reality can be deduced through thought alone and that truth is a 'spiritual' or 'essential' concept. See also: materialism
IDEOLOGY - A set of beliefs, opinions, and dispositions held by a person or group.
IMPERIALISM - Exploitation on an international scale, with a more advanced nation-state resorting to military invasion and occupation of less developed areas and establishing a puppet state to legitimize its exploitation of the country's labor, resources, and markets. This is the source of finance capital and the driving force of modern warfare.
KNEEJERK ACTIVIST - Someone who throws themselves into political activism without thinking.
LABOR - Performing work which results in the creation of a valuable commodity. See also: worker, proletariat
LEFT, LEFT-WING, LEFTISM - Originating from the French Revolution of 1789. In their parliament, those who were more aggressive revolutionaries sat to the left (or, in the left wing) of the speaker, while those in favor of restoring the old system sat to the right (see right-wing). Leftism refers to advocacy for more egalitarian or horizontally organized social arrangements, as opposed to right-wing advocacy for authoritarian hierarchy and vertical organization. Within the broadest political discussion, socialists and communists are on the left. Within this movement, there are also left and right tendencies relative to the general consensus. See also: ultra-leftism
LENINISM - Advocacy for the organizational principles and method of analysis as advocated by the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. Generally, that the revolution for socialism requires a vanguard of dedicated organizers with socialist consciousness lead an alliance of the working class and its allies to achieve reforms under capitalism and, when conditions are ripe, overthrow it and establish a socialist state. See also: vanguard
LIBERAL - Centrist advocacy for more freedom for its own sake, including economic, social, and political freedom. Liberals will advocate for public intervention in the private market whenever it may be necessary. Liberals will often take leftist positions on a moral basis but will easily be swayed to the right if it effects them personally, either because they have class interests opposed to the working class or they are duped by the capitalists. Like conservatives, liberals do not have class consciousness and therefore make their positions based solely on what feels good.
LIBERTARIAN - In most countries: a socialist who places extra emphasis on civil liberties. In America: an advocate for the total abolition of democracy and the privatization of all aspects of life, including of land, water, and air; of all public services and of all institutions that govern society's development. See also: neoliberalism
LOCKOUT - A tactic used by employers against their workers, usually during contract negotiations. The workers are not allowed to work nor draw their pay. It is generally considered the opposite of a strike.
LUMPENPROLETARIAT - German for "rag proletariat." Generally unemployable people who make no positive contribution to an economy. Sometimes described as the bottom layer of a capitalist society. May include criminal and mentally unstable people. Some activists consider them "most radical" because they are "most exploited," but they are un-organizable and more likely to act as paid agents than to have any progressive role in class struggle.
MANILOVISM - Smug complacency, futile daydreaming; from the landowner Manilov, a character in Gogol's 'Dead Souls.'
MAOISM - The philosophy and method of analysis as promoted by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong. Mao believed that the peasants were a more revolutionary force than the working class and that communism will only come into being through perpetual militant class war. Maoists believe that revolutions can only be successful in countries exploited by imperialism and that once they have all succeeded, the imperialist governments will collapse. For this reason, Maoists in Western countries typically do not participate in local politics. See also: Marxism-Leninism, armchair socialist, fetishism
MATERIALISM - A philosophical assertion that the universe exists independently of human experience and consists only of matter, empty space, and the natural physical forces through which the two interact. Thoughts and ideas are seen as a reflection of the material world and therefore it is changes in material surroundings that change minds, not the other way around. Usually it is presupposed in basic human logic, but it can be forfeited in favor of idealism when existential questions on the nature of reality are asked. See also: idealism
MARXISM - The philosophy and method of analysis introduced by 19th century German philosopher Karl Marx. It is often used synonymously with socialism or scientific socialism, however it refers specifically to concepts and ideas first pioneered by Marx. Marx believed that all politics is a manifestation of class conflict and that the present conflict is one between capitalists and workers, which will only be resolved through workers' taking control over the economy and thereafter establishing classless society. See also: socialism
MARXISM-LENINISM - A philosophical hybrid of Marxism and Leninism which functions as a system of ideas that correspond to the interest of the working class. Its essential aspects consist of:
1. Dialectical and historical materialism—the laws of social development which enable masses of people to be active and conscious shapers of their destiny, and a philosophical methodology for understanding change and development.
2. Political economy—the laws of capitalist development and theories of its functioning.
3. The theory of socialist revolution—how to move through the stages of struggle to achieve socialism, and the organizational forms necessary to accomplish that.
Taken together, along with the theory of knowledge and with the experience of the world working-class movements for justice and socialism, Marxism-Leninism provides a scientifically based guide to action.
MENSHEVIK - Russian for "minority" or "one of the minority." Used in reference to the minority faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party who opposed Lenin's view of revolutionary regime change being necessary to institute socialism. See also: bolshevik, reformism, social democracy
MIDDLE CLASS - This term is often used by bourgeois economists to refer to working class people with sufficient income to live relatively comfortable lives, as well as petit bourgeois small business owners who both own and operate their own means of production. This is not a correct use of the term class however, and as such is seldom used by socialists. See also: petit bourgeoisie
MONOPOLY - "Mono" is "one," and "poly" is "many." A condition where one controls many. In economics, it generally refers to industries which are dominated by one enterprise. Such an enterprise can have total ownership of all the means of production from resource extraction to finished product distribution. Within a competitive market, monopolies naturally arise as capital is consolidated into fewer hands.
MONOPOLY CAPITAL - The big business faction of the capitalist class characterized by its ownership of monopoly enterprises. In advanced capitalism, the monopoly capitalist class has near total control over the state and its policies, making bourgeois politics more and more obviously farcical and undemocratic. This process can be reversed through antitrust laws, or advanced into state ownership.
NARODNIK - Russian for "Populist". The Narodniks were intellectuals who believed that the peasantry, not the workers, were the revolutionary class. Further, they believed that revolutions could only be inspired by "heroes" who carried out grand events. The tsarist repression, the frustration of failure, and their theories tended to move them toward minority actions that were sometimes violent. See also: Maoism
NATION - A historically formed community of people, usually with a common territory, common language, and common culture. A nation of people may or may not live in the same state.
NEOLIBERALISM - Advocacy for the total privatization of all areas of the economy, primarily in response to bourgeois concerns that state ownership of essential sectors will condition society to come accustomed to socialist economics. New trade laws are made to seem as an emergent necessity, which benefit transnational corporations at the expense of the local economy. It is often implemented undemocratically and even through violent overthrows of democratic, socialist-oriented governments, particularly in South America. See also: libertarianism, imperialism
OLIGARCHY - A relatively small group that controls a society. Often used to describe the big land owning families of Latin American countries.
OLIGOPOLY - Similar to a monopoly except that more than one entity dominates. In economics, a few enterprises dominate an industry, usually to conspire on prices and conditions, as well as to create an illusion of choice and competition.
OPPORTUNISM - Sacrificing fundamental principles for short-term gain.
PATRIARCHY - Systematic oppression of women in favor of men. Very characteristic of primitive societies in which power is exercised through violence, with males being more physically endowed, and gender determining the opportunities of an individual. Men take on more aggressive roles while women are more submissive. Capitalism initially exploits sexism to institute patriarchy, but over time naturally erodes it as women and men become equally oppressed. Gender equality becomes fully realized in socialist society. See also: sexism
PEASANTRY - Subsistence farmers, owning only a small plot of land and producing only so much as they will consume. They are often indebted and must pay their landlord of other creditor a surplus. Under capitalism, peasants have been systematically removed from their land and assembled into the working class, leaving agricultural work as an industrialized system of mass production.
PETIT BOURGEOISIE (n), or PETIT BOURGEOIS (adj) - French for "small bourgeoisie" or "small capitalist." Generally consists of small-business owners, self-employed professionals, and others who may neither exploit nor be exploited or are both. They may be seen as powerful compared to the working class but are simultaneously powerless compared to non-working capitalists and monopoly capitalists. A 'swing' class that can go either way when push comes to shove in a class conflict. See also: middle class
POLITICAL PARTY - An organization that represents the interests of a given class or faction of a class in a political system.
POPULISM - A very crude and elementary understanding of class struggle pitting "ordinary people" against "the elite." It is usually associated with the struggles of farm people against the growing power of city people, not working people versus capitalists.
PRAXIS - Practice. Socialists plan, act, re-evaluate, then plan, act, and re-evaluate again, etc. There can be no revolution without theory, but theory isn't likely to be very good if nobody ever tries anything. Activism improves theory, and theory improves activism. Both are necessary and complement each other. See also: armchair socialist, knee-jerk activist
PRIVATIZATION - Transferring publicly owned assets over to private entities to be administered for profit rather than the public good.
PRODUCTIVITY - The total quantity of commodities produced divided by the total quantity of labor performed in production.
PROGRESSIVE - A quality of being supportive in the advancement of the working class and its socialist aims albeit not necessarily being explicitly socialist or class based.
PROLETARIAT (n), or PROLETARIAN (adj) - People who have no private property. Such people may have personal belongings, but they do not possess any significant assets that can either be traded for a great sum or be used in any way to produce commodities. See also: worker
RATE OF EXPLOITATION - Surplus value divided by variable capital. The amount not paid back to the worker per amount that is paid.
REFORMISM - The belief that capitalist production can be reformed into socialist production, without a revolutionary transition of power from one class to another. In this view, the state is seen as a neutral arbiter of class conflict and not as a weapon one class can wield against another. See also: social democracy, Fabianism
REIFICATION - The false identification of a person or dynamic as a static, material “thing” existing independent of human will or agency, exempt from ever-changing dialectical relationships of forces.
REVISIONISM - Changing historical truth, usually for opportunistic reasons. Often an accusation made by the ultra-left against the left and center-left.
REVOLUTION - Tremendous change brought about by a significant shift in class relations in society, especially the replacement of one class by another as the ruling class.
RIGHT, RIGHT-WING, or RIGHTISM - Originating from the French Revolution of 1789. In their parliament, the reactionaries in favor of restoring the old system sat to the right (or in the right wing) of the speaker, while those in favor of advancing the revolution sat to the left. (See Left) The Rightism refers to advocacy for a more traditional - often authoritarian and vertically organized - social structure, as opposed to the egalitarianism of the left. There are center and ultra-right tendencies within the Right, just as in the Left. See also: Conservative, Reactionary
RULING CLASS - The class which has the ultimate authority in governing the state and dictating the development of society.
SCAB - A person who will work in a job in which the workers in that position have gone on strike. While the strike is intended to bleed the capitalists and force them to concede to the demands of the workers, those who break the strike and work for the capitalists act as scabs to the wound and as an opposing force to the interests of the striking workers.
SECTARIANISM - Rejecting potential or willing allies because of ideological differences. Similar to religious sects, within the socialist movement are various fragmented organizations who have split from each other for the sake of ideological purity. This often leads to divisions that directly harm the interests of the working class.
SLAVERY - A system of production under which both the laborer and the means of production are owned outright by the proclaimed divine right of a master.
SLOWDOWN - A resistance tactic workers may take against their employers wherein they are on the job but do as little as possible.
SOCIAL DEMOCRACY - Those who approve of the idea of socialism but will oppose it when it pushes its way through. Prior to 1917, all socialist revolutionaries identified as social democrats. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, those who supported the imperialists against the Soviet Union continued to claim themselves as being social democrats while those supportive of the Soviet Union took the name Communist. Social democrats generally argue that capitalism can be peacefully reformed into socialism and that the existing state apparatus can be retained in the process, rejecting the necessity for the replacement of the capitalist state by a new socialist state.
SOCIALISM - A mode of production proceeding after capitalism and preceding communism in which the means of production are under the ultimate authority of the working class. The capitalist class is displaced by the working class as the ruling class and all of society's major institutions are under its democratic control.
SOCIALIST CONSCIOUSNESS - The most advanced form of class consciousness under capitalism, with which a person fully grasps the nature of the class struggle and recognizes that socialism will be the immediate outcome of the victory of the working class.
SOVIET - Russian for "council." A general assembly of working people committed to practicing participatory democracy in its area of jurisdiction through legislating and electing executive officers.
SOVIET POWER - The power of the people to become the sovereign rulers of their communities via the participatory democracy of soviets.
STATE - The institution through which a ruling class exercises supreme authority over society, ultimately through the threat or act of legitimized force. States arise in societies that have inherent contradictions arising from class inequality. In communism, class contradictions will synthesize and no longer be apparent and thus the state will no longer exist in this sense.
STRIKE - A collective decision by people in one workplace or company to refuse to work in order to force the owner to meet their demands. It is the primary weapon of the working class.
SURPLUS VALUE - The wealth that is produced by labor but is appropriated to the owners of the means of production as their profit.
TROTSKYISM - Advocacy for the philosophy of Lev Trotsky, a major figure in the Russian Revolution who argued against peaceful development and industrialization in the Soviet Union and for resources to instead be used to fuel a "permanent revolution" via military invasion of the rest of Europe. Such advocates (called "Trotskyists" or "Trotskyites") see themselves as upholding an orthodox interpretation of Marxism and hold those who disagree with them on this in contempt. Typically, Trotskyists look for a point of disagreement and focus on it until a sectarian split occurs. See also: Sectarianism, Ultra-left
ULTRA-LEFT - Tendencies within the left that take extremist positions often to the point of irrationality. Typically characterized by impatience with the present pace of development in the class struggle, branding willing allies as traitors for benign disagreements, and seeking to live out overly romantic dreams of revolution.
ULTRA-RIGHT - Tendencies within the right that take extremist positions in order to halt the advance of socialism via authoritarian measures. This constitutes the most reactionary factions of the capitalist class who will unhesitatingly resort to fascism, theocracy, and open violence in order to advance their own interests.
UNION - A group of workers organized to further their interests, especially to defend themselves against managers, owners, and bosses. It is the basic unit of organization of the working class. A union local is usually within a specific workplace. "Craft unions" organize workers of a specific type, such as the carpenters' union, while industrial unions organize workers of all types within a specific industry, such as the steelworkers' union. Different union locals affiliate themselves with higher bodies. At the top level in the United States is the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The AFL-CIO should not be confused with a union, as it is a loose federation of unions.
UTOPIA - A fictional society in which everything is perfect. The specifics are dependent upon who is envisioning it.
UTOPIAN SOCIALISM - The first trends of socialism which arose as a response to the perceived injustices of early capitalism. Utopian communities were established during the late 18th and early 19th century but were ultimately unsuccessful. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels saw these failures as a result of their lack of basis in reality. Instead, they argued, the ideas of the utopian socialists should not be seen as some eternal truth that just so happened to come to light when it did but rather as an expression directly responding to the contradictions created by the capitalist system. See also: Scientific socialism
WORKER, or WORKING CLASS - Those who make their living by their work. The working class is a product of the capitalist system, which took people out of the agrarian economy and amassed them into an industrial economy concentrated in urban areas. Quickly under capitalism, the working class becomes the majority of society. Because it is alienated from its work due to the private ownership of the means of production by the capitalists, the working class is oppressed and will only free itself once it becomes sufficiently conscious of its exploitative conditions and abolishes private property in the means of production, thus ushering in a new system of socialism under which it becomes the ruling class.