05
Apr
10

The Political Spectrum

It seems that today whenever a right-wing or conservative pundit wishes to criticize the left they use the buzz word “Socialist”. Socialism is, of course, associated with big government and extensive (and invasive) government control of the general public (à la George Orwell’s 1984). Now the issue of simply calling something one doesn’t like about the political left “Socialist” (whether or not said something is actually Socialist or not) is that people have a basic misunderstanding of the socio-politico-economic spectrum. Just take this video by conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck, for example.

As you can see in the opening of the video, there’s a common misconception about the relationship between Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism. Despite the fact that Communism is often portrayed as a more authoritarian version of Socialism, the reality of the situation is that Communism is as detached from Socialism as it is from Capitalism. While both Socialism and Communism reject the Capitalist tenet of private property, Socialism espouses the concept of state property and Communism calls for the institution of public property. Allow me to illustrate.

In a Capitalist world everything is owned privately. “Item X” belongs to you and only you and cannot be taken away from you unless you give it away or trade for something better (though considering the purpose of Capitalism is to get as much “Item X” as possible, it isn’t very likely that you’d just hand it off). In a Socialist world everything would be owned by the state. “Item X” does not belong to you but to the government and only the government and how much you get of it is purely at the whim of the politicians. In a Communist world nothing belongs to anybody (or rather, everything belongs to everybody). “Item X” belongs to you as much as it does to your neighbors and must therefore be shared equally.

Now to this one might argue that while Socialism may advocate state property and Communism may demand public property, since both wish to bring about massive government control the results are the same. Again, the issue with reducing the political spectrum to a linear graph is that political control and economic control simply aren’t the same thing. You can have massive government and state property (Socialism) or massive government and Capitalism (Fascism) or no state control and Capitalism (Objectivism/Libertarianism/Anarcho-Capitalism/etc.) or not state control and public property (Communism/Anarchism/Anarcho-Communism/etc.) or anything in between.

In short, while making the connection between Socialism and Communism is a common mistake, it has be understood that it’s a mistake nonetheless, and only serves in propagating a false understanding not only of Socialism and Communism, but of Capitalism as well.

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2 Responses to “The Political Spectrum”


  1. April 5, 2010 at 4:40 am

    Thank you for clarifying a distinction that is often ignored and misunderstood not only by the news media, but by many citizens that utilize the news media as its only source of political education. Nonetheless, I think that you, too, may have oversimplified one of your points. In your parenthetical remark about capitalism, you say: “though considering the purpose of Capitalism is to get as much “Item X” as possible, it isn’t very likely that you’d just hand it off.” This isn’t true in almost every case when dealing with rational and average human beings. People are normally willing to sacrifice parts of their personal property to assure that they have personal protection and fundamental services from the government, i.e. one of the basic tenets of Hobbes’s Leviathan. Capitalism isn’t just a selfish free-for-all, which is how the lines between the three systems can become blurred. Ultimately these blurry lines are probably to blame for the common misconceptions of what each of the three systems really is.

    • 2 trotskyite
      April 5, 2010 at 4:26 pm

      What I was going for with my “Capitalism/’Item X'” bit was that in Capitalism there isn’t likely to be a whole lot of charitable exchange of property (there is some, but now a lot). Sorry that it wasn’t clear and thanks for pointing it out to me.


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