Labels and Definitions

By Maury Marcus

In recent years, traditional labels or political or economic ideology have been used inaccurately and recklessly without regard for their accepted meanings or historical context. We were told that President Barack Obama was a socialist, Marxist, Mau-Mau, Muslim, Fascist, Communist and [anti-white] racist fanatic.

Each of these separately was false. Together, they were ridiculous. One term that has been bandied about with abandon is “socialist”. But there seems to be no consensus about the meaning of the word. Four definitions are currently operative in American politics:

• “State Socialism” means government ownership of economic enterprises. This is the classic definition of socialism. It is the dictionary definition. Few democracies have tried this. During the post-WWII era, Britain nationalized the steel and coal industries, with dismal results. During his last year in office, President George W. Bush nationalized the major banks. He justified this act by claiming it was needed to prevent financial catastrophe. Many in both parties feel he was right. His action was a temporary measure, but it was socialism.

• “Democratic Socialism” is the label that Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez apply to the set of policies that they espouse. However, more accurate labels exist for this set of policies: “Progressive Capitalism” or “Steroidal Liberalism”. We should note that Europeans would call this set of policies “Social Democracy”.

• “SOCIALISM!!!” (always pronounced with clenched teeth and raised clenched fists) means anything Republicans do not like.

• “National Socialism” (NAtional soZIalismus) was an ideology which was dominant in Germany between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945. This ideology embraced the idea of German racial supremacy which posited Germans as a master race, entitled to dominate all other races in the world. It was not popular with Germany’s neighbors. It had nothing to do with any form of economic socialism. One Republican member of Congress called President Obama a National Socialist. However, Obama does not appear to be a German racial supremacist.

This leads us to what labels we should apply to contemporary American politics. Here are four possibilities.

The left wing of the Democratic Party is most accurately described as Social Democratic. These policies actually align with parties of the moderate right in other democracies. For example: Canadian Conservatives, British Tories, French Gaullists, and German Christian Democrats all support single-payer health insurance; this and other concepts should never be called “socialist.” There is no groundswell for any form of socialism, accurately defined, in America. There is support for extensive government action on human equality, working class prosperity, and ecological defense, but these issues do not comprise socialism.

The center-left wing of the Democratic Party can be defined as Progressive Capitalist. This group has two cheers for the productivity of capitalism, but feels that truly free markets require governance by the rule of law; public investment in infrastructure, education, and research; and a comprehensive working-class safety net. On healthcare finance, Progressive Capitalists care not whether the provision is public or private — only that it exists, it has minimal overhead, it does not excuse any denial of coverage, and it does not levy exorbitant costs on working people.

The center-right wing of the Republican Party is a faction that worships total market anarchy as a utopian ideal. They are best called Conservative Capitalists. An employer may provide healthcare finance and other benefits to employees at his discretion. Employees should humbly accept whatever crumbs are tossed at them.

The far right wing of the Republican Party existed before Donald J. Trump and will exist after him. It suffers from a multitude of prejudices and phobias. It has hid behind the Conservative Capitalist wing for decades and used ConCap rhetoric to hide its dark purposes. Trump has done the nation a service by bringing this wing out of hiding. It has no real philosophy. It has nothing to sell but fear itself.

Therefore, we may define a new term to describe its set of attitudes – “Phobism”, meaning fear or phobia as an ideology.

SocDems, ProgCaps, and ConCaps can negotiate with each other and find workable solutions to our nation’s problems. But Phobists deserve total political destruction.

Comments 8

  1. All fine and dandy. But all these variegated categories are tough on my pea-sized brain. I prefer to stay away from labels and concentrate on issues, goals, objectives, etc.

  2. I ended up leaving Facebook entirely, in part because of viscous personal attacks from fellow Democrats (now ex-friends) who felt I didn’t meet their definition of a true believer. And I’m damned liberal, but still center-left. If we lose the next election it will be because social democrats like the Bernie Bros refuse to support another nominee who isn’t perfect in their eyes.

    They foolishly fell for the same propaganda and outright lies spread by the Russians and right-wing Republicans. I would have held my nose and voted for Sanders if he had been our nominee, even though he wasn’t a loyal Democrat or even really a member of our party. I hope the true believers out there intend to unify with the rest of us to defeat Trump and his racist bigoted base. If not our party and our country are doomed.

  3. Very interesting article. I was in college in the late 60s and was familiar with the far left movement. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) among them, the Black Panthers, and Abby Hoffman and company. The GOP strategy is to use fear– fear of commies, minorities, “socialists” (code word for commie). Now days, they can’t use the N word, so need code words.

    My take on the big barrier for the Dems to win is whether the strident ideologues among us will be willing to support and vote for the Dem candidate. My recollection is that one of the reasons Humphrey lost was that the left wing folks thought he was too middle of the road. So we got Nixon. With the right wing ideologues, it is their way or the highway. My guess is that eventually the GOP will fracture due to a minority’s continuing efforts to control the party. My hope is that this won’t happen to the Dems. Some people don’t realize that you will never get everything you want in politics. That is not the way it works and taking an attitude of all or nothing will result in you getting zero and being left out of the process. I can guarantee you that so long as humans are on the face of the earth, there will always be paranoia, prejudice and other primitive emotions. That’s my rant on things.

  4. I find nothing to object to in this well-written and accurate summary. Unusual to see nothing in such writings that I find inaccurate. One thing that I feel is missing is the obvious (to me) tie between socialism and Christianity found in the teachings of Jesus. NOT in the christianity espoused by the evangelical wing (nuts). Thank you for such a thorough and well-presented summary of the major political philosophies of our unfortunate time.

  5. I believe that we are focusing on definitions of the various kinds of socialism which often heavily disagree, and are paying too much attention to the idea of “loyalty” to a Party, since political parties all have many views within them, and since definitions of socialism, if we consider the word historically, have rendered the word almost meaningless (this according to Noam Chompsky). Our loyalties should be to what we have decided within ourselves to be best for our country and our world. In reading the Democratic Socialist page here:, I have noted that they seem to blend the democratic socialist label with the social democratic agendas. Having a general belief in some approach to politics, no matter what that is, demands a practical application in our current times. For instance: my view is that the voices of what are in the USA often called Church, State, Business, and Media, can also be seen as the voices of empathy, objectivity, trade, and art, which are all precious and must have full freedom to express themselves. But there are problems in each of those departments of our social voices and they desperately need to be more true to their purposes which cannot be fulfilled in practice without good communication between them all. Free trade means to me that no one is left unreasonably out of the game and to make that a reality we need all the other voices to help and educate our trading practices, or else, it isn’t actually “free trade” but some kind of unnecessary repression of basic human rights. The test of how well we integrate all these voices, which can also be seen as virtues of a sort, is the general health of human beings physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. To this end I try to be practical and to not give in to the current world wide neurosis that seems to elevate greed for a few over the needs of the many. I am comfortable with the term democratic socialism in its current definition found on the page cited here. But I don’t feel that we can fix anything without efficient activism for human rights. This is why I am fully comfortable in the Democrat Party, while still advocating a stance that leads in practical ways to real progress. Hating new members to the Democratic Party of any stripe doesn’t seem like a winning strategy for our Party. I fully accept and do support Bernie Sanders as a Democrat as he is all about human rights and health. Those who don’t measure up to what he is demanding in terms of change are not my choice, but I will as mentioned above, hold my nose and vote for the eventual candidate as to do otherwise gives ground to a Party that even Ronald Reagan would have trouble fitting in, and he was the one who inspired me to become registered to vote and become a life long Democrat. No matter who wins, some of us may be “holding our noses” but that is politics. Meanwhile, as another mentioned above, higher goals, and practical actions to fulfill them, trump all definitions, and disgust with Trump should make us all cheer when any Democrat anywhere is elected. However, this too has to be nuanced, as sometimes, not often, we may end up with a candidate even worse for a specific job than the Republicans. My answer to this is to be a yellow dog democrat, because I can always get rid of our bad choice in the next primaries, and even a dog is better than a Republican for office, because the dog isn’t going into office determined to enslave me to the greed of a few. Meanwhile there will always be a cheer we can utter when any Democrat wins, as long as we also remember that we as a progressive political party aren’t blind loyalists to what our Party once was, but to the better Party it can be. My long time goal for our Party on the practical side is to get emotional intelligence/social intelligence classes in all public schools, along with an emphasis on what helps kids find the joy of learning instead of the fear of a test.

    In Solidarity,
    Mitch (a full supporter of Bernie Sanders for President)
    (I was lazy, this was a first draft, feel free to edit it Mike.)

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