Why People Call Left-Wingers “Commies”
On Socialism vs. Communism vs. left-wing and Insults: Communism is a very specific form of socialism, some forms of socialism are fairly mundane, and most figures in the American mainstream who identify as a type of socialist don’t identify as a communist. Meanwhile, most on the left in America don’t identify as socialists at all and just identify as liberal or social liberal. Further, even the communist manifesto makes a point to discuss how it is not like the other forms of socialism (those who bother to read the short work will know there is a whole chapter on it)! Still, terms like socialist, socialized medicine, etc are used as insult terms by the right alongside and interchangeably with communist. Since I want to cover a core point, I am going to include these terms at time to make the overarching point.
How to Understand this Page
Before we cover “why right-wingers call left-wingers communists as an insult,” let’s cover a few notes and better frame the topic we are addressing:
- This page isn’t anti-right or pro-left (nor is it anti-left or pro-right). I’m very sure the page will trigger people, but that isn’t the point. Comments are welcome.
- This page isn’t about “why the left is communist” it is about “why the right calls the left communist as an insult.” These are two very different topics. I won’t try to prove that the left is or isn’t here.
- There are different types of right-wingers (and left-wingers). There is, from a broad perspective the classical left (the classical liberal essentially) and the social left (the social left). In general, the insult “commie” is speaking to the populist left-wing socially liberal sentiment of the social left… aka “progressives” (and more broadly to the pro-social welfare, pro-social justice, and internationalist planks of the left in general). It is not implying that the common centered liberal who believes in the basic concepts of liberty and equality are commies. The implication is that the affirmative action, tax the rich, welfare programs for all sentiment is communist. The American left often views themselves as being for liberty and equality – full stop – (favoring social welfare and justice policies, sometimes above individual freedom; i.e. favoring collective liberty and equality over individual liberty and equality). This is not what the right is referring to when they call the left communist…. or at least, giving people the benefit of the doubt, I would argue the aforementioned is the case (we all know sometimes these insults are thrown around with far less thought).
- This page isn’t about what people think about themselves or what they claim their rhetoric means. This page is about how the right perceives the left (not how the left perceives themselves).
- This page was going to address why the left calls the right “fascists” too (that being the equal and opposite insult in many ways). However, I decided to create two separate pages, so in times when the term fascists is being thrown around a lot, that page can be a resource, and in times when terms like socialist and commie are thrown around a lot, this page can be a resource. See Why People Call Right-Wingers “Fascists” for the equal opposite argument.
- Communism grew out of socialism, but it is a unique evolution of socialism that many consider far-left. Socialism is generally just the social liberal evolution of liberalism with a focus on social justice, social welfare, workers rights, etc. It, in simple terms, cherishes liberty and equality, but often puts equality before liberty and the collective before the individual. However, some extreme forms of socialism exist, we have on the far-right National Socialism (this nativist, nationalist, ideology that wants socialism for the in-group; thus it mashes traditional and social conservatism up with socialism) and on the far-left Communism (which calls upon the workers to seize the means of production and in practice has often ended up being militant and authoritarian).
For those who don’t want to read, the videos below should give you the gist of why the right calls the left communist as an insult. The first video is a fun video on Marx and Engels which if you aren’t careful might actually teach you a few things about the historical evolution social structures and economics, the second is a video about Communism in America which helps explain the slippery slope that the critics of communism rightful are fearful of.
Simply, the charge is that what is happening today (what we might call the progressive activism of the populist left) is the same thing we’ve seen before when subsections of American supported the Soviets in the past (just like the America first right supported the fascists in the old days)… but that doesn’t mean the full extent of what is being done in practice is really comparable, because let’s be honest, it is not.
Stalin’s Russia [for example] was way worse than anything we see from leaders in the west in-action today (with very few, if no exceptions).
TIP: Nationalism can be great (everyone loves a good patriot), and socialism can be too (show me a person who would give up their social security check or Medicare plan), but if you mash them up the wrong way and try to enforce your values with an iron fist, you can get something like NAZIism. Likewise, a little state planning can be good, but absolutist state control can look like Stalin’s Russia. When people see Trump’s nationalism and wall building, or when they see AOC’s calls for very high taxes on the wealthy, the red flags come out, and the insults fly. There is some justice in that… however, sometimes the insults come out no matter how mundane an action is. For example, at times it seems that anything the right or left does is fascist or communist according to the other.When America Feared A Communist Takeover. Seeing Red – in America.
“What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers.” – The Communist Manifesto
NOTE: See that quote above, if you are part of the capitalist bourgeoisie or identify with them (most right wingers in America; the Reagan era kind at least), then the idea that capitalism breeds the inequality that leads to its own downfall as wealth is concentrated in few-and-fewer hands, leading to a giant angry mob of alienated workers who itch for a revolution… is likely off putting (see: why the American Republican right in general doesn’t like unions organizing).
A List of Reasons The Socially Liberal Left-Wing Gets Called Communist
To understand why the social left gets called communist (or at times simply socialist), one must understand the planks of communism and socialism in all its forms. So let’s cover each plank and note why the right gets accused of sharing planks with communism.
The Planks of Socialism and Communism
Although socialism comes in different forms, and although each form has its own specific attributes (for example Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Chavez, and Xi have very little in common on some levels, and nor do their regimes in practice ), the following qualities can be said to define socialism and communism in general (I’ll denote when a plank is specific to communism only):
Anti-Religion (or Open to All Religions): Socialism is generally open to all religions, but Communism tends to be atheist and replaces traditional religion with the civil religion of the state. Thus, atheists and progressives who are open to all religions, might be met with the socialist / communist insult.
Pro Social Equality and Social Rights: In general all forms of socialism are pro social equality and social rights (rights of women, allowing abortion, etc). That said, the lines blur in some forms of communism where certain things start to not be allowed. A communist nation may end up being anti-LGBTC, anti-abortion, or anti-immigration in practice as total equality of all gives way to nationalism in a socialist or communist state.
Pro-immigration and Internationalist: Socialism is generally a globalist, internationalist, and pro immigrant ideology. That said, again, some forms of socialism are nationalist and end up excluding these planks.
Pro-Worker, Pro-Union, and Pro-Organizing: On paper, substantially all socialist movements are pro-worker and pro-union. Because Communism calls for a workers’ revolution, workers organizing in unions goes hand-in-hand with communism at least in message. People who put workers above the capitalist and support organizing are ripe picking for the socialist and communist insults.
Pro-social Programs and the distribution of wealth for all citizens: In general all forms of socialism are for social programs and distribution of wealth (for example via a tax system) for all citizens. In practice, we can point to many socialist and communist states that excluded groups or retained classism.
Favoring the Ideology of Social Liberals and Socialists: From Marx, to FDR, to Rousseau, to Keynes. That is, from the revolutionary to the mundane, favoring the social liberal and socialist politicians, philosophers, and/or economists is a general mark of a social liberal, socialist, or even communist (although the communists tend to be strict in the doctrines they follow).
Opposition to Oligarchy and in some cases democracy: Communists do not favor democracy, but most social liberal and many socialists do. In the modern west most on the left want social democracy, but many have a bone to pick with oligarchy. Reality is the spectrum is spanned here, still, if you favor the state to get things done, and when those things favor the plebs over the patricians… you are likely going to be called a communist.
Strong Support for Political and Cultural Liberalism: Although communists tend to be less liberal in practice, in general there is a strong support for both political correctness and cultural liberalism (think all races, religions, LGBT, etc holding hands and having a parade to celebrate transgender bathrooms).
Opposition to the Traditional Ruling Class (both the Elite Left and Right): Although the establishment social liberal doesn’t actually want this, and although most communist nations have a wealthy ruling class, on paper socialism is pro common man and not elite.
Statism: Communists often end up with a totalitarian state in practice. But the reality is, although we can frame the use of government as a necessary evil on the way to liberty and equality, a big drawback of socialism is the need to enforce itself with the state. Slippery slope. Also fodder for insults.
Pro-intellectualism: Progressives very much approve of intellectualism. It is expected and favored to be smart… however, there is also a pro-worker message, where the archetype of say a miner is not also the archetype of savant. Still, socialism tends to be pro-intellectual on paper.
Favoring of Class Equality: Class equality is on paper essentially the foundation of socialism. If you call for it, especially material equality, you will be labeled a communist by at least one person in the room.
Collectivism: Both the communists and fascists were populist collectivist movements that rejected the ruling elite liberal and conservative order of their day. Fascism is right-wing collectivism, communism is left-wing collectivism.
Conformity: In general the social left demands conformity to its values. While it allows extreme amounts of liberalism within those rule-sets, it has its own rules that must be adhered to. For example, in mundane socialism, you must use the correct pronoun to refer to a person, but a person can choose which pronoun they are meant to be referred to as. For example, in more authoritarian forms of communism, you must adhere to the state civil religion or you risk punishment (for example, you cannot safely be a capitalist Christian and be a Chinese celebrity).
The Gambit of Anti-War to Imperialism and Military Values: In general socialism is anti-war. However, some sects, and many communists in practice, end up being militant if not imperial. You’ll likely get called a commie for being an anti-war hippie, but you’ll also likely be called a commie for marching with antifa, and honestly if you march with a communist army… then the term commie really only makes sense.
Idealization of the Common man (the Demonization of the Rich): Lifting up the common worker as a sort of deity on paper is a tenant of socialism, the poor and working class are deitized, the rich are demonized.
Glorification of Femininity (Pro-Feminist): If the left and right were archetypes, in my opinion they would be feminine (left) and masculine (right) respectively. Read this essay and see what I mean. The fascists of any era tend to be overly masculine, they almost worship the male archetype, socialists and communists are in many ways the antithesis… they tend to champion the liberation and empowerment of women (at least in message).
State planning: State planning is a foundation of communism. Anytime you put power in the state as opposed to the individual, you risk being called a socialist.
Non-Violence (on paper): Where fascism is all about violence, most forms of socialism favor debate over swords. That said, communism in practice, revolutionary socialism, antifa, etc… lots of leftist are violent in-action in-practice.
The use of Propaganda: One thing the far left and right have in common, and honestly most political ideologies have in common, is propaganda. That said, the Communists were famous for their propaganda.
For more reading: See “Socialism” from the Encyclopedia Britannica for detailed articles on each point. The reality is there are many, many, many different forms of socialism. Some are utopian and completely non-violent, some are traditionally American and capitalist and just care about social justice, and somePost-WW2 Anti-Fascist Educational Film | Don’t Be a Sucker | 1947.