Communism: An Incomplete Glossary

“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”

I think the definition of terms is an important topic that doesn’t get addressed nearly enough. Without unambiguous definitions, or with incorrect definitions, no discourse can be conducted without the exchange turning into a yelling match. In fact, incorrect definitions caused a huge roadblock for me, and I think for a lot of people, in being pushed further left, specifically with the definition for racism.

This glossary will contain definitions of terms I often see used in online leftist communities. It will constantly be growing and improved upon because I doubt I will remember to define them all correctly first time. There will be many definitions pertaining to intersectional feminism and equality because equality for all is a required precursor to communism.

Enough preamble; onto the glossary!

Accelerationism: The idea that catastrophic events such as total nuclear war will speed up, or be the only thing that can possibly cause, the transition to communism. This pessimistic view is looked down upon in most leftist communities.

AFAB: Assigned Female At Birth. This refers to someone who was told they were female when they were born, whether due to genitals, chromosomes, or other factors.

Agender: An agender person has no gender. Some agender people may decide to identify as non-binary, whilst other agender people may decide to detach themselves from any label pertaining to gender at all (other than the label itself).

Alt-right: A recent wave of far-right politics that rejects mainstream conservatism in the US. The term was coined in 2010. The alt-right have become especially prevalent in the wake of Donald Trump taking office. Many individuals identifying with the alt-right are literal Nazis and fascists, and are the main rival of leftism in recent history. 

AMAB: Assigned Male At Birth. This refers to someone who was told they were male when they were born, whether due to genitals, chromosomes, or other factors.

Anarcho-Communism: One of the two largest schools of thought in current leftist communities about how to establish and maintain communist societies, as contrasted with Marxism-Leninism. Anarcho-communists believe they should bypass the socialist state entirely and instead overthrow the ruling class via a revolution to immediately install communism. Anarcho-communism theory is extensively covered in Peter Kropotkin’s “The Conquest of Bread”. The best exampe of anarcho-communist societies to date is The Free Territory during the Russian revolution and anarchist territories during the Spanish revolution. Some proponents of anarcho-communism believe that Rojava in northern Syria is on the road to anarcho-communism (though it is not yet there). Anarcho-communism is often described as a “libertarian left” ideology, whilst Marxism-Leninism is often described as an “authoritarian left” ideology.

Antifa: Antifa, or anti-fascist action, is a movement dedicated to the opposition of fascist ideologies and practices.

Autarky: The ability for a state to govern itself with no outside help, from trade or otherwise.

Bigotry: Oppression of someone based on some aspect of themselves, whether changeable or not.

The bourgeoisie: The bourgeoisie is one of two classes in capitalist society, alongside the proletariat. The bourgeoisie is the ruling class; it is the class that buys the proletariat’s labour and exploits it, only reimbursing the proletariat with enough money to survive whilst the bourgeoisie reap the products of the proletariat’s labour, hoarding the surplus and existing mainly to increase their own capital.

CAFAB: Coercively Assigned Female At Birth. Refers to someone who may have been classified as intersex, but who was given surgery to force them into being AFAB.

CAMAB: Coercively Assigned Male At Birth. Refers to someone who may have been classified as intersex, but who was given surgery to force them into being AMAB.

Cisgender: A cisgender person, or cis person, refers to someone whose gender identity matches their assignation at birth. For example, an AFAB person whose gender identity is female, or an AMAB person whose gender identity is male.

Class reductionism: The assertion that class (proletarian vs bourgeois) must be abolished before other aspects of one’s identity can possibly be addressed and made equal. This position is frowned upon in most leftist communities.

Communism: A social, political, and economic ideology that advocates for the abolition of the state, currency, private property (not personal property), and the class system, instead replacing it with a society in which there is equality for all, the means of production are publicly owned, and everyone obtains necessities for life for free, according to the maxim “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”. There have been no true communist societies to date; in fact, many previously-existing Marxist-Leninist states only described themselves as working towards socialism, and hence had not even transitioned to the intermediate stage between capitalism and communism yet. The USSR, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have all been described as Marxist-Leninist states (some describing themselves as socialist and some not), whilst the DPRK entirely removed all references to Marxism-Leninism and communism from their Constitution in 2009.

DFAB: Designated Female At Birth. See AFAB. 

Dictatorship of the proletariat: This term does not describe “dictatorship over the proletariat”, as one might expect. A dictatorship of the proletariat refers to a governmental system in which the proletariat has political power, either through a ruling class representing the proletariat, or through a direct democratic system (as opposed to the current representative democracy that exists in most capitalist states). A dictatorship of the proletariat exists in socialist states, but not in communist societies since communist societies will be classless.

DMAB: Designated Male At Birth. See AMAB. 

Fascism: Fascism is a far-right, authoritarian, nationalistic ideology that rejects liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism. Some of fascism’s core tenets are totalitarianism, direct action, “moral hygeine” of youth (or: bigotry), an emphasis on women as childbearers in the home (or: sexism), and the youth as people who have the most potential to grow up to cause change. This ideology has been the main opponent of leftism throughout history. Fascists do not see violence as inherently negative and instead views it as a means to produce national rejuvenation. Fascist states are generally lead by a strong dictator and seek to install autarky through their economic policies. The term is most often used pejoratively, but there are a couple of parties that openly described themselves as fascist, for example Mussolini’s National Fascist Party (where the ideology first surfaced) and his Republican Fascist Party.

Feminism: A movement fighting for equal rights for women in all areas of life.

First-wave feminism: This wave of feminism was the first to exist in the 19th and 20th century. It focused on legal issues, and primarily the right for women to vote (female suffrage).

Gender: The area someone feels they are on the spectrum between masculinity and femininity. There are an infinite amount of genders one can choose to identify as. Each name for a gender is a way of neatly expressing where on that spectrum someone feels they are.

Gender expression: The way someone decides to present themselves in order to be interpreted as male, female, both, or neither.

Gender role: Expected behaviours of people based on their gender expression.

Horseshoe theory: A model of politics that states there are many similarities between far-left and far-right politics. Many leftists believe this model to be inaccurate and largely debunked here.

Identity politics: Politics based on the interests of a specific group of individuals while excluding those not in the specific group. Identity politics is useful as it marks a more concentrated effort for equality, and gives voices to marginalised people who might previously not have voices.

Intersectional feminism: Feminism that incorporates intersectionality, or the notion that overlapping identities come together to make the whole. It is a holistic interpretation of feminism, asserting that people may experience privilege and oppression simultaneously depending on different parts of their identities. Intersectional feminism moves away from the idea that only women must be released from oppression, and instead asserts that all oppressed people should be released from oppression.

Intersex: Someone who is intersex shows a range of characteristics which does not nicely categorise them as either AMAB or AFAB. A person with XXY chromosomes, for example, or someone who has secondary sexual characteristics which do not neatly match the penis / vagina binary, would be intersex. Intersexuality, like sexuality and gender, is a spectrum.

Karl Marx: A Prussian-born philosopher and economist, alive from 1818-1883, who contributed hugely to the popularisation and definition of communism and how to achieve communism from our current capitalist society (although he did not invent communism, only interpreted it). His works include The Communist Manifesto; Capital, Volume I, II, and III; The German Ideology; and Critique of the Gotha Program. Marx also developed historical and dialectical materialism, which are methods of analysing class relations and tensions through history.

The kyriarchy: A more general form of the term “the patriarchy”, it refers to a social system in which non-marginalised groups hold primary power, and are predominate in positions of power, moral authority, etc. Intersectional feminists have adopted this term instead of the term “the patriarchy” in order to avoid a specific, gendered term which may change in the future.

Leftism: Politics that seek to overthrow capitalism and install a new, better economic, political, and social system. Communism is the current dominant ideology of this better system.

Liberalism: In leftist communities, “liberalism” refers to mainstream politics, ranging all the way from progressivism to conservatism. Liberals generally do not seek to overthrow capitalism, though they may sometimes seek to revise it (for example, Bernie Sanders). However, in mainstream conservatism and some far-right communities such as the alt-right, “liberalism” is synonymous with “leftism”.

Marxism: A method of socioeconomic analysis using Marx’s historical and dialectical materialism.

Marxism-Leninism: A combination of Marxism, developed by Karl Marx, and Leninism, developed by Vladimir Lenin, which seeks to found socialist states and develop them further. Marxism-Leninism is one of the two largest schools of thought in current leftist communities about how to establish communism, as contrasted with anarcho-communism. The USSR was a Marxist-Leninist state, as is China and Cuba. In fact, all of the largest socialist states throughout history have been founded on the idea of Marxism-Leninism. The basic idea of Marxism-Leninism is to establish a socialist state as an intermediate state between capitalism and communism with a dictatorship of the proletariat, to eventually be replaced by full classless, stateless, moneyless communism. This ideology is often described as an “authoritarian left” ideology, whilst anarcho-communism is often described as a “libertarian left” ideology.

Misogyny: The use of power to preserve and perpetuate the advantages of men over women.

Misogynoir: The intersection of the oppressions misogyny and racism. Those who experience misogynoir have a different, unique experience than those who experience misogyny or racism specifically.

Nazism: The ideology associated with Nazi Germany. Nazism is a form of fascism incorporating scientific racism and antisemitism.

Neo-pronoun: A newly-coined gender-neutral set of pronouns that is not he / him / himself, she / her / herself, or they / them / their / themself. Some examples are the pronoun sets xe / xem / xyr / xemself or ey / em / eir / emself.

Non-binary: A non-binary person has a gender identity that is neither male nor female.

The patriarchy: A social system in which men hold primary positions of power, and are predominate in positions of leadership, moral authority, etc. The opposite (where women hold primary positions of power) is called a matriarchy, but this has never been unambiguously observed in a society in practice.

Person of Color / Person of Colour: Also known as a POC or a PoC. The most widely acceptable way to refer to all non-white people. Some people think the term should just refer to all groups that are not the dominant group in a given society. However, the most widely accepted definition is the former.

Prejudice: Dislike or distrust of someone based on some aspect of themselves, whether changeable or not.

Privilege: Some advantage bestowed upon a member of society purely on virtue of some aspect of their identity. Privilege occurs due to the systematic oppression that’s so ingrained in capitalist society. Cis men, for example, do not face sexual harrassment on the streets nearly as often as women. White people, for example, are not shot on the streets purely because of their skin colour. Those whose native language is the one most widely spoken in their country of residence, for example, find it much easier to find and keep jobs. These are examples of privilege.

The proletariat: One of the two main classes in capitalist society, alongside the bourgeoisie. The proletariat is the working class; it is the class whose labour is exploited by the ruling class, or the bourgeoisie, in exchange for only enough money necessary for their continued survival and hence work power.

Property: Property is something that belongs to something or someone, whether physical or intangible. Property comes in three forms:

  • Private property: Property owned by non-governmental legal entities. It is most often used in leftism to refer to the privately owned means of production, bought by the bourgeoisie. For example, a toothbrush factory is private property.
  • Personal property: Property that is owned personally by a member of society, unrelated to the means of production. For example, a toothbrush is personal property.
  • Public property: Property owned by a community of people, from which personal property can be produced freely. The means of production in a communist society would be public property.

Racism: The use of power to preserve and perpetuate the advantages of the dominant social identity group.

Rape culture: A society in which rape and sexual assault is trivialised or normalised by the individuals in that society. Australia, Canada, Pakistan, South Africa, the UK, and the US have been described as having a rape culture.

Second-wave feminism: This wave of feminism started in the 1960s and spread throughout Europe until the 1980s. Second wave feminism focused on a wider set of issues, including sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, domestic violence, marital rape and more. Second-wave feminism ended in the 1990s with the debates over the position of porn, sex work, and trans women in the feminist movement. These “feminist sex wars” deeply polarised the feminist movement and marked the beginning of third-wave feminism.

Self-crit: A request for someone to recognise that something they did was wrong and to promise to never do it again. Mods often ask people to self-crit in order to weed out bigots among those making genuine mistakes.

Socialist state: A socialist state was described as the intermediate stage between capitalism and communism by Lenin, and is the equivalent of what Marx described as “lower communism”. Some characteristics of a socialist state are a single ruling party reflecting the desires of the proletariat, a centralised economy, state ownership of the means of production (as a temporary measure before public ownership of the means of production), and sometimes direct democracy (as opposed to the current representative democracy in most capitalist countries).

Systematic oppression: Often referred to simply as “oppression”. Systematic oppression is a term used to describe systems, relations, or behaviours which disadvantage some group or individual.

Tankies: A derogatory term used by anarcho-communists to describe Marxist-Leninists who are excessively authoritarian in their views. Marxist-Leninists who, for example, praise the majority of things Joseph Stalin did whilst in power without considering the atrocities he committed might be described as a tankie.

Third-wave feminism: Third-wave feminism is the current wave of the feminist movement. It began in the 1990s with the feminist sex wars. Some characteristics of third-wave feminism are redefining what it is to be a feminist, intersectionality (see intersectional feminism above), abolishing gender roles and expectations, destruction of rape culture, and more. This wave is more individualistic than previous waves of feminism and encompasses a broad range of ideas, sometimes advocating that the total upheaval of society via a revolution is the only way to achieve true equality.

Transgender: This term has two meanings. The first meaning refers to all non-binary gender identities – an agender person could identify themselves as transgender, for example. The second meaning refers to a person whose gender identity matches the opposite assignation to what they were assigned at birth. A trans woman is AMAB but female, and a trans man is AFAB but male.

Trans man / Transgender man: Someone who is AFAB but whose gender identity is male.

Transphobia: The use of power to preserve and perpetuate the advantages of the dominant gender (cis people).

Transmisogyny: The intersection of the two oppressions transphobia and misogyny. Those who experience transmisogyny have a different, unique experience than those who experience transphobia or misogyny exclusively.

Transmisogynoir: The intersection of the three oppressions transphobia, misogyny, and racism. Those who experience transmisogynoir have a different, unique experience than those who experience transphobia, misogyny, racism, misogynoir, or transmisogyny.

Trans woman / Transgender woman: Someone who is AMAB but whose gender identity is female.

Woman of Color / Woman of Colour: Also known as a WOC or a WoC. The most widely accepted way to refer to a non-white woman. Some people think that the term should refer to all women who are not a part of the dominant social group in a given society, but the most widely-accepted definition is the former.