Skip to content
Inside Beat

No, Democrats aren't communists: political spectrum 101

Although U.S. politics operate under a "conservative versus liberal" paradigm, there are actually many political leanings that fall within this binary.  – Photo by Pixy.org

GameStop stock trends have surprised and confused people across the country. Yet, what seemed to be even more surprising about the situation was seeing staunch conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) agree with one of the Left’s most famous progressives: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

These congresspeople have the same goal in elected office (which is, of course, representing the citizens who elected them), so why were we so shocked to see them agree on something?

Maybe it’s because we see them on totally different sides of the political spectrum. 

Although the Democratic and Republican parties correspond closely with liberal and conservative ideologies, respectively (it wasn’t always this way, but that’s a history lesson for another time), with the intense political polarization in our country, we tend to label the opposite party at extremes (with former President Donald J. Trump routinely referring to the Left as "communist").

In reality, though, the Democrats and Republicans are actually much closer on the spectrum than we would think.

A lot of misunderstandings and mislabeling in American politics is fundamentally rooted in a lack of understanding of this spectrum and who really falls where. So I'm here to break it down for you.

Let’s start with breaking down the Left-wing of the political spectrum. This wing ranges from liberalism (most moderate) to communism (most progressive). Although ideologies on the Left are far from homogenous, a dedication to progress is a common theme throughout all of them. 

Communism

In February 2019, Fox News said that Ocasio-Cortez’s planned staff salaries amounted to "socialism and communism on display." But is paying your staff a living wage really equivalent to communism?

Communism, a political and economic doctrine that is attributed to Karl Marx, aims to replace private property and a profit-based economy with public ownership and communal control (of means of production and natural resources), according to History. Although communism is often considered a more advanced form of socialism, there are significant differences between the two.

Socialism

Socialism, unlike communism, still allows for people to own private property, according to History. Industrial production — which would be under the complete control of the people under communism — is managed by a democratically elected government in a socialist system.

Another main difference is that while communism seeks to overthrow the rich, socialism seeks to reform society through existing democratic practices. Socialists don't believe that individuals should work in isolation, and instead, believe they should function in cooperation, according to Encyclopædia Britannica.

This central tenant puts socialism in opposition to capitalism since socialists complain that capitalism leads to exploitative concentrations of wealth in the hands of the privileged few who will use this power to reinforce their dominance in society, according to Encyclopædia Britannica.

In essence, socialism is a less intense version of communism, but it rewards individual effort. 

Liberalism

Democrats often shy away from the "l-word" to avoid being viewed as radicals. But what does liberalism as an ideology really support? Liberalism, although the political label has significantly changed in American politics, is fundamentally about protecting the rights of the individual by supporting government and regulating capitalism, according to Encyclopædia Britannica.

This idea differs depending on what area of the world you are from, according to Encyclopædia Britannica. American liberalism is associated with the welfare-state policies of the New Deal under the administration of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This era saw reforms in industry, agriculture, finance, water power, labor and housing — all of which helped to lift America out of the Great Depression.

Liberalism in Europe, on the other hand, is more in-line with limited government and laissez-faire economic policies. 

Now that we’ve talked about the Left, let’s skip over the moderates in the middle and focus on the Right-wing of the political spectrum. This wing ranges from conservatism to fascism, but among all leanings, there is a common theme of preserving traditional values.

Conservatism 

In the U.S., conservatives are viewed as diametrically opposed to liberals. Conservatism is a political ideology that promotes the importance of traditional beliefs and institutions.

The fundamental aim of conservatism is to preserve the social order and conserve long-standing political arrangements. Some of the most popular pillars include low taxes, small government, a strong military and traditional social values, according to The Washington Post. If you want to learn more, I would recommend checking out this article.

Libertarianism 

Libertarianism firmly believes that individual liberty is the key to a free society, and it may even be understood as a form of liberalism. This is a type of system which is considered liberal when it comes to personal freedoms but conservative about economic issues.

Conservative and libertarian rhetoric on some topics, especially financial ones, sound very similar. But, compared to conservatives, libertarians are far more strict about issues like gun control. While libertarians and conservatives are likely to share a value system based on individual freedom, libertarians view conservatives as too willing to compromise this value system.

I’ve grouped them farther on the right than conservatives due to the apparent “libertarian to alt-right pipeline.” People who start as ordinary libertarians wind up closer to tiki torch-wielding Charlottesville demonstrators. It’s a long explanation, so I’d recommend checking out this article.

Fascism

Fascism is an ideology that chills the blood of every American student who has learned about World War II. Associated with Adolf Hitler and the heinous acts he was able to commit, fascism is understood to be dangerous.

In summary, “fascism is a movement that promotes the idea of a forcibly monolithic, regimented nation under the control of an autocratic ruler,” according to Time Magazine.  

In this system, anything that is seen as dangerous to national unity has to be done away with violently, as violence is seen as beneficial to society and necessary for maintaining social order.

While this list attempts to be fair to all sides of the political spectrum, I will end this section by echoing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s thoughts on the matter: "Fascism is a disease."

Now that we’ve gone through a simplified version of the political spectrum (yes, I know I skipped over the Marxists and the Democratic Socialists, etc. — forgive me), you’ll be able to roll your eyes with confidence the next time someone calls your favorite Democrat a communist. But, hopefully, this list has encouraged you to look beyond the Democratic and Republican binary that categorizes our national politics.


Join our newsletterSubscribe