When looking at the opposites of socialism, it was pointed out that democracy is an opposite.

If socialism is a system advocating that the means of production and distribution be owned or regulated by the community as a whole, surely this is a democratic system of control?

Please note that there is a difference between socialism and communism which was followed by USSR and still followed in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba https://www.history.com/news/socialism-communism-differences

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    It can be. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_socialism Many Western democracies can be described as socialist democracies, or influenced by democratic socialist ideas. The anti-democratic associations of the word have to do with single-party regimes such as the USSR, which did not have free elections. Although perhaps this has more to do with single-party regimes than with socialism.
    – causative
    Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 4:48
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    this is not a political forum. Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 13:18
  • Ethics is the effort to identify the good and how one should act to cause the good. I think it is good for each person to have the option to own their own tools and machinery as the means of production. That means the right to exclude others from the use and enjoyment of items that are covered by property rights under the rules of law. Socialism makes it illegal to own tools and machinery of production as private property which means a democratic dispute can erupt at any time over who controls the means of production in society. Furthermore if 51% vote with me it ends socialism. Commented Nov 23, 2023 at 16:39
  • @user76284 Denmark for example has been led by the Social Democrat party for much of the 20th century, resulting in a strong welfare state.
    – causative
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 8:39
  • @causative Denmark describes itself as a free-market capitalist economy. The Danish PM even rebuked Bernie Sanders with the following: "I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy."
    – user76284
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 17:44

5 Answers 5


It's a common misconception to think the terms socialism and communism were not used as terms before Marx and Engels. They were. It's even more common to think they gave them clear unambiguous definitions, at least in their work. They didn't, but used a number of terms interchangeably.

For people in the USA, the terms are defined by their use by the Soviets, in particular the fudge Lenin introduced to paper over the Soviet states not being ready for communism by Marx's analysis, so introducing what is now called Leninism to fulfil the prescribed intermediate development stage.

Meanwhile in Europe, socialism continued to be associated with cooperatives like The Co-operative Group and Mondragon, and the socialisation of industries like socialised healthcare public ownership of essential services like water power and trains, and enhanced government welfare provision. Socialism never became the dirty word in Europe that it did in the USA, especially because of 'red scare' era McCarthyism, because in Europe we know socialism emerged developed (eg the Nordic model) and continues to work well in many areas, totally separate to Marx's thought. For example: "77% of the public believe the NHS should be maintained in its current form. This level of support has remained consistent over almost two decades despite widespread social, economic and political change. Around 90% of people support the founding principles of the NHS, indicating that these principles are just as relevant today as when the NHS was established." 1. For comparison, in the USA 26% approve of the current system of healthcare provision 2.

Democracy also is not one thing. For Ancient Athenians, it meant direct rule by the demos; males born into citizenship who had completed military service. It involved submitting to calls to partake in sortition, representative groups of citizens required to sit as juries to hear submissions about an issue before coming to a decision. Modern democracies are only like this when holding referendums, and undertaking Citizen Assemblies a type of sortition being trialled for contentious issues like abortion in the Republic of Ireland. Athens also chose officials from the demos by lot. And had public ballots, making it easy to buy votes and check the bribe worked.

Representative democracy has generally been found to be far more effective and stable than direct democracy. Plato and Aristotle were deeply sceptical about direct democracy, seeing it as mob rule. In general terms as understood now, demicracy is more the premise, of the sovereignty of the people through secret ballots, rather than specific methods or mechanisms. Strong institutions, habeus corpus, division of powers, and good quality universal education, are increasingly understood to be essential steps to making democracy work, as democracy has been spread around the world like it will fix all problems.

Socialism is primarily an economic framing, about collective ownership of businesses, collective decision making and mutualised risk. Lenin used the term, but that is more accurately called Leninism.

Democracy is primarily about decision making, and that the final arbiter of decision making and legitimacy rests with the people as whole, or those meeting criteria of being 'stakeholders'.

It doesn't make sense to call them opposites, they don't sit on the same spectrum. Instead they are descriptions about ownership, and sovereignty respectively.

Kingsfund 'What does the public think about the NHS?' report.

Increasing share of Americans favor a single government program to provide health care coverage


Marxist theory deals with political-economies; democracy is a simple political decision-making system with no entailed economic connection. When Marxists think about democracy they think about the underlying socioeconomic structures which democratic systems are lain over and above, because they believe the socioeconomic structures are what drive the system as a whole. Democracy is a feature that might or might not be a part of socialist or capitalist societies, and is not the opposite of any of them.

I'm not certain that it's appropriate to talk about the 'opposite' of socialism, because I don't believe we can talk about political economies in simple linear (left-right) terms. However, I think it's safe to say that the inverse of a (non-dysfunctional) socialist system would be a (non-dysfunctional) oligarchy or autocracy. Specifically, socialism tries to spread economic power across as wide a range of the population as possible, on the grounds that this will ultimately remove class distinctions and prevent political and social oppression. Oligarchies and certain autocracies concentrate economic power in the hands of a few and strengthen class distinctions, on the grounds that the increased efficiency of concentrated wealth will improve economic conditions even for the disempowered and oppressed lower classes.

Socialism doesn't need to be democratic in the normal sense of the term. For instance, syndicalism in its fullest form vests power in syndics — essentially trade union bosses — who may be chosen by a number of non-democratic means (e.g., by lottery — sortition — from among union members).


This is a political philosophy question. There is a difference between democratic socialism and communism, or Marxist-Leninism. Socialism is essentially democratic and internationalist. But it can be supplanted by authoritarianism and nationalism. Currently, democratic socialism has accommodated itself within the capitalist system and promotes reform and regulation rather than revolution. If socialism has an opposite, I would say that it is libertarianism. There is substantial overlap between socialism and liberalism.


Well, the answer is both yes and no.

The primary aim of Socialism is to dramatically restructure a country's economic system whereby the poor, the downtrodden and the economically disenfranchised, have greater access to capital through a massively high taxation policy on a country's wealthiest class. In doing so, The Government, becomes The Primary Enterpriser and Ultimate Monopoly, thereby CRUSHING any form of external competition.

However, the "redistribution of wealth", is somewhat democratic, whereby the economic stratification between classes is reduced and the near equal distribution of wealth is enacted through high taxation policies. The democratic virtue of Equality-(or near Equality), is the main aim of Socialism, even if it means a greater consolidation and Centralization of State Power. But, it is this concern regarding the greater consolidation and Centralization of State Power that makes Socialism, only partially democratic and NOT Universally democratic.

If the State has unlimited or near unlimited economic Power, then it has the capacity to prevent or minimize competition. This is typically referred to as a "Monopoly", which by its very name, signifies an anti-democratic and even perhaps a more totalitarian/absolutist sounding meaning.

For example, a Pan-Socialistic economy-(which is NOT to be confused with hybrid Socialistic economies, such as the Scandinavian countries), does NOT allow for the Right to Enterprise or to Corporatize. Why would it? Again, if the Government is the Sole Enterprising Force within a particular country, then ALL of its Industries and the ENTIRETY of its economy, is Governmentally regulated. Therefore, there are NO businesses-(this would include Fortune 500 Companies, small businesses and yes, even lemonade stands!). If a person or group of persons has a knack for enterprising or generating Capital, then he or she would be viewed as an oddity, an outsider, an outcast and an untrustworthy member of that particular Pan-Socialistic country.

The same is true for the Right to Invest. In a Pan-Socialistic country, there is NO Stock Market, no corporations or businesses to invest in, no trading opportunities, no Commodities market, no opportunities to buy and sell real estate-(both residential and commercial), no Hedge Funds, No Brokerage Houses, No Investment Banks, no Venture Capital Firms and yes, NO Las Vegas and NO Atlantic City. All of these individual and institutional Investors, would NOT exist in a Pan-Socialistic country and like the above Enterprising/Corporatizing example, they too, would be viewed as outcasts or oddities within a Pan-Socialistic country.

Pan-Socialism-(again, not to be confused with Scandinavian style Socialism), does not view Capital as a means for great potential and wealth building; it views Capital, as a means for fulfilling near economic equality and achieving social justice.....a type or righting of the wrongs and a redressing of economic grievances-(so to speak). Pan-Socialistic economies emphasize the democratic values of Equality and Communalism through The Statewide readjustment of Capital, whereas Capitalistic economies emphasize the democratic values of individuality, liberty and personal achievements through the availability, enterprising, corporatizing and investing of Capital.

In a way, there are two types of Socialism; the hybrid and the Universal.

The Hybrid style of Socialism, emphasizes equality and communalism for many of its citizens, though does allow for a smaller number of its citizens the right to enterprise, corporatize and invest. In doing so, this Capitalistic class within a hybrid Socialistic country, essentially subsidizes a sizable portion of the State's revenue which compensates for many of the Social, Communalistic programs that it wishes to implement as a way of assisting the economically disenfranchised.

The Universal style of Socialism-(or Pan-Socialism), restricts any opportunities for its individual citizens to generate capital and wealth. In doing so, its State revenues tend to lag behind the more advanced capitalistic countries in terms of overall productivity/GDP, commerce/trade, international investment, currency valuation, stabilization of interest rates and overall cost of living, the insuring of its banking system and national worth.

So while Socialism attempts to democratize its economies, it is also simultaneously restricting some of its individual citizens from having the freedom to utilize, as well as hone, their economic and financial talents. These (often draconian and draconian-like) restrictions, when IMPOSED on the citizenry, are NOT exactly, the best examples of democratic policymaking.....(at least from the Individualistic, Pro-Liberty perspective).


In theory, socialism just means that the means of productions are not in private hands but in the hands of society, so socialism is not incompatible with a democratic government. In practice however, socialism always degenerates into rule by a small number of people who use their power to extract wealth, and leave everyone else in poverty.

The reasons are obvious if you think about it. The means of production have to be controlled by an individual or a small committee. Whoever controls them will have enormous power. Even assuming that you have good people in charge in the beginning, that power will be the target of all of the most ambitious, least moral people, so eventually some of those people will get the power. They will ally with anyone else in power (say the police commanders and military commanders) to extract wealth for themselves at the expense of everyone else. This has happened in every country that eliminated private means of production.

Something similar happens when the means of production are in private hands, but it seems to be less pernicious. That is, the most ambitious, least moral people rise to become the CEOs of huge corporations, but they don't have as much power as they would have if they were the government. The government can enforce laws against private companies such as anti-monopoly laws. Also the government can judge lawsuits against the company and force the company to pay. Conversely, the big companies can act to limit the power of government in various ways using their wealth. This creates a network of competing power centers that all need the public on their side, so in general it works out for the public.

However, even that has limits. Just like in a socialist society, it is obvious to the people in power that they could do a lot more for themselves if they could stop worrying about the public, so they have an incentive to join their power instead of compete against each other. You can see that happening when big companies are spending millions on lobbying to influence government, but at the same time, the government is spending billions on grants to the big companies. Another danger sign is when the big companies become political and start making statements or taking actions that are politically inspired. When you see this, it is time to worry that democracy is being lost.

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    I didn't downvote, but you contradicted yourself when you said "The means of production have to be controlled by an individual or a small committee". That would mean that the means of power are no longer under the control of the community as a whole and therefore socialism has failed Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 8:00
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    You've contradicted yourself and defined fascism instead.
    – user48488
    Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 12:53
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    @ChrisRogers That's not a contradiction; it's adding a detail. Obviously the community as a whole can't actually run anything. You can't have a vote of millions of people for each decision in the day to day operations. Saying that the community runs it only means that the people who actually run it are answerable (in theory) to the community. Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 20:07
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    "in the hands of society" Housing coops, worker coops, food coops, are all socialism, with the socialisation not among society at large. So you start with a shoddy definition, showing lack of knowledge of the origin & history of. "socialism always degenerates into rule by a small number of people who use their power to extract wealth" Portugal not only has a socialist gov, it's constitutionally socialist. Do you accept it falsifies your claim? Your post is bad, ill informed, & ideological. That's why the downvotes.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 9:18
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    @CriglCragl, here in the US we keep hearing horror stories about forced euthanasia of infants against the will of the parents and long delays compared to US healthcare. I don't think there is a simple characterization whereby you can UK is better. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 0:45

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