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Democratic Socialism vs Communism: Unveiling the Truth

By Denis Hay

Introduction: Navigating the Complex Terrain of Political Ideologies

In the contemporary political landscape, the terms “democratic socialism” and “communism” often spark intense debate, confusion, and misconceptions. Misunderstandings between these ideologies blur the lines of discourse, leading to polarized views and a diluted understanding of their principles, goals, and societal impacts. This article aims to demystify democratic socialism and communism, providing a clear, factual comparison that distinguishes their historical roots, core tenets, and real-world applications.

By diving into this comprehensive analysis, readers will gain insight into the importance of these distinctions in shaping informed, nuanced political discussions. Join us as we unveil the truth behind these often-confused ideologies, fostering a deeper understanding of their roles in contemporary and future socio-political landscapes.

Whether you are a political science enthusiast, a student seeking clarity, or a concerned citizen navigating the complexities of modern governance, this exploration offers valuable perspectives on two influential, yet widely misunderstood, political theories.

Historical Background: The Roots of Ideological Diversity

Democratic socialism and communism share a historical foundation in the critique of capitalism, yet they diverge significantly in philosophy and implementation. Karl Marx laid the groundwork for both ideologies, envisioning a classless society.

However, the paths diverged with figures like Vladimir Lenin emphasizing revolution to achieve a communist state, while democratic socialists sought change through democratic means, highlighting the importance of political pluralism and social justice.

Defining Democratic Socialism: Equity Through Democracy

Democratic socialism focuses on achieving social equity and justice within a democratic framework. It advocates for significant government intervention in the economy to redistribute wealth, provide essential services, and ensure public welfare, all while supporting democratic freedoms and elections.

Scandinavian countries often serve as case studies, with their comprehensive welfare states, progressive taxation, and high standards of living. Figures like George Orwell and Nelson Mandela exemplify the ideology’s broad appeal, emphasizing its commitment to democracy and social justice.

Unpacking Communism and the Evolution of China’s Socialist Model

The Ideals and Realities of Communism

Communism, as envisioned by Marx and Engels, aspires to create a society devoid of classes and states, where the community collectively owns and manages all resources. This ideology advocates for the elimination of private property to achieve a society that is both stateless and classless, epitomizing equality and collective governance. Despite its lofty ideals, the implementation of communism in countries like the Soviet Union and China often diverged significantly from these principles, resulting in central planning, state control, and, often, authoritarian regimes. This divergence underscores the inherent challenges in transforming theoretical ideologies into practical governance.

From Maoist Communism to “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”

China’s political and economic journey presents a fascinating case study in the adaptation and evolution of socialist principles. Under Mao Zedong, the People’s Republic of China initially embraced a strict form of communism. However, the landscape began to shift dramatically with the economic reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping in the late 20th century. These reforms marked the transition to what is now recognized as “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” a system that marries state oversight of crucial economic sectors with market-driven practices. This approach helps private enterprise and foreign investment, albeit within a framework controlled by the state. By using market efficiencies, China aims to fulfill socialist goals, creating a distinctive system that stands apart from both traditional communism and capitalist models prevalent in the West.

Bridging Ideology and Practice in China’s Unique Socialist Model

The evolution of China’s governance and economic model illuminates the complexities involved in applying political ideologies to the nuanced realities of a country’s historical, cultural, and economic fabric. Today’s China, governed by the Communist Party, stands for a hybrid system that deftly combines socialist principles with market economics. This blend not only challenges the binary classification of countries as purely communist or capitalist but also reflects a pragmatic approach to achieving socialist goals of development and prosperity. Through this lens, China’s current model underscores the nuanced reality of its political and economic systems, rooted in socialism but dynamically engaging with global market forces to chart its own path forward.

This narrative repositioning offers a clearer understanding of communism’s theoretical ambitions versus its practical applications, especially in the context of China’s unique adaptation. It highlights the country’s journey from a rigidly communist ideology towards a flexible, market-influenced socialist framework, illustrating the dynamic interplay between ideology and pragmatism in shaping modern governance and economic strategies.

Key Differences: Governance, Freedom, and the Economy

The primary distinction between democratic socialism and communism lies in their approaches to economic management, political freedoms, and the role of the state. Democratic socialism supports a mixed economy and political pluralism, advocating for social reforms through democratic means. Communism, in contrast, pushes for the abolition of private property and the establishment of a communal economy, which historically has led to centralized control and limited political freedoms.

Democratic Socialism in the Modern World: Perceptions and Realities

Today, democratic socialism influences several global policies, advocating for social welfare, environmental sustainability, and economic equality. Despite misconceptions, its modern proponents look to address the inequalities worsened by pure market economies, arguing for a balanced approach that fosters both economic dynamism and social welfare.

Critiques of Neoliberalism: A Comparative Analysis

Neoliberalism, with its emphasis on free markets, deregulation, and privatization, contrasts sharply with both democratic socialism and communism. Critics argue that neoliberal policies worsen inequality and neglect social welfare, calling for a re-evaluation of its dominance in global economics and proposing alternatives that emphasize social equity and public welfare.

Case Study: The Liberal National Party (LNP) of Australia

Examining the LNP’s policies offers insight into contemporary political dynamics, contrasting its neoliberal tendencies with democratic socialist principles. The LNP’s approach to economic management, social welfare, and environmental policy provides a practical lens through which to assess the impact of neoliberalism and the potential benefits of alternative ideologies.

The Role of Political Labels and Misconceptions

The misuse of political labels in public discourse often leads to confusion and misunderstanding, hindering productive political dialogue. By examining the nuanced differences and contexts of these ideologies, we can move towards a more informed and constructive political conversation, emphasizing the importance of understanding over labelling.

Through this comprehensive exploration, we aim to foster a deeper understanding of democratic socialism and communism, challenging readers to engage with political ideologies beyond surface-level misconceptions and to take part actively in informed discussions about our collective future.

Conclusion: Navigating Ideological Landscapes

As we reach the culmination of our exploration into democratic socialism versus communism, it is imperative to reflect on the key insights uncovered through this discourse. The journey from their historical roots to their modern implications highlights the necessity of distinguishing these ideologies, not just in academic circles but in everyday political conversations.

Summary of Key Findings

Our analysis revealed significant distinctions between democratic socialism and communism, notably in their approaches to economic policies, political freedoms, and the role of government. Democratic socialism advocates for a mixed economy where the government and private sector coexist, emphasizing social welfare and democratic governance. In contrast, communism aims for a classless society where the means of production are communally owned, often leading to authoritarian governance in practice, diverging significantly from its theoretical foundations.

The Importance of Informed Understanding

Understanding the nuances between democratic socialism and communism is crucial in today’s political landscape, marred by oversimplifications and misrepresentations. Mislabelling and misunderstanding these ideologies can hinder productive discourse, leading to polarization and misinformation. An informed electorate is essential for a healthy democracy, where decisions are made based on correct representations of political theories.

Engage in Informed Discussions

We encourage readers to delve deeper into the principles and practices of these ideologies. By fostering informed discussions, we can move beyond stereotypes and engage with the complexities of political ideologies. Let us challenge ourselves to look past the labels, understanding the substantive differences and similarities, and what they mean for our society.

In conclusion, the journey through democratic socialism and communism offers more than just academic insight; it provides a lens through which we can examine our values, policies, and the kind of society we aspire to build. As we navigate the changing tides of political discourse, let our discussions be guided by knowledge, empathy, and a relentless pursuit of justice.

Call to Action

Become a part of the conversation. Educate yourself on these ideologies, discuss them with others, and contribute to a more nuanced and informed political dialogue. Your voice matters in shaping a fairer and understanding world.

Engaging Question: Do you think understanding the differences between democratic socialism and communism is vital for informed political discourse? Why or why not?

Call to Action: Share your thoughts on the topic and engage in a respectful, informed discussion about the role of these ideologies in shaping our world.

#DemocraticSocialism #Communism #PoliticalIdeologies #SocialJustice


The Communist Manifesto

Envisioning Real Utopias

Where we go from here

Less is More

Mao’s China and After: A History of the People’s Republic

The Chinese Economy Transitions and Growth

A Brief History of Neoliberalism

The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future

The Populist Explosion. How the Great Recession Transformed America and European Politics

Development as Freedom


This article was originally published on SOCIAL JUSTICE AUSTRALIA.


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  1. leefe

    Good to read an article whose author actually understands this distinction. Would be great if we could make sure everyoone read it carefully.

  2. Phil Pryor

    It is a good little skim, but, you must add (among others) “Economic Systems and Society,” G Dalton, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1974. This will define, explain, summarise, much that is good and relevant.

  3. calculus witherspoon.

    Sorry must be getting old. It’s ubiquitous. I remember as a kid watching news on teev about “congulist gorrillas” in New Guinea and wondered about chunky hairy beings dropping from the trees and charging folk.

    This was an era of McCarthyism and not a lot has changed as to reality, different targets than in post industrialism and different terminology now, but seems underlyingly the same as back then.

    Marx lay down a critique and different approaches have been tried to the parasite problem but the oligarchy is still safe in its castle-keep and can’t get blood from a stone and seems to instinctively resist any attempt to remove their addiction for them and share the world the rest of us.

  4. Steve Davis

    I thank Denis for this attempt to give clarity to modern political concepts, but this short format has exposed shortcomings.

    For example, the authoritarian nature of attempts at communism were mentioned three times, but no reference to the military and economic warfare to which these regimes were exposed from their very beginning, as the liberal powers rushed to eliminate any philosophical rivals to their preferred model. They fear the threat of a good example.
    As examples of this undermining and elimination, even this century all the regimes attacked by the liberal powers in West Asia were and are socialist states to varying degrees. Control of oil resources was not the only motivation.

    No mention also of the blood of the innocent that feeds the liberal system even to this day.
    This is not a criticism of the author — tearing down almost a thousand years of carefully crafted propaganda is no easy task.

  5. andyfiftysix

    after many years on this rock, i have come to the conclusion we need capitalism with a good dose of socialism and communism.
    Non of the isms on their own works with out major problems. All three ideologies suffer from the same disease. The struggle for power. We need government control over essential services and capitalism can take care of aspirations.

    The major issue that doesnt seem to be on the agenda is that we lump essential services in with discretionary whims. Trying to control with another “unifying theory of everything”. Food for thought……

  6. Terence Mills

    I heard Dutton saying that he will reinstate income tax savings for the wealthy should he ever achieve office in this country. When asked how he would fund these tax cuts he said through saving, principally in cutting the public service which has grown since Labor took over. He neglected to mention that he would revert to the Morrison strategy of appointing external consultants to do what the public service should be doing and that these external consultants would actually cost massively more than the public service.

    Engaging Question: Do you think understanding the differences between democratic socialism and communism is vital for informed political discourse? Why or why not?

    My answer is No : I think it is more important to understand the deficiencies and threats to society in Neo-Liberalism and to loudly call out its inconsistencies. In Australia we have more to fear from Neo-Liberals than we do from communists.

  7. Steve Davis

    “In Australia we have more to fear from Neo-Liberals than we do from communists.”

    Simply put and beautifully put, Terence.

    And it must not be forgotten that neo-liberals are the honest faction from the liberal camp — liberals with the friendly mask off.

  8. Terence Mills


    Barnaby is an absolute disgrace and hopefully the good folk in New England have now woken up to him.

    What on earth does she mean : Ms Campion said her husband did hurt himself, but observed that like most farmers he never complained.

    No he’s not a farmer ! he’s a small town accountant !!!

  9. Roswell

    It’s pathetic that the Murdoch media is echoing the sentiment that the photographer is the evil one for not assisting the blathering idiot after his apparent fall.

  10. calculus witherspoon.

    Hear, hear, Terrence Mills!

  11. Clakka

    Gotta love the old ‘ists’ and ‘isms’.

    Agree with the first comment of SD, and yes indeed there are many other examples.
    And Terence’s observation about who we can trust in Oz is spot on.

    Oz neo-liberalism via the Duttonate seems to be a febrile authoritarianism cross-bred with a weird type of pluralism – which foot they have in their mouths when ranting about Albo & Labor, oh and now the ‘lefties’ at the ABC (seems he hasn’t been watching or listening). As for Morriscum’s pluralism of the 5 ministries – say no more. And Robo-debt, yeah social equity with lies and cruelty attached. And it’s kinda really weird how they run a separatist authoritarian communistic regime with various First Nations folk by refusing them land title rights and etc. ABC’s ‘Nemesis’ puts on display beautifully the LNPs operational plurality (knives attached).

    The Oz independent(?) money minders, the RBA, is always banging on about jobs,
    so I believe neo-liberalism here is well represented by the terms RWNJs and FRWNJs.

    And as for Joyce, maybe from the commingling of Iron-bar Tuckey and Joh Bjelke Petersen? Yes once a small town accountant, now become a bamboozled barnyard boozer. Sad, but understandable (almost).

  12. New England Cocky

    @ Terence Mills: RE Beetrooter: I am advised that Beetrooter is a former pub bouncer, twice failed accountant, self-confessed adulterer, practicing alcoholic & misogynist. Most unlikely that Beetrooter was ever a farmer because that requires physical effort beyond lifting a schooner glass.
    His international reputation, confirmed in this UK Daily Mail article, is the embarrassment of thinking voters in New England.
    @ Clakka: You are far too generous. Perhaps you could observe the real item before being so generous in your description.

  13. Steve Davis

    Denis Hay has kindly provided two links to explanations of neo-liberalism.

    The linked pages are lists of documents, 18 in total. These explanations and histories of liberalism, neo-liberalism and libertarianism merge into one another. They overlap.
    This means that there is no single, concise explanation of what neo-liberalism actually is, and there’s a reason for this.

    Liberalism itself is a form of parasitism, a theft from society and a destabilising of society. But in order for liberals to be elected to govern, their parasitism has to be concealed. And so they adopted the benign facade that is most peoples’ perception of liberalism today.

    Enboldened by the ascendancy of the Thatcher-led free market revolution which weakened social institutions, liberals felt free to ditch the smiley face and to begin the dismantling of social protections under the pretence of greater liberty that had been preached by libertarians for decades previously. A liberty that was a lie. Individuals in a free market society have no real freedom — the freedom to reach their full potential — they are at the mercy of market forces that are manipulated by the very coalition of entities that removed their social protections.

    So we now face three liberal factions — liberalism, neo-liberalism and libertarianism that have so much in common — parasitism, exploitation of the forces of production including the workforce, and a tearing down of social structures — that to attempt to differentiate between them is not just pointless; it’s dangerous. To do so is to play right into the hands of the parasitical class. It would reassure them that their relentless propaganda is working just as intended. And by losing awareness and focus as to the direction and depth of the danger, we weaken our defense and allow the disintegration of society to continue.

  14. Dr Tristan Ewins

    It’s not so much a socialised economy that led to a lack of political freedoms in the old Eastern Bloc. It was mutual hostility between Catholicism and Communism. As well as the geo-political stand off between the West and the USSR ; which led Communists to fight against internal and external threats. The same thing happened in the West – which we tend to forget in ‘Cold War triumphalism’ – as if ‘all we need to know is ‘the good guys won’. (which is nonsense) Remember that the US and its allies backed mass murder and repression in several nations in order to retain its sphere of influence and the Western economic order. That said there was repression in the USSR and Eastern Bloc which was used to discredit Communism and Socialism. What the author calls Democratic Socialism could also describe revolutionary (Marxist) social democracy, Marxist Centrism, Eurocommunism and so on. Then there’s libertarian Marxism of the kind supported by Rosa Luxemburg. Though while the immediate policy might be a mixed economy there might be a more long term aspiration to wind back exploitation further ; and press economic democracy further. Though a mixed economy is the best democratic socialists can achieve for now ; and its hard to see how democratic socialists can further socialisation beyond this in the current political and economic environment. We operate in a global economy after all ; and capitalist enterprises have a central place in that economy. In short we need to engage with capitalist enterprises even if we aspire to economic democracy. Though we should at least be able to speak about such things without self-censorship with an eye to the future. A kind of ‘private sector’ in the form of co-operative enterprises is entirely acceptable, though. And wage earner funds – similar to superannuation – break up concentration of economic ownership. And in this way are form of progress ; opening the way for future change by diluting the political and economic power of the bourgeoisie.

  15. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Left liberalism doesn’t have to be the enemy of socialism. J.S.Mill was actually a sympathiser with socialism – which many modern day liberals gloss over. In fact a ‘liberal socialism’ is possible. The problem is liberalism is just that actually-existing liberals usually don’t seem to see the conflict between their aspirations towards robust pluralism ; and the facts around maintaining capitalist hegemony. In reality many capitalist liberal democracies involve ‘convergence on a (relatively right-wing) centre’ and there is little in the way of debate. Noam Chomsky has it right that there is very strong debate within very narrow confines ; and this leads us to believe we live in an ‘open society’ – when in fact the neo-liberal fundamentals are broadly pre-decided. Rendering capitalism as relative is practically ‘unthinkable’ ; and in mainstream political forums is made ‘unspeakable’. Capital strike and destabilisation also are not identified as the threats to democracy that they are. But a form of politics which focuses on civil liberties as well as human need and economic democracy – is generally a good thing. So there are strengths in liberalism – and socialists neglect this at their own peril ; as if we do not address civil liberties the old narratives about ‘socialist authoritarianism’ will see us marginalised and stigmatised even in progressive circles into the future.

  16. Dr Tristan Ewins

    should I expand these comments to turn them into an article?

  17. Dr Tristan Ewins

    sorry the comment made at 2:55pm should read in the fourth sentence that: “The problem with liberalism is that actually existing liberals usually don’t seem to see the conflict between their aspirations towards robust pluralism ; and the facts around maintaining capitalist hegemony”. (ie: ‘with’ should be there replacing ‘is’)

  18. Steve Davis

    Tristan Ewins said “Left liberalism doesn’t have to be the enemy of socialism…In fact a ‘liberal socialism’ is possible.”
    Sorry, I have to disagree. This is far too loose a use of the term “liberal”.

    Liberalism is based on individualism no matter what the field; economics, rights, whatever. We cannot let that fact slip from our focus. So liberal socialism is a contradiction.

    But I agree with the intent, which is, I believe, a socialism free of dogma, that is flexible, open, and allowing for diversity. In the field of evolutionary biology Robert Ardrey noted that the successful and enduring societies and groups are those that enforce conformity to behaviours and customs while allowing for diversity. We could see this put into practice for example, in a socialism that permits entrepreneurial activity.

    He continued “actually-existing liberals usually don’t seem to see the conflict between their aspirations towards robust pluralism ; and the facts around maintaining capitalist hegemony.”

    This is the great weakness of liberalism — that whenever a conflict arises between liberals with a conscience and those without, it always comes back to the two great foundational planks of liberalism; property rights (i.e. the right to endless accumulation) and the rule of law. And guess who always wins. Those with the deepest pockets throw everything they have to support property rights and the rule of law. We saw it in the Voice debate where several Liberals left the party in protest, and we see it in regular purges of decent people from the party.

    The unfortunate truth is that all traces of liberalism must be eliminated if we are to have a stable, peaceful, prosperous world. Liberalism was almost consigned to the dustbin of history after WW2, with even conservatives saying “We are all socialists now”, but look at the world of chaos and anguish we have today. A world produced by a little over three decades of liberal ascendancy.

    You cannot give a liberal an inch.

  19. paul walter

    I remember at uni it being put to me that Marxism is more robust, but that (left?) liberals also believe the job has not yet been completed and mentioned JS Mill.

    Besides, many thoughtful folk also know Feuerbach and the understanding that acquisitive capitalism grinds down good and bad alike pretty mindlessly. Eric Hobsbawm did suggest that we live through an era of “loss of historical memory” and a superficial but blatant example could involve the dumbing down of the ABC in our time.

    Also serious, the wilful, knowing perversion of Justice through Law.

    What they used to call Conservatives seem have hunkered down at the Laager, No sense of the “values” that need to be protecting. instead defending “order”-what suits them usually- against even rational or liberal reform, let alone what Marxians proposed in a fearful era we can only shudder at,

    It is true that It is currently most severely played out in Gaza by siege reactionary modernist types hitting out in defence of the perhaps understandable fairy tale claim to Palestine based on Terra Nullius

    So, who are we to speak after the rejection of the Voice, I suppose..

    As Steve Davis pointed out, even potentially worthy things like the “old” ABC are got rid of because these entities offered exposure and a hope of dinkum reform.reform, something that seems to terrify the current board and management there.

  20. Steve Davis

    Paul Walter, you raise some interesting points.

    The “loss of historical memory” you mentioned does not happen by accident. When I went to school we were taught that economics is the study of the production and distribution of goods and services. No longer. Now it is the study of scarcity. To put it crudely, the study of “get what you can while you can.”

    That false view of economics prepares students for an even greater lie. I’ve read that in economics courses today economic history is no longer studied. This is a deliberate ploy to ensure that all graduates are dumbed down, blindly accepting the falsehood that there is no viable alternative to the economics of greed — blindly accepting that greed is good. Graduates who are unaware of past failed economic policies that had so much in common with today’s economic dogma.

    This economic mis-direction has been extremely successful, but it has a fatal flaw.

    Because it is based on economic fallacies, the predicted good times for all are not coming to fruition. Chomsky predicted from the start, around 1980, that if free market doctrine (pure liberalism) was followed through, not only would under-developed nations suffer, but also that even in the most developed economies we would see the emergence of islands of prosperity surrounded by a sea of Third World conditions. Which is what we see today.

    You mentioned correctly that conservatives no longer protect conservative values. The rot started with the British Tories who were conservative until the mediocre talent Thatcher fell for the libertarian propaganda of a couple of intellectuals in the party, and von Hayek. The Tories no longer protect, they pillage. They are liberals in the true sense.

  21. andyfiftysix

    Steve Davis, “Because it is based on economic fallacies”. That has been my cry over the last ten years. everything is measured in productivity yet essential services cant be made more productive.

    For example. A government bureaucrat working at centre link is already stressed out and over worked , how are you going to improve productivity there?
    A fixed cost for a fixed outcome. How does that fit in with economists’ thinking? Its an expense……fuck me….no, its a fucking basic service. It has to be provided no matter the condition of the “real” economy.

    the private sector is different again and goes by different rules. Its based on making a profit…..selling at the highest price the market will bare. Supply and demand does have currency here. If a vacuum cleaner retailer goes belly up, thats the market.

    I dont see any real distinction between these two sectors in any economics theory…..Socialism works for the government sector and capitalism works for the “real” economy. Governments are not an economy, they regulate and collect whats required to run our society.

    Our current thinking is crap. We took $1.2T out of the economy over the last 10yrs ( housing and super) yet we still have spells of high inflation and unemployment…..WTF goes on? Governments end up interfering to correct issues the market just cant handle like waste disposal or climate change . Its clear that current thinking has no clue or answers , its only reactionary.

    Choosing between capitalism and socialism is an immature way to discuss the issues we as a society have to deal with. I for one refuse to accept the short comings of either system as inevitable. Avoiding the pitfalls means some blending of the two is required. Its 2024, we are smarter than this.

  22. paul walter

    Yep, the nonsenses they put over us.

    Watching a doc tonight about a dark comedian (not Dutton), Dick Gregory, and got jogged by his satires as to Civil rights and Vietnam, something as pointless as Gaza on an even huger scale.. So what has changed?

    Steve and andyfiftysix fleshed it out, we try to move on even if the rest don’t or won.t. Not in our kids time, or theirs or grand kids, but we cling to hope that
    “one day…”

    Has to be kept alive.

  23. Clakka

    Interesting conversations.

    It seems to me that the modern economist has been beaten down to a mere bean-counter, counting in the fashion dictated by its remunerator. And outside that black box there’s mostly a deafening silence, but for politics and its most often ludicrous rhetoric and provocation.

    It seems they’ve been entirely successful at achieving the social and economic wreckage afoot today, mainly by pushing individualism against the great hopes and attempts at globalization. All giving rise to a new ‘otherness’, an antediluvian notion that since the year dot, through to the colonial era and subsequent wars of dominion caused so much wreckage and spilled blood.

    I was once a Marxist, a Groucho Marxist, now I’m wondering how to join the Mondragons.

  24. Steve Davis

    Actually Clakka, a move towards “Mondragonism” is the only way to get a small measure of economic justice in a market driven economy.

    The problem is that the parasitical class, with it’s control of the legislature, has shown in the past that any threat to it’s primacy, no matter how modest, will be choked off. They are absolutely ruthless.

  25. Clakka

    Yes SD, indeed we are plagued by the ‘parasitical’ class, and indeed they ruthlessly control the legislature.

    “Parasitical’ class, a great descriptor of a socio-political form. It is now firmly placed in my lexicon.


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