A Brief Survey of Political Systems

This is document is an unabashedly opinionated summary of various political systems, arranged very roughly from right to left, with a view…

A Brief Survey of Political Systems

This is document is an unabashedly opinionated summary of various political systems, arranged very roughly from right to left, with a view to dispelling some common misunderstandings that are propagated (willfully or not) by adherents of certain popular systems, whether left, right, or center.

For the record, I am a leftist, a socialist, and fairly sympathetic to anarcho-communism.

This is also a slightly-abashedly anglophone-centric document, owing to the fact that I’m an anglophone and I can only tell what I know.

I am not, by any means, an expert on political science, political history, or indeed history of any stripe. I’m merely an interested layman.


Before we begin, it’s worth considering what the left-right axis even is.

Per Wikipedia, the term originates from the French Revolution of 1789, where the “right wing” consisted of supporters of Louis XVI, King of France, and the “left wing” consisted of supporters of the Revolution. The positions implied by the words “left” and “right” have shifted wildly since then, but on some axes the words have retained a consistent directional meaning:

  • “Right-wing” implies greater centralization of power, whereas “left-wing” implies greater decentralization of power. This centralization-decentralization “axis” can be further subdivided into separate axes for various kinds of power: foreign policy, economic and domestic policies, criminal law, civil law, etc.
  • “Right-wing” implies greater inequality among the populace, whereas “left-wing” implies greater equality among the populace. Again, this inequality-equality “axis” can be further subdivided: gender, disability, “birthright” status (family, title, class, caste, race, ethnicity, country of origin, etc), economic status (land ownership, wealth), and many others.
  • Not a hard rule, but “right-wing” tends to lean slightly more toward foreign war, empire building, and colonial adventurism, while “left-wing” tends to lean slightly against such things.
  • “Right-wing” political systems tend to be more separable from economic systems than “left-wing” political systems, which tend to come as pre-packaged political-economic systems.
  • “Right-wing” political systems tend to favor consequentialist moral systems that promote the highest peaks among the elite, while “left-wing” political systems tend to favor consequentialist moral systems that ensure the shallowest valleys for the everyman.
  • There is a tendency in the very long run for political systems of the past to be more “right-wing” and for political systems of the future to be more “left-wing”, a fact which I believe has two complementary explanations: (1) a shifting Overton Window over the centuries, and (2) a natural ratchet effect as unequal/oppressed peoples rebel against their so-called “superiors” once their unaddressed grievances accumulate to intolerable levels.

Political systems to the far right tend to have less variety than political systems to the far left. This is because they trend toward centralization and highly unequal hierarchies, and there is less overall room for variation in how to distribute power when power is not distributed at all.


Dictatorship (monarchy)

Dictatorship is a monarchic (“one king”) and hierarchic system in which a single person has absolute authority over all others. Dictatorships are naturally unstable, since eventually the dictator must die of old age if nothing else. Most dictators attempt to pass on their power to one or more of their children, which causes dictatorships to naturally transition into other types of monarchies — assuming they are not first overthrown by the people and replaced with some other form of government.

Dictatorships frequently have very strong censorship laws against bad-mouthing the dictator and his government, stronger than what is typical even in other monarchies.

Extreme right, maximally centralized, maximally unequal.
Prototypical example: Spain under Francisco Franco

Fascism

Fascism is an internally inconsistent, deeply unstable political system which tends to devolve further into a dictatorship. It is best understood as a failure mode of democracies (see below).

There are three key traits useful to identify fascism:

  • Fascists elevate “the will” above all else. Acting without thinking is encouraged and celebrated. Caution, prudence, and critical thinking are vilified. As such, the fascist tends believe a mishmash of incompatible things, including modern conspiracy theories, misinterpretations of history and historical myths, and absolutely any rumor that slanders non-fascists.
  • Fascists crave conflict. They want to terrify their opponents with their ferocity and irrationality. Death is sacred to the fascist, both the death of the enemy and the death of one’s own self in glorious battle and martyrdom. A fascist with no enemies will create them, by picking some arbitrary trait and elevating it into a Battle of Good and Evil, with the fascist always, always on the side of Good. It does not matter if the enemy is also a fascist; fascists will fight each other once they run out of enemies, and fascist leaders will dispose of their cheering crowds the moment it is convenient.
  • Fascists love divisions based on blood status, such as race or ethnicity. This is mostly a consequence of the previous two items: history is full of monarchies built around blood status, and blood status provides a built-in source of national conflict.

Modern fascism arose in the United States in the 1800’s, then was transplanted to Europe in the lead-up to World War II. It’s likely that fascism’s modern form was not possible until the invention of the printing press and/or the train, as it relies on the emotional manipulation of a large fanbase.

For further reading, see Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay, “Ur-Fascism”.

Extreme right, somewhat centralized, maximally unequal.
Prototypical example: Germany under Adolf Hitler

Feudalism (monarchy)

Feudalism is a monarchic (“one king”) and hierarchic system in which a “royal” (typically a King or Emperor; almost universally male until 1500-ish) rules over the “nobility” (men of blood status who are allowed to own land), and the nobles rule over the “peasants” (people who lack blood status) in their fiefdoms. The King’s power over the nobles and peasants is absolute, and the nobles’ powers over their respective peasants is absolute save for commands from the King.

Extreme right, highly centralized, highly unequal.
Prototypical example: England, pre-Magna Carta

Constitutional monarchism (monarchy)

Constitutional monarchism is a monarchic (“one king”) and hierarchic system similar to feudalism except that the powers of the King are limited in some way by a set of written rules crafted by the nobles. Royalty and nobility remain distinct from each other and from the peasantry, but in some ways become co-equal in power. The nobles may have a say in the process of royal succession.

Extreme right, highly centralized, highly unequal.
Prototypical example: England, post-Magna Carta to approx. mid/late 1500s

Mercantilism (monarchy)

Mercantilism is a monarchic (“one king”) and hierarchic variant of constitutional monarchy in which a small merchant class is allowed to rise above the peasantry and own small amounts of land or other property, subject to the blessing of the King and the nobles. Some variants permit the merchant class to own indebted peasants and/or captured foreigners as slaves; this notably led to the rise of the African slave trade and thus to modern racism (invented post-hoc to “morally” justify the growing racialization of slavery), as well as the invention of the prison (originally used only for debtors, later expanded to other crimes).

This is both a political system and an economic system. The economic half of the system is the progenitor of capitalism (see below).

Extreme right, highly centralized, highly unequal.
Prototypical example: England c. 1600 to 1750

Capitalism

Capitalism is not a political system, but an economic one. The core trait is the decentralization of resource allocation, using the free exchange of money, goods, or services for other money, goods, or services. Goods and services are produced through “capital”, which is any resource that produces more resources, and an accumulation of such capital resources is called “wealth”. A factory is a classic example of capital, but capital can also be intangible, so long as the intangible resource can be traded away.

It’s quite possible in a hierarchical society for capitalism to exist within one hierarchical tier and be entirely absent in another, or for two tiers of people to have wholly separate spheres of capitalist exchange. (Modern example: prison economies, which operate on a barter system that has only the most tenuous connections to the economy that exists outside the prison.)

Capitalism was originally identified and described by Adam Smith, who deduced that capitalism in its purest form can only exist when both parties (1) have full knowledge of the system, the other party’s intentions, and the quality of the resources being bought/sold (fraud is not possible), (2) can freely walk away from the transaction if it is unfair (coercion is not possible), and (3) can trivially find an alternate third party who is directly competing with the other party to buy/sell the same resources (collaboration is not possible). Karl Marx noted with approval that capitalism is strictly an improvement on the economic systems that predated it (under feudalism and mercantilism), and many socialist systems contain elements of capitalism.

Capitalism in its pure form is impossible: it is almost always possible for one party to deceive the other into accepting a bad or unfair exchange; some resources are required to live — such as food, shelter, and health care — and thus are vulnerable to coercion; and many resources are vulnerable to cornering, price fixing, monopolization, and other forms of collaboration. Even so, “capitalism” can be used fairly to describe any economic system that at least attempts to meet these criteria, although some systems that are called “capitalism” in practice do not even make the attempt.

Far right to far left, depending on which political system it is paired with.
No prototypical example, as it varies too widely to represent with a prototype.

Small-l liberalism

Liberalism is neither a political system nor an economic system; instead, it is an ideology about political systems. Liberalism proposes that the best political systems are those in which individuals have maximum “freedom”, for some value of “freedom”.

The early United States of America was founded on liberal ideas taken mostly from English philosopher John Locke, who argued that all individuals have “inalienable rights” (i.e. rights that are impossible to take away or give away, where a “right” is some entitlement that is owed to one by others). These inalienable rights are the rights to “life, liberty, and property”, where “liberty” is understood as freedom for individuals to do what they choose so long as they harm no other and “property” is mostly meant in the sense of land and capital, not other resources like clothes and personal belongings.

In liberalism, neither the government nor individuals can deprive someone of their inalienable rights (i.e. try to take someone’s life, liberty, or property away) except for specific circumscribed purposes (e.g. death penalty, prison, fines and court judgements, taxes). As such, liberalism is incompatible with all forms of monarchy. However, the presence of democracy does not guarantee liberalism: the aphorism about “two wolves and a sheep voting on what to eat for lunch” comes to mind, although literally killing the “sheep” is forbidden under liberalism (except perhaps if the sheep agrees to it, or if the sheep has committed a crime).

If you noticed some contradictions and weird exceptions in this formulation: congratulations! You’re paying attention. The concept of an “inalienable right” is pretty much a fairy tale that we use to comfort ourselves that the government is being fair when it hurts or kills people. The very fact that we had to write it down on a piece of paper and enforce it means that it’s not truly an inalienable right.

Far right to far left, variably centralized, variably unequal.
No prototypical example, as it varies too widely to represent with a prototype.

Small-l libertarianism

Like liberalism, libertarianism is neither a political system nor an economic system; instead, it is an ideology about systems. Just as with liberalism, libertarianism proposes that the best systems are those in which individuals have maximum “freedom”; however, libertarianism marries this with capitalism by adding that individuals have an inalienable right to capitalist free trade, subject to a very small, very circumscribed set of permissible regulations that can forbid certain capitalist exchanges.

Most formulations of libertarianism hold that government may intervene in cases exhibiting “force”, “fraud”, or both. “Force” is usually but not always defined to include coercion in an exchange; “fraud” is defined to include lies in an exchange, usually but not always including lies of omission if they are blatant enough. Despite libertarianism’s close association with capitalism, it is uncommon for libertarianism to seek government intervention in cases of collaboration.

Many formulations of libertarianism consider it acceptable if an exchange between two parties has negative consequences on a third party, what economists call an “externality”, so long as the negative consequence is minor enough. Pollution is a real-world practical example.

Libertarianism includes all the self-contradictions of liberalism, of course. Adding more “inalienable” rights just makes the self-contradictions worse. If I have a right to pollute, and pollution kills people, then I have a right to deprive other people of life, even though the people I kill have an “inalienable” right to that life. If I’m an individual and I kill people indirectly via pollution, the government will arrest me; if I’m Union Carbide and I kill people indirectly via pollution, it’s just free enterprise at work.

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
 — George Orwell, “Animal Farm”

See also: right-libertarianism, left-libertarianism, liberal democracy, democratic corporatism, anarcho-syndicalism.

Far right to somewhat left, depending on the implementation.
No prototypical example.

Right-libertarianism

As with libertarianism, right-libertarianism is an ideology about systems and not a political or economic system in itself. The typical implementation envisioned is democracy (see below), either republicanism or universal democratism, plus capitalism. In practice, I strongly expect that any such system would devolve into democratic corporatism, described below.

Most cyberpunk fiction takes place in settings that right-libertarians might call a “utopia”. Alert readers will feel otherwise.

Right-libertarianism is strongly opposed to labor unions (see democratic socialism, below) and strongly in favor of corporatism (see democratic corporatism, below).

Far right to right, highly to weakly centralized, very to somewhat unequal.
No prototypical example.

Neoconservatism

Neoconservatism is an ideology about systems, which holds (1) that the best political-economic systems are those that fit the right-libertarian model and (2) that the use of coercion and/or violence is justified in spreading the right-libertarian model.

However, their interpretation of the right-libertarian model is often very selective and loose: rights are often afforded to the rich and powerful, but not always to the average citizen, and rarely to the foreigner. In this, the practice of neoconservatism more closely resembles small-r (illiberal) republicanism plus capitalism, with multiple tiers of people who each have a different set of “inalienable” rights.

Neoconservatism has a markedly racist substrain which is virulently anti-immigrant and Islamaphobic, as well as moderately anti-Semitic (often while being paradoxically pro-Israel thanks to Dominionist Christian beliefs). “Splitting” (in the psychology sense) is common in neoconservative thoughts about foreign peoples and nations: either everyone in a nation is an ally, or everyone in a nation is an enemy, with no room for foreigners who disagree with their home nation’s policies. Irrationally, these feelings can simultaneously co-exist with pity, resulting in e.g. the belief that we have to brutalize the dirty foreigners for their own good.

Neoconservatism should be understood as a step on the path from liberalism and libertarianism towards fascism, making it a “reactionary” (left to right) movement. It grew out of Reaganism and Thatcherism, with which it bears many similarities.

Right, highly to moderately centralized, very to somewhat unequal.
No prototypical example.

Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is an ideology about systems, which holds (1) that the best political-economic system is liberal democracy and (2) that the use of coercion and/or violence is justified in spreading liberal democracy to people of other nations.

In contrast to neoconservatism, neoliberalism is more consistent about enforcing “inalienable” rights equally. However, it lacks all protections against corporatism and sees foreigners from illiberal nations as objects of pity more than as people who truly deserve rights. “Austerity” policies are common, in which all support for the least economically powerful people is actively taken away in the name of “fiscal responsibility”.

Neoliberalism should be understood as a step on the path from socialism towards liberalism, i.e. a “reactionary” (left to right) movement.

Right to center, highly to weakly centralized, somewhat unequal.
No prototypical example.

Small-r republicanism (democracy)

Republicanism is a democratic (“ruled by the people”) and hierarchical system. Compared to mercantilism, republicanism abolishes the King and the nobility in favor of “citizenship”, a trait which is conferred by land ownership. Land ownership and wealth accumulation usually does not depend in any way on blood status; peasants (usually not described with that word!) can earn citizenship by purchasing land, although it is rare that a peasant can afford to do so. Citizens democratically elect leaders (“representatives”) who do the actual work of setting policy. Slavery is often permitted, in which case it is variable whether or not slaves can buy their freedom and achieve citizenship (Rome: yes; US: no), mostly depending on whether slavery is something that can be done to any peasant or something that is restricted to peasants of a certain blood status.

Republics tend to have some form of limited capitalism as their economic system.

Far right to right, somewhat centralized, variably unequal.
Prototypical example: Roman Republic, pre-Caesar

Universal democracy (democracy)

Universal democracy is a democratic (“ruled by the people”) and flat political system. Compared to republicanism, it eliminates slavery and expands citizenship to non-landowners, typically to all people born within the borders of the country. In modern times, the definition of “people” has sometimes even included women and black folks! (/s) However, the wealthy gentry still hold the majority of political power, simply because wealth buys influence.

Universal democracies tend to have some form of capitalism as their economic system.

This is probably best understood as an unstable intermediate system, which gravitates toward either democratic corporatism or democratic socialism, perhaps with a detour through liberal democracy.

Right to center, weakly centralized, variably unequal.
Prototypical example: United States of America, 1870/1920/1965 depending on what you count, but see liberal democracy below

Small-l liberal democracy (democracy, liberalism)

Liberal democracy is a democratic (“ruled by the people”) and flat political system. Compared to universal democracy, liberal democracy adds liberalism.

This appears to be an unstable intermediate system, tending toward either democratic corporatism or democratic socialism.

Right to left, weakly centralized, somewhat equal.
Prototypical example: United States, 1969 to 1987

Democratic corporatism (democracy, liberalism)

Democratic corporatism is liberal democracy in which the political and economic systems are captured by “corporations”.

(“Democratic corporatism” is a term that I made up to describe this category; I don’t believe it otherwise has a unique name.)

A “corporation” is a legal entity (a fictional person), created via the power of government fiat, which insulates the owner(s) of the corporation from negative legal and economic consequences, while letting them benefit freely from the positive consequences. This asymmetry naturally allows the owners of corporations to grow very wealthy, particularly through means that would not be politically or ethically feasible for a person to do without the shielding provided by incorporation.

In mercantilism and republicanism, corporate charters are typically extremely limited in scope: a corporation is chartered for a specific purpose, and that purpose must be in the service of the public good (or of some other good chosen by the government), and corporations which fail to live up to those standards receive the “corporate death penalty” (the revocation of their charter to operate). However, democratic corporatism allows the free issue of corporate charters for any purpose and actually or effectively eliminates the corporate death penalty.

(See the history of The Manhattan Company, originally chartered in 1799 to deliver fresh water to New York City but now known as Chase-Manhattan Bank thanks to a loophole created by famous American traitor Aaron Burr.)

The result is modern corporate capitalism, often called “late capitalism”: public stock trade, holding companies, and vertical monopolies / zaibatsus / corporate behemoths with fingers in every pie, all owned by a pseudo-nobility capitalist class. Although democracy is nominally present, corporations capture the political system through ownership of newspapers, radio stations, television stations, cable channels, Internet providers, Internet news services, Internet social media sites, advertising networks, and so on. Individual citizens are unable to obtain information that has not been filtered through at least one large corporation’s policies, and through this the corporations (and their owners) are able to shape the votes of the citizenry.

Right to center, weakly centralized, fairly unequal.
Prototypical example: United States of America, 2020

Marxism

Karl Marx proposed a model in which capitalism transforms into a political-economic system called “communism” (see below), through a process called “revolution”. Political-economic systems which lie on this path are often called “Marxist”.

☞ An important note: “revolution” in Marxism is a complex word, and it may not correspond to the dictionary meaning of “revolution” that comes to your mind. Revolutions can be peaceful or violent. They can be sudden or gradual. They can throw everything out and start fresh, or they can address one grievance at a time.

Marx observed that capital (resources that produce resources) must often be attended by “laborers” (workers hired by the owner of the capital to operate it; also called the “proletariat” or “proles” in Marxist literature), and that capitalism does not provide a guarantee that the laborers obtain a fair share of the “fruits” of that labor (net profit made by using the capital to create new resources and then sell them). Capital is often expensive, which is bad enough by itself, but capitalists often protect their monopoly on the produced resources (“monopoly” = only one seller) by hoarding the capital and making it as expensive and inaccessible as possible. Not only does this gate-keeping permit the capitalist to overcharge when selling the produced resources, it also permits the capitalist to create a labor monopsony (“monopsony” = only one buyer) and underpay the laborers for their labor. Without this, the laborers would be free to acquire their own capital and start their own capitalist venture, which would normally dictate the minimum price which they would be willing to sell their labor for.

See also: socialism, communism, totalitarianism, democratic socialism, anarcho-communism.

Left to extreme left.

Socialism

Socialism is an extremely broad term that can have any of a number of meanings.

In one sense: “socialism” is neither a political nor an economic system, but an ideology about systems, in which political-economic systems that promote the well-being of the average or worst-off person are most favored. Compare and contrast this with liberalism.

In another sense: “socialism” is a family of political-economic systems which limit the political and economic power of wealthy individuals and corporations, in an attempt to minimize inequality and consequently achieve socialism in the first sense. (Whether or not the latter actually follows from the former depends on the system.)

In another sense: “socialism” is a family of political-economic systems which eliminate private ownership of corporations and replace that ownership with an alternate model, consequently uniting laborers with the fruits of their labor and achieving Marxism. (Whether or not the latter actually follows from the former depends on the system.)

Left to far left, variably centralized, variably unequal.
No prototypical example.

Left-libertarianism

Left-libertarianism is an ideology that proposes that the ideal political-economic systems would be ones that unify libertarianism with socialism, where “socialism” is primarily interpreted in the first sense of promoting well-being of the average or worst-off person.

A typical proposal might include the abolition of incorporation, eliminating the asymmetry of consequences enjoyed by corporate owners and treating the inalienable rights guaranteed to individuals as not applying to the business entities created by capitalists.

Maybe you could get close to socialism if all businesses were required to be worker-owned co-ops… although the inherent self-contradictions of liberalism and libertarianism still apply, and now we’re trying to throw in socialism (which inherently conflicts with both liberalism and libertarianism to boot)!

Left to far left, fairly decentralized, fairly equal.
No prototypical example, because the world has yet to see it work.

Communism

Communism is a family of political-economic systems which seek to achieve socialism (in the Marxist sense).

Marx believed that the final form of communism would involve the “withering away of the state”, as all government functions previously performed by elected bureaucrats were replaced by the laborers. In practice, most governments that labeled themselves as “communist” have turned into totalitarian states, where totalitarianism is nearly the opposite of what Marx originally envisioned.

Communist systems are widely varying. They may contain capitalism, usually with strong constraints, or they may abolish capitalism in favor of some form of central planning. They may continue to use money as a medium of economic exchange, or they may abolish money; even if money is used, there may be some resources available without use of money (i.e. essentials are free but luxuries cost money). Individuals may be relatively equal in political and economic power, or there may be stark hierarchies based on Party loyalty.

Left to far left, variably centralized, variably unequal.
No prototypical example.

Democratic socialism (democracy, socialism)

Democratic socialism is a democratic (“ruled by the people”) and flat political-economic system which attempts to achieve socialism (in one or more of the three senses listed above). It may combine with some form of liberalism. The economy is capitalist in character (“market socialism”), but not libertarian.

In practice, democratic socialism is similar to liberal democracy, except that specific failures modes of capitalism are addressed for the sake of the well-being of the average person. Most importantly: the negative consequence shielding provided by incorporation is severely limited, and anti-competitive practices such as capital gate-keeping are punished. In cases of natural monopolies or resources required for living, the government steps in with heavy regulation and/or state ownership (depending on the country’s degree of socialism in the Marxist sense). Corporations still have a fair amount of economic power, but are typically countered by strong laws protecting labor unions and/or laws that encourage worker-owned co-ops.

☞ A labor union is a labor monopoly in which individual laborers agree to “strike” (stop working, usually without pay) if their employer does something which a majority of the laborers agree is unfair. This helps to equalize the power imbalance between labor and the corporation’s natural labor monopsony.
☞ A worker-owned co-op is a business for which (1) every laborer is an owner and (2) every owner is a laborer. This aligns the incentives of the business with the desires of the laborers.

Some democratic socialist nations are currently considering an Unconditional Basic Income, or UBI. UBI has not yet been implemented anywhere on a national scale, but pilot projects at the city and province scales have been wildly successful at eliminating poverty and homelessness while greatly stimulating the local economy.

☞ “Income”: direct payment of money.
☞ “Basic”: provides enough to cover living essentials such as food and housing.
☞ “Unconditional”: distributed to all citizens, with no means testing and no strings on how it is spent.

Democratic socialism is in many ways a natural first step from liberal democracy toward communism. Even without progressing further along the path laid out by Marx, democratic socialism helps to boost the well-being of those who would otherwise be exploited by corporate capitalism.

Left, somewhat decentralized, fairly equal.
Prototypical example: Denmark, 2020

Totalitarianism (socialism, communism, Marxism)

Totalitarianism (“total control”) is a political-economic system which attempted to achieve socialism and failed. Instead of decentralizing power and withering away the state as Marx envisioned, power is consolidated into a single Party, with the stated-but-never-achieved goal of disbanding once the communist revolution is “complete”. (It never is.) In some ways, this is a wacky funhouse mirror image of feudalism, where Party officials correspond to feudal nobles and the Party leader corresponds to the feudal King.

The most notable economic feature of totalitarianism is the command economy. In this system, all businesses are owned by the state, and the state centrally determines the behavior of each business. In my view, this leads to at least two fatal flaws.

The first fatal flaw is that centralization of decision-making is very dangerous, and the more centralized and more micro-managing the decision-making is, the more dangerous it is. To make good decisions requires good information, and the world is so saturated with information that it’s hard to tell which information is relevant (and should be passed to the central decision-maker) and which information is irrelevant (and can be safely omitted). The information bandwidth to the central decision maker will always be more limited than the information bandwidth within the individual businesses — this is a basic consequence of Information Theory, a branch of physics discovered by Claude Shannon in the 1950’s. Also, the complexity of decision-making scales polynomially with the number of parties affected by the decision, such that centrally-made decisions require greater computation to create an equally good outcome (measured locally) as compared to locally-made decisions. It’s less risky and more computationally efficient if the decision-making is spread out hierarchically, as each decision-making node only needs to consider the information coming from the nodes beneath it and going to the nodes above it. The result is not necessarily close to the global optimum for the nation as a whole, but it’s impossible to do better without breaking the laws of physics.

The second fatal flaw is that it falsely holds that the laborers are the Party. Even if every individual were truly an equal within the Party and the Party were truly democratic with universal suffrage, ownership of all businesses by the state still presents a “two wolves and a sheep” problem. Suppose that everyone in a communist society wants a widget, and 1% of laborers work in widget factories. Well, the 99% who don’t work in widget factories want their widget production to be good, fast, and cheap. (Even if money doesn’t exist anymore in this communist society, resources do.) So they vote for policies that bring misery to the widget factory laborers, just the same as if the widget factory had been majority-owned by private shareholders. Their ownership of the widget factory is overpowered by others who have an incentive to separate the laborers from the fruits of their labor. Making every business a worker-owned co-op would prevent that.

These two flaws don’t even get into the fact that the Party officials are often unelected bureaucrats who only nominally represent the interests of the people.

Left-ish? Highly centralized, very unequal.
Prototypical example: USSR under Joseph Stalin

Marxism-Leninism

See: totalitarianism.

Marxism-Leninism-Maoism

See: totalitarianism.

Direct democracy

Direct democracy is a family of democratic (“ruled by the people”) political systems in which citizens do not elect representatives, but instead act directly as the legislative body. It is closely related to anarchy (see below). Compare and contrast with representative democracy, as described under “republicanism” above.

Direct democracy can be combined with liberalism, libertarianism, or socialism to form an enormous number of possible political systems.

Direct democracy has never been tried on the scale of a nation-state, as it was historically not feasible to make decisions affecting such a large populace except by gathering all decision-makers into a physical central place. With the arrival of real-time telecommunications such as telephones and the Internet, such a direct democracy is now hypothetically possible.

Left to extreme left, highly to maximally decentralized, typically (but not always) highly equal.
No prototypical example.

Anarchy

Anarchy (“no kings”) is a family of political systems which lack both elected and appointed government functionaries / bureaucrats. Anarchic systems use direct democracy but usually strive to minimize the use of violence and coercion in enforcing the outcomes of votes.

The task of governance (making and executing decisions) falls upon all citizens more-or-less equally. Citizens may join and leave committees which are focused on a specific area of governance; in this way, government functions are carried out by those individuals who volunteer to do the work. As each individual can leave any committee at any time, others who want the job to be done by someone but don’t want to do it themselves are thus forced by circumstance to provide incentive for committee members to do their jobs, which is essentially a form of service-for-service barter capitalism.

Like direct democracy, anarchy has never been tried on the scale of a nation-state. However, it has been tried in communities on smaller scales, and works reasonably well when dealing with O(tens) to O(hundreds) of people. Scaling anarchy to O(millions) or O(hundreds of millions) would certainly require a degree of delegation and hierarchical representation, but it would not resemble representative democracy as it exists today because anyone who would want to represent their community in a higher tier would be free to do so.

Extreme left, maximally decentralized, maximally equal.
No prototypical example (yet).

Anarcho-Syndicalism (anarchy, democracy, left-libertarianism)


Anarcho-Communism (anarchy, democracy, socialism, communism)