Parasitism (social offense)

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Social parasitism is a pejorative that is leveled against a group or class which is considered to be detrimental to society. The term comes from the ancient Greek παράσιτος (parásitos), "one who lives at another's expense, person who eats at the table of another," used to label the social offender.[1] (The term appeared in English in this sense, as a social label, in the 1530s; the later use of "parasite" as a biological metaphor developed from the early 17th century.[2])

For example, the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky was charged with social parasitism[3] by the Soviet authorities. A 1964 trial found that his series of odd jobs and role as a poet were not a sufficient contribution to society.


Depending on point of view, a social parasite may be one of several classes:

Socialists have described members of the upper classes as economic parasites. The Russian lyrics of the socialist anthem "The Internationale" include a reference to parasites.[4]

The German Nazis viewed "races without homeland" as "parasitic races" or "Untermensch" to be eliminated. These included Romani people and Jews.[5] The habitually "work-shy" ("arbeitsscheu") were imprisoned in concentration camps (see Black triangle (badge)).

According to at least one commentator, it may be the new social paradigm—involving class warfare and exploitation of electoral processes—of myriad and disparate countries around the world.[6] See Oligarchy, Kleptocracy and Elite capture.

Soviet Union[edit]

Russian poet Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996) was sentenced in 1964 to five years of banishment from Leningrad to Arkhangelsk Oblast for "social parasitism". In 1987 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

In the Soviet Union, which declared itself a workers' state, every adult able-bodied person was expected to work until official retirement. Thus unemployment was officially and theoretically eliminated. Those who refused to work, study or serve in another way risked being criminally charged with social parasitism (Russian: тунеядство tuneyadstvo, тунеядцы [tuneyadets/tuneyadetchi"),[7] in accordance with the socialist principle "from each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution."[8]

In 1961, 130,000 people were identified as leading the "anti-social, parasitic way of life" in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.[9] Charges of parasitism were frequently applied to dissidents and refuseniks, many of whom were intellectuals. Since their writings were considered against the regime, the state prevented them from obtaining employment. To avoid trials for parasitism, many of them took unskilled (but not especially time-consuming) jobs (street sweepers, firekeepers, etc.), which allowed them to continue their other pursuits.[10]


Policies introduced in 2015, which observers noted as being reminiscent of Soviet-era initiatives, included a tax for those who were considered "social parasites".[11] Defined as people working under 183 days in a year, and excluding home-makers and subsistence farmers, the deployment of the so-called parasite tax has been suspended after protests in several major urban centers.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Maltby (January 1999). The Language of Plautus's Parasites. Classical Receptions in Drama and Poetry in English from c.1970 to the Present. The Open University.
  2. ^ Harper, Douglas. "parasite". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2015-07-07.
  3. ^ Remnick, David (December 20, 2010). "Gulag Lite". The New Yorker. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
  4. ^ For example, the Russian text reads: Only we, the workers of the all-world Great army of labor, Have the right to own the land, But parasites — never!
  5. ^, Nazi Ideological Theory. See Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. 1 chapter 9 for prominent examples of the use of the word.
  6. ^ Evans, Jon (April 1, 2018). "Parasitism and the fight for the wrong century". TechCrunch. Retrieved April 2, 2018 – via Yahoo Finance.
  7. ^ Questions of criminal responsibility for the parasitic way of life (Russian), by B.G. Pavlov, Jurisprudence, Leningrad University
  8. ^ Gregory, Paul R.; Stuart, Robert C. (2003). Comparing Economic Systems in the Twenty-First Century. South-Western College Pub. p. 118. ISBN 0-618-26181-8. Under socialism, each individual would be expected to contribute according to capability, and rewards would be distributed in proportion to that contribution. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |month= (help)
  9. ^ Yevgenii Zhirnov, Внушить полезный страх (To inflict helpful fear), (Russian), Kommersant, 2011-04-25(retrieved December 26, 2001)
  10. ^ "Злоупотребления законодательством о труде" Archived 2015-05-02 at the Wayback Machine, a document of the Moscow Helsinki Group.
  11. ^ Erickson, Amanda (2017-03-10). "Belarus wanted to tax its unemployed 'parasites.' Then the protests started". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-09-15.
  12. ^ "Belarus suspends 'social parasite' tax". BBC News. 2017-03-09. Retrieved 2017-09-15.