Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The S Word

I almost have to chuckle when conservatives use the word socialism as if it's a curse. They accuse Democrats in general and President Obama in particular of being socialists. Either they have no idea what socialism is or else they really do know but assume their audience is ignorant.

Here are a few questions for those conservatives: You are opposed to socialism? Hmmm... do you want to get rid of Medicare? It's a government run, socialist program that most Americans, including many who consider themselves conservatives, support. How about public libraries? Public safety, as in police and fire protection, that are government run? Public schools? Social security? All those things are examples of socialism, good common sense socialism. All are socialism which most Americans would not want to do away with.

Every successful western democracy has a blend of capitalism and socialism for its economic system, including the United States. The only differences are how much of each. Frankly, we need a bit more socialism in this country. I originally wrote much of this as a response to a conservative in a political discussion online. He accused me of advocating "moving to a failed system of socialism". Socialism has nothing to do with failed systems in eastern Europe or elsewhere. It certainly has nothing to do with Communism or Marxism or the old Soviet Union.

I've often said most Americans don't know what socialism is but the more I think about it the more I realize I've probably been wrong to say that. After all, the good people of Vermont elected Bernie Sanders, an avowed small s socialist, to the U.S. Senate. Oh, and yes, I consider myself a socialist, in a decidedly small d democratic sort of way, much like Senator Sanders.


Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as democratic socialism. The notion is preposterous and demonstrates ignorance of American history and the importance of individual liberty. Collectivism as a choice is far more effective than collectivism as a government requirement.

Democracy encourages generosity. Socialism demands it. This defies the purpose of life and reduces humanity to the level of slavery.

I object to socialism in any form and will rebel against its oppression always.

Caitlyn Martin said...

@James Culver: Thank you for illustrating my point about how ignorant many Americans are about socialism and how those on the political right redefine the word into something that has nothing whatsoever to do with socialism. I dare say I know more American history than you do.

First, socialism isn't collectivism. Second, almost all of Europe has and has had democratic socialism since since the end of the second world war. Please describe to me what isn't democratic about the U.K., France, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, or Sweden. They would all define themselves as social democracies.

Democracy has nothing to do with generosity. Democracy is a political system, not an economic one. However, what socialism does do is insist that greed can't override providing basic needs for the citizenry. If someone is left to starve to death how does that relate to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". How does that provide freedom? It doesn't.

So, since you rebel against socialist "oppression" I assume you want to eliminate public schools and public libraries. They are examples of socialism. Police and fire protection should be privatized or eliminated immediately in your world. They are, after all, socialism. Social Security and Medicare are just forced generosity to you anyway. To heck with our seniors! Get rid of the socialism! Is that what you are really advocating?

I'd call you clueless but I'd be overly kind if I did. To quote a Klaus Schulze song lyric: "Ignorance is the choice not to know." (Emphasis is mine.) You've clearly chosen to be ignorant.

Rebecca said...

Thing is socialism is state ownership of the means of production and some states still have this (the UK used to own its transit system; Philadelphia owns its gas distribution system). The social support systems we have were modeled from Bismarck who used social democracy to keep socialists from coming into power. He was certainly not in favor of state ownership of the means of production.

Most US residents are rather clueless about the various things that states have always done to help the poor -- in the 19th Century and earlier, these things were done on the county level, but we've never had a period in US history where the poor didn't get some governmentally provided relief (I've seen the budget figures for a small rural Virginia County in the early decade and a half of the 20th Century, not just the poor house, but home relief.

People will game the system if it's voluntary charity, as British Muslims are doing now by giving to their families rather than following the customary Islamic practice of giving to mosque run charities. Putting it under governmental control stops the favoritism and the bullying ("remember who gave you that coat and be ready to do me favors.").

Socialism is a benevolent buzz word where I'm living now, but Nicaragua basically works in partnership with private corporations for network functions (phones, internet) and electric. What they did keep under government control is better managed than the privately owned electrical system (run by a Spanish company).

Communism has never been put into practice outside a few communes, one of which is now the longest lasting commune in human history -- Twin Oaks in Virginia.

There is no purpose in life and humans are social animals. If we were solitary, the health of other solitary creatures of our species would only matter when we came together to mate. As we do live in communities, the health of the community does matter.