I am writing this post to help people understand:
- why there is so much confusion and such a strong aversion to the word Socialism today
- why it is very, very misplaced
- how we need to reframe the socialism conversation.
Part of these problems are due to:
- our massively broken education system
- over a hundred years of governmental propaganda and continuously stoked fears
There are technical definitions and then there is the more colloquial usage. I will cover both in this article just for completeness and to help relieve some of the confusion.
You can also check out my post The Continuum of Capitalism which correlates directly to this article.
Reframing the Socialism Conversation
So, for the purposes of this post there are 3 ways of talking about socialism:
- Historical and Academic Socialism and Communism
- Democratic Socialism
- Socialism as an Abstraction
1. Historical and Academic Socialism and Communism
Academic Socialism and Communism in Brief
The idea of Socialism actually predates the ideals of Communism by about 100 years and has been seen by those within the Communist movement as a precursor and transitional state prior to achieving a truly Communist society. Both movements sprung up as a reaction to the horrors of the exploitation rampant within Capitalism, much of which we are still seeing today.
Both movements sprung up as a reaction to the horrors of the exploitation rampant within Capitalism, much of which we are still seeing today.
I will not go over the technical differences between the two because they are irrelevant and beyond the scope of our discussion, but if you want a quick overview here is a quick phrase to get you started:
- Socialism: From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution.
- Communism: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
… and here are some links for your to peruse:
- Capitalism, Socialism and Communism Explained in One Minute (Youtube)
- Capitalism, Socialism and Communism (Huffington Post)
- Communism vs Socialism (Business Dictionary)
- Communism vs Socialism (Key differences)
- Communism vs Socialism (Differen)
- Difference Between Communism and Socialism (Difference Between)
- The Difference Between Socialism, Communism, and Marxism Explained by a Marxist (Youtube)
- Communism vs. Socialism: What’s The Difference? (Now This World via Youtube)
Those countries which call themselves, or that we refer to as Communist (two of which are/were even run by a party that labeled themselves as Communist), are actually technically Socialist and two of them even have Socialist in their names. Although, many countries which embraced Socialism did so as a way to start the process of transforming their countries to the ideal of Communism, but have all been stopped in their tracks due to authoritarianism, corruption, and greed. There are no technically Communist countries in existence. Examples of these “Socialist” countries are those countries that we refer to as Communist:
- the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)
- People’s Republic of China
- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)
- Socialist Republic of Vietnam
- Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos)
- Republic of Cuba
Summary: Truly Communist countries do NOT exist in the world. Countries that we think of as Communist are actually Socialist. Confusing, right? This confusing jumble of ‘isms‘ is all important for understanding the next section.
The Historical Trashing of the Word Socialism
In the United States we have a very, very long history of trashing the Socialism and this process began about 100 years ago as a reaction to the sweep of Socialism/Communism throughout Europe (USSR) which stoked extreme levels of US fears of Communism infecting the United States with the USSR/Russia being our primary Red Antagonist. As you will see below, the Soviet Union/Russia and Socialism/Communism is a common enemy that pops up about every 30 years or so since then through the following eras:
- Red Scare Part I (1917+) following World War I (WWI),
- Red Scare Part II (1947+) following World War II (WWII).
- Cold War (1979+) with the USSR and the nuclear arms race
- KGB Presidency Era (1999+) when Vladimir Putin became president of Russia and spearheaded expansion and other geo-local territorial aggressions
There are elements of Red Scare fears and tactics during the Cold War in the 80’s and even today, so our country has never really recovered from it, nor have we ever had a generation that has not suffered from it, or having NOT known it since its inception a hundred years ago.
During these periods massive governmental propaganda campaigns were used to promote the Red Scare as a method of control of the American populace through the use of the fear of anything that could be labelled as Socialism/Communism and the fear of its infiltration of our government by their agents which allowed the government to engage in many actions and laws which violated our fundamental rights.
Here are a few thoughts and quotes about these periods to give you an idea of what was going on and why:
Red Scare Part I Quote
Here is a quote talking about the Red Scare following WWI:
The Scare had its origins in the hyper-nationalism of World War I as well as the Russian Revolution. At the war’s end, following the October Revolution, American authorities saw the threat of Communist revolution in the actions of organized labor, including such disparate cases as the Seattle General Strike and the Boston Police Strike and then in the bombing campaign directed by anarchist groups at political and business leaders. Fueled by labor unrest and the anarchist bombings, and then spurred on by United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s attempt to suppress radical organizations, it was characterized by exaggerated rhetoric, illegal search and seizures, unwarranted arrests and detentions, and the deportation of several hundred suspected radicals and anarchists. In addition, the growing anti-immigration nativism movement among Americans viewed increasing immigration from Southern Europe and Eastern Europe as a threat to American political and social stability.
Red Scare Part II Quote
Here is a quote talking about the Red Scare following WWII:
In 1949, the Soviet Union successfully tested a nuclear bomb and communist forces led by Mao Zedong (1893-1976) took control of China. The following year saw the start of the Korean War (1950-53), which engaged U.S. troops in combat against the communist-supported forces of North Korea. The advances of communism around the world convinced many U.S. citizens that there was a real danger of “Reds” taking over their own country. Figures such as McCarthy and Hoover fanned the flames of fear by wildly exaggerating that possibility.
Cold War Quote
Here is a quote talking about the Cold War:
The Cold War (1979–1985) refers to the phase of a deterioration in relations between the Soviet Union and the West arising from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. With the election of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979, and United States President Ronald Reagan in 1980, a corresponding change in Western foreign policy approach toward the Soviet Union was marked with the abandonment of détente in favor of the Reagan Doctrine policy of rollback, with the stated goal of dissolving Soviet influence in Soviet Bloc countries. During this time, the threat of nuclear war had reached new heights not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Red Scare Today
With the rise of Vladimir Putin, who is a former KGB agent, to Prime Minister of Russia along with rampant Russian political corruption, harmful fundamental conservatism, and geopolitical aggression such as the Georgian and Crimean incidents, this created a perfect storm for the standard historical enemy to blame. It has worked for almost 100 years, so a few more decades will not hurt. Now, this is not to say that Russia and Putin are not a threats, because they are, but blaming everything on Putin/Russia is a convenient way to not look at our own failings, especially within the Democratic Party who recently began to relentlessly beat the Red Scare drum while ignoring their own rampant corruption, betrayals, and subversion as the reason for their agonizing failures. But…. Russia! No… look over there… Russia! =(
Here is more reading if your want to dig into this large topic some more.
- Red Scare – general
- Post World War I
- Post World War II
- Cold War (1980s)
- KGB Presidency Era
- Rise of Putin, a former KGB agent, as Russian president
- Democratic Party blaming their faults and disregard for the democratic process on Russia
Harmful Political Manipulations of the Red Scare
The Red Scare and other forms of fear and nationalism throughout history has had several harmful uses in American Politics:
- provided a convenient method of venting and directing America’s increasing social and economic unease and fears (away from our own government) towards an definable enemy (which the government stoked);
- allowed government to conveniently target Socialist countries which tend to use Socialist in their names or were run by Communist Parties;
- established a powerful set of emotional keywords (Socialism, Communism) that the government could utter with fear based rhetoric in order to whip up a frenzy of public support because of the tremendous negative association these words have with a historical enemy, wars, and the horrors these systems have inflicted upon their own people, which allowed the government to freely violate the rights of the people and to stop movements to have the government spend money to benefit the people or to having corporations pay their fair share.
The various Red Scares are a very powerful form of social control to ensure war, violation of rights, and keeping the government from serving the people while blinding the people them to the crimes against them due to emotional manipulation and their unquenchable fears. The mere uttering or whispering of these two words causes people’s minds to turn off and allows them to be blindly manipulated through powerful base emotions (fear) and then to support things that blatantly harms them or others, while cheering for it with thunderous applause.
As a direct result of the US’s continuous meddling with the Middle East we saw a new form of this Scare movement which we could call the Muslim Scare.
Starting with the Persian Gulf War (1990) and then the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001 created the perfect opportunity for the invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), all of which heightened the US’ nationalism and general fears with our eventual primary enemies being the Taliban, ISIS, and Al Queda all of which were historically trained, armed, and funded by US intelligence. These wars and military actions paved the way for such massive rights violations found in the Patriot Act, Homeland Security, ICE, and so much more all of which we are still suffering from and paying for today.
In countries that embrace eco-humanistic ideals such as those countries which we label as Democratic-Socialist (the Nordic countries – Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland) we have a mix of heavily socialized programs and private ownership and businesses. The Nordic countries’ socialized programs have resulted in their countries being the most successful and empowering countries in the world because their programs are implemented well and are created to greatly benefit and empower the people allowing them to live fulfilling and free lives.
The Nordic states have implemented such programs as:
- universal health care
- universal education which is the best in the world
- plentiful vacation (2 months+), sick time
- maternity/paternity leave and great parental support
- high minimum wage ($20+), 32 hour work week, high levels of unionization
- extensive sustainable energy investments and recycling programs
- shifting to electric cars and sustainable mass transportation
- plentiful green spaces
… and so much more which has them consistently listed in the top 10 of the Happiest countries in the world was well as having the lowest rates of poverty. All of these amazing programs and benefits puts America and its false exceptionalism to extreme shame (and I say this as an American).
3. Socialism as an Abstraction
What is socialism in America and much of Europe? If we abstract out the ideal of Socialism to work with its more colloquial usage then:
- Socialism is merely when the government implements and/or spends money for programs or infrastructure. If the government pays for or implements it then it is a socialized program or benefit.
All countries in the world are socialized in one form or another because they all have programs and infrastructure paid for and/or are run by the government.
Here are examples of socialism in the United States:
- interstate, highways, and roads
- city utilities: water, sewage
- development of the internet
- Social Support
- Medicare, Medicaid
- Social Security
- unemployment insurance
- Emergency Services
- fire department
- City Services
- snow plows
- leaf and grass collection and composting
- trash collection
- recycling collection
- Public Services
- post office
- public libraries
- public schools
These are all programs funded and implemented by the government in various forms and therefore are socialized and are an example of socialism.
See? That was no so bad. =)
The Continuum of Socialism
OK, so the dark and grim history lesson is done for now. Hopefully, with what I talked about above you have a better idea of why Socialism and Communism are such dirty words politically. Let us move on to a little lighter and more contemporary discussion of Socialism…
In this section, for argument’s sake and for the ease of this discussion, we will refer to those countries that have implemented technically Socialist governments as Communist which is their colloquial classification. This differentiation is needed below for the ease of conversation as I reframe socialism so we can really discuss it for use in America’s social, economic, and political world.
The only real issue with socialism and socialized programs world-wide is based on how well the government chooses to implement them. Where the idea of socialism gets a bad rap are the historical instances where socialized programs and infrastructure are purposefully implemented poorly as a means to control the populace. When implemented well, socialism is used to empower the populace and has resulted in the highest levels of equality and the happiest countries in the world.
Below, I will cover the opposite ends in the Continuum of Socialism so you can see what I am talking about:
- Democratic Socialism
All historical implementations of Communism such as China or in the former Soviet Union have ended up under Authoritarian regimes, so they did not fund nor implement their socialized programs enough while their oppressive method of implementation was used as a form of social control – to keep their people ignorant, fearful, poverty stricken, having to get through layer upon useless layer “red” tape in order to get anything done, and therefore… under control. All the while, the money and resources that should have been spent on the people and those socialized programs went those in the upper echelons of government who were doing wonderfully.
We have heard all of the horror stories of people having suffered through Communist Russia. I have talked with a few people who suffered through that. It was not pretty. That suffering is something that they carry with them to this day and they will probably never get over.
I have experienced this myself a teeny-tiny bit in the late 2000’s when my wife, who is from Belarus, had to get her passport renewed while we were in Belarus. This process took at least or two full days to get done where she had to go to like 4 for 5 places from all over the very large city using public transportation to get stamps, signatures, and paperwork, and then she had to wait about 3 weeks to get her new passport.
Colloquially, Socialism in-and-of-itself is not the problem because it is just the government spending money on programs and infrastructure. Broken and underfunded implementations which are meant to subdue the populace or to act as a reason to privatize these program are the problem. Socialized programs when well supported and fully funded are a tremendous boon to the economy and the people.
So, if someone is talking about Socialism then we first need to try to figure out what they mean by it in order to be able to attempt to have a reasonable conversation. Once we figure that out then we can reframe it so we can have a positive and useful conversation.
Also, let me phrase it like this:
The answer is always socialism. It is just a matter of socialism for whom: (1) We the People, or (2) Corporations and the Rich.James O’Neill