Socialism: Let us understand it, so we are not afraid
There is a lot of talk lately in this election about Barack Obama having “socialist views” and being “a socialist.” For some – especially those who grew up during the Cold War – this evokes an image of radical Socialism as practiced in Soviet Russia and Mao’s China. Or is that Communism? What is the difference anyway?
The idea of Socialism has been around for a long time – longer than German philosopher Karl Marx (who wrote The Communist Manifesto). Socialism is a set of ideals and not a type of government. Examples of types of government are Representative Democracy & Constitutional Republic (United States), Parliamentary Democracy & Constitutional Monarchy (United Kingdom, Canada), Direct Democracy & Parliamentary Republic (Switzerland) and Socialist Republic (Cuba) … among many others.
Having “socialism” written down as a set of ideals came out of Europe where people had been struggling with class for centuries. Industrial revolutions made the worker more valuable but also the CEOs of the time much richer. Common people wanted to be recognized as a more important part of society and given more rights and better compensation for their work.
This is where unions started to become more popular. The workers organized themselves and revolted against the rich business owners. This happened all over the world – Germany, England, Australia and the US. How are unions socialist? It is workers asking rich business owners to “share the wealth” – pay us more as you make more – and fighting back in droves. The simple showing of solidarity – if we all don’t work then you will not be able to make money off us – is what makes a union powerful.
As with any large-scale movement, things spiraled out of control in some areas where those with the most fervor from the victories of The Worker began to snowball into an “I know what’s right” mentality (see: Catholicism) . In places like Russia and Germany, where the workers had been most repressed and the people had suffered the most, socialism turned into Socialism and Communism, with a hint of Anarchy. Russia’s Communism (where the government flat out controls everything and no one is rich…and in their case, everyone is poor) did spread but no Communist system in the world has ever been considered “pure communism” as pretty much everyone got it wrong. Communism, as the name suggests, is actually supposed to be like an ideal hippie commune where everyone works together, all of the food and goods are produced within the commune, and everyone is treated equal. Things didn’t quite pan out that way for the Communists, mainly due to human greed and ego of the people who lead the revolutions in the first place.
In other Westernized countries, socialism did just fine. Some people read Marx’s work and interpreted it differently. These socialists were from democratic countries (countries where the people vote) and their form of Socialism was called socialist democracy. They believed that socialist-type stuff could come about through EVOLUTION rather than REVOLUTION – meaning that the social services that would be provided by the government would be a reaction to the people’s needs and not a top-down decision based purely on the hatred of capitalism.
Also note that in the phrase “socialist democracy” it is democracy with a small “d” and is intended to convey the word in a sense of voting (democracy) and not the “left-leaning” American political party the Democrats.
Socialism in the form of socialist democracy has been alive and well in the Western world since World War I. Canada, The United Kingdom, Switzerland, France and Brazil hold social democracy ideals. The government helps out the people, people are still free, capitalism is totally alive and well, no one class drowns under taxes and the people are happy. The people vote for these socialist ideals to be put in to place – they are not forced upon them.
Is there socialism in America? You bet! Medicare/Medicade, welfare, unions, unemployment, social security and even the US Post Office are social services (the USPS, while now its own thing, is still backed by the government). So are libraries, public schools, fire and police services and city snow plows.
What about this whole government bailout thing? Is that socialism? Well first remember that it was a democratic bailout – you voted for your representatives and they in turn voted for the terms of the bailout. It was NOT the head of the government making a sweeping decision on what to do (which is what the Communist side of Socialism would have done). It remains to be seen whether this bailout will benefit the people (as socialists are wont to do) or not. The hope is that it WILL benefit us and, thus, it was a socialist democracy sort of decision.
So, are we Socialist or not? Well, remember that Socialism is not a type of government – we still are and will always be a representative democracy with a very strong Constitution. There will always be a system of “checks and balances” where no one individual can gain complete control (although honestly, some of those checks and balances were cast aside during Bush’s presidency). Social democrats of today are focusing more on the environment, feminism, fair trade, human rights and secularism. These ideals do fall more in line with the Democrat (big D) way of thinking. The “left-wing” if you will.
In order for social democracy to take a stronger hold on America, it will mean an increase in taxes. But, the wealth of the American people is extremely lopsided already. The vast majority of the people pay lots of tax and get little in return. This is the middle class and the “working poor.” They do not qualify for social services which are reserved for the completely destitute and they do not have the extra money to “get ahead.” So, in America, a socialist democrat has the “luxury” of slightly changing the tax laws in a way that SLIGHTLY raises the taxes on a very small but very wealthy segment of the population. This shift would not only ease the tax burden on the middle class and working poor but also afford the government the ability to extend social services such as universal health care to ALL Americans thus FURTHER easing the burden on the middle class.
This is, indeed, “spreading the wealth.” But it’s not as scary as it sounds. It means that if I make $250,000 and my tax goes up 1%, that is an extra $2500 for the government. If you make $80,000 and your tax goes DOWN 1%, that is $800 less for the government. At this point, the government is $1700 ahead, you have $800 more to spend in the economy and I have $2500 less to let sit in my bank and collect interest. But that’s ok for me because I still have $247,500 in the bank and will make that 1% back in interest in less than 30 days. The government can take that extra $1700 now and give you universal health care, which is going to save you a lot of money over the years. You’ll probably take that money and blow it on some useless goods or invest it in the stock market. But that’s good for me because as a rich person I benefit from a healthy stock market and a healthy US economy.
It’s all pennies and nickles and dimes. Is it “taking from the rich and giving to the poor”? In a sense, yes. But “rich people” in America have proven they can’t be trusted to manage their money – and our money – in a way that is beneficial to America. They take the money and build factories in China. They take the money and buy shoddy loans. They take the money – which used to be your money – and spend it on hookers and blow. They use their power and money to screw each other, they screw shareholders, they screw the government (tax evasion, inflated government contracts, etc) and they screw the American economy.
All that socialist democrats want is to take a tiny bit of that wasted money and pump it back into the American economy. This will come in the form of raising taxes for the “filthy rich” and closing tax loopholes that have helped unscrupulous business executives get further ahead than planned. Instead of running the government by lending an ear (and an arm and a leg) to the rich, the socialist democrat wants to run the government in a way the benefits ALL Americans – even the rich.
So, don’t be afraid of “socialism.” Western social democracy is not the same as Communism. Think of social democracy as Protestantism: Christianity became Catholicism which turned Christianity on its ear, and the Protestants decided to break off and do their own thing. Socialism became Communism which turned Socialism on its ear, and the socialist democrats decided to break off and do THEIR own thing. Just as you can’t call every Christian a Catholic, you can’t call every Socialist a Communist.
Is Barack Obama a Socialist? Well he’s not a Marxist or a Communist. Technically he’s a Democrat. Does he have Socialist views? Probably. And good for him. Because this “Free Market Capitalist” crap isn’t really working out for us.Written by JessB
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