What We Need to Know About Socialism
Regardless of who becomes the Democratic Presidential nominee for 2020 to run against impeached Donald Trump, and regardless of whether voters think of themselves as Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, it seems to me we all, especially those of my generation (“baby boomers” — children of the greatest generation of the 20th century: those who grew up in the American Depression and fought in and won WWII), need a little historical primer on what is becoming a “weapon” on all political sides nowadays — socialism.
Since my generation has been endeared to WWII for good reason, that might be a place to begin. The war was between two sides, the victors consisting of two political groups, the western democracies, the European democracies, and the USSR (Soviet Union) (together called the Allies) and the defeated Axis Powers, Germany, Italy, and Japan. All, with the exception of Imperialist Japan, were nations formed on the basis of some sort of socialism. Socialism is the philosophical template where people are considered united under one class, where society is treated as a whole, in theory without any kind of cultural hierarchy. In other words, socialist political groups operate assuming that no one subgroup is superior or inferior to the other subgroups. That is why WWI, by eliminating political power from monarchies and their accompanying aristocracies (similar to the French Revolution earlier wrenching power away from the organized Church ), ushered in the creation of socialist governments in Europe that were not already socialist.
The second “S” in USSR is for “socialist,” an extreme form of Marxist-Leninist socialism we know as communism, in which all property is considered owned by the state and none is considered private. Communism claims to be classless, but as Orwell pointed out in Animal Farm, the great parody slamming communism, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Communism is a dictatorship under the guise of egalitarianism, just like fascism. Letting the Nazis represent fascism in general, the “z” in “Nazi” comes from the German word for “socialist,” as Germany after WWI was not ruled by the kaisers or the militaristic aristocracy any more. The economy for fascism is not communistic, but is capitalistic, only the capitalists are under the direction of the state, just as the people are. Fascism is the other extreme of socialism, a dictatorship as ruthless and oppressive as communism, if not more. The irony of the two extremes of socialism, despite their dictatorial similarity, is that there were none who hated communists more than Nazis, and none that hated Nazis more than communists. Yet both groups flourished under a similar, extreme form of patriotism that only can be called extreme nationalism. The tragic misrepresentation of extreme socialism, of dictatorships such as those in Venezuela or Cuba, is that they are called just “socialist,” not communist or fascist. Another irony is that we have today a Russia that is an odd mixture of extreme socialism — a fascist state run by a communist-trained dictator.
That leaves the democratic socialism of the remaining victors of WWII, the western and European democracies, whose form of socialism goes back to the late 18th century with the formation of the United States. My “Holy Trinity” of American political philosophy, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Tom Paine (the third name to avoid two Thomas’s)(For Your Consideration, I Give You…….Tom Paine, [Aug., 2014]), without the stumbling block of a class hierarchy or aristocracy (except the rich “haves” and the poorer “have-nots”), had true egalitarian socialist ideas like a general postal service, municipal fire departments, and public schools. In other words, any political idea or program that treats all of society as one and funded through that same society (usually through taxes) is a democratic socialist idea that originated with the US founding fathers or with the European Enlightenment. When the French Revolution leveled all its society to the level of “citizens,” these egalitarian socialist ideas were refined and shared across the Atlantic with the USA. The European Revolutions of 1848, also known as the People’s Spring or the Spring of Nations, was a workers’ revolt against the ruling monarchs and aristocracy over worker’s rights and conditions of labor. The democratic socialist concept of modern labor unions, hearkening back to the guilds of centuries before, was launched and eventually also made its way to the USA, although with little impact in American history books, as our country was around that time focused on the coming of the American Civil War, which came in 1861. Workers’ rights came to the forefront of the American economy in the early 20th century with the economic class clashes of right wing, conservative capitalists like Henry Ford vs the labor unions of factories (Factory owners hiring goons with clubs to bust picket lines, etc.).
Thus today very little of the structure of our social lives in the US is not in some way socialist: public schools, highways, hospitals, libraries, community charities, first responders, police departments, garbage collection, and so on. The mammoth economic problems brought by the American Great Depression that plagued the childhoods of the baby-boomers parents were solved by the FDR administrations applying democratic socialist programs such as the CCC, the FDIC, the CWA, the FSA, the NIRA, and Social Security. Personally, without the financial support of Social Security for my grandparents, my parents would not have had enough money for my college education; that is democratic socialism. American democratic socialism, therefore, is economically capitalistic (a capitalism that understands that capitalism creates wealth; wealth is not zero-sum.) and based upon private ownership. Patriotism in democratic socialism avoids extreme nationalism by pledging allegiance to a constitution and its rule of law, not to a nation, a leader, a political party, or any philosophical or religious creed. Its function, ideally, is to promote economic and social freedom to all by preventing the formation of greedy oligarchies, such as those in Russia today, or any other form of a ruling class except that cited at the beginning of the Constitution — “We, the people…….”
The French Revolution also brought us the political terms “right” and “left” or “conservative” and “liberal,” based upon the seating by political philosophy of the French National Assembly after the fall of the Bastille. Ideally, the right or the conservatives work for rights, freedom, wealth, and power for themselves and their loved ones or close associates; the left or the liberals also work for rights, freedom, wealth, and power for themselves and their loved ones or close associates, but ALSO for the same things for ALL citizens, strangers or not. Liberals seem to care for all citizens more than conservatives. Note, too, that left/right, liberal/conservative cannot be applied in extreme socialist states, such as those under communism and fascism; neither should just the name “socialist” be applied to these extremes. The social movements of American history, therefore, such as the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, and women’s rights are rightly seen as liberal, and, hence, democratic socialist movements. Liberalism is the modus operandi of putting into practice the ideals of democratic socialism.
To me the punch line suggested by this social history since the founding of our country is: Just like the spectrum from right/conservative to left/liberal is not a black and white dichotomy, neither is the political spectrum of socialism from dictatorships of all ilks to democratic socialist societies. The outcome of WWII and the collapse of Soviet communism are two latter-day giant steps toward the world’s societies moving toward liberal democracies and away from nationalism of all ilks. Societies in liberal democracies are not hard-line egalitarian organizations; they are meritocracies whose education for young minds allows students to discover and develop the unlimited possibilities of their individual talents and skills; that is the only “social hierarchy” needed (See Egalite: A Qualified Virtue, [Feb., 2018]). And education is encouraged in all as a lifelong personal vocation. The direction of this movement is compatible with the advancement and rise of international democratic socialism, which some like to call globalism (Going Global, [March, 2018]). Voting in the direction of liberal democracies means voting for candidates who are in some degree (it is a spectrum, remember) democratic socialists, and it seems all the 2020 Democratic candidates are democratic socialists to some degree. These candidates, as well as conservative candidates, need to be careful not to be culpable to unhistorical misinformation wielded as political propaganda regarding the generic terms “socialism” or “socialistic.” Some examples are the absurd views that communism = socialism or that fascism = socialism or that the horrible conditions in places like Cuba and Venezuela were brought on by socialism.
Another way of putting it is that socialism is neither all good or all bad, but is exemplified in specific settings in degrees of both. But it is not a coin toss, as what I hope is clear is that more democratic socialism is so much better than more dictatorial socialism. And overall germane to this point is that no politician is perfect. But the spectrum of political socialism has historically given us great leaders who have done bad things and awful leaders who have done good things. But the degree of good in the former should clearly stand out in favor over the degree of bad in the latter. In my opinion, history allows the determination of these ethical degrees for the following historical occasions of leadership, listed randomly in time and place:
The Soviet communists got rid of the czars of Russia, but that does not justify what Stalin did; Stalin was an awful, bad leader. Hitler give us the Volkswagen, but that does not justify what Hitler did to Europe and the world; Hitler was an awful, bad leader. Richard Nixon opened up world trade with China, but that does not justify what Nixon did in the Watergate scandal; Nixon was a deceptively corrupt leader. Thomas Jefferson did not free all his slaves and fathered children by his house servant Sally Hemings, but that does not negate all the great things Jefferson did in creating this country of ours; he was one of our greatest founding fathers and Presidents of all time. Bill Clinton betrayed his marriage, but that does not negate in any way his place as a great President; Clinton was a bright, clever leader who loved his country beyond measure. Ronald Reagan was an inspiring orator, but that does not justify his lack of intellectual insight beyond just reading the lines written for him; Reagan was a hollow mouthpiece for the Republicanism of his day. FDR may have had extramarital comfort, but that does not negate the rescue of America from the Great Depression he orchestrated; FDR was a wealthy aristocrat who proved that one of the “privileged class” could be a democratic socialist. LBJ was a vicious, vindictive politician, but that does not negate the great legislative strides he and Sam Rayburn made regarding the civil rights for all we enjoy today; LBJ destroyed crippling social barriers that held us back for decades. Benedict Arnold may have been responsible for the American patriot victory at Saratoga, but that does not justify his betrayal of his country; Benedict Arnold is the textbook definition of a traitor. Jimmy Carter was too trusting in the idealism of Washington DC, but that does not negate his legacy of a great peacemaker and post-Presidency philanthropist; Jimmy Carter was as close to being a Christian President as we’ve ever had, without violating separation of church and state. Fidel Castro may have improved education in Cuba, but that does not justify his destroying human rights and the Cuban economy by imposing idiotic communist ideology; Fidel Castro sunk Cuba into dictatorial disaster. Barack Obama failed to involve the younger generation of voters as promised, but that does not negate his unparalleled record of being the first American President of African-American ancestry along with an 8-year term of office free of scandal; Obama destroyed the barriers LBJ couldn’t reach and inspired all Americans from all backgrounds with living in reality the American dream. JFK loved on the side women like Marilyn Monroe, but that does not negate his legacy of breaking the religious bigotry of this country, being a great Cold War leader, and living as an example of American idealism; JFK made all Americans believe in our own version of Camelot. Etc…….etc…….
Note the pattern above: If there is more social good than bad from a leader, the words “that does not negate” appear. If more bad than good, the words “that does not justify” appear. Let me give out three more names and see which of these two sets of words you would put after them: Winston Churchill, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump. No doubt you could add the names of any historical leaders since the late 18th century to these and likewise assess them. Knowing a little about history and the history of socialism can be a valuable forensic tool. The more history you know the more informed is your assessment. And, clearly it seems to me, such knowledge and such vetting can be indispensable to peer through the fog of the upcoming 2020 election in November.
I never vote in primaries for President of the US, because I do not register with any political party. So when the Presidential tickets for the two main parties are set, I apply the forensic tool defined above, and this explains why I have never voted in my life for a Republican Presidential candidate in the November Presidential elections. However, if you do participate in the primaries, there is no reason you couldn’t use this historical forensic tool in the primaries. Since the beginning of our country, the Democratic Party has consistently produced candidates with more democratic, socialist, capitalistic, and progressive positions than the Republican candidates, election year in and election year out.
Be part of the direction of history; vote for the advancement of the principles of liberal democracy; vote for rights, freedom, wealth, and power for all; vote for the higher degree of democratic socialism in November.