Socialism is the highest order of civilizational evolution; an economic and social system in which everyone gives according to his/her ability and receives according to his/her need; where fairness and justice reign and human needs are given their due priority over profits, and parasitic capitalist exploiters are stomped out along with racism, sexism, homophobia, distinctions of class and environmental destruction.
Astute readers many note a tone of sarcasm. But if that definition of socialism is obviously absurd, then aren’t we getting into a straw man argument? After all, no one in America believes that stuff anymore, right?
Few politicians in America call themselves socialists, but it’s hard to find a point of fundamental philosophical disagreement between the socialist parties of Europe (who at least aren’t squeemish about proclaiming their name) and the Democrat party of 2013. Moreover, the tactics and actions of the Democrat party in general and the Obama-Reid-Pelosi administration in particular can leave little doubt as to their philosphical foundations.
But why are they wrong? And why are we right-wing nut jobs so adamant about Capitalism, the scourge of the Earth?
There are, of course, other alternative social models to Capitalism, such as absolute monarchy, theocracy, anarchy, or feudalism, such as the landowner-serf/slave relationships practiced in the middle ages in Europe and through the 19th century in Russia and the southern United States. But none of those models pose a serious ideological challenge to Capitalism in our day. The debate which remains is between Capitalism and one or another form of socialism.
Under the general umbrella, there have been many variations of socialism proposed and/or attempted. Here are a just few terms which are commonly used as synonyms or which describe variants of socialism:
· Collectivism: emphasizes the aggregate social group over the individual, the sharing of goods, the general rather than personal ownership of the means of production.
· Statism: emphasizes the direction of human affairs by the state; typically the federal or national government.
· Planned Economy: This is a term intended to promote socialism as a rational and therefore superior system in contrast to the unplanned ‘anarchy of capitalist production’. An important question that arises is, whose plans? Yours or the state’s? Are individuals, families, churches and other voluntary associations to be permitted to make and carry out their own plans for their lives and activities, without coercion and in voluntary cooperation with their peers, or is it only the Master Plan of the nation, the central committee, the Federal Planning Administration or the Supreme Beloved All Wise Leader (may he reign for one thousand years!) that counts? Who plans and who obeys? What is the penalty for disobedience? Moreover, is this a superior social system? Can it actually work?
· Interventionism: Indicates that Capitalism and liberty are permitted to a point, but the political party in power attempts, through taxes, regulations, privileges and prohibitions, to engineer the economy so as to achieve the outcomes it favors. Protective tariffs for favored domestic industries and currency and credit manipulation fall under this category. So do subsidies for ethanol, wind and solar power technologies combined with taxes on petroleum-based products.
· Keynesianism: John Maynard Keynes is perhaps the most influential economist of the 20th (and now the 21st) century. His General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) provided the academic endorsement for the New Deal policies of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression. While not advocating socialism outright (he was no fan of Marx), his theory calls for an active management role for government in allocating resources and deficit spending, presumably to better cope with recessions and unemployment.
· Mafiaism: A more vicious form of Interventionism, characterized by privileges, prejudices and swift, violent justice for those who get out of line. Very little pretense of virtue or appeal to transcendent principles are made. Markets and private property are tolerated as long as they don’t threaten the powerful and well-connected, but the threat of nationalization of the enterprise or imprisonment, enslavement or murder of private business owners is ever-present. This form of socialism describes Russia, China and Venezuela as it is practiced today, among others.
· Fascism and/or National Socialism: A variation of dictatorial socialism in which business firms retain a façade of private ownership while taking all their orders and directives from the government, frequently the supreme leader. The most notable examples of this form were the National Socialist Worker’s Party, or Nazis, in Germany under Hitler from 1933-1945, and Benito Mussolini’s Partito Nazionale Fascista in Italy of 1922-1943. The Nazi movement was characterized by expansionist aggression against neighboring countries, fueling World War II, and the mass genocide of Poles, gypsies, and Jews.
· Theocratic Fascism: Think Iran under the mullahs since 1979. Economic activity is severely controlled by the state, which derives its legitimacy from religious doctrine.
· Communism: a political movement or party that pursues its absolute socialist objectives ruthlessly and dictatorially, without regard to democratic principles, human rights or concepts of checks and balances of political power such as those embodied in the US Constitution. The Soviet Union of 1918 – 1989, The People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong from 1949 to 1976, North Korea (the ‘Democratic People's Republic of Korea’) from 1948 to the present, Cambodia under Pol Pot and the Kmer Rouge (1975-79) and Cuba under Fidel Castro from 1959 to the present, are prominent examples of communist regimes. These regimes have been characterized by mass genocide against their own citizens; millions upon millions of people found to be enemies of the regime, ideologically not sufficiently committed, or simply inconveniently in the way of the regime’s objectives.
· Democratic Socialism: Modern-day Western Europe, characterized by parliamentary democratic institutions, powerful trade and public-sector unions and governments which directly command 50% or more of the national product. Double-digit unemployment rates and out-of-control public debt threaten the integrity of this society.
· Progressivism: Most liberal socialists in the United States deny that they are socialists and prefer the term ‘Progressive’. After all, who could be against ‘progress’ and for stodgy, reactionary and/or racist conservatism? But the political term ‘progressive’ has a specific, historical meaning which most people who call themselves by the term don’t understand, which they would be shocked to learn, which is completely at odds with American constitutional principles and traditions and destructive to capitalist economics.
Karl Marx didn’t invent Socialism, but he was its most significant champion in the 19th century. He is credited with inventing the term ‘capitalism’, which he meant as an insult, but which is perfectly acceptable to those of us who defend it.
Marx believed that advanced capitalist societies like Great Britain and the United States suffered from fundamental contradictions that would result in them evolving naturally to their historical destiny of the socialist worker’s paradise. However, all of the countries that went hardcore communist in the 20th century were backward, feudal nations like Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Cambodia and Vietnam. Not one of these nations had an advanced, capitalist industrial base before convulsing into communism. That’s just one way in which Marx was wrong. But the worst error turns out to be his judgment of the nature of the communist society itself. Instead of being the worker’s paradise that he envisioned, all of these countries became hellholes of violence, mass murder/genocide, ideological oppression, physical deprivation and starvation. Hundreds of millions of people died in atrocious conditions in the purges, prison camps, firing squads and deteriorating housing, nutrition and medicine of the communist ‘paradise’.
In spite of all this, the appeal of the ‘fair and just’ society where the wise and benevolent government ensures that no one goes hungry or is without medicine, lives on. Socialists attempting to distance themselves from the genocides of the communist regimes may claim that those don’t represent true socialism; that true socialism is something else, democratic, compassionate, humanitarian. But the historical record is brutal and unforgiving: those nations that took socialism the farthest suffered the worst oppressions known in human history. No wonder so many present-day socialists prefer to call themselves ‘progressives’ while pursuing essentially the same goals by essentially the same methods.