By Patrick F. Cannon
“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings.
The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of misery.”
Winston S. Churchill
If you want to scare your Republican neighbors, just run outside and start yelling: “The Socialists are coming…the Socialists are coming!” This sure fire alert is akin to yelling in the 1950s: “The Russians are coming…the Russians are coming!”
The Russians didn’t come, except on the internet, but folks are seeing Socialists under every bed (and in their dark closets too). The problem is that far too many of our fellow citizens can’t really explain what they mean by that scary word. Alas, there is more than one way to define it.
We have Karl Marx to thank (or blame) for defining pure Socialism as we know it today. He believed that capitalism would wither away and die from its inherent contradictions. It would be replaced by a society that operated on this principal: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” In simple terms, that means that the ditch digger is just as important as the doctor, so should live just as well. All resources should be shared equally through the common good (which meant the State, which would also own the means of production on behalf of the people).
Unfortunately, Marxism and its more extreme form, Marxist-Leninism, has always failed in the real world. It’s contradiction is the notion that people who work hard and achieve more will be happy not being rewarded for their efforts. Britain tried a form of this after World War II, and eventually dismantled most of it. They discovered to their amazement that people simply took their money and their talents elsewhere. It’s called human nature.
A harsher version also failed in the Soviet Union and its Eastern European dependencies. All have now abandoned it, either for autocracy or some form of social democracy (of which more later). Of course, we do have holdouts, but I don’t see any rush by our home-grown Marxists to move to North Korea, Cuba or Venezuela. What good is great health care, if you just live longer in squalor? China is a special case, as they have embraced capitalism, but call it Communism.
Like most of Western Europe, the United States is a social democracy. It has a capitalist economy, along with social programs meant to insure that everyone has enough to eat and a place to live. Oh, and access to a level of education consistent with their abilities. Thus, we have decided to have pensions for the elderly; unemployment insurance for those thrown out of work through no fault of their own; basic health care; and even tax credits. All of this – although some are loath to admit it – is supported by that capitalist economy.
It is the tension between those who think these programs have gone too far, and those that think they should be expanded, that defines our current politics. When someone expresses a fear of Socialism, they generally mean a fear that more of their money is going to go to someone else. The real question is: where do we draw the line?
Now, students and young people who have yet to earn much if any money are inclined to think the government, for example, should pay for their higher education. They are aided and abetted in these demands by professors who have suddenly discovered Marxism, and think its time has come (again). Let’s take from those that have, and give it to those who don’t. This from often tenured professors who make a more than tidy living. The concept of working your way through college by working part time during the school year and full time in the summer seems to have been lost. Also lost it must be said, are colleges and universities that remember that spending other peoples’ money prudently is an actual responsibility.
Before I get lost in the bushes, let me just suggest there’s a difference between Socialism (with a capital S) and social welfare programs. This country has gone from essentially no national welfare programs for much of its history, to too many in the view of some people. I try to remember that high earners already pay for most of it, and that we would do well not to kill that goose. Joe Biden advocates expanded social welfare programs, not nationalizing the mines, railroads, public utilities, steel mills and airlines. When he does, you can start calling him a Socialist.
In the meantime, there are actual Socialist parties one could join, instead of lurking on the far left of the Democratic Party; and one could abandon the far right of the Republican Party to join up with any number of Fascist organizations, and get to dress as a storm trooper to boot (and in actual boots).
Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon