Who are the Socialists?

This entry is part 6 of 47 in the series Blog1

The various arguments and discussions over socialism are interesting to examine. On the Right we have half the population pointing fingers at the other half accusing them of being socialists and on the Left we have the other half denying that they are socialists. The only member of Congress that is brave enough to embrace the term and call himself a socialist is Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont. All others avoid the label like the plague.

Of course, the reason for avoiding this label is because historically socialism and communism have been seen in opposition to free enterprise and capitalism that built this country and created the American dream. Because of this, the majority of U.S. voters are reluctant to support anyone who identifies himself as a socialist or uses the term in identifying any program that he supports.

For instance, many considered Obama’s health care bill to fit the definition of socialized medicine (or at least headed in that direction) but did those who voted for it acknowledge this?  Not at all. This was the last thing they wanted to call it. They officially named it something that didn’t sound anything like socialism.  It was called, “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” Now that doesn’t sound like anything that would run contrary to our capitalistic system does it?

If you find yourself talking to a person on the Left who denies that Obamacare is socialism or he is a socialist and the conversation settles on the subject of socialism a fascinating thing often surfaces in the dialogue. The guy who previously seemed to want to avoid being associated with socialism in any way suddenly makes a seismic shift and begins to adamantly defend socialism and tries to convince us that we are all socialists already.  He may make one or more of the following statements.

• The police and fire departments are socialistic.

• So are insurance companies.

• Our roads are paid for through a socialist program.

• Our public schools are a form of socialism.

• Social Security and Medicare are socialist programs.

• Jesus was a socialist for he advocated that the rich give to the poor. He was into sharing the wealth.

So it is interesting that, on one hand, the supporters of Obamacare deny that this program is a form of socialism or that they are a socialist for supporting it but they will go the other extreme in the next thought and will tell us that we are all socialists already because we pool our funds to build roads.

The reason for this strategy is obvious.  Since socialism is an unacceptable ideology for the majority, most people who see it in a favorable light do not want to identify with it. But if they are inclined favorably toward socialism and want to eliminate the stigma connected with it, what better way is there to do this than convince us that we are all already practicing it and enjoying its benefits?

If you are already a socialist then you have no right to criticize anyone else for supporting anything that may be socialistic. If you have praise for your local socialist fire department then how dare you criticize any Obamacare supporter for being a socialist!

If Jesus was a socialist then how dare you think ill of Obama for wanting to share the wealth.

Why is it that ideologues are all over the map in their discussions of socialism?  The problem was pointed out in the introduction of the Historical Dictionary of Socialism by Peter Lamb & J. C. Docherty – 2006

 “Despite its importance in history since the early nineteenth century, socialism eludes simple definition…  As G. D. H. Cole suggested in the first volume of his monumental History of Socialist Thought (1953), the early socialists opposed the individualism that had come to dominate modern thinking and stressed that human relations had an essential social element that needed to be emphasized. Then, as now, there was no single agreed-upon definition of what socialism actually was. Variety has always been an outstanding feature of socialism. In his Dictionary of Socialism (1924), Angelo S. Rappoport listed forty definitions of socialism.”

This gives us the key as to why the Left and Right cannot discuss on the same page on this subject. With forty definitions to choose from one side can be using a meaning much different from the other yet assume they are talking about the same thing. This often causes both sides to assume the other is quite thick headed.

A person on the Left whose ideas conform to some definitions of socialism will take the definition that socialism must be “a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.”  He will then state that his support of Obamacare is not socialist because Apple, the oil companies and your local grocer ae not owned and controlled by the state.

On the other hand when he argues that the fire department is socialistic he is merely switching definitions and using this one: “A system using collective ownership.”  Since a city collectively owns the fire department then it is socialistic according to this definition.

When the Right speaks of socialism they are usually referring to one of Merriam-Webster’s definitions which says it is “A stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism.”

If the Right uses this definition then it is correct in defining Obamacare, and other government programs, as socialistic because they take us further away from the free market and capitalism and closer to the Marxist ideal of universal state owned and operated communism.

If the Right and Left are going to have any intelligent and effective communication with each other it is obvious that they need to quit condemning each other for being wrong about what socialism is and use the same definition of the word.  If they refuse to do this then at least they can recognize the validity of each others’ use of the word and respond accordingly.  It would also be helpful if the Left were consistent in their use of the word.  It can’t be so confining that universal health care is not socialism yet so loose that the fire department is. We can’t all be socialists one day when none of us are the next.

Copyright 2012 by J J Dewey

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