Thursday, March 10, 2016

Word of the Day: SOCIALISMS

For anyone familiar with various political and economic structures, the title of this post, Socialisms, with the "s" at the end might seem unusual.  We are used to seeing the word in a singular form, but, in fact, the plural form is intentional here.  Just as there are various types of Christianity and various models of cars that a car manufacturer produces, so too there are various kinds of socialism. 

In this country, the term "socialism" is not a well-received one.  A current Democratic candidate for President here in America, Senator Bernie Sanders, has raised this issue, and it is getting mixed results in the media in terms of its definition.  Mostly, the definition of it has been lacking or has been negative, even equating it with communism. 

This is not an endorsement of Senator Sanders' candidacy, but I thought some good ol' compare and contrast might be helpful.  After all, people are encouraged to be informed voters.

Let us begin with socialism itself.  The very word conjures up images of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, and even Fidel Castro, among others.  Interestingly, though, many of these leaders used socialist ideas as a means to the end of communism in their respective countries.  Lenin's, Stalin's, and Castro's rule was communist.  Karl Marx's theory was, to a small degree, leaning more toward socialism, but was vastly adopted by communist leaderships.  It included the "labor theory of value" (determining the value of something on the labor needed to produce it rather than the pleasure derived by the owner/recipient), dialectical materialism (class struggles are caused by material needs), and the necessity of a dictatorship in the establishment of a classless society.

To that extent, let us look at some definitions.  Before starting, let me note that the term "private property" is, under Socialism, a misnomer.  The singular "private property" would be replaced with the duality of "social/communal property" and "personal property".   For example, a communal bike, or bicycle sharing system, which is used for daily commuting, seen throughout the world, including several U.S. states, would be considered "social/communal property".  The car you bought and use for going to work, running errands, recreating, etc., would be considered "personal property".  Thus, characterizations that Socialism means no one owns anything are false.

Now, to begin, the definition of Communism:

state-owned property and resources -- often called "communally-owned", via the removal of all privately-owned property -- by a totalitarian governing body. 
Marxism, which is often called simply Socialism, can also be referred to as Marxist Socialism or even "economic Socialism".  Forms of Communism include Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism and Dengism, and Anarchist, among others.

Just like Communism, Socialism also has variations.  Let us look at the definition of Socialism:
property and distribution of wealth is controlled by the workers, either via representative bodies (i.e. councils, boards, committees) or by communally-designated entities of the state.  Equality of all individuals and democratic, non-violent governance are keystones of Socialism. 

Senator Sanders' form of Socialism, Democratic Socialism, advocates, "Everyone has a say in allocation, not a few, and the needs of the masses, not the few, are paramount."  It is not, as some
have been purporting, the taking of money and property from people and just giving it out, willy nilly, to others.  "It is not a Robin Hood-like money grab.  It is using the monies and resources that are already there and using them for everyone, for the betterment of everyone, and so that everyone in society has a fair shot." 

Let us look at varying types of Socialism.  (We will look at the brand of Socialism that that Senator Sanders
advocates last.)
Christian Socialism is purported by those on the Christian left -- how often do we ever hear about them? -- who believe in politics with an indivisible connection between Christian left beliefs and socialist philosophies, citing the egalitarian and anti-establishment message of Jesus.
Eco-Socialism is a blending of some of the elements of Green Politics, ecological and environmentalism, Socialism, Marxism, and anti-globalization, advocating communal ownership via the peaceful dismantling of Capitalism and the State.
Libertarian Socialism is a non-hierarchical form of society and politics, where authoritarianism and private property are abolished.  Some strands of Anarchism can be found in strains of this thought.
Market Socialism is based on a "market economy" -- economic decisions and market pricing are solely determined by supply-and-demand -- run by socialist leadership.
Utopian Socialism is a form of socialism where a perfect Utopian society would exist, without much attention given to the means by which it would be attained, aside from using peaceful means in all endeavors.

The brand of Socialism advocated by Senator Bernie Sanders is Democratic Socialism.  It is the use of the economic principle of Socialism (control of the means of production is in the hands of the people) AND the governing principle of democracy, not either/or, and all attained by peaceful means.  It is reformist in its methodology, which is to say that it advocates gradual means of change over time.

In fact Sanders has said the following about Democratic Socialism:

"poverty is absolutely unnecessary"
"international relations are not based on greed...but on cooperation"
"creating a nation, and a world, in which all...have a decent standard of living"
"it means democracy, frankly...that's all it means to me"

It is interesting to note, given all of the cries against Socialism, that three strongly-liked government programs here in the United States, Social Security, Medicare, and welfare, are all, at their very core, socialist programs.  Other things that have also been labeled as "socialist" include job programs, banking regulations, and Unemployment Insurance.  Many of the things that unions fought for (i.e. 40-hour work week, ending child labor, collective bargaining) have been labeled the same.  There are aspects of the U.S. that are already socialist, which some will acknowledge and some will disavow. 

And so, for anyone interested in an informed voter, I have offered the above as to what Bernie Sanders' position really is, given the loaded history the word carries.  It is not an emergence of an American Stalin, Marx, or Lenin.