Socialism for dummies

I don’t understand my country. None of its political labels make a damn bit of sense. Too many of them are outright falsehoods. And at least a couple have been maligned by so much propaganda that they may not be salvageable. “Liberal” is one. The word itself has become weaponized to the point where even liberals often eschew it in favor of “progressive”. I’m still not sure what that even means. Progress is cool, i suppose, but requires direction and a destination. And then there’s that pesky Zeno and his paradox: is progress even possible for a monkey with fancy thumbs? “Libertarian” is pretty bad these days too. Far too often the word is invoked as a dog whistle for social Darwinism and neo-liberalism. Liberty being best wholly described by “free” markets and possibly gun ownership. “Conservative” is the biggest laugh. Aside from conserving fetuses and the holy sanctity of heterosexuality (airport bathrooms and male prostitutes being the acceptable exceptions), i’m still at a loss for how these people got or retain the label.

In all actuality, “Conservatives” in America — especially as represented by the Republican Party — are neo-liberals to the core. Ignore the morality play talk about God and the rhetoric used to move the masses. Look at what they do. Neo-liberalism from front to back and top to bottom. Funny that they spend most of there time employing Alinsky techniques on their political enemies and branding them as the dreaded “Liberal”. Takes one to know one i suppose. The people who bare the brunt of “Conservative” attacks, at least the ones represented by the Democratic Party, probably deserve it…not the moniker, the attacks. They’re mostly neo-liberals too.

Heads i lose, tails you win

Since we’re only allowed to vote for two parties in the Land of Pleasant Living, the power centers are quite happy with the present political arrangement. We’re all neo-liberals, whether we want to be or not. Those of us who don’t want to be (and don’t want anyone else on the planet to be subjected to that maliciously steaming pile of bubonic plague infected feces) aren’t left with a whole hell of a lot of choices.

The best one we have is also the most maligned. It somehow gets directly associated with fascism and its attendant mustache styles. Or turns into a clubfooted, paranoid dictator forcing people into slave labor and keeping them from the latest in refrigerator technology. Try saying “socialism” in polite company; then try explaining how the USSR wasn’t really socialism in action at all. (See; clubfooted, paranoid dictator) Attempt to show how there’s a whole continent that practices varying degrees of socialism while remaining home to profitable companies, flat screen TV’s and even democracy.

You’ll get blank stares; strange, historically inaccurate ramblings that will descend into contradiction and incoherence; and if you’re really unlucky, the threat of patriot blood being spilled to water the tree of liberty. I’d say that offering the example of labor unions is a good counter-punch, but now that we have our weekends and would rather work anyhow because we really need the latest in refrigerator technology (or we have to because we fell for the neo-liberal shuck and jive), we feel that unions are unnecessary. Or worse, they’re rending the very fabric of America and what made her great with their blood sucking. Work isn’t something that should command respect and a living wage; it’s a god-damned right.

But what do i know. I’m just a guy raised in a UAW town who was able to enjoy the blessings of an education and chose to keep my neck red and my collar blue. I do, however, know of another redneck who gets it and he publishes books. So i’ll let Joe Bageant take it from here and explain socialism:

To my mind, socialism is this:

A community and national philosophy, a commonly shared and not necessarily politicized way of life wherein the first priority is the fundamental well-being of the people (also known as “the masses,” a term you have probably been programmed to wrinkle your brow in ominous suspicion of.) “Fundamental well-being” means that everyone eats well, enjoys safe and adequate homes and a common standard of good health. It means that children are educated to do more than just the rote tasks that serve corporate empires. It means the man actually doing the work man negotiates the value of his labor. It means that somewhere in the last third or quarter of his life, that working man, after enjoying his freedom, bacon and common work, and diligently sustaining his fellow men, is released from his toil. Released into security and peace and modest but guaranteed sustenance. He is free to nurse his aches, chase old women or take up Bourbon or Buddhism. Or both, as I have. Whatever he chooses as a free man in a free and benevolent socialist society.

Don’t let the ideologues, demagogues and half-assed spoiled little middle class jerks who call themselves socialists in this country fool you. Socialism has to do with man’s innate longing for justice, the undying heart within us, and all that is generous and good in that heart. That’s why so many have so willingly died for it, and will continue to do so in corners of the world we will never see or hear about because we are not allowed to, but which are never the less part of this world, and therefore affective of this world.

And then there’s this:

“No Obama, no miracle of ‘green science,’ no national genius will emerge to lead us. We have only the simple, direct, undeceived intelligence of ordinary men and women to rely upon. We must regain respect for the seemingly meager and often lonely powers an individual does have, and choose work and a way of living upon which we can all rely.”[my emphasis]

Maybe i’m crazy but that sounds pretty god-damned conservative to me. Not that shit that pretends at being conservative while being worse than regular liberal, but the kind of conservative that comes from holding the fruit of your labor in your hands…that is, having something to conserve. The kind of conservative that you might hear an old farmer express when he says that his first job is to leave the land a little better than he received it for the benefit of those who work it after him. The kind of conservative that comes from looking around your neighborhood, town, city or nation and finding common cause with all the other poor fucks trying to get by, and wanting to keep the neighborhood instead of sell it to some slick asshole in an expensive suit for a new refrigerator.

Read the rest of Joe’s thoughts

23 replies »

  1. The simplest economic definitions of Communism and Socialism are these:

    Communism is state ownership of the products of production;
    Socialism is the state ownership of the means of production;

    i.e. Communist states want to own all the things that come out of the factory, while Socialist states want to own the factories themselves.

    Also, in economic terms, this ends up being the same thing. You can’t own the one without also owning the other. In practice, even the Soviet Union (or old-style Communist China, or Cuba), all economies are mixed. Laws that grant exclusive licenses to operate to specified companies, even if privately-owned, are a form of socialism/communism (since the state has deliberately reduced competition and created an uneven/asymmetric competitive environment).

    The economics of these approaches to government and business can be calculated. Social Socialism or Communism is a little more tenuous. In fact, any type of politics that heads into the social (i.e. personal and non-financial) interactions between people is on shaky ground.

    Where there is a financial transaction, it is usually possible to tally up the costs and benefits and try and figure out if the benefits outweigh the costs (climate change debates often play out in this arena – spend money now, or spend money later, and the implacation thereof).

    One may not agree, but at least we can throw numbers around or question each other’s assumptions.

    Social interactions are personal. They can’t be reduced to numbers. Whenever politicians choose to pronounce on what type of person should get what type of social treatment then there is no way to reduce these conflicts to value lost. Yet, these are the issues that probably have the most economic impact.

  2. Interesting that you used the word “redneck” in an article about how terms can be meaningless and ill-defined. In my world, “redneck” means a mean son-of-a-bitch who’d as soon kill you as look at you, especially if you aren’t white and fundamentalist Christian, preferably from “round here.”

    So, even that word can mean very different things to very different people, it would seem.

  3. Communism is state ownership of the products of production;
    Socialism is the state ownership of the means of production;

    If thats so, then capitalism, simply put, is the replacement of currency with debt/credit. Ergo capitalism is socialism and communism combined. Conservatism simply describes it as ‘free markets’

  4. “Socialism only works in two places: Heaven where they don’t need it and hell where they already have it.” – Ronald Reagan

  5. JS: I use redneck in multiple ways. In its broadest definition it’s one who’s neck is red because he works under the sun rather than under fluorescent lighting; an outdoor working man rather than a factory working man. In this case, i am using it as a description of class (hence the addition of “and a blue collar”).

    Culturally, i see what you mean and also use the word the way that you think of it…especially when its only culture. Also remember that i’m from the North; in fact, i consider the Deep South to start at Toledo. In these cases i have a host of adjectives to attach to “redneck” to make the point.

  6. I heard a quote once from Chris Chandler, who said,
    “I don’t know about all this left wing, right wing stuff. In my experience something with only one wing usually flies in circles until it crashes to the ground.”
    In other words, thanks.

  7. Craig: If a person puts the “free market” (as if such a thing actually exists outside of a philosophical vacuum) above all other considerations, then i’d call him a free marketeer. I guess it wouldn’t be necessary, in an Aristotelian way, that a free marketeer be a neo-liberal but that they’re basically the same could be assumed.

    It gets tricky with libertarians. Real ones see a genuine value in markets that are more free than not, but real libertarians also see liberty as extending beyond economics and recognize that economics exists within and for something. I see no contradiction within a label like socialist-libertarian (or the opposite). Liberty without a well functioning society is anarchy.

  8. Capitalists despise statists and can live without them, statists despise capitalists and cannot live without them

  9. Capitalists can’t live without the aggregate membership of a state, because without them there’d be no one to extract surplus labor value from. So the problem, as i see it, is not capital or capitalists but the misplaced belief among some of them that they can exist without a well-functioning society.

    Further, there’s nothing that necessitates that socialism be controlled wholly by the state (except from economic textbooks written to give it a bad name). The Swedish education model and several models of socialist, universal health care as administered through private corporations in Europe are good examples of socialism and capitalism functioning well together. As is universal health care to free capitalists from paying for health care for their workers directly; for example, the much better labor relations between German autoworker unions and the very profitable, capitalist corporations that employ them and the relationship between US autoworker unions and US auto companies.

    But since we’re talking about America, the above comment is patently untrue. Clearly the US investment banking system (apparently the highest aspiration of capitalist) would be in the Marxist dustbin of history right now if not for the state. The capitalist health insurance system will fall without the state propping it up and acting as its collection agency after mandating purchase of its product.

    Capitalists pretend to despise the state while quietly co-opting it to serve there interests. A socialist can just as easily do without the giant, federal state and focus his efforts on the local community; especially with the recognition that capitalist-statism is incredibly harmful to the community and conservative impulses to preserve it.

    A socialist can easily work within the intellectual framework that government should be just big enough to be effective and that power should be decentralized as much as possible. In fact, he’ll welcome that because it allows he and his neighbors more voice and control in governmening so that government might be of, for and by the people.

    Such a situation frightens capitalists because decentralized power limits their ability to control government and effect corporate-socialism.

    Of course, some capitalists are liars. Not every one, but the liars tend to do the most talking. They also tend to call themselves “conservatives” when they are, in fact, neo-liberals. And, of course, in the rest of the world they would be called by their true name…or at least “liberal”.

  10. Socialism hasn’t worked in this country since the day of the Plymouth Colony.
    It seems that most progressives yearn for the European model because it reminds them of their youth, their college trips to Europe with the wine, cheese, baguettes, and hash. They’re brainwashed to think of Europe as the worldly sophisticate which should be imitated. It doesn’t work here. Good article about the first socialist colony in America, its failure, and the cure.

    • I don’t really recognize the progressive youth you’re talking about. Despite your ongoing sniping about my substandard education, I actually attended an elite private national university (top 30) and as such was surrounded by the kinds of rich kids who could take trips to Europe and who had all the money they’d ever need to buy drugs. In fact, the best drug ring on campus was run by the richest fraternity on campus.

      Thing is, those kids weren’t progressives. Like their parents, they were dyed-in-the-wool Young Republicans. Me, on the other hand, well I was the token poor country boy. I didn’t have enough money to go on exciting trips – hell, I barely had enough to stay home, despite working my ass off doing third-shift work for the U police department. I was only in this school in the first place because I earned an academic scholarship.

      So I see your straw man, I just don’t recognize him. In fact, based on my experience, your story seems almost precisely backwards.

  11. Some of us have actually lived in Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia…well after the carefree days of college trips. So i see your straw man and i’ve got the kerosene and a match to meet him with. I am not suggesting that the US should be “just like Europe”, that would not work for a variety of reasons.

    I provided a fairly detailed definition of the type of socialism i’m speaking of with Bageant’s words. Clearly, that definition says nothing about a “dictatorship of the proletariat” or the state owning the means of production. In fact, even a half-assed reading of the definition would show this: It means the man actually doing the work man negotiates the value of his labor. That sounds like it’s presupposing a free labor market, so free that the man might even have the liberty to gather with others in his vocation or locality to collectively negotiate the value of his labor. It clearly presupposes capitalism.

    But all that’s beside the point. Perhaps those who are well trained to study the electrochemistry of membranes should be worrying about the climate or something. If they feel that they absolutely must come down to the gutter of liberal arts and humanities, then they’ll need to start arguing like scholars of the humanities (goose, meet gander). That means defining terms precisely and arguing logically with those terms. No ideological statements that must be accepted as axiomatic. No unproven tropes dressed up as unarguable fact.

    They certainly shouldn’t claim that an overly simplistic retelling of an overly simplistic near myth from several hundred years ago, revolving around an economic system which was not proposed by the author of this post, proves that “socialism” can never work in the US.

    Please, either be a grown up or go the fuck away.

    • No ideological statements that must be accepted as axiomatic. No unproven tropes dressed up as unarguable fact.

      How about bumper stickers masquerading as intellect?

  12. And you too, Mr. Somers. I’ll shoot you an email.

    Doug, confusion reigns…unless you’ve mistaken the man, the myth, the legend of Mr. Somers for one of my grandparents. But for the record, one of my surviving grandparents is a socialist…so i suppose i am listening to them.

  13. The fiirst colonies were communal, you know like what Jesus and his group were. Today they call that conservatism even though conservatism was coined by a French guy named Chateaubriand that wanted to keep the enon order, IE a monarchial order of King, aristocrats, clergy and powerlless renter masses. Anyway, conservative, liberal, democratic, republican has become a confusing jumble of differing definitions to the point or meaningless pejoratives. They all mean your a poo poo head,

  14. We often forget our roots when discussing socialism. Man is by nature social, because his very survival as a species has always depended on a strong social structure. We humans did not survive because we were strong individually — we survived because we learned to work together to form a strong, fit social group . Social societies in all species here on this planet have existed long before man and probably every species that survived for long, did so because of strong group cooperation. Competition within social groups had to take a back seat in order for the social structure to thrive and survive. Survival of the citizen was less dependent on might and cunning and more on the strength and unity of the community.
    On the other hand weak communities without social bond, and even nations were easily destroyed either from within or from without, as history so warns us.
    Evolution, ceased being based (if it ever was) on mere strength, and flourished more and more, based on social coherence and disciplines. Virtues like sharing, compassion, cooperation, and a helping-hand became the strengths that united a people into a coherent survival machine when faced with danger from either within or without. Only by building a stronger social network will capitalism and the overwhelming desire for wealth survive. The US may have the strongest military in the world, but otherwise our society has weakened to the brink of not being able to care for our basic needs.