by Tom Kando
Socialism: (sõˊshə lizˊ əm): A system of social organization which advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, etc. in the community as a whole. From the Latin socius: comrade.
In the United States, “Socialism” is taboo. It is sacrilegious. The label, when applied to a politician, is a death sentence. It is un-American. Centrist politicians such as President Obama and progressives such as economist Robert Reich struggle desperately NOT to be labeled “socialists.”
On the other hand, I am perfectly comfortable calling myself a socialist (I’m not running for office), and I also find it reasonable to call people such as Reich and even Obama at least “somewhat socialistic.”
You see, it’s all a matter of definition, a matter of degree: The definition with which I start this article (Random House) is just one possible definition. Ever since its beginnings in France in the early 1800s, Socialism has evolved into many different forms (see for example “Socialist Thought,” by Albert Fried and Ronald Sanders, Doubleday Anchor). The extreme forms of Socialism associated with Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao, and enacted in the Soviet Union and in other totalitarian states, have given Socialism a bad name. In the extreme, Socialism can indeed mean the total collectivization of the economy and the total expropriation of private property.
However, there are degrees of Socialism. Today, a majority of the countries of the world have socialist parties. Every Western European democracy has one. There, the government is periodically controlled by the socialist party, as is currently the case in France, as happens whenever Labour governs Britain, the Social Democrats govern Germany, the PVDA governs in the Netherlands, and socialist parties are in charge in Scandinavia.
In all such instances of socialist rule, we need a totally different definition of Socialism. Let me suggest such a definition - one to which I subscribe, and one which would describe the sort of socialist party that should thrive in the US:
A moderate social-democratic system includes:
(1) strong labor unions,
(2) progressive taxation which re-distributes wealth and therefore
(3) insures a high degree of income equality.
(4) Many services are funded and run by the government, especially those services which are essential but not profitable. This includes first and foremost:
law enforcement and criminal justice,
public transportation (including air and rail travel),
many forms of communication, including telephone and some Internet, and
(5) The government provides adequate unemployment and disability compensation,
(6) paid parental leave,
(7) several weeks annual paid vacation, and
(8) defined retirement benefits.
Obviously, for the government to do so much, taxes must be raised. Taxes must be progressive (the more you make, the higher the percentage of your income you hand over), but in total we should hand over about half of our income to the government, as they do in Scandinavia. Yes, that means that some very rich people must hand over more than 50%.
We can call this the “Nordic model,” a mix of Socialism and Capitalism. It has been in place for nearly a century in Scandinavia, where - as a result - the quality of life is the best in the world.
The perceptive reader will note that America already has many of these things, to a greater or lesser extent. Indeed, if you open your eyes, you see that America already has some Socialism. Just not enough. Furthermore, the Republican plutocracy is trying to destroy what’s left of Socialism in America.
In the past, America did have a vibrant socialist movement, with several strands. One of these was the Democratic Socialist Party, led by Michael Harrington and Alex Garber (among others), the chairman of my own academic department. Most socialists in the West broke early on with the extreme socialist movements, such as Communism, Trotskyism and others.
Today, most civilized countries have vigorous moderate socialist parties. The US should have one as well. Our Tweedledee-Tweedledum two-party system makes third-party candidacies quixotic. Third party candidates such as Ross Perot and Ralph Nader are bound to fail, and sometimes they do more harm than good, as when Nader gave the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000.
Were America to have a strong socialist party, it could field congressional candidates who would stand a chance. As it is, the US Congress has only one socialist: Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont. If Congress had a significant socialist bloc, this could produce a functioning ruling coalition with the Democrats. leave comment here
Sunday, August 11, 2013
by Tom Kando