Monday, November 18, 2013

The S-Word (Polemik) by Gil A. Waters

 Judging from the signs and slogans which are so often on display during “tea parties” and other tawdry public gatherings of the Radical Right, there seems to be a lot of confusion within the United States about the meaning of the word “socialism.” As described by the political shock jocks of Talk Radio and Fox News, “socialism” is a dictatorial, freedom-hating ideology characteristic of the Obama administration, North Korea, Nazi Germany, and France. If this seems to cast a nonsensically wide net, it is because Right Wing demagogues and their thoughtless minions tend to use the term “socialism” as an expression of emotion rather than an intellectual concept… somewhat akin to yelling “fuck you!” If, for whatever reason, you don’t like someone—because he or she is too “liberal” or spendthrift or dark-skinned or well-spoken for your taste—then you simply yell “socialist!” as a means of conveying both your anger and your ignorance.

Of course, anyone who has bothered to do any reading about socialism knows that it is an inherently democratic ideology which bears little resemblance to the ego-maniacal authoritarianism of Stalin or Pol Pot. For instance, The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels describes the revolutionary struggle of the working class as “the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.” Even the politically bland Columbia Encylopedia makes clear that socialism is about “cooperation and social service”—in contrast to capitalism’s emphasis upon “competition and profit.”

From a capitalist perspective, the problem with socialist ideology is not that it is insufficiently democratic, but that it is a little too democratic. Socialism calls for real democracy in which people can exert control over the political and economic forces that impact their lives. But modern capitalist mythology depends on the fiction that it is possible to have political democracy and obscene levels of economic inequality at the same time. Even though most people would admit that billionaires like Rupert Murdoch have far more political power than dishwashers and janitors, we are all supposed to pretend that, because Rupert casts only a single vote on election day—just like us—his vast investment portfolio and media empire are politically irrelevant.

However, a malcontent socialist might ask how it’s possible to have true democracy when one person’s private property (Rupert’s News Corp.) is another person’s means of survival (working as a janitor for News Corp.)—or how that janitor’s single vote on election day stacks up against Rupert’s unparalleled access to elected officials thanks to his billions, or his ability to single-handedly underwrite political campaigns with his billions, or his power to shape all manner of political and policy debates through his personal control of national media outlets.

Needless to say, these are rather heady concepts which fall far beyond the intellectual grasp of the average Rush Limbaugh listener. More often than not these days, the Right-Wing charge of “socialism” is directed at particular legislative initiatives which emanate from the Obama administration—like healthcare reform. Right Wingers are particularly worried that the United States might one day end up with a form of national health insurance that resembles that of {gasp!} France, where people live longer and suffer fewer preventable deaths despite lower per-capita healthcare expenditures. Of course, the United States already has a form of national health insurance for old people (Medicare), not to mention national retirement benefits for old people (Social Security), so one might ask why the Right Wingers aren’t calling for an end to those seemingly “socialist” programs as well. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that many of the opponents of healthcare reform are themselves old people who are dependent upon Medicare and Social Security.

At any rate, the convoluted mis-understanding of the term “socialism” which is so often on display in Right Wing circles was captured perfectly by a Tea Partier protest sign on display during the height of the debate over healthcare reform: “Don’t steal from Medicare to support socialized medicine.” {Sigh.…}

Author bio:

Gil A. Waters is no one in particular.  Read and meet him at

No comments: