The Equanimist

Deconstructing "socialism" (Update 1)

Posted in Language, Politics by equanimist on November 1, 2008

The following is cross-posted at We Op-Ed in reply to a comment on “Descent into Fascism”. That said, I submit to you:

Socialism and fascism are associated to a purpose; socialism and democracy are not mutually exclusive; and socialization of democracy improves citizens’ lives demonstrably.

Conflation of socialism and fascism is a politico’s game. On the one hand, it is “half a lie” (in the A. L. Tennyson meaning: dissembling). The US government is collecting assets but socialism emphasizes collectivization and, as such, fails to define the character of current trends in US public policy. Since the attacks on September 11, US public policy has been to consolidate US hegemony and, in practice, that has entailed extirpation of civil rights at home. (Secret prisoners are tortured at secret prisons, for example. Free speech is confined to “free speech zones”. And so forth.) That the government now seizes ownership and/or redistributes is just a symptom of the underlying issue: a will to effect strict control. That, in itself, is not socialism. That’s fascism. So, while it is true on its face that we are “heading towards socialism,” it’s a false argument. On the other hand, the word “socialism” is highly emotionally charged because of the Nazi association. [Thus, warning against “socialism” is an effective means of (1) distracting/confusing US citizens and (2) advancing the illogical conclusion that consolidation of power is democratic.]

If we deconstruct the issues then, clearly, socialism is perfectly compatible with democracy. If, for example, the state owns a corporation and legislators control that corporation then the people who elect those representatives in effect run that corporation via representative democracy (e.g., US democracy). The same can be said of some pool of money or, as in Alaska, resources. That’s actually very liberal and very democratic.

When we refuse to define governments by the language with which they describe themselves and define them, instead, by their primary characteristics then the Nazis were rightly fascist. Persecution and extermination have nothing at all to do with socialization except in that the Nazis called themselves National Socialists — guilt only by association. Our own major parties call themselves Republicans and Democrats but the former aren’t republican and the later aren’t democratic. Persecution of political opponents and minority groups is fascist. Consolidation of wealth and power is fascist. Unilateral policy-making is fascist. And so forth.

A great many democracies collectivize to advantage. I cannot here reproduce the very lengthy study reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). However, the very real difference between capitalism (which is trending toward a tyranny of the few a la socialized fascism) and socialized democracy (collectivization within a democratic framework to benefit the people) is drawn into stunning relief in the latest release from the OECD (to which I have linked here).

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Social mobility, income equality, poverty rates and quality of life are demonstrably and quantitatively better in Europe’s socialized democracies. (There’s a great piece about how much longer Europeans live in a back issue of Foreign Affairs, “Healthy Old Europe”. It’s written from a capitalist perspective, so it’s all about squeezing them.) For how much longer [the European democracies can support extensive social programs] remains unknown. I fear that their heavy and ill-advised investment in US capitalism may drag them down with us. However, as Europe adopted our democracy, we might do well to take a closer look at current successful trends in European democracy.

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