Socialism Revisited

I am reposting a piece I wrote in 2013, before Bernie Sanders declared himself as a candidate for president, but a time when the word “socialism” was misunderstood and used pejoratively — much as it is today. Sanders is dismissed by many, including the media apparently, because he is a “socialist.”  But how many who readily dismiss the man understand what the word means? This post was an attempt to clarify the meaning somewhat, so I post it here again. Please note that Sanders refers to himself as a “democratic socialist.” The modifier is important.

In every generation there are a number of words that take on pejorative overtones — many of which were never part of the term’s meaning in the first place. Not long ago, for instance, “discipline” was a positive concept, but it has become a bad thing thanks to pop psychologists and progressive educators who ignore the fact that mental discipline is essential to clear thinking and the creation of art instead of junk. Another such term is “discrimination” which used to simply suggest the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, good paintings and good music from random paint scattered on canvas or mere noise. Indeed, it was a sign of an educated person to be regarded as discriminating. In recent days, thanks to the Tea Party, the latest loaded, “scare term” is “socialism.” The political scare term used to be “communism,” but that term was somewhat neutralized when the Soviet Union broke up and reconciliation became the word of the day. But even when it was in use, most people would have been shocked to know that in its pure form communism was in close harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Further, the Soviet Union was never a communist nation by any stretch of the term. If anything, it was a socialistic dictatorship.

But let’s take a closer look at socialism. The term means, strictly speaking, that the state owns the means of production. That has not come to pass in this country, even with the recent federal bailouts of the banks and auto companies — initiated by a Republican President, by the way. But there certainly has been growing involvement on the part of the government in economic circles, ever since F.D.R and his “New Deal.” Frequently these incursions were made to fill a void created by uncaring corporations, many to protect our environment which seems to be of no concern to large-scale polluters. Further it may be a good thing that such things as anti-trust laws interfere with the unbridled competition that many think is essential to capitalism — an economic system that has resulted in a society in which the 400 richest Americans now have a combined net worth greater than the lowest 150 million Americans and nearly half of the population lives in poverty. In any event, even if the current President, and others of his ilk, has been accurately accused of promoting “socialism,” we might want to know if this would be such a terrible thing. Take the case of Finland, a decidedly socialistic nation.

Finns pay high taxes “but they don’t spend all their money building $22 billion aircraft carriers, $8 billion submarines, $412 million fighter planes, or spend a million dollars a year keeping each soldier in foreign adventures such as Iraq and Afghanistan,” as noted in a recent article by Ed Raymond in Duluth, Minnesota’s Weekly Reader. On the contrary, Finnish children are guaranteed essentials in the way of food and clothing, medical care, counseling and even taxi fare, if needed. “All student health care is free for the family. The state provides three years of maternity leave for the mother and subsidized day care for parents. All five-year-olds attend a preschool program that emphasizes play and socializing. Ninety-seven percent of six-year-olds attend public pre-schools where they begin to study academics. ‘Real’ school begins at seven and is compulsory,” as Raymond goes on to point out.

Finnish schools are rated the highest in the world; their teachers are held in high esteem, paid well, and are drawn from the top quartile of university students. Last year in Finland there were 6.600 applicants for 660 empty teaching slots. The student-to-teacher ratio is seven to one. Contrast this with our over-crowded classrooms and an educational system that underpays and overworks teachers and holds them in low regard. Clearly, there is something here worth pondering, and it lends the lie to the notion that socialism is an inherently bad thing and something to be avoided at all costs, especially given the fact that recent studies have suggested that the Finns are among the happiest people on earth.

Am I advocating socialism? Not necessarily. But I advocate fairness and I am in total support of those who want a system that taxes the wealthy as well as the poor; those who think a good slice of the “defense” budget would go a long way toward funding projects such as Bernie Sanders envisions; I also support attempts to provide health care for those who cannot afford it; I vote for political candidates who seem to care more about people than about profits; but above all else, I oppose those who throw about terms they don’t understand in at an attempt to frighten others rather than to advance understanding.

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5 thoughts on “Socialism Revisited

  1. Wishful thinking: Mr. Sanders is speaking tomorrow in Vancouver, Washington…on the north side of the Columbia River separating Portland, Oregon and [subsequently] the two states Oregon and Washington. His visit does not include another visit to Portland, therefore the media has already put the word out…seating is first come-first serve. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there weren’t campers already claiming their spots today outside the entry doors!

    Washington State’s primary is this coming week.
    Oregon’s primary isn’t until May.

    My basket is full of wishes this fine, fine sunny day…

    Again, thank you Hugh for the re-post.

  2. You may have noted that Trump bypasses that term and calls Bernie a communist. If you are keeping track, that is yet one more Trump lie, this one clearly used to deceive a less informed audience. It should be noted that Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and bankruptcy are socialistic programs. I do believe DT is familiar with the latter program having used it four times. And, it should be noted that Denmark was voted the happiest country on earth. You would be correct to guess they are a socialistic country.

    Our country combines capitalism with socialism, so those who want unfettered capitalism want a return to the Robber Baron period. So, Bernie is not as off base as many would portray him.

    • I saw a delightful clip in which Fox News interviewed an expert to convince their captive audience that socialism is the devil’s work. He distinguished carefully between socialism coupled with totalitarianism — as in China– and socialism coupled with democracy — as in Finland and Denmark — and made the claim that the latter was a healthy and beneficial form of government, that he was a supporter of Bernie Sanders, and that he had donated the maximum amount allowed to support his candidacy. The interviewer was frantically trying to cut him off when she saw where he was going, but he simply kept on talking. It was great fun!

      • I am sorry missed it. I will need to Google it. It reminds me when a GOP led Congressional panel called on an expert witness to speak of climate change being a hoax. He proceeded to tell the panel he had been wrong and the data showed it was real.

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