Here in the United States of America, the mention of the word “socialism” is enough to make peoples’ hearts sink, their eyes wince, and a surge of anger to swell up in their stomachs. Here in the United States, the word “socialism” is villifed with every ounce of hatred that the average American can summon. There seems to be a myth that socialism is this evil apparation that simply must be eradicated for the good of man kind. However, that simply is not true. I will attempt to offer my perspective on the myth of socialism in the hopes of putting to bed the misconceptions that many Americans seem to have on socialism.
First, in order for us to delve into the myth of socialism, we must first define what socialism actually is and understand the history of socialism. Socialsim is simply the ownership of the means of production by the government, rather than by individuals and private corporations. Socialism was a concept which was developd in France, most notably by Henri-de-Saint Simon, Charles Fourier, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Louis Blanc in the early 19th century. They developed socialism in response to the atrocities they saw in laissez-faire capitalism, such as increased poverty, abuse of workers, and an almost unbridegable wealth gap. Their forms of “utopian socialism” were based on the philosophical ideas of utilitarianism; the idea that the community is more important than the individual. It was based on this idea that they developd theories such as the state ownership of the means of production and the abolition of private property, because they felt that only the government was capable of ensuring that the needs of the community were satisfied and to surpress natural human greed and selfishness which could, potentially, de-stabalize the community and destroy the common good. The first practice of socialism can be traced to a factory run by Robert Owen in Britain in 1825, in which he applied the principals of early French utopian socialism to his factory by offering his workers things like generous wages, free housing, and education. Unfortunetly, his “experiment” failed, and his workers became complacement and ever edging towards becoming unproductive. Socialism would later make its first appearence in government in the form of the Paris Commune in 1871, immedietly after the collapse of Napoleon III’s Second French Empire after France’s embarissing defeat to the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War. Based on many of the principal’s of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ communist ideas as well as the ideas of early French socialists, the Paris Commune incorporated socialist principles such as the granting of pensions, the abolition of night work, as well as the right of employees to take over and run an enterprise. However, like Owen’s experiment, the Paris Commune failed spectaculary; it lasted two months from March 1871 to May 1871 when Louis Auguste Blanqui’s forces overran Adolphe Thiers’s regime and established the Third French Republic. Socialism would make its next appearence in the form of the Popular Front, elected by the people of the Fourth Republic (France sure does like to have a lot of Republics.) in response to the growth of facism in Europe and the Great Depression in 1936. Leon Blum’s government bought about many socialist changes to France, such as raising wages by 15%, granting workers the right to strike, 40 hour work weeks, and mandating two weeks paid vacation for workers in France. Education became increasingly avaliable to the poor, and the standards of living within France began to gradually rise. Unfortunetly, the Popular Front became victims of internal division after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War; Blum wanted to help the Republicans in Spain against Farnco’s facisct forces and the Popular Front collapsed as a result. France is not the only country with a long history of socialism. Britain’s chartirst movement based some of it’s principals off socialism while the Labour Party under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 helped bring about improvement in the lives of workers. Germany’s Otto Von Bismarck, widely considered by some to be the greatest conservative in history, instituted socialist reforms in Germany such as pensions and universal healthcare. Today, socialism in Europe has bought about improvements in infastructure, education, healthcare, and the lives of the working class in Europe. However, I concede that it is at the cost of a huge budget crisis in many European countries which is a topic for a future blog. Now then, I hope that I haven’t lost many of you because you’re thinking “how the hell does all this pointeless babble about the history of socialism have anything to do with the topic?”. Well, the answer is simply really; it has everyhthing to do with the topic.One of the common misconceptions of socialism that Americans have is that it is this “evil” institution that has failed in every country that it has been practiced in. That is simply not true. Socialism certainley has an early history of failure, but if there is one thing that the history of socialism teaches us, it is that socialists learn from the mistakes of thier past and continue to incorporate new ideas into the ideology of socialism that cause it to constantly evolve into an instituiton which can not only continue to remain stable, but thrive. One can only look to the European Union to see evidence of this, where socialism has created a society that has an almost perfect balance of free enterprise to allow humans the chance to satisfy thier natural ambition to better themselves within society yet the government provides just enough to ensure that everyone from all facets of society have the tools to have the oppurtunity to better themselves. It is by studying the history of socialism that we can begin to shed light on the myth of socialsim in the United States.
Perhaps the biggest reason why Americans have such a strong misconception of socialism is because Americans tend to confuse socialism with communism and it’s application in our former number one enemy, the Soviet Union. But before we can begin to delve into the application of communism in the Soviet Union and it’s effect on the myth of socialism, we must first define what communism is. Communism is more or less a process rather than a poltical or economic system. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels defined communism in thier Communist Manifesto as the process by which the proteleriat workers would overthrow thier bourgeoise overlords and establish a classless, moneyless society that is structured upon common ownership of the means of production. Karl Marx beleived that, after revolution by the proteleriat, a temporary government would be established to oversee the transition to a classless society, then the government would simply dissapear thereafter. This is where Americans seem to have a huge misconception about socialism, they think it is the same thing as communism. The two idealogies couldn’t be more different. Socialism is the ownership of the means of production by the government to ensure that the market works for the common good, not the privliged few. Communism involes anarchy, an idea that sends most Americans running for the hills. Now the question here now is this; How does the application of communism in the Soviet Union contribute to the myth of socialism in the United States? Well, the answer is once again simple; it has everything to do with the myth. Since Americans believe communism and socialism to be the same ideology, Americans during the Cold War came to hate everything about the Soviet Union due to the atmosphere of paranoia that the mainstream media created, therefore they hated socialism. But here is the point; what was going on in the Soviet Union under Lenin, Stalin, Kurshchev, Brezhnev, or even Gorbachev was not socialism, or even communism, which was the ideal Lenin founded the Soviet Union on after the Bolshievk victory in the Russian Civil War in 1922. The fact that there was a large, beaurcratic government automatically dispells the notion that the Soviet Union was communist, with the abscence of government being a big part of that ideology. Now, you must be thinking, “Well, if they weren’t communist, then they must have been socialist!”. Wrong. In a socialisct society, the government works for the common good, and the people elect representatives to the government so that the people have the ultimate say in how the economy is run. The Soviet Union was a totalarian dictatorship, where the government worked only for the privliged few beauracrats, where intervention in the personal lives of thier citizens only created widespread poverty and suffering. So why do Americans continue to associate the failure of socialism with the Soviet Union? Once again, it is because we continue to confuse communism with socialism and associate the totalarian Soviet “communism” with socialism. It is only through understanding the ideology of socialism and what it means that we will dispel the misconception that socialism was truly responsible for the atrocites committed by the Soviet government, and the poverty that resulted.
Now then, I think it is time to dispel the ultimate misconception of socialism in the United States; Socialism is an un-American idea and should not even be present in America. Take a minute and look around you. We have public schools, public transportation, public roadsystems, Medicare, Social Security, the Post office (which is the only busniess specifically mentioned in the Constitution.) and many other programs that are funded and maintained by the government. If socialism is such an un-American idea, then why does there seem to be such a strong prescence of it within our society? Now, some Conservatives believe we should get rid of many of the programs that our government continues to spend tax dollars on, but even the most hard-lined Conservative could not imagine eliminating public education, part of the fabric of our society. What exactly is public schools? A form of socialism. Socialism is certaineltly not a perfect ideology and it is certainley not the answer to the problems we face today, but there is certainetly a strong prescence of it in our society, and, if balanced right like in Europe, has the potential to create a society that offers it’s citizens every oppurtunity to succed. That is the myth of socialism in the United States, so the next time you think about calling Obama a “socialist bastard”, you may want to think twice.