Posts Tagged: communism

Feb 19


Key members of the new Democratic House have made a grave miscalculation. They have forgotten to be politicians. They have fatally embraced the term “socialism”.

A very right-wing Libertarian guy I knew, thinking he was engaging in clever rhetorical tactics, once asked me what proportion of progressive-Democrat policies are Communist. “Are their policies ten percent Communist? Fifteen per cent? Forty?”

I told him that I didn’t view simple non-radical methods for helping the working poor–like food stamps and Medicaid and inner city housing subsidies–to be Communism at all. Decency is not “communism”, it’s simply responsible behavior. And how is environmental protection legislation communist? As to that, he said that environmental regulations “choke” the free market. I replied that we’ve had substantial environmental regulations since the 1970s, and they did nothing to restrain markets at all. Industry has been quite profitable. And new industries and jobs prompted by the regulations have flourished too.

There is such a thing as intelligent, restrained socialism, as in certain European countries which implement universal free health care but remain careful not to put too much burden on the state. And they’re careful to allow capitalistic elements to succeed–within clear-cut rules of fairness.

But American culture was shaped, generation after generation, with propaganda emphasizing the failures of communism and socialism (the former is  strictly Marxist, the latter more flexible). The propaganda was not wrong, at least with respect to the USSR, to Mao’s regime, to Pol Pot, to the dark side of Castro. And now we have Maduro in Venezuela, a fresh example of the misuse, the abuse, of socialism. The words communism and socialism are hopelessly entangled with the legacies of brutal dictators.

Bernie Sanders’ idea was to  blot out the negative associations by attaching Democratic to Socialism. It worked for some people. But for too many Americans, the term is still a reeking albatross around the neck of his progressivism. to those folks, it looks funny and smells bad. That’s not fair–but that is the political reality.

FDR, you notice, was too smart to use the term socialism with respect to his ideas, though he did institute some mildly “socialistic” safety nets. The New Deal was smarter, and was also more accurate. “Deal” implies a business relationship. Rather than a charitable giveaway, it’s was a new deal; a new business relationship with the working person.

That’s the way Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and friends should go. First, don’t even think of it as socialism. What they’re advocating isn’t pure socialism anyway. Second, Simply Never Call It Socialism. Because the word socialism equates with Dangerous Radicalism, in the minds of many Americans. Trump and the GOP know that and they’re going to use it.

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is to some degree taking that cautious path with her New Green Deal label. But it’s not far enough. Drop the term socialism entirely! Don’t even say it’s  Democratic Socialism–don’t refer to socialism at all, and instead define it as it really is: A healthy set of strong regulations, a fairer tax plan (significantly taxing the very wealthy), a few safety nets like Medicare For All, and stronger ecological regulations. If you need a handy label, call it the Newer Deal, or perhaps Regulated Capitalism. Because that’s what it is! What Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and colleagues want is in fact capitalism–it’s just capitalism grown in a well-tended garden. It’s like a conscientiously cultivated, carefully pruned garden, where beautiful blossoms flourish in variety and abundance. Just because you’re pruning and weeding doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent, verdant garden. And just because you’re regulating capitalism–more strictly than we are now–doesn’t mean it’s not going to be thriving capitalism. The free market will thrive with strong regulations–despite glib claims to the contrary, regulations have never harmed the marketplace. Some degree of greed will be curtailed, but the country will be more economically healthy, since the middle class will have more money to spend.

Remember the politics of terminology–because Trump is remembering it.  So don’t call it socialism and you won’t raise the hackles of the average voter…

May 18

Capitalism, Communism, Democracy: Words Losing Their Meanings

For some people regulations on banking, on business, are “a stage of Communism”. They have a fuzzy idea, of course, as to what Communism is, and they have an equally fuzzy idea as to what regulations are. They seem to believe that regulations disallow capitalism from being capitalism, prevent a market from being a market. Next time I encounter someone with the view that regulations mean that we’re not longer in a capitalistic market place, I’ll resort to the overused but often handy sports metaphor: “Do you like baseball or football or basketball?” They do. “Do you regard them as healthy competition, as really as tough struggling for a win?” Yes. “So how would your favorite sport work out without any rules? If you removed the rules, would baseball be as much fun? Or would it be a chaotic muddle, possibly including violence?” Probably it would be a mess. “Capitalism with regulation is like sports with rules. It makes the game possible. Many rules are about fairness, so it arranges a fair playing field. Competition, marketing, striving to win, are all still part of a regulated capitalism.”

A good many people extolling the new left, the youth-left, and even some older people who should know the definitions of things better, suppose that “capitalism” must always mean an unfair crushing of all underdogs; must mean a flawed system in which the poor always lose. Then you say to some of these very people, (for example),”But you  own a coffee house. You’ve innovated a brand of coffee you sell. Isn’t that capitalism?” “No,” they say, “I’m fair to employees and to consumers. I don’t pollute. I don’t discriminate racially.” “That doesn’t keep it from being capitalism. You’re using capital to invest, to make a profit. Only, you’re doing it with a conscience. That’s the best capitalism.  Not only is it capitalism–it’s the ideal capitalism.” Again and again I encounter people who sell things–their own books for example–saying that “capitalism” is bad. And they are not selling editions of Das Kapital. They do not know what capitalism actually is–it’s just making a living investing time, labor and resources, to over-simplify. It can be done responsibly or irresponsibly. Good capitalism is carried out responsibly.  Talk to them, you find out  that many people really, truly, don’t know that.

There is a new phenomenon, shown by recent polls: young people who (seemingly) do not think “Democracy” is a good idea. It turns out they have mixed up the idea of democracy with “government as it is now” and “elections at their worst”, with big money taking over elections and government. That takeover–something we’re struggling to stop now–is partly a consequence of predatory individuals mis-using democracy. But this particular group of young people think that Democracy is only that. It’s synonymous in their minds with bought elections and bad government. They are unaware that it means: “government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” (Random House Dictionary.) So when they say “not a good thing” in polls, they are not saying what we think they’re saying. They are not actually saying “Dictatorship is better”. They’re not being asked to address the question of what would be better than the damaged Democracy we’re burdened with in the era of big-money campaign financing.

In parallel, the alt-right and their libertarian friends who say “regulation is Communism” are unaware that Communism is: “a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.” They think the word applies to regulations in general.

The very meanings of these powerful words are being lost. Clearly the answer to this muddling of terminology is education. Civics is scarcely in evidence in schools now. That needs to be changed. And a campaign to explain these concepts to those who don’t grasp them should be undertaken.