When It Comes To Socialism, Democrats And Republicans Don’t Even Know What They’re Fighting About

so·cial·ism

Dictionary result for socialism

/ˈsōSHəˌlizəm/

noun

  1. a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

That is the definition of socialism. But rummaging through news and social media gives me the impression that some Congressional Democrats and many of the party’s supporters just like the sound of the word. Because what they advocate for is not that. But unfortunately, their use of inaccurate labels have given the Republicans the false impression that true socialism is on its way to America and as a result, have caused an overreaction.

To me, seldom is there a situation in which two sides are of equal blame. The socialism debate is different. The left and the right both appear to equally play a role in making it a mess.

To many on the left, socialism means Scandinavia: Higher taxes on the wealthy and generous safety nets like universal healthcare and free college.

But Republicans interpret the word more literally. To them, socialism means Venezuela: Government control of the means of production, no private sector, totalitarian rule. This is the true definition of socialism, but it isn’t what the Democrats are actually pushing for.

They’re both making the debate more complicated.

What the Democrats and Republicans get wrong about the socialism debate

Let’s start with the Democrats, let’s also start with the Democrats’ most well known self-identified “democratic socialist”, Senator Bernie Sanders, who is an Independent but caucuses with the Democrats and ran a Presidential campaign as a Democrat.

As stated above, Bernie Sanders more or less wants America to be more like the Scandinavian countries. He wants to raise taxes on the highest earners and invest in things he believes will benefit the community, such as universal healthcare and infrastructure spending. But none of that implies that goods and services would be “owned or regulated by the community as a whole,” as stated in the definition of socialism.

Freshman superstar Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also identifies as a democratic socialist, but fails to meet the criteria. The details of her proposed Green New Deal are certainly progressive, but they’re not socialist by definition. Here are a few chunks of Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal:

  • Converting to 100 percent renewable energy
  • Eliminating pollution from the transportation sector
  • Investing in low-tech solutions to protect the environment
  • Reducing emissions from the agricultural sector
  • A Job guarantee program

Sure, the government will be playing a more activist role in regulating some industries and investing in others. But that doesn’t involve state ownership, which means many participants in those industries will still be privately owned and operated under a for-profit model. The only thing that could be considered socialism in Ocasio-Cortez’s plan is the job guarantee. But this is more of a public option for labor rather than public ownership of labor, as the private sector will continue to exist.

Now onto the Republicans.

The Republicans gets one thing right about socialism: The definition.

In Hugo Chavez’s 14 years in office, he nationalized a tremendous amount of industries in Venezuela’s economy, making them state owned and operated. That is socialism. But that’s not what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders want for America. Despite this, Republicans have still chosen to use Venezuelan socialism as a red herring.

Politicians, commentators, and even Venezuelan-Americans, have used socialism as an argument against progressive policies.

Yes, it is true that it’s a bad idea for many on the left to use socialism as a label for their ideas. But Republicans need to either stop being oblivious to what their opponents are saying, or put an end to the disingenuous takes when they warn others that Venezuela is our fate if the Democrats get their way.

Should the world “socialism” make its way out?

In my view, the successful implementation of true socialism seems near impossible. I can’t see enough goods and services being produced to maintain America’s standard of living if we’re not in a for-profit system. That doesn’t mean I don’t support regulations and government investment on social services, I believe these things are necessary. But completely eliminating the private sector is not the solution to the country’s economic problems. And while I actually like the idea of some community-owned goods and services as seen in democratically-controlled worker cooperatives, you can’t make it widespread unless enforced by government. And in some of these forced cooperatives, people will realize everybody has a different skill set, and they’ll start specializing and delegating work, and eventually just turn the system back into a free market.

These ideals are not what most of the Americans who say they support socialism are fighting for. And they’re not what the right is fighting against. What both sides should be debating and labeling isn’t socialism, it’s things like higher taxes, more regulations and increased government investments. But all of these things would be operating from within a free market and for profit system.

So it would be best for Democrats to start calling their ideas what they are, rather than putting a false and misleading label on it, because the Republicans have utilized it as a very effective scare tactic. And when it comes to the word socialism, it would be better for it to exit our political discourse for the most part, because nobody in office as a Democrat is actually advocating for it.

Philosophy Major at Virginia Commonwealth University. I like writing about Political and Economic issues. For enquiries email me at notes4taylor@gmail.com

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