America’s Scariest Word: Socialism

By: Andrew Arendash

Ah, socialism, you poor misunderstood word. The simple invocation of your name seems to incite fear, cautious looks, and anger.

President Obama? “Socialist!” They cry. Universal Health Care? “Socialism!” They shout. Progressive income tax? “Socialist hogwash.” They accuse. Anything government involved is socialism.

Wrong.

None of those people, ideas, or things are socialist. I remember in many of my textbooks for government, history, and economics that socialism was a system that advocated government control of the economy. It’s understandable that Americans in particular are so misinformed about socialism. It’s even more understandable when Senator Bernie Sanders is parading around calling himself a socialist when none of his ideas are socialistic in the slightest.

So what is socialism then?

Socialism, as a political system, is defined by democratic and social control of the means of production by the workers for the good of the community rather than capitalist profit, based fundamentally on the abolition of private property relations.

Note: Private property does not refer to personal belongings but to capital like factories, offices, markets that are privately held by capitalists.

The problem with socialism and providing a short summary of the ideology is that there are so many of them: Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, Luxemburgism, Communism, Anarchism, Anarcho-Communism, Collective Anarchism, Mutualism, Libertarian Socialism, and Democratic Socialism.

So then what does that make Bernie Sanders, Universal Health Care, Welfare, and public sector provided services? To understand, let’s go to everybody’s favorite Marxist, Karl Marx. Marx wrote an in-depth critique of the capitalist system in Das Kapital. Marx’s work in Das Kapital wrote that capitalism, specifically in the time of its writing in the Victorian age (1867–1894), exploited workers, alienated workers from their work, is unstable, fetishized commodities, and encouraged social anxiety and political complacency. In short, Marx was equitable to a doctor diagnosing a sick patient. You don’t need to be a Marxist, socialist, communist, etc. to recognize the problems associated with capitalism, and that is where Bernie Sanders comes in.

Now, Senator Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist, but as outlined above, I have yet to see him call for worker ownership of the means of production or the abolition of private property. Bernie Sanders should use the term social democracy instead. What’s the difference? Well, social democracy refers to systems like the famous Nordic System where private property exists but many welfare and social programs like universal health care, tuition-free higher education, high minimum wage, and generous unemployment and social security subsidies exist.

Social democracy is the capitalist solution to Marx’s critiques. Socialists view social democracy more preferable to free market capitalism, but ultimately it is seen as a band-aid on a broken window. To a socialist, the only way to stop the ills of capitalism is a great reform or revolution of the entire sociopolitical system.

Let’s stop using words to incite fear. Instead, let’s get to the heart of the word’s meaning and perhaps there may be something of value to be learned.