Anyone who has ever taught or did public speaking rapidly learns that communication between and among people is difficult even under the best of circumstances. What one person hears and understands may not be exactly what the other person was or is trying to convey. What we hear is first filtered through our knowledge and life experiences before we interpret it. Further, words have nuances that may be difficult to grasp in a given situation; there are times when words have more nefarious purposes when they are used as codes to hide overt expressions of heinous thoughts and behavior. And, sometimes people may not select – may not know – the most appropriate word(s) for a given situation while the listener may not know the definition of certain words. Other complications may arise from the particular situation and what a listener wants or expects to hear.
I find it maddening – perhaps you do to – that in any political campaign candidates speak in generalities, take refuge in vagueness and provide as little detail on issues and possible solutions as they think they can get away with or direct the conversation to some inane subject such as meaningless personal attacks. When pressed for specifics, they tend to resort with meaningless phrases: I have a plan: my staff is working on it: or, they drape themselves in the flag: I have the best interests of the American people at heart or the country will be so much better off with my (conservative, liberal or progressive) ideas.
The 2016 presidential campaign is not just replete with such progressed vagueness and inanities but it is also complicated by the fact that one of the candidates labels himself a democratic socialist – an emotionally laden label that screams for a more detailed description. Further, in the past several decades, for a variety of reasons, what had been considered definable social and political realities, also have been undergoing changes the relative rapidity of which depends on the social and political views of the observer.
Therefore, there is the need for clarification to educate the voting citizenry, particularly the older groups. As society evolves language mutations occur that reflect changes in new social and political realities, some of which are still in the process of evolving. Young people grow up with the new definitions and are usually devoid of the desired historical background whereas the older people are not fully cognizant of the societal and political significance of the social and political developments. It is not long before people are using the same words and phrases but, because of the differences in meaning, are not really communicating with one another: more likely, they are talking past one another. The altered usages may be so extreme that the meaning of words and concepts may be the opposite of their classical use. In fact, the changes may occur at rates sufficiently rapid that the general society may sense that there is a difference but may not really be aware of how far those differences have progressed and how little it has adapted to the changed situation. Demagogues could easily take advantage of the resulting situation to benefit their personal agendas.
One of the unfortunate aspects accompanying these changes is the pejorative connotations that have been attributed to them as occurred with the words liberal and socialist. The deprecatory undertones arose as a result of two other social phenomena, i.e., the increasing coarsening of American society and the rise of politically conservative talk radio some of which has a strong hate component. Modern electronic communications permitted rapid dissemination of the derogatory views. Conservative media commentators – particularly radio talk show MCs – for almost three decades greatly influenced the direction of the changes. Perfectly respectable words as liberal or socialist have become, among certain segments of the population, the equivalent of the worst of the traditional “dirty” words. Further there is the deliberate misuse of the words such as concluding that socialism is identical to communism. Also, for the past 40 years there was the slow but steady rise of a new phenomenon, championed by the political left, i.e., political correctness (PC) – the use of language so as not to offend anyone and to make all endeavors equivalent, i.e., the leveling of society and the destruction of value judgments.
Because of the pejorative connotation that accrued with the transformation from classical to modern liberals and liberalism, there has been, since the 1990s, the resurrection of an old word as a new label for liberals, i.e., Progressive.
It is my contention that modern Progressives are representative of the more extreme elements of the political left. Many Progressives have adopted PC and anti-Semitism as axioms of their political faith so much so that it would appear that McCarthyism and Nazi style fascism were resurrected, modernized and returned to political discourse. Thus, we have witnessed the evolution of the openness, inquisitiveness and universalism with a concern for workers, the poor and middle classes’ health and welfare, civil rights and a strong national defense of classical American liberalism epitomized by the combined best political traits of Presidents FD Roosevelt, HS Truman, JF. Kennedy, VP/Senator Hubert Humphrey, and Senators Henry “Scoop” Jackson and Ted Kennedy into a tyrannical fascist modern liberalism – Progressive – that despises America, Western culture and religions along with free speech and contravening ideas. Just as the political left became polarized with the extreme driving its agenda, the political right also underwent a comparable change. What used to be called a political center, either approached from the left or right, has essentially disappeared. Yet, there are still classical liberals like me who are looking for a home in a highly polarized two party system.
I will attempt to provide a desideratum for what I perceive to be a much needed clarity. If I am off the mark, I am sure the readers, if any, will try to set me straight.
Let us start with some fundamentals, i.e. government. I define government from a realistic perspective: men and women in positions of authority whereby they can exert power. I do not consider government as some mystical, ephemeral entity like Adam Smith’s invisible hand influencing economics. Governments exist and function for and by people. People in position to exert power derive their positions either through heredity, election or by appointment.
Power refers to people – hopefully – legally operating the legally constituted institutions designed by people through which they can create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation and set societal goals and seeing to their achievement, regulate relations between and among people in the society, maintain societal order, safety and security, promote the people’s health and welfare, judicial system, print and mint a stable supply of money and assure its value, and regulate agriculture and commerce and their interactions as well as develop and execute policies and regulations for society’s relations with all foreign societies.
To carry out these myriad functions several types of the legally constituted philosophical social structural entities mentioned above evolved through which power can be exerted. It is these entities that are commonly referred to as governments.
The basic three types of legitimate governments described by Aristotle about 2500 years ago – monarchy, aristocracy, and polity (democracy) – are still true. Since then a few subdivisions have been created. The primary difference among the different governments was based on the number of people who exercised power, i.e., whether power was held by one, by a few, or by many. Aristotle also conceived that each of these systems could be corrupted if the use of the power was abused for personal aggrandizement: they would then be perverted respectively into a tyranny, oligarchy, and a democracy characterized by mob rule.
Monarchy: power – authority, is vested in a single hereditary ruler, a king or queen: it has undergone some mutations from the absolute monarchy of ancient times to limited monarchy (rulers are dependent on a powerful nobility to retain their thrones) to constitutional monarchy, where the authority of the monarch is greatly curtailed, if not reduced to just ceremonial duties, when the authority and power of the monarch is replaced by a document – a constitution – created by the people, containing fundamental principles by which the state is to be governed, i.e. imposing specific rules on those who will be wielding authority and exerting power, defining its concept and character and defining its structure.
Aristocracy: political power is vested in a social and economic class based on privilege (birth, wealth), and, when power is restricted to a very few, it becomes an oligarchy.
Democracy (Aristotle’s polity): political power is vested in the citizenry whose power is derived from a legal document – a constitution – detailing how power is to be exerted and controlled – the rule of law (there are at least two types of democratic governments, i.e., parliamentary and presidential).
In the 20th century another form of government was created, the totalitarian dictatorship where power is concentrated in an individual (to date, a man) and his clique.
Just as there are different types of governmental systems there are different types of economic systems. Unfortunately, there are times when the two systems are confused and conflated – either through ignorance or deliberate action – as if they are one. The reason for this development is related to the fact that economic systems are intimately associated with political systems in which they tend to flourish. There tends to be a positive feedback mechanism between capitalism and whatever political system it is associated.
Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately owned and controlled by a group of people called “capitalists” (also known as the private – non-governmental – sector). Capitalists have capital (wealth) to make investments in manufacturing, delivering services and developing all aspects of modern electronics and communications systems, who provide resources for research and development and who provide salaries for workers. Capitalism is a people actuated economic system based on greed, selfishness and self-interest as well as relying on people’s talents, skills, intelligence, self-discipline, efficiency and willingness to work, that tends to flourish in an environment where there is total freedom – no central (governmental) planning or control; no outside coercion – in running businesses and the economy. Capitalism advocates that the invisible hand of supply, demand and competition between and among the suppliers of goods and services as well as the consumers of these goods and services will lead to a maximization of profits while meeting the needs of society at reasonable prices.
Because of its underlying philosophy, there are people who also consider capitalism to be a political system. Unfortunately, capitalism is not without its limitations. Capitalism invests heavily in controlling the workings of government for its advantages including controlling the behavior of workers. These shortcomings have had devastating effects on society such that the result was that the consumers realized that their interests would be better served if some controls were introduced to curb capitalism’s excesses.
Socialism is a theoretical economic system based on an unproven utopian concept of cooperation rather than competition, in which the means of production and distribution are owned and controlled by the workers and the wealth derived from the production and sales of goods and services are expected to be used fairly for the welfare of all of the people: theoretically there is no separate elite class. Depending on the nature of the socialist society, the ownership can be by workers groups such as trade unions or cooperatives or, more likely, by the state itself. In a socialist society, instead of supply being determined by demand, as it is in capitalism, there tends to be an emphasis on central planning with the state controlling planning, production and distribution.
Whereas capitalism is based on known human behavioral traits, socialism, as noted above, is based on an untested, idealistic concept that society will become more ethical in the absence of class distinctions, especially classes based on wealth and privilege, and, when there is fairness in distribution of profits and health and welfare services and, thereby, will eliminate the need for competition to stimulate a desire to work.
Socialism is not without its limitations. A bureaucracy whose function was to do all aspects of the social engineering developed and grew and relegated authority and power unto themselves. The only pure socialist societies – actually sub-societies within a larger society – that truly existed were the Israeli kibbutzim; in truth, they succeeded only because they existed within the larger state structure with a democratic government. Eventually, for a variety of social, political and economic reasons, the kibbutz movement fell apart.
Communism may be looked upon as an economic system that is more extreme than socialism. The two systems share many attributes in common. Both communism and socialism are utopian economic, also political systems that try to promote equality by controlling resources, production and distribution and by eliminating social classes. Under both systems, the basic needs of the workers are met by the community. Understandably, there are those, who, for whatever reason, use the two terms interchangeably. Unlike what exists in communist ideology, socialist ideology permits workers, not the state, to own the facilities and tools for production.
I once read an aphorism that may help explain the subtle difference between socialism and communism: it is a variation of an adage introduced by Louis Blanc and popularized about a half century later by Karl Marx and was used, in a somewhat different sense, as a motto by the Denver Jewish Hospital. Under communism the adage is the well-known statement: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Under socialism the adage is changed to “From each according to his ability, to each according to his deeds.”
There never has been a true successfully functioning socialist or communist society. Every such society has fallen apart. Instead what has evolved is a society in which some degree of socialism has been incorporated into a democratic society along with varying degrees of regulation and oversight.. Such has been the case with many European nations and even the USA. In such societies, workers pay a portion of their wages as taxes to the government who use the money for advancing the health and welfare of the citizenry. Some common socialist policies that nations adopted are unemployment insurance, medical insurance, and subsidized education and safety laws.
Although reluctant to admit it, capitalists, who generally oppose such public benefits, also benefit from corporate welfare (crony capitalism, socialism for the rich) in the form of government subsidies, tax breaks, bail outs and grants: for example, in agriculture and energy exploration as well as in the use of public funds (from at least the late 1960s) to clean up the destruction of the environment caused by corporations that have used public air, land and water supplies as their private sewer systems. Another term used for this mega billion dollar hypocritical economic phenomenon is “privatizing profits and socializing loses,” i.e., corporations keep all profits while society absorbs the losses. One of the more egregious examples of this was the use of public funds for bailing out the banks following their involvement in creating the great recession of 2007. Another example is the unconscionable blackmail tactics of professional football teams in demanding that cities use public funds to build stadia for them else they will move their teams to cities that will accede to their economic blackmail. To soften the rape of the public tax system for their own economic gain, some capitalists have introduced the term compassionate conservatism. The cynical question that is immediately raised, based on past capitalist behavior, is: To who are they really are going to be compassionate to?
Under the American capitalistic system, there is no control over planning, production or distribution of goods and services other than attempts at regulating those activities that which may be harmful to the health and welfare of the public.
The above is what I favor.
One of the reasons I started on this essay was the fact that in this 2016 presidential primaries, Senator Bernie Sanders (Democrat) used the appellation “democratic socialist” to describe his philosophy but never really seemed to define it. Thus, the pundits all mentioned it but no one seemed to really understand what he meant by that term. In fact, several conservative talk radio and TV pundits either use the description of Bernie Sanders in a sneering and contemptuous tone or outright refer to him as a communist, apparently implying that there is no difference between socialists, of any stripe, and communists while mixing economic systems with political systems. There is no need for mischaracterization. These people have a chance to educate the public and do not do it. They take advantage of ignorance to promote their political agendas.
In trying to unravel all of this for myself, I received certain statements from friends: I can attribute one to a specific person but but I have no person(s) to whom I can attribute the others to.
The first is the following: Socialism without Capitalism is Communism. Capitalism without Socialism is Fascism. Democratic Socialism is the Balance between Communism and Fascism.
I think the following statement of Vice President Henry Wallace – although written at a different time and for different circumstances – may help in understanding that statement: “The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity… They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”
Then there is what I consider to be close to a definitive explanation: “A Democratic Socialist is not a Marxist Socialist or a Communist. A Democratic Socialist is one who seeks to restrain the self-destructive excesses of capitalism and channel the Government’s use of our tax money into creating opportunities for everyone. Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically – to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. A Democratic Socialist does not want to destroy private corporations, but does want to bring them under greater democratic control. The government could use regulations and tax incentives to encourage companies to act in the public interest and outlaw destructive activities such as exporting jobs to low-wage countries and polluting our environment. Most of all, socialists look to unions to make private business more accountable.”