Saturday, June 30, 2012

740. Facebook exchange on Socialism

I posted this cartoon to my Facebook page earlier today which prompted a question from Mrs. Risner, known to my seven faithful readers as one of my favorite and most influential teachers in high school.   Mrs. Risner and I did not agree politically when I had her in 10th and 12th grades and nothing has changed.  She was the first real Republican I ever knew, other than my father.  She was a Reagan supporter in 1976 when he challenged the appointed incumbent Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination for president.

Below is her question and my response:

Brenda Risner Okay, Jeff, how do you and the cartoonist define socialism? While you're at it, give me the left's definition of facism and of communism. I really do want to know.

Jeff Noble
Mrs. Risner, first, I cannot speak for the cartoonist. Now, let's face it - the sign on the left is correct - "Obamacare is Socialism." Socialism, in some form, has formed the basis for what had been the most successful years of our Republic, often called the Greatest Century, although it was really only about 70 years. From the mid 1930s to about fifteen years ago, through various forms of socialism, America became the light shining on the hill to which Ronald Reagan famously referred. Because of high employment and high taxes - broad participation on the income side, America could afford Medicare and Social Security to seniors; Medicaid, Unemployment, and food stamps to the poor; farm subsidies and electrification to rural communities; and community block development grants and revenue sharing (both programs introduced by Nixon) to urban areas - broad participation on the outgo side. This is the best of Socialism if such a thing exists. Then, starting with California's Proposition 13 in 1978 and followed by Reagan's edict that government was not the solution but the problem, we began to turn our backs on our fellow Americans in favor of rugged individualism and entrepreneurship. We evolved away from "We, the People," certainly a socialist idea, into one of greed and me-ism, of government and control by the rich and the few, a form, ironically (a word I learned in your class), of communism. Corporations in search for profits moved their operations out of the country, taking away jobs and tax revenues. Simultaneously, we began undoing our tax system with lower and lower taxes to where today we are at our lowest overall tax levels since before the Great Depression. The result is we no longer are and no longer can be Reagan's light shining on the hill because we aren't interested in paying for it. We've traded a form of socialism - economic participation by and for the many - in for communism - economic participation by and for the few. If one were to align the political parties along side forms of socialism and communism, my party would (and has) fallen into the former category while your party has, since Reagan, fallen into the latter. Reagan, of course, provides another irony. As the hero of the right, his borrow-and-spend policies have largely been forgotten. Admittedly his borrowing-and-spending led to the downfall of communism in Europe and Asia, but it also has led to a different kind here in the states. He wasn't worried about those borrow-and-spend policies since in his mind the end justified the means, and perhaps it did. But rather than delve into an exercise of "rugged individualism" to correct his deficit worries, he left that to Tip O'Neil and the Democratic congress while he was in office as well as to "Read My Lips"" Bush, who ultimately paid the political price for Reagan's failed economic policies. My side of the aisle can accept its role in the successful use of socialism in this country as it worked from Roosevelt to about 1992. Can your side of the aisle accept the greed and centralization of capital it has fostered, a form of communism, power over the many by the few, in the same manner?
Your thoughts are appreciated in the Comments section below.


Anonymous said...

I love that you are unafraid to own up to Socialism. It gets equated with Communism today, but it is something much less harsh than that IMO. To me, socialism is simply taking care of people when bad things happen to them, or perhaps ensuring that the basic needs of all people are met. I think most agree that we should care for those in a bad situation-- the problem comes in assigning fault. I think the true socialist recognizes that the world isn't perfect-- bad things happen to us all, and there are few people who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. There are also people who will abuse any system they encounter for their own gain.

Socialism is a dirty word these days, but I would like to see a little more intellectual honesty; capitalism and communism can meet in nice socialist middle ground. It embraces the pragmatism of one and the idealism of the other.

Garton said...

Jeff, why do you refer to government by the rich and few to be a form of communism? I would vote Plutocracy on legalistic terms, and call a question of your readership as to whether referring to any government as communist is possible. I've always hesitated to do so for two reasons: 1) communism really seems an economic system more than governmental to me - the dissolution of private property being the chief marker and 2) Marx & Co. posited that a purely communist country would in effect be stateless or without the need for government. Hence why Soviet orchestras and the like had no conductors when the toured the globe. Communist countries like China restrict rule to a single party, but not technically a single class of ruler. For another thought, looking at the war corporations have waged on unions and workers' associations leads me again away from Communism as a viable name for anything we have going on in this country. Communist states typically have loads of groups that are not only integrated into the political system but welcomed by the government and the people. As a "vanguard of the proletariat" the single party has to have some way to support the workers it shepherds around and constantly displaces for economic benefits - these associations are typically the answer, and a way for the "peasants" to be involved in the continuing revolution or whatever flavor of Kool-Aid they're drinking that day.

Now, as a point of order I should divulge that while I tend to separate communism out as an economic system, I rarely refer to governments that descended from Western Enlightenment thinkers to be simply democracies or republics. The term Liberal Democratic Capitalism was engrained in my psyche by several professors and will likely last my remaining days pontificating about government. For "communist states" like China, I tend to favor Totalitarian Communist Oligarchy or something like that.

As the term Socialism is concerned, again, the economic or means of production analysis seems to fit. Socialism seems to focus on the need of society for a particular good or service to be met, especially when that need cannot or more often will not be met by a free market (think sewers and highways). On the healthcare front, the "free market" which isn't so free anyway, would not or could not meet the needs of the uninsured - it relied on the government to do so via the ER. Obamacare is socialist in the sense that it brings to bear a desperate need of the people of this country for health care. Humana, Wellpoint, Bluecross etc. have no interest or desire to cover folks who would be a burden on their bottom line. Corporations, remember, have no reason to think or care about the needs of their customers - merely their shareholders and executives. They are there to make a profit, not a positive impact in people's lives.

Garton said...

I would also posit that the structure of Obamacare - working through the market-based health insurance system - is centrally a capitalist solution to a problem that only socialism can really address.

As an aside, Socialism tied to communist states or TCO's like China and the USSR along with communism itself, continues to be a way to do an US vs THEM critique and boil the argument to a soundbite on a morning news program. Corporations themselves are becoming more and more like little governments - if they aren't already. Many look much more like TCOs than LDCs. They own everything, many provide healthcare, benefits, and vacation pay - all things many socialist programs do. They are ruled by a small group, and do not answer to the vast majority of those who work for them.

Fascism on the other hand, I would argue is an identity complex often used by governments to justify or mask their Oligarchic or Despotic rulers. It's a kind of hyper-nationalism or ├╝berPatriotism if you will. We typically see fascist parties - even in modern government, that advocate anti-left and anti-right principles at the same time and see (in contrast to communism) a Revolution from above or top-down. Like communist countries, the practiced fascism we see in the middle of the 20th century socialized or took over everything. The Germans for example had the National Social German Worker's Party (read Nazi), basically took over the government (the Weimar Republic) and turned it into a dictatorship with a nominal Fascist party in control. I don't need to explain that this is why folks on the right jump at the chance to slap a swastika on anything they can describe as socialist.

It's fundamentally unfair to equate the two because a Nazi solution to the healthcare problem wouldn't entail anything Liberal, Democratic, or Capitalistic as can clearly be seen in the Affordable Care Act. It seeks to provide an equal baseline of care within a series of choices (there's the Liberal part), was initially a bill passed by democratically elected representatives and senators signed by a democratically elected President, that operate largely through a market-based system (Capitalism). If this were Nazi Germany, the F├╝rer would simply nationalize the healthcare system.

Again, I would hesitate to refer to Fascism as a government or even economic system. I would hesitate to refer to Communism as a government or identity system. We seem to have boiled a very long list of options of government to Democracy/Republic, Communism, Fascism for convenience, when really only one is a type of government. I realize Mrs. Risner did not directly say define these three types of government from the left (OH MY, the LEFTISTS ARE COMING THE LEFTISTS ARE COMING!!!!), but I took the liberty of framing it in that way.

Now back to registering folks to vote, which I hope Mrs. Risner continues to do.

The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.