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Saturday, October 4, 2008

ARE WE SOCIALIST?

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"From each according to his ability; to each according to his need."
- Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, 1875

"The needs of the many far outweigh the wants of the few."
- Star Trek's Mr. Spock


Is the United States a socialist country? Are we heading in the direction of socialism? We hear claims of this from time to time, but is it true? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, socialism is defined as "1 any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods 2 a system...in which there is no private property 3 a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done."

Karl Marx, the father of communism, outlined a number of changes in humankind's economic and governmental development. His advocated goal, communism, would be achieved when humankind would live in peace and harmony and would work together for the common good to share equally all that was produced. In other words, people would work according to their strength, talent, and education or skill level, and do so with the mindset that what they were working on or producing would be for everybody's benefit instead of only their own individual wealth or standing. Everybody would take from the goods produced according to their own needs. Because everyone was working toward and looking out for everyone's benefit as a whole, everybody would have all that they need and no one would try to hoard, or dominate or control anyone else. All would be provided for and happy with this utopic heaven on earth. Marx condemned our current state of capitalism for its way of having the rich dominate and control the poor and even use them so as to make money off of them. He pointed out that wealthy land and business owners created laws for their own benefit and even used religion to keep those beneath them docile, in an effort to maintain control over these poor and working people. He predicted that the poor and workers would eventually rise up to overcome the rich and take power from them. He said this long process would first develop into socialism (an in-between stage), and then, finally, communism. Writing in the mid-to-late 19th century, Marx was undeniably a brilliant observer and analyst of his time. I have always maintained that, had he been a physician, he would have been an excellent diagnostician. But I have also maintained that history has proven him to have been a rather questionable pharmacist, as the prescriptions he recommended to cure the evils of capitalism were based on faulty notions and were excessively harsh and repressively implemented. Marx's goal was beautiful, but the path to it taken by his followers like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung, was less than desirable. In fact, it was unnecessarily brutal and bloody. In fairness to Marx, writing when he did, there is no way he could possibly have forseen this, nor the kinder and gentler changes capitalism later underwent (i.e. its evolution into present-day welfare state form) Marx was never able to take into account humankind's inherent individuality and degrees of self-interest. That is why his theory is fundamentally flawed, albeit in many ways a very good and desirable blueprint for building on.

Because of the repression and excesses which have occurred under previous governments espousing socialism (notably those of the Soviet Union, Red China, and North Korea), the term "socialist" has taken on a negative meaning here in the United States. It is stereotyped as meaning high taxes, no private property, and government control. As such, most things labeled as socialist have usually been given the kiss of death. This is unfortunate, because the method of labeling things socialist is not always accurate and has been used repeatedly by fearful conservative or reactionary groups to stifle change and kill or delay new or progressive ideas. Labor unions were first called socialist by those business owners favoring low wages, long hours, and child labor. Unions were thus unable to gain a foothold here until the 1930s, many decades after they came into prominence in Europe. We would never have developed a massive middle class without these unions. So, "socialist" or not, they were a good thing and the country prospered tremendously by adopting them. Social Security and Unemployment Compensation were once labeled socialist too because they were funded by taxes and administered by the government. I would hate to think of this country without these programs today! Medicare was inferred to be socialist by fearful, ignorant conservatives with no vision (like Ronald Reagan in 1964), and it has helped millions of seniors since its adoption in 1965. Today, every single western industrialized country but the United States provides universal health care for its citizens. Even poor Cuba does this! But here, National Health Insurance is being inaccurately called "socialized medicine" by paranoid and self-centered members of the far right who see nothing wrong with corporate bailouts but hate the very thought of any taxpayer funded program for regular people. Special interest groups profiting off health care products and services (and therefore off of human suffering and misery) also join in on the labeling. These conservatives are using this unfair and inaccurate name of "socialized", of course, to scare off voter support for the plan. Nothing could be further from the truth than this allegation of socialism, as both insurance companies and private companies are included in it.

Hardcore conservative Republican right-wingers, free trade and free market advocates, as well as highly self-centered and overly individualistic people love to call almost anything or anybody they oppose, or that has any amount of government regulation, socialist. They do this out of fear, selfishness, desire to make unrestricted profit, and to get others to support keeping the government out of it altogether. According to the definition of socialism I have previously listed, are government laws regulating vehicle speed limits socialistic? Of course not. They are common sense laws put in place for safety and the common good. Are vehicle seat belt or seat belt usage requirements socialistic? Of course not. Once again, while they may seem a nuisance, they are in place for safety and common good. Is our public education, our postal system, or our military socialistic? Absolutely NOT! While mainly government run, they are again in place for the common good. Are Medicare, Medicaid, or even Barack Obama's proposed National Health Insurance plan socialistic? Absolutely NOT! They too are, and will be, in place for the common good. Yes, all of these programs cost money, and all are funded by tax dollars. But to not have them in place would unfairly deprive millions of people of things nobody should be without. The bellyaching conservatives don't realize it, but it is their own excessive selfishness which CREATES the types of government-run or even socialist programs they hate and fear so much! They are, in effect, their own worst enemy! What it boils down to, plain and simple, is that some people are just too damn selfish, foolish, uncooperative, and overly individualistic, period.

So is the United States a socialist country? Are we heading in the direction of socialism? ABSOLUTELY NOT, and don't let ANY liar or fool tell you otherwise!!!

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