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What is Socialism?

With what promises to be the most competitive Democratic Presidential Primary in decades already getting quite steamy, the buzzword of the moment is ‘socialism.’ But I’m not entirely sure too many folks actually know what that entails.

As someone who grew up in Europe, I can tell you what it is not. It is not social welfare or social conscience or social justice. There are all sorts of -isms, all along the political spectrum, which manage quite successfully to advocate for all those, without being socialism. Socialism is not everything with the word ‘social’ in it.

So, I get kind of scratchy when I see folks posting memes and quotes saying things like: I’m a socialist because I want to make people more aware. Or, socialism wants to expand human welfare. No. All sorts of -isms want to make life better for people. Not just socialism.

I have seen all manner of definitions and articles about socialism which make just this point. Often written by socialists who are sick and tired of people who conflate their notion of socialism with social democracy. The latest definition I find helpful is this one:

“Socialism is a type of command economic system. The state owns and controls most of the factors of production, including land and capital goods. The state also engages in central planning. Production of goods and services, as well as their prices and distribution, are centrally controlled by the state.”

These are the essential criteria separating socialism from all other forms of heightened social and political concern, including and especially social democracy.

What the US is currently experiencing with the Green New Deal and Democratic Socialism is nothing new. It has occurred previously in history many times before.

Certain people have been worried that social and economic reform are not happening quickly enough. And so they introduce the concept of command economy and government to speed things along. State ownership. State command. State imposition of social reform. This is what socialism is. It is what is contained in the precepts of Democratic Socialism. It is what is contained in the latter pages of the Green New Deal. Again, state imposition of social and economic reform.

If someone tells you that someone else is a socialist because they believe in social and economic reform, but without any significant state command or imposition, then that someone is likely confused about what socialism is. And I may well support that someone else in their drive for social and economic reform.

If the platform of a group calls for a significant element of state imposition of social and economic reform, not least through an element of state ownership of aspects of the economy, as do the platforms of the GND and the DSA, yet they say they are not socialist, then, with respect, they are either confused or they are … hmm … being disingenuous.

And it makes no difference just because they insert the word ‘Democratic’ in front of their title or platform. Carefully check the small print. If there is call for imposition of social or economic reform, again, not least through ‘public’ or ‘community’ or ‘society’ ownership of aspects of the economy, then that means state imposition.

It is disingenuous at best to describe a command economy as ‘Democratic.’ For sure, there may have been a vote to introduce a socialist party to government. But it is not the ‘people’ controlling the economy or social reform. It is the state. The state is not the people. It is the state. The state is not democratic control. It is state command control.

Now, none of this is to stop true socialists from advocating their cause. We’re still a free country. Nor is it to demonize with the sort of false nonsense that some people are spreading: ooh, ooh, socialists eat their young. Nope. I just want folks to be absolutely clear about what they are selling and what they are buying. As for me. Well, I won’t ever vote socialist. But. Bring it on!

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