What Socialism is NOT… by Michael Engel

Defeat Capitalism!

Image by Dandelion Salad via Flickr

by Michael Engel
Guest Writer, Dandelion Salad
Socialism for Dummies, March 23, 2013
May 3, 2013

So what is NOT socialism?

Obviously, capitalism isn’t.  Well, duh, you say.  But it’s important to point that out, because defining capitalism is a useful start towards answering the question.  And it’s a lot easier to define than socialism.  Specifically: Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned, and which are organized and utilized for the purpose of maximizing the profits of the owners.  So any country whose economy largely even if not entirely fits that description is NOT socialist–i.e., almost all of those in the world today.  Yes, including Sweden.  (I’ll deal with the likes of North Korea later.)

And that leads to another point: A “welfare state” is not socialist–or more precisely, not necessarily socialist.  A broad range of tax-supported government benefits is not inconsistent with a capitalist economy.  In fact, almost all developed nations with capitalist economies have “welfare state” policies to one extent or another.  But are these still socialist ideas?  Again, not necessarily, unless you consider public education to be a socialist idea.  Or unemployment insurance.  Or Medicare.  Or social security.  Of course, some conservatives do.  But most realize that these are policies developed by liberals to modify the inegalitarian effects of capitalism.  Actually, maybe I’m giving liberals too much historical credit.  It was autocrat Otto von Bismarck who introduced old age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance in Germany in the 1880s to steal the thunder from a growing socialist movement.

And with that, on we go…liberalism isn’t socialism, Tea Party obsessions notwithstanding.  Liberals believe in capitalism, and want to preserve it.  They just want to make it “fairer”–that is, less painful to the losers in the economic competition;  capitalism with a smiley face.  Hence, the welfare state.  So Barack Obama, again contrary to Tea Party invective, is not a socialist.  He’s just a plain old liberal, and a not very consistent or effective one at that.

Finally, economic equality and the redistribution of wealth isn’t socialism.  Just ask Karl Marx.  I’m going to avoid quotes from the sacred texts, so you’ll have to Google that yourself.

So…all the things that make conservatives scream “socialism” are hardly the essence of that philosophy.  Now I can move on to struggling with what it actually is…or might be.


Occupied Social Centers in Spain + Cooperatives, Another Mode of Production

Richard Wolff: Capitalism’s Destructive Power + Wolff Urges End to Austerity, New Jobs Program, Democratizing Work

Worker Owned Businesses Point to New Forms of Ownership

Unlivable Wages by Ralph Nader

Socialist Register 2013: The Question of Strategy

Law of Value 10: Price and Value by Brendan M. Cooney

The Liberal Class Is A Corpse by Chris Hedges

12 thoughts on “What Socialism is NOT… by Michael Engel

  1. Pingback: Bolivian VP, Alvaro Garcia Linera: Equality + Justice = Socialism | Dandelion Salad

  2. Pingback: You Might Be a Socialist If… by Michael Engel | Dandelion Salad

  3. I am not sure you’ve clearly defined “socialist’ here before saying what’s NOT socialist.

    • nadia , i think that the writers intent may be to just say what it is ”Not ” .. and leave it at that, since the word has really become a red herring and just thrown around these days . but yes , i would be interested in his view of what he thinks it is .

      • So would I Rocket! Lo you’re going to want me to keep it succinct and then maybe go away and be quiet for a while; but as this is no trivial matter, surely it’s time to really try to say what we mean ~ since words begin to assume eponymous dimensions and then, all too quickly we forget what it is they are supposed to refer to.

        I’d say the best place to start might be Noam Chomsky’s heroic historical narrative. Once we’ve got some idea of what has really transpired in our multi-polar world, then at least we can begin to agree about what we’re analyzing or drawing inferences from.

        I also think it is extremely necessary to come to grips with the paranoid psychology of the US. My own view is that guilt and paranoia are endemic for two reasons. The first is the almost indisputable fact that the USA exists because of genocide, so First Nations’ Nemesis is always present, and reinforces that Puritan angst about Nature ~ wild, threatening, untamed and probably feminine.

        The other diabolical aspect is the raw and undeniable contradictory emphasis on instilling the fear of God into people and alerting them to the temptations of the Devil, whilst profiting mightily from the allure of sin.

        Now we all know the Vatican needs the Devil, but the Protestant obsession with sanitized respectability contributes mightily to the otherwise inexplicable power of such toxic agencies of control like Monsanto, or the American Psychiatric Association. So the religious and fundamentalist tendencies have to be faced, and squared off.

        Then, we must also cope with the atheistic brigade of militant materialists with their false god of scientism, and so on and on it goes, nuance upon nuance until we get to some rough notion of what society actually consists of. Once there, I think we can begin to talk more confidently about equitable and proportionate arrangements, ethical contractual organization, human dignity, education for free expression, sexual integrity, rights, responsibilities and essential ecosystem services ~ just to kick it all off…

        If that is what socialism implies these days, then sign me up!

        I’ll leave you with two heavily pregnant concepts to ponder though: symbiosis and stewardship…does that synergy “float anyone’s boat?”

        PS there is a banned TED talk by Nick Hanauer that might be worth mentioning. He is a rich man who says the rich do not create employment, but taxing them will, because that money can subsidize the small businesses that people really need. Common sense?

        [DS added: https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/nick-hanauer-income-inequality/%5D

        • David , a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist. America trades in obsessions . The Atheists i know are very very intelligent , but they used to be the same way when they were religious . They just traded one obsession in for another. The are stuck in this hyper-rationalism , prove this , disprove that nonsense.

          of course they laugh when i tell them that , but it is true .

          the thing is is that there is no fundamentalist tendencies . Everyone , unless they have been liberated in one way or another in this country are fundamentalists.

          re-wind : i will build my case that every human being as Cioran said is born with ”unconscious dogmas” . that is why Diogenes the Cynic was holding up his lantern looking for the ”disinterested man ”.

          so , really this is a global problem . a historical problem . a human problem .

        • Great thoughts, What is unconscious dogma? Am I being lazy, do I need to read Cioran?

        • David , you have to read Cioran ! his masterpiece is ”A short history of decay ”. he has a whole chapter on unconscious dogmas . i would not do it justice if i tried to explain it . you have to read it , within the context of the whole book .

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