Why Not Socialism?

The Right's red-baiting has been far too effective.

By Maria Svart

President Barack Obama owes his victory to the efforts of black, Latino, trade union, feminist and LGBTQ folks, who rallied to thwart a Romney campaign that relied on voter suppression and coded appeals to white nationalism. But unfortunately, the economy is still in the dumps, [RETURN TO ARTICLE]

  • Reader Comments

    You’re correct. Obama will practice compromise and screw the people that supported him again. As for Socialism. Americans haven’t got a clue what it is or what it could do for them. The Right has them convinced that if they have anything relating to government sharing that we will have a hammer and sickle on our flag. While Socialist nations pummel us with their successful economies.

    Posted by Aneesia on Nov 24, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    What is ‘socialism’ but a good medical plan and a guarantee of legislated equality?

    Posted by pat stover on Nov 24, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    And how exactly did he “screw the people who supported him” the first time?

    Posted by Scott Conder on Nov 24, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    Perhaps if you laid out a plan of action I would have cared about this article.  No specifics… No credibility given

    Posted by Bubba on Nov 24, 2012 at 11:11 PM

    Socialism is dressed up feudalism and slavery. The state ownership of human beings for the benefit of those lucky enough to be in charge. What is good for the governor is by definition what is good for the people. If he needs a new Rolls, it is good for the people to sacrifice their money and time to buy him one. After all, the people who get elected get to dictate to the masses what the “common good” is. A republic acknowledges that every human being determines what is good for him. Socialism is just a nicer word to use when you talk about slavery.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 25, 2012 at 1:57 AM

    Actually, we know exactly what it could do for us. We just aren’t willing to be slaves.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 25, 2012 at 1:58 AM

    Why not socialism? Because of it’s enormous history of rampant failure, perhaps. Economic history is crystal clear on this.

    Posted by Inspector on Nov 25, 2012 at 3:15 AM

    Having subscribed for a while to In These Times a few years ago one thing I learned is that although there is much ‘progressive’ content socialism is a much misunderstood term, not only in North America but in most of the world too. When people refer to socialism as having failed, or being a system that keeps workers in slavery, or having leaders, or meaning state ownership they reveal their total misunderstanding. The ‘failed’ system of the USSR and the current system in China are but two examples of state capitalism - a million miles away from socialism which, as yet, has never come to pass.

    For curious, open-minded souls who wish to fill in a few gaps in their understanding of the true meaning of socialism you could take a look at:

    Posted by J Surman on Nov 25, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    That’s part of why socialism fails, but it’s not part of the socialist philosophy. It’s greed that destroys everything, from your example above where the leaders allow themselves more than everyone else, to capitalism, where the uber rich are not happy with a giant piece of pie and manipulate the system to their advantage too.

    Posted by Mike McDermott on Nov 25, 2012 at 7:40 PM

    Slavery=Socialism ? Maybe you should travel overseas and open your eyes.

    Posted by Aneesia on Nov 25, 2012 at 7:59 PM

    Socialism is the government ownership of the means of production. Humans are the means of production. So socialism is the government ownership of the people. As property, you have little rights. Socialists always claim that the systems tried and failed were not socialism. The fact is, they were. That is how it will turn out every time it is tried.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 25, 2012 at 9:29 PM

    I have. My eyes were wide open and what I saw was a failure. A small elite at the top doing quite well and the masses doing mediocre at best. As far as China goes, abject failure. I have traveled in more than 45 countries. It fails about the same way in every country. It is slavery by another term. They relie on the benevolance of their leaders for what the have and get to keep. They relie on the benevolance of their leaders for what they get in health care and housing. It is slavery, they just hope for a good leader.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 25, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    You are so wrong. Any system that allows others to confiscate your property for the “good” of all will end the same way. Any system where the “common good” trumps all individual rights is slavery. Sure, you might get a benevolant leader who chooses not to take more, but it is only by his grace that you have what you have. You are still subject to subjective musing of the ruling class as simple property. The very premise of socialism is the abandonment of individual rights to a subjective greater good that you can’t and will not be allowed to decide. By definition, you are property.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 25, 2012 at 9:35 PM

    Do take a look at the web site quoted above - it will tell you that socialism is a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community; ie not government ownership of the people or the (common) wealth. Socialism will abolish wage slavery, pecuniary advantage, all leaders and all borders. This totally inequitable worldwide system we have now, called capitalism, with its corrupt leaders supporting the corporations and wealthy elites is the antithesis of what socialism is all about.
    For the human race to progress it’s up to each of us as individuals to do our utmost to widen our horizons and educate ourselves as widely as possible and not to accept commonly held beliefs as fact without investigation.

    Posted by J Surman on Nov 26, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    Quek, Why bother talking about socialism when you haven’t got a clue as to what it is? Find out what it is yourself and don’t listen to leaders - they lie. Every leader the working class has ever had has lead us into the shit. If you want to know what socialism is then ask a socialist, not the capitalist propaganda machine. Go to www.worldsocialism.org/spgb and find out

    Posted by vin maratty on Nov 26, 2012 at 9:28 AM

    Quek, Why bother talking about socialism when you haven’t got a clue as to what it is? Find out what it is yourself and don’t listen to leaders - they lie. Every leader the working class has ever had has led us into the shit. If you want to know what socialism is then ask a socialist, not the capitalist propaganda machine. Go towww.worldsocialism.org/spgb and find out

    Posted by vin maratty on Nov 26, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    I do know what socialism is. Why do you imply that I don’t? Is it because you support socialism you think I am unable to understand it? Dress it up as you may, when you are done it is the government ownership of the means of production. There is no private ownership only government ownership. The government owns you. Since it owns all land and property, you can’t go against their wishes because you have nothing. They can crush you on a whim. That is socialism. You are property of the government. Property can be disposed of as they wish.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 26, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    Quek, please view these exchanges as an attack on the capitalist system, not as a personal attack on you. From what you have written you are coming from a misconception as to the true and original meaning of the word ‘socialism’ which is no surprise as it has been under attack for many years by figures of authority within the capitalist sphere. When lies are told long enough and loudly enough they tend to become a part of received opinion. It would be very interesting to read what you have to say after looking at www.worldsocialism.org/spgb if you would take the time and trouble to do so. Then we could base the discussion on facts rather than on misconceptions.

    Posted by J Surman on Nov 26, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    Capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production. You are not forced to do business with anyone. It is not a lie to say that socialism is the government ownership of the means of production. Regardless of your website, I know what socialism is. It is subjugation of the individual to the state. It states that fact without hiding it. It is slavery by a different name. If you are graced with being in the ruling class, you are an owner and if not you are the owned. I have read your website, same drival. When the “democracy decides” who enforces? Who counts the votes? Who takes away property from those who own it? If I choose to not give up my business what would you do about it? It all includes violence against those who disagree. In capitalism, you are more than welcome to not participate and no one will stop you. In your system you will always need violence and the will to do violence over property. If some decide to keep their businesses, what does your socialist system do about it?

    Posted by Quek on Nov 26, 2012 at 2:04 PM

    I read you web site, same old stuff. I know what socialism is and it is exactly what is on that website. Like it or not its the government ownership of the means of production. You can call it public or the people’s ownership but there will be a government who makes all the decisions about it and totally controls it so just call it what it is, government ownership. Same old slavery, new exciting website to display it.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 26, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    In a country where law are not enforced (especially those about monopolies), I AM forced to do business with companies I would rather avoid—but I can’t.  For example: Who counts the votes?  The voting machines owned by private corporations which can then rig the machines, or the ideologues demanding photo IDs. 

    Who takes away property?  It can now be taken away from a private individual and given to a different private individual or corporation, based on who has the ability to pay more taxes or generate more jobs.  The government may do it but only because the private individual/corporation has bribed it.

    As for violence against those who disagree, I see it directed by the government, at the behest of corporations, against protesters.  That’s not Socialism, that the oligarchs controlling politics and the legal system.

    Posted by Sharon Jarvis on Nov 26, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    You are objecting to a variant of socialism called State socialism.

    How about libertarian socialism? The same premise, except the workers control, by means of direct democracy, easy recalls and all…, both the workplace and the “representative” government where it exists, while practicing direct democracy at local levels.

    The practice of anarchy is a good thing!

    Posted by aprescoup on Nov 26, 2012 at 6:58 PM

    “Any system that allows others to confiscate your property for the “good” of all will end the same way.”

    You’re welcome to own a house, but not the ground it sits on. And as the ground is in 90%  “owned”  by bankers collecting interest, that interest should be at minimum taxed away in its entirety…

    Posted by aprescoup on Nov 26, 2012 at 7:03 PM

    I found that all extremely vague and pointless…

    Posted by Frank Wall on Nov 27, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    U r quite right. Socialists now have double +1 task to fight capitalist, to fight state capits (Lenin-stalin-mao- deng & other icons) + they have to take care of the backlash/baggage, the enormous bad name state capitalists accumulated in the name of Socialists. Ppl see only red flag. It’s hard to convince it was red flag but on the wrong hands.

    Posted by Dipak Kumar Bhattacharya on Nov 27, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    I’m not sure if your questions are rhetorical (they seemed that way to me) or require an answer, so I’ll give an answer. As you will have read on the web site real socialism will have no governments, no states. Democracy - of the people, for the people, by the people will mean individuals delegated to represent groups at various levels and recallable at any time should they not be representing decisions made democratically. There will be NO leaders. So you could say that democracy ‘enforces’, although I would say ‘implements’. As for property, why shouldn’t everyone have personal property? The means of production and resources would be held in common not in individuals’ hands. The biggest common wealth we have is our labour power which in the capitalist system condemns us to be wage slaves.
    You say we are all free to participate or not in capitalism. I have to disagree with that. There is no opting out. We all have to eat, to live somewhere, to clothe ourselves etc - how can we choose not to participate? 
    I would be very interested to hear from you how you perceive the benefits to the 99.9% of the world’s population of living within this system and in particular to the bottom 80%, especially as we see growing numbers of unemployed with little hope of improvement in sight. It seems to me that the capitalist system itself is one of the greatest perpetrators of violence all around the world in its never-ending quest for profit at whatever cost to people and planet.

    Posted by J Surman on Nov 27, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    Pretty ironic to call socialism slavery, since slavery as we think of it occurred in the most advanced capitalist nations of the world.  Did Lincoln enslave the poor plantation owners by confiscating their “property” for the greater good via the Emancipation Proclamation?

    Posted by C. Sands on Nov 27, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    The muslims are currently still running slavery but since its not America no one seems to care, Darfur for example. Secondly, Lincoln stood up for the principle that no man was property. The people of Eastern Europe during the USSR and currently China were property of the state. When they tried to leave they have to sneak out or get imprisoned and in the case of the Berlin wall they were shot. Human property or slavery.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 27, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    The idea that a person can come up with an idea and manufacture it and make a profit changed the world. What right does a laborer have over another man’s idea? If he does not want to work at the factory he does not have to. The labor is an objective value and does not get to decide anything. The labor is not important and he/she would not make a difference in production were it not for the idea. The value of labor is what the person manufacturing the product is willing to pay. Socialists seem to think that there is no discernible value. Value is what a person is willing to pay. Labor has a value, take it or leave it and that is the value that a person as a laborer has to deal with. If not, find a different job or make your own job by creating something of value that others desire. Of course useless refuse will vote to pay themselves more, so what? It’s like asking a child if he wants broccoli or candy but we don’t accept that. Socialists seem to think we should. Workers don’t control things now because they can’t. It is available to them via purchase of stock or making their own factory but they won’t because it requires a phenomenal effort. What most socialists want is the use of the property and intellect of their betters without cost, without the say of those people and without any repercussions. Who cares what the workers want? What does their want have to do with the world? I want space travel, but so what? Want is nothing. It is the losers begging request for something they are to lazy to earn.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 27, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    There will be a government of some sort because there will be conflicts that have to be solved. Secondly, if your form of the world existed there would be massive fighting and killing. People want the best but they settle for what they can afford. In your world, you take without having to produce with no consequences. You assume that people stop being human and everybody just deals with what they have. What if someone wants my apartments. I bought them and I rent them to people. If you want to take them, bring guns because I will not give them up. I would rather kill you than allow you to take my property.

    I hear this garbage about labor value. Labor is valued at what the manufacturer is willing to pay them and not one cent more. The labor is worth what the laborer is willing to accept. The idea that is being manufactured by the laborer is manufacturing is infinitely more valuable than his labor. If not for the idea or invention he has no labor worth buying.

    As for your 99% so what? Most live under dictators. Why is America, a mere 4% of the world population, under attack and why have they prospered compared to so many other countries?
    We don’t take their resources we buy them. Then we turn those resources into things people are willing to buy. Because we have individual rights and capitalism. Their hope of improvement will not come from government but the release from oppression by their governments. Most of these governments claim to be socialist. It is the nature of socialism that imprisons them not the “wrong” execution of the values of socialism. Socialism doesn’t value individuals. It does not value rights that are real. A right to medical care? That is a right to someone else’s time and training, someone else’s goods and services, someone else’s property. That right violates any sort of individual right including free speech. Unemployment is remedied by the individual not the state. Anyone can find employment or make something of value to trade but its hard. You have to have the will to do it.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 27, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    Ideas, ex nihilo, do not exist, so your idea person is already part of a chain, without which he’d be nothing.

    So what was the idea that you alone came up with and requires no present or past labor to bring it to market?

    Posted by aprescoup on Nov 27, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    I think you are on to something. Gandhi was a Libertarian-Socialist and we know what he stood for. The problem is the money. As long as we have people like the Koch brothers who can throw millions even billions, at politicians we will make little headway. Without a complete revolution (bloodless I would hope) there is little we can do to stop the 1% from shutting workers down. I have always thought the real reason corps sent jobs overseas was to mitigate any risk that American workers could leverage production as a tool for change.

    Posted by Cozman57 on Nov 27, 2012 at 5:17 PM

    Perhaps we should step up beyond and above the Koch brothers, whose objectives are merely more vocally and publicly expressed than so many others of their kind(both parties,) and let’s focus on the Fed, debt-money, and Wall Street; the core residence of all economic evil. The Kochs represent only symptoms…

    Posted by aprescoup on Nov 27, 2012 at 5:54 PM

    I congratulate the people who took the time to follow up what you wrote and patiently tried to explain to you the basics of socialism. But it is now clear that you were not interested at all in learning.

    Posted by Viejo Vizcacha on Nov 27, 2012 at 6:02 PM

    There are far too many disparate points in your reply for me to address in any depth. What I have noticed, however, is that, for reasons not apparent to me, you seem to have completely misread or perhaps not read at all the points I raised previously. I have no wish to discuss the examples of states falsely claiming to be socialist which are just running their own version of capitalism. I would probably criticise them as much as you do, even if for different reasons. Rather I was hoping to discuss the aims and principles of world socialism as expounded on the web site I proposed you investigate - which is worlds away from any of the general criticisms you made of so-called socialist countries. That, of course, is your choice but until that time I bid you good day.

    Posted by J Surman on Nov 28, 2012 at 1:24 PM

    Ah, the ever popular argument of you don’t understand or aren’t learning. Maybe it is you have not learned and you who does not understand. I understand perfectly well. I understand perfectly what socialism is, I just don’t agree with it or your evaluation of it.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 28, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    I understand socialism perfectly well. I just don’t agree with it or the conclusions people come to about it. Real world is what it is. Those regimes were socialist, they claimed to be and were. It is just the principles of socialism you fail to understand. To have the principles required to institute socialism, you will have the actions that go along with those principles and that includes murder and suppression of people.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 28, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    Maria Svart is correct that we need to consider socialism as the alternative to the mess we are currently in.  Unfortunately, Ms. Svart is associated with the Democratic Sociailsts of America, which is an organization that betrays those ostensible socialist principles by frequently allying itself with one of the two parties of Wall Street, namely the Democrats.  If and when the DSA decides to make a total break with the Democrats and refuse to support that particular capitalist party that is notoriously good at co-opting and taming progressive social movements, then maybe we can start talking about building democratic socialism.  Until then, it is hard to consider Ms. Svart to be a very credible spokesperson for socialism.

    Posted by mikesoul on Nov 29, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    I will remind you that it was the liberal democrat party that helped confiscate property for imminent domain. The conservative politicians have passed laws in several states to stop this.
    I will agree that the government must participate for there to be violence on behalf of the corporations, but I would ask for an example. Now if the protestors are smashing windows and breaking things like the socialist protestors do, do you really think they should not be interfered with? After all they are damaging private property and that is a violation of the law.
    As far as counting the votes, the democrat party is the one who wants no voter ID. That means that your vote can be negated by a person who is not a citizen or someone who is playing dirty politics. The government requires you to have a photo ID to collect food stamps, certainly it should be required to vote. The only reason not to consider it is so you can cheat. As far as the voting machines go, a corporation may sell the machines but they are run by the government and in your socialist world, how do you intend to count the vote of millions of people at one time? seriously, there is no way around voting machines because of the size of the population. Your argument would be the same regardless of which form of government, socialism=slavery or captialism=freedom.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 30, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    I never said an idea can be brought to market without labor, it is just that the labor could be anyone. They aren’t important. A ditch can be dug by any fool, he has no worth and he isn’t paid much because I could find a 100 people willing to dig it for money, so the question is how much I decide it is worth and how much the ditch digger is willing to accept. The idea has the true value. Jobs had an idea for the iphone, it was novel and it is worth a lot of money. The labor to put it together has a significantly lower value. They didn’t add value, they followed some directions. Anyone of millions can be the labor, only one guy had the brilliant idea. I am sorry you can’t understand the idea of value.

    Posted by Quek on Nov 30, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    Sometimes we protagonists for socialism seem like voices in the wilderness!
    Yes, so often parties claiming to be socialist get coopted by the rich and powerful. Not the world socialist movement however which has stuck to its principles since 1904 and been proved correct again and again in its analysis of world events. To know more about this movement go to www.worldsocialism.org and begin by clicking on ‘how we are different’ on the right hand side. Comments welcome.

    Posted by J Surman on Nov 30, 2012 at 3:14 PM

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    Posted by Clarence Swinney on Nov 30, 2012 at 6:23 PM

    If Socialism Means Getting To See The Koch Brothers Have To Eat At BK With The Rest Of Us, I’m For SOCIALISM!

    Posted by Pat Stover on Dec 1, 2012 at 5:36 AM

    True socialism cannot happen until the overwhelming majority of workers of the whole world are in favour of it including those here who at present misunderstand it. So it will be a long time coming. There will only be a tiny minority to oppose it when the vast majority want it. Essentially it will only happen when there is a consensus for it. We are at present nowhere near that consensus. Nor do we have the means at present to even know how many are in favour. Certainly 49% is nowhere near enough even if those 49% understood real socialism. I doubt that 1% of them do. I am not a member of any political organisation and I have my own ideas how we might get the necessary consensus, bitterly opposed by members of the World Socialist Movement who will no longer allow me to post on their forum.

    Posted by Robert Howes on Dec 1, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    It might be a good idea for the true socialists to call themselves something different. The World Socialist movement could be renamed the World Democracy movement instead. I understand that Americans are not against democracy. Indeed they think they already have it. My own version of democracy would give us the freedom that capitalism denies us. Capitalism allows us to compete with each other. You could say, the equal right to be unequal. I want true equality in the world. Only with true equality will people stop killing each other over scraps of land, as in the middle East.
    PS I agree with equality for animal too. I am for that reason as well as health reasons, a vegan.

    Posted by Robert Howes on Dec 1, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    Yer dang right I’m a socialism-prospect . . . Hell’s bells, if it meant seein’ the likes of them KOCH Boys at my neighborhood McDonald’s every morning early, sippin a small coffee (‘senior-discount) and pickin’ their noses along with all the rest of us that are out of work and without any dang health insurance, I’d swear fealty to the party of the people too!!

    Posted by Pat Stover on Dec 2, 2012 at 6:42 AM

    Why not socialism? Because economics.

    Posted by Martha on Dec 17, 2012 at 3:06 PM