The Politics of Socialism

Chamba SanchezBy Chamba SanchezJanuary 8, 2020

In light of the profound challenges facing the poor,  Americans have begun to talk about poverty in a more meaningful way than before.  The glaring unequal distribution of wealth in this country is so grotesque. Right after 2008’s recession, the “Occupied Wall Street Movement in 2010” took off.   Bernie Sanders picked up some of the grievances made by people in this movement and added them to the daily pronouncements he would deliver on the U.S. Senate’s floor against capitalism.

Bernie Sanders joined the Democratic Party as he ran for president in 2016.  Sanders then started calling himself a “Democratic Socialist.”  He was dismissed and laughed at in 2016.  Nevertheless, four years later, in this new presidential election, more moderate and so-called “corporate democrats” have embraced some of the programs that he vehemently and forcefully proposed in 2016.

The Democratic Party has moved to the left in a significant way when it comes to access to medical care, the environment, gun control, and the minimum wage.  Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are currently polling within the top four leading candidates.  These two candidates, at least one of them, publicly stated that they find private health plans problematic, and they would like to see them terminated and replaced with a national plan.

Of course, there are differences between Sanders and Warren that go beyond style.  Sanders is further to the left of Warren.  He has even argued that it is about time for economic rights to be elevated next to “traditional constitutional rights.”  This sort of proposal concerns many moderate and corporate democrats.

When democratic candidates were asked while debating if they were “socialists,” all of them said “no.”  Sanders qualified it and called himself  a “democratic socialist.”  Moreover, when they were asked if they were “capitalists,” Sanders was the only one who said  “no.”  Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, provided a more comprehensive definition, “I am a capitalist to my bones,” I believe in markets. What I do not believe in is theft… markets without rules are about the rich take it all,”  she assertively stated.

Warren finds the profound lack of regulations in the financial markets troublesome.  She has cut her teeth going after financial institutions during her tenure as Senator and as a professor at Harvard.  She blames the crash of 2008 to the deregulation of banks and Wall Sreet. In her town hall meetings, Warren spends time clarifying that unlike Sanders, she is attacking not capitalism but the “abuses of capitalist principles.”  By addressing these abuses, Americans will have a level playing field in their economic system, and more opportunities will open up.

It seems that democratic leadership in the last three decades has become the “vanguard of neoliberalism”- embracing free-market capitalism.  Bill Clinton was very close to the corporate elites.  Hence he repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, gutted the welfare system, and did not care for displaying his deep love for the wealthy bankers from Goldman Sachs during his tenure as president.

For the last 100 years, progressives and socialists in this country have endeavored to finish “Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, Truman’s Fair deal ad Kennedy’s national health insurance, and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s.”

John Dewey, Helen Keller, W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Walter Reuther, Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson, Eugene V. Debs, and Gloria Steinem were all  “socialists” that sought meaningful changes in the political and economic systems. Socialists have a rich history in demanding justice for the poor, from leading the women’s suffrage movement to forcefully demanding protection labor laws for children, to organizing for pensions for the old.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not wake up one morning and decided to implement social programs for the poor.  All these safety-net social programs were being demanded in the streets by socialists, labor leaders, and radicals in this country.  They were consequential forces of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The term “Socialism” is interchangeably used with “communism,” and both terms are viewed as pejoratives. Lenin, Stalin, and  Chairman Mao’s atrocities are connected to communism when capitalists talk about communism.

Social scientists tell us that both terms are economic approaches that aim at making a more equitable society.  A society where workers would not be exploited as they are in a capitalist free-market system.  Also, both socialism and communism advocate for “public” instead of economic systems that allow “private” ownership.   The state will have control of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of goods. Indeed, socialist thinkers develop new paradigms of reorganizing civil societies that would center  on “cooperation and community.”  The cut-throat competition inherent in free markets is evil and destructive, they claim.

Germany’s socialism flourished forcefully than in any other place within Europe. German fellows by the names of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels started writing and organizing workers outside Germany. In 1847, they were able to organize the convention of socialists in England.  In the second convention in the same year, they presented a program that became known as a “Communist Manifesto.” A document that called to all workers of the world to unite and take over the economic and political systems.

Marx then wrote the first volume of Das Kapital.  Two more volumes were completed and published by Engels after Marx died. The thesis of these volumes centered on  the economic interpretation of history and what the capitalists kept after workers had been paid-“subsistence.”

A window of opportunity has opened for the left progressives of this country.  Seizing on this opportunity will depend on their ability to develop a persuasive and comprehensive narrative, one that addresses legitimate grievances with such clarity that will be difficult to resist. The left should also be keenly aware of the ideological diversity in this country.   Roughly 35% of the voters identify themselves as conservatives, another 35% who use the label of being moderates, and about 30% who call themselves very liberals or left-wing progressives.

In this presidential election, Trump and his team will endeavor to weaponize the term “socialism.”  Moreover, he will focus on unifying the party even more and take credit, well-deserved or not, for the strong economy.  He will also continue hammering on the issues dealing with race, ethnicity, and national identity.  Yes, he will tell his supporters,  “you want the party of socialism, late-term abortions, open borders and crime, then you have to vote for the other candidate.”

Thank you for reading –

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Photo Credit: Stockphotos

Sources Consulted:
“Bernie Sets the Record Straight on Socialism.” Youtube, Uploaded by Real-Time with Bill Maher (HBO), 16 Oct. 2015.
Hiltzik, Michael. “The Democrats’ Wall Street wing hates Elizabeth Warren. They hated the New Deal too.” Los Angeles Times 27 Sept. 2019.
McManus, Doyle.  “Most 2020 Democrats say capitalism is a system that needs fixing.” Los Angeles Times  20 March 2010.
Pruitt, Sarah. “How Are Socialism and Communism Different”? History.com 22 Oct. 2019.

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