The Scarecrow of “Socialism”

We certainly live in interesting times. For some – I shall not name them, but you might surmise who I am writing about – words do not mean what they mean and reality is not what is real… “Alternative versions” and “alternative facts” rule the day. They are their new reality.

Let us review how it works. If I present to you expressions “hra” or “betrouw” you may respond with a bewildered look. Why? Assuming you do not speak Czech or Dutch, those collections of letters do not mean a thing to you. Yet, they are actual words in the Czech and Dutch languages. They mean something to people speaking those languages. Is it possible to conclude something from this example?

Yes. In order to communicate meaningfully (pun intended), the coded meanings of what is in English called “words” (a communication code in itself) have to be shared. Indeed, it is the shared meaning of words that makes language-based communications possible.

Now, step into the “new reality” of the meaning of words. We learn that “corporations are persons,” “money is free speech,” and “truth is not truth.” It also follows in the descriptive language – “witch hunts,” “hoaxes.” I could go on…

Which brings me to the word “socialism.” I intended to write this month about the common misconception of the term I witness in our country’s common discourse. I did not know, at that time, that the misconceived notion of “socialism” will become a de-facto election strategy of the Republican Party against numerous presidential candidates on the Democratic side.

I feel I am imminently qualified to speak on the subject. After all, I grew up in a country that had the title of “Socialist Republic” in its official title. I experienced it firsthand. Indeed, I am here today, as a citizen of the USA, because of that.

It begs a question: What historically were the attributes (the meaning) of “socialism?” I can tell you, from my own experience. Number one, government (“society”) owns all means of production and distribution. Number two, the personal ownership does not extend beyond a family house. Number three, the government determines the job placement and renumeration  of any person. Number four, personal freedoms (incidentally, guaranteed by the US Constitution) to free speech, association, religion, and travel are under total or severe restrictions, under the government control.

Please run this checklist against what the Democrats are or might be proposing. When I look at their statements and positions, I do not see any “socialism” there. What I possibly see there are two aspects of socialism, as I experienced it, that I actually like. They are guaranteed healthcare for everyone and a free education (in fairness, in the historic communist socialism of my past not accessible to “enemies of the people”).

Again, according to some, every red-blooded “true American” should freak out by the invocation of “socialism.” Here is a direct tweet from Rep. Devin Nunes: “At the restaurant tonight waitress asks if we want straws. Says she must ask now in fear of ‘THE STRAW POLICE’. Welcome to Socialism in California!” For something like this I can only suggest an addendum to the t-shirt “Socialism sucks.” It would be fitting to add, “…and I am totally ignorant about it.”

There is, of course, a serious side to it. Please review everything you possibly can. From the CPAC speeches to news articles, to Sen. Elisabeth Warren’s “…it’s just wrong to call me a socialist.” Mike Pence, Vice-president of the US, at the CPAC: “The moment America becomes a socialist country, is the moment America ceases to be America.” How would that happen?

What truly stands as a contrast to the scary old Soviet model of socialism is social democracy, as practiced by many countries in Europe and elsewhere. Socialism, as a national economic system of governance, should not be confused with specific socially oriented policies. Calls for policies, such as healthcare for everyone, are not “calls to adopt socialism in our country” (President Trump, State of the Union).

To summarize: “Socialism” is a word with a specific historic meaning. This historic meaning is being misconstrued, especially by the ones who have no Socialism related experience.

Words are important to understanding. Substitute more neutral, true reality- based words for the propaganda. When thinking or speaking about “socialist healthcare” (aka “a single payer healthcare”), substitute “healthcare insurance reform” for it. Replace “socialist government” with “democratic government.”

It might make a difference.

By Milan Vodicka, Ph. D

One Comment on “The Scarecrow of “Socialism””

  1. I appreciate the distinction you make between socialism and social democracy. Hopefully others who are confused about it will read this article too! Thanks, Milan. I would love to see you send this in to the Sacramento Bee orThe Union as a guest column.

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