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Socialism Demystified

Updated on August 19, 2014
CuAllaidh profile image

Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

The Communist Manifesto (Signet Classics)
The Communist Manifesto (Signet Classics)

The Communist Manifesto is Karl Marx's work laying out his ideal for communism.

 

Are you a socialist?

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The Truth About Socialism, and Other Tall Tales

Of late there seems to be considerably more discussion about socialism. Many people make wild claims such as "no socialist country has ever done well", and that socialists want to "steal your money". These statements are fine to make, but can they be substantiated, are they based in fact, or is it just propaganda demonizing something that is not understood.

I have a confession to make, and I make it here, I am a socialist through and through. I stand by my beliefs and remain steadfastly socialist. That being said I have never once voted for a socialist party, or have I, hard to say what's the definition of a socialist party? The problem is its not a question of which parties are socialist and which aren't, the problem is that no one seems to be really certain what socialism is. Perhaps by the end of this lens you will see what I mean, and perhaps by the end of this lens I will have you convinced that you too are a socialist, you just didn't know it.

The Red Scare

McCarthyism is alive and well, and if you doubt it just search on google for socialism and a list of those who someone has labelled "socialist" in a negative light will show up without much effort. Socialism is a dirty word to many, its the worst insult some people can imagine. I would like to clear the air a bit, information is power, and as such I think information about what Socialism really is will do this.

Bill Maher Weighs In

Communist Propaganda
Communist Propaganda

What Socialism Isn't

Recently a message has been circulating Facebook and other social media sites that supposedly demonstrates the dangers of socialism. This is the message as I first saw it:
Think about this…

An economics professor at Texas Tech said he had never failed a single
student, but had once failed an entire class.

The class (students) insisted that socialism worked since no one would be
poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said,
“OK, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism.”

“All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so
no one will fail and no one will receive an A.”

After the first test the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The
students who had studied hard were upset while the students who had
studied very little were happy.

But, as the second test rolled around, the students who had studied little
studied even less and the ones who had studied hard decided that since
they couldn’t make an A, they also studied less. The second Test average
was a D.

No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around the average grade was an
F.

The scores never increased as bickering, blame, name calling, all resulted
in hard feelings and no one would study for anyone else.

To their great surprise all failed. The professor told them that socialism
would ultimately fail because the harder people try to succeed the greater
their reward (capitalism) but when a government takes all the reward
away (socialism) no one will try or succeed.


To me, this tale of the professor demonstrates, very clearly, what people are afraid of, and I don’t blame them. If I truly thought that that’s how socialism worked I would fight it too. Now I have no doubt that the story is purely allegorical and not based in actual fact, otherwise the professor of the story would be in hot water on a number of issues, the main problem he would face is that most job reviews for teachers are partially based on grades, if an entire class failed administrators almost always view it to be a failure of the teachers and NOT the students. The real sticky part is that the story doesn’t describe socialism at all, or even communism for that matter (although it is closer to communism).

If you examine the tale of the professor you’ll notice some assumptions that must be made about socialism in order for it to be a true experiment in socialism making the grade the equivalent of cash one must assume that in socialism everyone, CEO or garbage collector or unemployed, makes exactly the same amount of cash per year. This simply doesn’t hold true when examined up close. Even in the most extreme examples of socialism the redistribution of wealth is not absolute, it is not even across the board. Karl Marx, in Communist Manifesto stated “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. Marx intended that socialism would allow people to reach their full potential pursuing their talents and the state would provide what was needed for this.

This seems a simple concept and it seems to suggest everyone receives exactly what they need to survive and no more, but this is not the case at all. In a true communistic state the state would provide any worker with all the tools and comforts to be the most effective at their job.

Another common thing I see regarding socialism is people stating that democracy is so much better than socialism and communism. This I find one of my biggest pet peeves.

Read on to find out the Truth about Socialism and stop buying into the demonized view of socialism.

Socialism Vs. Democracy

Many have tried to rail against socialism by listing the benefits of democracy, however this is simply wrong, oh democracy is a great system I have no beef with democracy. The problem is that democracy system of government, while socialism is not, there is nothing conflicting about a completely democratic AND completely socialist government, at least not in theory (we’ll get to that later). Socialism is simply not a governmental system, that’s the long and the short of it. Socialism is an economic theory/method, and that’s all it is. In very socialist platform there is nothing that indicates that socialism and democracy cannot coexist, The Communist Manifesto makes no mention at all of the system of government, he’s not interested in it. Socialists by definition aren’t all that interested in the system of government, but more about the common man, that is the very reason for the existence of the common man.

A more fitting comparison is Socialism vs. Capitalism, that is a fair comparison.

So What Is Socialism?

Socialism is, as I have stated, an economic method a means of which the wealth of the nation are distributed. In the most extreme models of communism the wealth is not just divided between the people evenly, and while ownership is abolished in communism that doesn't mean you can't acquire things "Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that is does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriation" (The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx).

What socialism does is distribute wealth in a manner that benefits the society as a whole. Every single government of the world practices socialism to one degree or another, they collect tax and distribute these funds as they feel necessary in order to benefit the country as a whole.

In Conclusion

I am not trying to make you communist, just trying to raise awareness that communism is simply the most extreme form of socialism, and its sorely misunderstood. Every single government HAS to be at least partially Socialist. Socialist is simply the process of thinking what’s best for the society BEFORE thinking whats best for the individual, it does not mean not thinking about whats best for yourself. A socialist is not automatically a communist any more than a capitalist is automatically a fascist. So I will repeat myself one more time, Socialism is not the scary monster trying to destroy democracy, democracy and socialism are not mutually exclusive.

© 2014 Jeff Johnston

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    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Most important political and economic theories are misunderstood by the majority of the people. One, of many, reasons we find ourselves in this position of "discomfort" today. Thanks for sharing these critical insights!

      ;-)

    • jgshorebird profile image

      Jack Shorebird 3 years ago from Southeastern U.S.

      Socialism and Capitalistic Systems, both require police. Both need a method of protecting the people from foreign invaders true, but the application here is neither of these. Neither Socialism or Capitalism. Do not confuse a system which requires force, such as how Socialism operates, where one is forced on pain of incarceration or fine, if one does not pay for socialized medicine, for example. Capitalism has no such enforced servitude. Roads in the US are paid for by tolls and taxes. Tolls are voluntary. Taxes are voluntary to pay for roads, locally, should I choose to reside in a city with paved streets. Highways, paid for with taxes, often double as tank streets, helping to protect me from Canadian Invaders. Bridges to nowhere, built with taxpayer funds result from Socialistic mandates or similar authoritarian edicts. Taxation without authorization of each payer, is immoral. Payers must agree to pay. Otherwise it is theft - or Socialism - same animal. Taxes should be voluntary only. Oh - and the US is of course Socialistic - not much worse off that Canada. Or as Yaron Brook indicated - a sausage. A mixed system.

    • CuAllaidh profile image
      Author

      Jeff Johnston 3 years ago from Alberta Canada

      No, socialism is no more a governing system then capitalism, for socialism to work it requires an effective governing system, true, but that doesn't make it a governing system. Taxation is not without permission, that's the difference between taxation and theft. If you use roads, you are availing yourself of socialism, if you rely on police protection you avail yourself of socialism. Socialism is not evil, it is necessary, the degree of socialism is what matters though.

    • jgshorebird profile image

      Jack Shorebird 3 years ago from Southeastern U.S.

      There you are. It takes. Taking without the express permission of the people - each and everyone person, is theft. Socialism is a governing model - not an economic system. It requires officials, elected or appointed, to make the decisions for all. If there is an excess of anything, it belongs the person or person who created it, not to others who wish to 'take' it. No one can ensure he or she has bread. That is the point. One must work or sell or produce to earn his or her bread. One can also beg, but one cannot mortgage another - take bread from another, without permission. Hence, Socialism is slavery. Partial slavery is still slavery.

    • CuAllaidh profile image
      Author

      Jeff Johnston 3 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Socialism is not "rule by a few", that's the whole point of the article, its an economic model not a governing model. Its also not about theft, nor even redistribution of wealth, but rather taxation system to provide for the many. Socialism doesn't take bread from anyone's mouth it takes the excess to ensure that all have bread when bread is needed.

    • jgshorebird profile image

      Jack Shorebird 3 years ago from Southeastern U.S.

      Socialism is essentially slavery and does not balance in any equation where freedom is the primary goal. Socialism is rule by a few, Democracy is rule by the majority. Neither care what is moral. Constitutions are written to clarify these problems. The US was never a Democracy. And there is no such thing as Society - only people as in persons - each and every different one with different ideas. Redistribution of wealth is theft - as is thieves - as in crime - as in punishable by imprisonment. Socialism is not about the common man. It is about power. Simple, power over the masses. It is bankrupt and of ancient design. It is time we move into the future and away from slavery. Capitalism, separated from government, is simply free trade. Free trade is not slavery. Marx's ideas are a not feasible. From each according to his ability to each according to his need is short sighted. Why would some of ability work hard for a bum? (And I'm not talking about charitable giving here.) All the workers, like in the school grade example you mentioned - would quit. The productive would go on strike. This is and will always be a fantasy. There is always that one question: by what right? What right does one have over another to take the bread from their mouths - as Socialism does every day?

    • Sami Hanson profile image

      Sami 3 years ago from Kansas

      Yeah it definitely does when considering how capitalistic the US is.

    • CuAllaidh profile image
      Author

      Jeff Johnston 3 years ago from Alberta Canada

      I don't think the US, or any other country, has found the proper balance between socialism and capitalism yet, some are getting there though. The US has a long way to go before they are even close.

    • Sami Hanson profile image

      Sami 3 years ago from Kansas

      Oh, okay. Thanks for clarifying that. I really enjoyed reading your hub. It was interesting and to-the-point. I can definitely understand the frustration with how unaware people are in this country about the presence AND coexistence of socialism and capitalism. On the other hand, for those people that despise social welfare programs, I can see why they despise socialism so much since they have trouble tolerating any sort of "free hand out". That being said, although the US is FAR from perfect, at least we have found a proper balance between both capitalistic and socialistic principles because if all we had was capitalism, shit would be A LOT worse than it already is. However, the majority of european countries are considered socialistic and they tend to be the happiest and healthiest so there is a lot to be said about the benefits rather than the cons of socialism. Thanks for your insight, Jeff!

    • CuAllaidh profile image
      Author

      Jeff Johnston 3 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Sami, thanks for dropping by,

      The trick is not turning away from capitalism to socialism, but to recognize that there are degrees and that we already live in a socialist society. We have social medical programs, social education, social welfare. These are not new, but they are socialist. Even if we went completely communist there is no reason to think that that equates to no freedom of personal choice, nor would it necessarily even mean there would be no compensation for your work. The thing most people fail to realize when talking socialism and communism is there has never been a communist state nor will there likely ever be, it is an ideal that isn't feasible in its pure form, just as capitalism isn't feasible, the trick is to get the balance right and stop making one or the other the boogy man.

    • Sami Hanson profile image

      Sami 3 years ago from Kansas

      My dad is an extreme conservative so of course he opposes anything having to do with Karl Marx, and basically believes that communism and socialism are one in the same. Luckily, being a student of the college of liberal arts and sciences, I read and had to discuss The Communist Manifesto in one of my Western Civilization classes---- and Marx makes perfect sense.

      My only problem... err... question would be that I realize that Marx describes capitalism as "the necessary of all evils," so, how is it possible to go from a capitalistic economic system to a socialistic system? And I do not understand where the hell funds would be allocated (I know we have taxes and what not for government-based programs)? Another thing is how do we determine the legitimacy of careers? Would the government pick our careers FOR US? I really would prefer to keep my freedom in terms of what I would like to do with the rest of my life. I am all for the idea of the government providing us with the tools and resources necessary to succeed, but I just do not understand how we could possibly go from this capitalistic system of lower class, middle class, and richer-than-shit class to becoming a socialistic society.