To debate on Socialism, we should try to leave behind all of the prejudices we have about it. Political propaganda and mainstream media have led the U.S. to regard socialists as the bad guys in Cold War-era movies and not people with a point of view worth taking into account. This can stagnate the conversation and leave everyone feeling on the defensive, and blocks any learning that can and should be done as many times as possible in one’s life. Efforts should be made to have more political nuanced discourse, and that is what we are going to do in this article.
What is socialism? | Debate on Socialism
Socialism is a series of political and sociological arguments that convey a desire to create a society that transcends capitalism. It proposes to abolish private property (not personal property) and to redistribute the means of production, that means, to have the workers be the owners of the things they help make and take power and resources away from capitalists that are not crucial to the production of said goods and services apart from investing in them.
Socialism originated in Europe during the early 19th century and quickly gained popularity from the writings of Karl Marx, a German philosopher that formulated the most well-known form of socialist thinking, which formed and influenced those who came after him, even long after some of his ideas were abandoned.
A western phenomenon that has greatly evolved over the years in all parts of the world, socialism is a political idea that we owe a lot. In Africa, a philosophy colloquially named “Ubuntu” greatly resembles European socialism ideas, even centuries before this was created, and is a crucial part of their lives. Some Nordic countries have applied a form of social democracy that, even when resembling socialism, is not quite there in achieving the movement’s ambitious goals. We have heard many of these proposals here in the U.S. from people like Senator Bernie Sanders or Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, which cannot be strictly called socialist because of this.
This is all that we need to debate on socialism to start going into its advantages and disadvantages. We will look at history for examples were to see the achievements of socialist politicians and instances when the implementation of socialist ideas has led to bad situations in the countries and societies they are created in.
The Case Against Socialism
- When we are constructing the case against socialism, we inexorably have to look into history. Since the birth of the first explicitly socialist nation, the Soviet Union, the world had to acknowledge some leftist movements’ violent nature. Czar Nicolas II and his family were brutally executed, and those who were skeptical towards the revolution had reasons to fear other consequences of similar movements. The crash of the Russian empire has left a mark in history. The past of leftist revolutions for how they are not afraid to become violent when they are not respected or, frequently, when unjust is also used to control the initial spark.
Leftists love to romanticize the French revolution, and they are often not entirely critical of how that one ended up. Many things can go wrong from the beginning of a socialist revolution against the people in power. Power always makes conflict escalate, and it is tough to bring it down once it is up there. The backlash against social revolutions can always become just as violent or even more so than the original movement. Doing this can create scars in a society that materializes in other dangerous things like fascism or other reactionary movements.
- Authoritarianism: Nevertheless, let us say you peacefully manage to install a socialist State. Now you run the risk of just being the opening act to a dictatorship. Even in countries where socialism is legitimately elected to hold public office, the reforms’ inherent nature gives a lot of power to the State in the stages leading up to a socialist society. When someone in a position of authority is given more authority, it is not uncommon for them to become authoritarian. Countries like Venezuela, Cuba, China, North Korea, or Nicaragua are currently suffering under left-leaning authoritarians. It greatly betrays socialism’s ideals to have a leader that grasps power for personal ends instead of advancing their alleged agenda.
One thing that is frequently associated with authoritarianism is corruption. Leaders privately profiting from their position or directly taking money from public funds and adding them to their fortunes. Practices of this type often lead to economic crises, like the example of Venezuela, where even though the party in power is called the “United Socialist Party of Venezuela,” the minimum wage is close to 1$, and the government does next to nothing to guarantee the economic well-being of the workers it says to be protecting. Let us not also forget the number of crimes against humanity that have taken place under these regimes, that go from the persecution, jailing, forced exile, torture, or killing of political dissidents, all the way through the use of their power to engage in illegal international activity like the funding of domestic offense and drug traffic.
- Economic Problems: Finally, yet importantly, we need to talk about how adopting a socialist ideology can isolate you from the rest of the world. Most of the western world live under a liberal democracy, a democratic system that favors capitalism as an economic system. This means that internationally, the most powerful countries have an incentive to engage in business talks with other rich countries, and in doing so, exclude countries that oppose the system that is inherently looking to maximize monetary profits.
This, in the end, can create a sense of community between socialist nations that create new avenues of going around economic opposition on the international stage. Still, it has not proven to be a sustainable form of leading an economy. In conclusion, we can say that the socialist ideology sure leads to many problems, often those derived from opposing the most prominent world leaders like the United States or the European Union. Now that we have addressed socialism issues let us talk a bit about what they are proposing and how countries have achieved it worldwide.
- Social Equality: Under socialism, the State (while it still exists) has to make sure every group is represented in the creation and implementation of laws that protect every person’s rights and opportunities that live within one society. This is excellent news for oppressed minorities that do not have the same privileges as the rest of the citizens. It creates a culture of looking out for oppression before it can have a chance to insert itself into society. Oppressed groups like women and people of color have had to fight to have equal rights to vote, work, and almost every aspect of life that white heterosexual males have not sought before it is theirs by birth-right. It is not a coincidence that most prominent social movements are leftist.
Through the lens of socialism, many people have come to realize how unequal our society tends to be towards minorities in things we don’t often have to think about. People do not take kindly to being called a racist, a homophobe, or a sexist nowadays, and this is something that, even though it seems small, had to be achieved by a group that was not even born with that privilege into their lives. Socialism is often associated with poor people, and that is because protecting the rights of the workers often implies guarding them against corporate interests, and this is something that the current system of liberal democracy, because it adhered to capitalism, is not able to achieve the same extent as socialist argue it should.
- Critical Theory: An idea most often attributed to the Frankfurt School, critical theory is a sense of sociopolitical commentary that looks at culture and tries to analyze its deep intrinsic meanings that we might gloss over without thinking much about it. As a part of its look for social equality, the modern left tries to distinguish the parts of our everyday ways of thinking about the world or even speaking that affect oppressed groups or continue to incentivize bad behavior. For example, thanks to critical theory, movies and TV shows with dangerous messages regarding gender politics and race have been examined until the world could come to conclusions about them that may not have been possible back when they were made.
Our changing times have created an opportunity to look at how people thought about, for example, black people in the 18th century, and the power of hindsight allows us to identify what the problem was back then and whether or not it continues to exist in our modern world. Especially for groups that have not until recently become a part of mainstream political discourse like transgender folks, the critical theory allows for an academic way of looking at and explaining the world that created bridges between them and the general public.
Slowly but surely, eroding the walls of mystification around them has become something desirable, making it less socially acceptable to discriminate against non-toxic parts of a community. This is especially interesting when talking about masculinity when even prominent academics have been rightly accused of being misogynistic; nowadays, people tend to be more respectful of men who do not want to be categorized as masculine for a default. This is a prominent extension of socialism. We owe a lot of respect to oppressed minorities for, in many cases, creating the lens from which we can attain a truly more equitable society.
- Accessible Public Services: Even when the implementation of these systems cannot be called socialist in itself, we have to acknowledge how important progressive politicians’ role is in our current climate when representing the virtues of socialism. Even when the United States of America now has a centrist liberal president, he has allied himself with politicians that argue that we must have better access to health care and education. In countries like Denmark, Finland, or Norway, the way in which public services have been implemented makes for a more functional society, even when not making a full transition into a socialist State.
This is important when looking at socialism’s achievements, as it can hardly be defined as a bullet list of ideas to be studied. We must instead look at how different people look at the world when confronted with late-capitalism and how this creates a climate for new ideas that can be looking at a similar goal on the horizon even when clashing with each other. A more equitable society that respects everyone equally is something that most socialists would agree to be the goal of their political movement. Still, everyone has different projected methods of reaching that goal. We have to accept them as part of a far greater movement than every individual actor is when studying it across history; that said, there are many reasons not to do so.
Like every political ideology, socialism has a history that can be looked at for hours if one wants to reach conclusions about its value for society. This is important when we are studying from a historical perspective, which tends to be the case. Still, socialism is a complex issue that can be approached through many different angles, be that philosophically, sociologically, politically, and scientifically, and all of these are valid ways of looking at it.
Nevertheless, when engaging with any ideology, we have to do it with respect for the people on the other side, for even when we cannot agree with what he is saying; we must accept their opinions as a part of our society if we intend to create a better society. If we all talk past each other, it will not differ if we were all deaf.
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