8 Feb 2019 home
In his State of the Union speech, President Trump said, "Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country." What kind of socialism was he referring to, and what simplistic label would he put on his alternative to socialism?
People have described Wikipedia as unreliable, but Wikipedia sometimes does well in avoiding over-simplifications. Most of us can benefit from an interest in details. As an example of details and complexity here is Wikipedia describing some of Marx's opinions on capitalism:
[Marx] characterized capitalism as "revolutionising, industrialising and universalising qualities of development, growth and progressivity" (by which Marx meant industrialisation, urbanisation, technological progress, increased productivity and growth, rationality and scientific revolution) that are responsible for progress.
How does Wikipedia begin its description of socialism?
Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership and workers' self-management of the means of production... There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, with social ownership being the common element shared by its various forms.
There is the so-called socialism (and Marxism) that influenced Sweden, Denmark and such — countries that today remain democracies with capitalist enterprises — "mixed economies" also labeled as welfare states. Did Trump have Sweden in mind when he spoke of socialism? Some of his supporters do.
There was the socialism of Salvador Allende in Chile in the early 1970s, when wages for Chilean workers plummeted, followed by widespread discontent and by the coup by General Pinochet, cheered on by the Nixon administration. And there was Michelle Bachelet, who remained in Allende's Socialist Party, was President of Chile from 2006 to 2010 and elected again in 2014. She championed human rights, transparency and policies that helped produce respectable economic growth. (Her father had died while imprisoned during Pinochet's rule and she had been tortured.) Do Republican anti-socialists think about Michelle Bachelet (an agnostic) when they denounce socialism?
We have the socialism of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, with Trump supporters ready to cite economic failures there as a socialist essence. And there is the socialism of Evo Morales in Bolivia, with economic growth in recent years. There is the socialism of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, described on Quora as not socialist but Keynsian, basically small farms, and anti-imperialist.
Allow me to pass over Cuba's socialism and bring up China's socialist revolution. It developed from chaos, and the chaos continued into the era of Mao Zedong's leadership, and today the fear of chaos and political instability remains. The only legal political party in China is its Communist Party. A victim of the Cultural Revolution, President Xi Jinping, applies influence on the Party but he also answers to the Party (too complex for some conservatives to understand). There are Chinese who have no problem connecting the possibility of democracy and one-party dominance. (George Washington was opposed to political parties.) Many in the US refuse to associate one-party rule with democracy while in China some, or many, accept the idea that any upstanding young person interested in public service can, by joining the Party, add his or her singular voice to a collective governance. (At the village level even non-Party candidates can run for election. For elections in China, go here.) But President Trump can relax: China's political model is not being considered by Democrats.
Meanwhile, many wonder about President Xi describing China's revolution as Marxist. There was, back in 1875, Marx's description of stages of socialist development culminating someday in "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" — something akin to the communism that existed in hunter-gathering societies. By Marxist, however, President Xi seems to be thinking more about class struggle: support for the toiling masses against the interests of financeers and wealthy landowners, and thinking about China's revolution moving forward without the special interests of the super-wealthy being expressed in a second political party.
We have people in the US who habitually over-simplify and prefer to label China's economy as "capitalist" — their attempt to explain China's successes. They would do better to examine the specifics of China's economy unobscured by any label.
And concerning our own economy, they would do better by considering the obvious mistakes committed by self-described socialists, by capitalists and by people in-between. Lenin and his Bolsheviks banning all free enterprise (expect for a period in 1922) was a mistake. So was Stalin's collectivization. But, again, these are not matters under consideration by the left in the US. Nor are the Democrats about to jump out of historical context by mimicking Joseph Stalin's over-reactions and brutalities the 1940s. And regarding mistakes made by Republican administrations in recent decades, self-examination is always helpful. Above all, let us not reduce questions of policy to a level of simplicity that distorts.
I see that Paul Krugman has an column today titled "Trump Versus the Socialist Menace," and it's followed by more than 1560 reader comments.
Copyright © 2019 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.