Guest editorial: Two Cents from a Real Socialist

(NOTE FROM CRIPSY DUCK: This was solicited from Brandon Collins, a dear friend and an actual Socialist. I thought he might like to weigh in on the bandying about of the term “socialist” in the 2008 presidential campaign.)

I Should Know
by E. Brandon Collins

The term “socialist” has been casually tossed around in the past few weeks. The Wall Street bailout has been labeled “corporate socialism” by the media, Democrats, and Republicans. This misnomer has devolved into the McCain/Palin tactic of calling Barack Obama a socialist. He is not. I should know, I am a socialist.

I am a member of the Socialist Party USA and the Virginia coordinator for our party (SP-USA). This includes the write-in campaign for Brian Moore and Stewart Alexander for president and vice-president. There are quite a few socialist leftist parties in this country, with mildly different views on socialism, but on this we can agree: Barack Obama is no socialist.

The Republican tactic of calling Obama a socialist is understandable, the term has been misrepresented over the years by so many groups – anti-communists, communists, the media, the right wingers, the left wingers – that the term inspires fear of a government-run economic system that leaves people with no rights and no quality of life.

With the McCain camp increasingly desperate, calling Obama names is really their best shot. It is a tactic repubs use well: terrorist is the allusion made, socialist is what they can get away with scaring you with. That’s how they killed the Clinton healthcare plan, that’s how they are trying to win this election. It is a tactic, not a truth, and the republican party damn well knows that the democratic party is not interested in true socialism.

That said, the republicans don’t realize that the socialist ideal is fairly appealing to a wide group of people. When they paint Obama as a socialist, they are turning on just as many folks as they are turning off. Unfortunately, what McCain is calling socialism is really just business as usual. A fairer tax system is just that, a fairer tax system, not an end to capitalism.

The health insurance plan from Obama is not even remotely socialist. The thing is, a lot of uninformed Obama voters are going to be very surprised with his policies – even though clearly stated – once he becomes president. These folks may see merit in a national healthcare plan and a fairer tax code, but they are just misinformed as to Obama’s actual policy suggestions.

Those folks interested in the socialist ideals of worker control through democratic processes will be dissuaded if we socialists let Republicans define our cause by equating it with Obama and the Democratic Party. So, one can see that the incorrect use of the term “socialist” is hurting Democrats, Republicans, and Socialists. Every plank of the SP-USA platform differs from the views of the two-party duopoly. Maybe we should point out some of the differences.

First, we need to define socialism as it is truly known to socialists, academics and historians. Ours is a cause dedicated to the shift from capitalism, where a few people have most of the wealth and power in society, to a system where the workers – the majority of the people – have the wealth and power. The wealth is redistributed to make for a more humane society that benefits all.

Democratic participation in all aspects of the society, including the workplace, is implicit in true socialism. It is worker control of the means of production and government, not government control of the means of production. (Certainly not the current system of corporate control of the government.)

The Socialist cause has a rich heritage in the United States. Eugene Debs was/is probably the most well known American socialist. Debs ran for president four times and got nearly 1 million votes in 1920 while serving a ten year prison sentence for opposing World War I (later commuted and released after 2 years). Through the two red scares, anti-labor laws and the perversion of the word “socialism” under Stalin, the movement withered, but not without leaving us with women’s suffrage, child labor law, the 40 hour work week, social security, and civil rights.

Yes, we have some socialist systems in this country. These are generally agreed upon by Democrats and Republicans to be good things, though Repubs seem to really despise social security. This does not make the US a socialist country, nor does it make our leaders socialists. After all, Richard Nixon advocated a national healthcare plan, I wonder if Sarah Palin would consider him a socialist as well?

Barack Obama is not a socialist, not even close. Yes, a fairer tax plan would be great, the Socialist Party USA calls for a steeply graduated income tax. Obama’s plan is actually a tax cut for more folks than currently enjoy them, and an increase for the very wealthy.

This is not what we have in mind for redistribution of wealth. In fact, the tax code only deals with the collecting of wealth, not the actual distribution of the wealth. Perhaps some of the taxpayer money will go to good causes, but more likely it will go to the usual places, namely the Pentagon, maybe Wall Street. It is akin to robbing the rich to pay Robin Hood’s debts and finance the crusade his father was on, not giving to the poor.

Perhaps some of the money will go into starting a government sponsored health insurance plan for those whose (capitalist) employers won’t cover one. Yes, it is a start in the right direction, but we already have plans for poor folks and the elderly: Medicare and Medicaid.

Obama’s buy-in plan really just opens the government up as an insurance provider. But you still have to buy in. If you can’t, the government would supposedly subsidize you – that’s what Medicaid does already – but to get it you have to be super poor. Unfortunately, it is grossly under-funded and difficult to obtain. (I know because I tried to get my daughter covered.)

Nowhere in his plan does Obama call for health care for everyone – rather, he calls for more affordable health insurance than currently offered. Basically, you must still hope you can afford the government plan, hope you are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, or hope you don’t get sick. Keep Hope Alive you poor bastards.

Under this system, the massive insurance industry still reaps tons of profit with little regard to the health of citizens, only regard for the bottom line. None of Obama’s healthcare designs have a space for democratic citizen control over the health care industry.

The SP-USA calls for single-payer, not-for-profit health insurance for everyone, and our presidential candidate takes it one step further, calling for a national health care plan where all medical needs – including dental and mental – are met. This would probably have to be sponsored by the government, but under direct democratic authority of the medical community and citizens.

Obama says this is politically impossible, but what he means is that the insurance capitalists will make it impossible for him to gain more campaign money, and buy off as many legislators as possible to keep it from happening. If Obama has the spine to tweak the system, why doesn’t he have the spine to fundamentally change the system to what 80% of the people want and need? It is because he is not interested in power to the people, he is interested in the powers making money off of the people’s illnesses.

The SP-USA calls for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, the closing of military bases, and the removal of multi-billion dollar contracting and construction operations in those countries. How is that socialist, you ask? It is a long held socialist belief that most war is fought by the working class for the interests of the rich capitalist class.

Why should we fight so that Bechtel and Halliburton can make billions of dollars while the workers can’t get a pension, healthcare, or even affordable mattresses? Workers of every nation have more in common with each other than they do with the ruling class’ business and power interests. Why should we fight and kill one another? In the words of Eugene Debs, socialist hero: “No War but Class War!”

Obama plans to extend US military presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His plan for withdrawal from Iraq is hardly a withdrawal at all. With the mega corporations doing business there and mandating important economic policy, there will be a powerful resistance to complete withdrawal, as those companies need the military not only to protect their interests, but also to be customers. Obama plans to leave all 53 military bases in Iraq. 53!!!

The SP-USA calls for the closing of all US military bases the world over. If Obama is anti-war, then I’m Ronald Reagan.

It is our view that U.S. policy abroad – economic and military – are what causes terrorism. I repeat, U.S. terrorism causes terrorism directed toward the U.S.

At no time has Obama suggested a shift from militarism and economic imperialism to disarmament and the curbing of neo-liberal economic slaughter. In fact, when his moral guide of many years, Jeremiah Wright, said as much in church, Obama not only rebuked him but quit the church! Some say that was political posturing, I wonder what other critical moral questions Obama will abandon once in office?

How about the environment? He already has a watered down, green-washed approach to taking care of the earth. It is our fundamental belief that the motive for profit is the main contributor to environmental disaster.

The nuclear, coal, gas, and oil industries have massive amounts of money to insure that they will make even more massive profits. Their goal is not bettering humanity with electricity, nor is it to accomplish this in a clean, responsible way. It is to make money, period.

Aside from psychopaths, people do not generally do bad things unless there is a big chunk of change in it for them, or if they are forced. If the energy industries were put under direct democratic control of communities and the nation, we might see a lot better stewardship of our planet, and cheaper electric bills.

In my community, the water is a public utility. When there are issues concerning the effect on our environment and use of water, huge amounts of people participate in the hearings to debate. Generally, things are pretty good: low bills and somewhat responsible stewardship of our environment and resources.

As a socialist, I wish the public would vote on all of those matters. Right now the board is elected. If the electric power industry was run this way, we wouldn’t have to worry about dirty coal, clean coal or nuclear energy. The people would decide for their own betterment, not a board of directors deciding things for the betterment of stockholders and CEOs.

Obama supports nuclear power and so-called clean coal technology, he has the campaign contributions to show it. I have yet to hear Obama call for the nationalization of the energy industries, or direct democratic participation in their goings on.

Nationalization is only a socialist concept when run under direct, democratic, and public authority. Which brings us to this whole bailout mess.

The media has been egregiously irresponsible by mislabeling the bailout “socialism.” There is no such thing as “corporate socialism.” That is an oxymoron. Corporations are run by the few on the backs of the many for the betterment of the few.

When the government bails out a corporation, or gives it subsidies, it might be called “corporate welfare,” not socialism. In fact, the bailout represents the exact opposite of socialism: the people are paying for the suffering of the rich, not the other way around.

I sometimes call the bailout “socialism in reverse,” but some would call it “national socialism,” as in the German National Socialist, or NAZI, party. That’s right, when the government gets into this kind of situation, it is the opposite of democratic socialism, it is called “fascism.”

Most fascist governments in history have used quasi-socialist systems to keep some control over their societies, but the term “socialist” used there really only describes a government-run system for organizing an economy or society. Those systems were usually run in cahoots with large corporate structures.

The US government as a shareholder in banks would be considered a fascist system by many scholars. Franco’s Falangists, Mussolini’s Fascists and (of course) the Nazi’s operated this way. The Soviet Union, while using the term “socialist” was really a fascist system, only the government was the corporation. Fascist systems usually run under the control of a single party, which in turn becomes the government.

In the US system, there are two parties that essentially agree on most things and might be considered two branches of the Corporate Party. Oh yeah, they run the government. That is neo-fascist, un-democratic and certainly not socialist.

As I hopefully have pointed out, true socialism has nothing to do with government control, it has everything to do with worker and citizen control. The workers have benefited not one ounce from this bank bailout, nor have they participated in it’s creation. If the SP-USA plan for nationalization of the banks was used, the financial institutions would be under direct, democratic, public control for the benefit of everyone.

It is interesting then to see that Republicans opposed the bailout in large numbers, mainly because their constituencies see how backwards and unfair the idea was. Calling the bailout “socialist” when they meant “fascist,” although wrong, gives me hope that most people want a more just and fair economic system, and that not all Repubs are neo-fascists. That said, the bailout still passed, with help from the Senate which has a lot less to answer to in terms of constituencies. That’s what happens when there is less democratic involvement by the public. (Note that both Obama and McCain supported the bailout.)

Obama has called for better regulation of the banking system, but what does that mean? As long as mega-corporations are in the business of making money for themselves, they are going to screw the rest of us, then make us pay for it. It has happened time and again throughout our history.

While I think the SP-USA version of nationalization would be best, it might help if we bailed out the mortgage holders and not the mortgage lenders, I don’t hear Obama calling for that. In fact, the Senator’s lead economic adviser (until last month) was Robert Rubin (a Democrat) who, along with Lindsey Graham (a Republican), led the push to remove the barriers separating the private banks from the investment banks, leading to the chopping up, re-bundling and gambling of mortgages (people’s homes for christ’s sake!) that led to the mess “requiring” a bailout.

So which will it be from Obama’s economic team, deregulation or reform through regulation? Barack Obama may or may not want to reform capitalism, but having Goldman Sachs as his biggest campaign donor makes me think that reforming capitalism isn’t part of his priorities.

To the Socialist Party, reform isn‘t acceptable. Reform would be an attempt to make capitalism work, but the problem is that it is a failed system, and that is the difference between a socialist and Barack Obama. A socialist wants an end to capitalism, and that’s radical change I can believe in.

You can vote for the Socialist Party-USA candidates for President and Vice-President,

Brian Moore and Stewart Alexander are official write-in candidates in Virginia. They are on the ballot in 8 states and will have official write-in status in 14 states.


7 Responses to “Guest editorial: Two Cents from a Real Socialist”

  1. Brandon, this is both smart and informative. Thank you.

  2. Ya Brandanista! Very well written and thought out. But of course I have questions if you would entertain them.
    – I have always thought, more than likely misinformed, that one of the issues in the cost of health care was the cost to doctors to protect themselves from predatory law suites?
    – How do those who have been truly disserved by their doctor(s) receive compensation?
    – Is all insurance to be brought under the control of the sectors they serve (homeowners, property/business owners, the individual (i.e. life insurance)) and the population or just health?
    – I believe 80-90 percent of the population are good people and do their best to live under the golden rule (do unto others…). How do we protect ourselves from those who would take advantage? Even if all was fair there would still be those who would be willing to do what ever to be or have more.
    – If current US foreign policy including trade is problematic and causes problems, how would worker controlled economic freedom and trade, in a world wide economy, not cause similar issues, based on the fact that the American worker is the most productive and creative historically? Or put more directly, if we make the best widget doesn’t that in some way create jealousy and anger in those who don’t make as good a widget and are not as successful?
    – I think, but I may be wrong, that the largest share holders in most corps are large pension funds like the Californian Teachers pension (this may be the largest of them all, not sure). How do we adjust for fair dealings with those who are invested in these corporations? How do we fairly deal with corporations that are well governed and have a history of good governance, good treatment of employees, and good customer relations like Apple?

    As we have discussed, I have no questions other than these. Maybe the price for the transformation is to be paid, regretfully, be those citizens that are invested in the current system through the loss of those investments. Maybe that’s why the system has devolved the way it has. We only have ourselves to blame.

  3. This piece should have probably been re-worked before posting, but I had to leave town and the Duck and I wanted this posted sooner than later. I think I could have done a better job of pointing out why Obama and the bailout aren’t socialist, hopefully comments will stick to that idea.

    The other thing is super bad, in an attempt to be witty and use the concept of audacity of hope, I used a phrase of Jesse Jackson’s not Barack Obama’s. That’s a pretty big goof, confusing the two makes me seem ignorant, and is precisely the kind of mixing up of positions I was trying to write about. The two men are not the same, and they share different views, lumping them together shows how much of an ignoramus I can be!!!

    So, dogboy, I had hoped to stick to comments on why and how socialism is equated wrongly with various things, and being defined by folks who deliberately mis-represent the word “socialist”, rather than defend minute details of parts of the platform, but I will try.

    A gradual shift towards socialism would be optimal, that would allow time to make sure the systems would work well, and leave time to change things. The better a job is done with health care, the easier other systems will be for folks to accept. The important thing is to benefit society, not hurt it. That is why it is democratic socialism, not armed revolution which doesn’t convince anyone of it’s merits.

    The health care thing is deep, there are lots of components,of which I can’t think of everything, but with the medical community and citizens in control of the system, surely the important things can be addressed fairly much better than the current system of insurance companies telling patients and doctors what is best. Health Care instead of coverage is an important concept, sure single payer would be good, but wouldn’t it be better if we got actual care, instead of just paying for it? This system would citizen controlled with the medical community administering care, surely a balance could be struck between protecting patients from bad doctors and doctors from frivolous liability claims. I would think that with big money out of the equation, patients and doctors might work quite nicely together.

    The SP calls for nationalization of the banking and insurance industries with the public in direct control of those systems. If we take care of everyone by providing guaranteed incomes and pensions, private life insurance ight not be necessary, the same goes for homeowners, we the people would hopefully take care of folks who needed help in the event of disasters and theft, instead of leaving it up to people to provide their own protection, siimilair to the healthcare idea. Small business under a socialist system would be better off with more protection from the national banks to ensure adequate services and products beneficial to society and beneficial to workers in those small businesses. Those small businesses would enjoy similar rights as those workers in a worker controlled corporation.

    The biggest thing I hear is that the profit motive is what keeps people motivated, and that a socialist system would allow folks to take advantage of the system and do nothing, or do the least amount possible, and thus no innovative products and services would come to be.
    I would say that these things already exist under our current capitalistic systems. When workers are grossly underpaid and see the unfairness of our current system, the do a bad job. People already take advantage of worker’s comp and unemployment insurance. I believe there would have to be some financial incentive for certain jobs to be filled, medical, environmental, and all the really nasty jobs like garbage removal(which isn’t a great paying job now, but under socialism it would likely be very lucrative). The idea of guaranteed income would have to be monitored somehow, some folks can’t work, some are too old, some are unemployed. The unemployed would have to try to find work, much like are current welfare system, only there would actually be some welfare. The guaranteed income is basically a minimum wage concept, and is not the maximum earmed, it would be the minimum earned, there would still be incentive to have a better paying job, or an easier job or whatever. Innovation would still happen, we might not get some of the more useless material objects we consume for no apparent reason, but since necessity is the mother of invention, hopefully when society saw a need for some new technology or service we would make it so. This already happens in academics, arts, and the medical community without the motive for profit. There could be some sort of financial incentive for new technologies, this happens already too in certain government programs(including the military).

    As for so called benign large corporations, a lot of these use that as a marketing tool and on the job propaganda, and aren’t really as socially responsible as they sound. Starbucks is a good example, Ben and Jerry’s is one. I don’t know much about Apple, perhaps if Steve Jobs didn’t make 2000 times the salary as the janitor in one of his factories we might consider him responsible. Slave and sweatshop labor is used by most corporations, probably Apple too. There is always room for improvement, I have heard the idea of the government forcing the sale of these corporations and handing them over to the workers, which is kind of extreme, another idea is to cap the salaries of owners/ceos at 100 times the salary of it’s lowest paid employee. ($30,000 per year for worker would mean $3,000,000 for owner, still a crapload of unfairness there!).

    If all corporations would behave the way some do, we wouldn’t have to protect ourselves from capitalism, unfortunately, most behave like typical corporations, that’s what they are supposed to do, scrrew everyone in favor of themselves, you can’t blame them, it is the system we have taught children is best, we send young men to kill and be killed for it. There is a better way, capitalism has failed humanity repeatedly, a true socialist democracy, when carefully attempted with adherence to fundamental ideals of egalitarianism, democracy and human rights would work much better, in my view the only way to save our planet and our humanity.

  4. Execellent answers. Thank you for your effort. I watch CBS’s sunday morning show today after I posted. One of the bits was a two part comparision between the French healthcare model and ours. One point that was intresting is doctors in France make 50-100k a year compaired to what ever they make here. The segment on the US system did not compaire the salieries. If we use my son in law as an example (doctorate in english from Univ of Md, undergrad at Nebraska), he tells me his debt for school is 100k. I would imagine doctors spend even more for thiers and they obviously tack it on to what they charge. Granted most doctors do charity work but I wonder if they get a tax break for thier charitable work like you and I can write off our charitable giving. All that said, why wouldn’t doctors do what MBA’s from Wharton do and make as much as possiable, thus creating part of the high med cost. While the fFrech system has alot of intresting and very cost effective aspects, they still run about 12 – 15 Billion short each year. One last point, I think it’s the people who run corporations not the actual business itselve that you should be speaking of as the problem. My computer is not ripping me off, Bill Gates is ripping me off. Oh Ya, Ben & Jerry’s would have been the better example but Jobs nor The Great Waz, take a pay check, they get stock and options for more at discount prices. Thanks for helping me understand your position better. You are giving me better choices of the choices so that I can make a choice.

  5. A little groggy, missed some things, but we can always talk about htis stuff whenever we want.
    BY THE WAY –
    Brian Moore will be on the Colbert Report this tuesday p.m.
    he is a quirky fellow, not sure how well he’ll come across, but good publicity right before the election!

  6. Great, Brandon!
    Medical malpractice will be met with re-education or removal of the doctor. Since all medical and living needs will be provided to all, including the injured person, no law suits against the doctor would be allowed.

    Many ideas on socialism are available.
    My primer on democratic socialism is a pdf and an expanded version in audio (all free):
    This version is formatted to be printed out on double-sided sheets (flip on the short edge) and folded in half to produce a 5.5″-by-8.5″ pamphlet. Audio:

  7. Nick Falcone Says:

    Well done Brandon, and I agree the only humane path is democratic socialism. That’s why I too am a socialist, and member of SP-USA.

    Also, Ed Laing, your primer is superb. I make a point of handing a copy to folks that seem to want to know about democratic socialism.

    (p.s. Ed I believe I met you back in the ’80’s when my former wife (and still friend) Carmen Ramirez and I did non-intervention solidarity work on Central America.)

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