Sunday, September 27, 2009

All this (ignorant) silliness about socialism

This oft heard charge that President Obama is socialist is not only silly, it's utterly inaccurate. I wonder if these people even know what socialism is:

As with any complex political idea, socialism means different things to different people. But there are core concepts in socialist politics that are easy to identify, including (1) worker control over the nature and conditions of their work; (2) collective ownership of the major capital assets of the society, the means of production; and (3) an egalitarian distribution of the wealth of a society.

Obama has never argued for such principles, and in fact consistently argues against them, as do virtually all politicians who are visible in mainstream U.S. politics. This is hardly surprising, given the degree to which our society is dominated by corporations, the primary institution through which capitalism operates.
In short: Obama and some Democrats have argued for a slight expansion of the social safety net, which is generally a good thing in a society with such dramatic wealth inequality and such a depraved disregard for vulnerable people. But that's not socialism.

The above passages are from an article published on Common Dreams called "Is Obama a Socialist? Reflection on the Degradation of Politics and the Ecosystem" by Robert Jensen. Definitely worth reading the whole thing.

UPDATE: I've decided to give you one more excerpt from the article mentioned above:

But capitalism is not only inhuman and anti-democratic; it's also unsustainable, and if we don't come to terms with that one, not much else matters. Capitalism is an economic system based on the concept of unlimited growth, yet we live on a finite planet. Capitalism is, quite literally, crazy.

You know, that was obvious to me decades ago. But I think capitalism is like some diabolical religion to many people in this country. Like the Heaven's Gate cult, they would rather commit group suicide (the group this time meaning the entire planet) than question this "faith".


  1. A good definition of "socialism" although it does not mention the obvious. For once, the definitions are in the words themselves. Capitalism puts capital first. Socialism puts the social first. This is why I believe it is untenable for a Christian to be a hardcore capitalist. The message of Jesus was most definitely that all systems (economic, legal etc.) should be secondary to the spiritual (and, therefore physical and mental) well-being of each and every person (well-being being the state where a person is unhindered in their relationship with God).

    Socialism is not communism as it is not based on communes and does not insist on common belief. Modern communism came out of atheism whilst modern socialism was very much a 19th. century Christian invention.

  2. Hmmm. Never thought of it that way - the words themselves.

    Thanks for this, MadPriest!

  3. Anonymous10:51 AM

    I always thought that the caring for those with less was either "compassion" or "giving to the least of these" as in the parable of the sheep and goats.

    I like Mad Priest's explanation as well.


  4. "Modern communism came out of atheism whilst modern socialism..."

    This is misleading. While Marx & Engels were indeed atheists, religion as "the opiate of the people" and all that, and the USSR was famously atheist, this sentence suggests that atheism was somehow the foundation of communism. But while the founders of what I am assuming he means by "modern Communist," Marx and Lenin, did not believe in Christianity, that was hardly their starting point; capitalism was, whereas Christianity was viewed as part of the machine that maintained it. The criticism of Christianity and religion in general grew from the larger, systematic criticism of capitalism, and not the other way around.

    I'm also picking up tones here of "Christan/Socialist good, Atheist/Communism bad." While I am no fan of Communism, I also take serious issue with those that seem to argue that the crimes of Stalin and Hitler were somehow inspired (or caused)by atheism. I recognize that this is not what you said, so I'm not saying this is your opinion; your comment just spoke to the larger bias of some people, and I wanted to dive in to correct such an impression, although you might not have intended to allude to such a bias.

  5. My point is not that all Christians in the 19th. Century were socialist (the vast majority were not and capitalism was given it's first big break by Calvin and the bankers and merchants of the Reformation), but that the impetus for modern socialism came from the protestant free churches and, later, from the grass roots of Roman Catholicism. Modern communism came from Marx and he hated the church. I don't think he was dispassionate about this, that would have made him psychotic, so atheism became a major part of modern communism when there was no reason why it should have done (there have been more successful experiments in communism within faith communities than within secular communities).

    Hitler and Stalin were evil and their reasoning was so far removed from that of a "normal" human being that to use them as examples of adherents to a particular school of thought is disingenuous and, well, plain daft.


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