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writing for godot

Talking about Socialism ... and Electability

Written by Judy Pasqualge   
Tuesday, 25 February 2020 02:10

Predictably, the word ‘socialism’ is being tossed about, with cross-talk often based on differing and unstated definitions ‒ lessening time on issues.

Further, based on negative stereotypes, candidates are being characterized as unelectable, or as not providing all the details on how programs will be 'paid for.'

My view is that the mainstream media angle on electability, while reflective of a broad and legitimate public concern, is really a smokescreen for a disagreement on policy ‒ especially regarding government spending on social services.

Second, while funding budget items is crucial, the focus on policy items not agreed with is another smokescreen ‒ the whole budget needs examination, with a calculation of the consequences, including costs, of inaction.

However, the issue of socialism needs to be addressed. I write of this with some chagrin, as when I was very young in the late 1950s, I formed an image that in socialist countries one doesn't even own his own clothes, as if a massive public laundry passed around (clean) used clothes.

This is part of the demonizing stereotype.

It is easier to first state what socialism is not. It is not what existed in the Soviet Union or exists today in China. Further, by necessity, socialism requires democracy ‒ the institutions for public expression and participation, which do not favor particular classes or groups.

Disputes regarding socialism centered on whether the 'means of production' (tools, machines, factories, land, raw materials, etc.) would be owned by the state. This in no way implied that individuals would not be able to own their own private property (house, car, clothes, etc.).

A concern, especially in less industrialized places, was how best to foster the investment required for it.

It is more useful to speak of the aim of socialism, which can be simplified as: equality over hierarchy, and cooperation over competition. Many people agree with the characterization: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.

Equality does not mean a quick levelling of all to the same level, but is a direction one wants to go. Cooperation does not mean not trying to strive for the best or to maximize effort, but to a determination of value not based solely on the limited standards of asset value or money earned.

Many measures are deemed as socialist because the government takes the lead ‒ often because this is seen as most effective, including regarding cost efficiency. Key are healthcare, public transportation and public education.

Various people, movements and parties have variously described socialism. And this is all to the good, as there is no one template for all countries: the forms must differ depending on history and conditions, and people’s choices.

Of course, in the usual discussion of socialism, capitalism is not defined either.

In a capitalist economic system, a private owner uses money to buy a commodity(s), and then after a process of production sells a new product for money (at a greater cost than the inputs ‒ a surplus to him). Further, the actual source of the surplus lies in the labour that produced the product. Daily, a worker produces more product value than he is paid for, the surplus going to the owner. This surplus value can be increased by technological innovations, work speed-up, or a longer work day for the same pay.

By the mid-20th century capitalism had reached the monopoly stage ‒ monopoly meaning that in a sector, several firms control production such that they can set the price of goods. Baran and Sweezy saw a tendency for the surplus (to the owners of the means of production) to rise. (Monopoly Capital, 1966)

From the 1970s, capitalism entered the stage of financialization: an over accumulation of capital and stagnation in investment. Financial profits increase (of banks, financial institutions, real estate), and are used in speculation; nonfinancial institutions enter the markets, and households are drawn in via credit/debt. (Foster, “The Commitment of an Intellectual,” Monthly Review, October 2004)

As an aside, fascism is seen as one of two ways to administer a capitalist system ‒ the other being liberal democracy. Features include a large state hand in running the economy, lack of democratic institutions, and often a cult of the leader and prejudice against a particular group(s). The aim is to control the state, and to repress and discipline the population, with private corporations also providing discipline. (Foster, “Neofascism in the White House, Monthly Review, April 2017)

These days, and globally, many people support a government role in providing social services, and I've yet to meet anyone who would like the government to own all the means of production.

Finally, at this point, it is crucial for Democratic primary voters to decide their critical issues, and choose a candidate based on this. In addition, if healthcare, education, transport ‒ and the earth crisis ‒ are priorities, it would be well to send a message to the DP establishment ‒ in case the July convention winds up in the hands of superdelegates. your social media marketing partner
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