Socialism: Addressing an American Stigma

by Farbod Moghadam

Since the dawn of the American identity, there has been an intrinsic affinity towards Rugged Individualism, ironically the name for Herbert Hoover’s hands-off economic policies that failed to prevent the imminent Great Depression of the late 1920’s. It is without a doubt that this a historically capitalist country, a fact that many find intertwined with the very system of government we adhere to – a democracy. While any educated individual would know both of these absolutes to be to some degree false, the belief in free enterprise and individual liberty, as we see it, has driven American foreign policy towards imperialism with the stated goal of upholding global democratic values. We have turned our backs on former allies, such as the Shah of Iran, arguably in blind support of democracy, while supporting at least questionable if not outright unethical democracies like that of Israel – a modern Apartheid state and a violator of countless international regulations.

Back to the point at hand, it would be foolish for someone to claim we live in an entirely capitalist nation. Many institutions in the United States, including the concepts of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and welfare are all blatantly socialistic. Before I am hounded for saying this, let me clarify my use of the “dirty word” socialistic. A falsely stigmatized system, modern socialism simply calls for moderate government intervention in industry and society so as to prevent quasi-tyrannical socioeconomic oppression of the majority of civilians by the aristocracy. Unfortunately, we find our own country falling in this exact direction, bordering already on oligarchy. I say this not only because economic growth in the past few years has gone entirely to the top 1% and that the standard of living for those at the bottom of the societal pyramid has remained unaltered for far too long, but the influence of the top 1% of Americans is disproportionately represented in American politics, a travesty bolstered by the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Citizens United in 2011, allowing for infinite campaign financing from the private sector. I would argue that the solution to this is quite simple – institute socialistic reforms to a greater extent, without compromising the capitalistic essence of our country, by holding the rich accountable and ensuring that both political power and economic growth (not wealth) are distributed evenly. In this sense, limited socialism is a greater catalyst for democracy than capitalism or even the mixed-style economy we have today.

That’s right. You can probably guess that I’m an ardent supporter of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in the upcoming election. His common sense reforms going beyond just the economy provide voters an unparalleled opportunity to fight for REAL change. Many may argue that socialism has not worked in the past, pointing to the Soviet Union and other leftist regimes of the 20th century. First of all, Fox News, the National Socialist party in Germany was not socialist, it was in fact transformed into a fascist organization under Adolf Hitler’s leadership, representing if anything more closely the beliefs of the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. As for the Soviet Union, Maoist China, Vietnam, and other Communist nations of the past, drawing comparisons between communism and socialism is a classic conservative technique to keep the focus off of the issues. Plus, the Soviet Union under Lenin was in the progress of creating a blend of capitalism and communism in his New Economic Policy that very well may have flourished. Totalitarian dictators such as Stalin and Mao cannot be branded as true communists, but rather were simply power-hungry politicians taking advantage of a system where immense trust must be put in the government to run the country – something not shared to nearly the same degree in the socialist system.

The fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between socialism and communism has been evident throughout American history, as liberals free of communist ideology have been persecuted in two Red Scares, one in the 1920’s and one in the 1950’s, for allegedly trying to supplant the freedom that Americans find so dear. Interestingly enough, labor leader Eugene V. Debs ran for president five times on behalf of the Socialist Party of the United States between 1900 and 1920, running the last time out of a prison cell, convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917. In this election, he won 3.41%  of the popular vote and an impressive 5.99% in 1916.

Democratic socialism, the form of far-left political/economic system seen today, is in fact very successful as implemented in Scandinavian countries, namely Sweden, where universal medical care and tuition-free college education have increased the quality of life of the masses, where the rich simply pay their fair share in taxes without tremendous consequence on their wealth, where a large percentage of the GDP is produced from these taxes and spent on social programs rather than on an opulent military, where the democratic infrastructure we idealize throughout the world is still in place, and where the citizens are statistically found to be among the happiest populations of the world.

Putting preconceptions about socialism to the side, if one were to look at the platform of such a candidate as Bernie Sanders, his beliefs would not seem in the least bit extreme. In fact, I would argue that in a blind poll among Democrats, in which only the stances on issues are included and not the candidate’s name, Bernie Sanders would win overwhelming support among the party’s constituents. Surely, as the candidate’s popularity augments in the coming months, our nation will begin to shed the unfair taboo it has placed on the concept of socialism and the overt usage of the word, which is very much already relevant in mainstream U.S. policy.