Socialism is receiving increased interest in our country. Bernie Sanders, who unsuccessfully challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, is a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist. More recently, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic socialist, defeated a high-ranking Democratic congressman from New York state.
One fact is clear: many people either do not know what is socialism or have a very fuzzy idea about it. A local example is a recent letter to the Charlotte Observer comparing democracy to socialism. They are not the same. One is a political system; the other, an economic system.
First, let’s begin with what socialism is not. Socialism is not a dictatorship. Socialism does not oppose a democratic approach to governing. In fact, its goal is to expand democratic practices to the economy and not just to the political realm. Some may point to the USSR and the Democratic Republic of China as failed attempts at socialism. Both are good examples of dictatorships but not of true socialism.
Socialism, unlike communism, does not attempt to control the entire economy. Most businesses would operate in a market type environment. Socialism does not abolish personal private property. Socialism is not against a merit-based approach to individual development.
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What is socialism? Socialism is a way of organizing a society’s economic relations. Democratic socialism not only does that but also encompasses the political realm. The fundamental goal of socialism is to organize a society in order to enhance the full development of each individual. Liberty and equality are important values in socialism. To support the full development of individuals, socialism believes in extending democracy to the economy in general and specifically to the workplace.
Capitalism, on the other hand, extends liberty to the political realm but not to the economy. Most workers of industry in this country do not have a voice in setting the goals of production, distribution and marketing, the pricing of services and products, and the distribution of profits, including wage rates. Socialism, however, would create those opportunities in the workplace.
The United States today is a welfare-state capitalist society. Its history with a capitalist economy has caused its elected government to moderate the negative, built-in effects of capitalism. The cycles of recessions are inherent in such an economy. Sometimes, those downturns can be very painful; that is understandable as the fundamental goal of capitalism is to create private wealth through a profit-based system. To achieve that goal, the machinery, resources and labor are organized in the control of private owners.
In a Democratic socialist society, certain vital services would be controlled by the state, yet the decisions about which sectors would be state controlled would be made democratically. And there would be worker councils even in those state-controlled sectors. Examples might be energy and water utilities, banking and finance, and certain parts of health care. Such control of those economic sectors would provide the firewall to the recessionary phases common to an economy such as ours.
Finally, socialism would expand our freedom and consequently enhance our relations with each other and our humanity.