Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Updated: What is Socialism and Why Obama Is Not a Socialist

My wife keeps asking me this question. I am still not sure if I explained the idea well enough for more than to show Obama's health care proposal may 9or may not) be socialism but Obama is not a Socialist in disguise. So I decided to give a nickel tour about socialism.

These paragraphs are from Wikipedia:

Socialism refers to a broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, and the creation of an egalitarian society.[1][2] Modern socialism originated in the late nineteenth-century working class political movement. Karl Marx posited that socialism would be achieved via class struggle and a proletarian revolution which represents the transitional stage between capitalism and communism.[3][4]

Socialists mainly share the belief that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society that controls capital, and creates an unequal society. All socialists advocate the creation of an egalitarian society, in which wealth and power are distributed more evenly, although there is considerable disagreement among socialists over how, and to what extent this could be achieved.[1]

Socialism is not a discrete philosophy of fixed doctrine and program; its branches advocate a degree of social interventionism and economic rationalization, sometimes opposing each other. Another dividing feature of the socialist movement is the split on how a socialist economy should be established between the reformists and the revolutionaries. Some socialists advocate complete nationalization of the means of production, distribution, and exchange; while others advocate state control of capital within the framework of a market economy. Social democrats propose selective nationalization of key national industries in mixed economies combined with tax-funded welfare programs; Libertarian socialism (which includes Socialist Anarchism and Libertarian Marxism) rejects state control and ownership of the economy altogether and advocates direct collective ownership of the means of production via co-operative workers' councils and workplace democracy.

Do read all of this if you really want to know more. Frankly, I find it sad that with all the information available to us from a simple (and simplistic) Google search that too many people are taking seriously this drivel about Obama as Socialist.

I always said that there are about as many types of socialists as there denominations of Baptists. Socialism has more to do with a theoretical purity than it does with practical politics. And reading what Socialists have to say about Communists is like reading what Protestants thought about Catholics circa 1530.

More importantly socialism does not say that what kind of political state is necessary. Again, they are all over map.

As a moral statement socialism has it points (and a strong endorsement here), but I find it lacking as a realistic political choice.

Here is how the Socialist Party of the USA describes itself:

THE SOCIALIST PARTY strives to establish a radical democracy that places people's lives under their own control - a non-racist, classless, feminist socialist society... where working people own and control the means of production and distribution through democratically-controlled public agencies; where full employment is realized for everyone who wants to work; where workers have the right to form unions freely, and to strike and engage in other forms of job actions; and where the production of society is used for the benefit of all humanity, not for the private profit of a few. We believe socialism and democracy are one and indivisible. The working class is in a key and central position to fight back against the ruling capitalist class and its power. The working class is the major force worldwide that can lead the way to a socialist future - to a real radical democracy from below. The Socialist Party fights for progressive changes compatible with a socialist future. We support militant working class struggles and electoral action, independent of the capitalist controlled two-party system, to present socialist alternatives. We strive for democratic revolutions - radical and fundamental changes in the structure and quality of economic, political, and personal relations - to abolish the power now exercised by the few who control great wealth and the government. The Socialist Party is a democratic, multi-tendency organization, with structure and practices visible and accessible to all members

By the way, they have their own presidential candidate whose name is not Barack Obama.

Then there are the Democratic Socialists of America. They also have their own website (and this one has a search function on the site). This is how they describe themselves:

Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives

To me that does not sound evil but rather hard to accomplish in practical terms.

By the way, the DSA lead me to Socialist Unrealism, Comedy Gold from The New York Observer and this rather great paragraph:

But that isn't why this is funny. Calling out Obama as a "socialist" is funny—in the dark sense that may be the only way anything in politics or economics is funny these days—because we are in the midst of a massive nationalization of finance that is sweeping the capitalist world. To my knowledge, the D.S.A. has never proposed anything quite as radical as President Bush's takeover of the nation's largest insurance company, or Senator McCain's desperate debate proposal for the government to buy up bad mortgages and renegotiate rates and principal.

Oops. Who is the Socialist? Not Obama. Listening to Obama on Sunday afternoon, I heard him speak of giving the middle class opportunity and not a dismantling of the capitalist economy. Never have I heard him say anything remotely like this headline from The Sunday Herald, Capitalism isn't working. Instead, read what one of Senator Obama's economic advisers has written:

So ... I’ve been buying American stocks. This is my personal account I’m talking about, in which I previously owned nothing but United States government bonds. (This description leaves aside my Berkshire Hathaway holdings, which are all committed to philanthropy.) If prices keep looking attractive, my non-Berkshire net worth will soon be 100 percent in United States equities.

Why?

A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation’s many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.
Socialism does not really countenance profits. By the way, that adviser is Warren Buffett and you should read the rest of his Buy American. I Am. in The New York Times.

Actually, the best post I have seen on this comes from Masson's Blog - “Socialism” Illustrated

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