Author: Jack Tardy

Democratic Socialism

Even after the overthrow of over-centralized planning in China in 1978 under Deng Xiaoping, and the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989, socialism still plays an important role in economic thought. After all, the success of mixed economies such as Finland and Denmark speak for the potential of socialism as an economic system.

The form of socialism native to the United States is called democratic socialism. It has held credence with famous figures throughout history, such as Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King Jr. Its credibility today is upheld by the presence of Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed democratic socialist, in the list of 2016 presidential candidates.

Origins of Democratic Socialism

Free Market Liberalism

The basic concept of free market liberalism, or capitalism, is founded on the Invisible Hand theory of Adam Smith. Basically, according to Smith, demand and supply of goods and services would dictate price and production. There was no or little need for regulation. However, it resulted in great income inequalities, as those who became wealthy under the system took steps to block the free market and maintain their wealth.

Soviet Model of Socialism

After the overthrow of the Tsars in Russia, and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Vladimir Lenin began the second phase of Communism. He nationalized all industries and public goods such as education, and instituted central economic planning. This resulted in gigantic oil and steel production, but also in a level of non-competitiveness and economic stagnation. The use of centralized planning for military might also made the economic system suspect.

Concepts of Democratic Socialism

Democratic socialists realized that capitalism and central planning have one thing in common. Both economic systems could be used to unfairly oppress the working-class. With this in mind, they took concepts from both democracy and socialism.

The Democratic Side

A politically democratic society ensures that each individual still has his own rights and voice in society. A democratic society empowers the working class to speak, organize, and lobby on their own behalfs. In democratic socialism, political democracy lays the foundation for the individual to have the political power needed for them to take part in corporate decision-making.

The Socialist Side

Socialism and its more extreme form, Communism, have always had something to do with public ownership. In democratic socialism, the socialist side requires that ownership or at least regulation of the economy should be with the working class and the corporations. In that way, planning and decision-making is conducted by all the concerned members of society. In this kind of society, cooperatives and unions are usually supported.

Democratic Socialism in the 2016 Presidential Elections

Bernie Sanders, who won as an Independent Senator, is running on the Democratic ticket as a Democratic Socialist. In a speech outlining what he wants to accomplish in the nation, he explains that government ownership of all means of production is not in his plan. What he wants to do is raise taxes on the wealthy, and fund multiple programs that give social opportunities to the middle-class.

Democratic Socialism: A Controversial System

Democratic socialism is mainly controversial because it has many definitions. Capitalist and centrally planned economies have defined themselves through history. However, the viability of democratic socialism is incredibly successful in very few societies, such as Denmark and Finland. If America does become democratic socialist, it will add a better concept of how socialism works in a nation that has always been a democracy.

A Brief History of Socialism

The development of the textile factories in Great Britain kicked off the European Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution capitalized on the sudden population growth at the time for workers on low wages. At the same time, this unprecedented event meant that there were no laws in place to protect these new factory workers.

Workers constantly worked more than 8 hours a day, and entire families–even the children–would be employed at the factories. These conditions made for extreme poverty, as urbanization rose. The cramped “masses of humanity” were a pitiful sight. These conditions gave rise to philosophers who conceptualized ideas of socialism.

French Revolution of 1789

Industrialization in France did not occur until the 1800s, as they lagged behind Great Britain. However, still pinned to the failing feudal system, the working class of France was beaten down and struggling. This led to the French Revolution in 1789. The nobility, suddenly taxed to support France’s wars, turned and taxed their people harder.

The peasants, or small land-owners, seized the Bastille when it seemed they would lose even more power. In what they did, through their temporary overthrow of the aristocracy, they gave credence to a European state run by the people. This was, in a way, the ideas of the new United States of America reaching across the Atlantic.

The Communist Manifesto

As the Industrial Revolution caught up with the rest of Europe, the plight of both the factory and the farm workers worsened. With the low dependence on the slower production capacities of the farms, families would either starve or become factory workers. Even then, their wages were so low as to make factory work only marginally better.

Seeing this oppression, and active in spreading their ideas about communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were requested to write The Communist Manifesto. 1848 was the publication’s release year, and it also started a wave of socialist parties all over Europe. It would be some time before the large revolutions, but the idea was planted.

The Soviet Model

The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was the first Communism-inspired overthrow of a modern European republic. After taking control of the country, Lenin’s Administration took over all of the nation’s means of production. It became active in central economic planning, and re-distributing the produce.

However, the strict command of the Soviet Government gave central economic planning a bad name. Politicization of industries and businesses was rampant, and there was little incentive for workers to be excellent because they were not competing. The Soviet Union also became uncompetitive globally.

The New Left

The New Left is the developed-country form of Socialism. It is very differentiated from the Soviet model of central planning, and has more to do with rights and equality than anything else. It began in the 1960s and 70s, the same time as the Civil Rights movement. Students started demonstrations and strikes, calling for rights to free speech and activity.

The New Left gained the most media exposure during the Vietnam War. The students, who followed Socialist ideas, organized protests and demonstrations against the war. After those issues, the New Left continued in both the United States and Europe, demonstrating for reforms, against inequality and discrimination.

A Brief History of Socialism Does Not Tell Half the Story

Ideas form in the blink of an eye, and develop very messily over time. They are applied to real-life situations even more messily. This brief history of Socialism only tells the few critical junctures that have marked the turning points of Socialist thought.

Famous Socialism Leaders

Karl Marx was a philosopher, writing against the widespread injustices he saw committed against the ordinary working person. He assumed that such oppression would inevitably turn into a revolution by the working people. However, he himself could not have been called a revolutionist. Like a scientist or journalist, he observed and analyzed. But from his ideas came revolutionaries who transformed entire nations, for better or for worse.

Vladimir Lenin

Lenin grew up in a well-to-do, educated family. However, he was very much aware of the amount of power that, he believed, was held unfairly over Russian citizens. The uncertainty of his father’s job because of political issues, and the execution of his brother for treason, guided his embrace of Marxism. Lenin became a Communist, was arrested and exiled several times, and then took his chance to overthrow the tsar’s generals and followers in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was a student in China when student demonstrations were making waves in Chinese politics and society. The last Chinese empire had been overthrown in in 1912, and the first Chinese republic was in the grip of confusion as a nation. The students of the times eventually coalesced around Marxism as the path of their nation.

Mao Zedong was a member of the  Chinese Communist Party when it formed in 1921. He soon began to raise the Chinese farmers and laborers as activists. In October of 1949, Mao defeated the Nationalist Party and formed the People’s Republic of China.

Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro was a law student and an activist for revolutionary institution of democracy even before he became a Marxist. He then widened the scope of his opposition, not just to the corrupt Grau government, but to the entire Cuban bourgeoisie. In 1958, Fidel Castro, his brother Raul, and their military forces shook the nation. Then-leader Dictator Batista fled.

Fidel Castro became Prime Minister and commander-in-chief (distinct roles). When the socialist state was formed, he became President of the Council of Ministers and the Council of State. Industries were nationalized, and employers were required to give their employees benefits. However, it was a state that also saw much curtailing of freedoms.

Che Guevara

Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was born in Argentina. He was from the middle-class, and was able to study medicine at Buenos Aires University. An avid traveller, he took the time to go all around South America. The South American republics were full of poverty and oppressive leaders, which confirmed Guevara’s Marxist ideas.

He believed that armed revolution would bring about the needed economic changes. Guevara joined Fidel Castro’s 1954 Cuban Revolution, and assisted troops in the Congo, and then in Bolivia, to progress towards their own armed revolutions. Guevara was known for seeing the revolution as a universal movement, rather than just a national one.

Famous Socialism Leaders: Product of an Idea

If there was any kind of doubt that ideas have power, these famous socialism leaders are famous counter-arguments. Implementing ideas of Marx long after that philosopher had died, they managed to use his ideas to transform their nations completely.

 

The Socialist Movement In America

According to a Gallup poll, 47% of Americans would vote for a socialist president. This is actually the lowest percentage in the poll: 60% would vote for a Muslim president, and 92% would vote for a woman president.

The amount of support for socialism, however, is still a surprising fact to many. After all, as recently as Barack Obama’s ongoing administration, the word “socialism” was used as a derogatory term for his policies. However, this poll shows that socialism might be gaining a foothold in America.

Haymarket Affair in Chicago

The International Worker’s Day, also called Labor Day, is on May 1 internationally. In many places, it is a holiday. It was a direct result of the Haymarket Affair in Chicago, 1886. As early as 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions called for an 1886 movement for the 8-hour work week, starting on May 1.

On May 1, an estimated 80,000 protesters marched arm-in-arm down Michigan Avenue. The movement continued, with more peaceful marches the next day. This was a Saturday and a Sunday, so there were few repercussions.

However, on Monday, workers picketed the McCormick Reaper Plant. Violent retaliation by police caused a peaceful protest, organized by socialist leaders at Haymarket Square. When police arrived, an unknown person threw a bomb, causing panic. Several socialist leaders were tried and executed for the incident, whether or not they had been present.

The Johnson Administration

The administration of Lyndon Johnson, who became president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy during the Vietnam War era, is known for its “War on Poverty” and the “Great Society.” The Johnson Administration enacted a number of policies meant to lower the unemployment of America, if not to eradicate it completely.

One of the consultants of this movement was named Michael Harrington. In 1962, he had published a book called The Other America: Poverty in the United States. It argued that poverty in America was a widespread issue, worthy of national concern. In 1964, Harrington became a consultant to the Johnson Administration.

The 1960s Civil Rights Movement also happened during this time. One of its most prominent leaders, Martin Luther King Jr., admitted in private his economic ideas were more socialist than capitalist. To the civil rights movement leaders, “socialism” was an idea that could create a more equal society for African-Americans to live in.

Democratic Socialists of America

The Democratic Socialists of America is the socialist organization with the largest membership in the United States. They stand for the creation of a more democratic society, through increasing the power of employees and decreasing those of capitalists. They are, unsurprisingly, staunch supporters of Bernie Sanders for President of the U.S. 2016. The organization has even devoted a super PAC to him.

Is The Socialist Movement In America Strong?

Maybe not strong, but it is definitely gaining ground. The decisive win of Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary over Hillary Clinton shows his ideas are generating support with voters. As general equality continues to be a concern and an issue for voters, we just might see the idea of socialism on a rise in America.

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