Democratic Socialism: Let’s Talk About It

A few months ago Gallup ran a poll regarding electability characteristics, namely looking at factors that are often thought of as being “socially disadvantageous” in the United States due to generalized perceptions of these groups as a whole. There was a time, not too long ago unfortunately, when the vast majority of Americans would not be able to even fathom the idea of electing a black president. But then it happened. Without having to spell it out though, President Obama’s election, not once, but twice, mind you, has two important implications on the discussion of presidential diversity.

Firstly, President Obama’s winning of two terms as president does not somehow symbolize an end to racism. It doesn’t take very long listening to comments about the president to quickly pull out racist attitudes towards him, whether it be calling to see his birth certificate, something that hasn’t been this disputed for any other president, or any other ignorant remarks. Racism still exists. The fact that the United States now has a black president is a great indicator of the long way we have come, but there is still a long road ahead of us before we can even seriously consider living in any sort of post-racist society.

Secondly, we must remember that the United States has an incredibly homogenous array of presidents. Most notably, these are all a collection of cisgender, heterosexual, Christian men, with all of them but one white. We have a long way to go down the route of diversification before we can begin celebrating President Obama as a sort of all-encompassing win for diversity.

Returning back to the Gallup poll mentioned earlier, social characteristics that were included in the poll included being Catholic, a woman, black, hispanic, Jewish, Mormon, gay or lesbian, an evangelical Christian, Muslim, an atheist, and a socialist. Interestingly enough, the least favorable trait for presidential electability was being a socialist, with 50% of individuals stating that they would not vote for one. Consider this, that regardless of one’s policies, stances, views, dispositions, plan for action, etc., there is no redeeming quality that would result in half of eligible voters to even consider voting for a socialist into office. Yet one of the frontrunners in the 2016 presidential race is just that: Bernie Sanders.

Bernie brings a lot of important things to the table. Apart from his own stances and ideas, one of the great benefits of having him in this race is that the American public has finally begun to talk about many issues that otherwise would have not been talked about, namely because Bernie is so unique in certain regards when compared to other candidates. Whether or not one supports him, this is difficult to deny.

Due to Bernie’s being in the race, we are now talking about issues like income inequality, a lack of speculation regulation on Wall Street, and, of course, the topic of this piece, economic systems.

It should come as no profound surprise that most (if not all) of the GOP candidates have overtly praised capitalism, or the notion of a free market economy in one regard or another; however, Bernie’s entry into the race led to CNN’s Anderson Cooper to pose the following question at the first democrat debate: “You don’t consider yourself a capitalist, though?” to which Bernie responded, “Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t. I believe in a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.”

Classic Bernie. No huge shock there. But this has been the first time in many decades when we’ve had an open non-capitalist running for the President of the United States. This is the first time Millennials have an opportunity to talk about, and to seriously consider, the plausibility of living or striving to create a non-capitalist society. But with these loaded terms come all sorts of implications that have been smuggled in, things that are not necessarily true, so it is certainly worthwhile to try to hash out what these ideas and economic systems actually mean.

Capitalism has been defined as an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. In this sort of privatized economy, another important term comes into play: the free market. The free market, in theory, holds great potential, incredible opportunities for anyone to have the chance to make it, the long forgotten about American Dream. So what exactly would the problem with this sort of system be? The issue is that while everyone has, in theory, a chance to make it, not everyone has a truly free chance, particularly when those that do make it in the free market economy begin making social mobility increasingly difficult for those who aren’t currently reaping the benefits of a capitalist economy. A capitalist economy is great for those that it works for. For anyone else, it’s a living nightmare.

Before continuing, it’s worthwhile to remember that the United States is not necessarily a strict capitalist nation. A true capitalist state would be one in which every single thing is privatized, something that is certainly not the case in the United States. Services such as interstate highways, public roads, public schools, police departments, fire stations, EMS services, tap water, public libraries, postal services, national parks, social security, and others prove that the government in the United States does have many socialized programs. And here’s the scary part: they’re not all that bad.

As Americans we not only know about these services, but most of us as citizens are intimately exposed to them on a regular basis, yet when the discussion about anything other than a capitalist economy comes into the question, people talk only about issues like public healthcare and welfare, services that they may not be on but many may rely on. These same individuals completely omit from their list of grievances the litany of public and government-run services and programs that enabled them to become who they are today. So instead of remaining dismissive of any alternatives, it’s time to let go of our sacred dogma of capitalism and have the humility to consider other options, especially when Millennials have seen capitalism fail us with crippling student debts, a shrinking middle class, profound wealth and income inequality, and the exploitation of human beings that seems to be fueled by a mantra of “profits over people” that is turning our environment into a wasteland for the gain of a few and the loss of millions.

Taking a step further, socialism is described as a social and economic system characterized by social ownership and control of the means of production as well as a political theory and movement that aims at the establishment of such a system. This is something that the Gallup poll has indicated Americans view incredibly unfavorably, something that was noted by the public sentiment upon President Obama’s election by the “socialist” label that was hurled at him continually, and actually still remains. The fact that the word “socialist” has been used as an insult should be an social indicator of our acceptance of the term and the ideas that it encapsulates.

Moving even further from privatization to public systems, we have the infamous system of communism. Communism is a social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state.

So now where does this radical leftist Bernie Sanders fall? Somewhere between capitalism and socialism. Remembering that the United States is not a true capitalist society, not a socialist one, Bernie’s proposals might not be quite that radical when viewed with respect to the long spectrum of political and economic systems that exist in theory.

The primary issue with notions of socialism and communism aren’t necessarily ideas that are necessarily inherent in the theories themselves, but the governments that they are most often wrapped up in. These governments are infamously authoritarian-style dictatorships, or to more severe extremes, totalitarian regimes. Instead of a centrist sort of power structure, as has been represented in countries renown for their communist or socialist structures, a democratic power structure seems to be the preferred distribution of power, a sentiment that seems to, or at least is supposed to, be the pulse of the American government: by the people, for the people.

What Sanders is advocating for, and self-describes as, is a system of democratic socialism. Democratic socialism is a political ideology advocating a democratic political system alongside a socialist economic system, involving a combination of political democracy with social ownership of the means of production. The way this translates to our understanding of the operation of society is that the socialist aspects would compensate for those aspects of capitalism that have failed us, big banks, money in politics, privatized industries that should not exist (i.e. jails and prisons), absurd and unaffordable tuition costs, healthcare costs that translate to sickness and illness equating bankruptcy, etc. But instead of allowing the locus of control and power to be concentrated in a central body, such as the government, something that would be the case in a true socialist society, democratic socialism aims to strike that balance between keeping the perks of capitalism, namely the opportunity for success, while also crafting a system against all of the weaknesses and downsides that seem to come along with it. It may not be a radical proposal to promote the survival and welfare of our fellow humans in a society.

For the first time in our lives, Millennials have a real chance to turn our society from a theocratic oligarchy to a democratic socialist one. We can actually change the fact that we have in the United States a small group of people, namely billionaires, Wall Street CEOs, stockbrokers, and bankers, the Koch brothers, lobbyists, etc. having an agenda that advocates their interests and manipulates people into voting against their own interests for financial and political gain. We, as Millennials, understand the importance of freedom of beliefs, and reject theocratic oversight that attempts to infiltrate religious policy into a secular society. There is nothing mutually exclusive about the ideas of preserving freedom of belief and keeping the public sphere free from influences that favor any one religion, belief, or faith, over any other, or lack thereof.

Perhaps it’s time to admit we have a broken system, and at the very least, regardless of who you’re voting for, to at least take time to think about and talk about the shortcomings of a system that have, to put it blatantly, has failed our generation.

This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine. 

1 Comment on Democratic Socialism: Let’s Talk About It

  1. As a European (and one who is perfectly content with the idea of a healthy public sector) my perception is that many Americans have a profound aversion to the State as such however benevolent and democratic it may be. US socialists and social democrats need to tackle the culture of individualism before they can hope to win majority support for their project. This is something I looked at in a blog I wrote after seeing the Democrats debate America & Europe: Oceans Apart


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