Socialism Should Be Reconsidered for Our Political System

Sean Para, Columnist

Socialism has long been misunderstood in the U.S., too often vilified as an ideology associated with the repression of the Soviet Union. The Red Scare symbolized the peak of anti-Socialism in the U.S. However, those witch hunts came out of a misunderstanding of what socialism really means. It has long been an ideology outside of our political discourse. The Soviet Union did not represent true socialism. Its top-down command economy, in which the central government planned out every aspect of the economy with no input from workers, was nothing like what early socialist theorists envisioned. The brutal purges and longstanding police state took away people’s freedom, rather than truly freeing them like in Karl Marx’s vision. Socialism is, in the simplest of terms, a vision to bring about a more just society through wealth and resource distribution and a commitment to direct democracy.

Much of Marx’s writing is incredibly prescient with regard to the U.S.’s current economic and social system. Although he did not foresee the advent of modern digital technology or the emergence of consumerism, the rich have become far richer, dominating the means of production (assets that produce wealth) as well as our political society. Between 1963 and 2013, the share of wealth for the top 1 percent grew six times. The top 0.1 percent of families now control 22 percent of household wealth, which is as much as the bottom 90 percent combined. The rich also dominate government policy. Members of Congress and the federal government are much more responsive to the needs and ideological interests of the wealthy. When you factor in the prohibitive cost of higher education, the amount of debt held by the lower and middle classes, the fact that almost 1 percent of the adult American population is in prison and that “6,899,000 persons were under the supervision of adult correctional systems at year end 2013,” it becomes clear that we live in a world much more similar to Marx’s dystopian vision of a society dominated by a tiny capitalist class ruling over the oppressed masses. Luckily, there are ways to fundamentally ameliorate these injustices if we can re-envision socialism in a 21st century context.

What does that mean? It means, first and foremost, recognizing the inherently unjust and imperialist nature of capitalism. The Dutch East India company, an imperial venture created by the Dutch government, was the first corporation to be publicly traded as a stock. This demonstrates the way in which governments were intimately involved with the emergence of the capitalist system: They manipulated trade and labor laws and opened up new markets through imperial expansion and consciously formed alliances with business interests. This was to be expected, as the upper classes have always dominated government, with the landed nobility doing so before being slowly overtaken by the capitalist class in the modern era. Milton Friedman and Fredrick Hayek’s utopian visions of a capitalism built around freedom and without government involvement is pure fantasy.

Socialism would simply mean reorienting our government, political society and economy so that they benefit the most people rather than the elite. I am not talking about anything like Soviet Communism or the appropriation of European-style social democracy which has ultimately failed to bring about justice. Instead, corporations could be turned over to the people who work for them, while key elements of the economy would be nationalized, restructured and turned over to the workers. Rather than a dictatorship, this would be the democratization of the economy. We could do away with these privately-held corporations, but instead of creating a command economy, there could be a market system based around competing workers’ collectives, which would be managed by a worker’s council. Then the profits of their enterprise could be split equally among each other.

Obviously, changes like this are well outside of our normative political discourse and would require radical changes to our political system. However, it is only ideas from outside the established order that can truly right the multifarious wrongs of our society.