Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

29 October 2009

Socialism - My Definition

Recently, a commenter was upset with the way I used the word "socialist" in my blog entry Tides Foundation Screed Against Capitalism in Schools.  The individual with no name and identified only by a negation did point out that
Socialism is defined by The Princeton WordNet as:
1. a political theory advocating state ownership of industry
2. an economic system based on state ownership of capital
 The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says socialism is
1. A theory or policy of social organization which aims at or advocates the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, property, etc., by the community as a whole, and their administration and distribution in the interests of all.
2.  A state of society in which things are held or used in common.
Most Americans reading definition 1. from either to these sources would say, oh, so socialism and communism are the same thing.  I am sure that some or maybe all real Marxists would say, not necessarily.  But let us check out the definition of communism offered by the OED.
1.  A theory which advocates a state of society in which there should be no private ownership, all property being vested in the community and labour organized for the common benefit of all members; the professed principle being that each should work according to his capacity, and receive according to his wants.
This definition for communism is the same as that for socialism, except in the very last part.  Apparently socialism allows for a distribution which may be on a slightly different basis than according to everyone's wants, since it is to be in the interests of all.  Rather subtle difference and actually very academic, since by these definitions, both socialism and communism are impossible!

It is frankly impossible for a community to find any way to distribute production, capital, land, property, etc. in the interests of all.  It has never happened and never will, so socialism does not, has never, and never will exist.  Similarly with communism, no society has ever or ever will be able to distribute enough goods and property to satisfy everyone's wants.  That would be the end of economics.  It would require infinite resources and infinite free pools of labor and genius.

So, Not a Socialist is hardly a surprise.  There is no such thing, unless we allow for those who dream for the impossible, which in the real world we must do.  People are often subject to control by their irrational dreams, or even the irrational Dreams of My Father, in the case of one well-known socialist of our time.

Indeed, many people think they are socialists.  In addition to the Marxists and before Marx, the founders of New Harmony, Indiana, there have been many who have been socialists.  Mussolini and Hitler thought they were socialists, yet they did not advocate the end of all property.  Instead, they sometimes stole property, but more often they used government regulations and just plain commands to force private property owners to do as they were told.  They believed in control of the economy and the means of production, but not necessarily in the need to bother themselves with all the pains of actually owning property.  Besides, people would work harder for you if you allowed them the pretense that they had some control over their property.  But Hitler and Mussolini did claim to be running societies organized for the purpose of distributing goods and services to the people for their best interests.  They actually did redistribute the wealth with such popular aspects of socialism as government-run health care systems.

During and after WWII, it became an embarrassment to many socialists in the West that these fascists had been considered socialists.  It became very important to then try to define socialism in such a manner that the fascists were excluded.  As the Marxists and other varieties of socialists took over most universities, the dictionaries fell more and more into line with this effort to define the fascists out of socialism.  Despite this, in more recent years, many have come to be embarrassed to be called socialists, since almost everyone now understands the terrible evils of socialism in the USSR, China, Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea, and elsewhere.  Now, these same people and those they have taught are more likely to be environmentalists or social democrats, or some other new fad.  Strangely enough, the policies these people favor are those of fascism.  It is not practical to have community ownership of all property and Americans do not like the idea of that anyway.  So, those who seek major redistribution of the wealth leave most property in the hands of the prior owners, but saddle them with extensive regulations and controls.

A much more practical and useful concept of socialism would be:  A theory or policy of social organization which aims at or advocates the ownership or the extensive control of the means of production, capital, land, property, etc., by the government, and their administration and distribution in extensive measure as is favored by the government of the community.

Under this definition of socialism, everyone does not have to share the same toothbrush or at least put them all in one pot and pick one out with one's eyes blindfolded.  Socialism is a broader concept which some people might strive for and achieve.  It is not a desirable state of affairs at all in my opinion, but the concept has some usefulness in describing what people actually might do and can do.  By this definition, Obama, Pelosi, Mao, Stalin, Hugo Chavez, Mussolini, and Hitler are all socialists.

Like it or not.


Anonymous said...

The problem with the Socialism definition, here is an objective one. The Author credentials an attitude of objectivity. Nothing wrong with objectivity, except subjectivity is absent.

Over and over again the definition uses the "STATE" as the proprietor of the Socialistic condition. The "STATE" is not the only organ for originating Socialism. Corporations, by structure, depend on Socialism for control and survival. Every Corporation is a pyramid structure, ruling from the top down. Shareholder power for influencing a Corporation does not come into play unless the owner of shares, represents a percentage large enough to control decision making at the top. A revolutionary take over if you will.

Therefore the Corporation is and has been the model for subsequent examples of Socialism for over a hundred years.

Charles R. Anderson, Ph.D. said...

The feudal system was a pyramid structure ruled from the top down, but we distinguish that from socialism. A particular corporation may have aspects of its culture which appear similar to those of a feudal or a socialist culture under the respective government, but neither socialism or feudalism tell us what a corporation is. In fact, a corporation is very much distinct from either in a very crucial way: it is an association of volunteers. No one in a truly Capitalist society is forced to own its shares, to loan money to it, to buy its goods or services, or to work for it. In a socialist society, run by a socialist government, one is forced to participate with taxes, by giving up one's property to it, and by working for it.

In a mixed Capitalist and Socialist society such as ours, we sometimes are forced to own the shares of a corporation or to loan money to it. Regulations limiting competition, which is what most regulations do, may even make it very hard for us to choose not to do business with a crony corporation. For instance, many of us are forced to use gasoline mixtures with ethanol, which force us to buy the products of government subsidized corn ethanol producers such as Archer Daniels Midland. This abridgment of the free enterprise system is called corporate socialism and we have seen a lot of it. It is most evil.

But, a corporation does not need to be socialist either in practice or in principle. The key factor is that it is a voluntary association of people, generally with an agreed upon purpose. Those shareholders who do not agree with the purpose are able to sell their shares or may try to change the purpose. A socialist government does not allow the people to opt out of its governance and often does not allow them to change the purposes of the government.