Do Republicans even know what socialism is?

A reality check courtesy of Jim Chrisinger. -promoted by Laura Belin

There are some true socialists on the left fringes of the Democratic Party, just like there are some true fascists on the right fringes of the Republican Party. It’s offensive, however, that people who should know better accuse Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi of being socialists, or even communists.

My wife and I lived in a socialist and communist Czechoslovakia from 1987 to 1990. We saw socialism and communism up close.

Let’s get real.

First, socialism is essentially an economic concept. Communism as practiced in the 20th century is essentially a political concept. You can have socialism without communism but communism necessarily includes socialism. There are many definitions of these incendiary (in America) terms. Here’s my take.

Socialism is the state owning the “means of production.” That means the state owns the “businesses,” hires and pays workers, and determines how the work is done. So the National Health Service in the United Kingdom is socialist. The British government owns the facilities, hires and pays health providers, and determines how care is delivered.

“Obamacare” (the Affordable Care Act) and Medicare are not socialism. While the government pays for most of the service, the private sector owns the facilities, hires and pays the workers, and determines (within a government regulatory structure) how the care is delivered. Adding a public option would essentially be more coverage via Medicare. Not socialism. Even Medicare for All is not socialism.

Most countries, including the U.S., have “mixed” economies, including various combinations of private sector, government, and non-profit ownership, funding, and direction. Republicans prioritize the private sector, Christian non-profits, and accept a limited role for government. Democrats are more open to public action via government and non-profits and support free enterprise and capitalism.

Both parties believe a “free market” needs regulation; Democrats want more, Republicans want less. Democracy and government are how we move those dials back and forth depending on who won the last election.

There is nothing even remotely communist about the Democratic Party. Quite the opposite. Bernie Sanders and a few other prominent Democrats call themselves “democratic socialists.” They advocate for European-style democratic socialism, where there is a much wider and stronger social safety net and larger government role in society, funded by higher taxes. That’s not Cuba, that’s not Venezuela.

On top of socialism, communism adds a self-selected one-party state that does not believe in free and fair elections. That sounds a lot more like the Republican Party these days.

Republicans have done a great (though unfair) job of branding the Democrats over the last 40 years. Democrats need to get better at branding the GOP. The Trump years have given the Democrats a lot of raw material with which to do so.

Jim Chrisinger is a retired public servant living in Ankeny. He served in Democratic and Republican administrations in Iowa and elsewhere.

Top image: Symbol representing communism, by Alfaain Zohra Fathima and available via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • We need to see more voices saying these things

    Reminds me of my article last year about this issue (albiet much longer and more dry)

    I’m glad to have someone else saying these things.

  • Nice Try

    But the Trump cult will not be moved by rational discourse. If it no longer works to cry “socialist,” they will just switch to some other catcall. They are already OK with socialist farm payments Their outrage is not really about policy.

    • I just read about one example...

      …of a Midwest small-town restaurant that requires masks being called, by a militant maskless person, “a Commie establishment.” Another catcall indeed.

      As an aside, I wonder if anyone will do a general writeup in the future about what this pandemic has done to the image of rural America, which is now being portrayed, with specific evidence and examples, as a region of Trump-fanatic fools who refuse to put cloth on their faces even when their neighbors are dying. Especially the Midwest.

  • Cheap election tactic

    Thank you for this – very succinct and well done. I hate that this is a cheap scare tactic the GOP employs to frighten voters and it always seems to work. You don’t hear boo about socialism or communism except for every 4 years when suddenly moderate, church-going, business-owning Dems are suddenly Mao or Stalin. The Dems are not socialists or communists but are dumbstruck by the attacks and don’t know how to react. I find it offensive to be called a socialist.

    This is another dangerous path that the GOP is going down (I don’t really expect them to behave responsibly anymore but…). They define anything the Democrats do as socialist/communist: if you think the government should operate at a competent level to provide certain basic services, you’re a socialist. If you think corporations should maybe pay more than $0 in taxes, you’re a communist. ANd they of course ignore the extremely helpful role the govt has played in the private sector, helping corporations with incentives, rulings, contracts and subsidies over the years.

    The modern GOP is closer to plutocracy/oligarchy than the Dems are to socialism. Wish they could flip the script on this issue.