Socialism is an amorphous thing.
Some think they know what it is. Others think they know.
The reality seems to be that socialism, as talked about today, can mean anything.
But if socialism is going to take root in the United States, it’s not very likely to look like it has in the past.
That’s a good thing.
More likely, it’s going to look like what most people who have an opinion about it believe it looks. With Americans enjoying more equal access to necessities than they do today.
Last month a reputable polling organization asked Americans “What Is Your Understanding of the Term “Socialism”?”. Way back in 1949, they asked the same question.
The Democratic Socialists Party is seing a massive membership surge. More than 40 socialists won primary elections last year. It’s a great time to compare how Americans understand socialism now, compared to almost 70 years ago.
How do Americans view socialism? Have views changed? And what does it mean if they have?
Nearly double the number of people today compared with 1949 understand “socialism” to generally mean “equality”, including equality of resource distribution. That last part is problematic, but let’s not quibble.
Exactly half as many people today as 69 years ago believe socialism means government controlls the means of production. In other words people define socialism according to their aspirations/perspective. Not classical economic theory.
Not surprising: Republicans still believe socialism means government controlling the means of production.
But an equal number of Republicans (23%) also agree with Democrats. They too understand socialism to mean “equality”.
Ten percent believe socialism means providing benefits and services –– socialservices –– for free. Including medicine for all. This might be because of Bernie Sanders’ campaign in which he pushed for medical coverage for all. Or it reflects the growing opinion that everyone should have healthcare.
Whatever its origins, more people agree socialism offers something capitalism doesn’t. Whether that’s a good thing is another matter.
The pollsters made two pivotal points. The first, quoting from their own website:
Although young Americans are in general more positive about socialism as a concept than those who are older, there are few significant differences by age group in self-reported understanding of the term.
The second is there’s a large group of people who have no opinion on the matter.
This second point is critical to the future. Candidates in future elections may try to sway the 25 percent of Americans polled who had no opinion. Meaning, they’re ripe for having their opinion given to them.
Society has changed. That’s for sure.
We remember reading in high school Marx. He believed capitalism would create so much inequality, common people would rise up and destroy it.
We don’t see the violence happening. But we certainly see many calling for the end to capitalism. Or at lease more equality of opportunity in the wake of growing inequality.
Marx was right about that part.
It’s unlikely America will turn communist. But it’s looking more and more likely America may do it’s own version. A more socialist union. One where there is more equal opportunity for everyone.
It’s unlikely though that America will go so far as to afford equal outcomes for everyone. That’s unamerican. Americans may be able to agree, someday, that everyone should be get their basic needs at no cost. But they’ll continue believing each person creates their own fortune.
Still, equal opportunity for all would be an awesome improvement.
The only questions are:
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Those opposed to or afraid of “America becoming socialist” define it based on the old world. Those who want it are seeing the future.
Socialism supporters today don’t care about who controls the factors of production. They care about things like equality, free healthcare for all, free medicine for all and other things that make opportunity equal even if outcomes many not be.
Those fretting about “socialism” have swallowed cold war dogma. And they are parroting the fears those generations fomented (some for good reason).
Socialism that has captured young people’s attention is not that. And no, young people aren’t missing something that Betsy DeVos thinks they need to know.
Actually, they are. They’re missing the brainwashing that was the order of the day when she was in school.