Socialism lives. In the United States. At least as an abstract idea. Bernie Sanders’ no-longer-quixotic presidential campaign seems to be reviving the label’s popularity almost single-handedly. “Socialism” was the most searched for word at the Mirriam-Webster website in 2015, and surveys show public approval of “socialism” is rising fast, especially among Millennials. Go, Bernie, I suppose. And, yet…
A couple of yets. First, Bernie’s version of socialism seems to be more like European-style Democratic social democracy than any of the old-style forms of socialism, in which the government or workers own the means of production. Second, he has yet to flesh out a lot of the details of his version of socialism. Abstract ideas are often more popular than their detailed policies/programs version. (See “conservatism.”) Also, Bernie’s socialism has not yet been subjected to the white hot flame of full on news media scrutiny – or to the supernova of GOP attacks.
Finally, socialism is still a dirty word to most Americans, especially older ones that vote a lot. Perhaps it even deserves to be or, at least, so many Americans’ objections to a large expansion of government need to be taken seriously by progressives. (FYI, at the last debate Bernie repeatedly dodged the question of how much he would expand government)
Before any of this extended combat happens, I thought it might be a good time for us to explore what socialism could mean in the 21st century. Bernie’s isn’t the only possible version of socialism, to say the least. Europe alone has 2-3 different varieties of social democracy, not just the Scandinavian model. Asia has its own successful models of what today’s American conservatives would pan as “socialism” in Korea, Taiwan, and (gulp) China. Some socialists still believe that unless concentrated private power is abolished all versions of socialism are just window dressing (see link).
I’m hoping we have a good turnout on Monday, so I will not prepare any lengthy opening remarks. I’ll probably just briefly summarize Bernie’s vision of socialism and briefly compare it to other social democratic systems around the world.
Many of you are big Bernie fans. I urge you to read the links below to make sure you know what he actually stands for and how it differs from the socialism many of us remember from an earlier time.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- THEN: What did socialism used to mean?
- NOW: What models of social democracy exist around the world today? How “socialist” are they?
- BERNIE: What does he mean by socialism? How does it really differ from
–> The policy consensus within the Democratic Party?
–> Hillary’s platform?
- WHY has “socialism” gained popularity in America? What do you think people think it means?
- HOW do American conservatives define socialism and why do they despise it?
–> Do they have a point?
- FUTURE: What version of socialism in the 21st century could”
- Work to solve USA’s problems?
- Be popular enough with the public to actually be enacted and endure?
OPTIONAL/SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Why did socialism never take hold in America? Other CivCon meetings on socialism.
- Bernie Sanders’ version of socialism:
- DSA: The Democratic Socialists of America explains socialism. Recommended.
- Can Sanders win?
- The future:
Next Week: Is our country’s safety really in danger?