For most of my adult life, 7 decades and counting, Communism was the looming existential threat we lived with. It was embodied by the Soviet Union that we in the west saw as our greatest enemy. And then came Cuba and China and we collectively freaked out.
Until recently, I bestowed Capitalism with a crown of acceptability, if for no other reason than it represented the only viable alternative to the Communism that stood on the other side of the street on which I lived.
Today, I’m increasingly troubled by those with a blind acceptance of Capitalism as the ONLY acceptable mechanism through which society will continue to survive and thrive. In it’s pure form, it has many flaws, just not as many as Communism.
So, is there a middle ground? Is there an acceptable way to incorporate values that serve to support society in general that on their face, violate the precepts embodied by pure Capitalism?
I think there are. The challenge for us is where along the spectrum that runs from pure Capitalism to pure Socialism is it appropriate for of us to live? It’s open for debate where that will be, given that everyone of us has differing experiences and expectations for the future. The mold was broken long ago in that we’ve enjoyed Socialist benefits since 1872 with the introduction of a state run national park. And don’t forget to include what happened in 1935.
To have a rational debate about this means we have to understand what Socialism is. What precepts are we supposed to be discussing? Will they benefit us or hurt us as a society? I’ve long known that as humans who used to live in tribes, we each have a responsibility to support both ourselves and the society in which we find ourselves.
I don’t pretend to have a comprehensive understanding of Capitalism vs Socialism vs Communism. What I do have is several decades of observing Capitalism vs Communism. With that in mind, here are my current observations about Socialism.
The rise of Communism was largely a reaction to societies ruled by kings and queens such that the ‘elite’ were the ‘haves’ and the rest of the populace were the ‘have nots’. Ultimately, the ‘have nots’ rose up in opposition and new states emerged. In the former states, ‘have nots’ were slaves, serfs and employees.
As this evolution of society manifested itself across the world, fewer and fewer kingdoms survived. Here in the US, which surfaced on the planet with people aggressively opposed to rule by kings, our society became dominated economically by businessmen and politically by individuals largely chosen by the populace.
What has recently developed however, is akin to being ruled by kings. Those among the Capitalist elite have now taken on the role of kings, resulting in an increasing evolution toward a social outcome similar to what it was in years past. We have a society increasingly split between a few ‘haves’, who tend to force the issue over the ‘have nots’. While there is yet no ‘rioting in the streets’, that will happen sooner or later if no safety valve appears among society’s members.
As I grew into adulthood, both Capitalism and Communism were seen as single, unified theories as they applied to the role of individuals in society vs their role with respect to the state. You were either against Communism, or you were for it. There was no room for confusion.
As I observe things today, a fundamental confusion exists about just what the hell Socialism really is. There is no unified theory associated with it, just that its not pure Capitalism, and since the only other defined alternative has been Communism, then it too must represent an existential threat to our way of life.
I find that today pure Capitalism is a system that is producing ever deepening inequalities among members of our society. For me, this means if we accept that Capitalism has flaws, how do we as society members remedy those flaws?
We believe in the premise that as a democracy, all of us should have a voice in our destiny, and to a great extent, we do. But make no mistake, it is under threat. The elites that have emerged and evolved over the past half century have no desire to relinquish their status. If I was an elite, I might share their sentiment. But I’m not an elite. I’m a semi-retired, small town financial professional with a growing concern about the future my children and grandchildren will inherit.
An alternative system seen in parts of the world today, in recognition of the inherent flaws in Communism, is often referred to as State Capitalism. That’s where the means of production is owned by the state and not by the people. For too many in America today, that is the default definition of Socialism. I have no interest in having state ownership become the model we should adopt.
Another term bandied about in the media and by politically influential pundits is Fascism. My memories of this go back to my post WW2 youth. Italy, with it’s connection with Nazi Germany, and to some extent Spain, had leaders that supported free enterprise. At the same time they tried to destroy labor unions and other efforts by those who in days past were slaves, serfs and employees, who wanted to improve their status in society. The pressure came from the military, from those charged with law enforcement, accompanied by hostility toward immigrants and foreigners.
Does any of that sound familiar today? Is that the only remedy we have?
How do we move the needle to sustain democracy and the standards of living we all hope to gain and sustain, while trying to improve the lives of our children and grandchildren? It all starts with a recognition that pure capitalism has many flaws. How do we retain the primacy of private ownership over the means of production such that it doesn’t result in rioting in the streets?
I asked if Socialism was a viable path to follow. My answer is a qualified maybe.
Some advocates of change call themselves Democratic Socialists. I find that troubling. I’m not ready to call myself a Socialist. Adding the word Democratic is simply confusing. Personally, I’ve started to call myself a Social Capitalist. I want no one to question my commitment to Capitalism, but to include the idea of making room in the tent for strategies and tactics to benefit ALL OF US.
It has to start with a better understanding of what socialism can offer, and the removal of blind condemnation of any discussion about it’s merits. Hopefully what I’ve written here is a start.
Tony Kendzior \ 3 FEB 2020