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What socialism really is—and what it isn't
We hear the word 'socialism' a lot. What does it mean, exactly?
If you've been reading the news in the last few months or seen a few articles lately, you might have noticed that socialism is currently enjoying a surge in popularity in the United States. According to Gallup polling, a majority of young people now have a favorable view of socialism.
A majority of Democrats like socialism, while just under half like capitalism. Several high-profile socialist candidates, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have attracted national attention and socialist organizations continue to grow in popularity.
One problem that this causes is a misuse of the word 'socialism'. Like many other terms, it has been overused, purposefully misused, and accidentally over-applied to the point where it is nearly meaningless. Toss in a few red scares and decades of red-baiting in this country and you get an idea of socialism that is distorted.
So to help out, here are a few definitions you might find useful during your next political debate.
Karl Marx, the founder of a school of socialist thought, as depicted in Hungary. All Marxists are socialists, but not all socialists are Marxists. (ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)
In the broadest possible sense, socialism is an economic system where the means of production are socially owned. The “means of production" being the raw materials, factories, and machines used to make goods.
This is as opposed to capitalism, where the means of production are privately owned.
What “socially owned" means is another question entirely. The most popular answer in the 20th century was "owned by the government"; this is called state socialism. There are a variety of other approaches, some of which don't include the state at all. These often involve cooperatives, worker-owned businesses, or communes.
Democratic socialist Eugene Debs campaigns for president. He ran five times and won 6% of the vote in 1912. Bernie Sanders keeps a plaque honoring him in his Senate office. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Democratic socialism is the model that is currently getting the most attention. It calls for the means of production to be socially owned, and that this ownership incorporates large amounts of democratic management. This typically includes things like worker's cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises that both workers and consumers help manage.
Many groups that follow this ideology, like the Labour Party in the U.K., have supported state socialism run by an elected government as well.
As the name suggests, this model demands political democracy and opposes authoritarian socialist movements. It also explicitly rejects the Soviet system of governance and economics.
People who currently subscribe to this ideology include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in America and Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. The Democratic Socialists of America are currently the most famous democratic socialist organization in the United States.
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two prominent social democrats. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Social democracy is a system that leaves the means of production in private hands but assures that regulations, some public control of the economy, and extensive entitlements exist to keep everybody at a decent standard of living. This is often identified with the Nordic model, but most western democracies have had social democratic governments at some point in the last century.
This system is technically a capitalist one since the means of production are still privately owned. In the United States, however, we often refer to this as “socialism" anyway. This is why Scandinavian economists and officials keep correcting us when we call their counties socialist.
Since he has no interest in “seizing the means of production" this is what Bernie Sanders actually is. Most progressives in the United States, such as Elizabeth Warren, are social democrats in practice. In the same way, progressive organizations are essentially social democratic ones.
National Socialists, also called Nazis. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
This is the Nazi ideology. The 'national' part designates it as separate from international socialism, which hoped to unite the global working class. Democratic socialist movements are typically international in this way, making Nazism opposed to them.
The socialism part is complicated. The original Nazi party platform called for nationalization, social welfare programs, land reform, a guaranteed standard of living, and profit sharing. Official rhetoric blamed supposedly Jewish dominated big business for the Great Depression.
As soon as the Nazis were in power, they decided they liked big business, dissolved trade unions, reduced social welfare, tied farmers to the land, and privatized parts of the economy. Regulations were stepped up to assure that companies followed government programs, but on the whole, the anti-capitalist elements of the party platform were forgotten.
The Nazis were also anti-communist because of their opposition to equality, class conflict, and social ownership of the means of production. They crushed the left at the first chance they got.
This combination of ideas may seem strange, but fascism is a peculiar ideology that allows for odd combinations of ideas. Nazism is typically viewed not as a socialist ideology but as a fascist one, and people claiming that the democratic socialists endorse the same policies as Nazis are mistaken.
People who support this ideology are Nazis, and no major American political figure currently is one.
Supporters of the Russian Communist Party mark the anniversary of Stalin's death. (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Communism is two things. The word is most commonly used to refer to the political ideology associated with the USSR. That ideology, officially called Marxism-Leninism, favors a dictatorship of the proletariat, state control of the economy, and a society organized toward removing the remnants of capitalism.
There are, however, a hundred strains of communism and a thousand significant figures who would protest this definition of communism. These people argue that what the USSR did wasn't really communism, that everything was great until Stalin showed up, or even that Russia didn't go far enough.
Communism is also the name for a hypothetical society that comes after the final socialist revolution when classes, the state, and money have faded away. Communist parties and governments are, at least in theory, working to create this society.
All communists are socialists since they want social ownership of means of production, but not all socialists are communists since they might not support the Soviet model or think the utopian society is possible. This distinction is important but often missed.
No major American political figures are communists, but there are a slew of small communist organizations.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.