The fear of socialism

A professor recently told me, in response to a question I asked him, that 95 percent of Americans probably don’t know who Eugene Debs is. Very briefly then: Eugene Debs was an American politician and a member of the Socialist Party who won 6 percent of the vote in the 1912 Presidential election. He bravely fought against intervention in the carnage of WWI and was instrumental in the 1894 Pullman Strike. During the First Red Scare of 1917, he was thrown in prison for his political sentiments.

I’m thinking of the great Eugene Debs these days because, as the election draws near, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin appear to be encouraging a Third Red Scare. Their campaign seems increasingly devoted to reigniting the irrational American fear of anything that can, justifiably or not, be called socialism. In response to Sen. Obama’s tax plan, the feeble-minded Sarah Palin boldly claimed that “now is no time to experiment with socialism.” Sen. McCain, likewise, accused Barack Obama of having a furtively socialist agenda.

Alone, the fact that the Republicans are pushing further right at a time when the economy needs the exact opposite is enough to illuminate their lack of qualification. They’re mavericks alright – loose cannons with poor judgment, gun-slingers whose politics are markedly irresponsible, particularly concerning the economy.

The bailout plan in itself is one of the most “socialist” policies in American history, so for the McCain campaign to accuse Barack Obama of being a socialist – and, as if it weren’t already enough, a terrorist – shows that the old man and the hockey mom are profoundly out of touch with reality.

I would encourage all students at UM to be more familiar with socialist thought; contrary to what politicians want you to believe, it isn’t evil. The legacy of the Left is very complex and fascinating, and Americans – at least on a national level – don’t seem to understand that.

“The socialist movement,” Christopher Hitchens writes, “enabled universal suffrage, the imposition of limits upon exploitation, and the independence of colonial and subject populations. Where it succeeded, one can be proud of it.” Be proud, comrades, of the intellectual and moral achievements of individuals such as Jean Jaures, Karl Marx and Albert Camus. Be proud, America, of Eugene Debs, who fought bravely and admirably for what he believed in, and went to jail because of it.

October 22, 2008


Morten Hoi Jensen

Contributing Opinion Writer

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