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

12 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The fear of socialism”

  1. Jim Miles says:

    Fear of Socialism

    Two recent events have prompted the ideas behind this article – in truth, the whole history of recent events have prompted the following comments, but it is two in particular that gave the push to write them down.

    The first event, unknown to most of the world, was a tempest in a teapot when the opposition parties in Canada made a legal political manoeuvre under our representational parliamentary system to take over the administration of the government. Stephen Harper, Canada’s answer to George Bush, has made several critical mistakes recently, the first was an election call before his own mandated four year date, an election during which he argued that the economy was fine and they would not run a deficit budget, and then having received a minority government, proceeded to act as if he had a majority (when in reality he only had 38 per cent of the popular vote) and introduced a budget outline that was at best lousy. That budget paper incurred the wrath of the opposition parties and brought about the announcement of a coalition to defeat the government. Harper’s immature rant in response included the good old U.S. fear factor of socialism, with Harper and cronies warning everyone about the socialist hordes in the opposition (who combined held – obviously – the majority of the votes).

    My immediate response to those in our government who fear socialism is to ask them to renounce their inclusion in their very generous pension plans (voted on by themselves of course, no conflict of interest there), their participation in the universal health care that Canada provides, the safety net of Canada pension, old age security and social assistance that assist other members of their families who are not intelligent enough to get in on the government dole. Those are the two big items, pensions and health care, that you will not likely see these devout right-wingers give up easily, even if they were given the opportunity to opt out.

    The Canadian “fear of socialism” as with most things under the Harper government, is one of the few legitimate trickle down effects of living with the U.S. as our one and only immediate neighbour. One is also left wondering how many Republican campaigners were assisting Harper’s “war room” during the recent election as most of his sloganeering seemed to parallel the U.S. manner of campaigning, Republican in particular. But that is in conjectural territory and I only submit it as a teaser. The real hangover from the U.S. is its seemingly deep-seated fear of socialism.

    U.S. progressives

    I’ll return to that deep-seated fear in a moment, after introducing the second item that prompted this, an article by Rob Kall of OpEd News asking, “Which of these progressive positions is extreme left?”[1] Kall leads the reader through a series of questions asking about the “progressive” position, all questions asking if the positions given are positions of the extreme left. Many ideas are introduced, ideas that to most minds would simply seem to be common sense: health care, racial equality, cleaner environment, fair workers rights, a safe food supply, and on. Most of these items would, one would hope, fall under the rubric of “common sense” before any other political label could be applied to them.

    Rob Kall has applied the word “progressive”, and only uses the word “socialist” in one phrase, “There are greens and others further left, even socialists (like Senator Bernie Sanders) and communists who deserve at least an occasional voice on mainstream media.” Yet most of his ideas, most of these progressive ideas readily fall under the rubric of socialism. So even Rob Kall, a very progressive proponent of very common sense causes, avoids the word socialism as if it denotes some radical left wing position. I would have to guess that growing up in a country that fully and violently opposed socialism of any degree, and that has denounced it with the support of the media throughout his lifetime, that the word socialism still represents something a bit risky and shady.

    U.S. fear of socialists

    What is the U.S. fear of socialism? What is it based on? It is based on the corporate desire to control the economy and politics of the masses without having those unruly masses having any say, other than a somewhat meaningless vote every four years, in how the wealth of the country is to be distributed. This can be seen with the Federalist Papers that argued against “factions” that might oppose the ideas of the propertied leaders of the country at the time. It can be seen in the many violent actions taken by political leaders and corporate leaders (generally one and the same, as today) when they called in the armed Pinkerton squads, local militias, up to the military, to squash any workers’ demonstrations for better working conditions, for better wages, essentially for a better life. It was seen in the hysteria of the McCarthy era, and its fear of communist infiltrators hiding everywhere, a projection of fear that supported the excesses of the corporate, political and military leaders of the day. It can be seen in the many governments that opposed U.S. interests in one way or another, thus incurring the wrathful label of socialists or communists, the enabling rhetoric of fear that then excused the violent invasion, infiltration, and overthrow of many truly democratic governments that had the legitimate support of the people of that country[2].

    These artificially concocted fears of socialism (without addressing the unrealistic fears of communism during the Cold War, nor how the definitions of communism or capitalism ever accurately reflect what they both really are) are inculcated into the U.S. mindset throughout all facets of life from the educational system, through the media, and through the political system (the latter not much different from the media system). The underlying fear is from the corporate owners and their political supporters fearing that the unruly masses of people might not like what they are doing and try to put halters on their corporate activities.

    The images and rhetoric of U.S./Canadian freedom and democracy are all very nice until they come up against the reality of invaded and occupied countries, an environment heading towards global changes that could affect our very survival, and finally, the current economic collapse that endangers many livelihoods, all based on the consumption of materials and the massive debt loads of an artificial finance capitalism that serves the underlying purpose of enriching the wealth and power of those already in control. With these three (occupations/war, environmental decline, financial collapse) all looming at the same time, the government’s response (U.S. and their Canadian imitators) has been to support the corporations without any apparent concerns about transparency and openness that is required for other nations negotiating within the Washington consensus guidelines. It is obviously not free market capitalism as the markets are being avoided and/or controlled; nor is it socialism, as socialism, under its purest definition is that “the community as a whole should own and control the means of production, distribution, and exchange,” a concept the current bail-outs are loath to approach even though it is the taxpayers money that is being used. Your choice becomes some other “-ism” but not capitalism or socialism.

    Back to being progressive.

    Hmm, who would have thought, “the community as a whole….” Sounds quite progressive to me, with a lot of common sense, that the community should want universal health care, worker protections of various sorts, retirement benefits universally guaranteed and applied, an egalitarian distribution of educational and medical services, equal rights for all (in deed as well as in law), international laws that are upheld et al.

    The problem of course is not the ideas, as they are – or should be – a matter of common sense for anyone with a touch of true humanitarian interests, but with the label. Rob Kall lives in a country so imbued with “fear of socialism” that he is wise to avoid its use and thus keep his arguments open for acceptance to a wider audience. As I have no fear of socialism, and advocate it quite strongly, I have been labelled as being part of the extreme left. So be it. But all the positions taken by Kall are ones that I support, as would anyone with a gram of humanitarian compassion towards others in society.

    There are many other nuances to the arguments of what comprises socialism, capitalism, communism, fascism, with at times overlapping features. But in support of U.S. initiatives as represented in Rob Kall’s article, the word “progressive” fits well, as does the phrase “common sense.”

    Community of the whole

    For all the talk of globalization, there is little talk of community, the “global village” of the sixties having been swept aside by the rise (and now fall…?) of corporate interests seeking to gather wealth from abroad through financial empires supported by the hidden fist of the military empire.

    A true era of globalization would be a “progressive” era, one in which all the people of the world had access to what is described above as being progressive interests. It would deny U.S. military occupation of countries or bases through which the material gains of the corporate sector could be enriched. It would deny the ability to harvest and capture the wealth of another country. It would enable the freedoms of other people as is so often not the case today. It would enable a world where globalization meant equality for all, fair trade for all, environmental protection, health care, education, workers equality, women’s equality – all beyond the rhetoric and spin of any label and be an actuality based on progressive actions throughout the world.

    [1] OpEd News, December 20, 2008. http://www.opednews.com/articles/Which-of-These-Progressive-by-Rob-Kall-081220-249.html

    [2] I refer readers to the many sources that support these positions at http://www.jim.secretcove.ca/index.Publications.html and http://www.palestinechronicle.com.

    – 30 –

    Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

  2. Jeff says:

    Terry, I hope you are joking. Unfortunately, its hard to be sure given the lack of personal accountability that is evident in America more and more. Each generation we lose more and more accountability and this election, with the youth vote, went to the man who will give you a group to blame (successful people) and an expectation to have the government penalize those more successful to others feel more fortunate.
    I have a question for people who voted for Obama. When did big businesses, the ones that employee so many Americans and pay so much of the taxes, become so evil? Do you realize that taxing corporations more will have negative consequences in the long-term? Companies will layoff workers to reduce costs to get profits back. Companies will increase prices to regain those profits and thereby we’ll have inflation. France is a country I visited when getting my Master’s degree and they have a hatred for companies the way so many seem to have in the US lately. Go look at their unemployment rates and see if that’s really what you want.

  3. Terry says:

    I think socialism is great! I have tons of student loans and probably no career prospects except flipping burgers with my degree. I have no aspirations of making tons of money, so I think it would be great to have a society that provides everyone w/ free education and healthcare. Let the Wall Street fat cats pay for my student loans using some of their spa treatment monies they just got from the bailout. Socialism may not be such a bad thing.

  4. Morten Hoi Jensen says:


    I don’t believe in socialism. I don’t believe in any whithered ideology. The only thing I argued was that Americans shouldn’t be so afraid of everything that is socialist. Many great minds were socialist, and they should not be ignored such as Eugene Debs is.

    Don’t be so touchy and aggressive. Keep an open mind.

  5. Tim says:

    So you loved my response enough to not respond to the issues I raised? I’m not against socialism just because it’s a Republican buzzword used to scare red-staters into voting for equally socialist Republicans. I oppose root and branch any government actions that betray liberty, which is most of them.

    I have read Marx and his work is intellectually deficient to say the least and his recommendations flat out evil.

    It is the socialists and communists of the world out of touch with reality. People are greedy and the only way to control that and use it for the betterment of all is with a free market, something we have not seen for at least a century.

    I urge you, comrade, take your communism back to Europe where it belongs and try not to use its destructive ideas to further worsen this nation which my ancestors fought and died for.

  6. Alex says:

    Senator Obama certainly has some very socialist principles. He’s open to legitimizing socialist governments by sitting down with them. He’s said, blatantly and not so blatantly, that “redistribution of wealth” is what should be done. It’s pretty clear where he stands.

    Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a government that encourages hard work, encourages people to want to work hard to earn a living superior than most, and not merely one that is average. What incentive does this system provide the lower class to improve? It rewards them and will thus spur a sense of laziness, at the expense of those that have earned it for their families. There are so many examples that this system does not work, as man is naturally self-interested, and greed always takes over.

    I’m honestly scared to death of what is going to happen to this country with this man at Commander-in-Chief, a Democratic Congress and open Supreme Court seats. I just hope the United States government is strong enough to withstand the next four years and not become Cuba. And I’m ashamed that my fellow U.S. citizens have fallen in love with the pretty girl who will only break up with you after she gets what she wants.

  7. I love all your responses. Thank you for amusing me and confirming my article.

  8. Louis says:

    Your article disgusts me as an alumni. There needs to be some serious changes to the school paper if they allow something this idiotic to be published. FYI I am a big Obama supporter and socialism is NOT what he endorses.

  9. Raul says:

    Are you kidding me????

    “”Be proud, comrades, of the intellectual and moral achievements of individuals such as Jean Jaures, Karl Marx and Albert Camus.””

    Brother, I dont know what you are smoking, but its some powerful stuff.

  10. ERA says:

    Excellent response, Tim.

    INIFINITELY better than the article you responded to as yours was actually based on reason rather then blind hatred of what this country was based upon.

  11. ERA says:

    Mr. Jensen, you are a communist. You even make sure to use communist propaganda in your propaganda piece, ‘comrade.’ Experiencing socialism through reading a book is apparently insufficient to show you its true consequences. Why don’t you ask Cuban immigrants and other groups who have lost countless loved ones to communism? Ask those people, the ones who have had their own children starve to death, their homes taken from them, their businesses shut down, and their countries impoverished and lost.

    I do understand that it is your right to state this opinion, but you fail to forget that opinion is one of the first things to go under a socialist state. You do NOT make UM alumni such as myself proud.

  12. Tim says:

    Of course both Democrats and Republicans are socialists. They certainly don’t call it that but you don’t change what something is by calling it another name. The bailout and nationalization of banks is blatantly socialist and yet both parties cheer it on.

    So the alcoholic war monger Christopher Hitchens implores fellow socialists to “be proud of” their accomplishments where socialism has “succeeded.” Did it succeed in China, where tens of millions died under the hammer and sickle? Did it succeed in the Soviet Union where tens of millions were murdered for being against the Communist regime? Did it succeed in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, FDR’s America, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or Castro’s Cuba? No. We are starting to see the unraveling of the socialist European states and you advocate that socialism be strengthened in America? We already have plenty, thank you very much.

    And don’t even try to give me the old “socialism/communism has never been perfectly implemented” roundabout. I could say that a completely free market has never been tried in a stateless society. The only way to implement your desired policies to their fullest extent is with a dictator or the tyranny of the majority if you’re into the whole democracy thing (H.L. Mencken sufficiently explains). Socialism is so against human nature people need to be literally brainwashed into going along with it.

    Being afraid of socialism is not “irrational” by any means. An ideology that has killed millions and despises liberty is not something to be embracing. As Ludwig von Mises pointed out before WWII, economic calculation is impossible under socialism and so the economy stagnates. Mises also predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union. Academics back then loved socialism but history proved them wrong.

    Karl Marx was a communist to the core. His devotion to communism was his crucial focus and the main goal, the ultimate end that would finally save mankind from itself. History and economics has proven Marx and the communists wrong as wherever there is a relatively free market and limited government, the economy booms and everyone’s life is vastly improved. All the government can do is redistribute wealth, not create it. In fact, governments excel at destroying wealth with endless wars and stupid economic interventions.

    Yes Eugene Debs was heroic for opposing entry into WWI, a war the U.S. had no business in. But there were others that opposed it as well: the Old Right. They believed in a very limited government, no state intervention in the economy, and no foreign wars. They believed in the rule of law and not of men. Read Murray Rothbard’s “The Betrayal of the American Right” for some real history that will make you wonder how we managed to screw up so badly.

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