Saturday, June 6, 2009

Words Mean Things

In my other life, I am a wrestling fan. Joey Styles, the former "Voice of ECW" managed to make himsel look incredibly silly a few days ago by describing Obama as a Marxist (Jim Cornette then gloriously pwned him on Jimbo's podcast). So, in the interest of advancing the education of (mostly) Americans, let's talk about what a few words mean:

Socialism - Socialism is a left-wing theory of economics, probably rating about a 6 on a ten-point political scale (with the centre at 0). It's main feature is that it proposes state ownership of the means of production and distribution and it is explicitely a class-based theory. The idea is that the ownership class uses and abuses it's ownership to surpress the working class. Therefore, if the state owns the means of production and distrbution, it can ensure fair recompence for labour and purchase, thereby creating a fairer society. You may or may not agree with the theory but there it is.

Here is what socialism is NOT: Spending on social programs, raising taxes on the rich, universal healthcare. None of those things are part of socialism. The right are simply lying about that. Attempting to create a fairer society is not, in and of itself, socialism. Nor is socialism some kind of virus where, if you allow the tiniest hint of socialism, you wake up in 1959 Moscow. It doesn't work like that. Here in Britain, we have had Socialist governments (Labour was an outright socialist party for most of it's existance). Some were good, some were bad, one was a disaster but none turned the nation into the UKSR, came anywhere near or even tried to do so. Universal healthcare is socialised, not socialist. Clear?

Marxism/Communism - Marxism is another left-wing ideaology, rating probably about an 8 or 9. Marxism is an extension of the pre-existing theory of socialism into the political arena which socialism has little to say about. Essentially, the idea can be summed up as "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs" i.e. that the state would take control of any produce beyond that required by the producer for their needs and redistribute that according to the needs of others. Over time, the state would become less and less involved in this movement of produce and eventually wither away entirely, creating a form of communalist anarchist utopia. So there's the theory.

It's worth noting that not one country which has ever attempted Marxism has ended up with Communism as Marx envisioned it. In the opinion of many (including myself), that's because Marx's vision, while noble, was unworkable. Communism as Marx envisioned it requires humans to be a great deal nicer than humans actually are. It doesn't account for the greed endemic in human nature. Nor does it provide any incentive for producers to produce beyond their needs other than the vagaries of human nature. If you have the same opinion of human nature as myself, that would explain why it's unworkable.

What enforced Communism actually produces in the real world is Soviet Communism (note that, despite the name, this is used to cover Cuba, Yugoslavia, China and so on, despite the forms being slightly different and China having this really weird hybrid). You all know about Soviet Communism so there's no need to examine it in great detail except to point out that it was a million miles from Marx's intentions but probably the closest anyone could come in the real world. So, Marx took the already existing theory of socialism, expanded it into Communism, Russia (and other nations) aimed for Communism and ended up with Soviet Communism. Clear?

Fascism - Fascism is probably the most abused word in political history. The name comes from the fasces, a bundle of rods carried by the Roman Lictors, bodyguards to the elected leaders of Rome, the Consuls (note, this does NOT make the fasces the symbol of fascism). Fascism is an extreme-right theory, around a 9 or 10 which presupposes the pre-eminence of the state, that all individual interests should be sublimated to the interests of the state. In the early 20th century, it was a fashionable theory and several countries adopted it to various degrees, most notoriously Nazi Germany.

Now, fascism has various features, some of which are disputed but the ones which are generally agreed are prominent and continuing nationalism; near-worship of the military; some degree of fusion between the state and corporate worlds; retreat from pre-existing democratic ideals and the designation of certain groups (often, but not necessarily, racial groups) as semi-official scapegoats. "Fascism" is NOT a synonym for "authoritarian" although fascist nations almost always are authoritarian in practice in the same way that racism is not necessarily a requirement of fascism but fascist regimes are almost always racist. "Authoritarian" simply indicates any state which abuses human rights, "fascism" is a specific set of reasons for doing so.
All clear? Good (and you should now know why "Islamofascism" is a nonsense word).

Having read this far, you can probably see why the Obama Administration is none of these things. Raising taxes on the richest by 3-4% is not socialism or communism and the idea that a Marxist would want to expand government is laughable. During the Eisenhower era, the top tax rate hovered between 85% and 91%. Was he a socialist or a communist?

"Tax-and-Spend" - One of the great myths of politics is that only liberals tax and spend. Taxing and spending is kinda what all governments require; in a very real sense, it's the definition of what governments do: Taking money from some (in the form of taxes) and then spending it on, say, an army. All governments do this. The reason the right hurls the insult at liberals is the difference in what the taxes are being spent on. Conservatives (or people who call themselves conservative anyway) spend them on the military (and the US has a massively bloated military budget for that reason) and on tax cuts for the very richest. Liberals spend them on trying to provide for the poorest and can therefore be demonised for it (the entire US political arena having swallowed Ayn Rand's batshit theories whole). Both sides spend money on earmark projects, most (but not all) of which are unnecessary.

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