Defining 'Socialism' Down

By Anderson, Kristen Soltis | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, June 19, 2019 | Go to article overview

Defining 'Socialism' Down


Anderson, Kristen Soltis, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


If there’s one thing that socialists and Republicans seem to agree on these days, it’s that there are a lot of socialist policies being proposed by Democrats these days.

“Under Nancy Pelosi's leadership, the past 100 days of the new Congress have been jam-packed with socialist policies,” declared the Republican National Committee. At the same time, socialists such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., defend the label, declaring that if you like policies such as roads, public education, and Social Security, you too like socialism! Socialism, it seems, is all around us.

Except it isn’t, at least not in the way socialism has been defined since the ideology gripped whole nations in the 20th century.

Societies where government owns the means of production, has nationalized large swaths of industry, and actively controls nearly every aspect of the economy are blessedly few, with nations such as Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea as the final holdouts.

Yet today, the way we talk about socialism has changed, and with it, the way the term is defined in the public consciousness. Both socialists and Republicans are in a race to “define socialism down” for political aims, and in the process, we risk future generations growing up more open to the idea that socialism is a cure for what ails society.

Let’s look at the data: In 1949, the folks at Gallup asked Americans to describe what the term socialism meant to them. In that year, about four in 10 viewed socialism as government ownership of industry and control over the economy, or something similar to communism. Another third were unsure or had no opinion, and the remainder had views scattered across a wide range of different definitions.

Luckily, Gallup asked Americans the exact same question in 2018, and they found a very different understanding of the word. Today, less than a quarter of Americans view socialism as government control of the economy or something akin to communism. Instead, the bulk of Americans view socialism as either a synonym for equality, social or economic, or as a way of simply describing government benefits generally. Around one in 10 think it simply means getting along and cooperating, or that “socialism” means liberalism. …

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