By Timothy Rush | Staff Columnist
Socialism, love it or hate it, it is something that almost everyone has heard about. Depending on who you are, this word can evoke thoughts and images so varied it almost seems meaningless. To some, the word evokes images of the oppressive Soviet Union or that of the economic destabilization we see in Venezuela. To others, socialism is the future of progress that will bring about increased equality and economic security, akin to the Nordic countries.
Despite this, American politicians often employ the word “socialism” as a political slur. In modern America, the spectre of socialism is still one that evokes fear and condemnation from many in the upper echelons of power and privilege. But times are changing, and as much as it may come as a shock to some, socialism is not a dirty word anymore.
In a Gallup poll published in August of 2018, 57 percent of Democrats now view socialism favorably. Capitalism is not favored as much, with only 47 percent. Republicans were naturally not at all positive toward socialism, with only 16 percent viewing it in a positive way. Young Americans, aged 18 to 29 in the Gallup poll, view socialism favorably as well (51 percent) while they view capitalism less so (45 percent).
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), an organization representing socialist groups, increased in membership dramatically following 2016. At the beginning of June 2016, the DSA had an estimated membership of 6,500. By the end of 2016, it jumped to about 15,000. Currently, it’s estimated the DSA has a membership of over 60,000. Among the biggest groups in the DSA are the Social Democrats, those who support incorporating economic and social protections in a capitalist society, and Democratic Socialists, who support public ownership of the means of production with a high emphasis on democracy and liberty.
The rise of “Democratic Socialism” in the Democratic party is also worthy of note. Championed by Bernie Sanders in 2016, there has been a surge of candidates who identify as socialist in the Democratic party. Sometimes referred to colloquially as “Berniecrats,” the Democratic party has experienced a massive push to the left since the Vermont Senator’s grassroots movement in 2016. Though there is some disagreement on whether the “democratic socialism” supported by Berniecrats is socialism or really just social democracy, an ideology that incorporates economic and social protections within a capitalist society, we can definitely say that it is certainly outside of many American’s comfort zone.
So why do politicians still use “socialist” as a slur? They do this because many people are still stuck in the capitalism versus socialism mindset of the Cold War. Many people still remember growing up in that era, hearing stories of the oppressive Soviet Union and the tyranny that lay just beyond the Iron Curtain in the Eastern Bloc. Even today, we grow up hearing stories of the horrid policies of China, Cuba and Venezuela. It’s a word that still evokes feelings of fear and anger in many people.
But with each passing day, more and more things change. Socialism is becoming more and more favorable among young people as the years go on. Even the Republican rating in the Gallup poll is an increase from previous years. Socialism is on the rise in the US, and we need to stop treating it as the ominous phantom that it isn’t.
Socialism, especially in the U.S., is extremely varied and very far from that of Venezuela and Cuba. Many want to see us adopt the models of the Nordic countries, some of the happiest and most equal nations in the world. Some just want us to move toward the more social democratic model of the U.K., with amenities like universal healthcare. You have liberal socialists, libertarian socialists, anarchists, religious socialists and so many more. Most of them do not want the oppressive state of the USSR or the Eastern Bloc, or the authoritarianism of China or Cuba. Their ideas and policies are all different, but they all support socialism and want something very simple: to do what is best for everyone.
These are people who believe that being able to get healthcare is a human right, that higher education should be a pathway available to all, that our democracy should be one of the people and not by the wealthy elites or corporations. Many firmly believe that a healthy, beautiful world is a right for our children and should not be a waning dream in the face of climate change. And that people should have an equal chance to make a life for themselves and their families.
We should not fear socialism or the rising tide of it in the US. Sure, have disagreements and have those discussions, but do not be afraid. Do not try to dismiss your fellow Americans because they’re socialists; engage with them and learn more about what socialism means for them. Treat socialists with respect and engage with their ideology with the recognition it deserves. Socialism is not a dirty word, and we should not treat it as such