Friday, August 10, 2007

Socialism a Loaded Word

From an article by UT student Colin Pace in the Daily Texan (University of Texas):
There is no doubt that "socialism" is a loaded word in the Western world. Institutions ranging from news stations to school systems teach that socialist and nationalized programs are doomed to collapse under the weight of bureaucracy and corruption. There seems to be a general acceptance that leaders of socialist nations are aspiring despots, and that any pro-socialist ideas should be immediately dismissed, as it is understood that socialism just isn't right.

The idea exists in the West that the Cold War was the final showdown between the Communist bloc and the Western world. As the story goes, the United States trounced the Evil Empire by setting up a bulwark of capitalist states to ward off the threat of Communism. Since then, the remaining socialist nations are puttering out, drawing near their final days before privatization comes to their rescue.

Yet anti-socialist rhetoric, in a sense, is merited. It is undeniable that most of the world powers are capitalist nations, and dominant "socialist" nations - China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam - are having difficulties. Moreover, neoliberal policies, extended through institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, are set up to help developing nations privatize and modernize their industries. These policies, in theory, will eradicate destitution. What we are taught in school and grow up believing is that capitalism not only benefits the leading nations of the world, but is also working to raise the standard of living for everyone.

Today, most Western institutional authorities claim that capitalism is indisputably superior to socialism. They nearly make it a crime to question what socialism is, how it functions and why it is "failing" around the world. From the red-baiting that Eugene V. Debs faced to the extremity of the McCarthyism era, the West continues to stigmatize socialists as "others," marginalizing their ideas and movements.

Socialism, however, should not be cast aside so easily. Socialism is not a monolithic ideology and it is not a terrible, fear-driven beast that threatens the U.S. masses. In fact, it is quite the opposite. To understand this, one need not look further than Michael Moore's recent movie, "Sicko." Though gimmicky and biased, like his other movies, the film raises an important question about why universal health care systems rank so high above the United States' privatized system in a global comparison.

But as the disparity between rich and poor grows in the United States, the same is happening around the world in situations far more significant than health care. Developing nations have received infrastructure-building loans from the World Bank to help industrialize. While this may help the upper class, the money does not usually benefit the people who need it most. The World Bank dictates the terms of loan agreements, often forcing developing nations to break up or sell nationalized industries to make way for private interests from other countries, leaving developing nations in debt. Meanwhile, massive cuts in social spending, devaluation of currency and unequal trading policies result from the policies instated by the new backers. Countries around the world, from Asia to Latin America to Africa, have been hit hard by these austerity measures.

While many U.S. citizens may be enjoying a relatively comfortable lifestyle, it is precisely because they are in the upper echelon of the economic spectrum compared to worldwide standards, and our current system caters to those at the top of society. Factory workers thousands of miles away are harshly exploited so consumer goods such as clothing and TVs can be sold at low prices to American consumers.

People should not judge the word "socialism" solely by what they know of "socialist" leaders. Leaders like Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro may have upheld socialist aspects of their administrations, but they were not actually "socialists" - A ruling elite still oppressed people within their countries, and did so just as harshly as their capitalist rivals. The immediate knee-jerk reaction that many have to the word "socialism" stems from the connotations of atrocities carried out under those administrations. Moving beyond superficial analysis of the word will allow people to better understand what socialist arguments are about.

Socialists around the world work toward bettering working conditions, raising wages, ending the war in Iraq, halting the injustices of the prison system and combating global warming, just to name a few of their critical agendas.

Even those who are staunchly opposed to the nationalization of industry, believing that the free market is the only means for progress, should question the objectivity of the Western view of socialism. The word is loaded with connotations, but that should not stop people from asking what the system is really about.

Daily Texan: Ignoring the undertones of socialism

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