Over time, the term Socialism has become what certain cognitive linguists call a contested concept. This means that hearing the word conjures several conflicting meanings, to the degree that one can no longer mention the word and elicit a universal understanding. Since perceptions can be changed through repetition, political ideologues work hard to change the meanings of the power words of the their rivals, by repeating their own version, over and over, in as many venues as they can.
An excellent example of this has been the change, through time, of the meaning of the word, taxes. Taxes were once a highly irritating but necessary surrender of our personal resources which we reluctantly paid in order to reap benefits provided by government. Anti tax activists, through massive repetition, changed that meaning to be an evil construct of greedy government amounting to nothing less than stealing what is rightfully ours. This change in meaning, and most importantly, the public’s acceptance of it, has changed the dynamic of government dramatically.
Recently I have grown at first weary, and lately angry, over the intentional manipulation of the term, Socialism, and its associated concept. It is clear that this change in Socialism’s meaning, and the public’s acceptance of it, has muddied the waters of political understanding into an opaque confusion. The people have been effectively sold the lie that socialism is a political system, and a horrible one to boot. In today’s world, when people talk about Socialism as a concept, many of them reveal a lack of knowledge about the original meaning of the term. From context it seems likely that their understanding of the word has been wholly informed by ideological subterfuge.
Governments are primarily distinguished by three elements: how government is selected, how governing is done, and which economic system supports the government, and thus the nation. For example the USA is a Democratic Republic with a primarily capitalist economy. Although many do not know it our economy has numerous socialist elements, but remains capitalist. Socialism is an economic system and not, as we are falsely told, a system of government. (Repeat that statement several times). Socialism is related to several disparate types of governance, because it certainly is a part of how government operates. But all economic systems are closely tied to their governmental systems. Socialism is not in and of itself a form of government.
Efforts, and successful they are, to portray Socialism as a type of government come mostly from capitalist interests, who wish to maintain their control of the economy while giving the illusion that capitalism is somehow the true American form of government, which it is not. Capitalism is also just an economic system. Not all capitalist economies are democracies. China has a non soviet style Communist government, but has a capitalist economy.
The truth about America’s government is we are a Democratic Republic. In other words we are a Republic, or representative government, and our Republic is a Democracy, whose representatives are selected through democratic elections. We select, by constitutionally guaranteed vote, people who represent us in a Congress. The constitution says nothing at all about what type of economy we should have. In fact certain founding fathers warned us to be wary of corporations. We could, easily as not, have a socialist economy, without sacrificing either the Democracy or the Republic.
A word about Constitutions here. A Constitution is a document that limits government. It is not in an of itself a government but it is very important to nations that have one, because it clearly delineates what a government can and can’t do. Constitutions are normally created in Democratically elected governments, where the representatives prepare, then the people authorize their Constitution. They do this in order to assure the people who gave them their power that they won’t steal that power by changing the rules.
Lest I violate Godwin’s law I will refrain from mentioning a certain name, but lately I hear the National Socialists of World War II Germany, the reviled Nazis, mentioned in the same breath, and as the same thing, as the Democratic Socialism of a politician such as Bernie Sanders. I also hear people being called Communists and Fascists in the same sentence. It is these types of widely and wildly promoted falsehoods that make my blood boil. The National Socialist party came to power through Democratic elections, fair enough. And they used this technicality to claim their legitimacy. But once they attained power they became an entirely different animal, on the complete opposite side of the zoo from the Democratic Socialists.
You’ve heard of strong mayor, weak council government, and weak mayor, strong council government? This concept relates to the nature of the relationship between the lawmaking and administrative branches of government. The difference between the two is in final decision making power. In strong mayor, weak council the mayor has the final word, and for the weak mayor, strong council the opposite is true. The national socialists, as I said, came into power democratically but soon became a one party totalitarian system where the government was selected by the party, whose leader was essentially a dictator, the ultimate “decider”. The dictator allowed for the election of a governing body, made up entirely of his own party, a sham, the purest example of strong mayor, weak council I can think of.
The only thing socialist about the national socialists was their economy. Socialism, by definition, is an economy run by the government. It is this and nothing more. People like to call the Nazis fascists but strictly speaking they weren’t pure fascists. Fascism is a type of socialism where the economy, dominated by corporations, pretty much controls the government, essentially an oligarchy. German socialism had the strong support of the corporate sector, as well as the Catholic Church. But control of the economy was by the party and the party alone.
Certain people conflate Communism, and Fascism, and National Socialism into one big melting pot of bad, based on their shared “Socialism”. Yes, Communism is a form of Socialism, but one paired with a dramatically different type of government than the Nazis or Fascists. Russian Communism’s government form was the Soviet Socialist Republic. Also a one party totalitarian system, government was controlled by the economy, but a radically different economy and with different means of selecting government. Another reason National Socialism and Communism are falsely put in the same sentence is their shared factors: one party totalitarian government, wholly merged with socialist style economies. It is once again the capitalists who constantly point out this fact, implying socialism can only be associated with these allegedly bad governments and never with ours.
Russian Communism’s government was formed from the back to the front, as it were. The economy’s basic unit is the commune, thus the term communism. Communes were smallish units of merged government and economy, collectively owned and operated by the workers. These communes were governed by party officials, in a council or soviet, elected by the commune’s party members. From those soviets, members were selected for a hierarchy of councils representing ever larger political units, ending in the Supreme Soviet, the ultimate national governing body, whose chairman was the head of state. The supreme Soviet then passed edicts back down the pipeline to the lower soviets, dictating how government was to be be done.
The party, through the supreme chairman, also selected a parliament, whose president was mostly a figurehead. In theory the parliament could overturn orders of the supreme council but since the parliament was appointed by the chairman that didn’t happen very often. Because there was only one party, made up of workers who theoretically ran both the economy and the government, Communism, Russian style, was also a one party totalitarian socialist system. However, since the commune’s soviet councils were elected, and those elected officials indirectly selected a parliament, they were technically able to call themselves republics. Thus the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
So as you can see, there are many different ways socialism can be used to economically support a government. It is really the capitalists who try to sell socialism as a one trick pony governmental system, instead of the flexible economic system it is. Socialism is quite capable of working in conjunction with many totally different styles of governments, from one party dictatorships, to Parliamentary Monarchies and even Democratic Republics. Therefore many nations are known by their economic and selective structures without a specific government style in the name.
These systems are quite varied and display a myriad of structural combinations. For example many European Democratic Socialist nations, often called social democracies, are parliamentary monarchies, with a weak monarch strong parliament system of governance. In the social democracies the parliament not only makes laws but has nearly complete regulatory power over corporations. There is a modest element of capitalism in these nations, similar but opposite to American capitalism. The Parliamentary Monarchy system goes back to the Magna Carta, where the monarchy of England began to give the people certain concessions of self rule. Eventually this foot in the door for the people led to the weak monarch system, where the real power rests in the prime minister of parliament and not in the king or prince or duke etc.
The main difference between a parliament and a legislative body is with a legislative body the executive branch is separate and the executive leader is separately elected by the entire nation’s electorate. In a parliament the executive is the leader of the majority party as elected by the body. Many European systems are also multi party systems where elected parliaments without any one majority party must form coalitions in order to claim a majority and be able to select a Prime Minister. Parliamentary monarchies need not be social democracies. The UK’s system is a government by strong parliament with a weak but strongly revered monarchy. But it’s economy is more capitalist than the Scandinavian Social Democracies. To make a very, very long story short, Democratic Socialism is a democratically elected government that has great control of the economy, whereas National Socialism and Communism are one party dictatorships that control their economies, albeit in dramatically different ways. All have Socialist economies but with major differences in governmental systems.
I have to admit that those who have desired to corrupt the term Socialism, and thus it’s concept, have done a damn fine job. So much so that it may be impossible to ever return it’s meaning to an expression of the original concept. With the rise of Cognitive Science in the late 20th century came the discovery that everything we are and do originates in the brain, is embodied, and can be physically influenced by non physical means. And now political ideologues and ad agencies and others with agendas are using their understanding of how the brain can be programmed, not through torture but through clever use of language.
I find it concurrently amusing and frightening that political progressives are commonly accused of trying to change definitions, such as the definition of marriage. Progressives have a real aversion to the practice of changing the meanings of words, in any way. They feel that to change the meaning of a word to gain political advantage is cheating, because rationally, words are supposed to mean the same thing for everybody. To them, trying to change the meaning of a word is like trying to change the truth, which they find repugnant.
So it is conservatives who have made hay by successfully reframing power words. They have been able to either confuse people about the nature of concepts or get them to associate whole new concepts with specific key words. They have been particularly good at co-opting essential progressive power words such as equality, and empathy, and responsibility. They have raised doubts about what these concepts truly represent by selling them as contested in the minds of Americans.
Such is the level of sophistication of the psychological warfare and propaganda methods used in modern America. Were he alive today, Joseph Goebbels might not even be able to get an interview with a major ad agency, or political think tank. People are unwilling to admit that they are constantly being manipulated by science. They consider it a good thing to be told how to think. It saves them time and energy. Orwell’s contradictory use of language, which others have called doublespeak, is alive and well, coming into your living room and onto your car radio. War has become peace. Compassion has become weakness and ignorance has become wisdom. People are becoming so inured to deception that dog whistles and code words no longer need be so high pitched and secretive. We are being led around by the proverbial short ones.
Big Brother is here and he’s in drive time.