This is Part 1 of my two-part series of posts on social political systems. For Part 2 see here.
Now that austerity is getting its metaphorical arse kicked in Europe with the elections in France and Greece there is a significant backlash in the media and in society in general against what they call ‘socialism’.
It’s well known that the left-winged amongst us are often renowned for moving the goal posts when questioned and never fully explaining our ideologies. If somebody calls us a socialist we will say “no we aren’t, please go away and do some research into what socialism actually means”, yet we rarely have a clue how to explain it ourselves. When confronted with facts about socialism we change to social democracy, if that fails then we move swiftly to democratic socialism all within one argument and pretend they’re all the same.
This isn’t fair nor reasonable, so I thought I’d do my best to explain the differences between socialism, social democratism (or socio-democracy) and democratic socialism in a way that hopefully everybody, including the politically illiterate or nonchalant can understand.
I’m not a political expert and all these definitions are up for debate, nobody has yet to settle for what they actually mean. What I say here is what I think they are to me, feel free to offer your opinion onto what you think they mean. I have tried to keep the majority of the explanation neutral, but towards the end of each subject I will offer my opinion, which you may or may not agree with.
Firstly, here’s a helpful diagram I use to visualise where people and parties lie on the political compass. It’s important to note that the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ have two different meanings. You can be right-winged economically, but left-winged socially and people often get the two confused. The x axis below is economic, the y axis social, with up being socially ‘right’ and vice versa.
In a bipartisan capitalist society, such as the U.K. or Australia, generally one major party lies to the upper right of conservatism (considered right-wing) and the other lies centrally in liberalism (considered left-wing).
In a bipartisan social society, such as Finland, Norway or Sweden, one major party lies on the border between liberalism and conservatism (right-wing) and the other in social democratism (left-wing).
For reference, at the moment in the U.S. Obama is a conservative (5,3) while Santorum is a traditionalist (7,6), despite them being called liberal and conservative respectively. The perspective of where people sit on the political compass is often skewed by the sort of society they live, in this case the highly capitalist U.S.
What’s in a name?
Firstly, it doesn’t help that political parties often have misleading names. Since Francois Hollande’s election to president in France, there has been much confusion and misunderstanding as to what he actually stands for, particularly in the mainstream media.
He is a member of the Socialist Party, yet is he actually a socialist? Almost everybody would say no, he’s a social democrat.
Then there’s the Left Coalition in Greece. People call them socialist, but really they are predominantly communist and aren’t that different to the Communist party that refused to coalesce with them.
Then there’s the big one, the one that anybody on the right will use to bypass a debate through means of logical fallacy. They make reference to the National Socialist German Workers' Party, more commonly known as the Nazis, and proclaim that socialism will result in World War III. Unfortunately for them, Hitler was on the border between Fascism and Nationalism (use the above diagram for reference), and you can’t get more right-winged than that. You can hardly go a page in Mein Kampf without a comment on how much he hated liberals, socialists, marxists and communists, and they were all put in concentration camps in the war.
The point of this is to show two things. Firstly you cannot judge a party by its name, secondly any extremism, left or right, is generally a bad idea.
What is socialism?
Socialism lies on the extreme left and I am of the opinion that this ideology cannot be used to form a fully functioning and non-oppressive government.
Socialism is the ideology that all people work together for a common cause with utmost equality. Everything is state owned and operated. No one person is to gain an advantage over another (in other words, capitalise), hence why the government controls every aspect from education to their peoples’ social lives.
This may sound similar to communism, and that would be because it is, but in practise they can be wildly different. I won’t go into details, but simply put:
Socialism - From each according to his ability, to each according to his deeds.
Communism - From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
Read here for more easy-to-understand information on socialism vs. communism.
Socialism is public schools, public hospitals, public broadcasting, public manufacturing … and just about public everything else.
There are advantages and disadvantages, but in my opinion the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. The individuality of people is crushed and with it goes happiness – the key human right.
What about democratic socialism?
Democratic socialism is essentially the same as socialism, just with slightly more choice. You have more choice in who leads you (although often you have the choice between two socialist parties), you have more choice for your private social life and, depending on how far right it is on the economic scale, more choice in who you purchase goods from.
Often the less important industries (in the government’s eyes), such as manufacturing or agriculture, is less regulated and private organisations are allowed to begin to enter the market. Even so, the regulations still applied are very strict and private organisations are often beaten by the government on such things as price and put out of business.
In my opinion, democratic socialism is socialism in disguise. It is one step down, but still too oppressive to the individual and I can’t imagine myself being happy in this society because I would feel the only sense of individuality I’m allowed to hold is that which the government specifically allows.
Simply put: it’s socialism but slightly better.
Why should you not compare these to a social democracy?
This is where the greatest misunderstanding and confusion lies, the difference between socialism and social democratism. People see ‘social’ and instantly dismiss it as socialism, and the word ‘socialism’ seems to be considered profanity by Americans.
Calling social democratism socialism is like calling conservatism fundamentalism. Politics isn’t polarised by default – there are many stages in between and each can form a nation of happy people.
In general, if you take the above diagram and strip away the extremities (below), you are left with the ‘mainstream’ forms of governance. There is, and always should be, a heated debate over which of these is best, but in general most people accept that a government practising one of these will be able to govern a country without collapsing, destroying the country or overly oppressing its people.
As you can see socialism does not fit in mainstream politics and therefore is, in my opinion, as unsuited to governance as fascism, communism or anarchism is. Just because social democratism shares a similar name and draws some ideologies from socialism doesn’t mean it is the same, it is merely a third cousin that may have the same surname but genetically is quite different.
If you hear somebody trying to make that argument then they have lost the debate, no questions asked.
Here is another blog with a good set of examples as to the difference. I don’t agree with all, but as I said nobody really does.
What is a social democracy and what is it like to live in one?
As this post is long enough, I’ve separated it into two parts.
Please continue to Part 2 here: Living in a Social Democracy