Socialism vs. the Welfare State

There is much confusion as to what Socialism, Communism, Social welfare, Social Security, Marxism, and Capitalism is.  This is partly because the aforementioned ideologies themselves are confused, and have various definitions for themselves, and various hybrid mixtures have evolved.  Generally, Socialism is politically left, and Capitalism is right.  But the right has recently adopted many left tactics and visa versa. China, for example, has a Communist market basis in name only.  They are Capitalists in many aspects of their economy. The most right-wing form of government, we can all agree, are the National Socialists.  Just their name tells you that Socialism plays a large part in their philosophy.  Hitler, himself, declared in his book, Zweites Buch, (never published in his lifetime), “I am a Socialist!” The difference between Socialism, Communism, and National Socialism is mostly degrees of government control.  With Communism, there is no such thing as private property. People get what they need. But under Socialism, individuals can still own property, but not if the property deals with an industry that makes products that have an impact on the national mission, which is also the principle in National Socialism.  Communism is considered hard left, while the other two adhere less strictly to Karl Marx’s dictates.  National Socialism, of course, was very controlling in terms of what was considered acceptable in religion, art, and thought.  The wealthy owners of industry were still nominal owners, but did not have any degree of control.  Everything was state-supervised as demonstrated in the movie Schindler’s List.  

My parents had escaped Communism to the only country that, at that moment, did not intend to kill them. They were assigned living quarters throughout World War II by the Nazi housing authority. The actual owner of the house had no say as to who would live in it. As Hitler was rising in power, the business elites decided they would do better with National Socialism than Communism.   The house to which we were assigned actually belonged to Duke Eulenburg, a prominent aristocrat and businessman. He and his associates met with Hitler multiple times, trying to make a deal, but they made the devil’s deal! By that time it was too late to exert any influence! Although the Duke tried to persuade the Nazis to modify their control, they did as socialists are apt to do – ‘we know better what you need.” The Duke aggravated Hitler to such an extent that he lost his niece to Hitler’s judicial system. She was beheaded, and the Duke’s son was assigned to a tank division on the eastern front that had the highest mortality, as a punishment for the Duke’s activism to deflect Hitler’s fury (see my book Tales from my Home Town Chapter 10 &13 available on It was the Duke’s duty to the Reich to let the physician of the town, my father, live in his house. Oh for the joys of Socialism!   

The Holocast (Hitler) killed 6 million while the Holodemor (Stalin) killed 12 million. Was National Socialism or Communism worse, is still being debated?

Socialism has various attitudes from very controlling, as in  Cuba or North Korea, to permissive, as it was in Israel and India, both of which realized that Socialism is toxic and have given up on Socialism. Israel with the help of the Nobel prize winner, Milton Friedman, who urged them to “set your people free!” and over several years Israel abandoned Socialism and adopted a US-style Capitalism.  India was already influenced by Communism from 1921 on. When Jawaharlal Neru became the first Prime Minister of India he adopted Socialism as the main form of economy.  His moto was that market forces cannot be trusted to provide favorable economic or social outcomes. Indira Gandhi continued the left philosophy. After her assassination her son Rajiv Gandhi who was not influenced by socialism, liberalized free market and India took off. The open market economy doubled the size of the middle class and their income. By 2017 India became the fouth largest auto manufacturer and the second largest smartphone market.  Free enterprise lifted India from poverty and misery.

Ann Landers had a surprisingly insightful description of all the various economic systems that she published for school children: Socialism- you have two cows. You will need to give one cow to your neighbor.  Communism- you have two cows.  You will need to give them both to the government. Fascism- you have two cows. You give all the milk to the government, and they sell it.  Nazism- you have two cows- the government shoots you and takes both cows. Capitalism- you have two cows- you sell one cow and buy a bull.

People that claim to be Socialists raise a degree of skepticism in me. In what schools did they learn their Socialism?  What books did they study? What exactly do they mean by those terms?   I was born in Nazi Germany.  I lived in post-war Austria for nine years, where there were still a lot of Nazi’s walking around.  They didn’t just become Democratic Capitalists overnight on May 3, 1945. Some of them were my teachers and my neighbors.

My parents, in their University years were Communists as most young people in Romania were. Liberalism has always attracted the young. An old saying states, “If you are under 25 years old and are not liberal, you have no heart. If you are over 45 years old and are not conservative, you have no brain.” After living a few years under that regime, my mother and father had to run from Communism. Their families were devastated, some imprisoned, some executed. I read Mein Kampf and Das Kapital. My parents talked to me about their experiences under Communism and the Nazis almost every day. Most of my family did not leave in time and were subjected to Lenin, Stalin, and later Khrushchev for the duration. The ones with whom we had contact told horror stories. I feel that I am qualified to know what those forms of political/economic systems are from a much better educated perspective and from personal experience.  Senator Bernie Sanders, the most prominent Socialist in the US, got his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1964 from the University of Chicago. He spent ten days in Moscow in 1988 for his honeymoon and was enthralled by Communism. He was the Mayor of Burlington, Vermont and worked as a carpenter which is not to denigrate him but to question his credentials.  Other than the fact that he claims to be a Socialist, what exactly makes him an expert on Socialism? I suppose AOC learned all about Socialism tending bars in Brooklyn, another great educational tool to learn Socialism.

Getting back to historical definitions, the strict meaning of Socialism and Communism is that the state is in control of the means of production and distribution.  That means the state owns most or all property and all organizations that make stuff, from baking bread to manufacturing cars or tanks, for that matter.  And it has next to nothing to do with health care insurance, old-age insurance, childcare, universal free education, universal suffrage, workplace safety, or minimum wage etc. These are tax-funded programs for the benefit of society, hence called social welfare, social security, etc. Most of those social programs come, from of all people, a very right-wing thinker, Otto von Bismarck, the ultra-conservative Chancellor of newly united Germany, who stole the thunder from Marx and Engels, and implemented these social programs before the Communists could get their act together. Marx had predicted those things would happen automatically when the proletariat (the workers) took over the reins of power to run the factories, the government, and the economy. 

That, however, never happened in the Socialist world as predicted. Once the workers would take over, government, the social classes would wither, and more equitable distribution of wealth and social worth would become the standard. The state, instead of withering, became everpresent and uncontrollably powerful. Classes did not go away, and the workers never did take over, but a new class of overlords came to power, the party.  The party members became the new bourgeoisie. Traveling out of the country became nearly impossible.  My cousin who was a surgeon at a tertiary hospital in Romania and did only difficult major surgery on upper abdominal cancers such as pancreatic cancer, wanted to visit me. He could not bring his wife because they were afraid he would not come back.  Which in fact, he was planning to do until I talked him out of it.  His English was marginal; he was in his 50’s and would likely never qualify for a US medical license or ever do surgery again. But he did come, and we had a good visit.  As a tertiary surgeon in a university hospital in the US, he would have a much higher income as a regular surgeon such as me, but that was not true under the Communists.  From each according to his ability, to each according to his need, as famously stated by Karl Marx, no one gets more than they need, and they decide how much you need. When he went back to the Soviet block, he begged me for all of my suits that were destined for Goodwill, a very telling request. Even the famous had troubles, such as the opera star Anna Netrebko, who was not allowed to leave the USSR without various bureaucratic steps that would assure her return, something she found not only cumbersome but humiliating. She finally found an opportunity to slip out of the country unnoticed, and now lives in Salzburg, Austria.

The party apparatchiks even had their own grocery stores and clothing stores where only they could shop while the workers could eat cake, as so famously supposedly said by Marie Antoinette when told the people had no bread.  When the state finally did wither and collapsed, on of all days, Christmas Day 1991, the mighty Soviet Socialist Republic became a Capitalist de facto democracy. COMMUNISM HAS FAILED EVERYWHERE IT HAS BEEN TRIED! Only five countries in the world still utilize it: Cuba, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and China. Unless they have a strong element of Capitalism in the mix, they flounder.

Social welfare has existed long before Capitalism or Socialism. It has existed in some form since the Roman Era. Augustus doled out grain to Romans who could not afford to buy it. The Song Dynasty in China (960 CE) had an elaborate welfare system that included retirement homes for the aged. The churches had a comprehensive strategy for the poor in medieval times. Other religions such as Islam and Judaism mandate donations. The Zakat for Islam the Tzedakah for the Jews is similar to the Mormon and other religions, that tithe to support the needy. Modern welfare in the US came in with Social Security in 1935, about the same time that Sweden enacted an unemployment subsidy. Sweden has a  very generous welfare system funded by high taxes.  In the 1970’s they had to cut back, as the country was having difficulty financing these programs.  They are still very generous but not nearly what they were. This does not, however, make them any more Socialist than the US is.  Most of the property in Sweden and all of the Nordic countries is owned by private enterprise, and the means of production and distribution is not the government.  The common notion that Sweden is Socialist is false. People who claim that the bogyman of Socialism has been brought out time and time again to scare us, do not know what Socialism really is. They confuse it with social welfare, the things that Otto von Bismarck introduced to us, which have nothing to do with what real Socialism really means. The critical distinction is who owns the means of production and distribution and is totally separate from social welfare, a tax supported system to help the people in need that exists in capitalistic and socialistic countries depending on the each country, their tax structure, their generosity and empathy to the needy.

The difference between Democratic Socialism and regular Socialism is the means of bringing about Socialism. Democratic Socialism implies that people have a say in what form of government they elect to have.  There is no violence or force, but elections that are lawful and fair.  But as we witnessed in our last elections, there is much debate on the fairness issue.  Democrats have become experts at perfecting the mail-in ballot that the Republicans claim is the source of most fraud.  It would seem that if we can transfer money from one bank account to another, buy almost anything through the computer, conduct most all business by electronic means, we should be able to do elections electronically with instantaneous results and almost no fraud, something we need to fix before our next eletion.  

Socialism is making a comeback among the young and the Democratic Party despite having failed everywhere it has been tried, despite the horrors prior socialist regimes have wrought on their people, despite warnings of people that have personally lived Socialism, despite people risking swimming shark infested waters or lead bullets as they were trying to get over walls to escape the worker’s paradise, and despite seeing countries that tried it but rejected it after a few years deeming it to be too harmful to their economy and population. That being said, if someone claims that they are Socialists or Marxists (fully trained), we should take them at their word and keep them as far away as possible from us.