Socialism has Become a Confusing Term
Even educated people have a difficult time defining what Socialism is, and are often wrong. The root word is Latin, sociare -to combine or share. We need to go back to basics and look it up in Webster’s Dictionary. Socialism’s strict definition, as found in Webster, is when a government utilizes political theory and practice of collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods. THERE IS NO PRIVATE PROPERTY, and the means of producing goods and services are controlled by the state. There is not one mention in Webster or any other dictionary that mentions any action that helps people in need is Socialist. Somehow help for those in need gets mixed in with Socialism. I often see in defense of Socialism, the idea that anything that gives aid to those in need, is a Socialistic idea. This has been mistakenly quoted by many, including Presidents of the United States. Truman was one of those who said in a speech given in Syracuse, New York, on October 10, 1952:
“Socialism is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years.
Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called social security.
Socialism is what they called farm price supports.
Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance.
Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations.
Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.
I must have the wrong edition of Webster’s dictionary because I do not see any reference to social welfare being Socialism. “They” whoever “they” are that called help for the needy Socialist, must have another version of Webster than I have.
Helping people in need has never been Socialism in the past. Helping people in need goes back quite a ways, even before there was Socialism. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, gave grain to Roman citizens who could not buy it. In 960 CE, China, the Song Dynasty housed the aged that were homeless. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all have organized means of helping those in need, and are not called Socialists.
History reveals the truth! It was actually an ANTI-Socialist effort by the right-wing government of Imperial Germany under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck that “invented” social security, health insurance, workmen’s compensation, and other social welfare programs in an effort to thwart Socialism as a package of his Anti-Socialist Law of 1878. Making social welfare a Socialist invention was just a clever sleight of hand from the German system that had all the elements of a safety net of income security from “sickness” insurance, unemployment assistance, to old age assistance, that in-fact was the model on which Franklin Delano Roosevelt based the 1935 Social Security Act. Some claim that Bismarck was 65 when he introduced his social welfare program, and we still use that as the standard retirement age, the age medicare starts, and social security payments normally begin.
Because these programs were usually administered by the government, they evolved in the minds of many as Socialist ideas even though they were the opposite. The real Socialists were quite happy with the Marxist ploy of: “From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.” There was no reason for governmental organizations that parceled out to those in need because the government, in theory, already did everything. Looking at the remaining five actual Socialist countries in the world, not one of them has a decent social welfare program. Social welfare and social security are falsely attributed to Socialism, which, as the dictionary says, requires ownership of the means of production and distribution. Social welfare in the rest of the world does not depend on the government’s ownership of all the property. Yet in all those countries where pure “Socialism” is still practiced: North Korea, Cuba, Laos, China, and Vietnam, the state does own the means of production and distribution. Indeed everything is automatically government controlled. In many of those countries, they build walls to keep the population from escaping the “worker’s paradise” despite the risks they take in climbing over the walls, and their social welfare programs don’t seem to be working all that well. In the early days of Socialism in the mid and late 1800s, Utopian Socialism even preached eugenics to create the master imperial race, which would make for better workers and better soldiers than the pale, anemic-looking young men of the times. Only the Nazi branch of Socialists kept that crackpot Socialist tenant, and thankfully you don’t hear of eugenics anymore.
Socialism has several branches. Utopian Socialism is just an early rendition. Marxist/Leninist is perhaps the most severe form if judged by the number of dead people they generated, but Hitler was a close second. Make no mistake, Hitler was a Socialist by his own admission and actions. I trust my parents infinitely more than what Wikipedia says about Stalin, Lenin, and Hitler and what they were, because they experienced those monsters up close and personal. Just like Democratic Socialism is still Socialism in word and deed. They are all blood brothers linked by who controls the total sum of product and its distribution of a nation and the need to have top-down control of people. To date, in all Socialist run nations, it has been the Central Committee run by a dictator. In order to take ownership of property, one needs guns and control of the military. Ownership is not surrendered voluntarily. The Socialist professors at the universities overlook that oxymoronic factoid.
Every government, regardless of what style of economies especially in Capitalism, provide some assistance to their population in need, be it starving people, banks that are about to close their doors for lack of funds, or workers who lost their jobs because of a global pandemic. The level of support depends on the generosity of that government, their tax structure, their compassion, and their wealth. Norway, for example, sits on huge natural gas reserves and can pay for public education up to and including college and professional schools. Sweden also has vast natural resources and can provide the same. Neither country, however, owns the major industries nor the means of distribution of their product, and by definition are not Socialist. The Saudi government can afford a baseline income for every Saudi national, yet no one would call them Socialist even though, in their case, their major product, oil, is under government control, but almost everything else is in private hands.
Socialists have cleverly adopted various unrelated issues that they then trot out and claim as their ideas. If you then disagree with a certain segment, you become a target. Ideas such as global warming, feminism, environmentalism, helping the poor (social welfare), all have different origins not emanating from Socialism. It does not, for example, make a person who wants to keep the air clean or a woman who stands up for women’s rights a Socialist. It helps to go back to the original dictionary definition of Socialism, stripping away all the ancillary supposedly “Socialistic” characteristics. Socialism and Social welfare are only connected by the word “Social” with little if any substantive resemblance. All the folks that equate social welfare with Socialism ignore or are ignorant of history and how social welfare is practiced in the world by various economic models.