[E.A. Schwartz]

What Socialism Is

March 26, 2014

Self-described conservatives[1] have accused Barack Obama of socialism. But their concept of socialism is hopelessly flawed. (See The "Conservative" Argument.)

This page is about what socialism is as reflected in the platform of a real socialist party that was in power for seventeen of the thirty-four years between 1945 to 1979 – the Labour Party in the United Kingdom.[2].

The heart of the party's program is nationalization of fuel, power, inland transport, iron, and steel industries, together with public supervision of monopolies and cartels, and economic and price controls to cope with post-war readjustment. In addition, the platform proposes that "the best health services should be available free for all. Money must no longer be the passport to the best treatment."

(Link to the 1945 Labour Party Election Manifesto)

The introduction to the platform states:

The Labour Party stands for freedom – for freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom of the Press. The Labour Party will see to it that we keep and enlarge these freedoms, and that we enjoy again the personal civil liberties we have, of our own free will, sacrificed to win the war. The freedom of the Trade Unions, denied by the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927, must also be restored. But there are certain so-called freedoms that Labour will not tolerate: freedom to exploit other people; freedom to pay poor wages and to push up prices for selfish profit; freedom to deprive the people of the means of living full, happy, healthy lives.

The platform goes on to explain what the Labour Party proposes to do:

Public ownership of the fuel and power industries. For a quarter of a century the coal industry, producing Britain's most precious national raw material, has been floundering chaotically under the ownership of many hundreds of independent companies. Amalgamation under public ownership will bring great economies in operation and make it possible to modernise production methods and to raise safety standards in every colliery in the country. Public ownership of gas and electricity undertakings will lower charges, prevent competitive waste, open the way for co-ordinated research and development, and lead to the reforming of uneconomic areas of distribution. Other industries will benefit.
Public ownership of inland transport. Co-ordination of transport services by rail, road, air and canal cannot be achieved without unification. And unification without public ownership means a steady struggle with sectional interests or the enthronement of a private monopoly, which would be a menace to the rest of industry.
Public ownership of iron and steel. Private monopoly has maintained high prices and kept inefficient high-cost plants in existence. Only if public ownership replaces private monopoly can the industry become efficient.
These socialised industries, taken over on a basis of fair compensation, to be conducted efficiently in the interests of consumers, coupled with proper status and conditions for the workers employed in them.
Public supervision of monopolies and cartels with the aim of advancing industrial efficiency in the service of the nation. Anti-social restrictive practices will be prohibited.
A firm and clear-cut programme for the export trade. We would give State help in any necessary form to get our export trade on its feet and enable it to pay for the food and raw materials without which Britain must decay and die. But State help on conditions – conditions that industry is efficient and go-ahead. Laggards and obstructionists must be led or directed into better ways. Here we dare not fail.
The shaping of suitable economic and price controls to secure that first things shall come first in the transition from war to peace and that every citizen (including the demobilised Service men and women) shall get fair play. There must be priorities in the use of raw materials, food prices must be held, homes for the people for all before luxuries for the few. We do not want a short boom followed by collapse as after the last war; we do not want a wild rise in prices and inflation, followed by a smash and widespread unemployment. It is either sound economic controls – or smash.
The better organisation of Government departments and the Civil Service for work in relation to these ends. The economic purpose of government must be to spur industry forward and not to choke it with red tape.

T-shirt from funnyshirts.org.

The "Conservative" Argument

Author Peter Ferrera provides one example of "conservative" thinking in an essay titled Is President Obama Really A Socialist? Let's Analyze Obamanomics. (Forbes, December 2012).

According to Ferrera, Obama says the rich do not pay their fair share in taxes because he is a Marxist. Obama's argument for ending the Bush upper-end tax cuts is "reminiscent of the fundamental Marxist principle, 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.'"

Ferrera's main argument seems to be that the progressive income tax amounts to socialism. But he also seems to believe that Obama's concern with "global warming" is socialist, as are his alleged plan to regulate fracking out of existence, Dodd-Frank financial regulation, Obamacare, the Fed's zero-interest policy, and Obama’s desire to raise the capital gains tax.

He also thinks that "progressives” are describing themselves using "a polite, Americanized term for Marxist."

Nowhere does Ferrera even claim that Obama and his allies plan to institute socialism as defined by the online Merriam-Webster dictionary:

"... Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods," or "a system of society or group living in which there is no private property," or "a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state," or, finally, "a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done."

FreedomWorks author Jeff Reynolds based his argument on "a couple of whoppers" told by Obama that, according to him, demonstrate an un-American and Marxist point of view.

Reynolds' article is dated July 17, 2012, article from the FreedomWorks website and is titled "The Emporer [sic] Has No Clothes – Obama's Marxist Ideology Revealed Again.

For one thing, Obama said: "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help."

For another, he said:

My mom, my grandparents, the only thing they didn't like is when they felt like folks at the top were taking advantage of their position and not following the same rules as everybody else and keeping other folks down. And we don't want an economy in which some are being treated differently than others.

This, said Reynolds,

is part and parcel to Marxist theory. The Communist Manifesto is based on the fundamental precept that there is a bourgeoise and a proletariat – the very definition of class-separated economics. This is the assumption that the haves and the have nots are constantly struggling to out-exploit each other, and that eventually the proletariat will have no choice but to rise up and engage in armed revolt against the fat cats who can't succeed unless there are more and newer people and markets to hold down while they attain success.

Reynolds went on to say:

One cannot be a pro-free-market capitalist and assume that any success is built solely on exploitation of a lower class. Indeed, the assumption of the very existence of lower classes is un-American. Our society was built on the ideal of Liberty. That liberty is exactly what created our exceptional American society that has prospered like no other nation in history. One of the most important applications of Liberty is the ability of any individual to use their talents to prosper and rise up out of poverty, or to choose to stay right where they're at.

It seems Reynolds thinks Obama is a Marxist (and thus a socialist or communist) because Obama wants an economy in which everyone plays by the same rules, and because he accepts the existence of classes in American society.

Like Ferrera, Reynolds makes no claim that Obama has instituted, or intends to institute, a socialist economy as commonly understood.

Ferrera and Reynolds are at the restrained end of the spectrum of online criticism of Obama as a communist.

Other online articles claim Obama is a KGB plant ("Obama's End Game Revealed by KGB," Before It's News, August 5, 2013), that Obama's family and friends are communists or communist sympathizers – his mother and father met in a Russian class, for example ("Socialism, Marxism, Communism & Obama," Obamaism, February 14, 2012), and that Obama "believes that revolution is the means through which the American capitalist system will be destroyed and replaced with a socialist state" ("It's Time to Admit Obama is a Communist," WND, August 12, 2012).


1. If a conservative is "a person who believes in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society," then many who call themselves conservatives must be mistaken. They are, for example, bent on repealing what's left of the eighty-year-old, reasonably well-established New Deal.

2. The Labour Party eliminated the term "socialism" from its platform in 1992, before returning to power as "New Labour" under Tony Blair in 1997.