Republicans Are Doing More to Publicize Socialism in the US Than Anyone Since Karl Marx
Dr Mark Naison
As a historian of the American labor movement, I have long been aware that socialism has been far less popular in the United States than it has in other industrialized nations. There has never been a Social Democratic or Labor Party in the US which has competed for power on the national scene, as it has in Canada, Germany, Britain or Scandinavia and most working class Americans, even in the height of the Great Depression gave their votes to Franklin Roosevelt rather than Socialists or Communists as their way of supporting measures which strengthened organized labor and created a safety net for the nation's most vulnerable people.
The absence of a socialist presence in American life continued even during the next wave of political unrest during the 1960's. A few activists in the civil rights, anti war and women's liberation movement became converts to Socialism, but failed to sway the vast majority of participants in the era's social justice causes. Since that time, the only place in the society where Socialist ideas have had any currency has been on university faculties, where they have remained marginal and isolated due to the extraordinary indifference of American university students to ideas which might challenge the functioning of the American economic system
But now, with the American economy in a state of collapse, and companies like Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, General Motors and Chrysler having failed or on the brink of failing, "Socialism" in the United States is gathering a level of interest and attention not seen in generations.
Ironically, the source of this interest and attention has been conservative Republicans, who have labeled everything they don't like in President Obama's program, from progressive taxation, to investment in mass transit, to bailouts of failing companies, as "Socialist."
This anathemizing of Barack Obama as "Socialist" began in the late stages of the Republican Presidential campaign, when earlier attempts to mock him as a "community organizer" or brand him as a Muslim or terrorist backfired failed to gain currency with the American public. Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin made warnings about Obama's Socialism a fixture of her rallies, and while such rhetoric failed to sway Democratic and independent voters, it had tremendous popularity with Republicans in Middle America who now had a way of demonizing Barack Obama without referring to his
race. It even generated a new conservative hero in Joe "The Plumber" Weltenbacher, who denounced Obama's plans to heavily tax incomes over $250,000 as an attack on small business and the American way of life.
While one would have expected a resounding election defeat as well as common sense would have put an end to these charges, they have resurfaced with renewed vigor in the aftermath of the passage of President Obama's Stimulus Plan, and his bailout of AIG and Bank of America, which Republicans are now denouncing as moving the US down the path to Socialism.
Though most Socialist thinkers, past and present, would be astonished see a policy that involves giving hundreds of billions of dollars to insolvent banks to spend they see fit described as "Socialist" (especially when these funds have been used to purchase other banks and give million dollar bonuses) conservative Republicans have continued to use this charge as the centerpiece of their strategy to mobilize Americans to resist president Obama's economic policies
But though many conservatives seem excited that they have a new epithet to replace "liberal" in demonizing those who fight for the rights of minorities and a more equitable distribution of wealth-- their recent "tea bag" rallies were filled with signs that said "Stop Socialism"-- an unintended consequence of their
rhetoric is to make more Americans look favorably on Socialism! A recent national poll showed that 23% of Americans had a positive impression of socialism, a far higher number than even the most wild eyed Marxist teaching at Berkeley or Harvard would have dreamed of seeing
But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense
If you spent the last six months hearing some of the most aggressively ignorant public figures in American history- Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Chuck Norris, and "Joe the Plumber"- denounce policies designed to reduce hardship and pain among ordinary Americans as "Socialist," wouldn't that start to make you look more favorably on Socialism ?
Just think about it- if progressive taxation is Socialist, if investment in mass transit is Socialist, if developing clean energy is Socialist, if developing an affordable national health care system is Socialist, than maybe what America needs is a good dose of Socialism?
So Sarah, Rush, Chuck and Joe, as a longtime student of Socialism, who thinks the Socialist tradition has a lot to offer America at this historic moment, thanks for doing my work for me!
You have no idea what Socialism is, but if you are against it, than many Americans will be for it
To hit home my point, I will close with a story taken from the life of the great Irish American Labor Leader Michael Quill, when he was running for the New York City Council.in a predominantly Irish district in the south Bronx Quill, who worked closely with Communists in building the Transit Workers Union, which organized workers on New York City buses and subways, was making a campaign speech from a
soapbox when a heckler asked him
"Hey Quill, tell the truth now, are you a Communist/"
Without hesitation, Quill replied
"If you knew the difference between Communism and rheumatism, I would tell you."
Today, Conservatives in the Republican party don't know the difference between Socialism and rheumatism, but in attacking everything the Obama administration does as Socialist, they are giving Socialism in America
something it hasn't had in a very long time- a good name! .