There’s a whole lot of talk going on out there about socialism, and much of it is bunk.

The best place to start, I presume, is to define it: “Socialism is a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned by the community as a whole.”

Which is pretty much what Republicans accuse Democrats of – and not at all what Dems mean when they use the term. Republicans also are not below felonious trolling, like the illicit cash donation, since returned, to an Arizona Democratic congressman by two GOP operatives pretending they were communists.



No mainstream Democrat, including the most left-leaning, advocates state control of the means of production. Period. Are there socialists who claim they are Democrats? Undoubtedly. Just as there are racists who claim they are Republicans. There are also charlatans who claim they are doctors. We don’t give them a license.

So, let’s look at what progressives mean when they talk about socialism or democratic socialism.

First off, socialism in one form or another has been kicking around on the margins of American politics since the 1800s, and since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 Republicans have denounced it as a boogeyman threat to the fabric of our society.

Accusing someone or some group of being socialists has become the Republicans’ simplistic one-word pejorative for anyone calling for social reform over the years from Social Security in the 30s to universal health care today.

But they can’t turn back the calendar, hard as they try. The passage of New Deal legislation revolutionized the relationship between the state and the people, introducing the broad concept that government has the ultimate responsibility to guarantee the welfare of its citizens. In 1934 Harold Laski, a British political theorist and Labour Party leader, noted that Franklin Roosevelt’s policies were aimed at ensuring capitalism was “the servant and not the master of the American people.”

And that’s where we are today. Call it what you will, socialism, social democracy or, hey, how about just democracy! The point is capitalism is not the end all and be all of America. It is simply an imperfect tool, albeit an important one, just as are the social safety net, environmental protections and the living wage to help Americans achieve the very best outcomes.

So, if we start with people as the goal and not profits, America would look very different. Instead of ranking 100th out of 141 countries in income equality, maybe we could break into the top 20. Or advance social mobility, a mainstay of the American myth, from 10th among western industrialized nations to first. Or improve from 37th in health care outcomes and 33rd in affordable child care. Or from 17th on both the Corruption Index and the Life Satisfaction Index.

The Democrats’ definition of socialism is simply a more socially conscious form of democracy, fulfilling the Declaration’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Try it. You may like it.