Let’s Get This Straight. ~Alan Haffa

Via on Nov 13, 2010

Obama is a Socialist and Communist and So Are You!

I am having a hard time keeping up with the claims that are coming from the Right. We have heard that Obama is a Socialist, a Fascist, and now a Communist. We still have people who are fixated on his birth certificate. Is it any wonder the government seems disorganized?

It would help if we understand our terms. I may write a piece later on Fascism and another on Communism, but suffice it to say that they are not the same ideologies and that for the most part they are oppositional ideologies: in other words, they are not commonly found in the same person or government. Rather, they have typically warred with each other. It is really sloppy thinking on the part of the Right to confuse these ideologies as the great big Evil Other–that is, our President.

So, let’s look at Socialism first as you heard this term bandied about a lot during the healthcare debate. Obama, we are told, is Socialist, and so is the health care law. Do any of these people know what Socialism is? Do your grandparents or parents receive Social Security? That’s socialism. Do they get healthcare benefits under Medicare? That’s socialism. Have you or anyone else in your family ever been laid off from work and collected Unemployment? That’s socialism?

Did your children or grandchildren attend public schools or public college or universities? That’s socialism. Do you support the US military? They are the most socialist organization in America–publicly supported housing, healthcare, community centers, you name it–Uncle Sam provides it. That’s socialism. How about police and fire? Socialism. Roads? Socialism

So, please don’t tell me to fear socialism, unless you want to privatize all these other services. There is a reason to provide certain services in the public sector. First, some things like education (and health care I would argue) are so essential to the “the pursuit of happiness” that they are constitutional entitlements. Without good public schools, the American dream would be limited to the few who could afford it.

A second reason to provide services is that the private sector cannot provide some essential service to all in an affordable way. This is the state of healthcare today. When you have millions of people who can’t afford private insurance and when those with insurance have to pay regular premium increases of double digits and companies have to begin eliminating it, then you have a real problem.

There is alot of confusion among Americans about what capitalism is and what communism is so let me try to explain and differentiate. First, pure laissez-faire capitalism is the idea that people should be allowed as much freedom in the market place as possible. In a pure capitalistic economy there would be no government regulation, for example. We do not live in a pure capitalistic economy.

If you go back to the 19th century you see what unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism looks like, and it isn’t pretty. Children as young as three working in mines. No health or safety precautions (no OSHA). No consumer protections. No restrictions on number of hours worked per day. No minimum wage. Women working on unsafe machines in textile mills, losing limbs. Monopolies.

It was in that environment of exploitation of your average person that Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto. It was in response to this sort of brutal and inhumane exploitation that labor unions arose as a response. Governments in Britain and the US also slowly began to exert control over business, passing laws to protect workers and consumers and to limit monopolies and other unfair business practices.

The bottom line is that the opposition of Communism (as symbol of pure evil against humanity) and Capitalism (as some sort of ideal) is a false one. The former communist states of USSR and China were not really communist–they were totalitarian oligarchies. And the USA and other Western countries are not purely capitalistic–we are a hybrid of capitalistic and socialistic.

The question is not: Should we be capitalist or should be socialist? It is how much should we be socialist and how much should we be purely capitalist. In the past two decades, since Ronald Reagan, the assumption has been that private business can always do a better job than government, and that government is essentially bad. There was a push back toward the laissez-faire system of the 19th century.

What has happened beginning with the Enron scandal (precipitated by deregulation of energy industry) and more recently investment and banking collapse (precipitated by decades of bi-partisan deregulation) has led to a reassessment of the need for government to regulate business. This doesn’t mean we are becoming “communist.”

In healthcare, the failure of industry to provide quality healthcare at an affordable price to all Americans has led for a call for a greater social/governmental role. And our current healthcare system is not purely capitalistic–Medicare and Medicaid are government programs. But we are talking about expanding the role of government because the private sector is not delivering and this is an essential service.

Thanks to Freedom  Fighters Journal for the picture.

Alan Haffa teaches literature at Monterey Peninsula College and directs an interdisciplinary program called Gentrain. He has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, an MA in Classics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a BA in Humanities from St. John’s College, Annapolis, MD.

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3 Responses to “Let’s Get This Straight. ~Alan Haffa”

  1. elephantjournal says:

    Jeff Meyer here:

    Really liked this article and made some really good points on the hypocrisy of the criticism of Obama. Without socialist programs, established by older generations of presidents some wouldn't be getting medicine or workers wouldn't be getting lunch breaks if we weren't a bit communist.

    People just need to read and think. You can still disagree or hate Obama but do it on more solid grounds please.

  2. Don says:

    I enjoyed the article very much and am glad to see someone point out the aspects of socialism that are so imbedded in our society. As with all things, pure capitalism or pure socialism does not work, but rather a balance of the two. Again, the moderate viewpoint is best, but it seems like the extremists have the loudest voices.

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