Do socialist politics have a future in the United States?

Personally, I don’t believe that the US could have anything but capitalist policies. I think it is also a fairly bad type of society, but it’s the best anyone’s come up with sp far.

Olentzero stated, “Socialism couldn’t be brought about through Congress or the ballot box in any case. Marx repeatedly stressed that socialism was not just a political change but a complete transformation of society.” Maybe so, but this thread is specifically asking about socialism’s prospect at the ballot box. Let me clarify. I’m not asking whether and how the United States might someday become a socalist society. I am asking whether and how a socialist or leftist movement could emerge in America and become as big and important as those in most other countries.

That is an important question. I believe that a large socialist or leftist party in America, even if it were not quite in the league of the Big Two, even if it never won complete control of any local or state government, could still exert significant influence on the way our country heads. Public policymaking is a vector sum of several different forces pushing from several different directions. Adding an additional powerful vector on the left could make a big difference, even if it never brings us a step closer to what might be considered a socialist society.

Of course it would. So would a large Green or Libtertarian party.

But I do think your OP is an interesting jubject (even if I didn’t read the entire post:)). Great subject for a GD thread!

Some parts of the OP I cannot comment upon, not knowing enough of the politicial history of the United States. A couple preliminary points, however, strike me as unconvincing:


While this may be true of Europe, the assertion that the absense of an ingrained social class system creates a poor breeding ground for socialist politics doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Consider the development and institutionalisation of “socialist” philosophies in Australian and New Zealand, two countries which I would argue grew out of more egalitarian ideals than the United States. Remember the fact that Australian women were the first in the world to be given the right to stand for national election, back in 1902. Australia and New Zealand have never been beset with anything like the racial tensions of the United States, nor the social class tensions of Europe.* Yet socialist ideas have thrived.


“Earliest decades of the republic”? Perhaps the authors forget the shame of slavery and the retarded development of women’s suffrage in the United States. I would further argue that the deep income divide between economic classes in America would provide a rich breeding ground for socialist ideals.

In short, I don’t entirely agree with the idea expressed that because United States was born out of ideals of freedom and individual rights it did not provide an opportunity for socialist groups to grow into power. First, the US is hardly unique in its egalitarian ideals; and second, other overseas examples – remembering the world is not comprised solely of Europe and the US :wink: – show that a history of social strife is not necessarily required for the developement of socialist politics.

  • I’m not trying to paint these two countries as social utopias. Racial tensions is a historical and continuing pressure in both nations. Just not to the extent of some other countries, possibly due to the small sizes of our indigenous populations in comparison to the white majorities. I will further concede that Universal suffrage was not achieved in Australia until 1963, when Aboriginal people were given vote; however, this injustice did not to any appreciable extent contribute to the development of socialist groups.

**In future, the trend is to expand on this, I have no doubt. Again, this is a good thing, IMO. **

I see them retracting. The welfare states of Europe are having to cut back harshly because the system is economically untenable. We already pay 40% of the national income to government. We can’t really expand our own any farther.

the main reason why they’re cutting back is mainly because of demographics.
the baby-boom generation, post WWII, is now getting older, and will have reached retirment age in another 10 years or so. Because the active population will be smaller than the non-active one, the expenses are going to be greater than the income, and they’re just preparing for that. Nearly all Welfare states in Yurp are trying to fatten up their pension funds, or already telling people they might have to work until they’re 70, or even 75…

The system isn’t economically untenable, far from it.
But it’s a system that needs vision, and long term planning.

It was ecomomically untenable. The demographics made it that way.

**But it’s a system that needs vision, and long term planning.

Something politicians and government are quite unsuited for. Whoever thought it was a good idea to have lawyers and beauracrats manage health care, pensions, etc., wasn’t thinking to hard.

I find myself caught in the midle of this debate, (no doubt that makes me middle class)

The idea of socialism has many merits. Unfortunately the biggest downfall is people.

As has already been stated the people who do nothing get the most out of the system. I’m not talking about people who CAN’T do anything I’m talking about those who WON’T do anything.

People soon realise that if you do nothing, then somebody else will always bail you out.

Any one into Fantasy Fiction should check out Terry Goodkinds " Faith of the Fallen " it sums up the whole thing perfectly.

People sit around whining that other people aren’t working hard enough to provide them with everything they need.

Thats the reality of socialism.

Pardon me? having vision and being able to plan on a long term basis is somthing politicians and governments are quite unsuited for?

I don’t know about you, but that’s exatly what I expect in a politician. Those two traits are essential in a government, in my opinion, anyway.

Oh, and in the European wlefare states, it ain’t the lawyers that manage the healthcare.
The government does. And may I point out to you that the European welfare states are the only welfare states that have no problems with their health care?

It’s in tatters in the US, in the UK, in republic of Ireland…the latter are two European countries that have socialism lite, as it was described here. No wonder countries with a working health care system, like The Netherlands and Belgium, have been treating Uk and irish citizens, because those countries have a tremendous amount of people on waiting lists, even lists to get on a waiting list, believe it or not.

So, which was better again, you say? Where is it working, and where isn’t it?

Draw your own conclusions.

Oh, and spanna there are always going to be people that take advantage of a system, that’s why they’re called opportunists. No matter what the system, you’ll always find people that find loopholes and know how to screw it, to the detriment of the toher, law-abiding people.
Do you not find it worrying that in a capitlaist society, the rich fget richer, the poor get poorer, and you need money to be able to screw the system, to avoid taxes, and to get even richer?

Socialism may be vulnerable to abuse, but capitalism only divides a society, and in my point of view, creates more problems than it solves.

**Oh, and in the European wlefare states, it ain’t the lawyers that manage the healthcare.
The government does. And may I point out to you that the European welfare states are the only welfare states that have no problems with their health care?

First, who do you think the government is made up of? For the most part, lawyers.

Secondly, European health care has problems just like any other health care system. No health care system is without issues.

It’s in tatters in the US, in the UK, in republic of Ireland…

Not sure how you get that impression. People still come to those places for treatment, especially the US.

Socialism may be vulnerable to abuse, but capitalism only divides a society, and in my point of view, creates more problems than it solves.

Socialism divides society even more. Wealth inequalities tend to be even greater, as the ruling class has all the material benefits, while the working class has almost nothing.

you and i must be talking about a completely different kind of socialism, then. In a socialist society, all healthcare, education, in short, public facilities are free, or very heavily subsidized. This means that all levels of society have access to the same standard of health care, medicine, education, and so on and so forth. I fail to see how that creates a divide. As far as i am aware, socialism aactually strives to close the gap between rich and poor, unlike capitalism (whic is what Bush actually means when he says “democracy”. Don’t be fooled. What Bush is advocating is not “democracy”, it’s Capitalism, with a capital C.

Socialist thought is one thing; socialist organization is another. Plenty of people I talk to when I’m out selling Socialist Worker are very open to our ideas and arguments, but they’re at a loss as to how we can do something about it.

There was an explosion of political activity in the US during the late 60s and early to mid 70s, but most of the activists consciously rejected the idea of an organized party, preferring to let people “do their own thing”. That didn’t help much when the struggles slowed down, leaving the left very fragmented during the Carter, Reagan, and Bush I administrations. General disgust with the Bush II administration has certainly led to an upsurge in activity, and it’s that increase which can provide the ground for a real resurgence in socialist organization, which would then bring about the wider spread of socialist ideas. This, BrainGlutton, is how a socialist or leftist movement can come to wield as much political influence as the Big Two - by involving itself in the activity that’s already on the ground and fighting to lead it and help it grow.

One more quote of yours I wanted to address:

You’re looking at class conflict wrong. Socialist thought, or political activity, doesn’t create class conflict. Class society creates class conflict. Marx, being a dialectician, recognized class conflict as the engine of social change, and that communists need to involve themselves in those struggles, bringing socialist thought into it and making it a conscious effort for social transformation rather than just a fight to keep the bosses off our backs for a little while.

What I meant, Olentzero, is that I do not accept Marx’s analysis of the dialectics of class conflict, nor do I regard a process of class conflict as necessary to the establishment of socialism, nor to the creation of a strong socialist movement. For the past 200 years, socialism, theoretical and practical, has been largely the work of persons of non-proletarian origin. When actual proles rise up to fight for their rights, they usually end up acting a lot more like Jimmy Hoffa than Eugene Debs.

What’s so great about the proletariat anyway? John Maynard Keynes was right on target when he derided Marxism as an ideology that “exalts the mud above the fish.” All you can really say about the proles is that, as a group, they deserve a lot more out of life than they get. I think socialism begins with the simple recognition of that basic point. But what we should be trying to build is a society where no proletariat, lumpenproletariat or underclass exists at all, anywhere – a society where everybody enjoys the level of opportunities, comfort and freedom now limited to the middle class and up. Socialism and capitalism both should be judged on whether they can deliver the goods in those terms.

So you regard the creation of socialism as the task of the middle class and those above? The ruling class is well aware of the fact that it enjoys its position in society precisely because there is a working class - it’s their labor that enriches the bosses. They’re certainly not interested in eliminating any underclass. The “middle class” certainly doesn’t occupy an independent position in society. They aspire to live like the upper class but they’re not rich enough, and the vagaries of the capitalist economy threaten to throw them into the working class with every slump. Your attitude toward socialism is a typical middle-class attitude - you feel bad for the working class and want to lift them out of their position but you’re scared like hell of being one of them. As if you weren’t already.

Which of those two classes are supposed to be the ones to create socialism? Neither one can do it. One class’ interests are inextricably rooted in modern capitalist society - its overthrow means their overthrow. The other class is simply too damn confused and vacillating. It’s therefore up to the class whose interests are most deeply connected with the building of a socialist society - the working class. We are not mud. We are the only ones capable of bringing socialism about.

Remember that the poster you’re answering to is refering to european countries. The concept “most politicians are lawyers” is an american thing. Here, for instance, most people would say the government is made up from teachers, and indeed, former teachers are overepresented in the political arena…

It can sometimes. But it doesn’t in the case of Britain.

I’ll give you a quick primer on the UK’s parliament. I’ll start at the very basic, just in case, so don’t get insulted if you already know it. :slight_smile:

The British Parliament is made up of Members of Parliament (MPs). These MPs are much like US Representatives. They each come from a specific district somewhere in the UK. They are elected the same way American Congresspeople are elected, with whoever takes the plurality getting the seat.

The only time that a party would need to form a coalition would be if it didn’t have an outright majority of seats, just like in the US. The party with the majority gets to choose all of the government ministers (like US Department Secretaries).

So, right now the Labour Party doesn’t have to form a coalition with anyone because it didn’t need to. If an election turned out that no party had an outright majority, then coalitions would need to be formed.

The reasons that certain countries’ parliaments need to form coalitions in order to get a government going is that they have a lot of parties and it’s really hard for a party to get an outright majority.

By the way, the same thing could happen here in Congress. If several smaller parties were to take significant seats in the House, then coalitions would need to be formed in order to get the Speaker and Committee chairs elected.

So no, Britain’s Parliamentary system doesn’t preclude it from having a winner-take-all system, similarly, a winner-take-all system doesn’t preclude a legislative body from having to form coalitions.

The way it works is widely different from one country to another. But on the overall, yes, the government (or some entity which can be independant from the government but is still funded by various taxes) does pay for every trip to the doctors office/emergency rooms (or at least for the the larger part of the cost, the system can include a minor part the patient has to pay as an incentive not to abuse the system), either by paying directly the doctors/hospitals, either by reimbursing the patient for its expenses.

The problem is that the good intentions of free health care for all breaks down once it gets slapped in the face by the reality. How does one distribute a finite amount of healthcare to an infinite spectrem of ailments ranging from the trivial to the life threatening?

Well…That would be true for “free chocolate” paid for by the governement. But there’s a major difference between a random product and medical services. Very few people will try to get heart surgery just because it’s free…

There might be some people abusing from the system. But it isn’t very common, and usually it’s quite minor, like too frequent visits to the doctor’s.

On the overall, the various studies which have been done show that actually the european socialized healthcare system is more cost-efficient than the US one, for various reasons like which have been debatted many times in various threads, so I’m not going to discuss them, but for instance :

-Lacks in preventive care in the US, especially amongst the poorest part of the population, ultimately resulting of course in costly diseases/ailments

-Overprescription of costly exams

-Very high cost of the assurance policies for doctors, hospitals, etc…in part due to the tendancy to sue right and left if anything happens to go wrong (and this seem to play a part in the overprescription mentionned above)
Actually, the idea that if there’s a socialized system you’ll abuse from it doesn’t seems very sound to me. If this was true, wouldn’t american people who have a health insurance policy abuse from it too? (after all, once you’ve paid for your health coverage, why wouldn’t you abuse the system? Why would the fact you paid for it with your checkbook instead of with your taxes would make a difference?).
The main difference is that in Europe you’ll pay the health coverage for other people who couldn’t afford it. But does it really make any difference? Ultimately, poor people will be treated, both in the US and in Europe, at the taxpayer’s expense.
The main argument against the public healthcare system usually isn’t that it’s a waste of money, but that in such a system, treatments could be rationned. You get for instance the infamous example of the UK and Canada’s “waiting lists” for people needing some surgery. But of course, this isn’t a general issue automatically appearing when there’s a public healthcare system, but a specific issue in particular countries, with IMO an obvious solution : spending more on the healthcare system. You get what you’ve paid for.

I note from the above posts that different posters have very different fundamental ideas about what socialism is. Some of you, especially Olentzero, still think of socialism as something that is to come after capitalism, as a fundamentally different system. Others think of it as a welfare-state-only-more-so, a set of controls and regulations on capitalism that is different in degree but not in kind from what we’ve had in America ever since the New Deal.

Perhaps some of you foreign dopers can set me straight on this, but it is my understanding that nowadays, most socialist parties that are actually in government in Europe and elsewhere now subscribe to the latter view. In the words of a Nation article I read some time ago, most modern socialists have rejected “the theology of the final goal.”

Now, in theory, we could have a viable socialist political movement in America without resolving this ambiguity. Some in the movement could envision socialism in ameliorative and reformist terms, some in revolutionary, final-goal terms, but they all could work together to achieve what they can – which, in the American political environment, is likely to be a lot closer to the reformist than the revolutionary vision. Well, half a loaf is better than none.

Any thoughts on this?

That rejection is nothing new, BrainGlutton. The German socialists Edouard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, both personally acquainted with Marx and who considered themselves socialists, rejected the revolutionary road to socialism and chose the reformist, parliamentary path. They and their successors in the SPD ended up being the ones who voted for war credits in the German parliament in 1914. Same for the parliamentary socialists in the other original belligerents of the time. It’s already been demonstrated, at great cost to the working class, that the parliamentary road to socialism is an absolute failure. On a related note, I would certainly love to know how Bernie Sanders voted regarding the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.

I’d like to take the time to point out here that socialism is not necessarily the same thing as Marxism. Marxism specifically has to do with movement past the capitalist system in line with an Hegelian historical progression.

So you can be a socialist without being a Marxist.