Two recent events have prompted the ideas behind this article – in truth, the whole history of recent events have prompted the following comments, but it is two in particular that gave the push to write them down.
The first event, unknown to most of the world, was a tempest in a teapot when the opposition parties in Canada made a legal political maneuver under our representational parliamentary system to take over the administration of the government. Stephen Harper, Canada's answer to George Bush, has made several critical mistakes recently, the first was an election call before his own mandated four year date, an election during which he argued that the economy was fine and they would not run a deficit budget, and then having received a minority government, proceeded to act as if he had a majority (when in reality he only had 38 per cent of the popular vote) and introduced a budget outline that was at best lousy. That budget paper incurred the wrath of the opposition parties and brought about the announcement of a coalition to defeat the government. Harper's immature rant in response included the good old U.S. fear factor of socialism, with Harper and cronies warning everyone about the socialist hordes in the opposition (who combined held - obviously - the majority of the votes).
My immediate response to those in our government who fear socialism is to ask them to renounce their inclusion in their very generous pension plans (voted on by themselves of course, no conflict of interest there), their participation in the universal health care that Canada provides, the safety net of Canada pension, old age security and social assistance that assist other members of their families who are not intelligent enough to get in on the government dole. Those are the two big items, pensions and health care, that you will not likely see these devout right-wingers give up easily, even if they were given the opportunity to opt out.
The Canadian "fear of socialism" as with most things under the Harper government, is one of the few legitimate trickle down effects of living with the U.S. as our one and only immediate neighbour. One is also left wondering how many Republican campaigners were assisting Harper's "war room" during the recent election as most of his sloganeering seemed to parallel the U.S. manner of campaigning, Republican in particular. But that is in conjectural territory and I only submit it as a teaser. The real hangover from the U.S. is its seemingly deep-seated fear of socialism.
I'll return to that deep-seated fear in a moment, after introducing the second item that prompted this, an article by Rob Kall of OpEd News asking, "Which of these progressive positions is extreme left?" Kall leads the reader through a series of questions asking about the "progressive" position, all questions asking if the positions given are positions of the extreme left. Many ideas are introduced, ideas that to most minds would simply seem to be common sense: health care, racial equality, cleaner environment, fair workers rights, a safe food supply, and on.
Most of these items would, one would hope, fall under the rubric of "common sense" before any other political label could be applied to them. Rob Kall has applied the word "progressive", and only uses the word "socialist" in one phrase, "There are greens and others further left, even socialists (like Senator Bernie Sanders) and communists who deserve at least an occasional voice on mainstream media."
Yet most of his ideas, most of these progressive ideas readily fall under the rubric of socialism. So even Rob Kall, a very progressive proponent of very common sense causes, avoids the word socialism as if it denotes some radical left wing position. I would have to guess that growing up in a country that fully and violently opposed socialism of any degree, and that has denounced it with the support of the media throughout his lifetime, that the word socialism still represents something a bit risky and shady.
U.S. fear of socialists
What is the U.S. fear of socialism? What is it based on? It is based on the corporate desire to control the economy and politics of the masses without having those unruly masses having any say, other than a somewhat meaningless vote every four years, in how the wealth of the country is to be distributed. This can be seen with the Federalist Papers that argued against "factions" that might oppose the ideas of the propertied leaders of the country at the time. It can be seen in the many violent actions taken by political leaders and corporate leaders (generally one and the same, as today) when they called in the armed Pinkerton squads, local militias, up to the military, to squash any workers' demonstrations for better working conditions, for better wages, essentially for a better life. It was seen in the hysteria of the McCarthy era, and its fear of communist infiltrators hiding everywhere, a projection of fear that supported the excesses of the corporate, political and military leaders of the day. It can be seen in the many governments that opposed U.S. interests in one way or another, thus incurring the wrathful label of socialists or communists, the enabling rhetoric of fear that then excused the violent invasion, infiltration, and overthrow of many truly democratic governments that had the legitimate support of the people of that country.
These artificially concocted fears of socialism (without addressing the unrealistic fears of communism during the Cold War, nor how the definitions of communism or capitalism ever accurately reflect what they both really are) are inculcated into the U.S. mindset throughout all facets of life from the educational system, through the media, and through the political system (the latter not much different from the media system). The underlying fear is from the corporate owners and their political supporters fearing that the unruly masses of people might not like what they are doing and try to put halters on their corporate activities.
The images and rhetoric of U.S./Canadian freedom and democracy are all very nice until they come up against the reality of invaded and occupied countries, an environment heading towards global changes that could affect our very survival, and finally, the current economic collapse that endangers many livelihoods, all based on the consumption of materials and the massive debt loads of an artificial finance capitalism that serves the underlying purpose of enriching the wealth and power of those already in control.
With these three (occupations/war, environmental decline, financial collapse) all looming at the same time, the government's response (U.S. and their Canadian imitators) has been to support the corporations without any apparent concerns about transparency and openness that is required for other nations negotiating within the Washington consensus guidelines. It is obviously not free market capitalism as the markets are being avoided and/or controlled; nor is it socialism, as socialism, under its purest definition is that "the community as a whole should own and control the means of production, distribution, and exchange," a concept the current bail-outs are loath to approach even though it is the taxpayers money that is being used. Your choice becomes some other "-ism" but not capitalism or socialism.
Back to being progressive.
Hmm, who would have thought, "the community as a whole...." Sounds quite progressive to me, with a lot of common sense, that the community should want universal health care, worker protections of various sorts, retirement benefits universally guaranteed and applied, an egalitarian distribution of educational and medical services, equal rights for all (in deed as well as in law), international laws that are upheld et al. The problem of course is not the ideas, as they are – or should be – a matter of common sense for anyone with a touch of true humanitarian interests, but with the label. Rob Kall lives in a country so imbued with "fear of socialism" that he is wise to avoid its use and thus keep his arguments open for acceptance to a wider audience. As I have no fear of socialism, and advocate it quite strongly, I have been labeled as being part of the extreme left. So be it. But all the positions taken by Kall are ones that I support, as would anyone with a gram of humanitarian compassion towards others in society. There are many other nuances to the arguments of what comprises socialism, capitalism, communism, fascism, with at times overlapping features. But in support of U.S. initiatives as represented in Rob Kall's article, the word "progressive" fits well, as does the phrase "common sense."
Community of the whole