I actually saw this lecture from Eric Foner back in the summer of 2012. And I would love to see a lecture from Eric Foner in person at some point. But what I want to do in this blog is to explain why socialism hasn’t quite caught on America. And the history of it in this country and where it is today. Which is actually alive and doing well considering how individualistic of a country America is both Liberals and Conservatives. And write about that as a non-Socialist, but someone on the Left whose interested in political philosophy and political history.
I agree with Eric Foner that socialism in the early twentieth century became about the Progressive Era of Teddy Roosevelt. And then later became the New Deal with his cousin Franklin. And actually got some, lets call them socialist welfare state or safety net programs into law. And then moved to the Fair Deal with Harry Truman and then later the great Society with Lyndon Johnson with more welfare state or safety net programs. And that socialism essentially became about the welfare state.
And having government do the basic human services that Socialists do not trust the private sector to do. But that the private sector and American capitalism was here to stay. That they should make the best of capitalism. And not try to destroy it, which is basically how Scandinavia deals with capitalism as well. But where I disagree with Historian Foner, is that socialism in the twentieth century graduated and became what we now know as liberalism today. That liberalism is somehow about the state. And government and what government can and should do for the people.
Liberalism has never been about the state or what government can do for the people. But socialism is that and always has been. And is about that the people together are better off than if we try to do everything for ourselves. Because for the people to be able to do as well as they can and for the economy to be as strong as possible, every American whose physically and mentally able should be able to get the skills. And the have the freedom to be as successful as they possibly can for the society to be as strong as possible.
And that government can help the people who’ve been left behind for whatever reason or reasons,get themselves the skills that they need so they to can be successful in life. Which is the liberal model for government at least as it relates to the economy. And there are plenty of Socialists in Congress today. Not just Senator Bernie Sanders who believe in the same things as Senator Sanders, but prefer to be called Progressives.
The reason today’s Progressives or Progressive Democrats call themselves Progressives and not Socialists or even Democratic Socialists, is because of how successfully the Partisan Right in America, have campaigned against Socialism, going back to the 1930s. So when a lot of Americans think of Socialists, they think of someone who believes in the state should own the means to production of society. In other words the economy and start nationalizing industries and enterprises and so forth.
Or they think of Communists even though today’s Socialists for the most part like Economist Richard Wolff might be an exception to this, aren’t interested in nationalizing industries for the most part. But perhaps basic human services that they do not believe that should be run for profit. In the areas of healthcare, health insurance, retirement, banking, energy. But that the economy for the most part should be in private hands.
All I need to prove my point that liberalism and socialism aren’t the same political animals, but with different labels is to look at the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Which is made up of eighty or so members of the U.S. House of Representatives. And a few members of the U.S. Senate, including Senator Bernie Sanders. Where these members of Congress probably agree with Senator Sanders 90-95% of the time. But prefer to be called Progressives. Because again of the negative stereotypes that come with socialism. But that Socialism is not only alive, but alive and well. And all the way up to the U.S. Congress including statewide in the U.S. Senate. Not just in progressive leaning House districts. And it will stay alive in America as long as it’s about the welfare state, education and the right to organize. And never becomes about nationalizing the economy.
C-SPAN: Professor Eric Foner- Lectures in History: Socialism in America