LETTER TO THE EDITOR: United States is not a socialist democracy

Reference Feb. 12, 2016, Opinion Letter by Dr. Floyd E. McDowell Sr. [“United States of America is a socialist democracy”]

While I agree with many of the viewpoints of Dr. McDowell, I must challenge his assertion that the U.S. is a “Socialist” country. We are nothing of the sort; in fact, we have become a monopolistic oligarchy ruled by big corporations and millionaires. Free-market capitalism with its “trickle-down” benefits has been on the decline since about 1980.

True, we have a network of social benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans pensions, and unemployment insurance, but these programs are funded by our capitalist system, not by a socialist government.

Karl Marx in the 19th century introduced the Socialist ideology which advocated total government ownership of all the means or production, distribution, and exchange — that is, all private property. In the 1890s and early 1900s, the Marxists split into two groups. The Social Democrats advocated a gradual evolution towards a social democracy, while the Communists (Bolsheviks) demanded total and complete revolution, class warfare, and the creation of a dictatorship of the proletariat, or working class.

In 1917 Russia became a Communist or Bolshevik country, as did China in 1949.

In Western European countries, the Social Democrats became powerful political parties within a multi-party parliamentary system. Ironically, Conservative, Nationalist, and Catholic parties adopted social benefits to lessen the attraction of Socialism. In brief, they stole the thunder from the Marxists by providing for pensions and workers compensation, and unemployment insurance.

The Vatican, never friendly to the excesses of capitalism, supported government social benefits in Catholic countries beginning in the 1890s.

Now, let us turn to that cozy little kingdom of Denmark. This Scandinavian country is often cited as an ideal Social Democratic state. In reality, it is a capitalist country. There are large corporations, especially in the clothing and pharmaceutical industries. Recent statistics reveal that the citizenry includes five billionaires and several thousand millionaires. Taxes are high because the government must fund liberal cradle-to-grave social benefits. The Danes prefer it that way.

The Social Democrats are the largest party but there are other parties in the Parliament. The present prime minister is not a Socialist. Despite the historic hostility of the Socialists to traditional institutions, Denmark still has an established church (Lutheran) and a monarchy (Queen Margrethe ascended the throne in 1972).

Unlike other “progressives” in western Europe, Denmark does not view immigrants from the Middle East with rose-colored glasses. Recent immigrants are asked to surrender their jewelry to help pay for government benefits.

In the United States, a strong sense of individualism and the presence of the Western frontier which allowed for upward mobility made socialism less attractive than in the class-bound countries of Europe. Nevertheless, Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist candidate for president between 1900 and 1912, and again in 1920, won nearly a half a million votes in each election. In 1911, Socialist candidates for mayor carried 18 American cities.

In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal saved American capitalism by providing Social Security, unemployment compensation and public works programs, which dampened the lure of Socialism among the urban working classes. New Dealers correctly avoided the term “socialist” and generally toned down references to class warfare.

The presidential election of 2016 presents a much different picture. False labels and misinformation abound. Candidates think nothing of calling their opponents “liars” and “communists.” Several candidates have even mislabeled their own ideology. Senator Sanders of Vermont, a forthright and honest man, calls himself a “socialist” — a poisonous term in much of America. In reality, he is an old-fashioned economic populist. He is no more a “socialist” than Donald Trump is a “conservative.”

Meanwhile, the media are more interested in ratings, poll numbers and the latest gaffes made by the candidates than in providing economic and historical information related to the contemporary issues.

Little wonder, then, that the American electorate is baffled and confused. Alas! Where do we go from here?

Harold W. Hurst

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