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Communism, Socialism. Same Difference, Right?

MarxHow often have you, either in jest or out of frustration, referred to someone as a communist?  What about, horror of horrors, a socialist?  I will admit that I often besmirch my husband’s good name as a result of failure to appreciate the splendor that is the game of baseball.  The term “communist” is not infrequently hurled in his direction during baseball season.  (He’s a remarkably patient man in that respect). Seriously, though, these two terms are often used interchangeably and usually to cast aspersions on someone’s political ideology.  Scratch the surface, though, and the common understanding of these terms is fairly shallow.  That’s not to denigrate anyone’s intellectual abilities.  It’s simply that as Americans, we tend to have a visceral reaction to these terms.  A vestige of the Cold War, for those of us that experienced it.  (Another vestige of the Cold War, for your viewing pleasure).  This election cycle seems likely to bring these terms to the forefront again, particularly with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.  I, for one, am very interested to see how he handles running on a democratic-socialist platform.  It seems like a good time for a quick primer on the distinction between communism and socialism.

Both socialism and communism are primarily economic models.  The basis of both is a common ownership in the means of production.  Socialism is practiced widely in Europe and for some reason, Americans tend to equate socialism with healthcare. While certainly state ownership of the healthcare system (commonly referred to as a “one payer system) can be a component of socialism, the reality is that socialism is much more than social programs. There are a number of different variations of socialism, as there are in democracy (see this post).  State socialism denotes state ownership of the means of production.  When you hear of industries being nationalized (France and their semiconductors), this is an example of state socialism.  You can easily see how state socialism may lend itself to inherently non-democratic tendencies – Venezuela and the oil industry under Hugo Chavez.  Libertarian socialism, on the other hand, explicitly rejects state ownership as oppressive and seeks to place ownership in the hands of workers (unions) and prefers a weak, decentralized state. Communism takes socialism a step further, advocating for a society without classes, and ultimately without a state apparatus. Read the rest of this entry

Autocracy, Anocracy and “Verbal Mastur**(bleep)”

Election season in the US is always interesting.  Passions run high and people are quick to proclaim their positions on government and politics.  Unfortunately, as many will likely agree, election season also gives voice to many who should probably remain silent.

Recently I was taken to task on Facebook and lectured on the concept of governance and democracy by a particularly obtuse and offensive individual.  When I attempted to explain that democracy should NOT be considered a strictly binary proposition and that the US was indeed a democracy, his attacks became personal and I was accused of (among other things) “verbal masturbation”.  According to this master of the English language: “Most folks like me would call your ideas verbal masturbation.  They sound good from the outside but are really kinda stupid”…he actually wrote: “Kinda”…somehow this person drew a line between my comments on democracy and his belief that the federal government would force parents to stand by while their 12 year old daughters got abortions without consent.  I am at a loss as to the logic… But…I digress.  Back to democracy!

To understand governance and democracy it is important to understand the concepts.  One great resource is the Polity IV project.  Democracy, while seemingly simple, can be a quite difficult concept to explain especially when considering the many different governments in the World.  The Polity project attempts to quantify and qualify governance and code them based upon their level of autocracy to democracy.

First…let’s understand democracy.  Wikipedia states that Democracy:

“… is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows eligible citizens to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.” 

At its core, democracy is principle of government by the people.  So why the confusion and what is the relevance of the Polity IV study?  Good questions! Read the rest of this entry