Let’s put to rest, finally, the idiotic idea that Sweden is a socialist country.

Once again: socialism is state ownership over means of production. Communism is the death of government and the ensuing collective ownership of means of production.

Currently, socialism exists in North Korea. Communism doesn’t exist and it never has existed anywhere.

Socialism is NOT the same and is not even related to a strong social safety net. The USSR was a socialist country yet social mobility was non-existent and welfare services were inadequate.

A social safety net is a concession that capitalism makes to people in order to make itself more palatable and prevent social unrest. When the possibility of social unrest disappears, the social safety net begins to fray. Today, we are witnessing an erosion of the welfare state everywhere because capitalism no longer needs it. The probability of serious social unrest is nil (remember the pathetic fiasco of Occupy Wall Street? Did it look very scary to you?).

The reason why it’s crucial to remember the differences between socialism, communism, and the prettified capitalism of Sweden and Co is that we need to preserve the mindset where some alternative to capitalism is possible. If we haven’t found that alternative yet, this doesn’t mean it can’t be found. There is no physical space for that alternative yet, but let’s at least preserve a mental space for it to appear. Because having an alternative is always better than not having it, even if you totally dig the status quo.

And as for Bernie Sanders, he does an enormous disservice to his own cause when he calls himself a socialist. He empties the word of all meaning and fills it with a slightly diluted capitalist content. As a result, the very possibility of something radically different from the status quo is denied.

Bernie suggests that all we can aspire to is maybe getting the capital to show us a tiny bit of mercy with some tiny social program that might exist for some tiny period of time. That’s all Bernie can hope to achieve right now as a politician, it’s a noble goal, and I admire him for pursuing it. But does he have to pave the road to this achievement with the coffins of radically different possibilities?

32 thoughts on “Socialism”

  1. For me as a person who was born and raised in the Socialist environment, Socialism and Communism (in fact, I can see no substantial difference between them) is, first of all, totalitarian ideology. The rest is also important, but – just also.

    This said, in my opinion, today’s Russia is a Communist country. It’s ideology is totalitarianism based on orthodox nationalism, or, rather, Nazism.

    For me, Communism (Socialism) and Capitalism are not antonyms. The former has little to do with economy as it is a kind of totalitarianism, while ‘Capitalism’ is an economic term.

    When I was young, I read Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin (although I never read their soul mate Hitler), and I can say that all they really cared about was ideology, not economy, as the basis of the Communist (Socialist) society, although they always stated the opposite.

    That’s my feeling after living in the USSR for many years.


    1. On the subject of Hitler, have you heard this joke about the state assault on the Ukrainian library in Moscow?

      “Мені Маін Кампф, якщо можна.”
      “Ні, в нас немає.”
      “Тоді, будь ласка, “Барвинок.”

      Because obviously there is no difference between these very fascist texts. 🙂


  2. Thank you for posting this. I agree completely with your definition of socialism and find the attempt to classify capitalist Sweden or Denmark as socialist to be ludicrous. The USSR under Stalin was socialist, China under Mao was socialist, North Korea is socialist. This isn’t a good crowd to be identified with so you get idiot leftists claiming that Sweden is socialist but that the Soviet Union was not. These people can’t even use a dictionary properly.


    1. “You get idiot leftists claiming that Sweden is socialist but that the Soviet Union was not. These people can’t even use a dictionary properly.”

      • Exactly. I detest it when people are careless with their use of terminology. It leads to all kinds of confusion and vagueness of thought.


    2. This confirms my idea of Socialism being ideology rather than economy. Sometimes, I hear that Canada is a socialist country because it’s a welfare society and medicine is free here. For me, that’s really ridiculous simply because Canadian way of thinking has nothing to do with totalitarian ideology.


      1. “Sometimes, I hear that Canada is a socialist country because it’s a welfare society and medicine is free here.”

        • That’s exactly the point I’m making. Welfare programs are not an indicator of socialism. And people who support them are in no way socialists.


  3. Forget Sweden, republicans believe the US has become a socialist country after Obama came to power. Argue against that!


    1. “Forget Sweden, republicans believe the US has become a socialist country after Obama came to power.”

      • And that is absolutely insane. I’ve had to spend quite a bit of time explaining to students that Obama is neither a socialist nor a communist. He is pro-capitalism and cannot possibly be anything else.


      1. Conservative America has adopted a “one drop rule” concerning “socialism” to the point where virtually any civilian role for government results not in a “mixed economy” but a “contaminated by government” economy and therefore a socialist economy. Since another infatuation of small-government conservatism has been appropriating the word “libertarian,” my own rhetorical approach to these “drown the government in the bath tub” types is to refer to them as “night watchman statists,” which makes “statist” the noun in the phrase.


  4. Where does this definition of socialism come from? Who defines it? I was under the impression that any government which provides taxpayer-funded services is partly socialist by definition.


    1. Then all governments including fascist ones, military dictatorships, theocracies, and a whole host of right wing regimes would be socialist. No the definition is quite well established and goes back to Marx talking about a “dictatorship of the proletariat” that would “control the means of production.” The first socialist state created a dictatorship and took control of the means of production by violent force. All subsequent socialist states followed this model.


      1. “Then all governments including fascist ones, military dictatorships, theocracies, and a whole host of right wing regimes would be socialist. ”

        • Exactly. Bahrein and Qatar use oil money to create huge welfare programs. But they are not socialist states. North Korea, on the other hand, is, even though there are zero welfare programs in that country.

        “No the definition is quite well established and goes back to Marx talking about a “dictatorship of the proletariat” that would “control the means of production.””

        • Yes. And when I teach, I use the classical definition to avoid slipping into the vagueness that is usually present in these discussions.


    2. “Where does this definition of socialism come from”

      • The dictionary. This is the classic definition of socialism that has been used by political economists since the times of Marx.

      The “wild capitalism” of the 19th century has mutated and softened itself with the welfare programs of all kinds. However, it’s still capitalism because capital still rules as much as it ever did and will easily sweep away these welfare embellishments the moment they are no longer useful to it. Which is actually already happening.


      1. Thank you Clarissa. This is an excellent post following up on your post about Rubio. Now, the comments thread has become more of an academic debate about definition. Of course you are definitions of communism and socialism are correct. However talking forever about The correct technical definition obscures The important present day questions of immediate interest in the American election, particularly the role of Bernie Sanders. Bernie has made some effort to qualify his definition by inventing the label democratic socialist. I read somewhere recently that it might be more correct to call him a socialist Democrat. But this leads to endless quibbling about definitions. We need to agree on some terminology that will allow us to discuss the present-day political situation in America. At least Bernie Sanders has given us a starting point for this needed discussion. Feel the bern!


    1. Brilliant article! The author is a fellow fan of Zygmunt Bauman. 🙂 These are Bauman’s ideas pretty much verbatim. I’m very, very glad that people are reading and absorbing Bauman.


    1. Thank you! Aside from the Bernie Sanders bit, it’s pretty much all from the part of my book I’m working on right now. I’m very glad it’s not coming out all jumbled.


  5. Lets muddy the waters!

    Technically, the term “socialism” predates Marx, as I’m sure you know. He’s the the biggest and baddest of them all, sure. But, even after Marx, there were milder offshoots of the movement – social democrats – who would consider themselves “socialist” but would not go for state ownership of industries.

    Which is not to say that Swefinmark is really honestly socialist or anything, but rather to say that the taxonomy based on terms “socialist” or “capitalist” isn’t exactly exact.

    There’s got to be a way of saying “there were people and systems much different from the one you are currently in, and very recently at that! There’s no reason that could not happen again.” without taking such a hard stance on ‘this here term only has one dictionary entry’.


  6. Yes, there are and have been many socialisms. In US in 19th century it could mean things like unionism (8 hour day, weekend, worker safety), municipal ownership of utilities, things like this; the 20th century socialist parties opposed the CP. Sanders saying he is socialist basically means not a corporate Democrat, noticeably left of Clinton, etc. — I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, “Z,” your first comment was entirely correct. But concerning your second — what is the realistic, workable alternative to capitalism?


      1. There obviously is no alternative. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to imagine it. It’s always better to keep thinking and imagining than just to give up.


      2. One does not know. What do you think of anarcho-syndicalism? I know I should be anti-statist, but the fact is that it is hard for me to imagine the modern world without a state.


        1. It is hard indeed to imagine the modern world without the state, but I think to Clarissa, it is even harder to imagine the future with the state; at least with the nation-state. This discussion about neither-capitalism-nor-socialism, I believe, is about the future, and not about whatever modern means. Don’t know about Margaret Thatcher, but when Clarissa says “there is no alternative,” the “is” being present tense seems relevant, and I’m getting a sense of “let’s brainstorm.” To that end I have created a wiki for brainstorming alternatives for capitalism, called “NMC” hosted at voodothosting. There are other such brainstorming projects out there, too. A few off the top of my head would be “Antok”, “Technostism”, “ECM Working Group”.

          Z mentions anarcho-syndicalism. I myself think highly of anarcho-syndicalism, but my own worldview, while anarchic, is only a little bit syndicalist, because I can read the writing on the wall and labor is clearly losing importance among factors of production, so I suspect union organizing can get us only so far. I refer to my particular brand of political dissent as “anagorism.”

          I have to agree with Clarissa that it’s only a matter of time before the nation-state is a distant memory, but many people think there may be a role for city-states in the future. My approach to cities as sites in which alternatives to capitalism (and socialism) might take place is what I call a “nonproprietary cities” approach. Another thing to look into, for a kind of compromise between anti-statism and city-statism, is Murray Bookchin’s idea of “libertarian municipalism”.


          1. This is a very interesting comment. Thank you, n8chz. I’m very happy to hear that people are brainstorming and trying to come up with things. This work will not be in vain!


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