What’s in a Name

Another very puzzling argument I keep encountering is “When people say they are Democratic Socialists, they just mean they want the kind of thing that exists in the Scandinavian countries.”

If people want the Scandinavian model, though, why don’t they simply say so? Why do they use, instead, a term that no Scandinavian country ever used and that has been employed and still is employed exclusively by murderous regimes that slaughter, persecute and starve people by the million? Would it make much sense to say, “I think I’d prefer us to adopt the Canadian model, which from hereon I will refer to as Democratic Nazism. I know that Canadians don’t call their country a Democratic Nazi State of Canada but I still think it sounds cute.”

If you have got to choose a name, would it be all that hard to choose one that isn’t associated with some of the worst acts of genocide committed in recent memory and right now?

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13 thoughts on “What’s in a Name”

  1. The “democratic socialism” nonsense is 100% the fault of Bernie Sanders. No one used that term until he started blathering on about it. The only thing that drives me crazier than that is when people start talking about a “European style health care system” by which they mean the British NHS, completely ignoring the fact that health care in many European countries looks absolutely NOTHING like the British NHS.

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    1. It’s that nobody is even trying to find out how things work or educate themselves.

      Like the belief that Cuba has a great medical care system. Where are Cubans getting the medication and the supplies for this supposedly great system? Do they manufacture them? Buy them? With what funds? Even basic things like gauze, Band-Aids, or aspirin. They are supposed to come from somewhere. Now that there is no more USSR to ship them to Cuba, where do they come from?

      Or the issue that plagues every socialist country in existence: what do women do when they menstruate in the absence of any hygienic means, including cotton wool?

      I know the answer but that’s because I lived in a socialist country.

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      1. Where are Cubans getting supplies? you ask. They are supposed to come from somewhere, you say. The explanation, people should know, is that the United States has purposely inflicted trade sanctions on Cuba for more than a half a century

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        1. The Cuban economy is that of a typical banana republic. It’s organized around producing one single natural resource. This is exactly how Venezuela functions as well. This has been a problem of the Cuban economy for far longer than the embargo. The only result of this kind of economy is great poverty.

          But that’s not the issue, though. The issue is that a medical care system that has no medication, equipment or even simple gauze at its disposal can’t be a good system. Irrespective of who failed to gift all this stuff to Cubans.

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          1. A banana republic! Exactly the point. Whether Cuba was under communist or socialist rule or the other varieties of dysfunctional government common throughout Central and South America is more or less your relevant. It faces similar problems of all the other banana republics in that region, problems which trace back to Spanish colonial rule. Colonial development under the British system of law leading to widespread ownership of small farms; contrasts greatly with the southern development under the Spanish legal system, with highly concentrated land ownership and a mass population of landless peasants.

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          2. A recurrent problem with Latin America is that people expect that the government can introduce Social Democracy from the top down rather than build it up from the bottom over generations of education and building social capital.
            And any social system imposed from the top down will always end up being an ugly mess.
            But they hold onto their caudillo mentality with amazing fierceness just assuming they’ll head to the US if things get too dicey.

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    2. Scandinavian parties that put all the reforms in after WWII, to get the welfare state, were called Social Democrats. Democratic socialism is what the DSA advertises & Sanders did not invent the phrase.

      Socialists in US tend to mean they want not just redistribution of wealth but more citizen power. For instance, municipal corporations, cooperatives, etc. rather than big multinational corporations and chains. We still have some of these things, left over from back in the day, and they’re quite good. Utility companies in my area, for instance, are either city government or cooperatives. So I get the Internet as a city service, fast and cheap and I can go down to the office and talk to a person, instead of having to deal with Cox, ComCast, someone who has profit as priority #1 and public service as priority #not-1. Back where I used to live I was part of a member-owned grocery store. You didn’t have to be a member to shop there, but members got to decide what to do with the profits. They want more-more of this and much more direct citizen participation in politics.

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      1. If the Bernie crowd called themselves Social Democrats, I’d have no beef with them. They don’t, though. Bernie is not an ignorant person. He knows the difference between social Democrats and socialists. He knows that the two groups have been at odds since the beginning and that social Democrats tend to get physically exterminated by socialists. Yet his crowd doesn’t choose the name of moderate reformers who have done a lot of good. Instead, they choose the name of the victimizers of those moderate reformers.

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        1. Well, Sanders does say he’s both democratic socialist and social democrat, which is indeed confusing, and right wing says everything is socialist including Obama, Clinton, etc. — and it wants to get rid of things like public utilities and libraries, and those things are in fact rather socialist.

          BUT: democratic socialism is an old, established concept and is not Marxist-Leninist.

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      2. Yes Z!! The utility companies. Perfect example. Not so long ago the telephone company (Ma Bell) and the gas company and most electric companies and some bus companies — all of them essential public services — operated as privately owned monopolies under government regulation to prevent unreasonably high prices — that arrangement of regulated monopolies worked with wonderful efficiency and service and the employees were well-paid! That’s what Americans think of when they think of a mixed socialist-capitalist system. The break up of those regulated monopolies was a tragedy. The first electric power companies in the US were all operated as public utilities by small towns and cities. Some still are. And the largest of all, the Tennessee Valley Authority!! Lastly, The one most widespread and successful government-socialist Service throughout the US are the local public water systems, operated with such efficiency that we all take them for granted and the water systems are nearly invisible. Some recent initiatives to privatize public water systems make me want to cry.

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  2. This isn’t solely the fault of the left. America’s right decided to declare that any economic stance one nanometer to the left of Barry Goldwater is a form of “socialism.” Western Europe is “socialist.” Scandinavia is “socialist.” Over a multi-decade campaign they pushed Americans to use the word “socialist” for any sort of regulatory state, safety net, or public benefit.

    The theory was that by blurring the lines between the Eastern and Western Europe they could encourage Americans to support an economic policy to the right of Western Europe. It worked, for a while. But it also encouraged some of the left to eventually own the label, refuse to see it as an insult, and start proudly saying “Yep, we’re socialist!”

    At this point, in the American political dialect, “socialist” is a word for “to the left of Ronald Reagan.”

    This is not the only example of a word that has been re-defined for the American political dialect. If you want to tear your hair out in frustration, Google for “Republic, not a democracy!” Basically, some on the right decided to take the ways that those words were used in the Federalist Papers (“democracy” = direct democracy, a system that is basically never used in the modern era, while “republic” = representative democracy, i.e. 99% of democracies) and make the definition of democracy even more extreme. In the revised definition, “democracy” = a system where an angry mob from a populous urban area can and will vote to strip away your rights on a whim, especially if you are a rural white person. They use this to shout down anyone who ever utters the word “democracy” in their presence.

    Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, you have people using the word “republic” to mean “not a monarchy.” So you get the whole range from democratic republics (i.e. most liberal and democratic countries in the present) to aristocratic republics (e.g. Italian city-states of the Middle Ages and Renaissance) to despotic Islamic Republics and People’s Republics, and lots of other usages. In the UK, they call themselves a representative democracy AND a monarchy but NOT a republic.

    Americans are weird about political terminology.

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