Monday, January 25, 2016
Memes like the one above are becoming more common with the rise in popularity of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic Party's nomination for president. The senator has embraced the term "democratic socialism" to describe his politics.
With Trump calling Sanders a "communist" (which Sanders certainly is not), supporters of Hillary Clinton raising the prospect of campaign ads tying Sanders to images of the hammer and sickle (i.e. red baiting), TV host Lawrence O'Donnell frequently identifying himself as a socialist yet never critiquing capitalism, and memes like this equating socialism with capitalist public sector programs (many of which are "safety nets" to mitigate the social damage of capitalism), I find myself wanting to nitpick.
Those are all things that socialists would support, pretty much, and so do liberals - but liberalism and socialism are not synonyms. As someone who identifies as a socialist, not a liberal, I would like to see more precise language in social media conversations about what we would like to see, what we don't want, and our questions about how to make good things happen, to "begin the world over again," as Thomas Paine put it. (Note: Paine was not a socialist, I'm just quoting his famous phrase.)
Unlike liberals, socialists are people who want society to move beyond capitalism to something based on communal ownership and egalitarian benefit (although visions of what the society would look like and what role democracy would play in it vary widely). So yes, all of these programs are things socialists support (although they would also take an interest in how these programs are funded and who is in charge of them), as do liberals, but liberals - who believe the capitalist system should simply be managed better and made a bit more fair if possible - are having a different conversation than socialists. And many liberals despise socialists.
As a socialist, I consider Bernie Sanders more of a liberal, albeit one who is not hostile to socialism.