This post was created because of a friend of mine who placed an article in front of me and asked me to read and respond. My friend is a self-proclaimed Communist, a great guy, and an even better friend. The link to the article is posted below. Quotes from the article are italicized for deference.
Mistakes Were Made: A Talk With the Head of the Communist Party USA
First, thanks for sharing the article, it was a fascinating read. Most of the time when people hear the terms “socialism” or “communism” it conjures up ideas of a militaristic dictator who levels wages and takes the profit. And history has proven this point. Looking at places like the Soviet Union, Hitler’s Germany, and more recently Cuba—which they discuss in the article—it is clear that this “type” of communism is not beneficial.
What I appreciate about this type of exercise is that fact that we hold differing viewpoints. Too often people find themselves unwilling to converse with people of differing opinions and no meaningful conversation takes place. We have both stated previously that this is why our friendship works, and we do believe that more conversations like this must take place. Our American culture will continue to be hostile as long and people on the left and right fail to discuss matters of importance. Hopefully this can be the start of something.
Here’s my take on some of the things said in the article:
“There’s [sic] a lot of great ideas being put forward that we totally support, and have actually been promoting for many years. Beginning with income redistribution in the country, taxing the wealthy and corporations, eliminating all the corporate welfare subsidies, ending privatization of public services and assets…We’re of course for a massive shifting of the federal budget away from military spending and pouring that money into a massive project to rebuild cities and towns all across the country, a high speed rail system from coast to coast, a transition to a sustainable economy, completely divesting off of coal, and pouring money into healing the environment.”
You and I have had this conversation before, but this is my fundamental problem with the communist/socialist system, “…income redistribution, taking from the wealthy…shifting from military spending and pouring that…into healing the environment.” I completely understand and agree that our tax system is broken, and should be fixed. But what I do not hear them talking about is taxing everyone. Now I will assume that he meant this, and did not plan on only taxing the select 1%, however, if that is the case, then he should not politicize so much as to just go after the wealthiest individuals. Can they help? Yes. Should they help? Probably.
The issue becomes this: is it the responsibility of those who have to support those who have not? Yes, I agree there is a certain “moral obligation” to those who have less, and some would even argue a religious obligation; however, I disagree, to an extent. First, for those who are down on their luck, I firmly believe they should be given support. For the father of 3 who has lost his job because he was laid off, yes give him welfare while he searches for more work. But when welfare recipients lean on government checks to support their life, without incentive to get off the program and find work, that is where the line must be drawn. When they become so dependent on the government and are enabled to not work, it no longer becomes the responsibility of those who do work to support them.
Second, “love your neighbor as yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do to you” are true statements from Jesus himself. And I firmly believe in them. What I do not believe is that to love my neighbor, I must work and earn a living and then also pay so they do not have to work. This is where I draw the line. Is welfare beneficial? Yes. Does it enable people to become dependent and entitled? Usually. So yes, we should help those that need help; however, our help should spurn them towards bettering themselves and not enabling them to do nothing.
The other issue I have with this comment is cutting back funding for military spending. I love our veterans; they have chosen a life of sacrifice and service. They protect our borders from “all enemies foreign and domestic” and we are in the position we are in, as Americans, because of their service. Now, I will concede the point that it is not our responsibility to involve ourselves in every other countries issues, but when those issues threaten our country, we are responsible to the citizens of America to protect our homeland.
This bring up another point that I have to get off my chest—this is not accusatory of anyone but the rhetoric I keep hearing, please understand. Mostly the rhetoric comes from liberal minded folks, but it is the idea that continues to be permeated that America’s history is dark, awful, and nothing to be proud of. Granted, we did come into a land, and Andrew Jackson’s handling of the “trail of tears” was indictable; however, we must look at the men of history, like Washington, Adams, Franklin, and others who stood for what they believed in and created a nation that since its inception has won. I am damn proud to be an American, I will always be proud to be an American, and I will not apologize because I was blessed enough to be born in this great nation. Call it “American Arrogance”, but we are the leaders of the free world for a reason, and we can continue to be that, if we take pride in who we are. But I digress.
Moving on, he also said this:
“…But also this idea that you have to have incentives. And that I think was one of the fundamental mistakes—it was a mistake for the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries that collapsed, that they leveled income, and they didn’t see the need for rewarding work…but at the same time, we do see a need for the range of wages depending on a person’s contribution to society or their ability to produce. They should be rewarded for that…I think there will be a big role for small businesses, and farmers, and even middle-sized corporations. We’re not about advocating taking people’s personal property. That’s not anything we believe in. We call it “Bill of Rights Socialism,” by the way. It’s kind of an expansion”
This is a point that I agree with. I can see how socialism could work if something like this were to be instituted. But, I think two commentaries need to be made. First, this would settle the wage disparity in America. And it would level the playing field. I do not necessarily have a problem with this, as long as there are clear cut levels to show higher reward for skills, to promote a sense of competition. Competition makes everyone better. In competition you either better yourself or you get left behind. So someone who labors at a craft—whether writing, art, business or something other—should be paid a higher wage than someone who is not as skilled in that particular area. The CEO who has an MBA should not make the same wage as the mail-room clerk in his building with no education. They are not skilled the same way.
The second commentary is the idea of regulations. There would have to be strict regulation on the levels of income, to protect against the problem we have currently, but also to ensure that someone does not come into power and convert the landscape to a Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany. The basic rule of humanity is that people look out for number one and number one only. So in a system with regulated wages, someone is going to try and beat the system and control everything. Historically this has been the downfall of communistic societies. My fear with leveling the playing field for all participants is that it does not take into account the human element of someone, and there’s always at least one, looking for the edge. It feels as if this ideology springs from a utopian type thought process where people are generally good and looking out for each other, which is usually never the case.
“We see our socialism in the United States as being very unique. At the same time we have to examine the mistakes and errors that happened, including the overcentralization [sic] and the totality of the state sector and the leveling of wages and so on. I think most would agree those were big mistakes which compounded and helped to lead to the collapse, or was a factor in the collapse of socialism. …The Bill of Rights... making the right to a job part of the Constitution. The right to a free education, free health care, free child care, access to affordable housing and mass transit. All those things should be basic rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.”
This sounds great. It really does. It is kind of like that Oprah moment where she stands up and says, “You get healthcare, and you get healthcare, and you get to go to college for free, and so do you…everyone gets college”. It sounds great, but is it reality? How many people built a life in America without a college education? Now, I agree that it is much more difficult today—unless of course you are Bill Gates or Steve Jobs—but again it flows from this utopian thought process. Who pays for all of this? The common argument is it comes from taxing the wealthy. Which again I ask, is it their responsibility?
The point can be stated again: it is not the responsibility of the few to make sure the whole is taken care of. That is not real life. The Constitution guarantees certain unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We cannot change our governing documents to read: “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights: free healthcare, college and a guarantee that the state will take care of you if you fall on hard times”. When people become dependent upon the government to take care of them it creates no incentive for others to work hard.
In conclusion, the ideas of socialism-if executed properly-could be beneficial. It just does not seem rooted in reality. Too many factors, the biggest being human nature, detract from the possibility of it ever successfully working. Can it work? Probably. Will it work in America? Doubtful. That is not a knock on American society, it is just a simple statement of reality: life has winners and losers, some people will never be as successful as others. That does not mean it is necessarily right or wrong; but one thing is sure: it is true.