Author: Jay Grzep
Tri-C’s Westshore Campus recently held an event on March 3rd titled “Socialism: The New Norm?”. This event consisted of a panel of Tri-C Professors- Rania Assily, Brad Lipinski, Bhavna Thakkar, Todd Williams and Judit Slager- who discussed what socialism truly is from a variety of angles. Joining them was student Jexandra Mijangos, who recalled her first-hand experiences with socialism and its decline into communism in Venezuela.
In modern day America, socialism is often seen as a highly controversial topic. However, to discuss socialism and its importance in our modern world, it is important to first define what socialism is and what it is not.
As explained by the event’s moderator, Professor Reed, at the beginning of this panel, “Marriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of socialism is: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods”.
In more easily digestible words, Professor Williams of Economics explains that “socialism is… a system which advocates means of production, distribution, and exchange to be owned and regulated by the community as a whole.” Williams then addresses a popular misconception, “What is communism? The definition is a social system which advocates public ownership of the means of production and distribution in exchange of goods in society. Well, that sounds like socialism. The difference is- the means to an end under communism is revolution… in many cases a violent struggle. Socialism is different because it promotes the idea of reform and changes being made through the democratic process, not overwhelming the structure. So, when we talk about socialism and communism in the same breath, … socialism becomes a gateway drug to communism because many people don’t understand the differences between the two.”
With this distinction made, we can then focus on comparing examples of socialism in our modern world, yes? Well the truth is that “socialism has never really been truly allowed to exist in its theorized form. Because as human beings, we operate in our own self-interest and when we do have power, we don’t want to give that power up (Williams).”
These words ring especially true when looking at the real-life examples provided by two panel members, Professor Slagar of ESL who lived in Hungary under forced communism, and student Jexandra Mijangos who experienced Venezuela’s decline from socialism into communism.
They both explained their first-hand accounts of many Americans’ nightmare. Slagar explains her story of watching the Hungarian government take away individuals’ private property, freedoms, and even the lives of innocent citizens. As Professor Slagar explained, “The philosophy and ideas are beautiful, they really sell nice in theory, but… the outcome, the real tangible thing…” was a much different story.
Even in Mijangos’s experience in Venezuela in which its people chose to live under socialism, their society hit a rapid decline after their second president. Inflation hit so hard their money was worth less than the cost of toilet paper, people couldn’t get gasoline for their cars despite their country being one of the world’s biggest suppliers of oil, hospitals had no clean supplies or anesthesia, and people resorted to eating garbage because the cost of food became so high. Their second president under this system has since refused to relinquish power, leading to protests in the streets- effectively turning their socialism government into communism. These real-life examples prove that wariness for socialism is indeed warranted.
Interestingly, socialism is both ingrained into and yet incompatible with America’s fundamental values. As Lipinski, Professor of Philosophy, explains, socialism conflicts with both the American promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The values of socialism also contradict the American government’s role to protect your body and public property and engage in the few activities that qualify as the public good. Lipinski summarizes, “Socialism as an entire agency of government for us probably wouldn’t work based on our Declaration of Independence. But as socialism gets used in our political rhetoric, we are then able then to figure out what are the public goods.”
Even though socialism conflicts with the Declaration of Independence, Lipinski further explains that, “we live in a democratic capitalistic model which is synonymous with democratic socialism, but we don’t say it that way. We institutionalize values in a paternalistic way through government control once we find them to be a public good. Social security, …fire departments, libraries, medicare, and the list goes on.”
Therefore, is socialism the new norm? Everyone can interpret this question for themselves, but this event provides an insightful first glance at the theory and failed implementation of socialism.
As far as can be derived from the information provided by this panel: socialism, as the new model of government for America, seems very unlikely to happen. However, socialistic ideas are not new, exist in America, and do provide beneficial functions for a great many people when they are found to be a public good and are well-implemented.
With ‘socialist ideas’ such as Medicare for All being suggested by several well-known politicians, discourse about what socialism actually is and how its theory plays out in real life is vital to making the right decisions for the future of our country.