Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Thought of the Day: Statism vs. Socialism

One of the reasons conservatives fear socialism is that they confuse it with statism.  Socialism means that the productive resources of the economy are used for the benefit of all the people in society, while statism, a fundamentally fascist idea, is that the state itself is a good institution, even the apex of human existence, and all should be run for and by the state.  They are not the same thing.  Socialism can mean, in a given historical period, large and beneficial government programs like public pensions or health care; but it also means workers cooperatives, community enterprises, and pareconomic councils.  It necessarily entails democratic control of economic organizations, large and small.  It does not mean that state controls everything with a central bureaucracy.  It means that regular people do, with a variety of institutions and organizations.

2 comments:

  1. If tea baggger says Obama is a socialist, you would say you wish it were so?
    In my experience, 'statism' is a derogatory term used by anarchist libertarians on youtube meaning the belief that it would be a good idea for there to be any government at all. The way you define 'statism' is what i would call totalitarianism. Fascism could be right wing totalitarianism. Communism is leftist totalitarianism.

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  2. You are correct that socialism and statism are two distinct concepts. However, it is not an accident of history that the two have been intimately intertwined since the beginning of the 20th century. I challenge you to find a single example of a non-statist socialist regime.

    "Socialism can mean, in a given historical period, large and beneficial government programs like public pensions or health care; but it also means workers cooperatives, community enterprises, and pareconomic councils."

    The standard definition of socialism is a politico-economic regime where the means of production are owned publicly. By defining socialism as merely an environment where there is a large and a beneficial government, you're obfuscating the core definition of the term. For example, Sweden has a larger government than the United States and in some ways, it is more beneficial than ours.

    My question to you is what would happen if Sweden's government would continue to expand significantly for the purpose of serving social justice? Would it remain a relatively free and a democratic society? Regardless of how far you may wish to go in arguing that Sweden is a socialist country, their government knows its limits when it comes to ensuring that "productive resources of the economy are used for the benefit of all the people in society". While they may curb the self-aggrandizing excesses of transnational corporations, they often stop short of nationalizing them.

    I take your point that statists maintain that the "state is itself a good institution", but let me ask you this. Can you provide one example of an avowed statist? Is there a single historical villain whom we would identify as a statist who also presented himself as such? Stalin, Brezhnev, Mao, Castro and even Kim Il-Sung laid their claim to legitimacy by portraying themselves as socialists rather than as statists.

    As you've explained, the enlargement of the government seems to be merely one way to achieve socialist objectives. Workers cooperatives and community enterprises have shown some promise all across the world, but they tend to be short-lived. One way to correct that problem is for socialists to take control of labor unions and the education system, as you've suggested in your previous post.

    Yet, my criticism of that still stands: you'll have a tough time preventing the Ruling Class from corrupting those institutions and creating a regime of statist oppression under the cloak of socialism.

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