Many Americans are a bit confused on what socialism means, validated by it being one of the most searched terms on Google in 2015. A term heavily misunderstood due to multiple decade’s worth of indoctrination to pervert and sully the philosophy with the American electorate, a philosophy that is rather “Americanistic” at its core. So, the best place to start in explaining what socialism is, and is not, is by going over the core tenants.
The main pillar of socialism is democracy. Most of us believe in democracy, in fact, many of us think America is a truly democratic nation, even though we really aren’t - especially when compared to the vibrant participatory democracy of Switzerland, and the emerging experiment going on in Iceland. Where socialism takes democracy (within and outside of the workplace), is what ultimately defines the philosophy. Socialists also seek to expand democracy within communities in order to create a dual-governance situation, where citizen input can be registered, even immediately, if enough citizens come together for or against a particular cause, law, or regulation.
Democracy in the workplace means businesses that are structured as truly worker-owned, or either in some sort of employee-ownership scheme, or at the very least, with strong unions that have equal power with ownership. Currently we have numerous worker-owned businesses of various types from all around the world, including here in the United States. One of the largest worker-owned conglomerates is the Mondragon Corporation. An incredible success for not only the workers, but the economy and society, yet most Americans are completely clueless about Mondragon, most probably think it is the name of a Sith Lord from the latest Star Wars movie.
If you happen to be one of those people, here are two brief links to catch up on Mondragon
. These businesses are also not immune to failure, socialism isn’t magic, it’s just a tool to use when other long-term solutions applied to our various issues no longer solve the problem. What democracy in the workplace can do is eliminate workplace inequities (leading to wealth & power inequalities), providing more to the worker-owners cumulatively and over the long-term, fostering a healthier workplace, and strengthening the community through solidarity.
The next pillar of socialism is equality. Most of us believe in equality, the Declaration of Independence explicitly states we are all equal when it comes to our inalienable rights, putting equality of rights front and center for our society. Socialists believe that equality is required to enjoy liberty, and without both, neither liberty nor equality can be experienced by the citizens of that society. Equality does not mean equal outcomes, it simply means an equal opportunity, not necessarily an equal outcome.
Most Americans are on board with democracy and equality, leading us to our final pillar of socialism, liberty. Liberty is the combination of equality and democracy at work. You cannot have liberty if you are being ruled over, and not counted in decisions that will directly impact your life and community; decisions being dictated to you by a super-minority of oligarchs or by private industry – that’s usually called tyranny of the opulent minority. You also cannot experience liberty if you are delegated as property to an ownership class, which gets to decide how the wealth you create via your labor ultimately gets reallocated and redistributed, while controlling your personal life to a certain degree.
Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont, running for the Democratic nomination for President is a democratic socialist. He champions democracy, equality, and liberty, and acts on that with legislation he has introduced, voted for or against (for the most part, nobody is perfect), by engaging in activism (even to this day
), and for anyone to try and hide this fact is doing a giant disservice to the American public, who actually share in many of the principles and initiatives championed by socialists like Sanders.
This upcoming Presidential election represents an opportunity to realign the old paradigm of special interest controlled and dominated governance at the very top of our hierarchy; and to begin a fresh conversation America most desperately needs to have on what socialism is, and if we can apply it to our long-standing issues within our society, economy, and form of government. That is the democratic revolution the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders speaks of, a nonviolent, peace driven realignment away from corporate authoritarianism, and a bit closer to citizen-centric governance fueled by citizen participation.