Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Definitions. Labels.

I am not sure the best way to start this blog.

I suppose the truth is always the way to go.

I recently read a dear friend's status update asking a simple question. A simple - loaded question. 49 or 50 comments later, I have to respond.

There is a word or idea that is being tossed around like a football on a saturday afternoon - that word is "SOCIALISM."

I think many people I know clearly understand what it means for someone to consider themselves a "socialist." However, I think there are many, many more who are not clear on these basic terms.

I think I would like to try my very best to define these very important labels -and dispell any misconceptions.

Opinion is fine. Definitions are clear. Labels can be untrue.

Let's start with what IS socialism?

Contrary to popular belief, socialism is not a political system; it is an economic system distinct from capitalism.

Socialists mainly share the belief that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society. That small segment controls capital and derives its wealth through exploitation, which in turn creates an unequal society.

This also does not provide equal opportunities for everyone to maximize their potentialities. In other words - is not in the interest of the public.

That's a general definition.

Although socialist models and ideas espousing common ownership have existed since antiquity with the classical Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, the modern concept of socialism evolved in response to the development of industrial capitalism.

Marxist and non-Marxist social theorists agree that socialism developed in reaction to modern industrial capitalism, but disagree on the nature of their relationship.

Émile Durkheim posits that socialism is rooted in the desire to bring the state closer to the realm of individual activity, in countering the anomie of a capitalist society.

In socialism, Max Weber saw acceleration of the rationalization started in capitalism. As a critic of socialism, he warned that placing the economy entirely in the state's bureaucratic control would result in an "iron cage of future bondage".

Breaking it down: (Source: World Socialist Movement)
Central to the meaning of socialism is common ownership. This means the resources of the world being owned in common by the entire global population.

But does it really make sense for everybody to own everything in common? Of course, some goods tend to be for personal consumption, rather than to share—clothes, for example. People 'owning' certain personal possessions does not contradict the principle of a society based upon common ownership.

In practice, common ownership will mean everybody having the right to participate in decisions on how global resources will be used. It means nobody being able to take personal control of resources, beyond their own personal possessions.

Democratic control is therefore also essential to the meaning of socialism. Socialism will be a society in which everybody will have the right to participate in the social decisions that affect them.

These decisions could be on a wide range of issues—one of the most important kinds of decision, for example, would be how to organise the production of goods and services.

Production under socialism would be directly and solely for use. With the natural and technical resources of the world held in common and controlled democratically, the sole object of production would be to meet human needs.

This would entail an end to buying, selling and money.

Instead, we would take freely what we had communally produced. The old slogan of "from each according to ability, to each according to needs" would apply.

So how would we decide what human needs are? This question takes us back to the concept of democracy, for the choices of society will reflect their needs. These needs will, of course, vary among different cultures and with individual preferences—but the democratic system could easily be designed to provide for this variety.

We cannot, of course, predict the exact form that would be taken by this future global democracy. The democratic system will itself be the outcome of future democratic decisions. We can however say that it is likely that decisions will need to be taken at a number of different levels—from local to global. This would help to streamline the democratic participation of every individual towards the issues that concern them.

In socialism, everybody would have free access to the goods and services designed to directly meet their needs and there need be no system of payment for the work that each individual contributes to producing them. All work would be on a voluntary basis. Producing for needs means that people would engage in work that has a direct usefulness.

Now what about capitalism? Many people use this word. What does it mean to be a capitalist?

Capitalism is a socio-economic system in which private ownership means profit to the owner. The owner controls the means of production, so the profit belongs to the private business owner. In capitalism, the free market determines the production, distribution and price of goods and services.

A free market is unregulated supply and demand with little government interference in matters of trade. Price agreements are made by buyers and sellers and the market dictates supply and demand. Competition policies may exist in a free market capitalist system.

Capitalistic competition policies are usually based on the efficiency of economic feasibility, while socialistic competition policies are often concerned with unity in a single competitive market. The opposite of a free market is a controlled market. The government controls supply and the price of goods and services.

The labor in a capitalist system is called wage labor as wages must be paid to the laborers. The means of production means everything else required to produce goods including land and the property rights to it. Businesses run on capital and capital is what capitalists have. Capital is items of value that can produce more wealth.

Capitalism is considered a socio-economic system as it is not just a way of earning money and making a living, but is also a way of thinking about social organization.

Capitalism is based on the idea of individualism and that individuals have the right to economic freedom. Communism is considered the opposite of capitalism as it is based on collectivism and shared wealth rather than individualism and individual wealth.

It's important to note the existence of laissez-faire capitalism and its later replacement by the Keynesian system. Laissez-faire means 'letting go' in French and laissez-faire capitalism occurs when the government lets all of its control over trade and economic concerns go and lets the market take over in all aspects.

A crucial theory behind laissez-faire capitalism is that unemployment is voluntary because of the individual choice to pursue economic gain.

Now what is a democracy??
Democracy is a system of government in which either the actual governing is carried out by the people governed (direct democracy), or the power to do so is granted by them (as in representative democracy).

Representative democracy involves the selection of government officials by the people being represented. If the head of state is also democratically elected is also called a democratic republic. The most common mechanisms involve election of the candidate with a majority or a plurality of the votes.

Parliamentary democracy is where government is appointed by parliamentary representatives as opposed to a 'presidential rule' wherein the President is both head of state and the head of government and is elected by the voters. Under a parliamentary democracy, government is exercised by delegation to an executive ministry and subject to ongoing review, checks and balances by the legislative parliament elected by the people.

A Liberal democracy is a representative democracy in which the ability of the elected representatives to exercise decision-making power is subject to the rule of law, and usually moderated by a constitution that emphasizes the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals, and which places constraints on the leaders and on the extent to which the will of the majority can be exercised against the rights of minorities.

The term "liberal" in "liberal democracy" refers to adherence to the ideology of political liberalism. Liberal democracies feature constitutional protections of individual rights from government power. At present, there are numerous countries ruled by non-liberal political parties - for example parties that uphold conservatism, Christian democracy, social democracy, or some forms of socialism - which are considered to have liberal democracy as their form of government.

How about what does it mean to follow the democratic party??

A Democrat may identify himself or herself as politically or socially conservative, moderate or liberal. Historically, the Democratic party has appealed to academics and professionals with progressive to liberal leanings, although there is a faction of so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats who espouse political conservatism while endorsing socially progressive programs. Many of these conservative Democrats are from southern states which have recently moved to the political right.

The Democratic party has also aligned itself with the plight of minority populations and the economically challenged. A Democrat generally believes the federal and state governments have an obligation to provide essential services for citizens in need, as well as legal recognition and protection for oppressed or poorly represented minority groups. Social Security, public welfare and food stamp programs are the direct result of Democratic presidencies.

A Democrat may also strongly support the needs and rights of workers over the demands of management. Establishing a federal minimum wage was accomplished during Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, for example. Many labor unions gained strength during Democratic administrations as well. The Civil Right Act of 1965 was enacted during Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson's time in office. Democratic president Bill Clinton also signed a law allowing workers to take unpaid leaves of absence during times of family need.

Many Democrats also support the idea of universal health care for all citizens, a concept which led to the development of Medicaid and Medicare. A woman's right to choices about her own reproductive health is also a platform for the Democratic party, which was tested most notably during the Supreme Court case Roe vs Wade. The controversial right to seek out a legal abortion continues to be a source of strong disagreement between the Democratic and Republican parties. Another divisive issue is the use of capital punishment, with many Democrats believe should be abolished entirely, or at least severely restricted.

A member of the Democratic party is free to form his or her own opinion on the party's general political stances or candidates, as is a member of the Republican party. The national parties, however, do hold primaries and caucuses to determine the political candidates who best represent the ideals of the parties as a whole. A registered Democrat votes for the candidate who best represent his or her own political viewpoint, and the winners become the official candidates of the Democratic party.

What does it mean to be a Republican?

The Republican Party in the United States was established in 1854 by a group of anti-slavery activists, rising to power only six years later with the election of President Abraham Lincoln.

The party quickly emerged as a powerhouse, becoming the major opposition to the Democratic party, the center-left political party in the United States. In fact, the Republicans and Democrats so thoroughly dominate the American political system that the United States can sometimes feel like a two party nation, instead of the multiparty democracy that it is.

Around one third of the American electorate identifies as Republican at any given time.

Republicans tend to be white, although the party has made some inroads into Asian and Latino communities, and people who identify as Republican usually have conservative economic and social values. Many members of the party also also Christian, with numerous sects including evangelical Christians being represented in large numbers among the Republicans.

The Republican Party is often viewed as the pro-business political party, and as an upholder of values which many Americans think of as traditional, such as family life.

Like members of other political parties in the United States, Republicans adopt new party platforms periodically. Each platform is designed to reflect the core values of the party while also adapting to changes in American society, and addressing emerging issues so that members of the public know how Republicans feel about hot topics in American culture. The Republicans also routinely nominate a candidate for the Presidency at their National Conventions in Presidential election years.

Many Republicans try to adhere to values from the early days of America. The name of the party is itself an homage to Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States, and the party is sometimes referred to as the Grand Old Party (GOP), reflecting its value system. Many Republicans support strict interpretations of the Constitution, and they agitate for smaller government, less regulation in industry, and an upholding of Christian values in the United States.

I want all of my friends to be so careful when you use labels. Educate yourself and know where you stand.

Personally - I am an independent. I fall somewhere in the middle - sometimes considered a moderate.

Think. Understand. Seek. Vote.

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