One in five Americans finds socialism superior, poll says

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Eugene V. Debs ran for president four times as a member of the Socialist Party of America.

Twenty percent of the American public believes that socialism is superior to capitalism, says a poll by Rasmussen Reports released on Thursday, April 9.

Asked the question "Which is a better system - capitalism or socialism?", 53% of those polled found capitalism the better system, 20% preferred socialism, and 27% were unsure. The survey did not define either capitalism or socialism, but Rasmussen also cites a December 2008 result saying that 15% of Americans prefer a government-managed economy.

Analysis of the poll's data by website FiveThirtyEight.com furthermore found that support for capitalism was closely correlated with income; respondents earning under $20,000 a year having an eight percentage point preference for capitalism, while those earning more than $100,000 a year expressed a fifty-seven percentage point preference for capitalism. Rasmussen noted that socialism had much broader support among people under 30, where 33% support socialism and 37% support capitalism, than among any other age group.

Socialism has found support in several countries, with member parties of the Socialist International in government in over 50 countries around the world and with several other regimes describing themselves as socialist or communist; the 20% result Rasmussen finds is comparable to the electoral support for the New Democratic Party in Canada. Support for an independent socialist movement in the United States, however, has historically been limited. Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs won 6.1% of the popular vote in 1912, and two members of the Socialist Party, Victor L. Berger and Meyer London, were elected to the United States Congress before the Great Depression. This brief flirtation with socialism is contrasted against the times during and following the First World War and Second World War, which were marked by "Red scares" — periods of pronounced anti-communism — in the United States.

Currently, only a single member of the United States Congress describes himself as a socialist: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The Social Democrats USA (SD USA), one of the successors of the Socialist Party of America, has expressed solidarity with the 76-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, which Sanders founded in 1991. It supports positions such as a living wage, universal health care, and the right of workers to form trade unions and engage in collective bargaining.

SD USA executive director Gabriel McClosky-Ross offered Wikinews an exclusive statement on the Rasmussen poll result:

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I joined the Socialist Party, USA in 1972, when I was 16. That was seven months before the name change to Social Democrats, USA. I was a subscriber to the Party's publication, New America for four years by that point. I grew up in a Catholic working class neighborhood. Many of my neighbors read the Catholic Worker. However, I would not meet another self described social democrat or democratic socialist who was close to my age until I completed college and entered the seminary when I was 21. That was not for a lack of my attempts at persuasion. Now when I speak on behalf of the Social Democrats, I meet many people who call themselves socialists or they are considering doing so.

Two things have changed. First, Stalinism in the Soviet Union finally and thankfully collapsed and The Peoples' Republic of China is a transparently "state capitalist" regime. Second, the propaganda machine that equated private ownership of productive property with democracy is spurting under onslaught of facts that indicate just the opposite. There were two presidential elections in a row were[sic] the count look[sic] fishy and the money trail lead to the top of Republican Party. Then the banks collapsed and it was apparent that the largest financial institutions in the world were involved in sub-prime mortgage ponzi schemes.

I am not sure whether to celebrate or lament becoming an economist and union organizer instead of a priest given the current crisis. As my mentor, Michael Harrington, was fond of saying there are many kinds of socialism. Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, history's three greatest mass murderers, all called themselves socialists. Hopefully, America is ready for a broad social democratic movement that works with trade unions and community organizations for national health care, re-industrialization, ecologically friendly mass transit, infrastructure repair, and eventually a democratization of our economy. Building such a movement will be very hard work. The cyber-world has many benefits, but people seemed to be convinced that social change can occur by email. It is great shame, that it takes 8.2% unemployment and massive economic dislocation to push people back to real time organizing and protest.

Simply that people are angry is not enough. The Bolsheviks, Fascists, and Nazis all road[sic] waves of mass discontent to power. A peoples' movement must be militantly democratic and refuse to make common cause with even the 'mildest and friendliest totalitarians.' A truly democratic movement for social democracy must transcend the narrow special interest group politics that has made up most of political discourse since the protests against the Vietnam War. To transcend the current economic crisis we need a full employment economy and that means a movement concentrated on 'red letter' social democratic issues of democratic worker and community control of industry.

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—Gabriel McClosky-Ross, Social Democrats USA, Executive Director

Anti-communism has been an important part of American politics for several decades.

While support for socialism in the United States may be growing, Rasmussen's polling finds that absolute majorities of the American public support both capitalism and free markets. Meanwhile, anti-communist sentiment remains strong in many segments of the US population, with opposition to socialism being a defining feature of Conservatism in the United States.

In an exclusive statement to Wikinews, John F. McManus, President of the anti-socialist John Birch Society, offered the John Birch Society's position on the poll result:

Cquote1.svg If 20 percent of the American people prefer socialism, it is likely that half believe it has more to do with sociability that it has to do with an economic system that places government in control of their lives. Ask these 20 percent what socialism truly is and the response will rarely point to the great hero of all socialists, Karl Marx.

The John Birch Society believes that everyone is a capitalist. If one starts out defining capital as the means of production (which is its definition), then everyone — from the primitive fisherman to the corporate executive — uses capital and is a capitalist.

The distinction that most don't make is who owns and controls the capital. Does each individual have the right to own his means of production — even a fishing pole? Or does the government own and/or control all the means of production?

When each individual has the right to own capital (property), there is freedom — up to the point where no one is permitted to impede someone else's similar right. Where socialism reigns, the government dominates, either completely a la communism or essentially a la fascism (Nazi-style or Mussolini-style).

Most Americans are victims of an absolutely horrible educational system. Too many have been persuaded that government should take care of them. We tell such fools that, if that's what they want, they should turn themselves in at the local prison where they will be cared for 24 hours a day. We ask them to stop advocating converting our entire nation into what effectively will be a coast-to-coast prison.

The proper role of government can never be more than the protection of the lives, liberty and property of the people who pay for it. The improper role of government is to take care of the people — which it always does poorly and does so almost always as a grab for power rather than a supposedly noble concern for the downtrodden.

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—John F. McManus, John Birch Society, President

Americans currently most often cite the economy as their number one concern in polls, ahead of terrorism. In December 2008, workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago staged a union-backed factory occupation in a fight against company management — a return to tactics of direct action from the historically more subdued American organized labor movement.

On April 10 2009, Alabama representative Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama) told the Birmingham News that seventeen members of the US House of Representatives are socialists. He did not specify which members.


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Wikinews
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
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