What does the word 'socialism' conjure up? Does it bring to mind gulags, barbed wire, ugly concrete walls, death to dissidents, oppression and rigid control by a jackboot state apparatus? It should bring these things up as well as many more ugly images. If it doesn't, you have not been properly indocterinated. You better be careful, you might not be in the box.
For the moment, let us step outside of our collective indocterination and take a peek at what freedom is and what it could be.
Perhaps the greatest propaganda victory of capitalists over socialists during the so called cold war has been the success of the notion that capitalism equals freedom and socialism inevitably results in totalitarianism. The capitalists had willing accomplices; socialist farces making socialist faces. Country Joe Stalin and the Chairman that crushed Tibet were the people with the power. To be fair, they put together some impressive socialist polices. But a tyrannical dictator cannot be a socialist any more than a Christian can be a capitalist.
If we examine freedom and socialism and capitalism, we can see that there is nothing to suggest that socialism is oppressive and capitalism is liberating. The principles of socialism suggest otherwise as does the fundamentals of capitalism. Capitalism is inherently oppressive and socialism is inherently liberating.
The real freedom within the framework of capitalism is the freedom to oppress others; to own and control the life of another human being. The boss of an employee cannot own the worker or control a worker during his or her off hours but while he or she is at work, he owns and controls that person. And as capitalism matures and the terms of exploitation sharpen, the notion that the worker is free during his off work time becomes less clear. Some bosses demand that the worker is available through a phone call or submit to drug and alcohol screening. Workers rights are eroding and corporate power is expanding.
The worker's choice may be to quit - and then the choices are to work for another owner or face the ultimate state of oppression; poverty. And people in poverty have no choices or, in other words, no freedom.
In capitalist societies, freedom is granted through class, money, and power. Socialism holds the promise of freedom for everybody. The freedom to exploit or to be a tyrant however, vanishes. And if that is not socialism to you, it doesn't matter. It is socialism and anything less isn't. Freedom for all may seem like a dream now but it will be living material reality in the future.
More realistically and more now, the big dream of freedom is to strike it rich. It may be unfair to describe lotteries as ‘idiot tax’ because for most, it’s the only way out. Win big and suddenly we are catapulted into the realms of the gods and the beautiful people. No longer do we worry about the oppression of wage slavery, our kids future, lack of choices, destitution, Kraft Dinner - again - and so on. Because now we have joined the ranks of the idle rich and rich people are free to do what they want when they want to do it. They have so much money that their money magnetizes more money by simply existing. What a dream, what a beautiful life.
On the other hand many poor people are not even free to get food and medicine for their kids. Many poor people are starving and have no home. To not have choices is not to be free. The equation is simple: The more money you have, the more freedom you have.
‘But at least it isn’t the Gulag of Kim Jung Il’, will be the inevitable response from those that see in shades of black and white. ‘At least it isn’t the Berlin Wall’. This is true. But reality is not quite that simple. It may not be Kim Jung Il but it is Haiti and Honduras and it is Canada and America.
The fact remains that millions have suffered under well intentioned socialist revolutions. There is a very real and tragic history behind the association between socialism and totalitarianism. In each and every case, whenever a socialist revolution has occurred, the socialist state has had to defend itself against attacks from outside agitators as well as terrorists from within that were bent on the overthrow of the revolution. When we consider the reaction of the USA to the terrorist attacks on 9-11 and the extent of the paranoia that followed, we can then consider the paranoia of a smaller state that has the USA hell bent on overthrowing it.
It would be crude to suggest that the tyrants of socialism are solely the spawn of the Great Satan however. While it might be argued that Stalin was not a socialist in the proper sense of the word, the fact is that he grew to take power and became the dictator of an intended socialist state. But Stalin and the rest of the infamous dictators of socialist states have grown out of the rigidity and tyranny of feudalism. They held crude and primitive ideas about power, people, and leadership. In other words, they had not been refined into the liberalism that the relative freedom of capitalism can percolate. They believed that people had to be whipped into submission with brutal force.
This is not socialism however. Socialism requires that the working class control society. If any dictator or central committee have control, it is a gross perversion. Socialism is necessarily democratic and if it isn't, then it isn't 'social'.
Modern liberal capitalist democracies tend to contain within them the liberating tendencies of socialism. We see examples of it in the rational basis of our legal principles. That is, authority is based in rationality as opposed to emotion, tradition, or charisma. We see it in the demands for civil rights, in the demands for gender equality, for workers rights, gay rights and so on. These tendencies are the tendencies of socialism but within the framework of capitalism, they are merely liberalism. That is, we see single issue yuppies fighting the good fight while they step over the homeless and treat them as a nuisance. Liberalism hints at socialism, but it ain’t the real deal. It is about liberation for my self or my people – the rest can go to hell.
Freedom cannot exist under capitalism except for those that have wealth and power. The bottom line is that we must sell our labour in order to live and in that process, we give up our freedom. The person that hires us can fire us. He has that power. And that power grants him control of me and you. He can fire us on a whim. As a result we live under the oppression of that person or organization. We feel that pressure in the presence of the bosses. If he (they) gets the notion, he can fire any employee arbitrarily. He might find out you are gay, or that you have a Black boyfriend and then the jig is up. The gay hating racist prick will fire you for incompetence or insubordination – or something. The point here is that one person has an unacceptable degree of power over another.
Without money we have no freedom in capitalist society because we have no choices. We cannot house ourselves or our family, we cannot eat and we cannot go anywhere or own anything. So, we sell ourselves to the boss.
Capitalism also requires control outside the workplace and to maintain that control they rely on the power of the monopoly and the power of the state. One example of the controlling nature of capitalism is the existence of copyright laws. Copyright laws are about control and control for profit. The capitalist state is rife with such laws and restrictions to control goods and information to allow the ‘lawful’ owners to make us pay. It is in the interests of capitalists to take control of all commodities and to reduce their availablility. They make us, the inmates of their madhouse, pay for insurance, electricity, communications, all the vital necessities of life and as a result, they have control of us. The wealth flows from us, to them and the only way to make the flow stream laterally or downward, is through sweat and subservience.
But what about pensions? What about unemployment insurance? What about free health care and social assistance? These are examples of freedom aren’t they? Are these not examples of having choices without being required to sell our souls?
The fact is, these are piece meal examples of socialism that exist in many modern capitalist societies. These are the results of the countless struggles carried out by socialists and agitators of the past. Take a look and you will see that what is humane in society, what is decent and what is good for people is always socialism.
What do we see from the other side? We see oil billionaires lying to wage war in Iraq. We see capitalist states invading country after country to maintian the supply to addicts. We see scores of workers thrown out of work when the capitalists can make more profit by shifting locations. We see the rich and their political minions doing their utmost to cut social programs, privatize health care, and generally make life as miserable as possible for the rest of us. The reason is that what's good for us is not good for them and vice versa. This is one of the fundamental problems with capitalism and that is why they (the capitalist class and their puppets) can be so bizarrely inhumane.
We ask ourselves why they keep wanting more and more. Surely five mansions and enough wealth to last for a thousand generations is enough. We may also ask ourselves why they seem to want to exclude everybody else from their grand party.
Power is intoxicating and they are addicted to it. The ego can also get quite drunk on the status they enjoy. But the real substantial effect of wealth is freedom and the ultra wealthy have not only tasted freedom, they swim in it. They have it exclusively and that leads them to believe that freedom is a zero sum game. But there is no reason to suggest that freedom is a limited commodity. We can all be free.