The elephant in the room. (Photo illustration: Getty Images)
The Republican Party is engaged in a persistent propaganda campaign asserting that Democrats intend to impose “Socialism” on America.
Perennial Republican gnat Newt Gingrich declared in September 2021 that Republicans had an opportunity to “rebrand” Democrats as “Big Government Socialists.” In May 2021, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel accused Democrats of engaging in “Big Government Socialist schemes.” Tennessee Senator Bill Hagerty in a May 2021 letter sought dollars to oppose a “socialist agenda.”
And a January 2022 Republican National Committee letter blamed Democrats for “Socialist policies that are indoctrinating our children.” Republicans do not define “socialism” in their games of “pin a socialist tail” on a Democrat donkey. Instead, they raise the ghost of Soviet Russia by masking significant differences between programs funded by an elected government and USSR dictatorial government ownership and control. Reviewing the history of socialism reveals the hypocrisy behind this Republican propaganda.
“Socialism” is typically defined as “collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and the distribution of goods” and modern socialist institutions often coexist with capitalism. Karl Marx (1818-1883) did not invent socialism. He advocated communism (the common ownership of private property) along with his creed: “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.”
A form of voluntary communism existed in the early Christian era as illustrated in the Biblical Book of Acts: “All whose faith had drawn them together held everything in common: they would sell their property and possessions and make a general distribution as the need of each required.” (Acts 2:44-45.)
“The whole body of believers was united in heart and soul. Not a man of them claimed any of his possessions as his own, but everything was held in common, while the apostles bore witness with great power to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. They were all held in high esteem, for they had never a needy person among them, because all who had property, land or houses sold it, brought the proceeds of the sale, and laid the money at the feet of the apostles; it was then distributed to any who stood in need.” (Acts 4:32-35)
Similarly, the English colonial Guilford Covenant congregation vowed in 1639: “[We] . . . do faithfully promise . . . [to] join ourselves together . . . and be helpful each to the other in any common work, according to every man’s ability, and as need shall require. . . .”
Later, Welsh textile industrialist and reformer Robert Owen (1771-1858) initiated voluntary communal societies in Scotland and Indiana in the 19th century. Other societies emphasizing communal ownership arose in several countries. The Amana Colonies formed in Germany and moved to Iowa in 1855 where Amana kitchen appliances developed. The Israeli kibbutz movement that began in the early 20th century provides a contemporary example of voluntary communal societies.
Republican efforts to label Democrats as “socialists” are aided by Vermont’s Independent Senator Bernie Sanders’ comments. He advocates “Democratic Socialism,” typically defined as democracy within a socially owned economy. Sander’s website (www.berniesanders.com) includes “Medicare for All,” “College for All,” and expansion of Social Security.
Sanders’ proposals include elements of Scandinavian societies, often targets of Republican “socialism” attacks. Finland has public health care, public day care and education, paid parental leave, and unemployment insurance, financed by taxes. Finland is described as a “capitalist paradise” in a 2019 New York Times article.
Similarly, Swedish health care is administered by regional health bodies funded by local and regional taxes. Sweden also has public day care, education, paid parental leave and unemployment insurance. Sweden, however, according to a 2019 Wall Street Journal article, has “ruthless capitalism.”
Republican attacks on “socialism” also ignore American reality. Socialism is prevalent in America. The federal government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA,) which is engaged in the production and sale of electricity, is clearly “socialist.”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to TVA as “creeping socialism.” Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater advocated privatizing TVA. Ronald Reagan described TVA as “big government.”
Subsequently, Republicans opposed the Obama administration’s 2013 proposal to sell TVA, which could have reduced the federal deficit by as much as $25 billion. Some Republican politicians including Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, and Knoxville U.S. Rep. John Duncan attacked the proposal. These Republicans hypocritically distinguished “good socialism” (local government owned corporations) from “bad socialism” (elsewhere).
Fox News quoted Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, as saying, “For the first time that I’m aware of, you’ve got a Democratic administration proposing the sale of TVA and simultaneously you’ve got significant, conservative federal representatives in the House and Senate defending their local socialist project.”
Publicly owned hospitals, prevalent in many states including Tennessee, are widely accepted. Local publicly-owned utility districts that provide water, sewer, and electricity to millions illustrate American “socialism” in action.
Social Security was enacted during the Great Depression and initially characterized as “socialist.” Medicare is another federal program enacted in 1965 and sometimes attacked as “socialism.” These programs are more reasonably defined as “social welfare,” not “socialism” as typically defined.
Quite simply, the United States has a “mixed economy” with “capitalism” and “socialism.” This economy includes government-provided museums, parks, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, airports, seaports, and utilities in addition to social programs, all appreciated by most Americans. Whatever works, whether it is Medicare, TVA, or a local utility district should be supported by Democrats and Republicans. Instead, Republicans foment scheming political propaganda to create fear and confusion about American “socialism.” These tactics reveal Republican weakness.
Back to Gingrich. On Aug. 23, 2020, Gingrich stated that Trump’s chances of reelection in November were extremely good. “
I’m predicting that it will be a dramatically bigger victory than people currently expect” he said on Fox News “Watters’ World.” So, you can decide about Newt. And about the credibility of current Republican “socialism” propaganda.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.