One of the more ridiculous arguments out there is that all government activity is socialism. When the “snowpocalypse” hit Washington, D.C. and the rest of the East Coast, a number of socialist-friendly sites began putting out memes like this one:
Ah, yes, because the snow plows are operated by the government they are therefore socialist. Apparently, over at The Other 98%, 6,700 people though it’s true. A lot of folks will take the argument even further. Here’s another meme example, similar arguments often show up in comments of websites and various social media pages:
Right, so the argument is essentially that all public services provided by government are socialist.
First of all, let’s have one of the great socialists of the 20th century define socialism as Vladimir Lenin saw it:
“What is usually called socialism was termed by Marx the 'first', or lower, phase of communist society. Insofar as the means of production become common property, the word 'communism' is also applicable here, providing we do not forget that this is not complete communism” (The State and Revolution)
“For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly” (The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It)
It would appear that socialism is actually a bit more than just “socialist snowplows” or public schools or the post office; it is about controlling the “means of production”. Remember, the post office was created in the U.S. Constitution way back in 1789, when the founding document was ratified. We don't recall any of the Founding Fathers mentioning the term "socialism". In fact, it would be many decades before the term “socialism” entered the world stage. Setting that minor point aside, many a socialist will probably take issue with the use of Lenin, arguing that he does not accurately represent socialism. Fair enough.
Here's how the Socialist Party USA, which uses the term democratic-socialism, defines socialism:
“The Socialist Party strives to establish a radical democracy that places people's lives under their own control -- a non-racist, classless, feminist, socialist society in which people cooperate at work, at home, and in the community.
Socialism is not mere government ownership, a welfare state, or a repressive bureaucracy. Socialism is a new social and economic order in which workers and consumers control production and community residents control their neighborhoods, homes, and schools. The production of society is used for the benefit of all humanity, not for the private profit of a few. Socialism produces a constantly renewed future by not plundering the resources of the earth.”
There it is again, controlling the “means of production” (i.e., businesses) through democracy. Snow plows may be run by the government, but that doesn’t make them socialist.
The argument that all government action is socialism really does either a disservice to those arguing for socialism or reveals the great dangers of government power: If you’re claiming that everything that government does is socialism, then you don’t get to cherry-pick the “good” while ignoring the bad.
If all government action in the United States is socialism, does that mean that when cops shoot an unarmed, black teenager it’s socialism? When public schools have a track record of under-serving minority students, is that socialism? When the government forcibly sterilizes people, as it did up until the 1970s, is that socialism? When government segregated the races, was that socialism? When government dropped atomic bombs on Japanese civilians, was that socialism? When government troops wiped out the Native Americans, was that socialism? When the government polluted the city of Flint’s public water, was that socialism?
According to the logic of the “socialist snowplows” argument, all of that is, indeed, socialism. I’m sorry, but you cannot have your cake and eat it too.
Now, do I believe all of that is actually “socialism”? No. The socialists are clear about their definition of socialism and it involves controlling businesses and property through democratic action. Just because there is government, doesn’t make it socialism. Nonetheless, trying to be cute in order to advance your cause will eventually catch up to you.
Devin is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Charlemagne Institute, which operates Intellectual Takeout, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and the Alcuin Internship. He is a graduate of Hillsdale College where he studied history and political science. Prior to co-founding Charlemagne Institute, he served as the Director of Development at the Center of the American Experiment, a state-based think tank in Minnesota.
Devin is a contributor to local and national newspapers, a frequent guest on a variety of talk shows, such as Minneapolis' KTLK and NPR's Talk of the Nation, and regularly shares culture and education insights presenting to civic groups, schools, and other organizations. In 2011, he was named a Young Leader by the American Swiss Foundation.
Devin and his wife have been married for eighteen years and have six children. When he's not working, Devin enjoys time with family while also relaxing through reading, horticulture, home projects, and skiing and snowboarding.