Ask a Socialist: “What’s the difference between social democracy and democratic socialism?”

By Jeremy Mele

Social democracy and democratic socialism are both responses to capitalism: an economic system in which a wealthy few owners control the production of goods and services for the many. But production is not the only thing the capitalist class controls; they also control our workplaces…and us in them. The liberation of the working class from authoritarian rule by the capitalist employer class lies at the heart of the distinction between social democracy and democratic socialism.

When you take a job, you submit to the will of your employer; if you don’t, you will not be employed for long. Every day, workers everywhere are faced with a choice of submitting to the boss or starving, which means the individual worker doesn’t have much of a say in her workplace. Decisions, though they often affect her, are not made by her and her fellow workers. Rather, the boss has virtually unilateral power to make decisions, even decisions that have a negative impact on the lives of the workers. Under the authoritarian rule of the workplace, workers are powerless to stop a boss from changing our schedules, controlling our speech, changing the nature of our work, sending us to work at another location, or even closing up shop altogether and moving production to somewhere that is cheaper for them. Profit is what motivates decisions and changes, not the well being of the workers. Capitalism leaves workers powerless because it gives us little choice but to work for capitalists. Again, it is work or starve.

Both social democracy and democratic socialism recognize the inhumanity of capitalism, but the former is much more muted in its response. Social Democracy’s solution to the powerlessness of the working class is mostly to tackle the limited choices caused by the “work or starve” paradigm, while ignoring the problem of class-based power relations in the workplace. Social Democrats call for an increase in social safety policies funded by taxes levied against the capitalist employer class. These social safety policies include such things as universal healthcare, low-cost or even tuition free college education, and paid family leave–policies which substantially improve living conditions for the working class, and provide workers more choices in the work that we want to pursue. Fear of starvation is greatly alleviated when we don’t have to worry about the cost of healthcare and other basic necessities, so we are freer to explore the jobs that are available, rather than simply take the first gig that pays slightly more than starvation wages.

The gains of social democracy are not insignificant, and they often represent positive, and progressive, steps forward for the societies that enact them. However, social democracy on its own is not enough to secure workers’ well being and freedom. Though the social safety foundation is much firmer and expansive than in a capitalist state, social democracies still maintain the power-imbalances of the capitalist workplace: workers submit to the will of employers, with little explicit say in the decisions made in the workplace. Such power imbalances have implications for the well being of workers, especially those without certain privileges. Sexual harassment, racial discrimination, bigotry towards members of the LGBT+ community, and more harmful practices are protected in capitalist workplaces when perpetuated by bosses and employers because workers will fear being reprimanded and/or fired for speaking up.

The solution to workplace harassment cannot be found in social democracy. To really protect workers from such abuses, workers need a voice in their workplace. This is the democratic socialist project: to spread democracy to the workplace. We do not disagree with the social safety policies of the social democrats; in fact, we love them! We understand, however, that the abuses of capitalism will not come to an end until capitalism comes to an end.

Democratic Socialism, in contrast to capitalism (even capitalism tempered by social democracy), advocates for workers controlling their workplace. This means decisions are made democratically by the workers and are based on the workers’ needs, not employers’ greed. Your job won’t suddenly disappear because desperate workers elsewhere can be exploited to do it more cheaply, because you and your fellow workers will not allow it.

The United States prides itself on being a democracy, on being the “home of the free.” Unfortunately, that democracy and freedom stops at the door of our workplaces. Capitalism says, “work as the capitalist orders or starve.” Social democracy is a regulated capitalism that says, “work as the capitalist orders or starve, but have some needs secured either way.” The reason Democratic Socialists are not Social Democrats rests on the fact that we recognize that no form of capitalism, even regulated capitalism, offers workers what they really need to prevent abuse: democratic control over our places of work.

Have a question for Ask a Socialist? Email it to: DSA.PortlandMaine@gmail.com

Ask a Socialist: “Do socialists really think that no one should work?”

By Jeremy Mele

There’s a common misconception that socialists are “lazy” and that we only want “free stuff,” that we are “moochers.” If that’s the case, we must be really bad at those things, because volunteering for socialist organizations, campaigning for working class power, and running donation drives where we actively give away goods to folks in need are certainly funny ways to be lazy moochers.
 
Socialists are not anti-work; we respect the value of an honest day of labor as much as anyone else. What we are against is work as it exists in a capitalist context. Not everyone is able or wants to own their own business; therefore, under capitalism, most of us must labor for a capitalist if we want to live. We need to put ourselves in the service of the wealthy in order to afford the necessities of life. That means that the only work we will be doing for the majority of our life—40 hours per week until we retire, or, as retirement is becoming less and less affordable, die—is work that capitalists deem profitable. No matter what our actual interests are, we must labor as the wealthy dictate, often in work that is demeaning, unhealthy, and limits our potential.
 
Socialists do far more work than capitalists do. Capitalists merely chase profit, hiring only as many people as are strictly needed, and letting everyone else starve, for all they care! Many do no work at all, profiting only by letting their money grow at the hands of their portfolio managers, often in off-shore accounts that rob our nation of tax revenue that would help fix our roads, fund innovation, and educate the next generation of workers.
 
Socialists want to work, but we don’t want our labor exploited by a system that concentrates wealth and power at the top. Socialists fight for a world where everyone can work, where the value of our work benefits the workers, not just employers, and where everyone can work on our own terms.

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Ask a Socialist: “Are the wealthy moral? Do they care about the rest of us? Do they deserve their wealth?”

By Jeremy Mele

No. The wealthy and their representatives in Congress (hello, Senator Collins!) just voted to raise taxes on the working class, cut taxes for themselves, rob thousands of graduate students of the opportunity to pursue an education, and gut the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions of working class families without health coverage.

The wealthy hold the power in our society, and they abuse it. Their abuse of power will hurt young and old alike. Their abuse will kill–literally kill–working people who, as the years go by, will increasingly go without health care. Their abuse will crash our economy.

The wealthy get wealthy through the exploitation of the working class. They pay subsistence wages to their employees, far below our  worth, while they rake in millions and billions. They rob. They kill. They pollute the earth. Their greed, unsated with their ill-gotten gains, drives them to use their control over politicians to write the laws in their favor, everyone else be damned. Even the few billionaires that give to charity cannot be said to be pure: they wouldn’t have those billions in the first place if they hadn’t cheated the working class, cheated society, and wrote the tax codes in their favor.

The wealthy are immoral.

They do not care about the rest of us.

A better world is needed.

A better world is possible.

Join us.

Have a question for Ask a Socialist? Email it to: DSA.PortlandMaine@gmail.com

Ask a Socialist: “Can I be a socialist and still enjoy shopping?”

By Jeremy Mele

So here’s something fun about me: I have more books than I think I will ever read, yet I still, regularly, visit Amazon or, preferably, a local bookstore to buy more. I could stop myself, but I choose not to; I like buying books! Maybe I’m hardwired that way, or maybe it’s a part of human nature (though I think the concept is very overrated). Whatever the case, shopping for and buying things like books (and comic books and video games) is something I enjoy doing.

Unfortunately, there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism. As a socialist, I recognize that at some, if not every, level of the production of the things that humans sell, buy, and consume there is going to be exploitation. The exploitation of workers—who are coerced into selling their labor for a fraction of the value they produce—the exploitation of animals, and the exploitation of the environment are all baked into capitalism’s DNA. As long as it exists, various systems of exploitation will be maintained and reinforced by capitalism and its relentless drive for profit: a drive that seeks to pay workers as little as possible, to keep animals in cruel, yet cost effective, spaces, and to strip the environment for all it is worth, destroying its beauty in the process. And this, of course, is done to create the products that capitalists can sell to us to turn a profit.

That’s why, as socialists, we must tirelessly fight for a better world; a world where capitalist exploitation of human, animal, and nature is a thing of the past. Will there ever be a utopia free of all violence and exploitation? I do not know. I hope so, but even if that is never the case, that does not mean we can stop striving. A better, fairer world is possible, even if not perfect. We need to fight for it to free the workers. We need to fight for it to save the planet. We need to fight for it to end exploitation.

…And we need to fight for it so that we can go shopping without feeling guilty.

Have a question for Ask a Socialist? Email it to: DSA.PortlandMaine@gmail.com

Ask a Socialist: “What is Universal Basic Income, and why are socialists for it?”

By Jeremy Mele

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is, as the name suggests, an income that is universally provided to all persons to cover the basic necessities required to live. Conceptions of what constitutes basic necessities differ from person to person, but, at minimum, UBI would cover food, clothing, and shelter. These are things we all need in order to live.

Socialists believe that no one should have to labor for someone else in order to survive. But under capitalism, we are forced to sell our time, sell our labor, and sell ourselves so that others can profit, and so that we can keep on living. Socialists assert that life’s basic necessities should instead be ensured as human rights.

Over the course of modern history, industrialization, science and technology have increased efficiency in the production and delivery of goods and services, yet most of that benefit has gone to the capitalist class, resulting in extreme wealth inequality and the rise of an elite leisure class. Socialists believe that workers, too, should profit from society’s advances. Universal Basic Income would help to promote a more just distribution of free time and resources.

When workers’ basic needs are met, our liberty and power in society increase. No longer will we have to work jobs we hate because we fear starvation or homelessness. No longer will we work longer and longer hours while capitalists profit simply by watching their investments grow. We will be able to work as we see fit (either for others or for ourselves); thus, work will no longer be a dreadful drudgery that we have to put up with but, rather, a creative and fulfilling project that we choose for ourselves. Don’t like your job under capitalism? Too bad: work or die! Don’t like your job in a society where a UBI is guaranteed? Go do something else with your time!

Universal Basic Income would greatly increase the power of the working class, especially our bargaining power. If the threats of homelessness and starvation are no longer available to coerce workers into toiling for capitalists, then the capitalists will lose their bargaining power. The spell of capitalism will crumble as workers realize we can work for ourselves, not just for the capitalists. Workers’ cooperatives could produce what the capitalists used to, because the workers will have the necessary time and resources to invest in just these kinds of projects. If successfully implemented, the advent of democratically run cooperatives will sound the death knell for capitalist enterprises and their cruel grip on our society.

Survival, freedom, and power for the working class: that’s why socialists like Universal Basic Income!

Have a question for Ask a Socialist? Email it to: DSA.PortlandMaine@gmail.com

Ask a Socialist: “What is SMDSA doing to advance the cause of feminism within the Left?”

by Jeremy Mele

Content Warning: Sexual Assault

Socialism needs feminism. Socialism as a system and as a movement is about breaking the chains that bind humanity. It is about freeing us to do and be all that we wish to be. It is about removing the systems, structures, and regressive ideas that hold people back, put them in boxes, and cause untold physical, mental, and emotional harm. Capitalism holds everyone back because it locks the necessities of life behind pay-walls, but Capitalism cannot be Socialism’s only enemy.

The Patriarchy (loosely defined as the systematic discrimination against and dominance of women by men) is just as oppressive as Capitalism. It can be harder for Socialists to see, however, because sexist exploitation and abuse of women is often times more hidden than workplace exploitation. Of course, the exploitation and abuse of women at the workplace is a feminist concern. It is also a Socialist one.

Just yesterday, I wrote a short thread for the SMDSA twitter page discussing jokes about sexual assault. This was prompted after a picture was tweeted out by a couple of prominent Leftist podcasters that made light of Bill Cosby and the dozens of accusations of sexual assault and rape that have been made about him. The thread read:

Sexual assault and rape is nothing to parody or make jokes about. Anybody who doesn’t get that is, at BEST, in serious need of education, At worst, they are reactionaries. The patriarchy oppresses women, and legitimates/forgives unconscionable acts. The goal of any Left movement must be to overcome any and all oppressions; a Socialism without feminism is not good enough.

I do not wish to discuss the podcasters who made the “joke,” nor do I wish to talk about Bill Cosby. What I would like to take a moment to do, however, is to break down the tweets in the thread a little more in-depth and reaffirm the message I was trying to send.

First of all, sexual assault and rape is nothing to make fun of. It’s not a funny topic, it’s not a humorous thing, it’s not even darkly comedic; it is a shameful, disgusting, and vile abuse of a person and their bodily autonomy, and it happens far too much in our society (of course, even one instance is far too much). Women have a one-in-five chance of being raped. Men are victims of sexual assault as well. Altogether, it is simply not something to be joked about.

It is deeply upsetting to me that I had to say this to fellow Leftists. Reactionaries and conservatives may not recognize or care about the harm done by sexual assault, but Leftists—who pride themselves on working to end oppression and oppressive structures—ought to know better.

When Leftists make light of the issues that face women, it damages the Socialist cause. It adds to the myth that Socialism is a “boys’ club” that only cares about economic issues. This holds everyone back; Socialism needs women because Socialism needs everyone, regardless of gender identity (or race, religion, sexual orientation, etc…).

Socialists want a world where everyone can be who they want to be and where no one fears exploitation or abuse on a regular basis, as women do today. Socialists of all gender identities need to stand together to fight exploitation. We can only do that, however, when reactive, sexist elements in Leftist circles are ironed out.

A Socialism that is not for everyone, that does not end all oppressions, is an incomplete Socialism.

That is why a Socialism without feminism is not good enough.

Ask a Socialist: “Democratic socialism seems like a movement for millennials. I’m a senior. What’s in it for me?”

 

By Jeremy Mele

While socialism has seen a large outpouring of support by millennials, that in no way means that it’s only for millennials. Democratic socialism is a system for everyone. It’s a collective effort to democratize work, provide for everyone’s basic needs, and create a society that values personal well-being, not the acquisition of profit.

This last point is important for seniors now more than ever. At a time when the federal government wants to cut our social safety nets, strip of us healthcare, and do away with retirement, members of the working class of all ages need to stand together to ensure that our society is one that looks after everyone.

Socialism is a movement by and for the working class, and it aims to ensure that all members of the working class are treated to the respect, and comfort, they deserve. In Maine in particular, more and more people cannot afford to retire and so are working up until their deaths, allowing them no time to rest and enjoy their golden years. A society that works its people to their deaths is exploitative, and socialists refuse to abide by that or any other such exploitation. Workers reaching retirement age have as much to gain as anyone else in standing in solidarity with socialists in their fight for justice and material well-being for the working class.

Democratic socialism will benefit millennials, but it will also benefit the generations that came before it and the generations that will come after it. A democratic socialist society is one that is dedicated to equality, justice, individual liberty, and material well-being. These are things that everyone, regardless of age, can get behind.

Have a question for Ask a Socialist? Email it to: DSA.PortlandMaine@gmail.com

Ask a Socialist: “What would small business look like under socialism?”

By Jeremy Mele

In today’s capitalist world, work is often performed not for any enjoyment or fulfillment that can be gained from it but, rather, to make the bare minimum required for survival.

Working conditions in a socialist society would be vastly different. Everyone’s basic needs would be met, which would allow all people to do work that’s fulfilling to them, not just to make profits for business owners.

Businesses, both small and large, would still exist under socialism, but they would be operated by cooperatives, composed of equals, without the power imbalance of employer-employee relationships—an imbalance created when the employer has the power of the paycheck, and hence the power of life, to hold over their employees’ heads.

Today in America, and even right here in Southern Maine, many entrepreneurs are already choosing to create cooperative businesses, proving that business and socialism are not incompatible. So, if you want to have a small business under a socialist system, go for it! But the people who will help you run that business won’t be underlings who take their marching orders from you, and who very likely don’t want to be there. Under socialism, the people you work with will be there because they want to produce what that business produces. And they’ll likely be more productive, not only because they have a stake in the profits of the business, but also because they’re finally free to do work that’s meaningful for them.

Have a question for Ask a Socialist? Email it to: DSA.PortlandMaine@gmail.com

Ask a Socialist: “What is Single-Payer and why do socialists care?”

By Jeremy Mele

Single-Payer is a form of healthcare coverage in which healthcare costs are financed by the state through taxes, much like Medicare is now, but for everyone. It ensures that no matter what economic background a person comes from, they will receive the medical care they need. Just as taxes are used to fund roads, fire departments, and education, healthcare can be publicly funded and universalized. Many European countries have enacted Single-Payer with great success. They keep costs lower and provide healthcare far more efficiently than we do here. Most importantly, people are healthier!

Socialists care about Single-Payer because we care about people. Healthcare is a human right, and we want to ensure that right for everyone. It’s downright ghoulish that anyone in this country, with all of its vast resources, should have to go without medical attention and suffer and die. Our for-profit system creates cruelly prohibitive costs, of healthcare and health insurance. That people cannot seek medical attention for their illnesses and injuries due to the cost of those services is a national disgrace. We must collectively ensure that everyone has access to the medical care they need and deserve as human beings.

Socialists are also invested in Single-Payer because of the freedom and autonomy it will begin to provide to the working class majority. Many mainstream politicians paint themselves to be defenders of liberty in this country, but their conceptions of “freedom” and “liberty” only apply to the wealthy. They think that non-interference in the market is the only thing necessary to ensure freedom. But how can a person be free if they work 40, 50, or 60 hours a week because they lack basic necessities? “Work or die” is not freedom, and Single-Payer has the potential to reduce the number of hours a lower-paid working class person has to do in order to….well, not die! Without the burden of health costs, or the fear of potential health costs, workers will be free to work less and spend more time with their families and pursuing outside interests.

Healthcare is a human right. When that right is protected through Single-Payer, the working class will flourish. Families will be healthier and so will our economy. It’s about darn time we use our taxpayer money for the purpose of taking care of our neighbors. If we have the money for bombs, we have the money to provide medical care for all.

Ask a Socialist: “How do socialists view religion?”

By Jeremy Mele

A socialist is someone who values all persons regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or religion. Socialists fight for a world where all persons are free to live their lives as they choose and where everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs.

“But what about when Marx called religion the ‘opiate of the masses?’”

Socialists want an economic system that is democratized and allows workers to control the products of their labor. Karl Marx, while a great socialist thinker, wrote in a place and a time when religion was used to justify the exploitation of the working class. He saw religion as a scheme to convince workers that the injustices they experienced on earth were nothing compared to the reward that awaited them in the afterlife. He believed religion was antithetical to socialism because it could make workers accept injustice.

Marx’s context, however, is not our own, and the Democratic Socialists of America welcome all people of all religious backgrounds—as well as those who have no religious beliefs at all. For many, religion and spirituality are integral to their identity, and we acknowledge and celebrate those religious identities as a vital part of a democratic society.

 

Have a question for Ask a Socialist? Email it to: DSA.PortlandMaine@gmail.com