Why is ‘socialism’ a dirty word?

Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001
Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001

If you took a trip to the Deep South of the USA and listened in on a local government meeting, you would probably find that most people in the room would be die-hard Republicans.

The party has dominated that area for years, and there are very few Democrats to offer up any opposition in most southern states.

Aside from Florida, which has swung between the two parties due to its huge cities, there are few areas down there not considered safe for more conservative politicians.

It might not seem out of place in a right-wing area that insults such as ‘socialist’, ‘Marxist’, or ‘communist’ are still regularly used to caricature left-wing people and compare their policy ideas with the failed USSR. This I find unacceptable.

Attacking someone by using the name of an ideology as an insult is not constructive in any way. First of all, if you want to achieve anything in an argument at all, blindly insulting people is just likely to make them more angry at you. It is more likely to entrench them in their opinions and make them less likely to come away with an expanded view of how you see a situation. That’s the goal in argument or debate. I think everyone can agree that spending all our time shouting at people, on the internet or elsewhere, is not the most productive use of our time.

Additionally, just boiling your opposition to political views down to using one abstract label is just as damaging. It sends the message that you are minimising your counterpart’s opinions, and that you probably don’t understand them. Socialism, like all ideologies, is a vague concept on how to organise a society, particularly based in this case on the protection of workers and on the state being the most efficient way to distribute things like healthcare. There are many different examples of how it has worked, from Roosevelt in the USA to Soviet Russia. It’s too vast an idea to ridicule in a single-sentence, let alone a one-word put-down.

One form of capitalism rules supreme in our society, and because of this dominance, you might think that capitalism has won the Game of Ideologies. That’s not the case. While it is the dominant system, and it does work well in many cases, the rich one per cent who take most of its profits and hold the majority of the power can’t be allowed to rest easy while the rest of the population get progressively poorer and more dependent on the super-wealthy.

This does not mean socialist governments always get it right. The USSR’s crimes were many and it was a good thing when the oppressive regime was ended in 1991. Socialism in our western context, though, challenges capitalism to do better for workers on zero-hours contracts, the homeless, or the sick. That desire to help people is a noble urge, based on making lives better. It deserves praise, not being rejected with knee-jerk insults.

-- Will Allsopp is a student at King Edward VI School, BUry St Edmunds