Living in Society

Is He a Socialist?

My Grandfather, the Socialist

My political fate was determined when I was very young.

My grandfather was a socialist, union coal miner who believed the means of production should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole. The very definition of a modern day socialist.

Easter Sunday I telephoned Mother who told me this story.

Grandfather, who had been divorced by Grandmother, came to Davenport to visit one weekend when I was about seven months old.

Holding me, he asked Mother, “Is he a socialist?”

Mother responded, “No Pa, he’s a Democrat like the rest of us.”

At the time I said nothing because I had not learned to speak English. My political future was thus determined without comment. It stuck: A Democrat, not a socialist.

I had coffee with a young reporter yesterday who asked my thoughts about what “socialism” meant to the 2020 election. The idea is that Republicans will hammer Democrats, right or wrong, for being socialists as much as they can, thus gaining traction among unwitting voters. I don’t think people who use the term “socialist” today understand what it means.

Socialism is a system of government like that in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which was dissolved in 1991. Most people in the USSR were poor compared to the United States and Europe. Artists and writers were sent to the gulags described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, provisions were rationed, housing was inexpensive but derelict, abortion was encouraged as a method of social planning, and society was described as austere. What American in their right mind wants that?

Karl Marx noted a continuing struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, class warfare. Another way of describing it today is the difference between those who control the majority of our wealth and means of production, the one percent, and the rest of us. To describe Democrats as socialists is a distraction from the real problem of growing financial inequality. Maybe to distract is the Republican point.

Government working on common problems is a feature, not a bug of it. By the introduction of more money into our politics and elections, the wealthy have been able to control our government. We hope the duration of such control will be short.

Before I could talk, without my input, I was determined to be a Democrat and remained one. Make no mistake. The answer to Grandfather’s question is I am not a socialist, nor are the vast majority of Americans. To say otherwise is part of the problem with our politics: the truth doesn’t matter, and political rhetoric has strayed far from any reasonable form of veracity.

As citizens, we are better than that.