A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Isn’t socialism as American as apple pie - and Christian, too?

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Dec. 10, 11 or 12

If it’s a tag-team match between Santa, Jesus and Bernie Sanders on one side, and Hitler, Stalin and the Boogeyman on the other, I stand with the first group.

“Ho! Ho! Huh?” you say?

The connection is socialism.

And Christmas.

Socialism doesn’t mean Nazis’ “national socialism,” dictatorial ruthlessness or the mythical monster that’ll get you if you don’t watch out. In reality, it’s an economic system that has a group working together to provide for themselves.

Sanders, the U.S. Senator from Vermont and proud democratic socialist, is running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. president, and last month, he clarified that socialism means basic fairness, not some authoritarian takeover of private property.

“Democratic socialism means democracy,” Sanders said. “It means creating a government that represents all of us, not just the wealthiest people.”

However, it’s been stereotyped.

“Socialism has been branded a system of state control, and as such it has not been able to gain a foothold,” said Michael Steven Smith, author of “Imagine: Living in A Socialist U.S.A.”

Despite stereotyping, initiatives such as free tuition at public colleges and an adequate jobs program have gained favor, as has socialism – which already exists in America in many ways: public or consumer-owned cooperatives providing utilities, from water and sewer systems to dams and a network of electrical service to rural homes; public education and libraries; fire and police departments, military and veterans benefits programs; price supports to farmers and Social Security.

Further, most people support democratic socialist ideas, whatever they’re called, such as a single-payer health-care system (like Medicare) or that “money and wealth should be more evenly distributed,” according to a CBS News/New York Times poll.

Also, the Pew Research Center says 49 percent of young Americans favor socialism (compared to 46 percent favoring capitalism); 59 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats also favor socialism, as do 55 percent of African Americans.

Columbia University historian Eric Foner recalls socialist ideals throughout U.S. history, from Founders such as Tom Paine to the People’s Party of the 1800s, from socialism’s wide acceptance at the turn of the 20th century to the Progressive movement, which featured populist Republicans such as Wisconsin’s Robert LaFollette and Theodore Roosevelt. In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt ran as a Progressive, and socialist and labor leader Eugene Debs ran as a Socialist. (Roosevelt got 4.1 million votes and Debs got 900,000, losing to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.)

Socialists were elected to more than 1,000 offices before World War I. Socialists were key founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO); they’ve included C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Day, Helen Keller and Nelson Mandela, Baptist pastor Francis Bellamy (author of “the Pledge of Allegiance”) and contemporary activist/author Cornell West.

Albert Einstein said socialism is a way “to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development.

“Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones,” Einstein said in a 1949 essay. “The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature.”

And, yes, it’s had Christian adherents, too.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a democratic socialist, wrote Douglas Sturm in a 1990 article for the Journal of Religious Ethics: “Contrary to the implications of some recent interpreters who have focused on transformation and radicalization in King’s thought, King’s democratic socialism was rooted in his formative experience of the black religious tradition.”

Indeed, King in 1967 wrote, “The good and just society is neither the thesis of capitalism nor the antithesis of communism, but a socially conscious democracy which reconciles the truths of individualism and collectivism.”

Finally, George Lansbury, head of the UK’s Labor Party in the 1930s, summarized the appeal: “Socialism means love, cooperation and brotherhood in every department of human affairs, the only outward expression of a Christian's faith.”

Merry Christmas, American socialists!

[PICTURED: Editorial cartoon by David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Daily Star.]

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