I have been following the US presidential race very closely for the past 6 months. I have noticed that people like to use different government systems as insults (Obama’s a communist, Trump’s a fascist, Bernie’s a socialist, etc. etc.). I have also noticed that most of the presidential candidates and some people I have talked to seem to have no clue what these words actually mean. So I am going to try to clear up some of the confusion around many of the government systems in use around the world today. And since I have visited nearly every government system in use today with the exception of military dictatorships, I now feel more qualified to comment on this matter.
The first thing I want to clear up is the common misconception that Socialism = Communism. Socialism and Communism are fundamentally different in many ways. Chief among which is that nearly all socialist governments in the world today are democratic socialist governments. This means that in most socialist countries the government is “by the people, for the people, and of the people”. In contrast, no communist countries have democratically elected officials. Also, don’t fall for the trap that because the former USSR had “Socialist” in its name that it was socialist. What a country is named has no impact on its government type. For instance the official name of North Korea is the DPRK (The Democratic Peoples Republic Of Korea), and nobody will argue that North Korea is a democracy (same with the People’s Republic Of China). In fact, when we visited Vietnam (formally The Socialist Republic of Vietnam) we learned that the 2013 Vietnamese Constitution established that the government of this “socialist” country can have only one party… the Communist Party. Sneaky. Another key difference between Communism and Socialism is that in a communist country such as China, the government owns all of the land. We spoke with a young family on one of our long train rides in China, and we learned that people can only get a 70 year lease on a plot of land (or apartment), after which it reverts back to the government and must be bought again. On the other hand, in a socialist country the citizens are allowed to own land and free enterprise is encouraged. So now that I have established that they are different, let’s go into detail about a handful of government systems.
Communism was first theorized by Karl Marx, and in 1848 he published the Communist Manifesto. (Click HERE to read it. It’s only 30 pages long.) In his book he outlined the basic philosophy that all future communist countries would follow. The basic idea of Communism is that the government owns everything. I mean everything. In a communist country the citizens cannot own land and private industry is nonexistent. The government owns every business and employs everyone. Most communist countries have 0% unemployment because the government gives everyone a job and in some communist countries (such as the former Soviet Union) it was illegal not to have a job. Another thing is that in most communist countries schooling is free and being illiterate is illegal. Actually, in the Soviet Union being illiterate was punishable by death! In his book Karl Marx outlined the ten basic pillars of Communism.
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.
In his book Karl Marx said, “The theory of Communism may be summed up in a single sentence: The abolition of private property.” He was also very clear in his book that a revolution must go to any lengths necessary to ensure the survival of the communist ideology. This simple statement through its interpretation by people such as Mao Zedong, Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, and many others, has led to the deaths of over 100 million people. With this track record it’s no wonder that to this day communist governments are still despised by many people around the world. But this has been misattributed by many Americans to Socialism, as the bad track record of Communism always seems to leach its way into conversations about Socialism.
Most socialist governments started out like the American government, with the government having very little overreach and power. But through gradual changes to the constitutions of these governments the government was expanded to run many ‘Social’ services, such as free colleges, government run healthcare, social security, and aid for the poor. As a result of this, most Socialist countries have a higher tax rate than in countries like the USA. Socialism is kind of halfway between a communist and a fully capitalistic society. Here are some of descriptions of a socialist system:
- A political and economic system in which some businesses are controlled by the government rather than by individuals.
- People have equal rights to various benefits (health, education), and there is an effort to limit the inequalities of wealth and power.
- Taxes are often quite high to provide for these benefits.
- People may hold private property.
- A country can be both socialist and democratic
Most socialist countries today are located in Europe, as nearly the entire European Union is socialist. In most socialist countries in Europe the people have rights equal to those in America. The highest performing countries across many fields from education, to health care, to life expectancy are socialist. I do understand that higher taxes are not liked by many people, but many studies show that the decreased cost in healthcare and education (often free) more than offset the higher cost of taxes. With the benefit and cost analyses, it seems like a simple matter of choice – paid for upfront by all or paid for later individually. People may disagree about the how and when, but they will pay eventually. In that case it astounds me that people continue to fear or hate on socialists like Bernie Sanders, but what does not astound me is why people continue to hate on…
Fascism is a form of totalitarian government basically set up as a military dictatorship. In a fascist government there is one political party that controls the entire country, and is made up of people appointed by the original founders and their successors. Fascism started in the early 20th century as a kind of ultra-nationalism. The most widely known examples of Fascism are the Nazis in Germany during the 1930s & 40s, and Italy during the same period. The first fascist government was set up by Benito Mussolini in Italy, soon followed by Hitler. Actually, the fascist version of the Communist Manifesto was written in Italy by a close friend of Mussolini. Both Mussolini’s and Hitler’s governments focused on promoting a ‘Master Race’. This race was the original inhabitants of the countries (so in the case of the Nazis it was blond hair blue eyed white people or ‘Arians’). Both countries attempted to kill off anyone who did not fit this profile. This led to the Holocaust and the deaths of over 10 million people just from genocide, not to mention the 80 million people killed in WW2, which was started by fascist Germany and Italy. Thankfully Fascism was short lived and was completely destroyed during WW2 (although many people throw around that Donald Trump might be bringing it back. 🙁 ) Now moving on to…
SO WHAT IS AMERICA’s GOVERNMENT SYSTEM?:
Contrary to popular belief America is not a true Democracy. Instead America is a Democratic Republic. In a true Democracy the people would vote on everything. All the laws that are passed by Congress would instead be voted on by the people. This system would not work well in real life because of the sheer amount of laws that are needed to run a country. So instead, in America the people vote for Representatives who make laws. Also America is already halfway to being an example of Democratic Socialism. In America there are already many ‘social’ programs in use today such as Social Security, Welfare, food stamps, public schools and Medicaid. We have actually been getting closer since the 1930s, starting with FDR’s presidency. So one day, or maybe very soon, the USA will join the ranks of countries that are referred to as socialist. Again, is just a matter of choice as to which ones, when, and how the social programs will be paid for.
In conclusion I would like to invite anyone who disagrees with or has questions about any thing I have said to comment. I will answer any questions you have in a timely manner. I also encourage you to go read things like the Communist Manifesto since the best source is always the original. Last but not least I have a quote from former presidential candidate and Senator Rand Paul that completely sums up the confusion or ignorance some politicians have when it comes to the difference between these government forms. “It amazes me and it actually kind of scares me. I’ve been spending more time going after Bernie and Socialism because I don’t want America to succumb to the notion that there’s anything good about Socialism. I think it’s not an accident of history that most of the times when Socialism has been tried that attendant with that has been mass genocide of people or any of those who object to it. Stalin killed tens of millions of people. Mao killed tens of millions of people. Pol Pot killed tens of millions of people. When you have a command economy, when everything is dictated from one authority, that’s Socialism, but it doesn’t come easily to those who resist it.” In this quote he completely confuses Socialism with Communism, as every example he gives is of a communist system. If a presidential candidate can be this mistaken, so can anyone – so please comment if you have questions or grievances.