Letter: Definitions of socialism, communism, liberalism


As we prepare to be assaulted by yet another election cycle I note that political invective is already being hurled indiscriminately.

As usual, political labels are often the weapon of choice and as usual the terms employed are often grievously misused. Popular favorites include, Socialism, Communism and Liberalism, ideas which were originally defined in Europe in the 19th century.

As a retired university professor of European history, I have familiarity with these terms and I thought this might be a good time to review what they actually mean. These concepts are complex and a brief description requires considerable generalization, but I am willing to take the risk.

Socialism has more to do with economics than politics and those who espouse it seek the abolition of private property in favor of communal property. This does not mean we will all share a toothbrush, it means that the government, i.e. people, control the means of industry or production. So supporting a system of universal health care does not make you a socialist.

A later version of Socialism was often referred to as “scientific” Socialism or Marxism. Marx believed that the basic principles of economic determinism, dialectical materialism, class struggle, and socialist evolution would lead us inexorably to Communism, a utopia in which greed and private property, indeed government itself, would no longer be necessary.

This, of course, has never happened. The Soviet Union was not a communist state because there is no such thing as a communist state. Rather, it was a brutal dictatorship, led by the Politburo of the Communist Party which perpetually promised that true Communism was right around the corner.

Finally, Liberalism, too, is essentially a 19th century concept, principally English, feared and reviled by autocrats then and now. It is by far the most complex of these ideas and there are many variations, but there are also some common denominators.

Liberals tend to support the freedom of the individual within the limits of the law. They support democratic, limited, and accountable government, free markets, some version of individualism and universalism, tolerance, and some notion of equality, reason and progress.

Decide for yourself whether being labeled a socialist, a communist or a “lib” is actually an insult.

Dr. Bernd Fischer

Oak Harbor

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