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What Socialism Is ... And Is Not

Democratic Socialists believe that the economy should be run democratically to meet the needs of the whole community, not to make profits for a few. In order to achieve a more just society, many of the basic structures of Malaysian society must be transformed by increased economic and social democracy so that ordinary Malaysians are making the decisions that affect their lives, and the lives of their families and country.

Democracy and socialism go hand in hand, and everywhere in the world where the idea of democracy has taken root, the idea of democratic socialism has taken root too -- everywhere but in Malaysia. Because of this, many false ideas about socialism have developed over the years:

1. Socialism means that the government will own and run everything, with power being concentrated in just a few hands.

No one -- least of all democratic socialists -- wants a big government bureaucracy to run the country, but we do not want big corporate bureaucracies to run us either.

Power is already in a few hands. Basic economic decisions affecting millions of people are made by a handful of corporate executives who answer only to themselves and a few wealthy stockholders.

Corporations socialize the costs and privatize the decision-making and profits. Under capitalism, resources are utilized where there will be the greatest commercial return and without regard for social consequences. We believe that the workers and consumers who are affected by the behavior of major economic enterprises should control them. Social ownership could take many forms -- worker-owned cooperatives or state-owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives. But in all cases, economic decisions would be subjected to the control of the people affected by them.

Democratic socialists favor as much economic decentralization as possible. While the large concentrations of capital involved in industries such as energy, basic steel, and petrochemicals necessitate some form of public ownership, many consumer-goods industries might best be run as worker cooperatives. And, of course, a vigorous private sector would remain for self-employed repairpeople, craftspeople, artists, and writers. Nor do most democratic socialists believe that small businesses, such as restaurants or shoe repair shops, need to be publicly owned.

Democratic socialists have long rejected the belief that every economic decision can be effectively planned by state bureaucrats. While democratic socialists believe that democratic planning should determine the major capital investments which determine the basic contours of the economy (i.e., mass transit, housing, energy, defense), we believe that the market is the most effective means for determining demand for basic consumer goods. No state planner can effectively determine how many people prefer red socks to blue!

2. Large corporations will be with us for a long time, so what is the point of working towards socialism?

In the short term we can't eliminate large corporations, but we can open up the system by bringing them under democratic control. That doesn't mean that the government has to take over the corporations. Instead, it could rewrite regulations and the tax code, use its purchasing power, or set up public financing programs, all to encourage corporate behavior in the public interest and to outlaw such antisocial activities as closing down a plant without providing notice to the workers employed there. Subsidies to corporations must be made conditional on their performing within a framework that will guarantee a social return .

Government does all these things already, but the basic goal at present is to keep profits as high as possible. Corporations must be required to help people -- by creating well-paying jobs, keeping the environment clean, rebuilding the cities, and making useful high-quality products -- instead of exploiting them.

3. Socialism will be impractical because people will lose their incentive to work.

We don't agree with the capitalist assumption that starvation or greed are the only motivations which drive people to work. There are other reasons people work; people work if the work is truly meaningful and enhances the worker's self-respect, and out of a sense of responsibility to other members of their community and the society-at-large.

Although a long term goal of socialism is to try to eliminate all but the most satisfying, meaningful kinds of labor, we do recognize that menial and unsatisfying jobs will remain. These tasks would be shared by many people. Clearly, they wouldn't be distributed on the basis of class, race, ethnicity, or gender, as they are under capitalism. Socialists are not opposed to the use of economic incentives if they are necessary, but we believe that a combination of individual incentives, along with social, economic, and moral ones, will motivate people.

4. Isn't Socialism what they have in the Soviet Union?

Socialism means democracy. And that means elections, free speech and press, free political parties and labor unions -- things the Soviet people don't have.

In the Soviet Union, power has been centralized in the hands of a bureaucratic elite. Not only doesn't the Soviet Union deliver democracy to the Soviet people, but a highly centralized bureaucratic economy cannot meet even many of their basic economic needs. Just because the Soviet elites call their system "socialist" doesn't make it so. After all, they call it "democratic" too. Also, we see glasnost and perestroika as significant but limited steps in the direction of a more open and democratic society.

As bad as the Soviet system currently is, we shouldn't allow it to blind us to our own injustices at home. Calling reformers communist has been an easy way to suppress debate and change in our own democratic system. We reject this perpetuation of anti-communism as a means of suppressing diversity, while at the same time we continue to strongly voice our opposition to Soviet communism.

Capitalism has been successful at creating wealth without concern for the social consequences, but other countries have moved on and learned that you can have prosperity and social justice. We can do better.

5. Socialism is a threat to the stability of the family.

Socialism isn't a threat to families, capitalism is. Under capitalism, the median family income is no longer enough to live on. And with more and more mothers entering the workforce to support their family, parents are forced to leave children alone or in expensive, unsafe care facilities.

Under socialism a priority would be placed on providing programs that help support the family; quality education for all youth, affordable, quality child care, and jobs that pay a wage you can live on. In addition, under socialism material goods would no longer be all-important; people, families, and communities would define themselves by what they are instead of by what they own.

6. Socialism is a lot of talk about the future: If I am going to devote time to politics, why shouldn't I focus on something concrete, like union organizing or protecting reproductive rights?

Although capitalism will be with us for a long time, socialism is an attainable goal worth struggling for. Socialism is a series of steps: the first steps -- like raising the minimum wage, securing a national health plan and having a more realistic equal distribution of wealth -- will all help make life better today.

It is precisely our socialist vision that informs and inspires our day-to-day activism for social justice. And as socialists we bring a new framework -- a sense of the interdependence of all the progressive social movements. No one single issue organization will be able to challenge the capitalist system, so alone no single issue organization will ever be able to adequately secure its demands. In fact, unless you have a vision of the broader goal, each short-term step will be disconnected, maybe even self-defeating.

7. Socialism is Against Religion.

It is the system we live in right now that impoverishes us spiritually as well as materially -- a system that relies on greed rather than compassion and cooperation as motivating forces, a system that is based on economic incentives rather than moral ones. Democratic socialism is not a religion, but many democratic socialists see a moral dimension to our politics: the search for a society where people can be fulfilled as individuals and as a community.

Deeply religious people of all faiths are part of our movement for equity and justice. We support efforts by religious activists working for social change in and out of religious institutions, including attempts to fight for economic justice.

Lastly, we strongly condemn efforts to deny, harass and suppress religious beliefs and freedoms. Conversely, however, we recognize the need for religion to be independent of the government and the state to be separate from religions and religious institutions. We believe in the need for protections that ensure against having a religion or belief system imposed on people against their will.

8. Why are there no models of democratic socialism?

Although there are no other countries we as democratic socialists see worth imitating in their entirety, the democratic socialist, social democratic, and labor movements of other countries have been responsible for implementing many programs we can learn from. We can learn from the comprehensive welfare state maintained by the Swedes. Or from Canada's national health care system. Or France's nation-wide child care program. We however, live in Malaysia, not Sweden or France or Canada, and Malaysian socialism cannot be built solely on other countries experiences. We should be learning from efforts initiated by others such providing high quality family care, while mandating community involvement in decision-making.

Capitalism developed over centuries, so it is reasonable to think that socialism will develop over an extended period of time.

9. If so many people misunderstand socialism, why continue to use the word?

First, we call ourselves socialists because that is what we are. We believe that people would be better off if key economic decisions were made democratically rather than by a few wealthy executives. We have a vision of a fundamentally different society, a society based on social, economic, and political equality and democracy. Anyway, no matter what we call ourselves, anti-socialists will try to turn it into a dirty word.

We call ourselves socialist to remind everyone that we have a goal. If one pretends that one is not a socialist, or speaks in euphemisms, all that is lost is the basic clarity of analysis and program. Any discussion of reform in Malaysian society must encompass the understanding that it cannot be divorced from its roots in the corporate-capitalist system, that it will require fundamental, structural change.

thanks to dsausa (with some modifications)

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