Socialism: What’s in a Word?


In his recent newsletter Congressman Morgan Griffith warns us against socialism.  Before we discuss whether we truly face a socialist threat, let’s consider the origin of the word.  Socialism comes from the Latin word socius, which means “comrade, friend, ally.” “Society”, “social,” and “sociable” all stem from the same root.  In other words, it’s about people. “Democrat” is another interesting word, stemming from the Greek “demos” also meaning “people.” So when someone like Bernie Sanders says he is a “democratic socialist,” what he means is that he favors plans that will help people.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt fought to save our nation from the Great Depression, he was constantly attacked as a “socialist.” The programs he devised were all about helping people, and many of those policies, including social security, continue to benefit Americans to this day. And yet the opponents of the New Deal never gave up the fight to roll back programs benefitting the public, and to return the nation to the era of the robber barons, when unrestricted capitalism left the vast majority of Americans with very little, and with very little hope of bettering their situation.

Today in America the will of the people is not being served.  In poll after poll the majority of Americans say they are in favor of the following: affordable health care; lower prescription drug prices; a fair tax system that requires large corporations and the super-rich to pay their share; and an immediate response to the climate crisis that threatens us all. It is when the public demands policies benefitting the people that we hear warnings against “socialism.”

As I was growing up, Richard Nixon, and Joseph McCarthy made great political hay warning against socialists and communists. During the “red scare,” we were warned that Russian operatives were infiltrating every aspect of American life. How odd that today when we know with certainty that Russian operatives interfered with our last presidential election, so many of our leaders, and indeed so many Americans, are content to pretend it didn’t happen. Perhaps this is because the Russians are no longer “socialists’ or “communists” but simply old-style robber barons of the most lethal variety.

Kurt Merchant