OK, Socialism Is “the Devil,” but What About Capitalism?

Is a $2,000 pizza made with 24K gold, caviar, foie gras, and Stilton cheese inherently immoral? No, but it may not be worth it taste-wise, and moreover, the inequalities created by capitalism serve to make extravagant purchases like this seem wrong in deference to all the things you could buy instead with that money. (Photo Credit: Industry Kitchen)

WARNING: For those with delicate political and economic sensibilities, this piece will make repeated references to a particular term. A dirty word in certain circles, to be sure. In fact, some may be unable to speak it lest they devolve into paroxysms of uncontrollable shouting and frothing at the mouth. He doesn’t mean what I think he means, you shudder. Oh, but I do, intrepid reader. You guessed it: that word. The “S word.”

Socialism. (Boo! Hiss!)

As we approach Election Day 2020, attacks from the right have been trying to frame any and all serious Democratic contenders as “socialists,” railing against the purported evils of suggested policy shifts such as Medicare for All, free tuition at public colleges and universities, the Green New Deal, and other tenets of a progressive or liberal agenda. Under this haphazard framework, legitimate elements resembling facets of socialist societies can and do get conflated with all sorts of things right-leaning individuals don’t like.

Political correctness? Socialism. The LGBTQ “agenda?” Socialism. Migrants crossing our southern border? Socialism. Democrats “coming for your guns?” Socialism. Electric cars? Socialism. Liberal indoctrination of our youth? Socialism. The sissification of manly men? You better believe your patootie it’s socialism!

Thrown around recklessly in this manner, socialism also gets confused with other economic and political systems people either don’t grasp or haven’t bothered to try to understand. In the minds of some, socialism, a theory of organization which favors social ownership of the means of production and of working to satisfy human needs, is synonymous with communism, which can be seen as the next step after socialism in a post-capitalist society, and which advocates for doing away with notions of class, money, occupational specificity, and private ownership.

As a Bernie Sanders supporter, I’ve heard the question numerous times, “Isn’t he a c-c-communist?” As if the person asking were a character out of Scooby Doo or something, staring down a ghost. No, he’s not. As other democratic socialists believe, he feels both the U.S. economy and society should be run democratically to meet the greatest public need and not just for the benefit of a privileged few. Especially when understood next to communism, some might even believe his proposed reforms don’t go far enough.

Let’s not get bogged down in discussion of specific political candidates, though. The larger point is that talk of socialism, in the hands of bad-faith actors and critics, becomes a weapon used to discredit anyone and anything resembling a leftist or espousing leftist ideologies. In this sense, socialism is understood as both logically and morally inferior to capitalism. Ah, yes, capitalism. The free market. A model of economic efficiency free from the tyranny of government control. A bastion of Western rectitude and a symbol of the industry of a proud country like the U.S. of A. Surely, the right’s embrace of unfettered capitalism puts it on the right side of history. After all, you don’t want America becoming Venezuela, do you?

Put aside any notions of Venezuela possessing unique features which have led to its economic disarray (e.g. an overreliance on oil as a source of revenue) as well as doubts about whether socialism as it is designed has actually been employed there by the likes of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro (it hasn’t), though. If we are to invoke capitalism as a defense of why socialist functions can’t or shouldn’t exist in America, shouldn’t we be able to explain with a straight face why it is fundamentally better? To this effect, shouldn’t we all be able to speak to the wonders capitalism has done for all of our lives?

In a two-part video essay titled “What’s Wrong with Capitalism” for her channel ContraPoints, Natalie Wynn, ex-philosopher and YouTuber with a mind for social justice (and a great follow on YouTube and Twitter, by the by), addresses some of the potential shortcomings of a capitalist society like ours.

Beginning with a bit of context about acute feelings that something is wrong with our world as expressed by middle-class white males facing a changing population at home, an expanding global marketplace/exchange of ideas, and a commensurate loss of privilege, Wynn avers that while this sense of “getting screwed” is accurate, others are getting screwed worse. In this regard, and with respect to vague attempts to scapegoat other disenfranchised groups, the problem is not “the Jews,” nor is it feminism, the ghost of Karl Marx, people of color, trans people, vegans, or anyone else who might be labeled a “cuck,” a “snowflake,” etc. The problem is capitalism.

So, what’s wrong with capitalism? Wynn makes these salient points in service of her arguments:

Alienated labor: Or as Wynn simplifies it, “shitty jobs.” Because many workers have no stake in the profitability of the company they serve and are merely working to make money, ensure a path to other benefits, and/or not get passed over for a promotion or fired, there’s no sense of intrinsic reward from their efforts or a sense of camaraderie because they are being pitted against one another.

Depending on the situation, they might also be forced to engage in company retreats and other “team building” exercises or they might not even be identified as employees at all (i.e. independent contractors, who are liable for much of their own expenses and not privy to the same benefits). The pretense makes it that much worse.

Advertising: As Wynn defines it, the purpose of advertising is “to manufacture desires, which brands across the world spend nearly five hundred billion dollars a year doing.” In theory, if we are rational beings capable of making rational decisions in our best interest, as is an assumption of capitalism, we shouldn’t require such illogical pairings of, say, attractive women and luxury vehicles, or celebrities and expensive watches. That’s because the point of advertising in a capitalist system is not to satisfy existing needs, but to endlessly create new “needs,” leaving those original very real needs dangerously unfulfilled.

Inequality: Referencing BuzzFeed’s web series Worth It, in which Steven Lim and Andrew Ilnyckyj try more reasonably priced items against a vastly pricier counterpart to assess whether the high-end option is, as the name indicates, “worth it,” and putting a spotlight on Season 2, Episode 5, in which Steven and Andrew compare a $2.75 slice of pizza to a $2,000 24K-gold-covered pizza from Industry Kitchen comprised of various expensive items, Wynn highlights how by simply consuming the decadent choice, because they judge it to be inferior, this suddenly begins to weigh on their conscience. They feel, on some level, guilty for having been a part of consuming something of which the cost arguably could’ve been better used elsewhere.

As Wynn explains, morality has little to no bearing on this situation. Ilnyckyj and Lim are not bad people for eating a high-falutin’ pizza, nor are the makers of the pizza wrong for creating such a pricy entrée. It is, instead, the fault of capitalism that it fuels and makes so evident the divides in income and wealth inequality which promote feelings of guilt when the alternatives are juxtaposed together. Or, to phrase this in a concise philosophical argument:

Capitalism as we know it is a defective economic system, because, although it’s good at creating large amounts of wealth in an incredibly efficient way, it distributes that wealth in an incredibly inefficient way, where efficiency is understood not as the capacity to maximize total wealth but as the capacity to maximize human happiness.

This failure is therefore not necessarily a function of some dysfunction or inability on the part of those most disenfranchised by capitalism’s elaboration, but rather a systemic flaw.

Money buys happiness…but only to an extent

Within the American economic system, more income yields more happiness, presumably because individuals/their families have enough money to meet their basic needs and can live more comfortably. At somewhere between $65,000 to $95,000 a year, however, the reported happiness benefit plateaus.

According to this interpretation of socioeconomic data, then, the stark difference between the mean income (about $72,000, within the plateau zone) and the national median ($59,000, below the plateau zone) is vaguely startling, at least as far as the goal of maximizing happiness through the economy goes. Moreover, the top 1% of American earners make more than $389,000, well beyond the upper limits of the plateau zone. What good does that serve them or us?

To Wynn, what’s particularly galling for lower-income families is not just that they have trouble making ends meet or have to worry about money/what to sacrifice, it’s that they have to do so knowing full well there are other Americans who are obscenely rich. Their eventual anger, which she likens to the kind felt at the peak of the French Revolution, would therefore be justifiable.

This analysis comes from one person, who while being humorously self-deprecating about her acumen, is yet an ex-academic who describes herself as a “dumb-dumb” who “likes shiny things.” This is to say that while she did her research and presented her viewpoints in a very entertaining way, she is not an expert in this subject matter. Yet armed with a group of economists who specialize in researching and addressing widening equality, who knows what else we could throw alongside Wynn’s content. 40 minutes? Maybe 400 minutes is more appropriate given the potential complexity of this topic.

Capitalism, you’re getting off easy here.


For those of us sold on the perils of capitalism either as a result of Natalie Wynn et al.‘s discourse on the subject or based on our own feelings of dissatisfaction and alienation within a capitalist society, it is clear what the problems are, but not necessarily how we move past them. As Wynn indicates, the conditions for socialism to take root in the United States would require a failure of the current system. At the very least, that will take time.

In the interim, Wynn largely demurs on the actions she prescribes for her viewers to take to comic effect, suggesting among other things that we eat more vegetables, try not to be manipulated into waging war against other downtrodden people, tweet radically, vote Labour, and not cede more power to “the absolute worst dingbats our society has to offer.” Ultimately, she yields to the call to arms of Tabby, a cat-woman radical and one of her videos’ list of personas (fur-sonas?), who seeks to smash her way to revolution. Catgirls of the world unite! The idea has appeal, if for no other reason than the patent absurdity of it all.

I would submit that amid taking actions to benefit the planet and the world’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we should also keep conservations going about the long-term viability of our society as is and how well each of us are doing (or aren’t) within the confines of a capitalist framework. In my relatively short life span, I have witnessed a global financial crisis and the ensuing recession. Despite our apparent current economic fortune, there’s reason to fear we could be headed there again. An ongoing trade war with China. Widespread accusations of currency manipulation of allies and rivals alike. A slowdown in world trade across continents. And we still haven’t felt the full force of the GOP tax cuts or realized their implications. In other words, there are plenty of reasons to fear another recession, and Donald Trump’s White House is a key player in all of this.

Relatedly, and with a nod to Trump loyalists who have stuck by him amid the disarray, I urge his supporters and others sympathetic to his cause to think about, beyond his positions on immigration and other social issues, just how much they’re getting as a function of his presidency. You may have faith in him despite misgivings about his bully mentality, his fascist leanings, his misogyny, racism, transphobia, and xenophobia. Hell, you may actually like these things about him, and if you made it this far, thanks for reading. I’m not sure why you did, but thanks.

When it comes down to it, however, if you and your bottom line are what primarily concern you, keep thinking about what President Trump and the GOP are or aren’t doing for you. You probably are already watching the markets. But keep the tax cuts in mind and how you have benefited, if at all. Or how trade wars, which Trump boldly proclaimed are easy to win, may actually be hurting you when you’re picking up the tab. Or why, despite all the promises you’d be “winning,” things feel pretty much the same as before, if not worse. Barack Obama’s shift in the Oval Office is over, and when Republicans start coming for your social safety net to try to make up for their shitty policy goals, you won’t be able to blame him for it. Not terribly sincerely, in any event.

And by all means, amidst the doom and gloom depicted by conservatives and centrists alike about socialism, consider whether it is vitally important that we live in a world of unfettered capitalism. An end to capitalism wouldn’t mean an end to your ability to enjoy stuff as you might in our present materialistic society. It would, meanwhile, signify a shift away from a system that prizes profit over people and seeks to make money rather than satisfying human needs and happiness. Whether by regulating capitalism more heavily or by transitioning away from it, that seems like an end result worth striving for.

Harvey Weinstein, Sexual Harassment, and Our Patriarchal Capitalist Society

not-so-fine_weinstein
In light of the mountain of allegations against him, Harvey Weinstein seems all but guilty of sexual impropriety involving actresses and other women in his life. However, Weinstein is just one of countless predators who have victimized women across professions, and women’s rights are still regularly under attack, suggesting his antics are just the tip of the iceberg. (Photo Credit: PA Images)

The ongoing scandal concerning film producer Harvey Weinstein as a decades-old serial sexual predator is a mind-boggling one. Not merely because of Weinstein’s high profile, mind you—if anything, that would seem to make it more likely, in that film producers and other men in positions of power have leveraged or have tried to leverage their stature over women for centuries and longer. The growing list of names of women who have come forward to tell their tales of horrifying, demeaning encounters, and potentially criminal ones at that, with Weinstein, meanwhile, is alarming. For us, the average media consumers, regarding the breadth of the scandal both in terms of the number of women alleged to have been victimized by Harvey Weinstein and the period over which his alleged offenses transpired, the obvious question is: how is this all just coming to light? How did the press and other parties involved not know about Weinstein’s misdeeds? As I’m sure many of us realize, much of Weinstein’s abusive behavior probably was known, just not talked about. Money and influence afford the holder many things in our society, and discretion is among the most valued of them, particularly those up to no good.

As tends to be the case, there will be those commenting on the Harvey Weinstein situation who see the mounting allegations against the disgraced now-former studio executive as something of a “witch hunt” or who otherwise would question the veracity of the statements made by these women after the fact. First of all, we would be naïve to think that more of these incidents weren’t reported to authorities. Whether or not these accounts could or even would be prosecuted at the time, though, is another story. Furthermore, whereas some allegations of rape or sexual assault by women against a more famous male individual might be seen as a “money grab”—which doesn’t mean that these claims should necessarily be dismissed in either the Court of Public Opinion or the judicial system, mind you—what apparent need is there for stars like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow to come forward? Money? Fame? These actresses don’t need either. Likely the worst you could say of these women is that they’re promoting some feminist agenda, and that arguably is not just advisable, but necessary with the likes of President Pussygrabber in the Oval Office as perhaps an unsettling sign of present-day attitudes toward women.

Outside of the realm of Hollywood, many—if not most—women are apt to know a “Harvey Weinstein” in their lives, likely one in a past or current workplace, at that. This is to say that the allegations against Weinstein are not some sort of isolated incident, but indicative of a corporate and patriarchal culture that marginalizes women and is built on their commodification and subjugation. Belen Fernandez, for one, writing for Al Jazeera English, urges readers to “face it: we have an epidemic of sexual harassment.” As Fernandez insists, the Harvey Weinstein scandal (Weinstein-gate?) is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to instances of males in a position of power intimidating women physically or professionally as a means of trying to coerce them into behavior they almost certainly would object to under different circumstances. Going back to the milieu of the film and television industries, Fernandez invokes the anecdotal observations of Molly Ringwald, who wrote about her own experiences with sexual harassment in a piece entitled “All the Other Harvey Weinsteins” for The New Yorker. Here is Ringwald’s critical ending passage alluded to in the Al Jazeera piece:

I could go on about other instances in which I have felt demeaned or exploited, but I fear it would get very repetitive. Then again, that’s part of the point. I never talked about these things publicly because, as a woman, it has always felt like I may as well have been talking about the weather. Stories like these have never been taken seriously. Women are shamed, told they are uptight, nasty, bitter, can’t take a joke, are too sensitive. And the men? Well, if they’re lucky, they might get elected President.

My hope is that Hollywood makes itself an example and decides to enact real change, change that would allow women of all ages and ethnicities the freedom to tell their stories—to write them and direct them and trust that people care. I hope that young women will one day no longer feel that they have to work twice as hard for less money and recognition, backward and in heels. It’s time. Women have resounded their cri de coeur. Listen.

It’s perhaps strange looking at the problem of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood from an historic perspective, wondering how tropes like the infamous “casting couch” came to be. Then again, perhaps not. As Belen Fernandez outlines, sexual harassment is a problem irrespective of industry or academic pursuit. Citing numerous studies both recent and comparatively antiquated, Fernandez underscores how even in the STEM fields, for example, instances of reported sexual harassment are “alarmingly widespread,” as they are in the medical field or medical studies. Anita Hill, herself once a subject of scrutiny for her high-profile accusation of sexual harassment against then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas, goes as far as to report 45% of employees in the United States are targets of sexual harassment, the majority of them sadly and unsurprisingly female. (As Fernandez mentions, possibly somewhat wryly, Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice despite Hill’s accusations, evidence that “justice” on this front merits qualification.) And then there’s the U.S. military, which, if you’ve been paying attention to the news in the slightest over the years, you understand serves as a metaphorical hotbed for sexual harassment and sexual assault. Fernandez points to the fact a record number of sexual assault cases were reported in 2016 among our Armed Forces. While the Pentagon regards this as proof the system works, those of us not speaking on behalf of the nation’s military are left to be skeptical, if not patently incredulous. Indeed, this area is one of any number of areas by which the United States military forces merit more scrutiny—and not less, as the White House would insist.

As Belen Fernandez and others see it, all of the above is symptomatic of a larger societal structure that values moneyed white males above all others. It is a patriarchy, moreover, that has not only subjugated women, but has subjugated other groups which more readily value women as equals, namely Native Americans. Fernandez, in particular, cites the work of the late, great Howard Zinn in informing this view. From the article, and by proxy, A People’s History of the United States:

Earlier societies—in America and elsewhere—in which property was held in common and families were extensive and complicated, with aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers all living together, seemed to treat women more as equals than did the white societies that later overran them, bring “civilisation” and private property.

Those references to “civilization” and “private property” are a cue for Fernandez to wax philosophical about the corporatized nature of America. As she sees this matter, since capitalism is primed to divide and exploit people, a significant culture change will need to be effected before this sexual harassment “epidemic” is cured:

Given that capitalism itself has no place for human equality—predicated as it is on divisions between exploiters and exploited—it seems that the current question of how to fix the sexual harassment epidemic in the U.S. will require some extensive out-of-the-box thinking. Enough with the patriarchy. It’s time to get civilised.

The answer, or at least a good start, would be empowering women to seek leadership roles and lead by example, thereby inspiring women across generations and industries to seek their own opportunities to lead and help change a culture so often defined by the metaphor of the “glass ceiling.” Then again, the durability of this repressive culture is such that while the fight for equality and to curb sexual harassment in the workplace is a worthy one, such achievements are easier said than accomplished. Extending the conversation to matters of access to abortion and contraceptives, child care, and spaces safe from emotional, physical, and sexual violence, too, this fight is one that will certainly take time and effort to wage.


In the dawning of the magnitude of Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds, use of the #MeToo hashtag by victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence to share their experiences has exploded, and this much is not to be undersold. Some see the revelations about Weinstein as a potential watershed moment, that recognition of the unspeakable treatment of women at the hands of men, particularly those close to the women affected, as well as the power of female voices, is beginning to occur. To be sure, it would seem that we have made progress in this area, and specifically concerning the exposure of high-profile sexual predators, the fairly recent downfalls of Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly, to name a few, suggest the bad behavior of their ilk eventually will catch up to them. As heartening as these shows of strength are, however, and while the visibility of females’ victimization is important, when, say, someone like Donald Trump in this day and age can brag about taking advantage of women and otherwise berate or demean them en route to the presidency speaks volumes about how much more is needed on the road to real progress.

Jia Tolentino, staff writer for The New Yorker, explores the weight of the burden faced by female victims of sexual harassment and assault alongside the deeply-ingrained systemic sexism inherent across American institutions. Her insights begin with recalling the incident that led to the revelations in news media about Harvey Weinstein’s character: that of Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who reported to the NYPD Special Victims Unit back in 2015 about being unwillingly groped by Weinstein and later wore a wire in a sting operation of sorts that produced disturbing audio in the vein of Pres. Trump’s off-handed “pussygrabber” comments from his taped conversation with Billy Bush, then of Access Hollywood fame, circa 2005.

Battilana Gutierrez, for her trouble, has had her character questioned if not assassinated by the likes of the New York Post and the Daily Mail—no great beacons of journalism, mind you, but widely circulated and salacious enough to warrant reading. This is no strange occurrence in the world of reporting sexual crimes, whether in the world of producing million-dollar films or the supposedly safe spaces of college and university campuses across the country. Especially when someone of prominence like Harvey Weinstein is accused of sexual impropriety, there is a tendency to call the history of the accuser into question, yet another iteration of the time-honored practice of slut-shaming. Realistically, though, anything beyond the facts of the case at hand involving Weinstein and Battilana Gutierrez is superfluous. Whether she’s a saint or the “she-devil” the tabloids make her out to be, the merits of the available evidence are what matter. Besides, are we supposed to throw out the allegations of every woman who has pointed a finger at Weinstein? After a certain point, trying to prove the contrary seemingly borders on the absurd.

This is not the point of Tolentino’s exercise, however. Beyond the individual complications that surround a woman’s reputation and threaten her very professional livelihood, Tolentino’s concern is the welfare of all women, and despite the goodwill created by #MeToo and the apparent increased accountability for predators like Harvey Weinstein, there is room for concern, if not outright trepidation. Tolentino writes:

Nevertheless, the hunger for and possibility of solidarity among women beckons. In the past week, women have been posting their experiences of assault and harassment on social media with the hashtag #MeToo. We might listen to and lament the horrific stories being shared, and also wonder: Whom, exactly, are we reminding that women are treated as second class? Meanwhile, symbolic advancement often obscures real losses. The recent cultural gains of popular feminism were won just when male politicians were rolling back reproductive rights across the country. The overdue rush of sympathy for women’s ordinary encumbrances comes shortly after the Department of Education reversed Obama-era guidelines on college sexual-assault investigations, and Congress allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program to expire. On October 3rd, the House passed a ban on abortion after twenty weeks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that “virtually all” Republicans in the Senate support the legislation.

Being heard is one kind of power, and being free is another. We have undervalued women’s speech for so long that we run the risk of overburdening it. Speech, right now, is just the flag that marks the battle. The gains won by women are limited to those who can demand them. Individual takedowns and #MeToo stories will likely affect the workings of circles that pay lip service to the cause of gender equality, but they do not yet threaten the structural impunity of powerful men as a group.

To put Jia Tolentino’s assertions another way, it is one thing to have a voice and to preach to the proverbial choir, but quite another to have the power to bring about positive change. And this doesn’t even address the unique challenges faced by different segments of the female population, whether based on age, race, sexual orientation, or other identifying characteristic. Systemic bias is not something that can be overcome overnight thanks to a hashtag campaign; in fact, activist Tarana Davis had the idea to create a grassroots “Me Too” movement back in 2006, before Alyssa Milano and her Tweets even broached the subject, illustrating just how difficult it can be to sustain the momentum needed for meaningful and substantive progress. When influence is concentrated in the hands of a few males at the top of the patriarchal hierarchy, penetrating the associated power disparity is essential to achieving authentic gender equality.


The term “toxic masculinity” is used to describe the kind of social environment that not only is created by the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, but aids and abets them, as well as perpetuates the conditions by which future generations will breed new sexists and sexual predators. Wikipedia defines toxic masculinity as such:

The concept of toxic masculinity is used in the social sciences to describe traditional norms of behavior among men in contemporary American and European society that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Such “toxic” masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions.

Conformity with certain traits viewed as traditionally male, such as misogyny, homophobia, and violence, can be considered “toxic” due to harmful effects on others in society, while related traits, including self-reliance and the stifling of emotions, are correlated with harm to men themselves through psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse. Other traditionally masculine traits such as devotion to work, pride in excelling at sports, and providing for one’s family, are not considered to be toxic.

Some may argue this definition is too expansive or vague, but nonetheless, it is apparent from this conceptual understanding that there are issues beyond just Harvey Weinstein, or sexual violence for that matter. On one hand, basic human decency tells us that the unfair treatment of women is wrong and the institutions that lead to their systemic oppression must be reformed, if not dismantled. On the other hand, meanwhile, various societal cues only reinforce the value attributed to the domineering “alpha” male. Seemingly every month, a new hyper-masculine superhero movie is in theaters, in which our male protagonist conquers evil, saves the day, and gets the girl, and in which he could give f**k-all about his feelings, the treatment of women, or the structural integrity of surrounding buildings. Is this the ideal of manhood? With leaders like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in place around the world, you get the sense that many of us, male and female, believe this is so. For those of us without a suit of armor or a high office, where does that leave us in the grand scheme of things?

Jia Tolentino, in her closing remarks, hits the nail on the head regarding from where recognition of the scope of the problems in the forms of sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual exploitation will need to come for Western culture to realize substantive gains:

This type of problem always narrows to an unavoidable point. The exploitation of power does not stop once we consolidate the narrative of exploitation. A genuine challenge to the hierarchy of power will have to come from those who have it.

As with the Black Lives Matter/blue lives matter/all lives matter dynamic, while we seek not to discount the energy, passion, and importance of grassroots activist movements, from all sides, there must be an understanding that this is a human issue above being a black or female or [INSERT QUALIFIER HERE] issue. On both counts, Tolentino points to lines being drawn in a “predictable” manner, thus requiring men everywhere to be as courageous in defense of (and like) the more vocal women they know, on top of the untold numbers of female (and male) victims of harassment and assault suffering in silence. Belen Fernandez, too, believes it’s time for us to get civilized. Amen to that, sister.

Keep Bernie Sanders’ Name Out of Your Mouth When You Talk about Venezuela

Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate In Charleston, South Carolina
Bernie Sanders is neither Nicolas Maduro nor is he a pure socialist. So, kindly give the Sanders-Venezuela references a rest, wouldja? (Photo Credit: Inti Ocon/AFP/Getty Images, Andrew Burton/Getty Images; Image Credit: Juliana Jimenez)

Venezuela recently held an election. You, ahem, may have heard about it. The election, which is widely being regarded as a sham, has led to deadly protests within the country, not to mention criticism from the international community and even sanctions from the White House. I know, right? The same White House that wouldn’t commit to criticism of Russia despite its apparent meddling in the U.S. presidential election is imposing sanctions on a foreign government within days of the results? Certainly, there is reason for concern about what has transpired in Venezuela as of late. 40 countries have already indicated their intention not to recognize President Nicolás Maduro’s assembly, and opposition leadership has vowed to block its inauguration, claiming electoral fraud.

It’s apparently not just a case of sour grapes, either. According to Antonio Mugica, chief executive of Smartmatic, the company that runs Venezuela’s official voting software, the election results were at least one million votes off and were deliberately altered. For a turnout of only a few million people, that’s huge. Moreover, for those keeping score at home, with the Venezuelan government claiming some 8 million total votes recorded in the assembly election—and official counts shortly before the closing of polls appearing to fall far short of this number—that one million figure may well be on the low side of things. On the heels of sweeping changes to the government months ago to give Maduro and his government power over the very courts that are supposed to keep the president in check, outside observers see this all as a means of him trying to consolidate power in the manner of a dictator. Arresting leaders of the opposition and taking them out of their homes not long after the votes were (illegitimately) counted only furthers this notion, and generally makes for bad optics. Just saying.

This is decidedly not what democracy looks like, and as such, Nicolás Maduro’s apparent attempted power grab is worthy of censure. As much as the central figure in this electoral drama has been assailed in the press, however, those who have supported Venezuela in the past or those who believe vaguely in the ruling party’s politics have come under fire, and from where I’m sitting, this has more to say about their personal political prejudices than anything. On the UK side of things, Jeremy Corbyn, Member of Parliament, leader of the Labour Party, Leader of the Opposition, Breaker of Chains, and Father of Dragons, is being poked and prodded, thematically speaking, for his past support of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, as well as Maduro himself. In Corbyn’s defense, this endorsement happened prior to any planned installments of a sham assembly and jailing of dissidents. Besides, Corbyn’s expression of admiration for Venezuela’s leadership, above all else, has more to do with his belief in the merits of socialism than anything else.

Uh-oh—I’ve said it, haven’t I? The “S” word. No, not that “S” word. Socialism. If jeering at Jeremy Corbyn, resident of a country where universal health care is part of the social order and socialized medicine is the instrument of that aspect of the safety net, has been fairly common, then in the United States, the armchair economists and self-appointed political experts have been wagging their tongues at Bernie Sanders, self-described democratic socialist, at a fever pitch. It’s not only the trolls of Twitter et al. who are making this connection between socialism and the unrest in Venezuela, as if to say that socialism is inherently flawed and thus the situation was doomed to fail anyway. Though written a month ago, an opinion piece in U.S. News & World Report from someone who used to live in Venezuela (and just happens to represent Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group funded by the Koch Brothers) elaborates how socialism is destroying Venezuela. Even if not trashing socialism explicitly, numerous outlets ranging in credibility are keen to describe Nicolás Maduro as socialist, both allowing the reader to connect the dots and creating plausible deniability for themselves. Socialism only ends one way, and that’s poorly. Bernie-crats, take heed at the destruction your favored policies would wreak!

There are two major criticisms of criticism of Sanders, Corbyn, and their ilk, mediated by a belief in an incomplete understanding of the economic/political principles involved and their nuances, a lack of insight into their application, or both. You know, beyond the idea neither Bernie nor Jeremy has any direct association with the events leading up to, during, or after the election, because that happened ALL THE WAY IN VENE-F**KING-ZUELA. The first is that while conservatives like to conflate the socialism practiced by countries around the world and those ideals espoused by Bernie et al., the comparison is not an exact one. Socialism, at a fundamental level, concerns economic and political structures in which social ownership (either society as a whole or a cooperative unit benefits from surpluses created) is a priority. Traditionally, the role of the worker to make decisions to his or her benefit and the elimination of strict distinctions between the working class and the class comprising passive business owners and providers of capital are hallmarks of its theory, as well. Broadly speaking, socialism seeks to increase production in accordance with attention to more efficient methods and in ways that honor humans’ capacity for industry, individuality, and creativity. By virtue of this, it moves to address the limitations of other economic and political theories, alongside those social systems which give rise to prejudice and unrest.

In terms of those other more limited frameworks that various philosophers have either explicitly or implicitly considered in potential application of socialist principles, the one that is most immediately relevant is capitalism. The origins of socialism, which date back centuries if not millennia, are a direct reaction to capitalism, in particular the ways in which it has served to unevenly distribute wealth and has encouraged the creation or substandard living conditions for the working classes and for the poor. In the oversimplified political parlance of our time, socialism must therefore be diametrically opposed to capitalism, and because Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn identify with elements of socialist beliefs, they must, by proxy, hate capitalism and want to bring disorder to their respective countries.

In reality, however, someone like Sanders self-describes more precisely as a “democratic socialist,” and his end game is not a purely socialist state, but rather one in which laws are passed which help make the workings of capitalism fairer and more humane, and in which stakeholders outside the milieu of corporate managers and shareholders—customers, supplies, workers, and members of the general public such as you and I—possess greater latitude in decision-making which stands to impact the economy. It’s a critical distinction to make. Ultimately, the pursuits of democratic socialism, practiced in this way, allow for greater attention to the social safety net without being hotly anti-capitalistic. Moreover, all this can be said before we even get to the concept of America as a country which is not purely capitalistic. There are umpteen social programs administered at the federal level which would not exist for a modification of unadulterated capitalism, and as some would point out, for such a “free” economy, the U.S.’s is awfully high in taxation and regulation, and relatively low in free trade.

In other words, Bernie Sanders isn’t a socialist, and by democratic socialist standards, he doesn’t go as far as some would ask for in terms of abolishing capitalism outright. Let’s dive a little deeper, though. The kneejerk reaction to even whispers of the term “socialism” in American political thought imagines a system by which economic growth is stunted by the desire to ensure income and wealth inequality, and that increased regulation and taxation denoted by an expanded role of the federal government would only further depress living conditions. Conservatives especially see socialism as a grave threat, for they would have it that low levels of taxation and laissez-faire capitalism should be our modus operandi. Let the markets correct themselves, let businesses and wealthy individuals build our economy, and don’t you dare raise my taxes! These critics on the right also have myriad examples of socialist states gone wrong with despotic leaders at the helm. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. Maduro could be another one in the making, and there are a number of other historical instances of those in power living lavishly at the expense of their constituents and being above the law. This is what many of us in the United States draw up in our minds when it comes to “socialism,” and admittedly, it’s largely understandable.

So, socialism sucks and is to blame for the degradation of order and depression in Venezuela, right? Maybe, maybe not. Eva María, a Spanish teacher at the college level, wrote a piece which appeared in the publication Socialist Worker in June and explored this notion at length. María, who originally hails from Venezuela, begins by acknowledging the struggles her homeland has faced, especially among the nation’s poor. However, she turns a critical lens back around on the “Western media” seemingly eager to depict the situation in terms of violent protest and chaos, and more importantly, she questions whether socialism has “failed” in Venezuela or whether it was actually truly implemented in the first place. In her lengthy analysis, María considers how socialism was supposed to take shape—at least as far as Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro laid out their vision—as well as outlining two “traditions” in socialist practice as expounded upon by socialist Hal Draper. As with socialism vs. democratic socialism, there is a crucial distinction to be made. Per Draper, there is “socialism-from-above” and socialism-from-below.” We’re not talking about Heaven or Hell here, either. The latter socialism is concerned with a more equitable system based on the collective power of workers which does not put profit above people, and is one in which the political struggle of the working class gets them directly involved in the democratic process in a genuine grassroots way. By contrast, the former socialism, also referred to as “social democracy,” emphasizes the long arm of the state, and envisions socialism that must be handed down to the masses rather than the masses actively reaching out and taking their democracy, so to speak.

Considered in this context, Eva María explains that Chávez’s brand of socialism was the kind of socialism-from-above that didn’t truly engage the working class at a grassroots level, and thus did not fulfill an important tenet of the kind of socialism elaborated by someone like Karl Marx. (“He said ‘Marx’—get him!”) And while Hugo Chávez did expand social programs using revenues generated by the country’s oil stores, when the oil money dried up, so did the money for those social programs. Under Maduro, opposition from both sides of the political aisle has been suppressed in a decidedly undemocratic fashion, bureaucracy within the Venezuelan government has grown yet more bureaucratic, and the nation’s capitalist class has continued to go unchallenged, with the current president proving even more friendly to this lot. Thus, as María argues, what we’ve had in Venezuela over the past 15 years or so hasn’t truly been socialism. As she puts it, “Venezuela has remained a capitalist country, through and through, despite the social achievements of the last 18 years. What has failed is not socialism, but a system that has been capitalist in its economic and political domination by a minority over the majority.” The relationship of power is everything, socialist or not, and even anti-capitalist posturing known to socialists appears to be lacking in today’s Venezuela among its leadership. Is this the “socialism” that has people taking potshots at the Sanders and the Corbyns of the world? If so, it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges allusion, if we value what Eva María and Hal Draper have to say about it.


Socialism, because it is seen as antithetical to capitalism, and therefore imperils the status quo in the United States, is unpopular with a majority of Americans. Then again, I suppose a certain amount of resistance to socialist ideals exists because of the conflation with communism and the dredging up of Cold War-era resentment. However you slice it, public opinion generally is strongly negative surrounding socialism, which explains why Bernie Sanders does not shy away from the “socialist” label, but he is quick to qualify that he supports political/economic models such as that of Denmark—a “welfare state” that is, at its core, capitalistic—more so than purely socialist states. He might as well, though. As we’ve noted, socialism always fails over the long term, and besides we wouldn’t want what has happened in Venezuela to happen here, right?

Invoking our good socialist friend and theorist Hal Draper, however, this may be an example of falling prey to a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e. socialism has produced corrupt regimes, so therefore it must. From Draper’s work, The Two Souls of Socialism:

Since the beginning of society, there has been no end of theories “proving” that tyranny is inevitable and that freedom-in-democracy is impossible; there is no more convenient ideology for a ruling class and its intellectual flunkies. These are self-fulfilling predictions, since they remain true only as long as they are taken to be true. In the last analysis, the only way of proving them false is in the struggle itself. That struggle from below has never been stopped by the theories from above, and it has changed the world time and again. To choose any of the forms of Socialism-from-Above is to look back to the old world, to the “old crap.” To choose the road of Socialism-from-Below is to affirm the beginning of a new world.

In highlighting these thoughts from Draper, I’d like to stress that I am not suggesting we necessarily start a revolution to dismantle capitalism in the U.S. and elsewhere. As with the formation of a viable and competitive third party in American politics, this would be an immense undertaking, and would require strong commitment and leadership to see it through over a protracted period. At the same time, though, I think it’s important we understand where our misunderstanding surrounding socialism, in its various forms, may exist. While socialism tends to be defined by ownership of the means of production by a central government, the involvement of the working class in economic and political decisions is more fundamental to its tenets than anything. As for Bernie Sanders in particular, he is “socialist” to the extent that he believes in the elevation and organization of workers, but in practice, is he is more of a “democratic socialist” or perhaps even closer to a “New Deal Democrat” than anything.

In other words, keep Bernie Sanders’ out of your mouth when you talk about Venezuela. Chances are you don’t understand him, the socialist movement, or the situation in that South American country nearly as well as you think you do.