Believe it or not, there are aspects of socialism, that is, democratic socialism, that conservatives might actually support and enjoy.
Socialism is the belief in worker (“social,” “democratic”) ownership of all businesses and citizen power to decide all public policy. Supporters of such an economic and political structure existed alongside, and fiercely opposed, State socialism (also called authoritarian socialism or Communism).
Democratic socialism is not about a totalitarian government owning all businesses as under Communism, nor the State determining your career, nor eliminating possessions, the private ownership of homes, or civil liberties; rather, it aims to bring democracy into the workplace and local and national government.
True, if you are a conservative who understands democratic socialism, there are likely many things about it you oppose.
For example, socialistic organization of a firm is, obviously, anti-capitalist. This means that capitalistic ownership, where one person (or a small group) owns a business, holds all decision-making power, and enriches him- or herself with the wealth created by the workers who directly create the good or provide the service, will be obsolete. That is an authoritarian structure, closely resembling a dictatorship, and leads to severe economic inequality, as (predictably) owners often award themselves millions while paying workers abysmal wages.
(Side note: no one here is advocating the State force business owners to restructure; successful worker cooperatives, where each worker is an owner, votes on company decisions, and takes an equal share of profits, already exist around the world because some people chose democracy. The transformation to a nation of democratic workplaces will take centuries, but it should be voluntary.)
Capitalism is the few growing rich off the labor of the many, and some conservatives support that, particularly if they envision themselves as future business owners.
Any why not view it positively? Business owners start from nothing. Don’t they deserve their millions?
Well, in the beginning the founder creates the good or provides the service (creating the wealth), but without workers he or she cannot produce on a scale larger than him- or herself. Would Bill Gates be where he is today without employees?
The founder must hire workers and become a manager, leaving the workers as the direct creators of wealth. The sale of each good or service then must cover the cost of production, the cost of labor (worker compensation), and a little extra: profit the owner uses as he or she chooses. Therefore workers are not paid the full value of what they produce, which socialists call “exploitation” and correct through democratic ownership: founders share ownership, control, and profit equally with each worker added.
Even though that’s more democratic, increases prosperity for more people, and eliminates exploitation, conservatives (and even moderate or liberal business owners) may not like it. They might prefer holding onto decision-making power and enriching themselves while paying workers far less.
Likewise, they may hate socialists’ anti-war sentiments, or desires to see tax dollars used for universal healthcare, higher education, and work for the unemployed. But there are three things conservatives may appreciate about socialism.
The End of Unions
When workers own their workplaces, will there be a need for unions?
Unions are organizations of workers that join together to push for better working conditions, higher pay, and so on. They engage in negotiation, or direct action like strikes or sit-downs, to force employers to make concessions that will improve their standard of living and working–and that of their descendants (winning for us the 8 hour work day and the weekend, for example).
This is a central conflict of capitalism. As Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, “The workmen desire to get as much as possible, the masters to give as little as possible.”
But when workers own the businesses in which they work, this long conflict between workers and owners will come to a close. Decisions on hours, pay, schedule, and everything else will be made by discussion and vote. The workmen will become the masters, and unions will have no purpose.
The Abolition of Welfare
Worker ownership is not a cure-all. Cooperatives take on more workers because, although it further divides power and profits, more workers can expand production and increase profits. Yet there surely will be times when more people are looking for work than cooperatives are looking to hire, just like in our present economy.
So socialists envision using tax dollars to fund local public work projects. Taxes will cover a basic salary to workers to rebuild our inner cities and slums, clean streets, tutor struggling students, plant new trees, paint murals on buildings—any productive task that betters society. This has been accomplished successfully in the past, such as during the Great Depression. Some American and Canadian cities are already paying homeless men and women to do similar work, helping them crawl out of extreme poverty.
Such work need not be permanent (though governments could theoretically help workers organize into new, self-sustaining worker co-ops if there exists a consumer base for their mission), nor organized by the federal government. Federal tax dollars can be distributed to city councils based on annual unemployment levels, and cities can decide what projects they need to focus on to improve their communities.
Between worker cooperatives, guaranteed employment, and a strong minimum wage (which has been shown to actually increase employment and have only a marginal affect on prices), poverty will be abolished, alongside welfare.
Guarantee citizens a job with a decent wage, and food stamps, child tax credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other forms of welfare (except those for the elderly, sick, and disabled) can be eliminated. Unemployment compensation will disappear–paying someone for 99 weeks without work in return is extremely wasteful. Under socialism, men and women will be paid to work.
The Death of Bureaucracy
If you are a conservative, you are likely often concerned (rightly) about State power–big government encroaching on your personal life and civil liberties. You may also be concerned that the State is not curbing personal freedom enough–allowing things like gay marriage, flag burning, abortion. Or not going to war when you think America should.
Well, how would you like to have a say–a direct say–in public policy? How would you like decision-making power? Perhaps it’s time for pure democracy.
Socialism is the simple belief that the people, not the wealthy, the corporate owners, or politicians who can be bought, should control the government and write the laws, through direct democracy.
Instead of voting once every four or eight years, concerned citizens will vote many times a year…on national policy. The people will vote on education standards, the protection of the planet, whether to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants, whether to go to war, everything.
Citizens would have initiative rights for municipal, state, and national policy, that is, the ability to petition for a law or law change and have it put to the people for a vote. Direct democracy already exists in Switzerland.
This is common at the local and state level already. How do you think Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012? It was put on the ballot, the people voted, and it was done. No corrupt politicians in the way, swayed this way and that by lobbyists and their bribes. No bureaucracy, no unelected officials making decisions for the common people.
Under socialism, politicians like congressmen would be elected only to carry out the policies approved by the (perhaps two-thirds) majority of Americans, with elected Supreme Court members and the president preserving a system of checks and balances. Power to the people, as the old radical leftist saying goes. The people would be the politicians.
Short term limits and the threat of immediate recall vote (even of the president) would keep officials in line with the desires of voters. If, say, 60% of Americans felt the president wrongly vetoed a measure passed by the people, he or she could be overruled by national vote. If the president (or any politician) refused to enforce laws, a 60% majority vote could remove him or her from office immediately.
Karl Marx, in The Communist Manifesto, wrote that the common people must become the ruling class, to “win the battle of democracy.”
He wasn’t just talking about liberals and socialists.