Cap­i­tal­iz­ing on so­cial­ism’s bad name

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION - Thomas G. Palma Lo­cal Con­trib­u­tor Palaima is a clas­sics pro­fes­sor at the uni­ver­sity of texas; tpalaima@sbc­

Among tech­niques to pre­vent in­formed dis­cus­sions from tak­ing place on crit­i­cal is­sues that are fac­ing our coun­try is the time­worn strat­egy of de­mo­niz­ing the op­po­si­tion through per­sonal attacks or by link­ing them and their views to some no­tion, prac­tice or phi­los­o­phy that a good many peo­ple view as bad or evil.

As terms of op­pro­brium in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, very few words have had over time the stay­ing power to damn thoughts, ideas and thinkers that the words “so­cial­ism” and “so­cial­ist” con­tinue to have. Foxbusi­ on July 13 re­ports: “Obama’s a so­cial­ist. That’s the view of 55 per­cent of Amer­i­can vot­ers.” Na­tion­al­re­ four days ear­lier fol­lowed “so­cial­ist” with a cas­cade of re­lated and more vi­o­lent ad­jec­tives: “Marx­ist, fas­cist, Nazi, com­mu­nist.”

The neb­u­lous term ‘so­cial­ism’ is ef­fec­tive be­cause it pro­vides en­try into a pool of stronger terms like ‘Nazi’ and ‘com­mu­nist.’ It can also be jux­ta­posed with vi­o­lent im­ages like the gun to the head. And it has a long his­tory.

It is clear that be­ing de­scribed as a “card­car­ry­ing so­cial­ist” ( is not a com­pli­ment. The iconog­ra­phy of im­ages for “Obama so­cial­ist” on Google drives the point home.

One im­age has a smil­ing Obama in front of an Amer­i­can flag. In­stead of 50 stars on a blue field, it has a Soviet ham­mer and sickle on a sickly pur­ple (red­dened blue) back­ground. An­other im­age shows Obama orat­ing in front of larger scale busts of the un­holy triad Marx, Lenin and Mao. Yet an­other shows that the la­bel of so­cial­ism is not in­nocu­ous. The word SO­CIAL­ISM ap­pears in red at the bot­tom. Above, a red car­toon draw­ing of a man points a gun, ex­e­cu­tion-style, at the head of a like fig­ure in blue. The blue man holds a round black bag with a dol­lar sign on it.

The neb­u­lous term “so­cial­ism” is ef­fec­tive be­cause it pro­vides en­try into a pool of stronger terms like “Nazi” and “com­mu­nist.” It can also be jux­ta­posed with vi­o­lent im­ages like the gun to the head. And it has a long his­tory.

Back in 1942 three young eco­nom­ics in­struc­tors at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas had the courage to present them­selves at the kind of or­ches­trated mass meet­ing we now call a “Tea Party”. The meet­ing in Dal­las was or­ga­nized to de­nounce the 40-hour work­week, the New Deal and or­ga­nized la­bor. The in­struc­tors wanted to of­fer ex­pla­na­tions.

They were de­nied the right to speak. But a Dal­las fed­eral judge wrote the UT re­gents re­quest­ing “changes in the eco­nom­ics fac­ulty” be­cause “our uni­ver­sity (is) swinging away from true eco­nom­ics and rout­ing our chil­dren into the camp of state so­cial­ism.” UT Pres­i­dent Homer Rainey, who re­sisted re­gen­tal re­quests to fire tenured and un­tenured eco­nom­ics fac­ulty who taught New Deal eco­nom­ics, was even­tu­ally him­self fired for “rec­om­mend­ing ‘ho­mo­sex­u­als’ for teach­ing po­si­tions, coun­te­nanc­ing the teach­ing of com­mu­nism, and sup­port­ing so­cial­ist eco­nomic philoso­phies.”

Read these ac­cu­sa­tions out loud and you may want to wash your mouth out with soap. A bet­ter way to clear your mind and spirit is to read the fol­low­ing words of a true, com­mit­ted so­cial­ist, the artist, craftsper­son, poet, trans­la­tor and thinker Wil­liam Mor­ris, rec­om­mended to me by long-time Aus­ti­nite and craftsper­son James E. Gar­diner. They cap­ture the true high as­pi­ra­tions of some so­cial­ist thinkers.

In a lec­ture with the ti­tle “The Beauty of Life” (1880) Mor­ris de­clared: “I had thought that civ­i­liza­tion meant the at­tain­ment of peace and or­der and free­dom, of good­will be­tween man and man, of the love of truth and the ha­tred of in­jus­tice … not more stuffed chairs and more cush­ions … and more dainty meat and drink — and the re-withal more and sharper dif­fer­ences be­tween class and class … If (civ­i­liza­tion) does not aim at … giv­ing some share in the hap­pi­ness and dig­nity of life to all the peo­ple that it has cre­ated … it is sim­ply an or­ga­nized in­jus­tice, a mere in­stru­ment for op­pres­sion.”

Ide­al­is­tic? Yes. Sim­ple-minded? Per­haps. But noble, gen­tle and con­sis­tent with the mes­sage of Je­sus Christ — and im­pos­si­ble to con­fuse with the ac­tions of a mob hit man.

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