What is Socialism (contagion from Twitter)

So @atrios tweeted asking for a definition of socialism in 140 characters or less. Being a fool, I tweeted “Means of production controlled by people elected with one person one vote”

Many people objected that all states which say they are socialist are also not democratic. I need more than 140 characters to explain my definition & impose on your patience.

First a definition must be true of all examples of the set defined & not true of any exceptions. Whatever socialism might be, it is a fairly new concept (I cite the infallible Pope and the encyclicl “Rerum Novum” literally “new things” & all about socialism). Any absolute monarch owns everything including all of the means of production. Ramses II was not a socialist. I think any reasonable definition of socialism implies that “democratic socialism” is redundant.

Some commenters asserted that democratic socialism is impossible, so, by my definition, socialism is impossible. I concede for the sake of argument that they are correct. So what ? I could also define “perpetual motion machine” or “pegasus”. Defining a word does not imply the assertion that it names something which has actually existed or could exist.

Others assumed that, by defining socialism as democratic, I must be advocating it. in fact, I think that socialism is a bad approach to managing the means of production.

From that concession a very polite and intelligent tweeter concluded I was a libertarian. I said I prefer a mixed system which is not socialist but is closer to socialism than, say, the current USA (an aside why am I talking about a country 3000 miles away — well I am looking at a petrochemical plant built which isn’t actually producing anything, built with public subsidies to a crooked businessman who paid the second largest bribe in Italian history and damnit I’m on vacation and I will. not. think. about the Italian economy or how a mixed economy can get all mixed up.)

So to conclude. It makes no sense to define socialism as state control of the means of production. That would imply that all absolute monarchs are socialists. One can define something as democratic without praising it (electing Ronald Reagan was clearly democratic). One can define something without asserting it is stable or can last for a long time in the real world. I think socialism is utopian and I don’t agree with Paul Ryan.

I am addicted to twitter but have profound doubts about a medium in which the concepts explained above are too complicated to express.

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