Greg 00:00 [Intro] As Toni Morrison has put it, “the destiny of the 21st century will be shaped by the possibility or collapse of a shareable world.” Welcome to our podcast where we explore the history, theory and practice of democratic socialism with our guide big Mike. What can we learn from the past to help us create a better, more shareable world in the future? So welcome back everybody to A Shareable World, the history, theory, and practice of democratic socialism with big Mike. We are continuing a discussion of history in general. Uh, and I’m going to do a little, um, review of our last podcast.
Mike 00:50 Remind me, remind me of what I’ve been saying that’s important.
Greg 00:54 Um, so here’s what I came up with for review. Uh, first point—capitalism, uh, as part of the radical transformation of the modern period, that it, produced many good things but also produced many negative things. Um, which as an aside I think is an important point because I think often when you criticize capitalism, people take it as, um, an indictment of capitalism as such. And so we need to realize that capitalism contributed to this modern—
Mike 01:26 Even, even on the left, people forget that Karl Marx was a great advocate of capitalism, right? I’m always amused that people assume that if you’re a Marxist or anti-capitalist, that shows how little they understand about Marxism, because Marx understood capitalism to be a very progressive step in human history, right? And he understood that it brought improvement in the standard of living and it brought great wealth. But history is history. So there’s a future to history, right? Right. But capitalism, he thought the whole world should go capitalist, right?
Greg 02:03 Uh, and then among those negative things, just in terms of reviewing, there was inequality, both more extreme inequality but also more visible inequality and then also the instability inherent to the capitalist system. And then we talked about the Great Depression.
Mike 02:19 Yeah. I would add a couple more points on the, on the negative side there, just for the sake of laying the groundwork for understanding where we are today. Uh, one of the negative points is that not only did it create great poverty within each economy as it were, but eventually it creates, creates greater poverty internationally, uh, of course through the mechanisms of imperialism and colonialism. But that’s today in the United States with the masses of people on our Southern border trying to enter the United States. This is a direct consequence of capitalism and of that particular form of capitalism practiced by the United States in the 1920s and ‘30s and so forth. Yeah, that’s number one. And number two is the, um, um, what was the number two? It’ll come to me.
Greg 03:20 So like I said—[overlapping conversation] the instability inherent to capitalism is part… and then that led us to great, the Great Depression and—it’ll come back. Um, so the Great Depression as a major turning point in reality of course, but also in how we think about the capitalist system, which led us to discuss three, kind of, responses to the Great Depression. Uh, one we were calling ameliorated capitalism. So the new deal and other strategies for compensating for capitalism’s faults. That’s one strategy. Fascism, which is an entire cultural organization of society through partnership with the capitalist elite—
Mike 04:09 There are many, there are many specialists on fascism who would argue that it’s no system at all, but I don’t agree with them.
Greg 04:17 Well, and I mean you have to construe it somehow as a response to the crisis—
Mike 04:22 Yeah, that absolutely. Yeah.
Greg 04:24 And then communism, uh, understood as kind of, uh, offering a wholesale alternative to capitalism. So there’s three kinds of responses and, and broad strokes. Um, and then that’s kind of where we stopped and brought us up to World War II. And, um, I think we were headed towards kind of defining democratic socialism as distinct from social democracy. But, uh, and then I think we’re headed towards thinking about the Cold War…
Mike 04:58 I think before we get to democratic socialism… Although there’s no question that chronologically democratic socialism develops much earlier than the Cold War. But since we’re living in this century and at this time it’s probably better if we talk about the Cold War first in order to place contemporary ideas about social democracy and democratic socialism and their background in the proper context.
Greg 05:26 Yeah. And I actually, if I could add to that, cause I think it’s important part of your strategy that and, and an important part of what, how you want us to think about history generally is that the Cold War, the understanding of the Cold War is framing how we think of it [democratic socialism].
Mike 05:43 Exactly. That’s what I really want to try to concentrate on at this moment. So I think the first major external challenge to capitalism comes with the Russian Revolution, the Russian Revolution, um, a huge event in human history. Uh, we, we don’t quite see it that way, especially in Anglo-American cultural, uh, media that we inhabit as academics or politicians. But it really shook the world. If you go back and look at the time looking in the late teens and early twenties of the 20th century, um, you find that the Russian Revolution had an impact all over the world. I was always amused that in China, people began naming their children after heroes of the Russian Revolution and things like that happened a great deal. And it was the first, it really was the first external challenge to the capitalist system.
Mike 06:48 Now, ironically, it was actually in some ways closer to Marx’s thinking than we would give it credit for being today. Some people say it was Marxist thinking that then there’s a kind of revisionist view—to which I subscribe to a certain extent—that eventually, um, Russian communism becomes fascism. It becomes very difficult to distinguish it from fascism. And at least in terms of what to me is most important. And that is how does it affect the daily lives of the people. Uh, but we have to remember the revolution takes place and the, and the West, meaning the Allied powers in World War I, England, France, et cetera, see the revolution, um, first of all, as a blow to their war, um, campaign against the Germans and the Austro-Hungarian empire. Uh, because not too long after the revolution, Lenin who’s leading the revolution decides to withdraw Russia from the war.
Mike 08:02 It’s a capitalist war. Uh, the Tsarist’s army has broken down. People are, the soldiers are walking off the fields and going home to, to uh, either sow, depending on the season, they want to sow their crops, or they want to reap their crops. They sure as hell don’t want to stand around shooting at shadows on the other side of the trenches. So he decides to withdraw. And this was a, an act which the West saw as a betrayal of the, um, anti-German, Austro-Hungarian campaign. But secondly, they also saw it as a challenge to the capitalist system. And the evidence of that is very easy to see. The, uh, by 1919, uh, less actually than two years after the revolution itself began to take place. Revolution takes place—that is the seizure of power takes place in St. Petersburg by then called Petrograd—in, um, the end of 1917, beginning of 1918. The revolution spreads to Moscow.
Mike 09:13 The revolution really does begin to take over major urban centers. And this is a very strong contrast to the Chinese communist revolution, by the way, which we’ll discuss some time, which was based on rural conquest, not on the cities. In Russia, the revolution conquers the cities first and then moves to the countryside. And in China it starts in the countryside and then eventually they conquer the cities in 1949. By 1919, the French, the English and the Americans have all landed troops on Russian territory, uh, ostensibly for one reason or another, but all of them trying to support the anticommunist counter-revolutionary forces. Uh, French and British are in the caucuses. The British are up in the North around Murmansk. The Americans are in Siberia. It’s a little—kind of amusing, but it helps to explain something very important which I’ll come to in a moment.
Mike 10:16 Um, the history behind that event or the American participation in their counter-revolutionary activity in Russia is something like this. Um, there was a sizeable community of Czech—Bohemian Czech soldiers who had escaped from or had become prisoners of the Russians or escaped from the Austro-Hungarian army and um, began to organize themselves militarily on Russian soil in order to oppose the Germans. And the Austro-Hungarians, they wanted their independence. Uh, but when Russia withdraws from the, from the war, they want to get to Western Europe, but there they are stuck in Russia with the Germans and the Austro-Hungarian armies between them and, and their homeland. So, and the Russians have withdrawn and the rosters don’t want the Czechs out there fighting against the Germans when the Russians have decided to make a peace with the Germans. So the Czech start out across the trans-Siberian railroad to get to the Pacific, to start with they are going to take a boat to a North America, then take a train across North America to New York, and then eventually they’ll end up in Europe able to fight the Germans from the—the Austro-Hungarians from the West European side. Now it happens that the trans-Siberian railroad was in some places, two tracks along the way.
Mike 11:48 Trains didn’t move very fast and the system broke down very quickly. So you have these Czech troops all along the way. People aren’t happy about that. The Japanese who were in the First World War on the Allied side, on the Anglo-American French side, um, are a little bit worried about what’s happening in Siberia. They land their troops to guard the, the railway. The railway extends into a part of, uh, China that the Japanese occupied into Manchuria, uh, and then go along with a spur down to Korea and North China. So they want to protect the railway, which they depend upon for trade. Then the Americans who are suspicious of the Japanese, even though the Japanese, uh, are their allies in World War !, the Americans land troops to watch the Japanese watching the Czechs, watching… So you get this kind of burlesque of a situation developing.
Mike 12:50 But this fact combined with one other thing, and that is that the, the Allies are—particularly the British, and particularly under Winston Churchill, who was the first Lord of the Admiralty, but a major political figure during World War I—uh, lay down what they call the cordon sanitaire. It’s a line that runs from the Gulf of Finland all the way down to the Black Sea. And what it does is say, it’s what we today would call a red line. It says the communists had better not cross this line into Eastern Europe. It’s the line that defines Poland and Romania and so forth as distinct from Russia. And they say the Russians had better not step over this line or there’ll be dire consequences. It probably had little more than a psychological influence, but the Russians remembered all of this. This was an extremely important point.
Mike 13:47 During the, um, during the civil war that follows the Revolution, the war between the Reds of the communists and the Whites, the anti-communists, um, which was very ferocious. The, um, the fact that the Western allied powers were present, even if they didn’t actively fight in some places—they were present on the White side, uh, sank deeply into the communist mind. And they, they recognize very clearly that, uh, this revolution that in theory should have spread to the working class all over the world, um, was always going to be in danger from the, uh, from an aggressive West. And they had better, uh, reformulate policies in order to do that. So one of the, one of the things they begin to develop and by—and under Stalin, this becomes very important, is the idea of what they call socialism in one country. They know that the, um, world revolution isn’t going to take place.
Mike 14:53 The great advocate of world revolution, Leon Trotsky, who actually was the man who was most responsible for organizing the Red Army, uh, is defeated by Stalin in a power struggle. And eventually exiled. Dies in an accident [inaudible] in Mexico in 1940. A very romantic figure in the history of revolutionary figures. Um, but by the time Stalin is in power, this idea that we must build socialism in one country in order to defend it, uh, which leads the way the World War II by the way. And as we’ll see, the idea that once you have socialism established in one country successfully, then that country can become the basis for spreading the revolution, right? So there is a theoretical foundation as well as a political foundation for what happens after World War II and the Cold War. This is very important to keep in mind. The second thing that happens is that Lenin once they’ve won is now faced with a realization that it’s an impoverished country.
Mike 16:00 You know, Russia was impoverished before the war. It never developed. It wasn’t developed. There was some industry and in St. Petersburg, and Petrograd and in Moscow, but it wasn’t an industrialized society. And Lenin took seriously, um, Marx’s view of history that you had to pass through capitalism, that capitalism was necessary for the development of the economy. And without passing logically through capitalism, you’d never get to socialism. Uh, eventually we’ll talk about some people who didn’t agree with that, but at this point that was the idea. So Lenin announces in 1921, what’s called the New Economic Policy, which is a, a, as he said at the party congress will take one step backwards to take two steps forward. And what he meant by that was that we’ll return to small scale capitalism. We’re gonna allow capitalism to develop. We need to accumulate capital to build the economy.
Mike 17:02 So we’ll allow some capitalism to develop. It’s in this period that Americans start going to the Soviet Union because capitalism is opening up a little bit in Russia. Ford Motor Company builds a large motor factory in, in, in a city that eventually will be called Kuybyshev. And um, American engineers go and they’re all going to make money. They’re not going to help communism, right? They’re going to make money. Because it’s a developing capitalist society, like many of the countries after World War II where American companies go. And uh, but Lenin is shot and falls ill, doesn’t die in 1921, uh, dies in 24; Stalin is really fully in power by 1924, 25, 26 really, and he cancels this policy. Stalin was a, a true believer—not very innovative in his thinking, very innovative in his wielding of power, but not very innovative in his thinking.
Mike 18:07 So they cancel this New Economic Policy then Stalin is faced now with the question, well if you’re to not use small-scale capitalism to develop your society, your economy, uh, you’ve got to find capital elsewhere. And the only source of capital, uh, for development is, first of all, agriculture. So one of the major instruments of policy to squeeze capital out of the economy for development of the industrial sector is to squeeze agriculture. You collectivize agriculture, uh, and you force the peasants to deliver a high percentage of their crops to the state, which the state can then use to feed the cities. But also can sell abroad and do all kinds of things to raise capital. So that was beginning in the, in the, in the, in the mid-late twenties of the collectivization process, particularly around 1929 which led to terrible disasters, uh, the Great Famine of 29, 30, 31.
Mike 19:18 And the, and the consequence was that of course was the necessary development, and Stalin understood this, of the state’s power, of its police power, of its repressive power to control the population, the agricultural population in particular in the face of, um, unrest and anger, um, at what was happening to them. The other source of capital are human beings. And we think of the, of the, um, great slave labor camps of the Gulag, which was a real development. I mean, once you’d never doubt the existence of the Gulag. It was, it was very dreadful.
Greg 20:06 But they were also used for labor.
Mike 20:09 They were—the point, my point is that that a lot of the, uh, a lot of the Gulag was about cheap labor as a form of capital, what we would call human capital in a very, very gross sense of the term. They developed for a few years in the early thirties in a tremendous spirit of voluntarism—people would so, so it seemed, volunteer to go and just just leave their jobs and go off and build a canal, uh, or build a dam, something of that sort, that the developing economy needed. Eventually, of course that dies down. But the state becomes the instrument for the, um, control of a population going through an extraordinarily painful process of forced marched development. But Marx’s understanding of capitalism as a period of development certainly did not foresee or assume that the state would develop the way it did in the Soviet Union and that the state would treat its population the way the Soviet state treated its population. And I think that’s, by the way, parenthetically, a very important distinction between Marx and communism and between Marxism and communism.
Greg 21:29 For Marx that should have happened in Western Europe.
Mike 21:33 Well, that’s one of the things Marx thought it would happen in Western Europe. Then in the 1870s, he began to doubt that and he learned more about Russia—and he found that among the Russians, there was a Marxism, outside of the German speaking world. Marxism takes hold in Russia first. And there was, it had a huge impact on economists and sociologists, whatever you—people interested in social problems in Russia in the 1870s, 1980s, there was a revolutionary movement in Russia against the tsar going on in one form or another. Anyway, and on top of that, there were these, a, there was a sense of solidarity communities. It was called the mir, uh, among the peasants. Russia is overwhelmingly agricultural. And they had a very, uh, very interesting, uh, communal, communal organizations in the villages in Russia. And I think Marx also thought that that might be the nascence for—so he wasn’t, in the end, he’s not completely convinced that it won’t happen in the developed world first, developing world first.
Mike 22:44 He also was, by the way, not convinced that it’s going to be a revolution—you could have the change taking place democratically by Parliamentary… a revolution. We have to realize that Marx was not a communist. I think that’s the important thing to keep in mind. So, so you get by the mid-thirties in Russia, especially in ‘34 on this immense state power which was extremely repressive, which begins in the purge trials to consume its own leadership so that the old Bolsheviks, the people who had been Lenin’s comrades in arms in 1917, ‘18, ’19, are now becoming enemies of the people, enemies of the party. The famous purge trials go on and the old leadership is right down by Stalin. And we could speculate as people have done on whether this was a power game or whether he was psychologically, uh, in trouble or what have you.
Mike 23:46 But nevertheless, it happened and we don’t need to, for purposes of this argument to look further, it was not clear—I do think it’s possible to say though, I think it is, it is the case that by the beginning of World War II, uh, on the ground, and I always keep coming back to this thing, on the ground, it’s very important for us to think about these different social systems about how they affect people’s daily lives. On the ground it would have been difficult to distinguish between Soviet communism and German fascism, except that the, except that the German population probably lived better than the Russian population at that point. But the relationship to state power, the oppressiveness, uh, to all intents and purposes, in my opinion, was very similar to each other, nor was it obvious as, uh, the war clouds are gathering, and as the West mainly the British, mainly Chamberlain, find it increasingly difficult to establish a way to appease Hitler and keep him from starting out to conquer the world.
Mike 24:59 Uh, it’s not obvious that the Soviet Union is going to be on the Western side the way Russia was before the Revolution in the First World War. Right. Uh, and in fact, in 1939, Hitler does indeed—Hitler and Stalin do indeed sign a treaty of friendship and non-aggression, which of course put the Communists who were antifascist all over the world, um, knock them down on their butts that were, but, um, but that even created greater doubt. And it was only because Hitler makes this grave error, uh, thinking he can attack Russia at the same time that he’s attacking the West—[that] brings Russia into the war. Some months before the Japanese attack the United States, I was, brings Germany into even deeper conflict. Uh, if Hitler had not attacked Russia, if he had gone, he had by now conquered almost all of Europe. If he had just concentrated on, on the British, then the history of the world, might’ve been different, but he, uh, split his attention and that was a grave error.
Mike 26:14 The consequence of that error on Hitler’s part is of course, that the Russians in the West find, that the communists in the West find a common ground to fight against Hitler. That alliance was never an easy one. There’s no question that in the West, particularly the United States… I remember as a kid during those days, uh, you go to the movies and they had all these movies about mother Russia. The brave Russian soldiers in Hollywood was—making it a little bit easier for American capitalists to cooperate with Soviet communism against the common enemy. Um, but it was never an easy alliance politically. And if you look at the records of the various conferences like the, the Tehran conference and the Yalta conference, you find that, that whenever the leadership of the Russians and the, and the West got together, they had very, very serious problems. Uh, consequently, at the end of the war, um, the West was in a situation in which she had liberated Western Europe basically, and the Russians had liberated—and I do think liberated is the right word.
Mike 27:35 Um, [liberated] Eastern Europe and, uh, they’re, they’re all racing, both sides are racing to conquer more land before the war is finally over. But the war is over and it leaves the strange geography, political geography of Europe, uh, which, uh, with which we’re well-acquainted, right? A divided Germany. Uh, once the war is over Russia, the Soviet Union, again, going back to this idea of you build communism in one country and then it can serve, once it’s powerful enough, to…so, so the Soviet Union moves into gradually. By 1948, it has taken over Poland, uh, Czechoslovakia, the, um, the Balkan countries and so forth and so on. So that that line running down the center of Europe that, that Churchill calls, in 1946, the Iron Curtain, which in 1939, he had called the cordon sanitaire, uh, has moved a little bit West from between 1930, 1919, and 1946. Uh, but Europe is divided.
Mike 28:48 By that time—so the war is over in Europe in this, in the late spring of ‘45, uh, and the array of political forces—which I’m going to say a couple of words about now—is a little bit different when we look back on it, then people perhaps thought at the time. This is what I mean when I, what I want to say. Communism was perceived in the West to be a much more successful system than the Anglo-Saxon world saw, particularly than the American world sod in the period right after World War II. Why was that the case? Well, first of all, the world in general was not really aware of how profoundly oppressive the Stalinist regime was. Former communists were, I mean, Trotsky had been trying to tell the world this for many years, um, former members of the communist party who left the communist party because of this in the West were trying to tell the world.
Mike 29:59 But the role the Soviet Union had played during World War II, um, the fact that the, that the West itself had undergone Western capitalism, had undergone such a profound crisis with the Great Depression, many people believed, perhaps not 100% wrong, that the World War, the Second World War was a blessing for capitalism because it helped bring America out of the, out of the depression. Uh, Roosevelt was very much trying to get America into the war was American public opinion that didn’t want to get into the war. But throughout the late thirties, certainly from 1939 on Roosevelt tried to get Americans into the war and develop this Lend-Lease program whereby we helped the British, uh, with more material and ships. American fliers were going to Canada and joining the Canadian air force. They could fly, uh, in Europe against the Nazis. Uh, but there’s always been this suspicion that Roosevelt also understood that we needed to get into the war if we were really going to get out of the, uh, economic crisis that 1929 had started.
Mike 31:11 So at the end of the war, that combination of, uh, of the recognition that, that capitalism hasn’t, hadn’t worked very well except for the war. And the fact that communism was working, they had mounted a successful war against fascism; without their help, we would have lost and so forth. Meant that in Western Europe, Northern Europe, the attitude toward communism was very different than in America. The attitude towards what we call socialism was very different than in America, toward the left. Um, so I would like to argue that at the end of World War II—we have three primary political groupings as it were, political, ideologies at work, uh, in the West and leave Asia and Africa side for another time, it’s another problem. Uh, one was communism, roughly based on Marxism, certainly using Marxist symbols, Marxists iconography, but not, not orthodox Marxist by any means. Second was, was capitalism of a slightly, um, progressive style, namely the New Deal in the United States. Um, Keynesianism, what we call Keynesianism, the United States call it, and in England. And what we could today call social democracy as the third one, the third one. Social democracy in Scandinavia, in, the low countries by and large. Western Europe, Northern Europe, Germany, uh, were much more progressive than the Anglo-Saxon world in the period right after World War II and places—Spain remains fascist until relatively late until, until Franco dies. Italy was a battleground where the, the, the, between East and West, where the great political battle was the election of 1948 in which the Christian Democrats won against the communists. But the communists remained for many years. The largest political party in Italy and the largest political party in France.
Mike 33:38 And this is the context within which the Cold War begins to develop. The Cold War—we are all aware of the military and political sides of the Cold War. Uh, the arms race, the, the fear that each side is as these side acquired atomic weapons, that each side could wipe out the other. Uh, the political Cold War, Washington and Moscow hurling imprecations that each other, the propaganda Cold War. But there was also very, very importantly, what we could call the intellectual Cold War going on. And the intellectual Cold War is extraordinarily interesting for the understanding of the history of what we could now refer to, begin to refer to, as democratic socialists. Okay. So people living—leaders, intellectual leaders, there’s a tradition of socialism, social democracy in Northern Europe, in Germany, in the low countries, and France, going way back to the end of the 19th century. Uh, there—even in England, there had been a socialist government twice.
Mike 34:54 Uh, Ramsey McDonald who betrayed them, eventually, betrayed the socialists eventually. But nonetheless, the Labour Party was a major party, the second major party in England, uh, before the Second World War. Social democrats in Germany were the major party, often in power; in 1936, the socialists were in power in France where the government of Leon Blum and from the late twenties, early thirties on the social democrats rule Scandinavia.
Greg 35:22 I’m thinking we should define social democrats.
Mike 35:26 Okay. So, well, social democracy, it’s very hard to do this, but let’s try. Social democracy I would like to define as ameliorated ameliorated capitalism. What do I mean by that? [laughs] Ameliorated capitalism is, as we said at the beginning today, that kind of capitalism, that form of capitalism which tries to smooth out, smooth out the rough edges. Um, it’s um, Keynesianism. Keynesianism is social democracy. Uh, the idea that the state has the responsibility for making sure that the capitalist system runs. And I think that is the most succinct definition of social democracy. Um, again, ameliorated capitalism would rely a great deal on um, redistribution of wealth through charitable institutions. Um, labor unions getting health program, health care programs through their employers. The kind of thing that was going on in the US in the 1930s and ‘40s, the, the, uh, United Mine Workers for example, who had the most advanced health system in America, Musicians’ Union, musicians in America had a, uh, a, um, under James Patillo had a superb health system with retirement homes and we, we forget all of that, but that was very much a part of it. And, um, Keynes starts the ball going, rolling or that’s not, that’s not right. Keynes theorizes on a, at a, in a very classical economic way about how to keep this going. Um, and capitalism with a little bit of attention here and there, particularly in terms of policy, um, can smooth out the edges and we can improve gradually the lot of the working class.
Mike 37:53 Social democracy, in my opinion, has to be defined in terms that say—the state has a responsibility to manage the market up to a point to make sure that the ups and downs of capitalism don’t occur. So it’s not quite, it’s not concerned just with ameliorating the living conditions of the working class. Um, it is concerned with the, uh, avoidance of depressions and so forth and so on, uh, smoothing out cycles that are supposed to, that describe capitalism. Um, so that, for example—a very good… Yeah, a very good example of what I would consider to be social democracy was the, uh, was Obama’s, um, uh, helping out the banks in the 2008 crisis. Uh, he’s doing that not to improve the lot of the working class or the worker in America. That will maybe be a result down the line. But by primarily, we knew it—we knew by then enough about the economy to know that we had to prevent a disaster—and the state had a responsibility in Obama’s mind—for preventing that disaster.
Mike 39:29 Now, this is a difference from the idea that the state is responsible for redistribution. Right? We’re not talking about—social democracy as I’m trying to define it, does not talk about the redistribution of wealth, um, but it talks about the avoidance of crises and of helping people. That’s why in our present campaign, a political campaign, I listen to Bernie Sanders. He says he’s a socialist, but actually he’s a social democrat of the, uh, of the Rooseveltian school. He wants to help people improve their lives, but he never really talks about a fundamental structural reform of society. So this, the, the move from social democracy to democratic socialism is a move beyond simply the state managing delicately to avoid the huge ups and downs that threaten the system [of capitalism]. It’s a move towards an institutional restructuring of society. And here we get into some very difficult but interesting problems.
Mike 40:45 So at the end of World War II, um, the great hero of World War II was Winston Churchill, in a way he was one of the great leaders. We think of him as this great figure who spoke in a voice and with such language that he inspired the soldiers to… to win. He really towers over our imaginations in many ways, uh, in a way that Roosevelt didn’t, Roosevelt didn’t reach the charismatic, uh, level that, uh, that Churchill did. But in August, 1945, the British have a, an election and they throw Churchill out and elect the socialist party. Now this is a really very, very interesting point because the socialists existed, the Labour Party existed for a long time. It had developed even before the second World War, very serious planning for the introduction of socialism into Britain. What today I would call a democratic socialism into Britain. And one of the first things that happens during, after they take power in the elections of 1945 is the introduction—it had already been laid on the, on the books it had been discussed, in fact, even in the conservative government before—uh, the introduction of the national health system. Now notice there’s a difference between the national health system and what we’re talking about in America. And this really does, I think, help us to understand the difference between social democracy and democratic socialism. In America, we’re talking about a single payer. We’re talking about a national health insurance. What the British did was introduced a national health system, that is to say, the medical profession became the became civil servants. They became an arm of the state. Nowhere in our serious thinking about medical care delivery reform in America has anybody talked about establishing a national health service. We talk about insurance, we want to make sure—and so the argument that goes on is how to make sure that all groups are insured.
Mike 43:21 But in England they did something far more profound. That is, they actually socialized the health system. That’s a very important distinguish—distinction between um, social democracy and democratic socialism. The consequence of nationalizing the health industry, which is the way we would say, maybe, say today, that led to nationalizing other industries, that the state under democratic socialism has the responsibility—not to wipe out the market; the markets still exists—but it has the responsibility to take control of important areas of the market in order to assure the delivery of what it considers to be, what I would call, human rights, including health and so forth and so on, to the people as a radically different thing then national health insurance.
Greg 44:25 Right. And that, but then how does that contrast with the approach to health care say—in what we’re calling social democracy?
Mike 44:34 In social democracy, you want to make sure that everybody has access to health insurance, but you don’t nationalize the health industry. So in, in um, in democratic socialism, the doctors work for the state. They don’t work for private corporations or for themselves. They work for the state. They’re paid a salary. That’s—now, you may, in democratic socialism, you may allow, in fact, you should allow, in my opinion, private practice to also exist. But the main thrust of, we’re just using the medical delivery system, the main thrust of medical care delivery is that it is a state industry now.
Mike 45:21 It belongs to the state. The state manages it. The state is responsible for funding it, um, by and large because it’s a… you pay for it through your taxes. You don’t pay it through buying insurance. Right? So think of that difference. If I’m going to, if I am going to get my health through my taxes, that’s a radically different concept, then I’m going to buy insurance at a rate the state helps me with if necessary. But I—right, there’s a huge difference and that’s a dividing line in my opinion. That’s an example of the dividing line between… now we already have many areas even in the United States of the state coming in and building, controlling parts of our daily lives. Uh, the road system, for example. The post system, although we tried to privatize it or semi-privatize it and some years ago. What has happened in the United States is the development of a new form of capitalism with these huge new high tech industries.
Mike 46:31 So that, look how Amazon has radically reshaped commerce in America. So Amazon has led to a decline in small shops. It’s challenging—shops, like you know, you used to have chains of bookstores all over the country, it’s challenging those. You can now, there’s probably nothing of import that you want to buy in your daily life that you can’t buy from Amazon. That’s a privately-owned corporation that carries capitalism in exactly the opposite direction from what social democracy would be. Right, because it in fact privatizes and concentrates in the hands of a few people, a few corporations, the daily lives that people lead. We privatize a lot of our military activities these days. The army, the military had privatized—very often we, we know this is the feeding of the soldiers and so forth and so on. We privatize our judicial system. We have private prisons and so forth and so on.
Mike 47:39 So whereas the, whereas the tendency in American society has been to increasing private control through huge corporations, but digging down deep into our daily lives under social democracy and democratic socialism, the opposite takes place. The state says, no, we are going to increase the state’s ability to manage, to make sure that goods and services are delivered equally or according to certain principles to the population. That the economy runs smoothly. That power—and this becomes extremely important. We’ll have to talk about this one day. That power is disseminated among the people in the population rather than concentrated in a few corporations. Right? That’s the difference. And I think that’s extraordinarily important for us to keep in mind.
Greg 48:40 I’m not sure this distinction matters, but so we’re thinking about Bernie Sanders and healthcare—he’s, in the language we’ve been developing and he’s kind of a New Deal-er… So the social democratic legacy doesn’t really, um, help that conversation.
Mike 49:05 I think that the, I think that the, I said, I said social democracy is a kind of ameliorated ameliorated capitalism. So, um, in ameliorated capitalism, you have a whole host of institutions, um, that are trying to smooth things out. Okay. You have, for example, the Red Cross. What is the function of the Red Cross in the capitalist system? Very. Something we don’t know. We don’t normally ask ourselves that question. Well, I would argue that the function of the Red Cross in the capitalist system is to provide, uh, care in emergencies, which the state is unable to provide and private industry is unable to provide. So we developed these what—today we have a whole class of organizations called NGOs that do this kind of thing, right? Um, local government steps in and tries to in and some of these things, but local government that, say, the, uh, city of Palo Alto where I live is not a city, is not a, is not an institution capable of smoothing out the rough stages of capitalism, right?
Mike 50:21 It can provide parks, but we pay high taxes for that. It provides schools, but we pay high for that. It doesn’t provide health. So we, we, we spread out the amelioration of capitalism to what we now call NGOs. We spread it out to various local forms of government, which can take care of small problems but do not have much of an impact on, on the economy as a whole. The idea—I’m coming back to this—what Palo Alto does, doesn’t have much of an impact on a small town in the Ozarks. That’s, that’s the problem, right? Uh, and so far… but we ameliorate capitalism that way. Uh, social democracy has a broader stage on which to think. So instead of that, say, relying on the Red Cross to provide emergency social democracy, he goes a step further and says, uh, you know, let’s provide healthcare insurance for everybody.
Mike 51:29 Uh, so we’re going to provide healthcare insurance for those who need it. Now, it’s really very interesting if you look at how we deliver healthcare in America between Medicare and, and, uh, even Obamacare. It wasn’t for everybody. Obamacare was for those people who couldn’t get insurance otherwise, and then it was organized in this kind of Rube Goldberg system through these local exchanges and so forth. Uh, so we’re trying to put band-aids on the sores, but we recognize social democracy recognizes the need for the state to put some band-aids on some sores, right? Democratic socialism comes along and says, that doesn’t work. That’s not enough. That really, that we need to change society institutionally. Let me to give you another example of the thinking about this…
Mike 52:24 A few years ago, there was a lot of talk about the way that we’re going to save the environment is by separating paper from glass from cans and everybody had three huge bins outside their house or wherever they were. And if you were a good citizen, you separated them out and somehow that was going to prevent the world from collapsing. Right? Well, it didn’t happen or it didn’t, doesn’t help very much. So that’s in my opinion, is a very nice example of social democracy. That is to say local actions that really are band-aids on a problem. We recognize today that that’s not going to save the environment, that the environment is a global problem and it’s going to—it affects the air. Everybody breathes and so forth and so on. Some of us believe that the only way that’s going to be resolved is by the state stepping in and taking those actions, which will be necessary.
Mike 53:24 And this will be a big subject for us to talk about down the line. By taking those actions that will be necessary to assure that we can survive. The issue then will become one of doing it in such a way that it is democratic and fair as opposed to dictatorial. That would be the difference. Right? So if you go all the way over, you would end up in a communist position where you would say, or the fascist position, which would say the state has to take over and force it. You look at China today, China is a marvelous, um, a marvelous laboratory for us to look at. And we ought to be looking at it as a laboratory. The Chinese are developing a, uh, they’re developing their society very quickly and they are being very successful, albeit they started way behind, very successful at developing environmental policies that are going to be very important.
Mike 54:22 But they can do it through command. The Chinese state can order people to do this, that, or the other thing. And if you don’t like it, it’s too bad. Right? Right. So on the other hand, there are what I call democratic socialist—Scandinavian countries for example. The reason why we don’t call them that is what we’ll have to get to, the difference historically between these, use of these terms. But these are states where these are countries where the state is very active in the economy. It doesn’t own the economy, it doesn’t control the economy, but it has institutional arrangements that manage the economy. Um, taxes are assumed to be at a certain level and people expect to pay those taxes and they get what they want from those taxes. You get you, you may pay high taxes but you also get health. So if health is something that’s good for you, which we assume it is, we in America like to say, ‘Oh that health insurance is too expensive.’
Mike 55:30 Well in what way is health insurance too expensive? Only if it isn’t giving you the health you need. Right? So health should not be an item that is for sale on the market or an item that I can only deal with if I make enough money to buy enough health insurance to help me. So, you know, in a democratic socialist society, the state steps in and says everybody has a right to health and everybody has a right to equal health. That is to say, you know, you may have one disease and I have another disease, but we all have a right to the necessary care. Right? And that shouldn’t depend on our ability to pay for it or what insurance policy we have, right? Democratic—social democrats say everybody gets health insurance, but it doesn’t specify that the care that people get will be equitable. That’s the important difference.
Greg 56:26 Yeah. Well, so then maybe to wrap up today’s, uh, conversation… the emphasis on democracy makes sense, of course, as a value, but it also to go back to the very beginning of our entire podcast, of the urgency of the crises we face, and the China example of how a strong hand can accomplish things quicker. In order for this to be a democratic, democratically, motivated change, people are going to have to change their… a lot of people are going to have to change their minds.
Mike 57:03 They’re not only going to have to change their minds, they’re going to have to change their minds so that they change the way they live their lives and the way they behave with each other. Um, we have to explore this because I think it’s very important. We have models, we have examples, uh, but we need to explore it. So I, but I think these, you know, these are very important distinctions, uh, to make. And what I’d like to do next time is explore how the Cold War messed up some of these distinctions and is still influencing the way we think about these issues because we live with the consequences of the Cold War today, when we talk about these problems.
Greg 57:46 Yes. Great. All right. Thanks for joining us, everybody, on A Shareable World. Um, we’ll see you next time. [Outro] Thanks for listening to another episode of A Shareable World. To find out more about this podcast, visit us at ashareableworld.com.