Opinion: Get It Right – What Socialism Is, and Isn’t

Editor’s note: This article was written by Bucknell University student, Alexander Boyer, who is the Vice President of the Bucknell University Democratic Socialists. This is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of the organization.

This is a rebuttal of a claim. This does not disclose the original author by name, nor does it directly quote the article that I had in mind when I wrote this response. My aim for this article is not to attack a person, but to clarify claims about socialism which seem at best unfounded and ignorant, and at worst cruel and purposefully misleading.

First, there is such a thing as a free lunch. I rebut that there is anyone claiming that providing healthcare to all people or lunch to small schoolchildren is a decision which has no upfront cost, no upkeep, or any consequence. The socialist does not believe that commodities whisk themselves into existence on a magical whim. It is the aim of the socialist, in fact, to describe the exploitative relationships in which commodities and services are made. 

Why not go further than to wonder where Sanders gets the money for the ‘ludicrous’ ideas of a single-payer healthcare system and a tuition-free higher education? Why don’t we ask where the cost is incurred— at the point of production? Why don’t we ask who produces the medicine, the textbooks, provides the healthcare, and teaches students at a university? Is it the capitalist? No. The answer is the worker, who by nature of the capitalist system must beg for the products she herself produces. The aim of the socialist is to remove the burden of the worker to have to pay for the right to a service or good at the point of consumption, to remove it from a commodity relationship so that way the needs of all working people can be fulfilled. 

Perhaps Sanders is popular not because he panders to voters who want ‘free stuff’, but because he aims at the sense in America that we lack some basic moral principle or basic standards in society. 

Without going deeper into the structural issue of inequality, it’s pretty noncontroversial to say that wealth places people at an extraordinary advantage over someone who is poor. Being born into the ‘wrong’ family and having radically different opportunities because of it is one of the greatest tragedies on this Earth. A system of private education where first-generation college students are forced to grapple with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt the rest of their lives is not a system of justice or compassion, it is a totalizing system of subservience and slavery.

Second, individualizing problems is erasure of societal problems. Calling out the well-off for being wealthy makes as much sense as blaming the poor for being poor. To call out the rich for simply being rich is not a socialist’s aim, in my view. I don’t hate Jeff Bezos because he has wealth. I hate Jeff Bezos because his wealth is earned off of the back of his workers— According to the New York Post, an average Amazon worker may suffer 12-hour shifts constantly on their feet, in overheated and understaffed conditions, and facing constant speedups and competition from technology. Meanwhile, Bezos’ wealth tops almost 130 billion dollars. 

Jeff Bezos didn’t earn a cent of his billions of wealth; his workers made it, but because of some magic called ‘privately owned capital’, what was made by workers with their own livelihood and effort was transformed into the property of an individual who did none of the work. The business model of all companies, to some extent or another (unless the company is worker or self-run) is based on theft of another person’s wellbeing. To nitpick over who is rich and who is not is to detract from the point of the conversation— the profit generated by our society is generated by the workers, and because of that fact, they deserve the full value of their labor, not the capitalist.

I couldn’t care less about how many homes Bernie Sanders owns, because he has been consistent on his message ever since he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Sanders was one a single father, unhoused in his 30s and barely getting by. If anyone understands the plight of the working class in the current election, it’s Bernie Sanders.

Furthermore, wanting to eat, have access to healthcare, and to be properly educated is not class envy. Not only is it not envy to want to survive, but what the author claims that the poor ‘envy’ is by definition, unenviable. What is made ‘enviable’ by the rich, their wealth, is not the property of the rich at all except by violent enforcement. What wealth was made by the capitalist is really made by the workers. A person cannot envy what they actually own. It’s only asking for the return of stolen wealth.

I aim to show you that socialism is not a lie. Socialists and communists in their aim are upfront about their goals, even if we disagree constantly on the best way to achieve that goal. Socialists and communists, unlike social democrats like Bernie Sanders, aim at the complete abolition of private property. By “private property” we mean the state whereby capital (the tools of the working person) can be owned by another individual— this system allows the capitalist to extract value from the working person and feed the worker the value of their surplus labor piecemeal. 

Bernie Sanders is calling for a redistribution of American wealth. Socialists and communists, unlike Sanders, are calling for not only a redistribution of American wealth, but also the redistribution of the means of production and a social revolution whereby the dreams of American liberty and equality are truly realized.

The project of demonizing any left-of-center policy is a relic of the Cold War as well as the reconstitution of neoliberal society. It is the purpose of modern media and Western culture to erase all alternative systems, and to violence all who oppose the constant degradation of human society into a new barbarism. 

I beg of you— constantly question the narratives about the past that the United States tries to tell you. The owners of capital and the benefactors of the imperialist state would try to tell you that their gains are well earned, and that they are the model; independent and free citizens. However, on critical examination, the imperialist and the capitalist have in interest in misleading you, to make you think that all of your problems are individual, and that your problems aren’t baked inherently into the system itself.

Question why it is that in a country supposedly the wealthiest and most ‘successful’ on Earth, millions lack healthcare, decent paying jobs, or a livable environment. Look at the state of the working person in the 21st century— one marked by decreasing wealth, lowering standards of living, and lowered life expectancy. And maybe, just maybe, read some damn theory.