NOTICE: We must be honest about the history of socialism
Gulags. Famine. Purge. Five-year plans. Show essays. Political repression.
That’s all many Americans have heard about socialism. From history lessons to the mass media to talking points of both political parties, the word “socialism” is used to instill fear in Americans lest they vote for representatives who would help the working class.
Prejudices against socialism permeate American culture while the crimes of capitalist nations are ignored. Americans need to know the real story, a story that recognizes socialists made wonderful contributions to the world.
Maybe the worst time to be an American socialist was when Senator Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., Investigated suspected Communist agents of the US government in the 1950s. Socialist ideas were suppressed during this period and it took decades for their resurgence in the United States
But the “S” word is still controversial in many circles. Donald Trump has repeatedly called “socialist” as pejorative against Joe Biden in the 2020 electoral cycle. Prior to that, in his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump said America will never embrace socialism, to thunderous applause from Congress.
The former USSR and the People’s Republic of China are often portrayed as particularly repressive. Socialist countries are guilty of limit freedoms and harm their citizens in the past, and some Americans are quick to warn that any horror in these countries could be replicated here should the Socialists come to power.
The crimes of socialist countries are attributed to their political philosophy, but socialism itself was not the problem. Similar atrocities are being committed by so-called democracies.
At the same time that Joseph Stalin infested the earth, the United States had a Great Depression, Jim Crow, Red Scares, and Japanese internment camps.
Abroad, the U.S. military has committed numerous war crimes, including the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing campaign decimating North Korea a few years later. The US government implemented the Truman Doctrine, which funded the military around the world in an effort to contain communism.
To reject socialism on the sole basis of 20th century records is dishonest. To invoke such an argument would be to claim that capitalism has never hurt anyone. But in our capitalist society, the working class struggles while the rich have more than they will ever need.
If capitalism really worked, polls would not show ever-growing support for socialism, especially among young people.
Young people are no longer interested in old topics of discussion. Socialism, once taboo in the United States, is now experiencing a tremendous resurrection thanks to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Growing Popularity of the Democratic Socialists of America.
With this renewed popularity of socialism, the role of socialists in American history and in the world can no longer be ignored.
For example, industrial workers of the world, an American union organized by socialists, marxists and anarchists in 1905, at its peak had more than 100,000 members fighting for workers’ rights. The union protested World War I, leading the US government to brutally crack down on them and throw many of their members in jail.
Socialists were also the main opponent of fascism and Nazism. The The Soviet Union was instrumental in ending World War II, and today’s anti-fascists continue to defend marginalized groups against those who seek to destroy them.
After anti-fascists – who consist mostly of socialists, anarchists, and communists – opposed neo-Nazis in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, the conservatives in the media called them “terrorists” and the liberals often refused to defend them, when they should have thanked them.
There are many things that young socialists can be proud of in our history. It is high time to stop scaring socialism and start being honest about why so many people are turning to it.
Stop appealing to a biased story that overlooks the positive impacts socialists have had on the world. You can join the socialist movement, or fight against it, but at least be honest.
Jared Quigg (he / him) is a sophomore studying journalism and political science.