When did socialism become a bad word?

There’s a new buzzword in politics these days. Well, actually it’s an old word that has reared its head again, and is being used as a club, a boogie man, a euphemism for all that is wrong in this country and others.

That word is ‘socialism’. And one doesn’t just say it these days. One spits it. With contempt.

Back at the State of the Union speech in February, U.S. President Donald Trump brought up the evils of socialism, swearing the U.S. would never be a socialist country.

And it’s not just in the U.S. The word socialism is cropping up again and again in B.C., mainly by the B.C. Liberal Party to describe the ruling NDP. Several MLAs have dropped the ’socialist’ word in recent weeks.

We can expect to hear more of it as time goes on.

My questions is, when did socialism become a bad word?

There are of course many definitions of socialism.

Merriam Webster defines it thusly:

1 any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

2 a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property

b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.

“In the many years since socialism entered English around 1830, it has acquired several different meanings. It refers to a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control, but the conception of that control has varied, and the term has been interpreted in widely diverging ways, ranging from statist to libertarian, from Marxist to liberal. In the modern era, “pure” socialism has been seen only rarely and usually briefly in a few Communist regimes. Far more common are systems of social democracy, now often referred to as democratic socialism, in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in Sweden and Denmark) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.”

Fair to say that Canada is a social democracy. We have socialized, and much valued despite its shortcomings, medicine. We have socialized education up to the end of secondary school. And many other programs that are socialist in nature.

Comedian Bill Maher asked a pointed question on his Real Time show last Friday night.

“If socialism is such a one-way ticket to becoming the nightmare of Venezuela, then why do all the happiest countries in the word embrace it?”

Maher then displayed a chart of the worlds happiest countries according to the World Happiness Report.

The are from 10 to 1, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Finland.

What do all these countries have in common? They are all western social democracies.

They all have systems where a certain level of taking care of the less fortunate is just a given. Now granted most of them also have right of centre parties who preach against that, but for the most part, these social democracies remain intact, even when the right governs.

Stephen Harper, although reviled by those on the left, was never accused of being a dummy. And he knew that tampering with Canada’s health care system too much was a no go. So while he likely shuddered at the very ‘socialistic’ system, he refrained from doing much more than lightly whittling at the edges of the sacred cow.

And while right-leaning parties are starting to whisper the bad word ‘socialism’ more and more, I don’t thing they will ever find there is a lot of traction is trying to mess with things like health care and education.

Socialism may be the new bad word, but we like our socialistic programs just fine, thank you.

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