Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

News Is communism still a big taboo in america? if so why?

  1. Aug 30, 2012 #1
    Hi, Just wondering if Communism is still a big taboo in America, and if so, why?
    It's just a question that came to mind, thought I'd ask.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2012 #2

    256bits

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    What do you mean by taboo. are you asking if there is a political Communist Party of America? And do they ever currently stand a slim chance in hell in becoming mainstream?
     
  4. Aug 30, 2012 #3

    lisab

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Communism isn't taboo. It's simply been shown to not work.
     
  5. Aug 30, 2012 #4

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I was thinking of starting a similar thread, based on discussion in another thread. I think you have the focus wrong though, but please feel free to elaborate if I'm off base and hijacking....

    Communism is a dead theory [edit: lisab wins...]. The taboo is "socialism". But it isn't the concepts that are taboo, it is just the word. People don't like it and whether for or against the concepts in it will often react aggressively to the use of the word. As a result, people avoid usage of it at all costs. While researching for the other thread, I found these interesting little nuggets:

    Marx is widely considered as one of the most influential thinkers in history, cited by historians and in polls. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Marx#Influence

    and:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_socialist_movement_in_the_United_States#Socialism_today

    Yet people often vehemently deny influence from socialism/Marxism in the US. The recent thread argument is one of a great many examples on PF of people bristling at the idea that socialist policies/ideas have relevance in the US. And the issue has been brought up with Obama, particularly relating to the healthcare debate. Savvy marketters replaced a clear-cut reference to socialism in the labeling of the issue:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialized_medicine
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2012
  6. Aug 30, 2012 #5

    AlephZero

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Interesting to compare that position with the UK, where for example Ralph Milliband (died 1994, father of the current Labour party leader Ed Milliband) was highly regaded as a Marxist academic, writing books with titles like "Class struggle in contemporary capitalism".

    That family backround probably isn't going to gain Ed Milliband much share of the vote, but neither is it likely to lose him any. I guess that in the USA having a father like that would be poliitical suicide.
     
  7. Aug 30, 2012 #6

    jtbell

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    It's still just about the worst thing you can call somebody in a political discussion, followed closely by "socialist." Maybe "Islamofascist" is up there with it nowadays.
     
  8. Aug 31, 2012 #7

    Ryan_m_b

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    In my experience the issue with the term socialism is the many different definitions people use coupled with the vehemence that some of those definitions invoke. The word can literally range from meaning welfare capitalism to totalitarian communism and can cover social, economic and/or political theory.

    I guess that one of the reasons "socialism" is taboo in the states is due to the decades of opposition to the USSR which probably contributed strongly to the American sense of identity.
     
  9. Sep 1, 2012 #8
    This is wrong, only Marxism–Leninism and other shades has been shown to not work.
     
  10. Sep 1, 2012 #9

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    There's no problem with adopting Marxist ideas into policy in the US. But a typical rhetorical tactic of the Republican party in the last 4-6 years has been to conflate liberalism with socialism. So now all liberals are considered socialists. The taboo with communism is essentially reversed: now it's taboo to call people communists because it was a popular propaganda mechanism in the last century. The new equivalent of that is socialism (though the repercussion are not nearly as intense this time around).

    Socialism is strictly anti-capitalism, while liberalism can be (and in the US, generally is) pro-capitalism. In fact, liberal policies during FDR's presidency were considered to have saved capitalism. There is such thing as a liberal socialist, but there is also such thing as a liberal capitalist. That is, we're talking about two independent axes here.
    a wiki intro to liberalism

    Particularly, socialism literally requires redistribution of property as a fundamental premise; liberalism does not. Liberalism is about making changes to the system via policy. If your goal with those policies is to redistribute wealth, then you are socialist liberal (i.e. Obama and the Democratic party practice this moderately, but calling someone "socialist" is still distinct from saying they adopt social policies... still somewhat weasel language). But if your policies simply go towards more fair business practices or seek to curtail corruption, or to ensure that social equality is being enforced, then socialism doesn't play a role.

    Furthermore, liberalism can lead to policies that redistribute wealth without being socialist because of inherit ideology ingrained in socialism (a sort of categorical imperative), vs. the emergent ideology of liberalism (the ends justify the means; i.e. if redistribution does actually make capitalism stronger, then redistribute.)

    The Harvard Political review comments on this:
    http://hpronline.org/united-states/liberalism-versus-socialism/

    But basically, the problem is that as a result of this rhetoric, people think tend to think that liberalism is "at the expense of capitalism" when it is, in fact, a necessary part of it. Without updating our regulation and social policies to change with the times, we would eventually have anarchy, not capitalism.
     
  11. Sep 3, 2012 #10

    chemisttree

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    ...and liberals are running away from that label as fast as they can now calling themselves 'Progressive'.
     
  12. Sep 3, 2012 #11

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Is this really representative? More importantly, does it add anything to the discussion or is it just a random attempt to associate liberals with cowardice?
     
  13. Sep 3, 2012 #12
    I would say that almost all people (conservative and liberal) I know, (myself being American), support liberty and freedom in general and see it similarly to Mill in that they see them as being prerequisite to happiness. The majority view I see with all the conservative/capitalist people I talk to is that a free market it synonymous with freedom in general. The way they see it, if one cannot buy and sell as they please, then their inability to do so opens a means by which their freedom in general may be curtailed.
    From my interpretation, the major idea of communism is that the proletariat class is basically used by the bourgeoisie to further their interests. The majority of the working people I know deny this as being a bad thing, believing that the bourgeoisie are where they are because they worked hard, were better fit, etc.
    I tried to be as unbiased as I could, but for the sake of transparity, I will say that I lean more to the socialist side. I don't know what school I belong to, and it's a lot closer to a social market economy than capitalism.
     
  14. Sep 3, 2012 #13

    I would think it has just as much, if not more to do with the inherent evils of the communist system. The widespread use of torture, the prodigious amounts of forced labor (aka slavery), the famines cause for forced collectivization of farm land, the total deprivation of political and economic freedoms. Why this keeps getting overlooked is a complete mystery to me.
     
  15. Sep 3, 2012 #14

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Unless I misread and/or to clarify: Liberals are re-branding the word "liberal" as "progressive". Mainstream liberals have never self-labeled themselves "communists"!
     
  16. Sep 3, 2012 #15
    A liberal is a multidimensional object confined to a point on a line.
     
  17. Sep 4, 2012 #16

    Ryan_m_b

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Interesting use of phrase, as written it would seem you are saying these things are a necessary aspect of communism rather than something communist countries have done. The distinction is important.
     
  18. Sep 4, 2012 #17
    Another factor worsening the famines is Lysenkoism where Stalin decided to believe the crackpottery of Lysenko over the scientific basics about genetics. Opponents were simply eliminated. An excellent case study for sociology.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2012
  19. Sep 4, 2012 #18

    phinds

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The clear implication of that statement is that there are forms of communism that HAVE been shown to work. Please provide references.
     
  20. Sep 4, 2012 #19

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Meh - most communists and socialists I've come in contact with will begrudgingly acknowledge that no forms/incarnations of communism have been shown to work. But they will say that that doesn't preclude the possibility that there could be ways to make it work and that statement doesn't preclude that possibility.
     
  21. Sep 4, 2012 #20

    lisab

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Perhaps on a small scale it could work. I've often heard reference to Israeli Kibbutz used as examples of successful communist communities. But those are very small communities -- protected by a government with a strong military.
     
  22. Sep 4, 2012 #21

    chemisttree

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Yes, I believe so. There is a Congressional Progressive Caucus but, as far as I know, there isn't one that identifies itself as Liberal.

    Does it add anything to the discussion? I think so. You want to demonstrate just how taboo Communism is in America? Liberals are avoiding even that label (liberal) and calling themselves 'Progressive'. This has nothing to do with cowardice.

    That's right.
     
  23. Sep 4, 2012 #22
    This, it seems to me, is the heart of the point. I am unconvinced that Communism, as envisaged by Marx, has ever actually been practiced. The Soviet Union and China certainly never did. But that doesn’t mean that I think that, if it ever were practiced in line with Marx’s vision that it would work. The fundamental reasons cited why the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe failed, and why China has now embraced an essentially capitalist approach whatever the claims it may make to the contrary, are true. Fundamentally, human nature is, essentially, selfish. We won’t work in the interests of a collective as we will work for ourselves. That’s the reality. And the whole point about white elephant industries producing products that nobody wants also holds true. Whatever the materialistic self-interest of capitalism, the reality is that open competition is what makes lean, efficient industries that make products that improve people’s lives, not to mention generate wealth. I don’t mean to shout the praises of capitalism, it has it faults too, but unfortunately, it has proven to be the best of the alternatives.

    But all of that doesn’t really address the OP’s question, which was about communism being taboo in America. I also would not have chosen the word taboo. To me, the word that best sums up the USA’s relationship with communism is paranoia. Has the USA really got over its paranoia about communism or has it just gone quiet because the apparent threat has receded? I cannot escape the feeling that it is the latter case. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Maybe it never will return as a serious political force. But if it did…
     
  24. Sep 4, 2012 #23

    Pythagorean

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Ah, so I guess by "now", you mean since 1991? I thought you meant more recently.

    That doesn't sound like a legitimate argument to me. Help me with your premises and conclusions here:

    P1. Liberals are running from the word liberal

    C. therefore communism is taboo in America
     
  25. Oct 1, 2012 #24
    I don't think that follows at all. Somebody saying that only X has been shown not to work does not neceassarily imply that they think Y has been shown to work.

    The statement is also consistent with only X having been tried, and therefore only X having been testable. It is also consistent with both X and Y have been tried, but only X has been subjected to testing, and found to have failed.

    The triumphalist 'Communism has failed' assertion is interesting, as is the statement 'Capitalism has failed - if you're poor'.
     
  26. Oct 1, 2012 #25
    Only that in Capitalism it's often the case that people fail themselves rather than the monetary system failing you. In Communism, you don't even get the chance to fail yourself, the system does it for you right off the bat.
     
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook