When capitalists criticize socialism, they often criticize a hypothetical conception of “big government” as socialist. For these people, big government and socialism are varying degrees of interchangeable. The bigger someone is the grifter, the more they will just 100% equate socialism with big government, like Charlie Kirk.
In this post I will explain why that’s wrong, or at least, not necessarily true.
A Marxist way to see history is phases of economic distribution throughout time. For example, France went from a feudal monarchist state to a bourgeois state with the French revolution. Russia went from a feudal monarchy to a bourgeois state to a worker’s state.
The way conservatives and capitalists think about the phases of history is in terms of democracy. The nationalistic ones tend to think that whatever country they’re from is the most democratic country. It’s rarely an indication of actual policy, but more a rhetorical tool to used as leverage.
In other words, capitalists usually see the marking characteristic of a society if it’s a “democracy”, and for capitalists, what they mean by “democracy” is “democratic for the bourgeois capitalist class”. But democracy is a slippery concept, so much so that nearly every country calls itself a democracy, and many historical societies have too.
Because of this, to view the criterion for categorizing societies as democracy is imprecise and subjective. It also treats the “ideal” society as a delicate balance. For all these reasons, it’s easier, more measurable, more accurate, and more historically honest to understand history in terms of phases of economic distribution.
So how does this all apply to big government? Conservatives don’t understand different phases of economic distribution, so they conflate a bourg welfare state with a socialist state. This hasn’t been helped by American “socialists”, who constantly try to make socialism compatible with capitalism (they aren’t compatible).
To illustrate this, let’s take the capitalist’s ideal socialist dystopia:
Everyone has socialized medicine, everyone automatically qualifies for food stamps until they make too much, the Social Security disability process is much easier, there’s universally imposed rent control, and once you make a certain amount of money, your income is taxed 99%.
In other words, every way that the government can interfere with the free market and help people, they do. This is the capitalist/anti-big government type’s worse nightmare.
And, even though this society I envisioned has some socialist elements: it’s not actually socialist.
In a bourg capitalist system, like the U.S., everything about the government is structured to preserve the economic system. For example, unemployment programs are for workers, but ultimately its insurance from the capitalist class to prevent revolt.
They would never admit this, but when a capitalist advocates for social programs, what they are advocating for, on some level, is something to placate the workers, thereby reifying the dominant class and preventing revolution.
The reason capitalists conflate big government with socialism is they can’t imagine a government working in a different class’s interest. The closest capitalists can fathom of socialism is the current economic system, but instead the government is just vewy vewy nice to poor people (what they call big government).
But a socialist system is fundamentally different. A socialist society is one run by the working class, in service of the working class, thereby liquidating any other class, because any other class only exists to profit off of the labor of workers.
The three main things needed to make this transition to a socialist worker’s state is: 1. an alternative to, or overhaul of, the nature of the market. 2. remove the ability to accumulate wealth, and most importantly 3. abolish private property.
And really, #1 and #2 naturally follow after abolishing private property. Property, in this context, is something owned by someone that can passively generate income. So, if you own a house and live in it, it’s a personal possession in an everyday sense. If you own a house and rent it out, it’s property. If you own a factory, and gain income due to others laboring in that factory, you own property.
All of this is to say: true socialism isn’t bigger government, it is a fundamentally different way to distribute material wealth.
Somalia and Norway are both capitalist, and yet Norway has a much “bigger” government than Somalia. Similarly, Revolutionary Catalonia and the Soviet Union under Stalin were both communist, but the Soviet Union was a much bigger government. Finally, China before the Revolution was feudalist, but in a much less organized way than late, Feudal European societies.
All of this is to say: socialism does not equal bigger government, just as fiefdoms do not equal smaller government, and capitalism is definitely not always small itself. In fact, even though the U.S. provides jack shit for its impoverished citizens and let’s them rot in the street, it is still, with little question, likely the biggest government in the world.
(An older version of this post was published on my old blog, People’s Sickle, in February 2018)