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Refreshingly careful definitions of “Socialism”

The word socialism seems to be much in vogue in the United States recently, primarily as an epithet for one’s political opponents, especially for representatives of the Obama Administration or the Democratic Party, but also for “the Mediacollectively.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find two recent blog posts pointing out how this usage differs from the traditional definition of socialism as a political position. Two bloggers with quite different political positions have each taken up discussion of the word in the past week.

James Bowman, a self-described conservative writing at Cliftonchadwick’s Blog, points out, “Socialism … has a particular historical meaning associated with state ownership of the means of production and distribution.” Mr. Bowman points out that the Obama Administration, which he criticizes, is not socialist. Bowman argues that Obama and other self-identified progressives seem hostile to the bourgeoisie in ways that are somewhat reminiscent of socialism, but that their actual proposals for governance are very different from those of traditional socialism.

Geoffrey Pullum is a regular blogger at Language Log. Along with his fellow blogger and co-author of Far from the Maddening Gerund, Mark Liberman, Pullum describes their output as inhabiting “neither the Trotskyite end of the spectrum nor the Mussolinian one.”

Pullum recalls the various factions of socialists in Britain during the 1970s who, he recalls, viewed everyone to their right as “to some extent fascist enemies of the people” rather than socialist fellow-travelers. In order to understand recent uses of the word, Pullum argues, “At the very least, we have to allow for a massive polysemy in the word socialist today” [hyperlink added].

I found it interesting – if all too rare – to find two writers from decidedly different positions each offering a parsing and definition of what is becoming a label of primary potency.

Socialism also has a particular historical meaning associated with state ownership of the means of production and distribution