Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who you callin' a socialist?


Claude Henri de Rouvroy Graf von Saint-Simon (1760-1825)

I must admit, even having as low a general opinion of the Republican Party as I do, that even I'm surprised at the popularity among the Republicans on the Know-Nothing usage that has become as common as dirt in which socialist, liberal, communist, fascist, and Nazi are used as interchangeable concept. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to it, members of Congress do it, "movement conservatives" with intellectual pretensions do it, and rank-and-file Republicans do it. I really wonder what they mean, what image in their minds those interchangeable words call up, other than something like "bad". And I know for the Christian Right they all mean something like "atheist", too.

But how crack-brained is that? Jon Stewart did a brilliant skit that was less a satire than just an imitation of Glenn Beck in which he said that Beck had had apendicitis. And he explained the significance of that: "Youre appendix is connected to your large intestine which is connected to your small intestine which is something that Karl Marx had." That kind of arbitrary association is what passes for thinking among many Republicans today.

How can someone even have a simple-minded understanding of the most basic events of the 20th century without having an elementary notion of the differences between those concepts? It would be pointless for anyone with that concept to try to understand the political process by which Adolf Hitler came to power, for instance, to take one of the more consequential events of the last century. Because, trust me: none of it will make jack for sense to you. Even though the Beckians love to compare Obama to Hitler.


Without knowing some basic facts about the split between the Social Democrats and Communists around the German Revolution of 1918-19, without knowing something about why the Nazis were fighting the Social Democrats and the Communists in street battles as well as in elections during the 1920s up until 1933, without understanding something about how the Nazis fit into the German rightwing and how their position meshed with the position of wealthy and powerful Germans opposed to the democracy of the Weimar Republic: forget it. Just memorize the fact that Hitler came to power in 1933 and don't give yourself a headache even trying to understand any of it.

What's even worse for our xenophobic Republicans, they would also have to understand the difference between what "liberal" means in most of the world and what it has meant in the US since 1920 or so. It was around that time that pro-labor activists who had called themselves progressive appropriated the word liberal to differentiate themselves from the dying Progressive movement as well as from, yes, communists and socialists.

As far as what "liberal" means in the rest of the world, I strongly advise that you not go look at the Web site of the Liberal International (LI), the Federation of European and other parties in the world that self-identify as liberal. If you go there and start reading, your head may explode. Or not, because it has nothing to do with whatever it may be that the Beckians and Limbaugh dittoheads, i.e., most Republicans, mean when they use the term "liberal". The affiliate of the LI in Germany is the Free Democratic Party (FDP). They are part of the current "center-right" coalition in Germany. The "center" part of that name refers to the conservative party, Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU); the FDP is the "right" portion. The FDP is anti-union. The CDU has a union "wing".

If you should stumble across their Liberal Thinkers section. You will find people listed there like Friedrich von Hayek, a hero of American economic "libertarians", i.e., advocates of de-regulated Killer Capitalism. And also (gulp!) Ayn Rand. Yes, the John Galt and Fountainhead Ayn Rand, guru of Alan Greenspan. And Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institute.

Carl Grünberg (1861–1940)

Anyway, I thought this post would be a good place to mention the real historical origin of the word socialism, based on a couple of articles from what is known as the Grünberg Archiv, after its editor Carl Grünberg (1861–1940). The publication was actually called Archiv für die Geschichte des Sozialismus und der Arbeiterbewegung (Archive for the History of Socialism and the Workers Movement). Grünberg later became director of the Institut für Sozialforschung, better known as the Frankfurt School. These two articles from the Archiv deal with the origins of the words "socialism" and "socialist": Carl Grünberg, Der Ursprung der Worte „Sozialismus“ und „Sozialist“ 2/1912 and Ernst Czóbel, Zur Verbreitung der Worte „Sozialismus“ und „Sozialist“ in Deutschland and in Ungarn 3/1913.

The earliest usage of the words Grünberg found was from an Italian cleric in 1803, where it was used to refer broadly to the opposite of individualistic philosophies, which Grünberg describes as "a thoroughly different" meaning that the one it was to later acquire. He finds a French usage from 1831 of "socialisme" where it referred to ... the Catholic Church! In the sense of the Universal Church: Catholic theology emphasized the importance of community in contrast to the more individual-oriented Protestant theology.

The first use of "socialist" he identifies is in 1827 from the English Co-operative Magazine and Monthly Herald, a paper of Robert Owens' reform movement to describe the Owenites. This is essentially the first usage he finds of the word in the sense it came to be generally used in the 19th century. Although he notes the word didn't catch on for a while in England.

In 1831, he finds "socialisme" used in a French paper, Le Globe, where it is used to describe the Saint-Simonist reform doctrine in contrast to individualism. This is a very similar usage to that of the English Owenite paper in 1927.

So, in other words, the term socialist came into usage as a reference to the reformist doctrines that later came to be known as utopian socialist, particularly those associated with Robert Owen (1771-1858), Charles Fourier (1772-1837) and Claude Henri Graf von Saint-Simon (1760-1825).

Grünberg and Czóbel find the first usages of the adjective form "sozialist" in German in 1840, though it's not clear which among them was the earliest, Fr. J. Buss in a speech of July 1840 or August Ludwig Churoa, writing under the pen name of Rochau, in the book Kritische Darstellung der Sozialtheorie Fouriers. Grünberg finds the first use of the noun form in German in an 1842 book by Lorenz von Stein (1815-1890), Sozialismus und Kommunismus des heutigen Frankreichs. Czóbel finds the earliest incidence of the word in Hungary in 1842.

In short, the use of "socialist" and "socialism" in the sense to which the world became accustomed in the 19th century began around 1830 and by the 1840s was beginning to come into general usage to describe utopian reform schemes like those of Owen, Fourier and Saint-Simon.

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