Prior to the midterm elections I heard Sen Ted Cruz (R), from the great state of Texas (where all of Houston was on a boil water alert that day), say that if the Democrats took over government, socialism would be the horrifying result.

I found this laughable. It’s pretty clear we have the 1%ers happily running the economic and political show of both parties for the rest of us 99%ers. But it did make me want to know how this word, socialism, could still strike terror in the hearts of Americans. I turned to what seemed like a good basic education on the subject:

Wolff opens the book with this: “Socialism is a kind of yearning for a better life than what capitalism permits for most people.” He goes on to say that he will only cover the economics of socialism and how inequality is a part of history: masters and slaves, lords and serfs, employers and employees. “These class struggles shaped the quality and history of each type of economic system” as well as the societies where they existed. “Class struggles are always key contributors to eventual transitions to different economic systems.”

To Summarize

There isn’t enough space here to present all that Wolff details of the history and the varieties of socialism. Enough to say, it’s a worthy read especially if history and economics aren’t your thing. They weren’t mine and now I’m having to play catchup. But several sections struck me as why socialism remains the S word.

  • Socialism and communism are linked in history and often in the minds of Americans who’ve been around long enough to witness or read about the collapse of the USSR. “For many, communism, socialism, Marxism, anarchism, and more recently terrorism, are all noxious anti-American ideologies,” to quote Wolff.
  • Many people lived through the Reagan administration where “welfare queens” and anyone who didn’t/couldn’t find a job was accused of taking advantage of those who did work. These moochers, according to Reagan et al, were supported with our tax dollars with “entitlements.” This is still a Republican talking point as well as many less vocal Dems. Our current president being one of them (look it up).
  • President Clinton sent jobs overseas via NAFTA and also “ended welfare as we know it,” making poor women pay the price. These two men (and their parties) helped create the class war we’re living through today.
  • Socialism in Nordic countries and most of western Europe has been held up as a way to meet some important yearnings (healthcare, education, living wages), but that old S word always serves as a “warning” to Americans. We are the most powerful country in the world, so what could we learn from them?
  • And always a failsafe for those who subscribe to any or all of the above – the national debt is such that “austerity” is required. Cutting back on social programs is always first on the chopping block. Never mind the military and medical industrial complexes, multiple proxy wars, congressional stock deals, and earmarks to help them stay in office.

More About That Yearning

I had just finished Wolff’s book when I read Jeffery St. Clair’s Friday (11/25/2022) post on CounterPunch. He’d recently spent time driving the backroads of southern Indiana where he’d once lived. He wrote this about his trip: “Dollar stores have become a major employer in many areas with more outlets than Walmart and McDonalds combined (over 50,000). Corporate America thinks rural America has no choice but to take these jobs at shit pay. The unions have been beaten down. The politicians blame extended unemployment benefits.”

Photo credit: Jeffery St. Clair

 St. Clair continues: “People don’t trust their bosses, their banks, or their government. They don’t trust that the insurance they pay out the ass for will really cover them if they have a stroke or get cancer or contract COVID on the job. Yet, the people most in need of national health care are among the least likely to support it. Why you don’t trust the government – it’s never done much of anything for you, except demean your existence, humiliate you for asking for help, and make life harder than it already is. The fear isn’t irrational. It’s been learned over generations.”

Maybe the S word’s power is not really about the fear of socialism but about one more betrayal the poor would rather do without.

Worker Cooperatives

At the end of Wolff’s book, he offers an interesting way to create a form of economic socialism. He proposes “worker cooperatives” as a way to address the yearning for a better life and a democratic economic order. It would also help to transition the U.S. away from our current 1% vs 99% capitalist system.

“In their modern forms, worker co-ops provide all who labor inside a workplace – whether factory, office or store – with an equal voice on the key business decisions. Majorities determine what, how, and where the workplace produces; how it uses or distributes its outputs; and how it relates to the state. The state’s direct partner in its relationship to the workplace is no longer a minority, the employer, but instead the entire collective of employee-owners. By democratizing workplaces, worker co-ops can give a shape to a real, daily democracy on a society-wide basis.”

I know. You’re thinking fat chance of this ever happening. But isn’t this yearning being activated now by movements to form unions in a variety of service and other industries? And if all of the employees are owners, wouldn’t the need for whistle-blowers and strikes disappear? Those human lives lost on the Boeing planes could have been saved; the railroad workers would have already been receiving paid sick leave? It can be done.

Bob’s Red Mill has created just what Wolff proposes. Here’s Bob when the company became 100% employee owned. “That happy day came in April 30th of 2020: as of our 10th anniversary, Bob’s Red Mill is now 100% employee owned, one of only about 8,000 businesses in the country to achieve this incredible feat.”

I’m going to enjoy, even more, my bowl of Bob’s steel cut oats in the morning.

A note on the books and blogs

  • Richard Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, U Mass, Amherst, and founder of Democracy at Work. Learn more at: and
  • And why the red roses on Wolff’s book’s cover? The symbol spread across Europe and to the U.S. around 1910. Today, the red rose in a fist is the symbol for Socialist International (a worldwide organization).

Photo Credit: S scrabble tile – Brett-Jordan