The Webster's Dictionary definition of communism is "a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all needed," "a theory advocating elimination of private property." The Oxford English Dictionary calls it "a theory or system of social organization in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs."
The etymologist in me loves knowing that its root comes from the Latin and French words communis and commun respectively, perhaps alluding to the intent to sustain the common good in society.
Working to sustain the community as a whole seems like a worthy goal! Indeed, I would posit that in their key messages, the major religions have universally sought to ensure the common good in exhortations to "love thy neighbor as thyself." and "to do unto the least of these" what you would do for whomever you believe is your Savior.
The definition of socialism according to Oxford is "a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole." Government-owned is a key element that gets missed when the words are thrown around today meant as slurs.
Our own governor and the new House speaker pretend that those of us who seek social justice and civil rights, who work to assure that America's most vulnerable are safe from starving, from homelessness, and from a lack of medical care are socialists, Marxists, communists and worthy of contempt, without acknowledging that they are blatantly lying about the true meaning of the words they throw up at us.
Their "fearless leader" even calls us vermin! They claim we are dangerous. They tell you to vote against anyone who seeks to protect consumers through critically needed regulations, many of which literally save lives. They rant about efforts to protect the only planet that can sustain our life as killers of economy. (On that point, it was nice to see Craig Douglass recently opine that recycling done right is a win-win for the environment and for the economy.) They claim that those of us seeking social justice are simply trying to steal from the rich, when the rich have in recent decades actually widened the wealth gap to obscene levels.
The self-serving "trickle down" economic theory touted by Ronald Reagan and his acolytes has been shown to be deeply flawed. Joe Biden's administration is showing that by lifting up our most vulnerable, new markets appear that help the merchants grow profits. Higher wages cost more in the interim and may raise costs some, but they also create more people who can buy products and services. This was the case with the Marshall Plan after World War II as well, where our aid to Germany strengthened not only Germany but provided Americans new markets for goods and services, while also creating new alliances.
A viable alternative to communism and socialism is compassionate capitalism. The private sector is still private. It meets critical regulation requirements to keep the workforce, the environment and consumers safe. It doesn't price-gouge, particularly in times of supply-chain disruptions. Its shareholders do not provide profit-related bonuses that encourage CEOs to act heartlessly so that they can balloon their own pay.
Compassionate capitalism would improve the lives of our neediest and provide for the common good.
Can anyone explain how any CEO deserves multimillion dollars in annual pay in a company that refuses to pay many of its workers a living wage? Can anyone explain how fighting universal health-care coverage makes society as a whole healthier and wealthier? Can anyone explain how for-profit companies are more cost effective and beneficial to consumers when their primary objective is increasing net profits?
Micah 6 says the Lord requires us "to do justly and to love mercy." How do shareholders and CEOs who put profits first over safety or over the common good of consumers meet that requirement?
Imagine if the competitive urge to make the most money were tempered with compassion and concern for our neighbors--all of our neighbors! Imagine if the competition morphed into "how can I do the most good for society and the planet at large?"
I yearn for that world. Not a communist or socialist world (I can't find a single historical example of a truly communist or socialist government that didn't fail when corrupt "leaders" took it over). Still, if enough of us were fully engaged, we could work toward a kind and compassionate world, a world where social justice and civil rights were not slurs to be thrown about by craven politicians.
Now, that would be marvelous! Compassion! Kindness! Empathy! I'll take those qualities over heartless disregard any day. You?
Mary Remmel Wohlleb of Little Rock has a master's degree in French literature from Middlebury College and a master's degree in international management from the American Graduate School of International Management focusing on cross-cultural communications.