My Kind of Socialism

When the comedian Colin Quinn said “Never trust a socialist with a summer home,” I laughed. It’s a good joke. But, I am a socialist with a winter home, which amounts to the same thing, so that joke got me thinking about my kind of socialism.

I learned socialism from my parents when I was growing up in the UK, but they wouldn’t have called it that. Actually, they wouldn’t have called it anything. They were just living their lives.


Meals on Wheels via Oswego County Opportunities

My socialism is rooted in watching my parents’ efforts to support their family, co-workers, and neighbours and to work with them to improve all their lives. My mother would always check in on our elderly neighbour and sometimes trim her toenails. My dad helped find furniture for new immigrants and deliver it when he could. They both joined an organization for the parents of GI brides so that they could work together to charter an aircraft to visit their children in the USA. It took them years to afford a seat on a plane so that my mother could see my sister. My dad worked in a factory that made vacuum cleaners and became a shop steward for his union. After they retired, mum and dad delivered meals on wheels to shut-ins.

So, I grew up with the idea that it was normal to help people who needed help, to work with others to meet shared goals, and to negotiate for improved working conditions and wages. We lived in England and enjoyed the benefits of publicly-owned health care, education, libraries, museums, and social services. At the time, I took those things for granted. They made perfect sense and made my world a better place. They were also the background to my parents’ support of their neighbours.


Homeless via Global News

The socialism I grew up with was not opposed to capitalism but depended to a large extent on a high rate of employment. It provided for the sick, the elderly, and the unemployed so that no-one would starve or be homeless because they were unable to work. In my parents’ minds, it was pretty much that simple. Recipients of social welfare or pensions lived frugally, but they lived with self-respect. Actually, they lived lives a lot like those of their employed working-class neighbours.

I didn’t learn about socialism as a political theory until I went to university and I was amazed that respected thinkers and writers had written about socialism as a philosophy that, until then, I thought was just how decent people lived. What did come as a revelation to me was that some people thought that socialism was a bad thing. Worse, “socialism” could be a word said with a sneer, derided, mocked, or feared.

There are lots of different kinds of socialism, some with authoritarian leaders, but my kind of socialism is rooted in the shared sense of responsibility that is now mostly in the past. People who need welfare are often looked down upon, and those who cannot afford health care or housing must depend on loans or the kindness of strangers, or do without.

I’m old enough to look back on several decades of changes in the UK, Canada, and the US, and I’ve watched cutbacks to libraries, schools, hospitals, colleges, and so on. A lot of public money became corporate welfare to save businesses, jobs, or banks. A lot of businesses found ways to pay less tax and stockpile profits overseas, so there has been less available to help out people in need back home.

We can’t return to the welfare state that I grew up with, and even if we could it wouldn’t be perfect, but I wish we could somehow recover that sense that we are all in this together. After all, we all need a little help sometimes.

9 replies »

  1. You have raised memories within me that have been long buried. Thank you. Need to process all I am discovering.

  2. Like you, I grew up with this type of socialism in the UK.
    You got sick and you needed a doctor, off you went.
    One of my dear friends reckons he would have died a couple of years ago after needing some heart work and he reckoned the treatment he received at a hospital in Chester was top notch.
    Not quite the same out here ….
    When I passed out one Easter morning twenty years ago my heart was suspected so my GP sent me to a specialist.
    Turns out it was low blood pressure and work related stress. However, the bill nearly did cause a heart attack!

    I loathe the (perceived) American belief that universal health care( among other things) is for those who are lazy or can’t be bothered to look after themselves.
    Anyone can fall foul of the system depending on the circumstances, and it is measure of the society if they are caught and cared for or allowed to slip through the cracks.

    • I’m glad you got treatment for your stress-related illness, but sorry about the bill! I am glad I have publicly funded health care supplemented by personal insurance.

      Universal health care, it seems to me, is a no-brainer. It’s a lot cheaper to provide for everyone than to let private health care pick and choose who gets helped. The people who fall through the cracks end up costing us more.

  3. The current view of socialism leaves me most perplexed. Taking care of others is just the right thing to do. I think it has to be done with some thought, but to do nothing and just leave everyone to their own devices feels so wrong. Thank you for this post. It’s nice to know my feelings are not just my own.
    I’ve personally used our social services a few times and may even need them again. I’m grateful for them, that’s for sure. And I know how important they are, first hand.

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