Cubans are protesting totalitarianism, not socialism

Whenever something bad happens in some totalitarian government, the right is the first to scream that the problem is “socialism.”

They conveniently ignore all the democratic countries that are primarily socialist and instead look at the few that are run by dictators. “Look how bad Venezuela is!” they scream. “Clearly, it’s because of their socialist policies and not at all because they have a terrible dictator running things.” The fact that most of Europe, Canada and Japan have socialist economies of varying degrees doesn’t convince them. It has to be socialism! It can’t be the evil dictators!

Now, admittedly, given right-wing support of oppressive governments like Russia and what Trump wanted to turn the U.S. into, you can sort of understand their obsession of finding another reason for a country’s failure than authoritarianism. But mostly it’s just a misunderstanding of the distinction between a government and its economy.

(Current protesters in Cuba, who have specifically said it’s the dictatorship they are protesting, not socialism. Not that facts matter to the right.)

Here’s a very short abbreviated version of the difference:

Economic

Capitalism.  This is where the market decides and government stays out of it.  No minimum wage, no health inspections, no laws against discrimination, no regulations on business at all.  This doesn’t work, because you end up with the powerful running everything, destroying the economy, and keeping people in poverty.

Communism.  This is where the government runs business.  The idea is that we should all live together in peace and harmony and share everything, and the President earns the same amount as the guy who sweeps the street.  This also doesn’t work, because it completely destroys initiative and any reason to try to improve yourself.

Socialism.  This is where most countries are, where the government regulates business to prevent the abuses capitalism can bring, and provides many services (libraries, hospitals, parks, fire departments, social security, unemployment, etc.) This is the tough balance to meet.  You don’t want to go too far in either direction, and most of the debate in the US is over how far to go.

Political

Democracy.  This is where the people decide, usually through representative democracy or republicanism.

Totalitarianism.  This is a dictatorship, whether individually controlled (North Korea) or committee controlled (China).  Once more, there are degrees here as well as various types (monarchy, fascism, oligarchy).  But the key thing they all have in common is that the decision-making power is not with the people.

So happens is that people confuse the economic with the political.  The Soviet Union was a communist country but was also a totalitarian country. Cuba has a socialist economy but is a dictatorship. It is possible to have a democracy that is communist if the people vote for it, and it’s also possible for a totalitarian capitalist country.

It’s even more confusing when countries lie about themselves.  Just because you call yourself “the Democratic Republic of Vietnam” doesn’t mean you are a democratic republic, any more than China is the “people’s republic.” The Soviet Union was indeed a communist country, but it was a corrupt one because you know perfectly well that not everyone shared equally in that society.

So whenever some right-wing fool tries to blame terrible conditions in a country on “socialism,” take it with a grain of salt. Could socialism be part of the problem? Sure, if poorly managed. So can capitalism. But when the real reason is a terrible dictatorship, you don’t have to ignore that to find a scapegoat you’re more comfortable with.