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Perspective Matters: The Use of Socialism as A Political Insult

You may have noticed that the word socialist and its related terms are tossed around a lot as political insults. Typically, the right-wing does this to place their opponents in a political phylum for ease of dismissal. They make no attempt to engage with the actual arguments of their opponents. The mere application of a label is supposed to make them go away. Such a tactic is, of course, a red herring. A shiny thing designed to distract from the actual issue.

A Local Example: Bronwyn Bishop

Some may recall former House Speaker Bronwyn Bishop using the term socialist to deflect criticism away from a minister who abused her parliamentary entitlements. The mere use of socialist, which was utterly unrelated to the issue, was supposed to make the detractors vanish. The tacit admission here is that Ms. Bishop could not actually defend what the former minister had done, so she resorted to name-calling.

Murica: Bernie and AOC

The term socialist is commonplace in US politics, even more so than it is here. Essentially, anyone to the left of you can be (and often is) considered a socialist. Common targets of this alleged barb include Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). I have written about AOC in another place, but a brief recap might be useful here. She is a new breed of politician who ran on a popular platform, took no donor money and serves the people. Shocking in a democracy I know. She has been the subject of torrents of abuse as a socialist with ‘radical ideas’.

The Shift of The Overton Window

The reason both of these politicians have the label socialist and ‘radical left’ attached to them is because, compared to the rest of the political establishment, they are. The overton window, that is the acceptable range of political opinion, has moved so far to the right that common sense social democratic positions are now viewed as ‘socialist’ and ‘far/radical left’. Perspective matters. When the default position, along with the underlying political and economic assumptions, moves increasingly to the right, middle of the road positions look increasingly left wing. The details of the positions have not changed at all, but the political conversation has shifted so much that formerly accepted policies and positions are now viewed as radical. This is a result of corporate influence on politics through money.

Politicians and Socialism

There is deep hypocrisy in politicians’ attitudes to socialism. Despite how they rail against it when it comes to the social safety net, they quite like their own pensions and perks. They also seem to quite like corporate subsidies (coal in Australia, oil and the banks in America) and tax cuts for the rich. The reality is that politicians do not actually hate socialism. In reality, they hate socialism for the wrong people. Socialism itself is not the problem, it is the recipients.

There is never any talk of cutting politicians’ pensions or pay. There is never talk of ending corporate subsidies in an allegedly capitalist system. The idea of ‘how will we pay for this?’ is only ever applied to social programmes such as medicare (and its counterpart in the US Medicare4All) but never to corporate subsidies or the military or any other corporate or rich priority. For those sectors of society, the treasury is their plaything. But when it comes to social programmes for the peasants (even if that term is never used) suddenly politicians evolve into deficit hawks. This hypocrisy must stop.

What is good for the goose, as the saying goes, is good for the gander.

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  1. pierre wilkinson

    Hear Hear
    but what can be done?
    first a federal election
    then a federal ICAC
    let the accounting begin

  2. Phil

    Great read Dr Jones. . Another canard that has been around for some now is, that the ” Nazi’s were Socialists ” Their buttress for their argument of course, is in the name ” The National Socialist German Workers’ Party,” Of course anyone who has studied history knows the Nazi’s were right wing fascists and were anything but, socialists.

    I knew a women living in my street, she was on a disability support pension and lived in a State Housing Commission house. Every election she would have the picture of the Liberal parties candidate on a placard planted in her lawn at the front of the house. On speaking to the women her political ignorance was breath taking. She actually told me with out a hint of irony, that with out the Liberal party, there would be no social welfare. Go figure. I have since realised, she is just one of thousands of people that think like this. I despair.

  3. New England Cocky

    Heheheheh ….. “Socialism” for the undeserving wealthy and corporates costs the Australian taxpayers about $160 BILLION PER YEAR in tax rebates, fuel excise concessions, private school subsidies for the middle class, etc, etc, etc.


    Joe Hockey has set the standard:
    “The age of entitlement is over and the age of personal responsibility has begun. … Everyone has to help do the heavy lifting here”.

    YET, NONE of these government handouts to the undeserving wealthy and corporates were touched!!!
    1. Excessive tax cuts to filthy richest $15.8 BILLION
    2. Fossil fuel subsidies $12 BILLION
    (24 times the car industry subsidy that
    returned 200,000 jobs and $30 BILLION)
    3. Superannuation tax concessions in FY15 $36 BILLION
    4. Negative Gearing $ 6.8 BILLION
    5. Capital Gains discount on home to FY18 $19 BILLION
    6. Capital Gains discount (CGT) $ 9.1 BILLION
    7. CGT discounts for persons & trusts in FY18 $28.3 BILLION
    8. Imputed Rent Exemptions $ 9.6 BILLION
    9. Mining Industry Subsidies $ 4.5 BILLION
    10. First Home Vendors Grants $ 1 BILLION
    11. Private School Subsidies per year 09-13 $ 9 BILLION
    12. Private Health Insurance Rebate per year $ 5 BILLION
    13. Overseas housing for boat refugees per year $ 4 BILLION

    Total government handouts $160 BILLION

    Thank you R Ambrose Raven for this compilation.
    The Conversation 030514

  4. Shaun Newman

    New England CockyMarch 2, 2019 at 4:35 pm, mate as you may know, I’m a bit slow. Could you please tell me what (FY) means, all I can think of is Financial year? It is a staggering amount we pay to live in a “free country” is it not?

  5. Alcibiades

    The Coalition has just doubled all government debt accumulated since Federation. In under six years.

    Australia’s gross debt – updated Friday morning – has just clicked over the magic number of $543,409,430,000. This is exactly double all debt accumulated by every government between Federation and the 2013 election.

    That’s right. The Coalition has added more debt in five and a half years than all governments over the preceding 118 years …

    Source: Michael West, Alan Austin.

  6. Terence

    paul walter

    Unfortunately most people do not know what true socialism is about and they lump socialists together with the Greens (who appear to be basically Marxists wanting central world government).

    In my perspective, the old labor party (the party my parents voted for) likely had true socialist values.

    It would be great to have an updated easily understood definition available.

    Say ‘the goals of Australian socialism today’.

  7. Matters Not

    While we are in the business of referring to West – note also.

    Defence spending used to account for little more than a fifth of government spending on procurement. Just seven years ago. Now it accounts for almost three-quarters

    From 20% to 75% in seven years. And Labor has committed to continue this madness while those initially responsible simply walk away.

    But we all feel that much safer – don’t we?

  8. David Bruce

    When you look, closer socialism and fascism have much in common. The Fabians use both.

    Australia has had five successive Fabian Prime Ministers since 1970 – Gough Whitlam, Robert Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard plus various Deputies.

    Is Australia becoming more fascist under the LNP?

    The results from the latest World Justice Project index show an alarming trend in the world.

    Global results indicate more national governments are willing to repress their citizens’ basic rights in the name of law and order. And Australia is caught in that drift.

    Australia has dropped out of the top 10 in global rankings in its loyalty to the rule of law!

    New Zealand comes in at #8.

  9. Aortic

    Just read an article in the MSM about the Trump true believers. Some nurse stated categorically that under socialism inequity would increase, the rich would get richer and the poor would get poorer. Jesus, I had to read it twice to take in what she was saying. Is it any wonder the USA is heading for a day of reckoning. Has she had a look at the people who have to sell their blood just to survive and work three jobs just to merely get by.Has she had a look at the farcical reasons why there is no universal health care and the pernicious influence of the NRA Wall Street engendering the excesses of the filthy rich at the expense of the ordinary punter. As Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting with Jesus said on one of his many visits to Australia, ” we got the Puritans, you got the convicts. Aren’t you lucky!”

  10. Andreas Bimba

    So the Greens are Marxists wanting central world government? Usually we get accused of being latte sipping inner city hipsters who are in love with the ultra neoliberal Gig economy or feral conservationists. Neoliberals on bikes is another one. In my experience Greenies are usually progressive social democrats that care about people, the environment and animal welfare. Definitely more progressive than the bulk of ALP voters but equally ignorant about macroeconomics unfortunately.

    I was just branded a socialist spreading drivel by some brain dead conservatives because I posted an article on Facebook about the EU’s stagnating economies, high unemployment and for being fundamentally undemocratic. These types never read the referenced links.

    Most conservatives really are ignorant, naive, self obsessed, selfish or brain dead. The selfish ones are often smart in a narrow one dimensional sort of way and can sometimes be partially one over if they feel they have something to gain.

  11. Lambert Simnel

    Andreas, is this the Socialist Greens Capitalist world government run by the Communists, Rothschilds, the Jews, Masons and Wall St?

  12. Adrianne Haddow

    Terence, where you wearing your blue glasses when you read that Global Governance section of the Greens policy?

    To my eyes, the policy is about protecting people from the worst of the global inequalities visited on us all by the rampant corporatisation of food, resources and wealth. Also the prevention of wars motivated by profit and opportunism. There are references to the democratisation of the UN, international financial organisations contributing to global economic justice, the elimination of tax havens and a global agreement on corporate tax rates.

    Not much to argue with there, considering most of the economic woes, declining employment and industry decline, we are experiencing in Australia, are a result of the many free trade agreements our government has signed.

    The policy is aimed at regulating the influence and power of the international corporations.

    But then I was wearing my green glasses when I read it.

  13. John Lord

    That’s so. The term “socialist” is being used on debating sites in the most demeaning manner.

  14. andy56

    Everytime somebody shouts socialism, i laugh. These dickheads just wouldnt know what it is to start with.
    My take is that all these isms are dangerous on their own.
    Communism is an extreme form of socialism and Neoliberal is the extreme of capitalism.
    I like capitalism and i also like socialism. Combining the best of both is the direction we should follow.
    Socialism to me implies spreading the wealth TO A DEGREE and proper planning.
    Capitalism implies a certain freedom to take opportunities.
    Laizes faire capitalism just doesnt work for infrustructure in australia. The tyranny of distance and sparse population means we are wasting prescious prosperity propping up manufactured competition. If you want to study the effects of competition, study our telecom system. How effing convoluted and screwed are we that we have 3 totally inadequate networks instead of one all encompassing good one? A total waste of precious resource. Then we have to spend more government funds to clean up the mess.
    If instead of selling telstra, we mandated the upgrades required, it would have been cheaper and DONE ALREADY. Thats called PLANNING. Or you can study the energy sector. Prices have come down and we have no pollution to worry about, AS IF ! But hey, i am just an engineer not an economist, thank god. How economists like Stockdale sleep at night has me baffled.

  15. andy56

    Economists are over rated and engineers are undervalued. Just remember that Malcolm, the economist, gave us Fraudband because the other economist Tony said it was a waste of money, so kill it. If this is capitalism at its best, give me communism.

  16. Pascoe Bill

    Turnbull and Abbott economists? Nah, don’t think so. You give them way too much credit.

    They are simple, one-dimensional cretins who wave words like “thuh Eekonomee” and “people smugglers” and “sooperior eekonomik managers” around like baseball bats because they know they will get a Pavlovian response amongst us wombats and they will get re-elected. That’s the only thing that counts.

    “Just remember that Malcolm, the lawyer/merchant banker/chancer gave us Fraudband because the deranged loon psychopath Abbott said it’s got Labour’s name on it, so kill it.”

    There, fixed it for you.

  17. Trevor

    The capitalist economic model is a farce from top to bottom because the propaganda from supporters, enablers and the like can never hide from the real facts that capitalism BANKS THE PROFITS AND SOCIALISES THE LOSSES.

  18. andy56

    pascoe bill, i was being generous.
    trevor, thats also another way of putting it.

  19. Zathras

    I can’t help but be amused at all the socialist-fearing Trump supporting farmers -the ones who get paid not to plant certain crops – getting bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of $12billion as compensation for his failed tariff strategy against China.

    Another example of the supremacy and independence of the Capitalist system.

  20. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Great summary

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