July 19, 2003
Socialism in the USA

The US military is one of the last real socialist institutions in the world. I realized this talking to an old friend who currently works on a military base; he was complaining about his rent. All of the sailors from the base where he works get a housing allowance from the navy. As a result, local landlords are able to jack up the prices to otherwise untenable levels. Only the non-military folk are affected.

In this and other ways, people who join the US armed forces are taken care of. They are fed, provided with cheap or free transportation and accommodations, and given discounts on groceries and other goods. All this, thanks to collectivized production and taxpayer dollars.

If you're dropping off the bottom rung of the social ladder in America, the safety net of the military is there to catch you, and provide an attractive alternative to the hell of split shifts of minimum wage work. Just a few caveats: you have to be willing to kill others and die for your country. And by "for your country", they actually mean "for various interests whose connection to the well-being of your country is vague, or perhaps nonexistent." (Woody Guthrie sang, "if we fix it so you can't make no money on war, then we'll all forget what we was killin' folks for...")

So the military practices a skewed kind of socialism that views a relative increase in economic well-being as a means to an end (ensuring a supply of cannon fodder, for example), rather than an end in itself.

The same friend was also a bit depressed about the amount of spousal abuse that occurs on the base where he works. Submarine crew members, he said, are often enough jailed for beating their wives. Just as often, though, they are released by their commanding officers when they are needed for another six month mission across the Pacific. The socialist state of the navy is again skewed by having its own justice system: one geared toward the task at hand, not necessarily at justice.

A second tier of socialism is available for public servants, generals, politicians, and Pentagon types who are loyal to the military industrial complex. Cushy "consulting" gigs with defense contractors are subsidized by the taxpayer, but make no pretense of being accountable to her. From each according to his debility, to each according to his greed.

These socialist practices skewed to other ends are often copied by large corporations, though rarely carried to the same extent. Resources are collectivized, but not surprisingly, the benefits accrue to a chosen few. Why not spread things around just a bit more, to make everyone's life better? Perish the thought. Socialism for the rich is commonly refered to as "free market capitalism", but socialism for anyone else is "class warfare".

posted by dru in article