“The Military is Socialist” (and Other Bad Notions)

The US military is not socialist. Socialism is generalized worker ownership of and control over the workplace. Even the standard dictionary definition of socialism (“a political and economic theory of social organization advocating that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole”) precludes the military from being socialist. Neither soldiers nor the community control the military. In the United States, the military is run by bureaucratic elites appointed by bourgeois politicians bankrolled by corporate power who use these means to keep the world open for capitalist markets.

The military is an instrument of production. Indeed, military systems in themselves are remarkably similar across modes of production. They are neither capitalist or socialist (same with government programs, which is why the concept of a “mixed economy” is a propaganda term not a social-scientific one). The military establishment serves the ruling class and the character of the ruling class and its needs are determined by the character of the mode of production in which it appears and operates. The United States is a capitalist society. As capitalist societies go, it is one of the least democratic. But it is not at all socialist.

Programs like Social Security were purposely designed to steal the play away from the socialists by removing objections. If socialists complain that capitalism is objectionable because it leaves old people to suffer after having exploited their younger bodies for profit over the life-course, then Social Security is there to make capitalism look humane. Public provisions of the social surplus have always been a part of capitalism. That isn’t at all the same thing as saying infrastructure, social services, and the military are “socialist.”

That your taxes pay for the military and all the rest of it is a manifestation of the phenomenon of externalization of costs. The public subsidizes the capitalist mode of operation. That’s not socialism. That’s capitalism.

When right wingers tell you that we need to cut social services because they are “socialist,” they are using a scare word to generate public support for devolution of public function in a particular area or domain. That’s why, when folks on the left call these programs “socialist,” claiming that the right wing already supports socialism in a vain attempt to shame the shameless into supporting the public function in question, they give the right wing ammunition to do the opposite. That’s assuming these left-wing voices are operating in good faith. At best, it’s ignorantly counterproductive.

Of course, progressive Democrats call government programs “socialism” in order to keep working class people from demanding an actual socialist party. “Pay no attention to the real socialists! Here, have some food stamps!” But the right wing doesn’t give a shit about the Democrat’s sheep-dogging. They love it that some Democrats self-identify as “socialist” and claim their policies are “socialist,” because that functions to keep them relevant and socialism on the run.

And the ruling class is down with all that because the two-party system going–owning and condemning socialism keeps the populace within the narrow hegemonic frame that perpetuates the capitalist mode of production.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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