On the definition of socialism
Connolly: “I think many people would assume that socialism is very un-American. But there also are very different stripes of it. In the European strain, there was a great emphasis on to each according to their needs, from each according to their skill. On the American side, you have a certain commitment to it maybe a revolutionary rhetoric, but reformist implementation, for the most part. And the other thing that may surprise people is that just day to day practices that we would today call “socialistic,” perhaps, certainly publicly owned lands, represent a kind of socialism. Whether you’re talking about parks or grazing land. Even something like say eminent domain, which is the taking of private property for a public good, is actually a very American practice — moving something from a market to a nonmarket use, per se.”
On when socialism became a dirty word
Ayers: “Before it really became a dirty word, it became a very popular word. The second best-selling book of the 19th century was Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward,” which actually is a utopian vision of what America might be in the future and their utopian Bellamy clubs all across the United States. So that’s in 1888, that recently — in the middle of the Gilded Age — which had the great wealth disparities that we’re seeing today. Some people talk about living the second Gilded Age, well that was the first one, when people were so shocked about what concentration of wealth meant and what corporate power meant. People immediately started imagining what an alternative might be. And one of the men who came out of that culture was Eugene Debs from Terre Haute, Indiana, who became the great era socialist of American history. And I guess to answer your question, it was around Debs that socialism began to become a dirty word.”
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