The other day I was chatting with an acquaintance on facebook about Venezuela -- and if you aren't following it, shame on you -- and they were angry with a headline that blamed "socialism" for the woe. He angrily exclaimed, "It's not socialism, it's authoritarianism."
That led to a fruitless semantic debate about one of the most slippery words in political discourse: socialism. Folks on the left and right simply could not communicate, because they couldn't agree on semantics.
Socialism means, in just about everyone's vernacular, that the state somehow "socializes" land, labor, or capital....or, collectively owns or controls, in any or all of those areas. There are only three main ways to do this: voluntarily, democratically, or autocratically.
Voluntary socialism is libertarianism. An excellent example of voluntary socialism is a group like the Freemasons. The collective owns and controls the assets, everyone is a member voluntarily, and you can leave if you choose by simply declaring it so. It's run democratically, but entry and exit is voluntary.
Democratic socialism, which barely exists in reality, is where you have a democratic society, and a socialist economy. It's a theoretical thing at best, and usually ends up being social democracy. That's like Bernie. Social democracy, which many people mean when they use the word socialism, is not socialism at all -- it is capitalism with a safety net. Not socialism, but people in America call it that. In fact, when Bernie Sanders referred to Denmark as an example of the type of country that he, a democratic socialist, liked, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen disagreed: "I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy." We are talking about a "mixed economy," a mix of the free market and "socialism," or "economic interventionism," or "economic authoritarianism." All of those terms work for what is happening.
Then there is state capitalism, which is even more "socialized" than social democracy, which is everything from China, Germany, and Brazil, to a few other smaller countries...that's the mixed economy, where the state runs a heavy-handed "industrial policy." Now, to the socialist, these are "not socialism." Well, they are if it goes well. If not, it's not socialism, it's authoritarianism.
Now, every one of those words is slippery, confusing, and used differently by the people who use them.
The left usually uses them broadly one way, the right, another. Libertarians might use either way.
However, whenever we are discussing socialism in the news, we generally mean economic authoritarianism in one manner or another. We are not talking about some theoretical socialism that is either capitalism, or something that has never existed.
Either way, I seriously think we need to just start listening to what the person means more than the word they use....the point is, maybe we should exercise charity when we see these words, and really pay better attention.
Basically, I think making the claim that your definition is the only one is false, and making the claim that yours is the best one requires an essay and citations.
Semantics. The only way to win is not to play. Or at least, maybe forget about winning, and play to understand.