An Evaluation of “”Democratic Socialism,” a Euphemism for Slavery”

In his essay, “”Democratic Socialism,” a Euphemism for Slavery,” Amir Kamrani attempts to establish that democratic socialism is really just a form of slavery. Kamrani unfortunately, in conflating democratic socialism with social democracy, spends his time attacking social democracy rather than democratic socialism. While the author is able to establish that unjust circumstances like slavery are at least possible under democratic institutions,  he is unable to establish his core contention that social democracy is really just slavery. To support his position, Kamrani argues for private property by falsely equivocating property with bodies (and arguing that bodily autonomy should apply to property) and he blankly asserts that socialism is slavery, failing to evidence how and possibly confusing socialism for authoritarianism. Ultimately, his essay does not meet its goals because he does not argue against democratic socialism and even his arguments against social democracy are unsound or incomplete.

For the purposes of clarification, Kamrani appears to conflate “democratic socialism,” which is a form of mixed market economics guided by a socialist ethos, for “social democracy,” which is a kind of communism elected democratically. This kind of conflation is clear for a number of reasons: he conceives of “democratic” as a word added to socialism by leftist rhetoricians to “sugar-coat” the term; he states, “liberals claim that we will have a socialist system, but that it will be “democratic;”” and he finally follows this by quoting Encyclopedia Brittanica’s definition of “socialism.” His later argument which states that unjust regimes can be elected democratically, even socialism, further demonstrates that he does not conceive of “democratic socialism” as being anything more than the pairing between socialism and democracy (i.e. democratically-maintained socialism). Really, what Kamrani is actually arguing against is “social democracy.” Using the same source as he did to define socialism, Encylopedia Brittanica defines social democracy as, “a political ideology that advocates a peaceful evolutionary transition from capitalism to socialism … [sharing] common ideological roots with communism but eschew[ing] its militancy and totalitarianism.” While democratic socialists still maintain the socialist ethos of, in some ways, collectively providing for the common good through government, they favor “public ownership of some key industries, encouragement for co-operative enterprises, requirements that workers have a voice in the decisions of the businesses that employ them, the rights of workers  to unionize and bargain collectively, and government planning and regulation of the economy” (Mintz, Close, and Croci 95). Specifically, democratic socialists are in favor of maintaining the capitalist system but they wish to modify it through government regulation, worker rights, and control of key industries to promote what is viewed as the collective good. Kamrani’s argument that modern-day democratic socialists only use the term “democratic” as an addition to socialism in order to “sugar-coat” it is to misunderstand what democratic socialism is. As his essay characterizes democratic socialists incorrectly as social democrats, his attempt to attack the current democratic socialist movement is nullified. His attack, consequently, is against social democrats, not democratic socialists.  Given that Kamrani conflated “democratic socialism” with “social democracy,” the rest of this essay will treat his arguments as an opposition to social democracy.

In his opposition to social democracy, Amir Kamrani launches two attacks on the social democratic ethos: an argument on property and an argument on slavery. His argument on property involves two instrumental conclusions, that an individual’s property is an extension of their body and that they should solely own their property, and one final conclusion, that it must either be the case that a person should have their body owned by others or that their property should be owned solely by themselves. “Property is owned by individuals as a result of their labor, and thus it is the extension of their body,” he contends. Is property that which is acquired only through one’s labor, or is it that which is it that which is granted and secured by a state according to their political and legal framework in accordance with one’s labor? If it’s that which is only acquired through one’s labor, then one may well defend slavery because slaves are the extension of one’s body (as his argument later goes). What about relationships? Relationships, romantic or otherwise, result from one’s labor, but does this entail one individual to solely control the relationship or to perhaps possess the other person as property, for they are an extension of the individual’s body? This would be self-defeating for the argument since it proceeds according to an implied value of bodily autonomy; any position that would rationalize the ownership of people would betray the principles of the argument, so if property is that which is acquired through labor, it must only refer to material things (as distinct from individuals). Because property must be distinguished from individuals in order for the underlying valuation of bodily autonomy to apply, it is clear that “property” is distinct from a person’s “body,” and so the argument that property should be treated as part of a person’s body (and therefore should permit private ownership) is invalid, for property and bodies are different. Even if one were to argue that this were too strict of a definition, for property was merely defined originally as an “extension of [the] body,” it would still be a case of false equivocation: to later argue that bodily autonomy should apply also to property is to conceive of property in the same way the body is conceived of, which has already been demonstrated to be unwarranted in this argument. This false equivocation is used to create a false dichotomy, that either property should be privately owned or a person’s body should be publicly owned (and the author indeed supports the former), but this dichotomy is not actually warranted by the premises and conclusions that precede it.

The second and final argument that Kamrani launches against social democracy attempts to demonstrate that slavery is the same as social democracy. He begins by defining slavery as the forcing of an individual to work against their will. For the scope of this discussion, this definition is not objectionable. He then states that, of social democracy, “the slaves are set free to work, yet another individual or group of individuals go to him every month whatever they want.” What Amir Kamrani means by this, due to the grammatical error, is unclear. As best as one can surmise, he’s stating that people within society are free to take whatever they want from a working individual. As it was defined by Encyclopedia Britannica, social democracy purposefully opposes a militaristic and totalitarian ethos, which would describe the kind of authoritarian government that could take what they wanted from the working individual. This is not unique to extreme socialism, however, for both communists (e.g. Stalin) and capitalists (e.g. Mussolini) have enacted authoritarian regimes. Thus, it seems that this grievance is misplaced onto social democracy whereas it is really a grievance with authoritarianism (or, at the very least, Stalinism or Leninism). If the author would like to support their case that social democracy is actually slavery, the burden of proof is upon them to do so. As it stands, they have not fulfilled this burden.

As a premise to his earlier two arguments, Kamrani attempts to demonstrate how socialism or slavery and democracy, at least in practice, are compatible, and so it is possible for socialism to be unjust even if it is elected democratically. He uses slavery to demonstrate his case, using a hypothetical scenario where most members of society elect slavery as one of their civic policies. What results is an unjust circumstance, slavery, from a democratic institution. This is actually the concept of tyranny of the majority, whereby the majority in-group of a particular state are able to democratically suppress and tyrannize a minority out-group (Christiano). Thus, provided that morality or justice are defined according to something other than the will of the majority, it is a valid and true argument that unjust circumstances and regimes can be elected for democratically. Amir Kamrani successfully demonstrates that unjust regimes can occur democratically but he is unable to establish that social democracy is one of them.

In conclusion, Amir Kamrani launches an attack against social democracy, confusing it with democratic socialism, and relies on an argument on property and an argument on slavery to make his case. His argument on property supports that property should have the same principle applied to it as the body does with bodily autonomy, for he contends they are essentially the same. Property and bodies are not the same, however, and so the argument cannot be extrapolated in the way he supports. His argument on slavery attempts to state that social democracy is slavery because it forces individuals to work against their will, but this is to confuse social democracy with the totalitarianism which it consciously rejects. It remains to be seen that specific aspects of the social democratic ideology actually is, or is at least conducive to, slavery. This is not to say that it is not, but merely that the author has not evidenced this claim appropriately. The purpose of Amir Kamrani’s essay was to examine the platform of democratic socialism and establish that it is a euphemism for slavery, but he is unable to fulfill this claim because he spends the essay attacking social democracy instead. Even then, he is unsuccessful in establish that social democracy is really just slavery.

 

References:

Christiano, Tom. “Democracy: 2.2.3 Equality.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. Accessed 8 Aug. 2016.

Encylopedia Britannica. “social democracy.” brittanica.com. Web. Accessed 8 Aug. 2016.

Kamrani, Amir. “”Democratic Socialism,” a Euphemism for Slavery.” therabblerouser.org. Web. Accessed 8 Aug. 2016.

Mintz, Eric, David Close, and Osvaldo Croci. Politics, Power, and the Common Good: An Introduction to Political Science. Pearson Canada, 1 Feb. 2011.

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