Benefiting The Public Good: Ideologies Of The Left

One role of government is to ensure that policies benefit the people within their jurisdiction.

  • For local governments, it would be the townspeople or city dwellers.
  • For the state governments, it would be the people living within the state.
  • For the federal government, it would be everyone within the borders of the country.

Using an ideology discussed in the textbook, construct an argument explaining how this ideology upholds the public good by examining power, order, and justice.

Select an ideology discussed in the text

Ideologies of the Left

Left-wing ideologies propose a view of human beings living together harmoniously without great disparities in wealth or social classes. In contrast to capitalism, public goods take priority over private possessions. If equality is the end, state control is the means—control of everything from banking, transportation, and heavy industry to the mass media, education, and health care.

Socialism is fundamentally opposed to capitalism, which contends that private ownership and enterprise in the context of a competitive free-market economy is the best and only way to bring about prosperity. Socialism is “an ideology that rejects individualism, private ownership, and private profits in favor of a system based on economic collectivism, governmental, societal, or industrial-group ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods, and social responsibility.” *

The Russians Are Coming! “007” to the Rescue Politics and Pop Culture The Russians Are Coming! “007” to the Rescue

During the Cold War (1945–1991), Hollywood produced dozens of films aimed at addressing and sometimes exploiting movie-goers’ fear of Communism. Among the most famous films of this genre are Conspirator (1949) starring Elizabeth Taylor; Trial (1955); Rio Bravo (1956), starring John Wayne; The Manchurian Candidate (1962); Dr. Strangelove (1964); Seven Days in May (1964); The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), based on John le Carré’s eponymous best-seller; The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966); and Three Days of the Condor (1975).

Perhaps the most famous hero of the genre is “007.” Ian Fleming created the fictional character of James Bond (aka 007) in 1953 as the Cold War was building and a hot war (in Korea) was raging. The character has since been adapted for all manner of popular culture uses, especially film. Starting with Dr. No in 1962, James Bond movies (23 so far!) are now the longest running and the second highest grossing film series in history. Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015) are the most recent installments.

The University of Washington Library has compiled a selective list of Cold War films (“The Red Scare: A Filmography”), which can be viewed online. Here is their brief introduction to this list:

The films produced in Hollywood before, during and after the Cold War Red Scare make for an interesting study in the response of a popular medium caught in a political firestorm…. [Some] motion pictures played a role in fueling the Red Scare, in propagandizing the threat of Communism and in a few rare and rather veiled cases, in standing up to the charges of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC)….

HUAC interrogated many film industry people. In the end, countless careers were destroyed but only ten individuals actually went to jail. This group came to be known as “The Hollywood Ten.”… An exhaustive analysis … indicated that none of the 159 films credited … to The Hollywood Ten contained Communist propaganda.

Similarly, since 9/11, countless films and TV series pander to the American public’s fascination with terrorism—and seek to profit from it (see Chapter 16).

· Spy-thrillers in book form and in films are extremely popular and often hugely profitable. They have the power to entertain us and also to shape our views of the world. Do films like the ones about Communism and the Cold War serve a useful purpose in society beyond entertainment? Is there a sharp distinction between art and propaganda? Think about it.

(Hint: It has been said that “propaganda is direct while art is reflective.” In this view, art doesn’t change us but rather makes us more aware of what we already know or think we know, and it can either intensify or challenge our preconceptions.)

Communism is sometimes used interchangeably with Marxism, named after its founder Karl Marx (1818–1883). Marx and his associate Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) envisioned a radical transformation of society attainable only by open class conflict aimed at the overthrow of “monopoly capitalism.” Marx and Engels opened the famous Communist Manifesto (1848) with the bold assertion, “All history is the history of class struggle.” All societies, Marx contended, evolve through the same historical stages, each of which represents a dominant economic pattern (the thesis) that contains the seeds of a new and conflicting pattern (the antithesis). Out of the inexorable clash between thesis and antithesis—a process Marx called dialectical materialism—comes a synthesis, or a new stage in socioeconomic development. Thus, the Industrial Revolution was the capitalist stage of history, which succeeded the feudal stage when the bourgeoisie (urban artisans and merchants) wrested political and economic power from the feudal landlords. The laws of history—or dialectic—which made the rise of capitalism inevitable, also make “class struggle” between capitalists (the owning class) and the proletariat (the working class) inevitable—and guarantee the outcome. Marxist theory holds that the main feature of the modern industrial era is the emergence of two antagonistic classes—wealthy capitalists, who own the means of production, and impoverished workers, the proletariat, who are paid subsistence wages. The difference between those wages and the value of the products created through the workers’ labor is surplus value, or excessive profits, which the capitalists pocket. In this way, owners systematically exploit the workers and unwittingly lay the groundwork for a proletarian revolution. How? According to Marx’s law of capitalist accumulation, the rule is get big or get out. Bigger is always better. Small companies lose out or are gobbled up by big ones. In today’s world of mergers and hostile takeovers, Marx appears nothing less than prescient here. Eventually, the most successful competitors in this dog-eat-dog contest force all the others out, thus ushering in the era of monopoly capitalism, the last stage before the downfall of the whole capitalist system. The widening gap between rich and poor is the capitalist system’s undoing. As human labor is replaced by more cost-effective machine labor, unemployment grows, purchasing power dwindles, and domestic markets shrink. The result is a built-in tendency toward business recession and depression. It all sounded eerily familiar in the midst of the 2008–2009 global recession. Countless human beings become surplus labor—jobless, penniless, and hopeless. According to the law of pauperization, this result is inescapable. For orthodox Marxists, the “crisis of capitalism” and the resulting proletarian revolution are equally inevitable. Because capitalists will not relinquish their power, privilege, or property without a struggle, the overthrow of capitalism can occur only through violent revolution. The belief that violent mass action is necessary to bring about radical change was central to the theories of Marx’s follower Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), the founder of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the foremost leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lenin argued that parliamentary democracy and “bourgeois legality” were mere superstructures designed to mask the underlying reality of capitalist exploitation. As a result, these revolutionaries disdained the kind of representative institutions prevalent in the United States and Western Europe. With the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Marxism-Leninism has lost a great deal of its luster. Even so, the doctrine retains some appeal among the poor and downtrodden, primarily because of its crusading spirit and its promise of deliverance from the injustices of “monopoly capitalism.”* (See Ideas and Politics, Figure 2.2.) After World War II, communism spearheaded or sponsored “national wars of liberation” aimed at the overthrow of existing governments, especially in the Third World. Since the collapse of Communism in Europe, however, the revolutionary role played by the Soviet state and Marxist ideology on the world stage has given way to Islamism—not Islam, the religion, but Islamism, an anti-Western ideological offshoot that seeks to restore the moral purity of Islamic societies (see Chapter 15).

n contrast to what happened in many European democracies, Marxism has never gained a toehold in the United States. Yet, in many other parts of the world, Marxist parties have flourished at one time or another. In Castro’s Cuba, most of Asia, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa, communist or socialist parties long dominated the political scene, and “national wars of liberation” were often spearheaded by self-avowed Marxists. In many other countries, most notably in Western Europe, nonruling communist parties achieved democratic respectability. The communist parties of France and Italy, to cite two important examples, are legally recognized parties that regularly participate in national elections. Socialist parties are mainstream political parties throughout Europe. In the 1970s, communist party leaders in Italy and Spain led a movement called Eurocommunism. They renounced violent revolution and sought to change society from within by winning elections. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Marxist parties have declined but by no means disappeared. After the “Plural Left” coalition won the French parliamentary elections in May 1997, three communists were appointed to the cabinet of Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. In recent years, the elected leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua have all expressed sympathy with Marxist ideas and have embraced socialist policies. And China, now boasting the world’s second largest economy, is still a communist one-party state. In addition, four other countries continue to be communist-ruled: Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. Between 1928 and 1944 Norman Thomas was the Socialist Party’s perennial candidate for president of the United States. In 1932, in the throes of the Great Depression, he garnered 884,885 votes. Thomas famously predicted: “The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But under the name of Liberalism, they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation without knowing how it happened.” To what extent—if any—has this prediction come true? Why do conservatives and liberals often answer this question very differently? Think about it. (Hint: Often the best way to win a televised debate or political argument, unfortunately, is to be highly selective—and inventive—in citing “facts” to underscore whatever strengthens the case you are making while ignoring or discrediting what doesn’t.) Democratic Socialism, the other main branch of socialist ideology, embraces collectivist ends but is committed to democratic means. Unlike orthodox Marxists, democratic socialists believe in gradualism, or reform, rather than revolution, but they hold to the view that social justice cannot be achieved without substantial economic equality. They also tend to favor a greatly expanded role for government and a tightly regulated economy. Socialist parties typically advocate nationalization of key parts of the economy—transportation, communications, public utilities, banking and finance, insurance, and such basic industries as automobile manufacturing, iron and steel processing, mining, and energy. The modern-day welfare state, wherein government assumes broad responsibility for the health, education, and welfare of its citizens, is the brainchild of European social democracy. The goal of the welfare state is to alleviate poverty and inequality through large-scale income redistribution. Essentially a cradle-to-grave system, the welfare state model features free or subsidized university education and medical care, generous public assistance (family allowances), pension plans, and a variety of other social services. To finance these programs and services, socialists advocate high taxes on corporations and the wealthy, including steeply progressive income taxes and stiff inheritance taxes designed to close the gap between rich and poor. Democratic Socialism has had a major impact in Western Europe. The United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries provide the classic examples. The welfare state became the norm in Europe after World War II, but the aftermath of the 2008 global financial meltdown put its viability to a severe test. Many European Union (EU) governments, including Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, were running huge budget deficits in 2010. Greece, in particular, teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. Indeed, the EU was forced to bail out the governments of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal with massive infusions of euros to prevent them from defaulting and potentially causing the collapse of the euro zone itself. The chronic deficits that led to the euro crisis were—and are—in no small measure a result of the generous welfare-state benefits, including health care and pensions, in place in these countries. Attempts to economize through austerity measures (spending cuts and tax increases) met with mass protests in Greece, Spain, Italy, and France, among others. Nor has the public mood in Europe greatly improved: in 2014, thousands of anti-austerity protesters took to the streets in Paris and Rome. In Italy, for example, youth unemployment had risen well above 40%—a figure that represents both a big drain on public spending and a big loss of labor productivity. Unlike France, Spain, and other European countries, the United States does not have a strong Socialist party nor has “socialism” ever lost the negative stigma most Americans attach to it. Even when Socialist Norman Thomas polled nearly 900,000 votes in the 1932 presidential election, that result amounted to only about 2% of the total votes cast. Nonetheless, many entrenched social programs in the United States resemble measures associated with the welfare state. Examples include Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, family assistance, unemployment compensation, and federally subsidized housing. Compared with most Europeans, U.S. citizens pay less in taxes but also get far less in social benefits—except for high-level government employees, the professional military class, and, of course, members of Congress, who enjoy cradle-to-grave benefits that would make even the most ardent socialist blush.

APA Reference:

Magstadt, T. M. Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions, and Issues. [VitalSource Bookshelf]. Retrieved from

book. In an essay, examine how power, order, and justice as it relates to the ideology you choose promotes the public good.

Writing Requirements (APA format)

  • Length: 1.5-2 pages (not including title page or references page)
  • 1-inch margins
  • Double spaced
  • 12-point Times New Roman font
  • Title page
  • References page (minimum of 1 scholarly source and textbook/lesson)
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