The Tenets of Sinclair's Socialism
Socialism is both an economic and social doctrine, and the political movement inspired by this doctrine. The basic premise argues for the nationalization of natural resources and utilities while calling for state ownership and distribution of wealth. Most important, socialism wants to create a global, classless cooperative of all people.
Originally, the terms socialism and communism were used interchangeably. However, communism is an extreme form of socialism that advocates the entire elimination of capitalism. Many communists continue to use the term socialist even though socialists distance themselves from what they call "authoritarian tyranny." Most socialists recognize a need for private ownership and only advocate the need for state ownership and operation of the vital components of society.
The worsening conditions of the proletariat, or working class, during the close of the nineteenth century led to the modern socialist movement. When the predicted violent revolution did not occur, many socialists began to reject the need for violence as a means for achieving their goals. This ideological shift separated the socialists from the Marxists (communists). The German writer Eduard Bernstein wrote about the basic beliefs of attaining socialist goals through reformist, parliamentary, and evolutionary methods rather than through revolution.
Sinclair's goal was to attain what he referred to as "democratic socialism" in the United States. Although most readers did not realize it, his beliefs actually embraced the American dream. In fact, what Sinclair wanted was a return to the original idea that inspired immigrants and freedom-seekers — a return to the original American dream. In one of his most famous passages, he writes, "Passionately, more than words can utter, I love this land of mine. . . . There never was any land like it — there may never be any like it again; and Freedom watches from her mountains, trembling." Sinclair loved what the United States stood for but was concerned that the economic system of capitalism was interfering with the premises and promises of liberty that the founding fathers sought. Sinclair based his attack on capitalism on his belief that capitalism violated essential American values.
Sinclair believed that socialism was the means for American liberals to achieve most fully the ideals they embraced. Sinclair abhorred the exploitation of the working class and economic inequality. He thought that America should be the land of opportunity for all people, provided they were willing to work. A strong work ethic was imperative. "If a fellow won't work, he has no right to anything." However, when a worker, like Jurgis, is willing to work and is able to work but cannot work, that is a problem. Or when an entire family is working but not succeeding, that too is a problem.
Sinclair's form of socialism dominated his writings as he attempted to provide a logical argument for what was, to him, a very personal and emotional issue. For Sinclair, the ideals of America stressed equality and brotherhood, but in all actuality, the rich did indeed get richer and the poor got poorer. No equality. No brotherhood. But just as The Jungle was seen as an attack on the meatpacking industry, Sinclair's perceived views on capitalism and socialism endured more so than his actual message. Too many people are unable to separate a political system from an economic system. Moreover, the United States, unlike many European counterparts, never had an overwhelmingly successful socialist movement, so Sinclair is remembered as a muckraker, not a socialist.