Marco Rubio called the $3.5 trillion Democratic spending bill 'Marxism,' the latest example of the GOP baselessly linking things they oppose to communism

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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
  • GOP Sen. Marco Rubio said a Democratic spending bill that aims to bolster the social safety net is "marxism."

  • One expert told Insider this is "nonsensical" and "hyperbole."

  • It's the latest example of a Republican demonizing something they oppose by tying it to communism.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida denounced the $3.5 trillion spending bill being pushed by Democrats, which includes provisions to address climate change and expand the social safety net, as "Marxism."

Rubio tweeted: "The $3.5 trillion Biden plan isn't socialism, it's marxism."

This does not make sense, based on the definition of Marxism, and the Florida Republican was mocked by economists, historians, and Democrats about it on Twitter.

"Rubio is engaging in political hyperbole, a sin which both Republicans and Democrats commit quite often," Thomas Alan Schwartz, a Vanderbilt University historian and political scientist, told Insider. "What the Democrats are doing with the $3.5 trillion dollar program is one of the largest additions to the American welfare state since the Great Society in the 1960s. To that extent I do understand the hyperbole, even if it's nonsensical."

Marxism, experts say, is a term employed to describe ideas posited by Karl Marx: the vision of a communist society whose workers share ownership of the means of production, therefore abolishing capital markets and the private wealth it generates - a political philosophy that in practice has never been achieved and mostly leads to the same widespread impoverishment it was intended to address.

Rubio's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider regarding how the GOP senator defines Marxism and how the bill qualifies as such.

Republicans continue to make 'socialism' a boogeyman

The Florida senator's "marxism" tweet is just the latest example of a Republican attempting to demonize something or someone they oppose by linking it to communism or socialism.

"Socialism" and "communism" have long been dirty words in the US, which is largely thanks to the Cold War and the anti-Soviet sentiments and paranoia that typified that era. Polling continues to show that most Americans have a negative view of socialism, though there's an evident generational divide in this regard.

"'Socialism' itself has lost some of its edge for many Americans, since they might associate it with European welfare states that aren't all that threatening," Schwartz said, adding that Rubio throwing in Marxism "does add a great sinister element" given the term is "closely associated with the Soviet Union and all of its horrific history."

Republicans have played off of these sentiments by routinely labeling Democrats as socialists, Marxists, and communists.

During the 2020 campaign season, President Donald Trump and his allies repeatedly sought to tie Democrats to socialism. This was partly linked to the fact that Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who ran as a Democrat in 2016 and 2020, is a self-declared democratic socialist (there's a difference between democratic socialists and socialists).

The rising influence of younger, left-leaning politicians like Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York - who like Sanders identifies as a democratic socialist - has also contributed to the GOP's ongoing, misleading use of "socialist" as a line of attack.

But even after Joe Biden - a moderate - became the Democratic presidential nominee, Republicans did not cease the "socialist" attacks and fearmongering. While delivering the final speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention, for example, GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said that Biden wanted to turn the country into a "socialist utopia."

Biden, who has a long, well-documented record of working with Republicans over his many years in Washington, is a centrist who often butts heads on policy with progressives and those who identify as democratic socialists. There's really no basis for calling Biden a socialist, but that's not stopping Republicans and their allies in conservative media.

"The $3.5 TRILLION Biden-Bernie budget is an effort by Democrats to double-down on their plans to make America a socialist nation," Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana said on Twitter last week.

"Biden needs to realize Americans cannot afford his rapidly increasing socialist agenda," GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren on Tuesday said that the spending proposed by Democrats amount to a "socialist starter pack."

Experts define Marxism, socialism, and communism

At this point, Republicans have used "socialist" as an attack so often that the word has seemingly begun to lose any meaning.

"This is actually a really interesting tweet," Heather Cox Richardson, a historian at Boston College, said on Twitter in response to Rubio. "It is entirely meaningless, but clearly the scare word 'socialism' no longer packs enough of a punch, so he's going for the even scarier 'marxism.' First real tell of GOP fear I've seen today."

Marxism, socialism, and communism are often - and incorrectly - employed interchangeably. The three are related, but also have distinctions.

"Marxism is just an adjective designed to highlight Karl Marx's concept of class warfare and to give the patina of intellectual respectability to such theories," Schwartz said.

Communism, in Marx's view, was "the rule by the working class over a society of political, economic, and social equality," Schwartz added. "That idealist image seems never to have existed in any society that called itself communist. In fact, what you got was the oppressive rule by a small minority of privileged party bosses over a cowed and submissive population - a.k.a., the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc."

Socialism in the simplest terms refers to "the state taking a leading role in the economy, essentially creating a welfare state that provides care for people from the cradle to the grave," Schwartz said, going on to say that there's "enormous variation in states that have socialist characteristics, from the benign socialism of a Norway or Sweden to the corrupt socialism of a Venezuela."

Rubio has "hurled himself into an academic debate that has been raging for decades," Lawrence Quill, professor of political science at San Jose State University, told Insider.

"Socialism and Marxism both stand in contrast to capitalism and are critical of it. They share a commitment to common ownership rather than the private ownership of the 'means of production' common to capitalist societies," Quill said. "As far as I can tell, the spending bill does not advocate the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production. Sen. Rubio may therefore rest easy."

"It is worth saying that Socialism is sometimes regarded as distinct from Communism, which is supposed to be the full blown realization of [Karl] Marx's goals," Quill added. "We may further speculate that what Sen. Rubio was suggesting was that the Democratic spending bill was an example of Communism rather than Socialism."

Quill said if Rubio is being "critical of state spending then he is in good company," and this appears to be "what is really going on in that little Tweet of his."

Republicans have consistently portrayed themselves as the anti-Big Government party, and have pushed against some government spending for decades while continuing to support massive increases in defense spending. There was a historic rise in the national debt under Trump, so they don't always practice what they preach.

As Quill put it, "The utterances of politicians ought to be taken with a pinch of salt."

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