Many think that the Democratic Party sold its soul to the Socialist Party. Though I will show that the party has changed its stripes before. But what is worse, the country is being sold out to the Socialist Party. Our country and its people are changing before our eyes. Here is how it happened.
The Republican and Democratic parties of the United States didn’t always stand for what they do today.
During the 1860s, Republicans, who dominated northern states, orchestrated an ambitious expansion of federal power, helping to fund the transcontinental railroad, the state university system and the settlement of the West by homesteaders, and instating a national currency and protective tariff. Democrats, who dominated the South, opposed those measures.
After the Civil War, Republicans passed laws that granted protections for Black Americans and advanced social justice. And again, Democrats largely opposed these apparent expansions of federal power.
Sound like an alternate universe? Fast forward to 1936.
Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt won reelection that year on the strength of the New Deal, a set of Depression-remedying reforms including regulation of financial institutions, the founding of welfare and pension programs, infrastructure development and more. Roosevelt won in a landslide against Republican Alf Landon, who opposed these exercises of federal power.
So, sometime between the 1860s and 1936, the (Democratic) party of small government became the party of big government, and the (Republican) party of big government became rhetorically committed to curbing federal power.
How did this switch happen?
Eric Rauchway, professor of American history at the University of California, Davis, pins the transition to the turn of the 20th century, when a highly influential Democrat named William Jennings Bryan blurred party lines by emphasizing the government’s role in ensuring social justice through expansions of federal power — traditionally, a Republican stance.
But Republicans didn’t immediately adopt the opposite position of favoring limited government.
“Instead, for a couple of decades, both parties are promising an augmented federal government devoted in various ways to the cause of social justice,” Rauchway wrote in an archived 2010 blog post for the Chronicles of Higher Education. Only gradually did Republican rhetoric drift to the counterarguments. The party’s small-government platform cemented in the 1930s with its heated opposition to the New Deal.
But why did Bryan and other turn-of-the-century Democrats start advocating for big government?
According to Rauchway, they, like Republicans, were trying to win the West. The admission of new western states to the union in the post-Civil War era created a new voting bloc, and both parties were vying for its attention.
Democrats seized upon a way of ingratiating themselves to western voters: Republican federal expansions in the 1860s and 1870s had turned out favorable to big businesses based in the northeast, such as banks, railroads and manufacturers, while small-time farmers like those who had gone west received very little.
Both parties tried to exploit the discontent this generated, by promising the little guy some of the federal help that had previously gone to the business sector. From this point on, Democrats stuck with this stance — favoring federally funded social programs and benefits — while Republicans were gradually driven to the counterposition of hands-off government.
From a business perspective, Rauchway pointed out, the loyalties of the parties did not really switch. “Although the rhetoric and to a degree the policies of the parties do switch places,” he wrote, “their core supporters don’t — which is to say, the Republicans remain, throughout, the party of bigger businesses; it’s just that in the earlier era bigger businesses want bigger government and in the later era they don’t.”
In other words, earlier on, businesses needed things that only a bigger government could provide, such as infrastructure development, a currency and tariffs. Once these things were in place, a small, hands-off government became better for business.
The unfinished business of the Democratic party is socialism. Don’t take my word for it — consult Bernie Sanders.
Senator Sanders gave a madcap speech in which he ridiculed past conservative critics, beginning with Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan, for characterizing the expansive welfare-state ambitions of the New Deal and the Great Society as movements toward socialism. And then he . . . characterized the expansive welfare-state ambitions of the New Deal and the Great Society as movements toward socialism.
“This is the unfinished business of the Democratic party and the vision we must accomplish,” he said. “These are my values, and that is why I call myself a democratic socialist.”
President Hoover, the prescient man, is owed an apology.
As my colleagues and I recently documented over the course of two special issues of National Review, socialism — not exactly progressivism, certainly not liberalism — is ascendant among Democrats, including Democratic elected officials, and on the American left more generally. Senator Sanders is a declared and avowed socialist, one who is attempting to posthumously recruit the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to his cause. (King took a hard economic turn toward the left in his later years and spoke of socialism on a few occasions, but to deputize him on behalf of the gentleman from the whitest state in the Union is a bit much, and more than a bit unseemly.)
Senator Sanders is not alone in this. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the callow young Democrat from New York, is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), as is Representative Rashida Tlaib, the Jew-baiting strange-o from Michigan, along with about 40 other candidates who were elected as Democrats in 2018. “We are building a pipeline from local positions all the way to national politics,” the Socialists said in a statement after the 2018 elections. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper was hooted and jeered at when he affirmed on the stage of the California Democratic convention that “socialism is not the answer.”
And yet . . .
Ronald Reagan, an FDR man, spent his entire career insisting that he was a New Deal Democrat estranged from his party: “I didn’t leave the Democratic party — the party left me!” Many conservatives see in the tax-cutting, Cold War–fighting John Kennedy a kindred spirit. Much of the Republican criticism directed at the hilariously misnamed Affordable Care Act asserted that it would undermine Medicare, the jewel of Lyndon Johnson’s so-called Great Society program — and some of those Republicans even meant it.
Richard Nixon insisted that by the 1970s we were all Keynesians. Are we all socialists now?
There are two important factors at play here: The first is ignorance of the past, and the second is ignorance of the present.
Socialism is an idea with a history. (And a body count of some 100 million human beings in the 20th century, but leave that aside for the moment.) The most ordinary and traditional kind of government spending is on public goods, which are defined in economics as non-rivalrous and non-excludable in consumption. Think of a missile-defense system: Missile defense is a non-excludable good in that a system that protects the civic-minded taxpaying citizens at No. 7 Main Street also protects the freeloading deadbeats at No. 9 Main Street, whereas a guy selling apples can exclude those who do not pay; it is non-rivalrous in that Smith’s enjoyment of protection from Nork nukes does not diminish Jones’s possible enjoyment of the same, whereas every apple Smith eats leaves one less apple available for Jones.
In theory, spending on such public goods as defense and law enforcement is most of what liberal governments are supposed to do, with some political disagreement over what counts as a public good. (Roads? There are both public and toll models.) In reality, most of what modern liberal governments spend their money on is social welfare, the public provision of non-public goods such as food and education, both of which can be (and historically have been) provided on an ordinary market basis. These are not public goods rigorously defined, but they are publicly provided in practically all modern democracies on the theory that a society as a whole is better off if there is guaranteed universal access to a minimum of them.
The public provision of non-public goods is sometimes described as socialism, but it is distinct in that socialism requires an additional factor: central planning, often but not necessarily in concert with state ownership of the means of production. Food stamps are social welfare, but government-run farms and groceries are socialism; housing-support vouchers are welfare, but government-owned housing projects are socialism. American conservatives spend a fair amount of effort trying to convert or partially convert such genuinely socialistic projects as the monopoly K–12 education system (in which the means of production are state-owned and the workers are state employees) into more conventional social-welfare programs by replacing or augmenting direct-provision models with vouchers or other market-enabling alternatives. There is a significant difference between government funding of services and government provision of services, which is why, for examples, most Republicans have made their peace with Medicare but resist a British-style socialist-monopoly model of health care.
But, then, most European countries resist that model, too, which is why there is no NHS-style national single-payer system in France, Germany, Sweden, etc., and no state-provided health care at all in happy, well-governed Switzerland. And this is where the ignorance of socialism as an idea with a history meets the ignorance of actual political and economic practice in the European states, particularly the Scandinavian ones, that America’s self-proclaimed democratic socialists claim to admire. Senator Sanders et al. point to countries such as Sweden and Denmark and conclude that the lesson to be learned from them is that the United States should do . . . exactly what Senator Sanders et al. always have desired and always will desire to do: enact punitive redistributive taxes notionally targeting the wealthy and corporations (as though middle-class workers, particularly in the public sector, were not major corporate shareholders through their retirement funds) while building new entrenched and centralized bureaucracies to be staffed by comfortable, highly compensated Democratic constituents.
This response to the example of Sweden — which is in many ways a well-governed and prosperous nation — makes sense only if you do not know very much about Sweden. Senator Sanders, for example, desires to radically increase the tax on inheritances for moralistic reasons. Sweden’s inheritance tax is 0.00 percent. Senator Sanders wants to centralize the provision of health care in a federally funded and federally administered cluster of bureaucracies; health care in Sweden is radically decentralized, funded and administered mostly at the local level. Left-leaning Democrats such as Senator Kamala Harris of California have criticized Republicans for not doing enough to cut middle-class taxes (Senator Harris, who does not seem to know how tax refunds work, blasted the 2017 bill as “a middle-class-tax hike”), but what in fact distinguishes the Scandinavian model (and most Western European countries) from the United States is not how they tax the rich but how they tax the middle class — which is to say: They do it. While about half of U.S. households pay no federal income tax, and middle-class households pay relatively little, middle-class earners in Denmark pay about 50 percent in taxes. Taxes in the United States are disproportionately paid by those with high incomes — disproportionately even when you take the income difference into consideration: The top 1 percent takes home less than 20 percent of total income and pays almost 40 percent of federal income taxes. Taxes in the Scandinavian countries fall heavily on the middle classes, which also are the main beneficiaries of the programs those taxes fund.
Senator Sanders is an ideologically blinkered man, and he is not an intellectually curious one. His views have been set since he was honeymooning in the Soviet Union as a young man, and his speeches and writing testify that he simply lacks the intellectual capacity for growth and change. Sweden has changed radically since the 1970s, but Bernie Sanders has stood still in time, an irritable red ant suspended in amber.
But the so-called intellectuals of the Democrats’ new socialist vanguard have no such excuse. Some of them are simply dim and poorly educated (poorly but expensively, in the case of Representative Ocasio-Cortez), but many of them are intellectually dishonest. A particularly dishonest young socialist writer with something of a following recently published an income-disparity ranking of countries that was supposed to show how the Scandinavians had cracked the inequality problem. And Northern Europe was well represented on the list, which also included France, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Estonia, among other nations, in the top ten. Which is to say, the top ten countries represented radically different modes of government, radically different health-care systems, different labor markets, and different tax systems (Switzerland, for example, does not tax capital gains, something our progressive Europhiles rarely mention), to say nothing of radically different cultures. (And many scholars of governance agree that culture is a key ingredient in the Scandinavian secret sauce.) But even among the Nordic countries, there are very large differences: Iceland, for example, has one of the world’s highest work-force-participation rates; Finland’s is down about where ours is, and ours is higher than the overall EU rate. There isn’t a single, unified policy story to be derived from all that diversity.
But that is beside the point, for the Democrats. What Senator Sanders stands for is the continuation of a very old and very dumb kind of politics: adolescent anti-Americanism. It does not matter that Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland have fundamentally different political and economic models: These countries are only rhetorical cat’s-paws deployed in the fundamental progressive project: establishing that the United States and its institutions are hopelessly corrupt, and that they may therefore be cleared away to make room for something new. In this regard, the energetically nationalistic Franklin D. Roosevelt is a poor model for them — their actual lineage traces to Woodrow Wilson, whose racism and warmongering make him an unattractive totem but whose frank rejection of the Constitution and the founding principles of the nation presages their own. In this way, the socialist renaissance may be understood as distinct from the broader progressive project but also subsumed within it. The overall economic model is essentially the Democrats’ health-care model writ large: Destroy and discredit what’s there, and then . . . improvise.
Senator Sanders, in his speech, gives some thought to the Constitution — and finds it wanting. What good is the Bill of Rights, he asks, when one must struggle so hard for mere material existence? “Are you truly free if you are forced to work 60 or 80 hours a week?” The median American work week is, as of this writing, less than 35 hours a week, significantly lower than it was in 1980. What in fact distinguishes low-income households is not on average that they have too many hours of work to do but that they have too few: Only 40 percent of the working-age poor (those below the federal poverty line) in 2014 worked at all. Among those who do work, many are involuntarily relegated to part-time or seasonal work. High-income households average more work hours, not fewer, than low-income households. The unemployment rate for those without a bachelor’s degree is twice that of those with one. The problem the poor face is not long hours at the salt mine but unemployment.
But what are a few inconvenient facts when there’s a utopia to be built?
And that is the proper context in which to understand what it is that Senator Sanders et al. stand for. They may, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, roll out 55 five-point policy proposals per hour, offering them with varying degrees of seriousness, but theirs is fundamentally a negative platform. What they hate and wish to liquidate is the system of markets, trade, law, regulation, and taxes that we call, for lack of a better term, “capitalism,” and their reasons are as much tribal (they resent the social status conferred by wealth as least as much as the political power attending it), moral, and aesthetic as they are economic. But their policy proposals are almost always the same: “Pillage the rich and create a lot of new public-sector jobs for me and my friends.” And that much has remained constant whether they call themselves liberals, progressives, or socialists.
Socialists used to care a great deal about history — “historical materialism,” they called their big metaphysical idea. Something for Senator Sanders to contemplate in his waterfront dacha.
Socialism: It’s a buzzword in the 2020 election season, having sprung up dozens of times during campaign, particularly during the Republication National Convention. Conservative leaders depict the idea as a democracy-killing bogeyman. Some Democrats — including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib — have embraced the label with gusto.
The political philosophy has history going back centuries. Directly or otherwise, it has influenced government policies around the world, including in America.
But what exactly does socialism mean? What do socialists want right now? And is the Republican warning — that socialism is threatening to destroy the American way of life — a real concern? There are some facts about socialism that are beyond dispute.
This is socialism… and this isn’t
At its simplest, socialism calls for a nation’s citizens to control at least some of its means of production — the major ingredients needed for a healthy economy. Think infrastructure, energy, natural resources. Under socialism, any surplus or profit from those sectors must benefit those same citizens. Capitalism, meanwhile, calls for private owners to control the means of production and to keep any profit they make for themselves.
Many Americans see these two systems as opposites — and Republicans, in particular, tend to view it as an either-or situation. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, the majority of Republicans (68%) expressed a positive view of capitalism and a negative view of socialism.
But a substantial minority of voters hold a positive view of both systems — 25% of the overall group of Americans surveyed by Pew felt favorably about socialism as well as capitalism.
The fact is, the two systems can, and do, coexist in many countries. Some governments blend socialist policies with capitalism and democratically elected leadership, a system usually called social democracy.
No socialists are running for president on a major-party ticket in 2020. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the Democratic Party’s nominees for president and vice president, are not socialists. They are not members of the current socialist party, called Socialist Party USA, or of the nation’s biggest socialist organization, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which has about 70,000 members nationwide.
Asked what he’d say to people who were worried about socialism, Biden told Wisconsin station WLUK-TV: “I beat the socialists. That’s how I got elected. That’s how I got the nomination. Do I look like a socialist? Look at my career, my whole career. I am not a socialist.”
Overall, socialism accounts for a small percentage of America’s political makeup. Socialist Party USA had no members in any national or state office in 2020. Only about half a dozen DSA members have held federal office over the years, all in the U.S. House of Representatives, including the current Congresswomen Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib. Senator Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist and has been supported by the DSA, but he is not a known member and does not run under the Socialist Party.
Republicans have frequently used the terms “socialism” and “socialist” as a threat or insult when referring to progressive candidates who are not actually socialists.
What socialists want
There have always been different types of socialists — not to mention wildly varying ideas of what the “means of production” are, what role government should have, and where free enterprise might still fit in. Some socialists see “means of production” as all major industries, such as finance or energy.
For Jabari Brisport, a New York teacher and state senate candidate, “What [socialism] means is that energy, housing, health care, education, finance, and transportation … shall be controlled publicly and not run by, for profit motive.”
Other socialists have pushed for a total ban on private enterprise. Karl Marx, the Prussian intellectual who championed socialism in the 19th century, predicted that capitalism was doomed to fail, and a government-controlled economy would rise. Vladimir Lenin, whose Bolshevik revolution gave rise to the Soviet Union’s communist regime, preferred armed struggle to help push capitalism into history’s trash bin.
The new face of socialism
Today, the most prominent of America’s socialists are very different from the Marxists of the past. They largely push for progressive reforms within capitalism — a philosophy generally defined as social democracy.
The Democratic Socialists of America aims to blend socialism-inspired reforms with America’s current free-enterprise system. The DSA does not believe private enterprise should be immediately overthrown in favor of a government-run economy. Instead, Ocasio-Cortez, for example, has pushed for a “revolution of working people at the ballot box” — new laws and stronger unions to make private businesses more accountable to what DSA members see as public interests.
Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has advocated for universal free health care, canceling all student debt, and expanding Social Security benefits within America’s free-market economy.
The socialist bogeyman
The Republican Party has made socialism — or more specifically, warnings about socialism — a part of its 2020 campaign messaging. During the Republican National Convention in August, one of the speakers, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, cast socialism as antithetical to the American Dream.
“If we let them, [Democrats] will turn our country into a socialist utopia, and history has taught us that path only leads to pain and misery, especially for hard-working people hoping to rise,” Scott said.
During his nomination acceptance speech, Mr. Trump echoed that warning, calling Joe Biden a “Trojan horse for socialism.”
Some of Biden’s policy proposals do call for big spending; he has proposed a $2 trillion clean energy plan. But Biden has also rejected ideas that are darlings of the DSA, such as the Green New Deal. (President Trump, for his part, has also pushed for mega-spending on areas that could be seen as means of production — including a $12 billion aid package for farmers.)
Opponents of socialism often point to Venezuela as a cautionary tale. Once ranked as the richest South American country thanks to its oil reserves, in 1998 Venezuela elected a socialist leader, Hugo Chávez. Chávez centralized power in his increasingly authoritarian grip and spent billions on social programs from profits on oil. Under Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, global oil prices plummeted and Venezuela’s petroleum-dependent economy collapsed.
“It’s just empty, empty shelves, all over,” says Venezuela-born Maria Fernanda Bello, a coalition director for Young Americans Against Socialism. “Socialists are always going to promise you free tuition, free health care, free everything, but they will never promise you freedom.”
But American socialists like Bernie Sanders reject the comparison.
“Let me be very clear: Anybody who does what Maduro does is a vicious tyrant,” Sanders said at a 2019 Democratic primary debate. “To equate what goes on in Venezuela to what I believe is extremely unfair.”
A viewer watching the Republican National Convention on Monday night could be forgiven for thinking that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were not the Democratic Party’s presidential and vice presidential nominees but were leading a different ticket altogether.
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, asserted that Biden would be taking orders from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the four congresswomen known as the “Squad.”
“Their vision for America is socialism,” Haley said. “And we know that socialism has failed everywhere.”
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said, “Democrats have chosen to go down the road to socialism.”
The “S” word is a charge Republicans have leveled against Democrats for decades, says Thomas Alan Schwartz, a Vanderbilt University history and political science professor.
“Democrats have tended, through regulation and other ways, to be more empowering of the federal government and in regulating the economy than the Republicans,” Schwartz says, “and this has been called socialism.”
Schwartz says the term socialism actually refers to a political system in which the state is in charge of the economy and provides not only social welfare services such as health care, but where “all sorts of other things are in state control, including the large sections of the private economy.”
In 1945, when President Harry Truman, a Democrat, first proposed a national health insurance program, which evolved to what we now know as Medicare, Republicans opposed it, arguing it was socialist. And earlier New Deal programs, including Social Security, were similarly labeled.
Now Republicans are trying to hang two Democratic proposals, the Green New Deal and “Medicare for All,” on Biden, even though he supports neither, and has established a long political record as a moderate and pragmatist.
And while Sanders and “Squad” members Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib identify as Democratic Socialists, their vision is more aligned with Scandinavian nations such as Denmark and Sweden, where universal health care and a wide range of social benefits — and higher taxes — are the norm, but capitalism still prevails, rather than with countries such as Venezuela and Cuba, where the state does control major industries, and authoritarians rule.
Republicans level the socialist charge possibly in an effort to scare voters into opposing the Democratic ticket and supporting their candidate, but Schwartz says he doesn’t think it’s that frightening a label anymore.
“Clearly the ways in which socialist was a dirty word during the Cold War have declined considerably,” he says. “The fact that Bernie Sanders could mount such a challenge and be so strong despite being a self-professed socialist, I think does show that socialism doesn’t scare many American voters anymore.”
Ironically, President Trump and Republicans in Congress have themselves blurred the lines between capitalism and socialism, passing the CARES Act to aid businesses and providing $600 payments to unemployed workers in the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has also opened federal coffers to rescue farmers who have been hurt by his trade disputes with China and other nations.
“President Trump,” Schwartz says, “is very fond of using the government and being willing to spend money and do things that might be, in another context, considered socialist.”
When Bernie Sanders
calls himself a democratic socialist, he refers to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s philosophy that the government should take responsibility for the health, well-being and security of American citizens, says Barnard College political science professor Sheri Berman.
This means democratic socialists in the U.S. support a generous welfare state — which today includes policies like universal health care and free college education, she says.
But when Sanders’ critics call him a socialist, they mean something quite different. President Trump and other Republicans often use the word socialism as a slur, conflating it with communism.
During Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, socialism was often linked to Soviet Union policies. Now, Berman says the theory is associated with countries like Venezuela and North Korea — where the government also controls the economy and doesn’t allow its citizens political freedom.
“For Republicans, both then and now, socialism is something much scarier,” she says. “We’re talking about two very, very different things but oftentimes using the same term.”
Sanders often talks about Scandanavian countries like Denmark as a model of democratic socialism. These countries have long-standing democratic socialist parties and some consider themselves a social democracy, she says.
In Europe, the presence of a social democratic party helps citizens better define the term and understand what policies social democrats stand for, but in America, it’s less clear, she says.
“Because we’ve never had a party that has called itself social democratic or democratic socialist, the term is much more difficult to pin down,” she says.
Berman says the support for Sanders and the idea of democratic socialism stems from the 2008 financial crisis and everything that succeeded it — including growing income inequality, declining social mobility and increased geographic divides particularly between young people based on whether they could afford college.
Americans who feel “insecure and disaffected” are gravitating toward socialist ideas since most capitalist critiques of the 19th century emerged from socialism, she says.
“Critiques of capitalism, not surprisingly, tend to arise at times when significant numbers of people feel the system is not working for them,” she says.
On the difference between the terms liberal and progressive
“That’s a hard question to answer separate from context. In this country, liberal and progressive are often used interchangeably. Although in this election cycle, progressive has been stressed much more than liberal, simply because I think a lot of people think of liberal now as somehow tainted with the liberal globalized order in Europe. Of course, liberal has a different connotation than in the United States. It’s much more hooked up with or linked to a classical liberal tradition, one that actually favors things like free trade, but also protection of individual rights and things of that nature. So a lot of these terms have been used for so long and in so many different contexts that it is often hard to pin them down.”
“We’re seeing [populism] again come back in full force in this election cycle, not only because Trump is often referred to [as] a populous, but growing numbers of people feel like there are some aspects of Sanders’ appeal that should be characterized as populist. And by that, they generally mean not just a strong anti-establishment message, but a sort of sense that, you know, the polity or society is divided into good and bad, that there’s some kind of elite that is blocking somehow the sort of needs and demands of the masses from being heard, that there is some kind of evil cabal. Again, that’s kind of working behind the scenes to kind of undermine democracy. So there are some aspects of that that we can see in the Sanders campaign a little bit. We can certainly see it in Trump’s rhetoric and appeal, and we see it in a wide variety of parties, mostly on the right in Europe and also other parts of the world.”
On her belief that Warren is a progressive but not a democratic socialist or a liberal
“I think that that’s really where she’s trying to position herself as the kind of, you know, person at the crosscurrents of all of these different trends and debates that are going on within the Democratic Party. Now, look, she has made very clear that actually in some ways she’s closer to what Roosevelt said and did because she claims she’s a capitalist and that the incredible number of policy proposals that she’s put forward are not designed to so much transform the system from capitalists to something else, but rather to sort of save it from itself to kind of correct all of the negative consequences that it’s had.”
Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.
Democracy and socialism go hand in hand. All over the world, wherever the idea of democracy has taken root, the vision of socialism has taken root as well—everywhere but in the United States. Because of this, many false ideas about socialism have developed in the US.
Democratic socialists do not want to create an all-powerful government bureaucracy. But we do not want big corporate bureaucracies to control our society either. Rather, we believe that social and economic decisions should be made by those whom they most affect.
Today, corporate executives who answer only to themselves and a few wealthy stockholders make basic economic decisions affecting millions of people. Resources are used to make money for capitalists rather than to meet human needs. We believe that the workers and consumers who are affected by economic institutions should own and control them.
Social ownership could take many forms, such as worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives. Democratic socialists favor as much decentralization as possible. While the large concentrations of capital in industries such as energy and steel may necessitate some form of state ownership, many consumer-goods industries might be best run as cooperatives.
Democratic socialists have long rejected the belief that the whole economy should be centrally planned. While we believe that democratic planning can shape major social investments like mass transit, housing, and energy, market mechanisms are needed to determine the demand for many consumer goods.
Socialists have been among the harshest critics of authoritarian Communist states. Just because their bureaucratic elites called them “socialist” did not make it so; they also called their regimes “democratic.” Democratic socialists always opposed the ruling party-states of those societies, just as we oppose the ruling classes of capitalist societies. We applaud the democratic revolutions that have transformed the former Communist bloc. However, the improvement of people’s lives requires real democracy without ethnic rivalries and/or new forms of authoritarianism. Democratic socialists will continue to play a key role in that struggle throughout the world.
Moreover, the fall of Communism should not blind us to injustices at home. We cannot allow all radicalism to be dismissed as “Communist.” That suppression of dissent and diversity undermines America’s ability to live up to its promise of equality of opportunity, not to mention the freedoms of speech and assembly.
In the short term we can’t eliminate private corporations, but we can bring them under greater democratic control. The government could use regulations and tax incentives to encourage companies to act in the public interest and outlaw destructive activities such as exporting jobs to low-wage countries and polluting our environment. Public pressure can also have a critical role to play in the struggle to hold corporations accountable. Most of all, socialists look to unions to make private business more accountable.
We don’t agree with the capitalist assumption that starvation or greed are the only reasons people work. People enjoy their work if it is meaningful and enhances their lives. They work out of a sense of responsibility to their community and society. Although a long-term goal of socialism is to eliminate all but the most enjoyable kinds of labor, we recognize that unappealing jobs will long remain. These tasks would be spread among as many people as possible rather than distributed on the basis of class, race, ethnicity, or gender, as they are under capitalism. And this undesirable work should be among the best, not the least, rewarded work within the economy. For now, the burden should be placed on the employer to make work desirable by raising wages, offering benefits and improving the work environment. In short, we believe that a combination of social, economic, and moral incentives will motivate people to work.
Although no country has fully instituted democratic socialism, the socialist parties and labor movements of other countries have won many victories for their people. We can learn from the comprehensive welfare state maintained by the Swedes, from Canada’s national health care system, France’s nationwide childcare program, and Nicaragua’s literacy programs. Lastly, we can learn from efforts initiated right here in the US, such as the community health centers created by the government in the 1960s. They provided high quality family care, with community involvement in decision-making.
Many northern European countries enjoy tremendous prosperity and relative economic equality thanks to the policies pursued by social democratic parties. These nations used their relative wealth to insure a high standard of living for their citizens—high wages, health care and subsidized education. Most importantly, social democratic parties supported strong labor movements that became central players in economic decision-making. But with the globalization of capitalism, the old social democratic model becomes ever harder to maintain. Stiff competition from low-wage labor markets in developing countries and the constant fear that industry will move to avoid taxes and strong labor regulations has diminished (but not eliminated) the ability of nations to launch ambitious economic reform on their own. Social democratic reform must now happen at the international level. Multinational corporations must be brought under democratic controls, and workers’ organizing efforts must reach across borders.
Now, more than ever, socialism is an international movement. As socialists have always known, the welfare of working people in Finland or California depends largely on standards in Italy or Indonesia. As a result, we must work towards reforms that can withstand the power of multinationals and global banks, and we must fight for a world order that is not controlled by bankers and bosses.
No, we are not a separate party. Like our friends and allies in the feminist, labor, civil rights, religious, and community organizing movements, many of us have been active in the Democratic Party. We work with those movements to strengthen the party’s left wing, represented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The process and structure of American elections seriously hurts third party efforts. Winner-take-all elections instead of proportional representation, rigorous party qualification requirements that vary from state to state, a presidential instead of a parliamentary system, and the two-party monopoly on political power have doomed third party efforts. We hope that at some point in the future, in coalition with our allies, an alternative national party will be viable. For now, we will continue to support progressives who have a real chance at winning elections, which usually means left-wing Democrats.
Although capitalism will be with us for a long time, reforms we win now—raising the minimum wage, securing a national health plan, and demanding passage of right-to-strike legislation—can bring us closer to socialism. Many democratic socialists actively work in the single-issue organizations that advocate for those reforms. We are visible in the reproductive freedom movement, the fight for student aid, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations, anti-racist groups, and the labor movement.
It is precisely our socialist vision that informs and inspires our day-to-day activism for social justice. As socialists we bring a sense of the interdependence of all struggles for justice. No single-issue organization can truly challenge the capitalist system or adequately secure its particular demands. In fact, unless we are all collectively working to win a world without oppression, each fight for reforms will be disconnected, maybe even self-defeating.
Since the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s, young people have played a critical role in American politics. They have been a tremendous force for both political and cultural change in this country: in limiting the US’s options in the war in Vietnam, in forcing corporations to divest from the racist South African regime, in reforming universities, and in bringing issues of sexual orientation and gender discrimination to public attention. Though none of these struggles were fought by young people alone, they all featured youth as leaders in multi-generational progressive coalitions. Young people are needed in today’s struggles as well: for universal health care and stronger unions, against welfare cuts and predatory multinational corporations.
Schools, colleges and universities are important to American political culture. They are the places where ideas are formulated and policy discussed and developed. Being an active part of that discussion is a critical job for young socialists. We have to work hard to change people’s misconceptions about socialism, to broaden political debate, and to overcome many students’ lack of interest in engaging in political action. Off-campus, too, in our daily cultural lives, young people can be turning the tide against racism, sexism and homophobia, as well as the conservative myth of the virtue of “free” markets.
First, we call ourselves socialists because we are proud of what we are. Second, no matter what we call ourselves, conservatives will use it against us. Anti-socialism has been repeatedly used to attack reforms that shift power to working class people and away from corporate capital. In 1993, national health insurance was attacked as “socialized medicine” and defeated. Liberals are routinely denounced as socialists in order to discredit reform. Until we face, and beat, the stigma attached to the “S word,” politics in America will continue to be stifled and our options limited. We also call ourselves socialists because we are proud of the traditions upon which we are based, of the heritage of the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas, and of other struggles for change that have made America more democratic and just. Finally, we call ourselves socialists to remind everyone that we have a vision of a better world.
While Bernie Sanders is the driving force behind Socialist movement in the U.S. today, it is quite evident that there a few young Turks waiting on the sidelines. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Representative Ilhan Omar, Representative Rashida Tlaib and Representative Ayanna Pressley are these new faces. They are the future leaders of the Judas Party. All we can hope is that the republican party will stay in power long enough for them to fall out of favor and be voted out of office.
nationalreview.com, “The Democrats Are the Socialist Party Again,” By Kevin D. Williamson; npr.org, “Republicans Blast Democrats As Socialists. Here’s What Socialism Is, by Brian Naylor; livescience.com, “Why did the Democratic and Republican parties switch platforms?,” By Natalie Wolchover; http://www.cbsnews.com, “What is socialism? And what do socialists really want in 2020?,” By Leslie Gornstein; wbur.org, “What Democratic Socialism Means In The U.S.,” By Jeremy Hobson and Alison Hagan; dsausa.org, “What is Democratic Socialism?,”