Democratic socialism’s darkest secret: More democracy than socialism

January 26, 2016

Fans of irony will find interesting this depiction of the of the greatest achievements in history of democratic socialism: The U.S. National Defense Highway System, better known as the Interstate Highway System.  Irony is that it is a key driver of the U.S. economy and has made possible great economic expansion that enriches capitalists greatly.

Fans of irony will find interesting this depiction of one of the greatest achievements in history of democratic socialism: The U.S. National Defense Highway System, better known as the Interstate Highway System. Irony is that it is a key driver of the U.S. economy and has made possible great economic expansion that enriches capitalists greatly. From the Online Atlas.

Stunning how some people will say Bernie Sanders makes sense in one breath, then when hearing he calls himself a socialist, claim Bernie is nuts and a threat to America.

Sanders’s supporters fight back, some. The phenomenon I describe is strongest among self-proclaimed extreme conservatives, and so is not such a huge issue in the primaries as it would be in the general election, if it is an issue at all.  A wise political strategist would not wait to confront the issue. It’s not an argument that can be answered with a bumper sticker.

Right wing publications take great pains to link any use of the word “socialism” with the now-repulsive violence of the Bolshevik Revolution and the autocratic nightmares of bureaucracy under the old Soviet-style government system, that even the Soviets abandoned. Right wingers don’t even pause to avoid saying socialism cares for people over corporations, in their blind striking out to smear anyone brave enough to take on the name.

We shouldn’t be surprised if Democrats generally defend the philosophy of democratic socialism from such demonizing.

This Tweet from one of Bernie’s guys offers to define democratic socialism rather as mother’s milk, apple pie and saluting the flag.

Is it correct? Does it persuade you?

The poster says*:

Democratic Socialism

Of the People, By the People, For the People

A political ideology which balances a democratic political system alongside a socialist economic system, involving a combination of political democracy with social ownership fo the means of production, free-market capitalism in the form of business receiving reasonable profits for goods and services while at the same time providing fair compensation to labor with a shared responsibility for civil societal needs such, but not limited to, emergency services, military, publicly-owned utilities and services, and infrastructure in the form of maintenance and management of public roadways, providing water and waste-water treatment, public parks and recreation, resource management and wildlife conservation, public ports, airports, rail lines and interstates, and in providing programs within a publicly elected representatives state and federal government.

Were I advising the Sanders campaign, I’d advise that the language in that statement be made much more reader friendly, and formatted to aid reading. But in the main, it doesn’t differ much from the Wikipedia definition.  See if you can find any critical differences:

Democratic socialism is a political ideology advocating a democratic political system alongside a socialist economic system, involving a combination of political democracy with social ownership of the means of production. Although sometimes used synonymously with “socialism”, the adjective “democratic” is often added to distinguish itself from Leninist and Stalinist brand of socialism, which is widely viewed as being non-democratic. In all, democratic socialists don’t support single-party system and centralism.[1]

Democratic socialism is usually distinguished from both the Soviet model of centralized socialism and social democracy, where “social democracy” refers to support for political democracy, regulation of the capitalist economy, and a welfare state.[2] The distinction with the former is made on the basis of the authoritarian form of government and centralized economic system that emerged in the Soviet Union during the 20th century,[3] while the distinction with the latter is made in that democratic socialism is committed to systemic transformation of the economy while social democracy is not.[4] That is, whereas social democrats seek only to “humanize” capitalism through state intervention, democratic socialists see capitalism as being inherently incompatible with the democratic values of freedom, equality, and solidarity; and believe that the issues inherent to capitalism can only be solved by superseding private ownership with some form of social ownership. Ultimately democratic socialists believe that reforms aimed at addressing the economic contradictions of capitalism will only cause more problems to emerge elsewhere in the economy, so that capitalism can never be sufficiently “humanized” and must ultimately be replaced by socialism.[5][6]

Democratic socialism is not specifically revolutionary or reformist, as many types of democratic socialism can fall into either category, with some forms overlapping with social democracy.[7] Some forms of democratic socialism accept social democratic reformism to gradually convert the capitalist economy to a socialist one using the pre-existing political democracy, while other forms are revolutionary in their political orientation and advocate for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the capitalist economy.[8]

Few people want to debate what “democratic socialism” really means, chiefly because socialism is such a loaded word and concept. There are two camps, one which wants people to rationally look at cooperative activities of the world’s great democratic republics and smile at their virtues, and continue them, the Bernie Sanders camp. The other camp holds strictly to the philosophy expressed in Friedrich von Hayek’s cartoon of socialism in The Road To Serfdom**, which indicts authoritarianism, and makes an unevidenced claim that any move towards socialism inherently leads to dictatorship.

We should give Sanders and his supporters credit for trying to open discussion. But we should be ready with first aid kits when they discover it’s not an open door to discussion with conservatives, but a tempered glass window posing as a door — and administer to their contusions as they smash into it.

If you find a tempered discussion of modern democratic socialism anywhere, will you let us know?

In comments, let us know what you think even if you don’t find the perfect, tempered discussion.

Matt Wuerker's classic cartoon from the 2008 campaign, when Barack Obama was accused of socialism for proposing to increase health care coverage. Perhaps ironically, Obama's plan ended up with powerful capitalist institutions entrenched in it. Critics of socialism sill haven't noticed.

Matt Wuerker’s classic cartoon from the 2009 campaign for the Affordable Care Act, when Barack Obama was accused of socialism for proposing to increase health care coverage. Perhaps ironically, Obama’s plan ended up with powerful capitalist institutions entrenched in it. Critics of socialism sill haven’t noticed.

More:

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* I list the text here to aid in indexing for search sites.

** Link is to the version at the Mises Institute, which is generally a biased source; in this case, their biases help to make sure the cartoon version presented is faithful to Hayek’s original; otherwise, discussion there on “democratic socialism” is probably fruitless.


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