Contrary to the word-play, democracy and socialism, as defined, are actually polar opposites. The phrase “democratic socialism” is an oxymoron. Its a phrase that is contradictory, like a “loud whisper” or “true lies”. Real socialism and real democracy are ultimately incompatible. The sole intent of that phrase, democratic socialism, is the sale of the socialistic system from within a Democratic system, and nothing more.
Said another way, no, Sweden and many of the other Western European countries Bernie points to as more enlightened than us are not democratically socialist states, even if they call themselves that. And no, Bernie Sanders is also not a democratic socialist, even if he calls himself that. He’s just a socialist. And those other Western powers? Well, they’re on their way to socialism, but they actually aren’t there yet. Again, that phrase, democratic socialist, is a fantasy.
The reason for its usage from within Western Europe, and from Bernie Sanders, is that for most of the 20th century, people in America specifically, as well as much of Europe, rightly saw socialism (communism’s little brother), as dictatorial and tyrannical. They saw it as a system where the rights of the individual were forfeited for what a majority, or for what some bureau thought to be most fair. They were right. That’s what it was, and what it still is. It’s dictatorial and tyrannical. It centralizes all power and vests it in the state. The means by which that is done are not very important, democratic or otherwise. Once its done, there is no going back.
Calling someone a socialist in the past, and even today, was and still is usually thought of almost as calling someone a bad name. People may have embraced certain tenants of socialism…but they still rejected the name, and politically speaking, the embrace of the term socialist has never been a winner. Thus the necessity of adding the adjective “democratic”, to try and convince people that socialism is in fact compatible with democracy. After all, if something is done democratically, it apparently can’t be bad, or against freedom. And it especially can’t be dictatorial, right?
Despite what Bernie has publicly said of late, the goal of democratic socialism is, wait for it, wait for it…socialism! “Democratic” simply describes the means by which this socialism is instituted. The only difference is democratic socialism, despite pop-culture’s misunderstanding of this ideology, seeks such a goal via the democratic process rather than through a violent revolution, and it also seeks this goal incrementally, one program at a time…say….healthcare first. But make no mistake, the goal is still socialism, be it one program at a time, and slowly.
“Wait a minute! Socialism and democratic socialism aren’t the same! Bernie said so! Democratic socialism is Sweden and Denmark, where the government doesn’t have total control of the economy, just of healthcare and other things other civilized countries have come to accept is the duty of government! They aren’t dictatorships, and its different than socialism!” Again, these countries are not socialist states. They aren’t democratic socialists or any other kind of socialists. They have however dipped their toes in the proverbial socialist waters, and sadly have found the water nice and warm.
Democratic socialism doesn’t exist. Its all wordplay. Bernie Sanders himself has at different times and different places used the words socialism and democratic socialism interchangeably, just in case you were actually hung up on the talking point that he’s not a socialist, but a democratic socialist. He is, a socialist. The word “democratic” is just his selling point. I suppose he does separate the two phrases of late, but only when it is politically convenient.
Its his belief, a belief he has detailed many times over, that socialism, not democratic socialism, but socialism is democracy. In this way, his using the term “democratic socialist”, is just a way of more accurately trying to portray to the people, what socialism is for him, and its the ultimate in democracy according to Bernie. He doesn’t speak down on socialism and positively on democratic socialism. No. He’s been quite content in pushing socialism throughout his career.
Don’t take my word for it though. In the summer 1986 issue of Vermont Affairs for example Bernie said,
“All that socialism means to me, to be very frank with you, is democracy with a small ‘d.’ I believe in democracy, and by democracy I mean that, to as great an extent as possible, human beings have the right to control their own lives.”
Catch that? He said “socialism”, not “democratic socialism”. Similarly, during a the 1988 dissertation of Steven Soifer, a professor of social work at the University of Memphis, who wrote about Sanders’ time as mayor of Burlington, Bernie said,
“What being a socialist means is … that you hold out … a vision of society where poverty is absolutely unnecessary, where international relations are not based on greed … but on cooperation …”.
Did you again catch that? He again didn’t use the word “democratic”, he just used the word “socialism”, by itself.
He may call himself a democratic socialist officially, but in the end its just window dressing to try and make socialism more palatable. Lest people forget, this is a guy who supported the Sandinista’s and honey-mooned in the Soviet Union. He very specifically chose to call himself a socialist, be it a democratic one, and to set himself apart as a socialist…not a liberal or a progressive Democrat who believes in single payer healthcare like many Democrats do believe in, but very specifically a socialist. Words have meaning, as do what you say about those words. “Democratic socialism” is a sales job by much of Western Europe, and by Bernie Sanders. Its nothing other than plain old socialism done incrementally, and done by a vote.
I could go on and on and on with more Bernie quotes, but the point manifest is that Bernie 1) used the words socialist and democratic socialist interchangeably in the past, because they are one in the same. Furthermore, 2) Bernie believes that socialism is the essence of real democracy in action. He’s said many times over that he specifically uses the term “democratic socialist” for a purpose, and that purpose is he wants people to believe, as he does, that these two concepts are not incompatible, as most Americans in the past rightly knew them to be.
Thomas Paine said, “Time makes more converts than reason”. He was right. Its been almost 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the best example in recent history of the folly of a country trying to run an economy by fiat, apart from the people and natural market forces. Now there is a generation or two coming of age who have never known that reality, have been taught the opposite of that reality to be the truth, who have been taught only theory, apart from reality, a generation who lives in hard economic times relative to their parents…and so hey, they want to try something new!
Socialists, be it Bernie or other socialists, have traditionally known the importance of branding. Just as Bernie is trying to do with his rebranding, other socialist countries also think their form of government is democracy incarnate as well, despite their systems being nothing of the sort. Its why North Korea calls itself The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. Its why China calls itself the People’s Republic of China. Its why the Soviet Union called itself The Union of Soviet Socialist States (USSR). Its why Cuba calls itself the Republic of Cuba. Its why socialist Venezuela calls itself the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Yet none of these counties of course are or were ever ruled by the people. Not one of these countries are Republics either, in case anyone is curious. But they all specifically label themselves as democracies, and republics, often in conjunction with he word socialist. And what’s more, I’m sure they actually probably believe that to be true, and believe that the way they are running these countries are for the people. Its just a word game. Its all propaganda by them, and by the Bern, just like the phrase “democratic socialist” is propaganda, meant to elicit the belief that voting our individual freedoms and rights away to the collective, to the state, is just fine, and in line with democracy. It isn’t.
I know, I know. “But those are communist counties, and Bernie isn’t a communist, but a socialist. And again, a democratic socialist at that!” I would remind people who think that (and most supporters of Bernie and socialism think it), that no less than Nikita Krushchev himself once said, “Communism grows from socialism, and is its direct continuation”. The goal is state control, despite the form. Indeed, Charles E. Wilson said, “Some people seem to think that there is a great difference between socialism and communism. But Karl Marx used the two words as synonyms. The best definition of a communist I have heard is that a communist is a socialist in a hurry”.
Statism is statism is statism. This is what the left don’t get. Statism may take different forms, but it has the same goal, and the utilizes the same sort of centralization, and requires the same loss of freedom to achieve the purported goals. Its antithetical to how this country was founded, its antithetical to democracy and local self rule, and its antithetical to freedom.
You either believe in not only the ability of people, but the prudence of people running their own lives on a relatively local level (a little thing I like to call freedom), or you believe they are too stupid and inept, and that they need the all-powerful and benevolent hand of big-government to take the reigns, for our own good. Socialism, real socialism, is a dictatorial system of total control by the state, even if the populace enabled it on purpose. Its not liberal in the real historical sense of the word at all. Its illiberal. Its statism, not individualism, which is what real liberalism is. Socialism is not what we have in this country or have had in this country, despite the claims of late that we have practiced it all along and just didn’t know it.
“All we want is universal healthcare, the rich paying their fair share, and more family leave! That’s not communism and its not socialism! Socialism is having a military, and roads and schools!” Unfortunately for people advocating that position, words have meaning. Those may in fact be social programs, but they aren’t socialism. Socialism is the state owning the means of production, pure and simple. There are shades of grey, but that’s what it is.
You can have schools and a military and not have government owning car companies and clothing companies, and every other production company under the sun, which would mean a total control over the economy. That is what socialism is: a total control by the state of the economy. Having a military, or social programs, or schools, is not the same, did you catch that, not the same as the government totally controlling the economy, and therefore controlling people. We don’t have real socialism, and again, neither does Western Europe.
This is why socialism is a system of dictatorial control. Socialism seeks to control the economy, and once you control the economy, you control the person, since money and the economy are the means to all our ends in every way. Friedrich Hayek rightly wrote, “Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends”. Democratic socialism is socialism, and socialism is totalitarianism. The state rules it all. The state isn’t laissez faire in guaranteeing equal opportunity or individual rights. No. The states stated role in a socialistic system takes a much more all-encompassing role. Call it what you want. Do it incrementally. Its an embrace of the state over individual rights. Its a rejection of the principles of the American Revolution that rejected the notion that we can’t rule ourselves on a relatively local level and need masters and monarchies and Washington bureaucrats to rule over us, and for us.
In an interview with Catherine Alison Hill for a master’s thesis Bernie said at Cornell in 1989,
“Socialism has a lot of different messages to different people. I think the issue of socialist ideology and what that meant or means is not terribly important. I think the positive of it is that it indicates to people that I am not a conventional politician. If they are not happy with the status quo, then that is a positive thing. The negative of it obviously is that there are people who equate it with totalitarianism and the Soviet Union.”
There’s a reason people do that Bernie, or I should say, at one time did that Bernie. There’s a reason they equate socialism with totalitarianism. Because it is. Adding the word “democratic” to it doesn’t change that one bit.