Democratic Socialism

Posted on September 16, 2018


Now that have once again turned to socialism for answers to how we should organize ourselves as a people, it may be useful to examine the history of socialism, no matter how cursorily.

Let’s start with what the new wave of socialists in this country like to call their profession: democratic socialism. Why do that? Why not just socialism, or capitalism, or progressivism, or conservativism, or democracy?

The reason is because most countries that have fallen under the lure of socialism have turned into dictatorships of one form or another. Not us so say our budding democratic socialists. We will be democratic in the tradition of politics in our country. We will be different. We will not be totalitarian or dictatorial socialists (think the Soviet Union, Red China, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.), but rather “democratic” socialists.

Today you can check out easily where a Bernie Sanders, or an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, stands most issues, from free universities, the end of the coal and oil industries, universal healthcare, abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, impeaching Trump, pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, and a staunch supporter of the LGBT and Black Lives matter communities. In most of these instances, more government is needed, which is at the heart of socialism.

When did socialism as a creed or political ideology begin? The best answer is when capitalism, in all its rawest forms, created huge gaps between the wealthy and the working classes. Great Britain was the first great capitalist nation. Read some of Charles Dickens’s novels set in the nineteenth century, such as A Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations for insights into the immense gap between the working classes and the rich.

A German, Karl Marx, lived at the same time as Dickins and he prescribed the solution: destroy capitalism and create a classless society where all people share the wealth. His brand of socialism has come down to us as communism, based on the absolute wellbeing of the community, all power given to the government over individuals and their rights, well defined in the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

In various forms–socialism, communism, or Marxism (named obviously for Marx) for example–the Sanders and Ocasio-Cortezs of today’s world are heirs to this tradition which produced the socialist/communist dictatorships of the Soviet Union, Red China, and Cuba, just three examples. You can google or Wikipedia Venezuela for the latest disaster of socialism.

Socialism has not produced the longed-for equality all socialists vow to achieve. It has produced, by giving the government primacy over the individual, dictatorships, sometimes totalitarian (absolute control), dictatorships of the proletariats (the working classes), or other forms which reduce the liberty and freedom of the individual, sacrificed to the “good of the whole” managed of course by those who control the government. The “deep state” is not just imagined by the Trump administration. It already exists.

One of my favorite, and certainly one of the most astute, observers of politics and the human condition was Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain during the Second World War and a connoisseur of the realities of world politics.

“Socialism is a philosophy of failure,” he offered, “the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”

Churchill knew how to express a reality. Lest you quickly dismiss Churchill as an antique, a man whose opinions are dated and unreliable, look at what he did and wrote over his career, compared to some of the Left side of the Democratic party, the practitioners of socialism in this country today. If ignorance of reality and history is bliss, bliss must reign in that sector of the American polity.

By the way, Churchill was not overly fond of democracy. He concluded that “many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said the democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been.”

I like that. Nothing, and certainly nobody, is perfect. We must have government for dozens of reasons, from building airports to protecting our borders, to our national defense to even, gasp the Right might think, protecting our environment. Good sense in determining a balance between individual rights and responsibilities and the needs of our nation as a whole is needed like never before, not wild-eyed accusations of treachery and other invective thrown around with abandon.

Published as “Examining the history of socialism,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, July 29, 2018

Posted in: Politics