Daily Briefing: What is Democratic Socialism? (June 17, 2019)

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (Source: Wikipedia)



What Is Democratic Socialism? Whose Version Are We Talking About?:  Maggie Astor, New York Times, June 12, 2019

‘Democratic Socialists’ Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and Tlaib Prefer Socialism To Democracy:  Joshua Muravchik, USA Today, Apr. 18, 2019

America’s Best Defense Against Socialism:  Matthew Continetti, National Review, May 25, 2019

What Americans Must Know About Socialism:  Lee Edwards, The Heritage Foundation, Dec. 3, 2018


What Is Democratic Socialism? Whose Version Are We Talking About?

Maggie Astor

New York Times, June 12, 2019

Democratic socialism has become a major force in American political life. Just look at Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is planning a national address on Wednesday on what it is and why he believes it’s needed. Yet if you ask five self-described democratic socialists what the term means, you’re likely to get five different answers. Here’s why.

Democratic socialism has a definition …

Political theory isn’t exactly a crowd-pleaser on the campaign trail, but you need some of it to understand why “democratic socialism” means so many things to so many people. Leftist political theory encompasses a wide range of ideologies, which can be divided roughly into three categories.

Communism is what existed in the Soviet Union and still exists in China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam. It isn’t monolithic, but the common thread is a fully centralized economy achieved through revolution. This is the image some critics evoke against less radical ideologies, as the “Fox & Friends” co-host Pete Hegseth did when he called Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s $15 minimum wage for her staff “socialism and communism on display.” In reality, no federal official or Democratic candidate advocates communism.

At the other end is social democracy, which is common in Europe. It preserves capitalism, but with stricter regulations and government programs to distribute resources more evenly. Consider Elizabeth Warren: She supports capitalism, but her proposals would remake the American economy in an effort to reduce inequality and guarantee basic needs.

Democratic socialism falls in between.

If we use the standard definition, democratic socialists don’t support capitalism: They want workers to control the means of production. In social democracies, by contrast, the economy continues to operate “on terms that are set by the capitalist class,” Maria Svart, national director of the Democratic Socialists of America, told The Times last year. “Our ultimate goal really is for working people to run our society and run our workplaces and our economies.”

Unlike communists, however, democratic socialists believe socialism should be achieved, well, democratically. This requires a long-term outlook, because they know theirs is a minority position. Their goal is to convince a majority, but in the meantime, they support many social-democratic policies.

Ultimately, though, Sweden isn’t what democratic socialists like Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin magazine, a quarterly socialist journal, are looking for. “We come from the same tradition,” he said of democratic socialists and social democrats. But generally, he added, social democrats see a role for private capital in their ideal system, and democratic socialists do not.

In countries that have multiple leftist parties, these distinctions are commonly understood. In the United States, they aren’t. Because a binary view of “liberals” and “conservatives” dominates American politics, ideologies to the left of mainstream Democrats tend to get lumped together — which often means the left conflates democratic socialism and social democracy, and the right casts all of it as socialism or communism. “Here in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” President Trump said in his State of the Union address this year. “Tonight, we resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]


‘Democratic Socialists’ Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and Tlaib Prefer Socialism To Democracy

Joshua Muravchik

USA Today, Apr. 18, 2019

First Bernie Sanders and now also Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and a bunch of other new office-holders proclaim themselves “democratic socialists.” What is that? I should know. I was on the executive committee of the Socialist Party and I was the leader of its youth wing, the Young People’s Socialist League. The Party was the forerunner of the group Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib belong to today, and the YPSL was the organization Bernie Sanders joined as a college student.

Back then, we called ourselves “democratic socialists” to emphasize our difference from Communism and miscellaneous other dictatorial regimes in the Third World that proclaimed themselves “socialist.” We were not more moderate in terms of our opposition to capitalism. We sought, as our charter stated, “social ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution.” But we insisted on getting there by persuasion, elections, and legislation, not violence and tyranny.

In this we were not unlike numerous parties in Western Europe, Australia, Israel and a few other places, variously named “socialist,” “social democratic,” or “labor,” who together made up the Socialist International. What was different, however, was that unlike our party, which was always marginal, those parties won lots of votes and had the experience of forming governments.

Once elected, they each embarked on a step-by-step march to socialism, and one after another they made the same discovery. They could expand social insurance or other benefits but when they started to nationalize industries or make it too difficult to do business, their economies began to sink. Then they either reversed course or were voted out. Private enterprise, they learned, remained the core of a prosperous economy, the goose that lays the golden eggs, and they ceased trying to kill it. As the British Labour Party, whose charter had once propounded a complete end to capitalism, crooned in the 1990s, Labour is the “party of business.”

In short, “democratic socialism” turned out to be a chimera. We democratic socialists clung to the hope that this would change someday. But meanwhile what was a democratic socialist to do? In the here and now there were countries that were democratic but not socialist and other countries that were socialist but not democratic. Sometimes one had to chose between them. Which to prefer?

Democratic socialism is a chimera

For me and most of my Socialist comrades back then, democracy was all-important. We supported the capitalist West against the Communist bloc, for which we were sometimes derided as “Cold War socialists” and why Bernie Sanders left our group for more radical ones.

Sanders and his fellow self-styled “democratic socialists” of today seem to make the opposite choice. As mayor, Sanders made Burlington, Vermont a “sister city” to Yaroslavl in the USSR. He went there on his honeymoon and returned to say of the Soviet Union:


[We were] extremely impressed by their public transportation system. The stations themselves were absolutely beautiful. . . . Also I was impressed by the youth programs they have,. . . and cultural programs that go far beyond what we do in this country.

In 1985, he traveled to Nicaragua to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the seizure of power by the Sandinista Liberation Front. “Nobody denies,” he declared, “that they are making significant progress” giving power to “the poor people, the working people.” How did he know? The rulers told him so. In 2016, now a national figure, Sanders spoke more guardedly, pronouncing a mixed verdict on Fidel Castro but volunteering that “American interference” might be accountable for Cuba’s “negative” features. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]


What Americans Must Know About Socialism

Lee Edwards

The Heritage Foundation, Dec. 3, 2018

Is a specter of socialism haunting America, especially among our millennials? There is disquieting evidence of many young Americans’ sympathy for socialism. Exhibit A: 2.052 million people under the age of 30 voted for democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries and caucuses. Exhibit B: Polls find that, not only do a large majority of millennials have a favorable opinion of socialism, a near majority would prefer to live under socialism rather than capitalism. Exhibit C: The no-longer sleeping Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) now boasts 30,000 members, most of them in their twenties and eager to follow the socialist banner.

We’ve come a long way since the 1988 presidential race when George H. W. Bush buried his Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis by labeling him a “liberal.” Socialism is no longer a parlor game for academics but a political alternative taken seriously by millennials who are not put off by the radical DSA platform.

DSA believes in ending the private ownership of industries whose products are viewed as “necessities.” The production of such products, it argues, should not be left to “profiteers.” It also believes that government should “democratize” private businesses — that is, give workers control over them — to the greatest extent possible. “Socialism,” explains a member of DSA’s national steering committee, “is the democratization of all areas of life, including but not limited to the economy.”

What is happening in America, once the apotheosis of capitalism?

The first part of that answer lies in two words, not “Karl Marx,” but “Bernie Sanders.” The senator from Vermont captured the hearts and the votes of many millennials with his call for single payer health care, free public college, campaign finance reform, and racial, economic, and climate justice. The prime target of his animus was the top 1 percent in America who own, it is true, some 40 percent of the nation’s total wealth — as much as the bottom 90 percent. What Bernie rarely pointed out was that the same top 1 percent paid 39.5 percent of the individual income taxes. Sanders had a ready explanation for how to pay for all of the freebies: increase the taxes on the rich and their corporations. In Bernie’s world, there is such a thing as a free lunch because the bill will be paid by those at the top.

According to one CNN analyst, millennials rallied in the many thousands behind Sanders because they are socially liberal — especially on LGBT rights — saddled with mountains of student debt, disillusioned with the status quo, “and eager to break with traditional [political] models.” Bernie provided solutions to all their problems — without detailing the price or conceding the lessening in individual liberty. Such details were swept aside by the revolutionary spirit of the millennials who “felt the Bern.” As one Bernista said, “You can build a powerful political movement with a base of 2 million true believers.”

The second reason for the shift toward socialism was the Great Recession of 2008. It tore a huge hole in the American people’s belief in capitalism as the way to a better life and sent them looking for alternatives. Many of them, especially younger Americans, found it in a “soft socialism” that was part welfare state, part administrative state, part socialist democracy.

The most startling poll was the YouGov survey that reported that given a choice, 44 percent of young people between the ages of 16 and 29 would prefer to live in a socialist nation rather than a capitalist country. Another seven percent would choose communism. However, the same poll revealed that only 33 percent of the respondents could correctly define socialism as based on the common ownership of economic and social systems as well as the state control of the means of production. What most millennials mean by “socialism” seems to be a mix of our welfare state and what they perceive to be Swedish democratic socialism. But Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries including Denmark favor the free market and are content with private rather than government ownership of their major industries. However, Danish domestic spending including comprehensive health care has a high price — a top personal income tax of 57 percent. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]


America’s Best Defense Against Socialism

Matthew Continetti

National Review, May 25, 2019

The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. This never happened in America. Labor confronted capital throughout the late nineteenth century, often violently, but American democracy and constitutionalism withstood the clash. Socialist movements remained minority persuasions. When Eugene V. Debs ran for president in 1912, he topped out at 6 percent of the vote. Populist third-party candidates, from George Wallace in 1968 (14 percent) to Ross Perot in 1992 (19 percent) have done much better.

Keep this in mind when you read about the rebirth of socialism. Yes, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are household names. Membership in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has spiked since 2016. Forty percent of Americans told Gallup last month that “some form of socialism” would be “a good thing for the country.” Media are filled with trend pieces describing the socialist revival. A recent issue of The Economist devoted the cover package to “Millennial socialism.” The current New Republic includes four articles about “the socialist moment.” In March, New York magazine asked, “When did everyone become a socialist?”

That question tells you more about the editors of New York than the country itself. As Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute has observed, views toward socialism are stable. In 2010, 36 percent of respondents to the Gallup poll had a positive view of socialism. In 2018 the number was 37 percent. In 2009, 23 percent told the Fox News poll, “Moving away from capitalism and more toward socialism would be a good thing.” In 2019 the number was 24 percent. Fifty-four percent said it would be a bad thing. Gallup found that less than half of America would vote for a socialist candidate.


Socialism is in vogue because no one is sure what it is. The classic definition of abolishing private property, a planned economy, and collective ownership of the means of production no longer applies. More people today believe that socialism means “equality” than “government control.” Six percent told Gallup that socialism is “talking to people” or “being social.” The same Gallup poll that found 40 percent of the public has a positive view of socialism, however you define it, also discovered large majorities in favor of the free market leading the way on innovation, the distribution of wealth, the economy overall, and wages, and smaller majorities for free-market approaches to higher education and health care. Americans are very bad socialists.

And socialists know it. That’s why their most prominent spokesmen frame their domestic agendas in the language of the welfare state and social democracy, even as they celebrate, excuse, or defend socialist authoritarians abroad. Sanders told NPR in March, “What I mean by democratic socialism is that I want a vibrant democracy.” Okay, then — who doesn’t? The following month he told Trevor Noah that socialism “means economic rights and human rights. I believe from the bottom of my heart that health care is a human right. . . . To be a democratic socialist means that we believe — I believe — that human rights include a decent job, affordable housing, health care, education, and, by the way, a clean environment.” But this is not so different from FDR’s conception of the “four freedoms.” So, what differentiates Sanders from a New Deal Democrat?

The less prominent socialists are somewhat more specific. Article II of the constitution of the DSA, to which Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib belong, states: “We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality, and non-oppressive relationships.” That is closer to the traditional definition of socialism — a definition that implies a set of institutional arrangements that inevitably would limit freedom of choice. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

On Topic Links 

Uncle Bernie Saws Off His Own Limb with Outlandish Socialism Defense:  Bob Maistros, Issues and Insights, June 16, 2019 — Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders’ attempt to promote “democratic socialism” as a political platform recalls former Vice President Walter Mondale’s 1984 convention speech promise: “Mr. Reagan will raise taxes. And so, will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.”

Socialism Is Not Democratic: Charles C.W. Cooke, National Review, May 16, 2019 — Back in 2011, while covering Occupy Wall Street, I was accosted by a man wearing a large cardboard box.

New Poll: A Majority of Women Between 18 And 54 Support Socialism:  John Gage, Washington Examiner, June 10, 2019 A new Harris poll shows that 55% of women between the ages of 18 and 54 support socialism.

WATCH:  Sen. McConnell: I Am The “Grim Reaper” Of The Democratic Socialist Agenda:  Real Clear Politics, June 13, 2019 — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responds to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s use of a prop of “McConnell’s graveyard” and an accusation that he wants to “bury” legislation that has passed in the House. 

WATCH:  Victor Davis Hanson: Socialism Breeds Authoritarianism To Stop People Who Say It Doesn’t Work Real Clear Politics, May 22, 2019 Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, appeared on FNC’s ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ on Tuesday to discuss a new Gallup poll that found 43% of all Americans believe “some form of socialism” would be good for the country. Hanson said those who favor socialism never tell you socialism is more than just Finland and Sweden.