What is right has always been called radical by those with a stake in what is wrong.
– Sen. George McGovern
Quick, what do Republicans and communists have in common?
They both hate democratic socialism.
Republicans use “socialism” as a code word attack
Soon after Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris as his running mate, the Trump campaign sent out a fund-raising email declaring, “It’s REAL Americans vs. SOCIALISTS.”
Trump toady Matt Schlapp tweeted “It’s America v Socialism”.
Right on cue, speakers serially slammed socialism at the TNC, Trump National Convention. “Joe Biden would set American on a path of socialism and decline,” pandered Vice President Mike Pence in his renomination acceptance speech. “The election will decide whether we save the American dream or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny,” President Trump demagogued in his.
When Republicans diss Democrats as “socialists,” they want John and Jane Q Citizen to hear “communists.” That’s especially so with John and Jane Senior Citizen, who vote in droves and remember the cold war, the Berlin Wall, the Gulag, and menacing, missile-bristling Moscow May Day parades.
Let’s be clear: Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lost his second, and likely last, bid as a Democratic presidential hopeful, is an unabashed democratic socialist. Neither Biden nor Harris is. Most Democrats — including almost every Kentucky Democrat — aren’t socialists either.
And, the Democratic Party isn’t a socialist party. More on that in a minute.
Meanwhile, the media mainly sticks to reporting the Republicans’ “socialist” charges and the Democrats’ disavowals.
But Communists really didn’t like democratic socialism
Leaders of the old “Evil Empire” demonized democratic socialism with the same fervor as today’s Trumpian Republican faithful. What is ‘Democratic Socialism?’, a little paperback book published in Moscow in 1978, parrots the Communist Party line:
- “But whatever its colouring, ‘democratic socialism’ is a weapon in the arsenal of the revisionist and bourgeoise ideologists.”
- U.S. conservatives also like to rip as “revisionists” historians who dare also chronicle the warts and blemishes in our past.
- “‘Democratic socialism’, whatever its guise, is nothing more than a reformist and bourgeois alternative to existing socialism (meaning Soviet-style communism), which historically speaking is the only possible form of socialism.
- Sanders would beg to differ. So, for instance, would the Austrian and French Socialist Parties, German and Swedish Social Democratic parties and the British, Irish, Norwegian and Dutch Labour parties.
- “For all the kaleidoscopic variation in the theoretical concepts and practical programmes which make appeal to ‘democratic socialism’ they all have one characteristic in common—a denial of scientific socialism and its basic ideas on the necessity for the radical, revolutionary transformation of capitalist society, the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and the whole system of capitalist social relations.”
- Democratic socialists stand guilty as charged. They favor reform only by the ballot box, not by the bullet. They favor mixed public-private economies in which government operates certain industries deemed vital to the well-being of the whole country—such as health care, airlines, railroads, communications systems and utilities–and safeguards the rights of workers, consumers, and the environment against the greedy excesses inherent in unfettered capitalism.
- “The theoreticians of ‘democratic socialism’ lay great stress on trying to show that the communist parties pay insufficient attention to developing democratic institutions, whereas they advocate the unrestricted development of democracy. But in reality these concepts of unrestricted democracy are nothing more than empty, abstract theoretical postulations based on a false, supra-class understanding of the nature of democracy.”
- In practice, democratic socialism has brought genuine democracy, security, and prosperity to millions of people, including citizens of most of our NATO allies.)
Of course, right-wing red-baiting goes way back, even before the cold war, which, fortunately, ended with a whimper and not with a nuclear bang. Republican reactionaries called FDR a socialist; “I am a Christian and a Democrat,” he responded.
The Republicans resurrected the “socialist” slur against Barack Obama. The Fourth Estate mostly just reported the “are so” and “am not” skirmishing.
This old reporter decided to ask a real-deal socialist about Obama. So I phoned Brian Patrick Moore, the 2008 Socialist candidate for president. I asked him if he considered the Democrat a kindred spirit.
“Obama’s policies and actions during the entire four years of his presidency are based on his total embrace of capitalism and protecting America’s capitalistic economic system,” he harrumphed.
What, then, is democratic socialism?
The U.S. is the only industrial democracy that lacks a viable democratic socialist, social democratic, or labor party.
In terms of world politics, Biden, Harris and the Democrats are centrists firmly in the capitalist camp. The Trump GOP is way out on the right-wing fringes.
Calling the Democrats “socialists” only shows how far right the Trump GOP has tacked and continues to tack.
But millions of citizens of other democratic nations are proud to call themselves “socialists.” So was the American labor leader Eugene V. Debs, who, like Sanders, came up short in presidential bids. (Debs ran five times as a Socialist.) “I am for socialism because I am for humanity. … Money constitutes no proper basis of civilization,” Debs famously said.
“What is Socialism?” he asked. “Merely Christianity in action. It recognizes the equality in men.”
“Democracy and socialism go hand in hand,” says the Democratic Socialists of America website. (There’s a DSA chapter in Louisville.) “Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically – to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few.”
Here’s more: “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” – namely, “workers and consumers” and not “corporate executives who answer only to themselves and a few wealthy stockholders.”
Democratic socialists reject Stalinist-style, centrally-planned, state-run economies. The DSA website points out that “socialists have been among the harshest critics of authoritarian Communist states.” (And communist states have been among the most doctrinaire detractors of democratic socialism.)
The website also notes that while the Soviet Union and other communist states labeled themselves “socialist,” they were not. They also falsely called their countries “democratic.” (Hitler and the Nazis deceptively styled themselves “National Socialists” while despising democratic socialism and crushing the staunchly anti-Nazi Social Democrats, murdering, torturing, and imprisoning them.)
Democratic socialism vs Trumpism
What probably rankles the Trumpians — and scares the bejeebers out of them — is the fact that more Americans, especially young folks, are giving democratic socialism a look and liking what they see – hence the rise of the Sanders movement.
The old red-baiting and the lies that democratic socialism — or social democracy — is the same as Stalinism are falling on more and more deaf ears.
Communism is about gone. In Russia, Trump’s pal Putin, the ex-KGB guy, has replaced Marxism-Leninism with fascism – even after 27 million Russians died fighting Hitler and fascism.
And in America, Trumpism is looking more and more like Putinism. If we can turn back Trumpism in this election, perhaps we can begin the discussion about what sort of nation we really want to be. And that discussion should include democratic socialism.