Don’t we have a century of experience in socialism that speaks for itself? No no no, Bernie Sanders tells New Hampshire Public Radio in an interview this morning. Americans have the wrong idea about socialism, all evidence to the contrary, and he’s making it his mission in 2020 to sell it as a brand:
“I think what we have to do, and I will be doing it, is to do a better job maybe in explaining what we mean by socialism — democratic socialism. Obviously, my right-wing colleagues here want to paint that as authoritarianism and communism and Venezuela, and that’s nonsense.”
Thirty years ago, I worked with an older man named Lowell who was as ardent a socialist as Sanders is today. We spent a lot of time arguing about the nature and the end game of socialism, during which Lowell would use the Soviet Union as the example of how it can succeed in sustaining itself. After its collapse, Lowell switched arguments and insisted that the Soviets had never been proper socialists in the first place.
We have already begun to see that argument coming from others, not just Sanders. A few years ago, American fans of socialism cheered the Chavistas and Maduro as successful socialists who had ended exploitation by international capitalists in Venezuela. Hollywood activists swooned over Hugo Chavez in particular as the savior of the poor. Now that Venezuela is in its second week of a nationwide blackout and massive starvation has swept its former first-world land, suddenly the idea that Venezuela adopted actual socialism is “nonsense.” Riiiiiiiight.
What does Bernie mean by “democratic socialism”? That’s a bit of a muddle for the man who keeps using the term:
“What I mean by democratic socialism is that I want a vibrant democracy. I find it interesting that people who criticize me are busy actively involved in voter suppression trying to keep people of color or low-income people from voting, because they don’t want a vibrant democracy. I do.
“Second of all, what it means, Rachel, is that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world we can provide a decent standard of living for all about people. That’s just the reality. That’s not Utopian dreaming; that is a reality. Health care for all can be done and we can save money in doing it. We can have a minimum wage which is a living wage, and I’m delighted to see that you know, right now, five states already passed fifteen dollars an hour minimum wage. The House of Representatives is gonna do it. We have got to do that.”
Notice that this answer doesn’t actually provide a definition for “democratic socialism,” because such a definition doesn’t actually exist. The term is an oxymoron, theoretically and especially in practice. Socialism requires the seizure of the means of production, which is not democracy in any way, shape, or form. It doesn’t have minimum wages but forced redistribution of wealth in a state frozen by ending capitalism which produces it. That redistribution has to be performed by authoritarian mechanisms with enough strength to seize the wealth and production in the first place.
Lest anyone mistake Sanders for something less than a socialist, this is precisely what would happen in a Medicare for All program. The federal government would seize control of the health-care industry by forcing all providers to accept reimbursement for costs from Washington bureaucrats. That would force the government to ration care as the provider pool stops expanding to meet demand, effectively redistributing care along the preferred political priorities of those in charge. When that results in widespread dissatisfaction, more and more authoritarian steps would be imposed to meet the program targets — and more and more corrupt officials would rise to fake those results and sustain the program.
We already know this because we’ve seen it happen in Venezuela in every industry … and here in the US in the Veterans Administration in the health-care industry. The only reason we don’t see more of it in Medicare now is because the private sector is overcharging other patients in order to cover Medicare losses. Once Sanders and the other “democratic socialists” prohibit private health insurance, we’ll all be in a VA disaster. If we’re lucky, that is; we might end up in the equivalent of the Indian Health Service.
Sanders doesn’t need to “a better job” in explaining socialism in 2020. The twentieth century and F.A. Hayek did a splendid job in explaining it already, and Venezuela has given everyone an object lesson as a reminder of it. Hard pass.