A couple days ago I highlighted a piece at Vox written by a Bay Area member of the Democratic Socialists of America. What I found significant about it was that the author admitted what DSA members really believe about capitalism. “In the long run, democratic socialists want to end capitalism,” Meagan Day wrote. She added, “We want to end our society’s subservience to the market.”
Today, I came across a similar statement from another DSA member, this one from the North Brooklyn chapter. Asked up front what the DSA believes the answer was a glossy brochure about a dignified life, with no mention of capitalism.
To me, Democratic Socialism, is the people in power, a true democracy. It’s a better world in which housing and healthcare, as well as other necessities for a dignified life, are treated as human rights. It’s a world in which my value is my humanity and not what my boss or landlord can extract from me.
A bit later the reporter asked a more specific question about capitalism. Here’s your insight into what the DSA really believes:
Capitalism is fundamentally antithetical to democracy. It necessitates the impoverishment and exploitation of working people, so that the wealthy can accumulate more than they’ll ever need many times over. It knows that it’s vastly outnumbered, and seeks to divide the working class along cultural and racial lines. It’s a bottomless pit of extraction, sucking up resources with the ultimate price of a climate crisis that endangers us all.
First, all of the successful countries in the world that have a high standard of living are capitalist democracies, including the Scandinavian social democracies like Norway and Sweden. So the idea that these two things are “antithetical” is just nonsense.
Second, the extraction mentioned here is probably a reference to gas, oil, rare earth, i.e. to energy and raw materials. I’d bet most DSA members take advantage of on a daily basis. Do you own a car? A cell phone? A laptop? Do you use the internet? Do you wash your laundry in a machine? Own a lamp? None of this happens without the extraction and production of energy and raw materials which comes from people working hard. This person is dismissing all of this as a disaster even while comfortably benefitting from it.
Third and most importantly, many of the places where Democratic Socialism (and Communism) have been tried have been spectacularly deadly failures. Conor Friedersdorf, writing at the Atlantic, offered a brief review of this yesterday:
For perspective, one tally of all the Americans who died in combat from the Revolutionary War to the most recent skirmish in the War on Terror, including all those killed in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, comes to 666,441 lives, with another 673,929 military personnel dying in those wars outside of combat. So that’s 1.35 million total deaths due to war over 242 years of American history.
The Soviet Union, by contrast, saw perhaps 11 million civilians starve to death in its first decades—with millions more malnourished—under the economic system the Jacobin authors would have us regard as slightly better than ours. And that’s to say nothing of the additional million people that Joseph Stalin executed around the same time for political crimes; or the execution of arguably “the most senseless environmental crime of the 20th century.”
But that wasn’t democratic, the DSA members will say. That was autocratic socialism. Isn’t it strange that so many examples of real socialism wind up being tyrannies? As I’ve written before, socialists are quick to point to corporations as examples of greed and exploitation by owners. It never seems to occur to them that putting all of the means of production in the hands of the government—forming in essence one mega-corporation that runs everything—doesn’t make that problem better but worse. Instead of multiple centers of corporate power run by (at worst) petty tyrants, you get one center of power run by Stalin.
Does it always have to work that way? So long as human nature remains what it is, there will always be ruthless men who achieve power and then set about making sure they never have to give it up. Democratic Socialism is putting all the hens in one giant henhouse and then promising that only the elected wolves will be given admittance. What could possibly go wrong?
It would be great if a few reporters would start asking rockstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez if she believes capitalism is incompatible with democracy and how the alternative would work out. That should be entertaining at the least.