Okay, Bernie didn’t actually say the words I’ve used in my headline but I think if you watch this Daily Show interview you’ll agree that’s basically the gist of his comments. And I’d be happy to agree with him on that except for one nagging problem: It’s not really clear if he believes it.
Bernie was interviewed by the show’s “youth correspondent” Jaboukie Young-White who asked Bernie about what kind of socialism he had in mind. “If you go to countries like Denmark or Sweden, you’re going to see very little poverty,” Sanders said. Later in the clip, Sanders denies his vision of socialism has anything to do with the former Soviet Union or modern Venezuela. “You can look at what existed in the Soviet Union or Venezuela, that is not what I’m talking about at all,” Sanders said.
Young-White also interviewed Karol Markowicz who wrote a piece for the NY Post last August titled, “Sorry, Democratic Socialists — you’re still pushing poison.” Here’s a bit of that in which Markowicz directly addressed the claim that the Soviet Union wasn’t real socialism.
Democratic Socialists take pains to disassociate themselves from the Soviet failure. The Young Democratic Socialists of America website devotes a whole section to why the Soviet Union’s collapse doesn’t discredit their economic model. Yet their ideas just aren’t much different from those that formed the basis for that failed state: “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.”…
I happen to know a little something about the transfer of private industry to government control. My grandmother’s father had his bakery seized in the Soviet city of Gomel. He was sent to a gulag, where he then died.
Oh, that’s crazy, Democratic Socialists would respond. No one is planning to seize bakeries. And no one will be sent to prison for owning a business.
No? What if those who own companies in industries that “necessitate some form of state ownership” don’t want to give them up willingly? What happens when the state runs out of money from the industries seized and needs more?
This is one of the most worrisome things about the modern American promoters of socialism. They are unwilling or unable to recognize the degree to which the examples of “bad socialism” they seek to disassociate themselves from started out as the “good socialism” they support. For instance, Hugo Chavez started with the goal of creating a more equal society. He promised, in a televised speech back in 2008, that his revolution would avoid the mistakes made by the Soviet Union. “No, we’re not going to fall into those same mistakes. Those mistakes that dogmatized that proposal and at the end of the Stalin era even tyrannized it,” Chavez said. Jump forward 11 years and Venezuela is a tyrannical hellhole where opposition figures are jailed and starving people who don’t support the revolution don’t get the food doled out by Nicolas Maduro. It all happened in the span of about 15 years. Why can’t Bernie Sanders admit it?
And let’s not forget his past support for the Sandinistas. In the 1980s, Sanders was a fan and defender of Daniel Ortega. He even attended a rally in Managua where people were chanting, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.” Today, Sanders claims to be “very concerned” about the Ortega government and with good reason. Like Venezuela, it has also become a failed state slipping into tyranny. So this is one case where Sanders supported the socialists he will now begrudgingly admit have lost their way.
Why does this keep happening?
I’m glad you asked. It keeps happening because socialism makes the state too powerful and puts the welfare of the group above that of the individual. And that turns out to be a perfect combination for producing authoritarian rulers who want to dictate their wishes for a socialist system and, when it doesn’t work out, resort to eliminating opposition on the grounds that the good of the state is more important than the civil rights of troublemakers.
If Bernie Sanders wants to embrace European Social Democracy, which it seems he does these days, why can’t he admit he went too far as a younger man promoting the nationalization of entire industries and excusing socialist dictators. Why can’t he call out some of the more extreme voices on the left who have made it clear that Denmark and Sweden are not their goal and would still be too capitalist to suit their taste? If he really wants to put this behind him there’s a Sister Souljah moment waiting to happen with AOC. The fact that it hasn’t happened suggests he’s still taking a ‘no enemies on the left’ approach to socialism. But that’s not good enough when the potential consequences, like the ones in Venezuela and Nicaragua, are so dire. Instead of taking this seriously, he’s literally making a gulag joke in this segment.