Democratic Socialism Revisited

The recent primary victory of a “democratic socialist” candidate for Congress in New York City has added a new chapter to the flirtation of the Democrat Party with “socialism,” coming on the heels of the avowed socialist Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for President in 2016. This may seem a step forward to “progressives,” but to me it demonstrates how many people in America fail to appreciate the history of socialist societies.

One hundred fifty years ago, socialism sounded appealing because it promised the solution to multiple social problems. Further, according to Karl Marx’ “scientific” analysis, it’s arrival was inevitable. Well, it turned out Marx’s theory was not so scientific since socialism did not arrive. What eventually came instead were forms government called socialism and communism as justification for pseudo-socialist policies at best and dictatorships at worst.

Not True Socialism?

Some present-day socialists claim these were not true examples of socialism, and thus argue the real thing hasn’t been tried. In science, when all attempts to prove a theory fail, the theory is rightly rejected. So, let’s examine why socialism has failed in the past and why it will continue to fail every time it is tried.

Marx theorized that capitalism created the seeds of its own destruction––that the imbalance between the haves and the have-nots would become so extreme that the haves would be pulled down and the have-nots would inevitably take over. That theory justified the Russian, Chinese, Cuban and other revolutions––except what replaced the previous system was a form of government where a small group––ultimately one man––made all the key decisions and controlled everything. That’s what still prevails in China and Cuba today.

Contrast that outcome with what the theorists of representative democracy envisioned. John Locke, Adam Smith, James Madison, et al, understood the evil of one-man rule and postulated an alternative: democratically elected representative government. Concerned about the rights of the individual, the founders of our country divided power into three branches—legislative, executive and judicial.

Can Socialism Arrive Democratically?

Of course, parties advocating socialist policies have achieved power via elections, but then what happens each time? In order to implement their policies, however, socialists have to fulfill their promises to their supporters and that they cannot do . . . for many reasons.

Socialism promises equal outcomes. Taken to its logical conclusion that means students cannot be rewarded based on achievement and jobs cannot be allocated by merit. No society will accept such policies except by force. In Europe, that has meant hybrid solutions—where merit is not totally outlawed and the existence of large corporations is seen as necessary in the short run.

Socialism also promises an equal distribution of goods. The problem with that is scarcity is inherent in the human condition. The only way to achieve equal distribution of food, clothing, transportation, healthcare, housing, etc. is to lower the standard of living for everyone. To accomplish that requires the use of force because people naturally rebel against policies that punish effort while rewarding sloth (i.e., a disinclination to exert effort).

Why Do Some Favor Socialism?

By ignoring the history of attempts to overthrow capitalism and institute socialism in Russia, China, Israel (see my article on what happened in Israel), Argentina, Cuba and Europe, people focus on what socialism promises and ignore the problem of how to get there. It also sounds good (to some, but not all ears) because it allows its advocates to blame others for keeping them from having whatever goods they believe they deserve.

Here in the U.S.A., socialist candidates and policies may win short-term gains, but must fail in the long run. The American people have shown themselves too savvy to be swayed by pie-in-the-sky promises because we know first hand the benefits of free enterprise and we are culturally resistant to compulsion.

That said, it is actually not bad for avowed socialists to run for office whether as Democrats or under some other party because it provides the public an opportunity to learn about socialism’s failures. While the horrors of the Soviet Union are in the past, lessons are easily seen by studying present-day China, Cuba and Argentina. Information is readily available on all three for anyone who cares to examine it.

Socialism became popular150 years ago because it promised an end to an industrial system that exploited laborers, despoiled the environment, and corrupted the political system. That’s not the world we live in today. Instead, the free enterprise system has prolonged life and raised the standard of living of millions across the globe. One must conclude no matter how many theories arise that promise a socialist nirvana, it’s existence will remain a pipe dream.