In the Name of Lenin, What’s a ‘Democratic Socialist?’

It’s a curious quirk of leftists like Bern Sanders: qualifying “socialist” with “democratic.” Of course, it’s designed to make socialism less menacing and more appealing to Americans, who, at least, have some vague recollection of the “Better dead than red” Cold War trope. But the modifier “democratic” should raise suspicions, and not in ways flattering to Bern and his red ilk.

If socialism is so wonderful, so about equality and justice, so respecting of the individual and his place in a collectivist system -- so inherently democratic -- why the need for the qualifier? You mean to say there’s undemocratic socialism afoot? A system of rulers and subjects? Of elites whose superiority confers on them the right to chart the course for the masses? Who won’t blink about using force when the masses get uppity?

If socialism can be made acceptable by appending “democratic,” why not so for fascism, whose history parallels its socialist cousin? 

Yes, cousin. Those isms are first cousins.    

Fascism and socialism had a spirited and bloody competition for the masses’ loyalties in the 1920s and 1930s. In Western and Central Europe, fascists proved more adept and ruthless than the socialists and won out. But Hitler’s fanaticism and megalomania blew the fascist experiment to pieces – literally. Note that der Führer fancied his movement as “National Socialism.” Hitler wasn’t careless with important concepts and terms. 

Post World War II, socialists were understandably anxious to distance their movement from the prewar Hitler-Stalin Pact, and to expunge any hint of ideological association with their now vanquished fascist cousins. So they spun a tale. The propaganda became that fascism was a phenomenon of the right. Capitalists, republicans, nationalists, true democrats, and liberty-lovers were, inexplicably, prone to tack “right” -- right into the arms of dastardly fascism. 

Socialists like to peg fascism as principally racist and chauvinistic. Xenophobia and chauvinism were characteristics of the fascism practiced in Nazi Germany; chauvinism was more to Mussolini’s taste. (Mussolini began as a socialist.)    

When leftists hurl the epithet “fascist” at someone or some group or party (Republicans), it’s much to do with supposed xenophobia or chauvinism. Or they say that nationalism, informed by prejudice, is proto-fascism. They refuse to acknowledge that one can be an American for individual rights and limited, federalized government and be a nationalist, as Washington, Jefferson, and Madison were.

Socialists like to consider their movement as international. But how to explain Russian nationalism during its period of communism? Or Chinese nationalism under Mao – and now in the still “People’s Republic?” Or Ho Chi Minh’s nationalism? There are Greek “democratic” socialists who are nationalists.      

A feature of fascism is authoritarian or dictatorial? Fascism has no corner on that market. What were Lenin and Stalin, if not dictators? Fidel? Mao? Pol Pot?            

Mind you, though, the socialist argument against fascism is less so about economics, which is the meat of both statist variants. In broad strokes, fascism is control of the means of production. Socialism is ownership of the means. If you control, you own. Hitler didn’t much care if Krupp pocketed profits as long as the government’s biding was done and Nazi jackboots got their skim. Better that a commissar and state enterprise gets the dough? Hitler co-opted or coerced capitalists into his fascist scheme, not the other way around. Socialism doesn’t lure or intimidate producers into its orbit? The difference between the two isms is more facile than believed.

Bern’s socialism has more the substance of fascism, as a matter of fact. Nowhere on the stump has Bern called for the nationalization of business and industry – the people’s ownership of the means of production, which is true socialist creed. Bern wants a better distribution of wealth, via higher taxes and wage hikes, for example, but doesn’t dare call for the wholesale expropriation of wealth, which is another socialist tenet. Let’s add that fascists are for massive public works and “social insurance.”    

Bern’s platform runs more along corporatist-fascist lines than socialist. But let’s give Bern the benefit of the doubt. He’s a bona fide socialist who can’t fully disclose his aims. Bern needs voter buy-in, and socialism still raises -- red -- flags.

The 20th Century is a treasure trove of socialism’s history in all its forms. Lenin argued that socialism was a transitional stage to communism. Socialists dispute Lenin, but that’s just a squabble in the Church of Marx.     

History amply records what socialism in its communist form led to in the defunct USSR and Mao’s China. Economic implosions or, at best, stagnation; bread lines and empty rice bowls.  Elsewhere, in Cuba, meat and beans and toilet paper are rationed. Pogroms, to the tune of tens of millions of innocents executed, starved, or worked to death. The dead assigned to mass graves in Russia, the Ukraine, China, Vietnam, Cambodia (where the skulls of victims were stacked like cordwood).

In none of those places, under glorious socialist rule, did (or do) the leaders and elite ever proclaim anything other than democratic intent. They acted as a “vanguard” for the people, they claimed. Elections and plebiscites were routinely held. The people’s parties won lopsided victories -- or were simply acclaimed unanimously. Fabulous marches and parades celebrated the people’s revolutions. Democracy flowered.        

How unfair to Bern, you say? Bern’s a socialist of a Western European stripe. There, socialism has an admirable track record, no? 

In Western Europe, socialism survives because it piggybacks on capitalism’s successes. It’s parasitic. It battens itself off the blood of the entrepreneur, the innovator, the investor, the shopkeeper, the go-getter. Truth be told, most of Western Europe is a mix of isms. There’s some ownership of the means of production, but more control thereof. Welfare and social insurance abound. There’s high taxation and redistribution of wealth, but not so much that the capitalist golden goose is killed off entirely.   

The E.U. is the exemplar of the corporatist model with brushstrokes of socialism. It seeks to obliterate borders among its member states, giving it a quasi-internationalist aim. It acts to erase ancient, embedded differences in culture among its subjects. And subjects they are, which may be the E.U.’s undoing, other than trying to make Spaniards, Germans, and Germans, Frenchmen. (Or everybody Germans.) 

Among the E.U.’s pols and bureaucrats, smugness reins; an odor of superiority hangs in the air… imperiousness with a veneer of democracy. Better that the E.U.’s Pooh-Bahs ape the old Orwellian Eastern Bloc and Asian pure socialists who appreciated grandiose democratic pretense.

As we’re seeing with the evolution of the E.U., and now are seeing creep into the U.S. -- fascism, corporatism, communism, and socialism are systems given to hierarchy, imposition, and subordination of rights. They claim to be for the people while subjecting them to the will and aims of elites. Socialism is no less prone to tact undemocratic. (Please don’t gainsay with Switzerland or Scandinavia, any more than citing pure democracy in ancient Athens. Scandinavian socialism is about as applicable to the rest of the world as is Chicago machine politics are to Stockholm.)          

If you see Bern Sanders, ask him: “If socialism is democratic, why qualify it?”

Whatever his answer, don’t expect the truth.  

It’s a curious quirk of leftists like Bern Sanders: qualifying “socialist” with “democratic.” Of course, it’s designed to make socialism less menacing and more appealing to Americans, who, at least, have some vague recollection of the “Better dead than red” Cold War trope. But the modifier “democratic” should raise suspicions, and not in ways flattering to Bern and his red ilk.

If socialism is so wonderful, so about equality and justice, so respecting of the individual and his place in a collectivist system -- so inherently democratic -- why the need for the qualifier? You mean to say there’s undemocratic socialism afoot? A system of rulers and subjects? Of elites whose superiority confers on them the right to chart the course for the masses? Who won’t blink about using force when the masses get uppity?

If socialism can be made acceptable by appending “democratic,” why not so for fascism, whose history parallels its socialist cousin? 

Yes, cousin. Those isms are first cousins.    

Fascism and socialism had a spirited and bloody competition for the masses’ loyalties in the 1920s and 1930s. In Western and Central Europe, fascists proved more adept and ruthless than the socialists and won out. But Hitler’s fanaticism and megalomania blew the fascist experiment to pieces – literally. Note that der Führer fancied his movement as “National Socialism.” Hitler wasn’t careless with important concepts and terms. 

Post World War II, socialists were understandably anxious to distance their movement from the prewar Hitler-Stalin Pact, and to expunge any hint of ideological association with their now vanquished fascist cousins. So they spun a tale. The propaganda became that fascism was a phenomenon of the right. Capitalists, republicans, nationalists, true democrats, and liberty-lovers were, inexplicably, prone to tack “right” -- right into the arms of dastardly fascism. 

Socialists like to peg fascism as principally racist and chauvinistic. Xenophobia and chauvinism were characteristics of the fascism practiced in Nazi Germany; chauvinism was more to Mussolini’s taste. (Mussolini began as a socialist.)    

When leftists hurl the epithet “fascist” at someone or some group or party (Republicans), it’s much to do with supposed xenophobia or chauvinism. Or they say that nationalism, informed by prejudice, is proto-fascism. They refuse to acknowledge that one can be an American for individual rights and limited, federalized government and be a nationalist, as Washington, Jefferson, and Madison were.

Socialists like to consider their movement as international. But how to explain Russian nationalism during its period of communism? Or Chinese nationalism under Mao – and now in the still “People’s Republic?” Or Ho Chi Minh’s nationalism? There are Greek “democratic” socialists who are nationalists.      

A feature of fascism is authoritarian or dictatorial? Fascism has no corner on that market. What were Lenin and Stalin, if not dictators? Fidel? Mao? Pol Pot?            

Mind you, though, the socialist argument against fascism is less so about economics, which is the meat of both statist variants. In broad strokes, fascism is control of the means of production. Socialism is ownership of the means. If you control, you own. Hitler didn’t much care if Krupp pocketed profits as long as the government’s biding was done and Nazi jackboots got their skim. Better that a commissar and state enterprise gets the dough? Hitler co-opted or coerced capitalists into his fascist scheme, not the other way around. Socialism doesn’t lure or intimidate producers into its orbit? The difference between the two isms is more facile than believed.

Bern’s socialism has more the substance of fascism, as a matter of fact. Nowhere on the stump has Bern called for the nationalization of business and industry – the people’s ownership of the means of production, which is true socialist creed. Bern wants a better distribution of wealth, via higher taxes and wage hikes, for example, but doesn’t dare call for the wholesale expropriation of wealth, which is another socialist tenet. Let’s add that fascists are for massive public works and “social insurance.”    

Bern’s platform runs more along corporatist-fascist lines than socialist. But let’s give Bern the benefit of the doubt. He’s a bona fide socialist who can’t fully disclose his aims. Bern needs voter buy-in, and socialism still raises -- red -- flags.

The 20th Century is a treasure trove of socialism’s history in all its forms. Lenin argued that socialism was a transitional stage to communism. Socialists dispute Lenin, but that’s just a squabble in the Church of Marx.     

History amply records what socialism in its communist form led to in the defunct USSR and Mao’s China. Economic implosions or, at best, stagnation; bread lines and empty rice bowls.  Elsewhere, in Cuba, meat and beans and toilet paper are rationed. Pogroms, to the tune of tens of millions of innocents executed, starved, or worked to death. The dead assigned to mass graves in Russia, the Ukraine, China, Vietnam, Cambodia (where the skulls of victims were stacked like cordwood).

In none of those places, under glorious socialist rule, did (or do) the leaders and elite ever proclaim anything other than democratic intent. They acted as a “vanguard” for the people, they claimed. Elections and plebiscites were routinely held. The people’s parties won lopsided victories -- or were simply acclaimed unanimously. Fabulous marches and parades celebrated the people’s revolutions. Democracy flowered.        

How unfair to Bern, you say? Bern’s a socialist of a Western European stripe. There, socialism has an admirable track record, no? 

In Western Europe, socialism survives because it piggybacks on capitalism’s successes. It’s parasitic. It battens itself off the blood of the entrepreneur, the innovator, the investor, the shopkeeper, the go-getter. Truth be told, most of Western Europe is a mix of isms. There’s some ownership of the means of production, but more control thereof. Welfare and social insurance abound. There’s high taxation and redistribution of wealth, but not so much that the capitalist golden goose is killed off entirely.   

The E.U. is the exemplar of the corporatist model with brushstrokes of socialism. It seeks to obliterate borders among its member states, giving it a quasi-internationalist aim. It acts to erase ancient, embedded differences in culture among its subjects. And subjects they are, which may be the E.U.’s undoing, other than trying to make Spaniards, Germans, and Germans, Frenchmen. (Or everybody Germans.) 

Among the E.U.’s pols and bureaucrats, smugness reins; an odor of superiority hangs in the air… imperiousness with a veneer of democracy. Better that the E.U.’s Pooh-Bahs ape the old Orwellian Eastern Bloc and Asian pure socialists who appreciated grandiose democratic pretense.

As we’re seeing with the evolution of the E.U., and now are seeing creep into the U.S. -- fascism, corporatism, communism, and socialism are systems given to hierarchy, imposition, and subordination of rights. They claim to be for the people while subjecting them to the will and aims of elites. Socialism is no less prone to tact undemocratic. (Please don’t gainsay with Switzerland or Scandinavia, any more than citing pure democracy in ancient Athens. Scandinavian socialism is about as applicable to the rest of the world as is Chicago machine politics are to Stockholm.)          

If you see Bern Sanders, ask him: “If socialism is democratic, why qualify it?”

Whatever his answer, don’t expect the truth.