Socialism or Communism: Call It What You Will
For decades, Bernie Sanders has proclaimed that he is a socialist, but is he a communist?
A common definition of communism is a system in which all means of production are owned, and all workers employed, by the state. A familiar definition of socialism is a system in which all means of production are owned or regulated by the state and all workers, therefore, employed or regulated by the state. Except for the qualification of "owned or regulated," there is no difference between socialism and communism. Some might view socialism as "communism lite," but there is nothing "lite" about the government takeover of all major industries that Bernie and other leading Democrats advocate.
The Left has already socialized America's educational system, with SAT scores declining since their peak in 1964 and declining markedly since 2006. From what was traditionally local schools governed by local school boards, the American system of education became increasingly regulated by the federal government beginning in the 1960s as stipulations on curricula, standards, and treatment of race and sex were attached to the explosive rise in federal funding of education. By shifting funding away from state and local sources, the federal government was able to gain control of nearly every aspect of public education.
At the center of the socialist movement is the demand for health care "as a right" with Medicare for All as the solution. Medicare for All is a disarmingly neutral phrase, but it masks a plan for the elimination, and outlawing, of private health insurance. This would mean government control of the entire process of treatment, including office visits, hospitalization, emergency care, and drug delivery. With Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare already "serving" 116.5 million patients, this process is well underway, but a complete takeover would transform expectations about standards and timeliness of care. Imagine calling HHS to schedule a heart bypass operation and finding yourself on an endless menu runaround. That's the reality of Medicare for All.
The financial crisis of 2008 made possible a vast expansion in federal control of the financial sector, along with the automotive and housing sectors. Financial firms were forced to accept "bailouts" to which stringent conditions were attached. Many of those conditions are still in place, and radicals like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advocate the renewal of affordable housing policies such as loan quotas for low-income and illegal alien borrowers — the same behavior that caused the financial crisis to begin with.
Another major sector of the economy ripe for picking, as socialists see it, is energy. The Green New Deal has nothing to do with saving the Earth and everything to do with government takeover of the energy sector. Obama attempted this takeover via EPA, Fish and Wildlife, Interior, and other agency regulation that shut down leasing of mineral rights on federal lands and on vast areas of private lands. Now radical Democrats want a more direct takeover of the energy sector by mandating the elimination of fossil fuels by 2030. Under this plan, government would be empowered to dictate exactly what sources of energy every American would be permitted to employ, and in what amounts. Supporters have not considered the fact that the Green New Deal would eliminate most sources of electricity, along with nearly all cars, trucks, trains, and planes now in operation. Apparently, they're smitten with the idea of a bicycle utopia straight out of Amsterdam. Most Americans will find it difficult to cycle to work.
It's not surprising that flashy politicians like Ocasio-Cortez, or seemingly attractive ones like Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, can attract Millennial voters. "Free everything" and a sympathetic view of those struggling in the economy go a long way toward earning votes. Those were the same enticements employed by communists and fascists in the past. Hugo Chávez began as a populist who promised a better life for the masses. Today there is little food in Venezuela for those masses.
With the election of Democrats across the board in 2020, America would become a fully socialist country, not at all different from all socialist and communist countries of the past or present. Socialism means not just control of the economy; it means the annulment of all our freedoms. This includes revocation of the Second Amendment; universal government-funded abortion; elimination of religion from the public sphere; expansion of "hate speech" laws and other forms of censorship; use of the IRS, the FBI, and other agencies to suppress political opposition; expansion of the EPA, Fish and Wildlife, and other environmental agencies to control land use and restrict property rights; confiscation of wealth via taxation at 70% and more; and other assaults on the freedoms we enjoy.
Is there any substantive difference between this scenario and communism as it existed in the Soviet Union, communist Cuba, and "socialist" Venezuela?
This being the case, why not label Bernie's socialism for what it is? What Democrats have in mind in 2020 — all of them, from Bernie to Beto, with Kamala, Cory, and Biden in between — is closer to Maduro's Venezuela than it is to the democratic capitalism that Americans have enjoyed in the past. It is not a benign form of government "helping," as leftists like to portray it — "you didn't build that, government built it for you," so why do you oppose even more government "help"? What Norbert Michel and others have called "smiley-faced socialism" is not smiley when an armed federal agent comes to your door, demanding a handover of your assets or your land, or the re-education of your children. The difference between socialism and communism is actually just a matter of semantics.
Smiley-faced socialism is just as oppressive as communism, and it inevitably becomes less smiley-faced. Like Bernie and the rest in 2020, Obama promised free health care with total choice. What he delivered was little choice, high cost, and "mandates" forcing everyone to purchase health insurance. Under communism, there are far more mandates, but they are not at all different from what Obama delivered with the Affordable Care Act. Orders are issued, and they are followed, and they are enforced by armed federal agents.
If the American people choose a Democrat for president and a Democrat Congress in 2020, we will become a socialist nation. Perhaps the American people are tired of making the effort required by capitalism. Perhaps they are tired of arguing with the Left over issues such as health care and "free" education. Perhaps they want to just give in and let the socialists have their way. If they do so, it will enslave our nation for the next hundred years.
The truth is that socialism does not deliver equality but only poverty and oppression. "Democratic" socialism soon becomes less than democratic, and its economy offers only rationing for the poor and special privileges for the political class. "Medicare for All" would deliver not "Medicare" as we know it, but a degraded version of Medicare — and all would have to accept it, including seniors who had previously benefited from at least some access to health care.
What Democrats have in mind in 2020 is not smiley-faced socialism; it is hardcore collectivism enforced by armed government agents. Twenty twenty will be a critical election because it will reveal the direction Americans really want to take.
I do not want to live in a socialist or communist nation, but I do not intend to leave. I only hope Trump will be re-elected and that he will continue to defend our liberties and our free-market system. Otherwise, the future will be difficult for all of us.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).