The rise of democratic socialism and its ill-fated American future

Harry Simons, Contributing Writer

Socialism certainly carries a stigma.

Perhaps it is because history tells us it is a failed system. The Soviet Union collapsed, China now has a market economy, and North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela have disastrous ones. Yet, in recent years, the socialist system, preaching communal ownership with a mixed economy, seems to have increased in the appeal to some. Supporters claim it is the answer to capitalism’s shortcomings. Opponents fear it, weary of a system that has been shown to come up short. But its resurgence in the American political sphere poses serious questions for our nation’s future: is socialism on the horizon? Is democratic socialism just socialism?

Of course, when Americans think of socialism, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders comes to mind. He campaigned for the 2016 Democratic nomination for President on socialist principles. He has long described himself as siding with many socialist ideas despite his status as an Independent and his tendency to vote with Democrats.

More recently, however, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez comes to mind. On June 26, 2018, she won the Democratic Party’s primary election for the 14th Congressional District, representing part of the Bronx and Queens in New York City. A member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the Congresswoman wants universal healthcare, guaranteed jobs, and free tuition to public college. Ocasio-Cortez states that she does not advocate for a system like in Venezuela or Cuba, but one that resembles the UK and the Nordic states of Norway, Finland, and Sweden.

But the concern is not just with known socialists like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez–it is the Democratic party that has recently begun to favor those principles resulting in the growing popularity of “democratic socialism.” At a rally in El Paso, Texas on Feb. 11, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke of this, saying, “The Democratic party has never been more outside of the mainstream. They’re becoming the party of socialism, late-term abortion, open borders, and crime.”

Trump also mentioned these concerns in his State of the Union Address on Feb. 5, stating, “Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”

Democratic socialists do not want to take control of the private sector as non-democratic socialism would certainly entail. The DSA wants things like free healthcare, free public college, and higher taxes on the rich. But do these differences really make democratic socialism all that different from the real thing that we fear? Or is democratic socialism just a way of promoting socialist ideals without scaring the American public?

DSA principles of increased taxes, guaranteed employment, and free education are all discussed by Friedrich Engels, philosopher and co-author of “The Communist Manifesto.” He described democratic socialists as agreeing with communists on principles like those listed.

Socialism is not on the horizon for the United States. It is an inherently anti-capitalist movement in arguably the most successful capitalist economy in the world. Democratic socialists and the DSA want to appeal to the American public with this new wave of socialism that promotes democracy and looks little like Venezuela or the Soviet Union. But it is nothing new. Engels and Karl Marx knew of democratic socialists in 1849 and even drew similarities between them and communists. Socialism is just as threatening to American values now as it was for the entire 20th century.

The Democratic party has a large base of constituents who believe the economic and political system in the United States should uphold these socialist ideals. Tacking on “democratic” as a prefix and calling it a movement rather than a political party does not make it any less socialist. The American citizens needs to see past labels and buzzwords to assess democratic socialism for what it truly is: socialism.

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