By Peter Certo
For decades, Republicans have painted anyone left of Barry Goldwater as a “socialist.” Why? Because for a generation raised on the Cold War, “socialist” just seemed like a damaging label.
And, probably, it was.
You can tell, because many liberal-leaning figures internalized that fear. When Donald Trump vowed that “America will never be a socialist country,” for instance, no less than Senator Elizabeth Warren stood and applauded.
But while older Americans retain some antipathy toward the word, folks raised in the age of “late capitalism” don’t. In Gallup polls, more millennial and Gen-Z respondents say they view “socialism” positively with each passing year, while their opinion of “capitalism” tumbles ever downward.
As a result, it’s not all that surprising that self-described democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders tops Trump in most head to head polls — and just scooped up popular vote victories in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries.
Still, old propaganda dies hard. What else could explain the panicky musings of Chis Matthews, the liberal-ish MSNBC host, who recently wondered aloud if a Sanders victory would mean “executions in Central Park”?
Nevermind that Sanders is a longtime opponent of all executions, as any news host could surely look up. The real issue is a prejudice, particularly among Americans reared on fears of the Soviet Union and Maoist China, that “socialism” implies dictatorship, while “capitalism” presumes democracy.
Their Cold War education serves them poorly.
Yes, it’s easy to name calamitous dictatorships, living and deceased, that proclaim socialist or communist commitments. But it’s just as easy to point to Europe, where democratic socialist parties and their descendants have been mainstream players in democratic politics for a century or longer.
The health care, welfare, and tax systems built by those parties have created societies with far greater equality, higher social mobility, and better health outcomes (at lower cost) than we enjoy here. These systems aren’t perfect, but to a significant degree they’re more democratic than our own.
But we don’t have to look abroad (or to Vermont) for a rich social democratic history.
Milwaukee mayor Daniel Hoan — one of several socialists to govern the city — served for 24 years, and built the country’s first public busing and housing programs. And ruby-red North Dakota is, even now, the only state in the country with a state-owned bank, thanks to a socialist-led government in the early 20th century. Today, dozens of elected socialists hold office at the state or municipal levels.
While plenty of socialists embraced democracy, plenty of capitalists turned to dictatorship.
In the name of fighting socialism during the Cold War, the U.S. trained and supported members of right-wing death squads in El Salvador, genocidal army units in Guatemala, and a Chilean military regime that disappeared or tortured tens of thousands of people while enacting “pro-market reforms.”
Only last year, the U.S. government was cheering a military coup against an elected socialist government in Bolivia. And in 2018, the Wall Street Journal praised far-right Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro, an apologist for the country’s old military regime, for his deregulation of business.
Even here at home, our capitalist “freedoms” have coexisted peacefully with racial apartheid, the world’s largest prison system, and the mass internment of immigrants and their children.
Sanders has been clear his socialist tradition comes from the social democratic systems common in countries like Denmark, with their provisions for universal health care and free college.
Should Matthews next wonder aloud if candidates who oppose Medicare for All or free college also support death squads, genocide, mass incarceration, or internment camps? If that sounds unfair, then so should the lazy fear mongering we get about “socialism.”
The sobering truth is that all political systems are capable of either great violence or social uplift. That’s why we need resilient social movements, whatever system we use — and why we’re poorly served by propaganda from any corner.
Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and editor of OtherWords.org.
This country would thrive under socialism. The capitalist society has run its coarse and proven to fail the people and only bemefit a few.
Economic Observer says
Point your Soviet flag in another direction. . Marxist attitude neglects the fact that production inputs are not homogeneous and therefore leads to inefficiency in determining the price of goods and services. As a result , this creates a transfer of wealth from one group to another without any measurement of input value. The end result is that any economic incentive to progress and innovate is diminished . We have a tax system that is supposed to manage the transfer of wealth. Bottom line, who is going to make the free lunch if no economic incentives exist.
Name (required) says
Who’d have thought that in only one month you’d support “free lunch” Solely by party affiliation. Lolol
As the old was goes “if walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”!
Greg Driscoll says
Anytime you take from the labor of one to give to another, it is wrong. While everyone is screaming for one payer health insurance, remember, Bernie Sanders was on the oversight committee that allowed hundreds of veterans to die while waiting for treatment through the VA
I just get tired of hearing free. There democrats are trying to buy the youths of America by offering free everything. What’s wrong for working for what you have? The younger Americans like free, May not like free when they finally realize, they are going to have to pay HIGH taxes to support all the free. Nothing is free, someone pays. My wife and I worked hard for everything we have. We paid for our education. I don’t want to pay for the free for everyone else. If the plans by Bernie ever happened, your federal tax rate would be like Europe, in the area of 60%. More corporations will move out of America. Nothing will be made here anymore. Not too much is made here anymore. America’s auto industry will never make vehicles here. Manufacturing will disappear, and be replaced with cheap pay service industries. I don’t thing they would like socialism once put in place. Look at where it failed. Not right fir America.
Name (required) says
It’s refreshing just one month later in life, not to hear so much emphasis on the “socialist democrat left.” Because well, we’re all in the same boat now.
Willy Boy says
Semantics aside, Bernie and the like are trying to buy votes by promising to forgive student loans, free healthcare for everyone, and whatever government giveaway they can imagine. Just might work.
Trailer Bob says
What next? “Socialism merely means that one is social”? Wow!
People listen to politicians when they describe what socialism is instead of doing research and educating themselves. If you are against socialism, then you disagree with some important, life saving gifts we have in this country.
Educate yourself on the truth, shocking as it may seem, but politicians are the masterclass of brainwashing. They want your vote. They want you to marginalize yourself and pit you against the “other” side, no matter what side you are on, D, R, or I. A united nation is a strong nation that will take up arms against tyranny and fight against an oppressive government. A divided nation is a weak nation and that’s where we stand right now. American is not great again, it hasn’t been great for quite some time because all we want to do is hate each other for our differences. We all, yes ALL have the same concerns, no matter if you are LGBTQ, straight, pro-life, pro-choice, pro-2nd amendment or against it. We all want to take care of our families. We all want health care. We all want good paying jobs. We all want to live our best lives possible. It’s not rocket science how awful politics is and how they keep up the narrative that the left and the right cannot get along because the left is one way and the right is another. Why? Why can’t both sides see the good in each other? Why does it matter what someone does with their own body? Their own life? How is it personally affecting how you live yours? This world makes zero sense as does all the hatred for one another. We all only have one life and it’s a short one. Instead of being miserable and hating everyone that is different, why not embrace that a higher being created all of us, the way we are, and love each other for those differences. The world would be a much happier, less volatile place if all we did was appreciate each other.
Just me says
SydTheKyd, you are spot on! Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful response. You are right about everything you said. I couldn’t have said it better.
Hey Peter, I see a lot of blame put on Republicans, but it I seem to be hearing an awful lot of DEMOCRAT voters saying the very same thing about Socialism. Perhaps you should look to the other side of the coun for once.
Name (required) says
Umm,‘your republicans are promising free paychecks for nothing, who’s liberal now. Oh, wait. You’re still behind it 100% lol. That’s funny stuff.
I don’t understand why people are so surprised by how young people are clamoring for Bernie Sander’s brand of pseudo-socialism. This is a generation that was raised to believe that they should be rewarded for excellence while only having to comply with the minimum efforts expected under a “pass/fail” system….in a culture where either everybody gets an award or nobody does. People tend to trend towards the expectations they were raised with.
A Concerned Observer says
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Is a slogan popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and constant seen in the company of other ducks, odds on bet that it’s a duck. A socialist is just a Communist that does not want the stigma of being a called Communist. Being a socialist is somehow perceived as being less offensive. Senator Bernie Sanders plans for redistribution of income and wealth can be called Socialism, Marxism, or Communism, depending entirely which term he believes will be the least negatively interpreted by the target readers. The United States is a capitalist country, governed by a representative democracy. “The Government” can give nothing to anyone without taking it away from someone else first. History proves without a shadow of doubt that governmental benefits given out without costs will be taken advantage of by those receiving them. I never went to college. My first several years of my married life were lean years. We worked, lived within our means and saved our money. Today, I am not what I would consider being rich, but we are comfortable. We got there by working and saving. I feel no empathy for those who expect an easy life handed to them without any work or sacrifice on their part and expecting a governmental handout because of their poor life choices. Everyone cannot afford a college education. Everyone cannot receive the good like handed to them. Well; “Life’s tough. It’s tougher when you’re stupid.”
William Moya says
Economic Observer, your first sentence proves the author’s gist, i.e. the red herring of socialism. While your presentation is accurate classic economic theory, you circumvent the fact that is a melange of the economics of the Firm (microeconomics) with the overall leading indicators (macroeconomics) intended to only measure precisely the ups and downs of what we have now oligopolistic competition. Socialism is not getting rid of markets which are inherent to human behavior , but to bring and rein in the impulses of the Firm and make them part of and work for benefit of society as a whole.
As to Agkistodron’s comment, alas, you’re right many Democrats believe that the way forward is to be a Republican with a smile, “kinder and gentler” vote for Bush.
Weldon Ryan says
Such idiotic assessments from the most brainwashed drones. You live with socialism everyday but yet you bring up Karl Marx and communist states. Unfortunately the majority of socialism goes to corporations because of laws passed by the politicians they keep in their pockets. Educate yourselves and stop propogating talking points from power hungry capitalists and politicians who sell their souls for money and votes. People stop listening to this bullshist and start voting for people that help your daily lives!
Socialism is as old as the hills. And it never stands the test of time.
“In Gallup polls, more millennial and Gen-Z respondents say they view “socialism” positively with each passing year, while their opinion of “capitalism” tumbles ever downward.”
IMO this just shows how poorly our government run education is doing on teaching what a great system capitalism has been in this republic. Not only for the People of this Republic but the whole world.
Excellent comment SydTheKid!
Unfortunately, those who have not be educated in the different socio-economic systems that exists in successful “first world” countries, mistakenly believe that Socialism is just Communism by another name. During my extensive travels and interactions with the citizens of Denmark, Sweden and Norway (you know, the country trump wants immigrants from), I found the “Democratic Socialism” system to be much more attuned to the “will of the people”. They generally have many referendums during the year in an effort to hear “DIRECTLY” from their citizens. Their governments are focused on the moral principles of the “Common Good”. That, to me, is Democracy in a much purer form than we have in the USA.
We are all now living in and experiencing the dark side of Capitalism. Simply too much of what was once was a good thing. The massive income disparity we have now was partly brought about by prejudice and suppression of those born less fortunate by skin color, family financial position, and education. Just how do you pull yourself up by your boot straps when your family can’t afford boots.
Unless and until we can come together and find our lost courage to stand up to those who have greatly weakened us by spreading fear and hate, I fear we will sink further into the dark morass of even greater cancer in the soul of our nation. Much to the delight of the likes of Limbaugh and Putin.
Just Me says
If the “socialism” of Denmark, Sweden and Norway and other like that are so GREAT why do we not see a flood of people from America going their who want that kind of economic/political system??
Lynn L Tobin says
Bernie Sanders calls himself a “Democratic Socialist”, so who are we to disagree? Bernie wants the inequality of income to be solved by taking from the workers who have the money and giving to those who do not. Classic! Just one problem. As Margaret Thatcher once said: “The problem with Socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money!!” Grasp this–Capitalism creates winners and losers. When there are huge groups of losers, as in Venezuela they vote for Socialism. What happens? The winners who have the money leave. The doctors & educated people leave and ditto anyone else who can. Result? Poverty, riots in the streets, hospitals with no doctors or medicines, since the corrupt rulers take the medicine to sell it. Here in the USA. There are more winners than losers. People who have good jobs and good healthcare and want to keep it that way. They will vote for Trump!! Those who know of the failed Socialist systems of Venezuela and Cuba will not vote for Bernie Sanders. Trump will bring in more blacks and hispanics than he did before, due to the lowest unemployment for these groups ever recorded in the USA. Bernie Sanders himself is just a loser who thinks he can push America into Socialism. Trump is a winner who will stop the importation of poverty on our Southern border, create lower unemployment and a great economy and Trump will bring in the former Democrats in the rust belt who know that Bernie will raise their taxes to pay for his fantasy. Remember: “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” That’s Socialism.
Mike Kelley says
“Socialism” is not a “Slur”. It is an ideology . It is up to each of us to consider the ramifications of that ideology and decide if it is our preferred future path. Personally, it is not for me, but we shall see where the majority stands at our upcoming election.
Trailer Bob says
Socialism, the day when we no longer have to use our brain or muscle to support ourselves. How did our county get so stupid and lazy? Nice try of an article thought. Thank God I am old enough to appreciate what we have today and how easy our lives are in the US. If you like socialism, why not move to a country that already has it…We will never embrace socialism and at the same time enjoy all the benefits and beauty of the United States of America. Please just go to where the other socialist already thrive.
Name (required) says
It’s here. And you now support it blindly. Well, because .. party. Lol. Hilarious.