When the Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991, Americans thought the Cold War was finally over. The epic struggle between totalitarian state control of the economy and democratic capitalism had been resolved, decisively in favor of the latter. Francis Fukuyama infamously heralded the “End of History.”
Fast forward a generation, and a self-described “democratic socialist” who honeymooned in the U.S.S.R. and supported political platforms copied from Soviet-aligned dictators is the odds-on favorite to win the presidential nomination of one of America’s two major political parties. Marxist ethnic studies programs are headed for California’s schools and the Democratic Socialists of America are infiltrating schools elsewhere. Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto receives a shout-out at the Oscars.
“Workers of the world, unite!” What is this, 1917?
America emerged victorious in the half-a-decade Cold War struggle, but it may have experienced a far more consequential defeat: a loss of internal confidence and inspiration. While the U.S.S.R. has been consigned to the dustbin of history (good riddance), its ideological program has thoroughly infected the U.S.A.
The Soviets tried to plant communists in many U.S. institutions, and the far-left drift of Hollywood and academia may trace back to their efforts. Influential academics like Howard Zinn have redefined American history, demonizing the Founders by focusing on the evils of slavery and neglecting the unique historic achievements of Western and American civilization: freedom, science, free markets, and a degree of prosperity unknown in the history of the world.
That prosperity cannot be taken for granted. Human history is replete with poverty and tyranny, not to mention horrific human rights abuses like slavery and human sacrifice. The slow progress of Western civilization, fitful though it has been, produced nothing short of a miracle when it comes to increased living standards. Clean running water, electricity, refrigerators and microwaves, washers and dryers, air conditioning, the internet — all of these and more would have been incomprehensible just four generations back, and socialism would put all this freedom and progress at risk.
The 20th century was replete with warnings of this devastation. Totalitarian state power brought about the deaths of millions. While Adolf Hitler directly killed 12 million in the Holocaust, Joseph Stalin killed between 18 and 45 million when his plans to remake the Soviet economy led to devastating famines. China’s Mao Zedong was responsible for an estimated 50-80 million deaths, partly through the deadliest famine in history. Stalin and Mao caused the deaths of millions in the name of helping the lower class and upending the oppressors.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is likely to win the New Hampshire primary and came in a close second in the Iowa caucuses, supported Soviet-style policies for America during the Cold War. He said he didn’t mind being called a communist (although he very much minds now). He infamously honeymooned in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and worked with various Marxist political parties during his time as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He endorsed Socialist Workers Party candidates for president in the 1980s when that party was pointing to Soviet-aligned countries like Nicaragua and Cuba as inspirations for U.S. policy. His support for this party prompted an FBI investigation.
Even liberals like MSNBC host Chris Matthews have warned against Sanders’ socialism by noting the executions of political dissidents in Cuba. The Bernie bros wanted Matthews fired for this high heresy. How dare he question the Dear Leader?!
Bernie Sanders is no Stalin, and he is no Mao, but he does want government control over the economy. Sanders wants a Green New Deal to prevent some environmental armageddon or whatever — funny how the predicted disasters stubbornly fail to take place. Sanders claims his plan to remake the economy in the name of sustainability and justice would cost $16.3 trillion, but there are reasons to believe the true cost would be far higher. A Heritage Foundation study found that taxing the rich at 100 percent would not come close to footing the bill for the Green New Deal and Sanders’ Medicare for All.
What does the well-intentioned Sanders do when he fails to raise the needed funds to remake the economy? If the socialist succeeds at getting his plans through Congress — a dubious proposition at best — he will have to enforce them. After he has bled the rich dry and driven whole industries out of business, how does he pay the workers providing his supposedly “free” education and health care?
Bernie’s programs aren’t unworkable because Trump will brand them “communist” — with some good reason. They are unworkable because the thriving economy America now enjoys is not sustainable under government control. No one human being can manage a $19 trillion economy. Only free markets — made accountable by the rule of law and kept free by limits on government — can foster the complex interactions necessary for a thriving economy. The markets are not entirely free even now, but Sanders represents an existential threat to the underlying system.
If Bernie Sanders were to win the Democratic primary, defeat Donald Trump in November, and somehow cajole Congress and the Supreme Court to go along with his radical proposals, he would seriously undermine America’s freedom and prosperity. He would effectively reverse the victory in the Cold War, giving America to the Soviets.
The Cold War was not about military conquest; it was a clash of worldviews. America’s goal was not to militarily conquer the Soviet Union but to bring economic and political freedom to Russia. Russia’s goal was not to invade the streets of New York and Washington but to bring communism to the U.S.A.
In one sense, the Soviets very clearly lost the Cold War. Freedom broke the Soviet Union, even though its markets and government leave much freedom to be desired. Meanwhile, communism made inroads in the U.S.A. If Bernie prevails, that old Soviet slogan shouted on stage at the Oscars may come to define the American government, giving the Soviets the victory they always wanted.
“Workers of the world, Unite!”
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.