Ron Radosh

Bernie Sanders' Concept of Socialism Is Getting More Popular

Bernie Sanders will not win the Democratic Party nomination. Nevertheless, he has already scored a victory by making socialism popular with Americans, especially young ones. This despite the fact that it is a social system that has failed wherever it has been tried.

There are many reasons for this. In CommentaryBen Domenech provides a comprehensive guide to them. He also writes:

[T]he opposition to socialism in America has drifted downward.

A 2015 Gallup poll showed that 35 percent of the American populace views socialism favorably.

People are responding favorably to all the freebies Sanders offers — free college, low taxes for most (yet very high taxes for the wealthy), and universal free medical care for all. No wonder Gallup found that 69 percent of Americans age 18-29 would have no trouble voting for an avowedly socialist candidate.

Of course, these young Americans know little about the totalitarian socialist regimes that ended with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Now the Obama administration is doing its best to legitimize one of the few left standing — the Castro brothers’ Cuba. Venezuela is a basket case after the collapse of oil prices, but only those young Americans who are looking for such information will discover the root cause: the late Hugo Chavez’s socialist utopia.

Sanders repeats his mantra wherever he goes: our enemy is Wall Street and the greedy banks that should be broken up; inequality is worse than ever while the rich just get richer; free universal health care. The programs he advocates are presented as simply being extensions of what we already have. If the aged population can have Medicare … shouldn’t we all have it?

Sanders says that Obama failed to reach his decent goals only because he didn’t go socialist enough, and that he — not Hillary Clinton — is the only candidate willing to do so.

Are conservatives indirectly to blame for this? For a long time, many argued that Barack Obama is a socialist. Jonah Goldberg once wrote a cover story for Commentary asking: “What Kind of a Socialist is Barack Obama?” Well, perhaps lots of people said to themselves: “We like Obama. If he’s a socialist, I’m on board.” Domenech adds:

[B]y applying an unpopular label to a relatively popular agenda, Republicans may have unintentionally aided the work of a thousand left-wing professors in a thousand state colleges.

Bernie, of course, calls himself a “democratic socialist,” and he has publicly said his concept of socialism is not that of the former Communist dictatorships. Since he argues that victory should be achieved through the ballot box, many who oppose him see his form of socialism as perhaps a nuisance, but not a threat. Now, Sanders is trying to spread his appeal to the same white working-class voters who now support Trump. Indeed, in many areas, Sanders and Trump hold the same views.

Sanders, like Trump, opposes the Pacific Rim free trade agreement, favors protective tariffs, opposes immigration reform, and calls for immigration restriction. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who supports Ted Cruz, acknowledges that Sanders’ “immigration position is closer to mine than it is to some of the presidential candidates on the Republican side.”

Recently, Sanders’ older brother Larry threw a wrench into his claim that he is a democratic socialist.

The two are very close, and have had long talks about his campaign. In an interview with Nico Hines that appeared in The Daily Beast, Larry Sanders emphasized that if Bernie reached the White House, he would do what he thought right even if Congress and his own party disapproves. “He’ll flex his muscles.”

Obama’s use of executive power would be pinpricks compared to what Bernie would attempt. Those opposing him would face protests, marches, and primary challenges if they didn’t adopt Bernie’s clearly socialist programs. Larry went on to say that his brother is certainly not more moderate that the extremist head of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn:

Bernard is a genuine socialist in his sense of class warfare — that he thinks there is not a national interest so much as there is an interest with sectors of the population. In that sense, his passion and the sense of conflict between the major owners and the rest of the population is very socialist — as socialist as Corbyn.

Larry also noted that Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party arranged for Britain’s largest trade union to let Bernie’s supporters use their headquarters free of charge.

Given this information, one might ask: aside from winning the White House, what exactly is Bernie’s agenda and how will he and his followers advance it? We know that they are far to the left of Hillary and the mainstream Democrats, and have nothing but disdain for Bill Clinton and his once popular “New Democrats” who were affiliated with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and for the Britain of Tony Blair, who tried to steer Labour away from its traditional Marxist roots.

The answer may be found in a slim book — Socialism and America — written by the late social-democratic intellectual Irving Howe. He always said “socialism is the name of our desire,” but he urged being practical and working with liberals — as “progressives” called themselves back then — to pass programs both could support.

In his book, Howe argued that for socialism to survive and grow, it would have to be a “partial ally of a liberalism.” He said socialists and liberals shared many objectives, and the socialists should argue that they seek only to “extend and thereby fulfill traditional liberal goals by moving toward” something akin to socialism. They cannot, he warned, act morally righteous and avoid “mundane politics,” but must “adapt to the realities of the American political system without succumbing to a small-souled pragmatism or a hermetic moralism.”

It is Hillary, we see, who tries to score points saying she is the skillful pragmatist. That no longer works with those in Bernie’s new socialist movement.

Indeed, Howe hoped that a half-century later, a strong socialist movement could guide the welfare state towards a real socialist transformation. In Howe’s concept of democratic socialism, private property would not be abolished, there would be no “complete transformation of humanity” which he knew would lead to both “terror and apathy,” yet the “means of production” would be “collectively or socially owned.”

In a nutshell, this is the very program adopted by Bernie Sanders.

In Howe’s vision, first socialists should work for reforms; i.e., civil rights, women’s rights, racial equality, goals which liberals and socialists agree upon. Next, socialists should call for “structural reforms” such as “tax proposals aiming at a gradual redistribution of income and wealth,” and finally, they should move on to challenging the relation of power and property, especially “corporate control of the investment process.”

Sounds like Bernie Sanders to me.

Unlike Sanders, Howe was smart enough to realize that some actions might alienate the middle class, and that high tax increases would lead to capital flight. A new socialist government would have to move slowly and be committed to “capital growth.” But in the end, Howe’s goal was to end what he called the “morally repulsive … maldistribution of wealth and income” in the United States, which is “socially unjust.” It was to ultimately achieve the “egalitarian ideal.”

Or, as we might call it, equality of outcome instead of equality of opportunity.

This is why the remnant of Howe and Harrington’s organization, Democratic Socialists of America, endorsed Bernie Sanders, and is in the forefront of providing activists to work for his campaign.

In the end, Bernie’s dream will not work. Even left-liberal economists like Paul Krugman, having reviewed Bernie’s economic proposals, call them unworkable, nutty fantasies that could do great damage.

Bernie’s supporters ignore such advice, and continue to gain momentum among the miseducated young whose college professors have prepared them to be cadre in Bernie’s movement.

Ironically, when Bernie is asked what his model is for a socialist society, he points to Denmark. When he heard this, the prime minister of Denmark made the following statement:

While speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the center-right Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he was aware “that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism.”

“Therefore,” he said, “I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

Rasmussen acknowledged that “the Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security to its citizens,” but he also noted that it is “a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish.”

Perhaps Bernie Sanders should stop taking Irving Howe’s judgments and listen to the people who really know something about the follies of socialism.