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A Progressive’s Guide To Socialism

A Progressive’s Guide To Socialism
Image by Matt Johnson

So many of my “progressive” friends are in favor of socialism these days. Getting free stuff sounds great. Getting health care at a low cost seems terrific. Free schooling, free housing, free medical care… what’s not to like? When I talk about capitalism and free markets, they blanch. Even though most of my friends are hard-working, university-educated, upper middle-class people, they dismiss capitalism as “failing” and free markets as “needing corrections” to “make things fair for everyone.” Of course, the entity that they want to make these corrections is the government. Despite their bitching about the DMV or the US Post Office or the IRS or the US Patent Office or City Hall or Congress or the President, they somehow still want the government to regulate everything.

So if you’re a progressive (and if you are, you’ve probably stopped reading by now because you know I’m a right-wing nut job who is about to explode all your assumptions about the world), I’d like to put socialism into context, both historically and philosophically. If you’re now too angry to read this article, at least read the final section. It’s something you always fail to consider, and it’s my most important point.

Socialism is Communism

Socialism is communism and vice versa. Anyone who says differently is wrong. In the mid Nineteenth Century, Karl Marx, the father of communism, saw systematic corruption and injustice against the poor and working-class people in modern, capitalist German society.  Sound familiar? Marx was born into a middle-class family and, together with the very successful businessman (i.e. capitalist) Friedrich Engels, formulated a society where the means of industrial production would be publicly owned and operated for the benefit of all. Every person in this communist society would reap the benefits equally. There would be no rich and no poor, but an egalitarian community. Marx and Engels summed up their noble goal in the now well-known motto, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

How does that differ from socialism? It doesn’t. Not one bit. When someone tells you, “This is socialism, that was communism,” they’re either uninformed (to state it nicely) or purposely fooling you. Socialism equals communism. Communism just got a bad rap because it failed so miserably, allowed murderous dictators to come to power, and made the rich poor and the poor poorer. Some politician trying to sell communism needed to rebrand it. So, they called it socialism.

There’s no Such Thing as Democratic Socialism

When political candidates like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez say they’re not socialists but “democratic socialists,” what does that mean? It means they’re socialists. And communists. Ask them to define “democratic socialist.” They can’t, never have, and will never be able to. Democracy is a political system. Socialism is an economic system. They have nothing to do with each other. It’s like me saying I’m not a Jew, I’m an American Jew. Adding an unrelated title to something doesn’t change it.

And by the way, socialist countries have elections. They just don’t mean much. Hitler came to power through elections. The Soviet Union had “Soviet democracy.” Cuba has elections. Venezuela has elections. The problem is that when the government is in control, the citizens don’t really have much choice about whom to vote for.

Sweden is not Socialist

Many “democratic socialists” and other progressives point to Sweden as the example of a socialist utopia. There’s only one problem. Sweden is not socialist.  In the 70s and 80s, Sweden experimented with limited socialism in the form of a government that raised taxes and spent large amounts on the general welfare of its citizens. But the Swedish economy started to crumble. Inflation soared to 10 percent. Interest rates climbed to 500 percent. The Swedish people decided to put an end to the failing socialist experiment. The Swedish government cut spending, privatized the national railroads, sold state-owned businesses, and lowered taxes. While Sweden does have a comprehensive welfare system and higher taxes than the U.S., it relies on free market principles and private ownership of businesses to succeed. When I talk to economists from Sweden, they get angry about the American politicians who call Sweden socialist. Swedes are proud of their capitalist success story.

Only One Socialist Country in History Has Ever Not Become Totalitarian

In the history of the planet, there has only been one country that has implemented socialism without becoming a totalitarian state. In a socialist state, government has ultimate control and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Why do my “progressive” friends complain about politicians abusing power (specifically Republicans but once in a while they complain about Democrats too) and yet they want to give total power to politicians?

The State of Israel was created in 1948 by idealist Jews from around the world. They had seen the failures of socialism but were still drawn to its egalitarian principles. Every other country had imposed socialism on its population, and that required a revolution in most cases. But Israel was being born from scratch (technically reborn) and so the Israeli pioneers felt they could build the perfect socialist system from the ground up. They formed communities or “kibbutzim” that applied the socialist principles perfectly. It seemed like a paradise, and no dictators ever took hold in Israel. The government did not oppress its people. However, the Israeli economy was a horrible mess. By the mid-80s, inflation was 445% per year. That’s not a typo. I remember those days. There was a great influx of Israeli engineers and entrepreneurs into Silicon Valley who had the intelligence, education, and experience to be successful in America but could barely survive had they stayed in Israel.

While government controls in the 90s helped somewhat, Israel’s economy was still stagnating. In 2003, Benjamin Netanyahu became Minister of Finance. He put in place an economic plan that shrunk a bloated public sector, cut government regulations, reduced welfare dependency, slashed the size of government, and froze government spending. He cut taxes, privatized businesses including banks, oil refineries, and the El Al airline. In other words, he turned the socialist “paradise” into a free-market, competitive capitalist society that is now seen as one of the most vibrant economies in the world. Once again, socialism had failed, but this time without the normal horrible consequences.

Slavery is the Ultimate Socialism

Where does socialism lead? It leads to a society where everyone has housing, everyone has medical care, everyone has a guaranteed livelihood, and everyone is miserable because no one has freedom. Everything has a price, and the price for socialism is the loss of freedom. Slavery is the ultimate socialism. With socialism, everyone is a slave to the government, which decides how much you should earn, what you should do, and how much medical care you receive. None of these benefits are good. None of them make life enjoyable. Ask anyone who came to America from a socialist country—an actual socialist country like Venezuela, Cuba, China, or the former Soviet Union. These are not places full of happy people.

And what you get is not even close to what the poorest people in our current society get. Let’s look at medical care in a place like the United Kingdom. I’ve traveled the world and heard many horror stories about medical care in socialist countries. But let’s look at a first-world, civilized country that implemented socialized medicine. In the UK, you cannot get extraordinary health care. By that I mean that if your child is dying of a disease that requires a large amount of money to treat, you’ll have to bury your child. The government won’t pay and, what’s more, you can’t pay for it either. I mean it’s illegal because all must be equal in a socialist society, even a democratic one and if someone attempts to get something that others can’t afford, that person must be restrained. And punished. Sound like a George Orwell novel? It’s not.

In 2015, five-year-old Ashya King was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Britain’s National Health Service refused to cover the expensive treatment for Ashya that could save his life, and under a socialized medical system, there is no alternative. So Ashya’s parents took him to Spain where the treatment was available. What happened next? Ashya’s parents were arrested by the British government. Because of the horrible worldwide backlash, the British government relented and released the parents and allowed Ashya to continue his treatment in Spain. Ashya is now cured, despite Britain’s socialized medicine. How would you handle such a situation if your loved ones were denied treatment and jailed? What if it were your life on the line? 

Be Careful What You Wish For

My wife Carrie was at a showing of her artwork when one of the attendees came up to her and began chatting. Probably back problems and surgeries came up. Carrie has had a couple of back surgeries and maybe they were comparing notes. This was in California where most people are “progressive” Democrats and assume that if you’re an educated person, you must be too. The woman began extolling the advantages we will all have when the government eventually runs the healthcare system. Donald Trump had recently been elected, so the woman added, “Of course, not this government.”

And that is the whole problem with the short-sightedness of the people who want government-run medical care. To all my progressive friends out there, I’ll ask a few simple questions. When Bernie Sanders or some other “democratic socialist” wins the presidency and institutes single-payer, government-run health care, what if the next president is an anti-vaxer who decides that the government shouldn’t spend money on “dangerous” vaccines. What if Congress decides that cutting-edge treatments for cancer are too expensive? And do you actually think that no Republican will ever again take the office of President of the United States? Because when the next Republican takes office, and possibly with a Republican Senate and House, they might just cut funding for abortion. Will you still think that government-run health care was a good idea?

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2 comments

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John March 7, 2020 at 8:27 am

Spot on! Personal freedon has always been the key motivation to drive individuals to success. Together with Christianity or other religion that preaches love, rather than hate, freedom and love have always been the fundamental essence that make a society prosperous and harmonious. Never believe in any other way!

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Steven Boyd March 8, 2020 at 6:15 am

SO many things wrong in this article. I’m just responding on the fly here, off the top of my head, so I’m not really gonna address everything thoroughly but Medicare for All is not govt run healthcare, it’s govt *funded* health *insurance*. We already have in our current healthcare system what Bernie & progressives are proposing & it works fine–it’s called Medicare. All Bernie is going to do is expand it to cover everyone, not just seniors, and include all necessary treatments with eye & dental care. Britain’s NHS *is* govt run healthcare so their system is very different from what ours would be. And trust me, as both Dems & Repubs have learned, once you implement a universal social safety net like social security & Medicare, it gets very hard to mess with cuz it ends up being very popular among constituents on both sides. If we have Medicare for All, I can almost guarantee you, many politicians will find it hard to touch going forward. Finally, everyone’s throwing around labels like socialist, democratic socialist, communist, etc. Who cares! We waste time arguing what each other means according to these labels that can be interpreted differently by each person without actually addressing what EXACTLY we’re talking about. Bernie wants to implement Medicare for All, tuition-free public college (paid for by wall street speculation), and reinvest in public infrastructure with a focus on energy efficiency & sustainability to combat climate change. Aside from Medicare 4 all, taxes will mainly go up for the super wealthy & corporations to pay for all this. Whatever label you want to throw at Bernie or the progressive movement, THIS is EXACTLY what we’re talking about. So instead of hiding behind an argument about labels to scare us against progressivism by disingenuously linking the label of democratic socialism to communist Russia, Nazi Germany & Venezuela, why don’t you make a more ACTUAL case–a more INFORMED argument by explaining HOW EXACTLY implementing the policies that I just discussed will lead *our* country, with its representative democracy & 3 branches of checks & balances, to turn into communist Russia or Venezuela. How?? Please enlighten me.

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