I don’t watch commercial mainstream or cable news, but I do get snippets from them, both good and bad, through Alternet, Common Dreams, or some other news sources. The other day, I saw one with the usual pundits around a table talking about the news. The reason for presenting this snippet was to show John McCain’s daughter going off on a rant against socialism. That was no surprise, but preceding it was a question by Whoopi Goldberg about whether socialism was a threat to our democracy, a common confusion that I have written about before and will cover again now because there is good reason to believe that there will be widespread attempts to manipulate your vote by spreading fear that socialism will destroy our democracy.
First of all, pitting socialism against democracy is like pitting a shape against a color. An object can have any shape and any color. Socialism is an economic system and democracy is a political system. It’s easy to see how we came to believe that socialism and democracy are mutually exclusive. We are the birthplace of democracy and the most successful purveyors of capitalism. The Soviet Union was the first experiment in state socialism (Communism) and evolved a brutal autocracy.
We know, but have not actually admitted to ourselves, that democracy and socialism are completely compatible. Although we call ourselves a capitalist country, socialism is an integral and important tool in the proper functioning of our country. It is natural for roads, schools, libraries, utilities, police, and fire to be socialist in nature, although there are those that want to privatize many of these services. When we do that, we put profit ahead of general welfare, and that is not a good idea for services that all must use.
On the other side, Cuba in the 1960’s decided to commit totally to the socialist ideal and outlawed private enterprise. After years of trying to monitor all the needs of the country and to see that supplies met all demands, they have come around to see that only the independent decisions and actions of millions of people can efficiently supply and distribute goods and services. Russia and China have also realized this. In practice, we have demonstrated that capitalism and socialism are not mutually exclusive, but our Cold War mentality refuses to see it.
Politically, we have come to see that democracy is by far superior when we have the time to mull a decision. But in an emergency, we find that having a single decision maker is the best way to quick action. We also understand that private businesses need to make their own decisions, although we try to circumscribe the range of their actions to insure public safety and wellbeing. When the public loses the ability to control and regulate the overall impact of a business, our capitalism is no longer democratic. In fact, it is now capitalism, not socialism, that is the biggest danger to our democracy.
So, it was Bernie Sanders who popularized the idea of democratic socialism in the last election. More recently, it was the primary win of Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio Cortez over a powerful Democratic Party operative that has left some in the Democratic Party exuberant and some alarmed. I might add that establishment Republicans are also exuberant for the same reasons that establishment Democrats are alarmed. They both intend to convince you that democratic socialists are the same ilk as Soviet communists, that they intend to take away your democracy. You won’t find either of these establishment groups touting the virtues of prosperous modern socialist democracies found throughout Europe. They are playing on your programmed fear of Communists to get you to not vote for democratic socialists.
The reason that Bernie Sanders and Ocasio Cortez were so successful is that they ran on platforms that were righteous and fair. Majorities of both parties favor clean and transparent elections, elected reps accountable to the people, universal healthcare, extension of free education into the college level, a living wage, corporations paying their fair share of taxes, and an even playing field for small business. We have European countries less wealthy than us providing those services so we know it is feasible and practical.
As the millenials and beyond inherit the country, there will be fewer and fewer of us that are inoculated against socialism or capitalism. Socialist countries are introducing elements of capitalism, and, if we create a thriving democracy here, they may begin to become democratic as well. If we accept that socialism is a legitimate complement to capitalism and rebuild a robust democracy, we will be way ahead of the game.
The coming election in the fall will be a plebiscite on whether we want to be a just, egalitarian, democratic society or a fearful fascist state. It really is that significant and that is why it is very important that we get everybody we know out to vote. We will still have establishment leaders in charge but we will have a foot in the door.