Luke-David Boswell | United Kingdom
Only two decades ago, any mention of ‘socialism’ in American politics as a potential governing ideology would have been met with extreme backlash and cries that communism had come to destroy America. However, in modern times (at least among younger generations), the stigma surrounding socialism has largely evaporated with a University of Chicago survey finding that from a pool of 18-to-34-year-old Democrats, 61% “expressed favorable views towards Socialism.” One Gallup poll from a few months later also reported that more Democrats hold “positive views” of socialism than of capitalism, at 57% versus 47%. Compare this to the post-World War II era where, for example, only 15% of Americans wanted to see the country “go more in the direction of socialism”, according to a 1949 Gallup poll.
Why the Shift?
This new shift in favor of socialism in America could be boiled down to the essential need for a radical change in politics after the once inconceivable idea of a President Donald Trump became a reality. Many Americans are currently finding their voices in politicians like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Julia Salazar, who are seen to argue for the working class and those without the ability to speak up. All three are associated with Democratic Socialism, especially Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar, who belong to the Democratic Socialists of America.
Despite being written off as a joke in politics, the party membership had leapfrogged from only 6,000 to nearly 50,000 people in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. This was largely because of political figures like Sanders, whose ‘radical’ views promoted a new way of doing politics and a credible alternative choice for those tired of the controversies of both Republicans and Democrats.
With the reintroduction of socialism into America, there comes confusion and ignorance in relation to the objectives of democratic socialism and exactly what it means to be a democratic socialist. Upon hearing the dreaded s-word, people tend to link it to the totalitarian dictatorship of the USSR, a fake socialist country hiding behind the word to achieve the government’s own goal of a single party for a single state, with no other options. In reality, the USSR was a Communist state, an ideology which democratic socialism opposes entirely, hence the ‘democratic’.
However, due to the moral panic caused by the anti-Soviet propaganda of the Cold War, socialism couldn’t take off in America, thanks to being labeled with the red brush of Communism despite vehemently disagreeing with the USSR’s practices. From one perspective, the view of socialism relating to the USSR and the Cold War remains in the USA as a deterrent from understanding the benefits. People may even say that someone can’t believe in both democracy and socialism, but the two go hand in hand perfectly.
What Does It Mean to Be a Democratic Socialist?
Essentially, democratic socialism is socially responsible, ethical capitalism. It means affordable education, healthcare for all, and a suitable living wage, whilst still spending money on anything we choose. Those who follow democratic socialism believe in a moral, yet wealthy America; an America where no person is too poor to live. Yet, Republicans and Democrats constantly attack the ideology, trying to ‘rein’ in its speakers. Trying to silence anyone with a socialist viewpoint, like the “Communist Control Act” under President Eisenhower, is a direct breach of the 1st Amendment and, no matter how radical the belief, a person shouldn’t be silenced for their opinion.
One of the main missions for the democratic socialists in the USA is to achieve free education and healthcare. As someone from the UK, where both of these systems are open to every person in our society, it astounds me as to how some members of the right, particularly in Trump’s administration, can argue against universal healthcare when the introduction of the NHS system in the UK has led to equality. The idea that someone has to pay for a physical injury or mental help is incomprehensible to me.
Although the NHS has had troubles with funding recently, these issues are down to the conservative government, who want to see the return of privatization. During the years of the socialist Labour government (who introduced the NHS), the system ran efficiently and most importantly assured the poorest that they wouldn’t be in debt to the government for their own misfortune.
The Failure of the Opponents of Democratic Socialism
Opponents of democratic socialism in the USA seem to counter points with the state of the nation in Venezuela. In arguments that I’ve had with individuals who have different ideologies, this has been a response word for them whenever I mention socialism. Opponents citing any governments run by a dictator, where the seizure of private property occurs only shows how misunderstood democratic socialism is. The cry of Venezuela is immediately supposed to invalidate socialism, as a corrupt system that looks good on paper but in practice, fails on its promises. I point to a quote from The Guardian which sums up the argument: ‘Republicans go completely Caracas at mere mention of the s-word’.
The comparison between the potential for democratic socialism in one of the richest countries in the world and a ‘socialist’ third world country, that has always struggled economically is incredibly stupid. Any comparison with a leading country like the USA is unwarranted, as a socialist system being implemented in a third world country without infrastructure, is a key to disaster, but a socialist system in a first world country is proven to succeed. Notably, in the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Finland. These countries are models for democratic socialism in the world and are among the places with the highest quality of life.
Another view of democratic socialists is that the rich must be taxed exceedingly higher than they are currently. The taxing of the rich, in order to achieve a just and equal society, is a must. Any mention of further taxing seems to make the people on the right believe that if in power, socialists would forcibly take all wealth from the rich. This is simply not true, only higher taxing, which the rich can afford (whilst still living in mansions, sipping wine) would be implemented. Chiefly, a 70% top marginal income tax rate would be put into law, which would not only benefit society as a whole but also not decrease the quality of life for the rich. Meghan McCain screeching on The View at any mention of democratic socialism really shows how terrified Republicans are of the notion that they’ll rightly get forced to pay extra taxes if they’re substantially richer than the average population. This system results in the rich still being wealthy but the wealth gap closing, with the poor being given a better chance at success.
Looking at the beginning of democratic socialism in the USA, it can be traced back to those who wanted to incorporate the interests of the women’s movement, civil rights movement, gay rights movements and other social movements born in the 60s into a single cause. In fact, the founder of the Democratic Socialists of America, Michael Harrington became one of Martin Luther King’s informal advisors after they met on a picket line protesting the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, and he advised the civil rights leader on writing the manifesto for the Poor People’s Campaign.
The combination of these movements and economic fairness is central to a democratic socialist, with a summary of items on their agenda being:
- labor reform
- pro-union policies
- tuition-free public universities and trade schools
- universal healthcare
- federal jobs programs
- fair taxation that closes loopholes that the wealthiest citizens have discovered
- taxes on the rich and corporations to pay for social welfare programs
- reducing classism within society
- eliminating the threat of price fixing
- equality in society
- reducing the threat of economic cycles
- efficient economy, with the input of the people
- increased room for value judgments, not based on finances
One of the keys to understanding democratic socialism is, instead of focusing on private profit or an attitude that rewards those who are able to survive, the focus should be on a humane vision where everyone has the chance to share their view and contribute.
In the UK, openly socialist Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn visits colleges where queues of people await him and is the most followed political leader in the UK, despite not being in power. This, I predict, will soon change on the next election and the world will have one more socialist country. Perhaps, in another two or three elections, a Democratic Socialist may be the leader of the USA. At the rate in which the popularity of Sanders, Salazar, and Ocasio-Cortez is increasing, it isn’t an impossibility. Nothing seems impossible after Donald Trump.
List of Notable Figures Who Support Democratic Socialism
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York)
Bernie Sanders (Vermont)
Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts)
Carolyn Maloney (New York)
Julia Salazar (New York)
James Thompson (Kansas)
Sarah Smith (Washington)
Summer Lee (Pennsylvania)
Sara Innamorato (Pennsylvania)
Elizabeth Fiedler (Pennsylvania)
Kristin Seale (Pennsylvania)
46 Democratic Socialists won their primaries in 2018.
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