Is “Democratic Socialism” Different Than Plain Old Socialism

I hate to keep harping on this topic and hopefully I won’t have to as Bernie Sanders becomes less and less likely to win the Democratic nomination. It is quite apparent that many people, mostly under 35, think that “Democratic Socialism” is a new thing, maybe a more compassionate and modern take on the socialism of old that has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of people in the last century. Maybe the Bernie Sanders socialism takes all the good things out and throws away all the bad things? Let’s just see about that.

As a comparison between old world socialism and Bernie Sanders socialism, I’ll use the 1936 Constitution of the U.S.S.R. and various parts of BernieSander.com and other Bernie Sanders websites. If you remember in my previous blog on socialism, I explained the difference between capitalism and socialism. I think it’s only fair to point out that socialism is not inherently evil. It is a political system devised with the best intentions, I’m sure. Socialism advocates for the very poor people that, in the end, suffer at its hands. This is because of a very simple principle, as it turns out. The cornerstone of freedom and prosperity is the right to own things. Sounds simple right? How can you pin 100 million deaths due to starvation and mass murder on the right to own things? Well, in socialism, the cornerstone of the philosophy, what really makes it work is that individuals can’t own anything. The state allows citizens to own personal property, like their clothes and maybe a home, but stuff you would use to make money, called the means of production, including your building, machinery and all the other things you would need to run a business, are owned by the workers and more generally, the government. It stands to reason that if an individual can’t own the means of production, then they can’t really own anything.

That’s a bold claim. So how can I say that? Well, take a quick look. I think we would all agree that we own our own bodies right? My thoughts, what I’m good at, nobody can take away. So far so good, I hope. I also own my time, because I can choose to use my time here on earth however I choose. Good, bad or ugly. Let’s take that a step further and say when I trade my time, thoughts or talents for things like money or food, I also own those things I gain in the trade. Stated differently, if I trade my time by working, for money, since I own my time, I then must also own the money. By this logic, I can also truly own things by trading that money which I own for other things which I must also own. So far I don’t think many people would disagree with me. Even the Soviet Constitution agrees with me so far. Here’s where I must depart from socialism, and why in that system a person really doesn’t own anything.

This is a line of logic based on the socialist system:

  • I buy a home. Do I own it? Yes
  • I buy a printing press. Do I own it? Yes
  • I buy a typewriter. Do I own it? Yes
  • I start a home based newspaper with myself as the sole employee. Do I own it? Yes
  • Sales increase and I need help, so I hire a few employees. Do I still own my business? No, the employees take ownership of the means of production.
  • Do I still own the typewriters? No, they are part of the business.
  • Do I still own the printing press? No, they are part of the business.
  • Do I still own the home? No, it is part of the business.
  • If I purchased those things with money I gained by trading my time and talent, how can I say I own my time and talent? I can’t.
  • If I don’t own my time and talent, do I own myself? No

With this simple illustration you can see that in a socialist system you not only can’t own things, you don’t own yourself. Your time, talents and treasures are effectively owned by the state government. In socialism the collective group is more important than the individual. This system is enforced by workers unions and cooperatives that are organized by the state. These entities take ownership away from the person who started the business and give it to the workers in those unions and cooperatives. The state dictates the wages based on the income of the business to ensure everyone gets an equal share. This is outlined in the Soviet Constitution I linked to above in the section about “The organization of Society“. Just to recap, in the old socialist system the government, through unions and cooperatives takes over your business, dictates your wages and hours worked by the employees.

What about Bernie Sanders? Well in fact, he absolutely does believe in union and cooperative employee ownership of business. Dictated through government mandates. He absolutely does believe in government dictated wages for employees. Under the guise of income inequality, a socialist mantra, he proposes to steal from the rich and give to the poor, dictate the minimum wage, which is arbitrarily set by government bureaucrats. Class warfare, pitting the rich against the poor, is a classic socialist tactic. Bernie calls the rich the 1% and the poor the 99%, in the old socialist system they called the rich the bourgeoisie and the poor the proletariat. Same exact thing. Create a boogeyman to fight, divide the people, making it easier to control everyone.

How did the old socialist system deal with the needs of the people? In chapter X of the Soviet Constitution, it outlines the “Fundamental Right and Duties of Citizens“. This is mostly a list of positive rights, with a few negative rights thrown in at the end: freedoms of speech, press, assembly and street processions and demonstrations. The positive rights include: the right to a job, leisure time (set workday and paid vacations), free healthcare and social security, free education from elementary to college and vocational school, paid maternity leave for women along with free daycare for their children and the right to join trade unions and cooperative associations.

If any of that sounds familiar, that’s because you have heard it before. Bernie Sanders thinks you have the right to a job, free healthcare and social security, free education from elementary to college, 12 weeks of paid maternity leave for women and expand public unions and grow cooperative businesses.

In chapter X of the Soviet Constitution, not only did they outline workers’ rights, but also the duties they were expected to perform. This is crucial to socialism. Everyone likes the rights because they benefit, but in the end the state has to have a way to provide all those benefits and therefor has to require that the citizens do their part. In the case of 1936 Soviet Union people were required to work, unemployment was illegal. If you did not have a job, a job would be designated to you. If you don’t work, you are an enemy of the state. Military service is mandatory, if you do not serve you are an enemy of the state. If you break any rules, you are an enemy of the state. You have freedom of speech, but if you speak out against the state, you are an enemy of the state. There is freedom of the press, but the state controls the press. There is freedom of assembly, which is state controlled. This is the ugly part of socialism, the part Bernie Sanders won’t tell you about. Without the Capitalist notion of competition and market incentives, a void is created that can only be filled by force.

This is the downfall of socialism and why it has never really worked anywhere it has been tried. It all stems from ownership of things. When a person does not own things, that person does not care as much about those things as when they do own them. Think about things in your life. Do you treat public restrooms as nicely as you treat your own bathroom at home? If you have rented a car, do you care as much about that car as you do your own? When you win a gift card in a contest do you spend that money as wisely as you spend your hard earned money? If you are honest, the answers are all probably no. That does not make you a bad person, just a bad socialist. There has been no system in the history of the world that has propelled people into health, happiness and prosperity like capitalism has. This is because capitalism gets around the problem of incentive by acknowledging the natural right to ownership. When you own it, you have an incentive to take care of it. As we drift closer and closer to a socialist state, we will also go the way of the old Soviet Union.

At the very least, you can at least now see that there is very little, if any, difference between the Democratic Socialism proposed by Bernie Sanders and that of WW2 era Soviet Union. To be fair to Bernie, he’s not the only one with this ideology. He’s just honest enough to admit it. Always vote for freedom.