So, what’s the difference between democratic socialism and communism?
Usually, five to 10 years.
Seriously, though, this question comes up a lot in the age of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Many younger people seem to think democratic socialism means all the liberty and prosperity we enjoy today, plus a bunch of free stuff. Indoctrinated young people are led to believe that the only changes in their lives under socialism would be the addition of free college, free health care, lots of public housing, guaranteed pensions, and generous welfare programs. Sweden, Germany, and Norway are the oft-cited examples of the benefits of a welfare state.
Small government advocates will retort that the amount of taxation and regulation required to maintain this kind of system will stifle innovation and entrepreneurialism, strangle growth and job creation, and drive most of us into poverty—Venezuela is the current fashionable example.
The term “democratic socialism” is often used interchangeably with socialism. The purists, though, will condescendingly explain that the qualifier “democratic” distinguishes democratic socialism from the admittedly tyrannical Marxist–Leninist variety of socialism, popularly known as communism.
Some on the left, especially those from America’s largest Marxist organization, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), will tell you that this will never happen on their watch. We’ll stay “democratic”—they say—all major decisions will come to a vote. We’ll introduce widespread “workplace democracy.” They will point to the stability of Scandinavian countries for their evidence of a model welfare state. “We’ll never let the United States turn into Venezuela, or Cuba, or Bulgaria, or Hungary, or the Soviet Union, or the People’s Republic of China, or the Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany), or the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea),” they assure us.
As an often quoted saying goes, “Any country with ‘democratic’ in its name, isn’t.”
Most young democratic socialists probably sincerely believe they are working toward a freer, prosperous, more equitable society with a mix of public, private, and co-operative ownership. They acknowledge the need for greater taxes (such as Ocasio-Cortez’s 70 percent on “billionaires”) and regulations. Despite the repeated lessons of history, the young socialists don’t believe that greater taxes and regulations will damage the economy and drive huge numbers of people into abject poverty.
The more hardened (and honest) radicals will tell you, “Yes, we will need more taxes and regulations. Yes, that will put businesses out of business. That’s the point!”
In an article from the Spring 2007 edition of the DSA publication “Democratic Left,” DSA National Political Committee member David Green of Detroit wrote very candidly about his organization’s goals:
“What distinguishes socialists from other progressives is the theory of surplus value. According to Marx, the secret of surplus value is that workers are a source of more value than they receive in wages. The capitalist is able to capture surplus value through his ownership of the means of production, his right to purchase labor as a commodity, his control over the production process, and his ownership of the final product. Surplus value is the measure of capital’s exploitation of labor. … Our goal as socialists is to abolish private ownership of the means of production.”
Notice Green doesn’t just want to abolish “big business.” There’s no qualifier there. He is explicitly advocating for the full public ownership of the “means of production”—communism.
As Karl Marx famously said in the “Communist Manifesto”: “The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.”
Green was quoted by Reuters in February 2017 as a participant in the Michigan Democratic Party’s spring convention. The Michigan Democratic Party did not seem to mind that a high-ranking socialist was in their midst.
“We need a party that’s open to progressive forces,” Green was quoted as saying. “And that’s why we have to elect progressive leadership within the party.”
Now, according to DSAers and their comrades, abolition of private property will be done “democratically.” There will be a vote in Congress to take away your multi-national corporation, your timber mill, your dairy farm, your gas station, or your convenience store. There will be no rampaging proletarian mob to “expropriate” your business or farm. It will be done in a civilized manner. Incrementally at first. Gradually you will pay more taxes, you will have to deal with more and more regulations, and hiring and firing will get ever more difficult and onerous. If you’re a small business, you’ll probably eventually be forced to sell out to a bigger business that can afford to hire enough lawyers and accountants or bribe enough officials to keep the government at bay before you are forced to shut your doors.
At some point, the slide to socialism and communism may arrive at a temporary equilibrium, where big business will co-exist alongside the “all-powerful state”—China in the last three decades is an example.
Following the “revolution,” Marx argued, workers (the “proletariat”) would take control of the “means of production.” After a period of transition, the government would magically fade away, leading to a classless society based on common ownership of all wealth: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
Unfortunately, no socialist has ever convincingly explained why revolutionary leaders with control of all the wealth and power would then willingly turn that over to the “masses.”
British historian and statesman Lord Acton understood human nature much better than Marx. His famous dictum, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is the ultimate argument against Marx’s demonstrably unworkable theories of socialism and communism.
Acton’s dictum holds equally true whether the wealth and power is seized “democratically” or by naked brute force.
Naive young Marxists believe that democratic socialism will lead to socialism and eventually to a benevolent classless, leaderless utopia called communism.
Importantly, more sophisticated and seasoned revolutionaries understand that “democratic socialism” and then “socialism” will lead to the centralization of wealth and power into a very few hands. Those revolutionaries intend to be those hands. This is where the communist dream must inevitably end.
There are many roads to tyranny. “Democratic socialism” is but the subtlest and most benign sounding road to communism.
Trevor Loudon is an author, filmmaker and public speaker from New Zealand. For more than 30 years, he has researched radical left, Marxist and terrorist movements and their covert influence on mainstream politics.
Trevor presents his movie, “ENEMIES WITHIN” DVD—BUY NOW!