No Really–Democrats Are Socialists

Democrats are socialists.

Well, not necessarily, but two can play at this game.

The argument of “No Really—What’s the Difference Between a Democrat and a Socialist?” appears to be that socialism is indistinguishable from communism; therefore, democratic socialists are not socialists, but democratic socialists, which term is interchangeable with socialists, but which is not actually socialism.

Hey! it’s her logic, not mine.

Bloomberg‘s Arit John writes:

After DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz failed to answer a question on the difference between a Democrat and a socialist, we asked a political scientist.

No other political scientist was available for comment, apparently. Or perhaps the writer was pressed for time.

Skipping ahead in the story a bit, it turns out that the sole political scientist consulted by Ms. John was one “John Ahlquist, an associate professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California at San Diego who has focused on the politics of economic inequality.”

There were no full professors available?

At the risk of inducing LOLs by Ms. John (“no, really”), “the politics of economic inequality” has a bit of a Leftist ring to it, yes?

What’s the difference between a Democrat and a socialist? As self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders makes a play for the Democratic presidential nomination, party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz says there are more pressing questions at hand.

Or at least questions she has a fighting chance of answering.

This from the right-wing nutjobs at the Washington Post:

When he first won election to the House in 1990, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) embraced his political identity. “I am a socialist and everyone knows that,” Sanders said, responding to an ad that tried to link him to the regime of Fidel Castro.

What changed in the intervening years is not so much Sanders’ self-identification (although he is now more careful to append the word “democratic” to the word “socialism” than he once was), but the Democratic Party itself.

Back to Bloomberg:

During an interview on MSNBC’s Hardball Thursday, host Chris Matthews asked Wasserman Schultz if she wanted Sanders, a Vermont senator, to represent the party at the Democratic National Convention. Then he asked her what the difference is between a Democrat and a socialist.

I’ve often bagged on Tingles, but props to him for even asking the question, let alone trying to pin Wasserman Schultz down on for an answer.

“I used to think there was a big difference, what do you think it is?” Matthews asked.

Wasserman Schultz laughed, then dodged the question. “The difference—the more important question is, what’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?” she said.

Her non-response is as good an indication as to the accelerating Leftward drift of the Democratic Party as any analysis I might come up with.

The right-leaning Washington Free Beacon published a clip of the interview, which was also picked up by conservative sites like Hot Air, NewsMax, the Washington Examiner, and The Daily Caller. The story caught on among conservatives because it fits into a narrative that liberal extremism (in this case, socialism) is becoming mainstream in the Democratic Party. As Hot Air wrote in response to Matthews’ question, “Answer: Not much at all, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz knows it.”

When Republicans React!

No, the story caught on among conservatives because it fits the facts on the ground. More on that later.

As to the assertion that socialism is “liberal extremism,” that construction demonstrates how completely historically worthless the term “liberalism” has become; that which was commonly understood to be liberalism now requires the prefix “classical” to differentiate it from soft Leftism. But I digress.

The thing is, there is a difference. Specifically, there’s a difference between a democratic socialist (how Sanders identifies), a socialist (what Matthews and others in the media call him) and a Democrat, explains John Ahlquist, an associate professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California at San Diego who has focused on the politics of economic inequality. “The modern American Democratic Party has very little to do with anything resembling what we would consider to be socialism or social democracy,” Ahlquist said during a phone interview.

As Alex Griswold at The Daily Caller noted,

Socialism is just an economic system; “democratic socialists” merely believe it should be enacted by democratic means (as opposed to through revolution or totalitarianism).

So not only does associate professor Ahlquist (complete with a “politics of economic inequality” Leftist dog-whistle) argue that the Democratic Party is not socialist, but it is also not social democratic; in other words, Mr. Ahlquist says that socialism and social democracy (presumably democratic socialists advocate the latter, unless we are pretty much defining “is”) have little to do with the Democratic Party.

Therefore, democratic socialists are not socialists, nor are they representative of Democrats–but socialists and social democrats can be lumped together when arguing that neither are representative of Democrats.

In other words, you can’t get here from here.

Democrats, he said, are a centrist coalition that includes some groups that are left of center. Traditional socialism, other hand, is a political-economic system that organizes the economy purely around the needs of the people.

Some groups?

Gallup weighs in:

Democratic candidates for the 2016 presidential nomination face a significantly more left-leaning party base than their predecessors did over the last 15 years. Forty-seven percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents now identify as both socially liberal and economically moderate or liberal. This is compared with 39% in these categories in 2008, when there was last an open seat for their party’s nomination, and 30% in 2001.


See also, Tim Groseclose.

See also, Evan Bayh’s famous warning:

Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Dem party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country — that’s not going to work too well.
Back to Bloomberg:

“The basic idea is that production decisions and everything else are not organized around the desire to make a profit, they’re organized by a cooperative group to produce stuff that people think they need,” Ahlquist said. “There’s no public figure in the Democratic Party who is advocating for social ownership of the means of production, Bernie Sanders included.”

Here you have the crux of the typical argument that democratic socialists are not socialists. It boils down to using socialism as rhetorical proxy for communism, which is fine as far as it goes–Marx, et al, did pretty much the same thing. “Workers’ control of the means of the production” is perhaps the defining goal of communism. But conflating communism and socialism cuts both ways. As noted earlier:

Socialism is just an economic system; “democratic socialists” merely believe it should be enacted by democratic means (as opposed to through revolution or totalitarianism).

So if people on the Left try to play word games, and attempt to obscure the relationship between public control of much of economic activity with public control of all economic activity, they’re implying that the only difference between democratic socialism on the one hand, and communism on the other, is a matter of degree, and of the means used to achieve that control.

It bears noting (although it’s pretty much common knowledge now) that Sanders’ lifelong hero was and is Eugene Debs, the five-time Socialist Party of America presidential candidate in the early twentieth century. The Socialist Party’s platform boiled down to: nationalize everything that isn’t tied down:

The collective ownership and democratic management of railroads, wire and wireless telegraphs and telephones, express service, steamboat lines, and all other social means of transportation and communication and of all large scale industries.

The immediate acquirement by the municipalities, the states or the federal government of all grain elevators, stock yards, storage warehouses, and other distributing agencies, in order to reduce the present extortionate cost of living.

The extension of the public domain to include mines, quarries, oil wells, forests and water power.

The further conservation and development of natural resources for the use and benefit of all the people . . .

The collective ownership of land wherever practicable, and in cases where such ownership is impracticable, the appropriation by taxation of the annual rental value of all the land held for speculation and exploitation.

The collective ownership and democratic management of the banking and currency system.

And so on.

As Debs said in 1904:

Let me say at the very threshold of this discussion that the workers have but the one issue in this campaign, the overthrow of the capitalist system and the emancipation of the working class from wage-slavery.

Back to Bloomberg:

When people talk about Sanders and his ideology, they’re discussing social democracy, the idea that “the elected government has a responsibility to ensure that the functioning of a market economy adequately provides for basic needs for everybody,” Ahlquist said.

So it’s simply a matter of degree, and how it is achieved–not to mention less threatening rhetoric–that differentiates communism/socialism from democratic socialism.

And we are left to wonder what “the functioning of a market economy [so that it] adequately provides for basic needs for everybody” means when the rubber hits the road. Probably not what the “classical liberals” had in mind when they talked about property rights and the rule of law.

Social democracies have been popular in Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries which Sanders often cites as examples of ideal policy. For example, here’s how Sanders described what it means to be a democratic socialists to Vox in an interview published this week:

“What it means is that one takes a hard look at countries around the world who have successful records in fighting and implementing programs for the middle class and working families. When you do that, you automatically go to countries like Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and other countries that have had labor governments or social democratic governments, and what you find is that in virtually all of those countries, health care is a right of all people and their systems are far more cost-effective than ours, college education is virtually free in all of those countries, people retire with better benefits, wages that people receive are often higher, distribution of wealth and income is much fairer, their public education systems are generally stronger than ours.”

That is an argument for another day, the reflexive fondness that the Left has for European democratic socialist models. Suffice it to say that Leftists talk a good game about the internal contradictions of capitalism, but seem averse to addressing the internal contradictions of socialism for some odd reason.

Sorry, democratic socialism.

European social democracies don’t eradicate capitalism, but put in place a strong regulatory system alongside it to ensures a minimum standard of living for all citizens, Ahlquist said. The “democracy” part of social democracy means that the regulations need to be put in place gradually, by legitimately elected officials.

Gradualism, yes. So as not to alarm the Kulaks.

To paraphrase the old perfume ad: Promise them anything, but give them Socialism.

Sorry, democratic socialism.

That’s the long version. If Ahlquist had been asked the same question, his response would actually have been similar to Wasserman Schultz’s.


“I would laugh,” Ahlquist said. “No one is actually talking about or seriously proposing—at least among the mainstream American political parties—seriously, traditionally, socialist platforms.”

Yes, we understand that most Democrats are not calling for the abolition of private property and the workers’ control of the means of production. Thanks for the analysis.

Oh wait, now traditional socialism is the descriptor? A rhetorical moveable feast.

I’m thinking that if it isn’t really socialism, maybe you should call it something else.


And the beat goes on.


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