Americans won’t vote for socialism once they know what it is

A series of polls have shown that pluralities of Democrats and millennials prefer socialism to capitalism. These surveys also make clear that respondents do not know what socialism is.

Also Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has shown that Democratic primary voters will cast their ballots for an avowed socialist if he packages his brand properly.

Socialism’s new face, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, upset a major establishment figure in the New York primaries. Like the poll respondents, she was also hard pressed to explain what socialism is. In another development, the primary upset victory of Andrew Gillam gave Florida democrats their first socialist candidate for governor.

Speculation about a socialist renaissance is premature. Americans won’t vote for socialists if they come to understand what socialism is. To win, socialist candidates must conceal their beliefs; to do otherwise would condemn them to the ash heap of history. 

Throughout his 2016 presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders assuredprimary voters that his socialism is nothing more than free medicine and education and a fair distribution of income. He soothingly assured voters that democracy, with a small “d,” and socialism are perfectly compatible. 

When challenged to give real-world success stories of socialism, Sanders regularly cites not the Soviet Union, Cuba or Venezuela, but affluent Scandinavian countries.

Indeed, Denmark, Norway and Sweden have generous welfare states, as does most of Europe, but some 90 percent of the Swedish economy is privately owned. Sweden and Denmark outrank the U.S. in economic freedom, and all three Scandinavian countries outperform the U.S. in business freedom.

The Scandinavian countries are wealthy because of more than a century of capitalist growth, not on account of their welfare states. In fact, when their welfare states threatened their affluence, they beat a hasty retreat. Remarkably, the purported rise of socialism in the United States is being accompanied by its collapse in Europe

In the course of his long career in public office, Sanders has not deviated from this soothing rhetoric and has dodged the fact that socialism calls for public ownership (or state regulation), substitutes government for private choice, decries profits and tends toward an authoritarian state. Socialism is not simply a generous welfare state, as Sanders would have us believe.

Sanders cannot come clean on socialism and be more than a fringe candidate. To the contrary, the “old” socialist party of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas featured Marxist epithets against capitalist exploitation, immiseration of the working class and capitalist collapse in their publications.

“Old” socialists got a few percentage points of the presidential vote and elected an odd mayor or congressmen now and then. Preempted by the New Deal and discredited by Nikita Khrushchev’s condemnation of communist atrocities, the “old” socialists ran their last presidential candidate in 1956.

If Sanders won’t explain what socialism really is, perhaps we should listen to what America’s largest socialist party, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), has to say. Like the “old” socialists, the DSA unabashedly enunciates its electoral strategy to lead the Democratic Party to electoral victory under a socialist platform.

Like the Democratic Party, the DSA proposes to focus on grievance groups — minorities of all stripes, the LGBT community, immigrants, women, seniors, students, etc. Each group is to be promised free stuff and special benefits — free medicine for all, tuition-free schooling through college, a guaranteed income and a right to housing and food.

With respect to the economic system, the DSA openly propose to do away with capitalism via a number of measures. Municipal authorities or worker collectives will replace private ownership and management of enterprises. These socialized enterprises will produce for the needs of society, not for private profit.

The smaller companies will not be planned from above but will operate in a market setting. Heavy industry, finance, transportation and other large concerns will be planned by a national or even international planning authority. As planned entities, they are also supposed to meet society’s needs, not those of the rich.

With big business accounting for more than half of GDP and run by a national plan, “bureaucratic socialists” will indeed run most of the show. So much for the people calling the economic shots. 

The DSA has laid out a fairly typical socialist platform. Bernie Sanders accepted their endorsement and calls himself a Democratic socialist. Sanders may not subscribe to all the points in DSA’s platform, but why call yourself “socialist” if you do not support its most basic tenets? Either he does not know what socialism is or he deliberately conceals what it stands for from voters.

When challenged to differentiate himself from traditional socialism, Sanders claims that he is a Democratic socialist, not just a socialist. Sanders does not want to acknowledge that Democratic socialism is an oxymoron.

Once people have seen what socialism is, they will not vote for it, but by that time, they may have no choice. Just take a look at Venezuela.

Paul Roderick Gregory is a professor of economics at the University of Houston, Texas, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a research fellow at the German Institute for Economic Research.