Socialism and Democratic Socialism: What’s the Difference and Why Neither of Them Work

QUICK REMINDER: Many people think immediately of Communism when they think about the USSR or the Soviet Union or Soviet Russia, when in reality the USSR was a socialist state that never fully achieved Communism.

With the rise of Bernie Sanders in the recent Iowa Caucus Polls and his dominating lead in the New Hampshire Primary Polls, the Democratic Socialism movement has received a lot of attention.

But what’s the difference between Socialism and Democratic Socialism?

Essentially, Democratic Socialism is simply a democratic government, close to what we have in the United States (although we are technically a Republic), alongside a socialist economy.  Now, let’s clear some things up about Socialism before delving into it’s errors.

Socialism does NOT mean that the government owns all means of production, but rather it means that the PEOPLE collectively own all means of production, and it is technically run by the government. Basically, there is no free enterprise because all the enterprise is communally owned by everyone.  This principle can give way to totalitarianism very easily, as is demonstrated by George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Socialism in and of itself is a noble cause, dedicated to giving all men and women equal opportunity and employment in order to raise all out of poverty.  But, it skirts and extremely dangerous line between Utopia and Hell.

Ronald Reagan once said, “Socialism only works in two places: Heaven, where they don’t need it, and Hell, where they already have it.”

There are many arguments for and against socialism, and for two contrasting opinions, I’d encourage you to read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (the original socialist), and The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (the original free market advocate).  These two were the pioneers of a majority of government and economic systems we see today, with the USSR being a great example of Marx’s ideas, and America (up until the 1920’s and 1930’s) being a great example of Adam Smith’s ideas.

Now, Democratic Socialism.

Democratic Socialism is a movement that believes in most of Socialism’s central tenets (with the exception of a state controlled authoritarian economy/state-owned means of production), yet advocates a democratic system of government.  The Democratic Socialists of America define their movement in Article II of their Constitution:

“We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power, discrimination based on race and sex, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo. We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships.”

Basically, they believe in “popular control” of the means of production, which can be taken as control by the entire population, or control by the democratic majority.  Now, control by the entire population could not work because factions will develop, as they always do in any purely democratic government, and the factions would eventually fight over the means of production and how much of each resource is produced in which way etc..

The democratic majority is then the only other option.  But this is also a doomed method as anywhere that there is power involved, selfish and even evil men rise in order to control everything.  This is exactly what happened in Stalinist Russia, where originally this tenet of “popular control” eventually ended up in totalitarian oppression of the minority.  When one group of people deems themselves better than another, there is oppression, and so when one group comes into the majority, they will eventually oppress the minority.  It’s human nature and it’s unavoidable.

So, popular control could not work because there will always be people seeking to promote their own interest over those of the rest of the population.  The same thing has happened in Nazi Germany and Cuba.  Hitler preached democratic socialism, and once elected Chancellor/Führer of Germany in 1933, he slowly turned the country into an authoritarian/totalitarian state.  He oppressed the Jews, the Slavs, and any other minority he deemed undesirable.

The goals of Socialism are very noble: to eliminate income inequality, eliminate economic problems through planning, and equality in all things.  The outcomes of trying to achieve that, however, whether democratically or through State intervention, have proven unsuccessful.

Let’s go more in depth and pick apart the different statements of the Democratic Socialists of America’s Constitution:

  1. They reject an economic order based on private profit.  What effect does this have on productivity? Well, historically speaking, productivity and economic growth are at their highest in free market economies.  When India went from a government planned economy to a free market economy in the 1990’s, their economic growth rate rose to 6% a year, which was 4% higher than their average for the previous 40 years.  So, a popularly owned means of production that works for the entire public rather than for private profit tends to be less productive, as the government is always put in charge of such industry since they are considered the caretakers of the public good.  The same has occurred in China, where they have seen some of the highest economic growth in the world since freeing up their market and making it more private.  The protection of the common good is a noble cause, but human nature dictates that we will do whatever we have to to ensure our own and our loved ones’ safety and prosperity before doing the same for everyone else.
  2. They reject an economic order based on alienated labor.  What exactly does this mean?  Well, it is directly a Marxist theory, and in the theory there are four types of alienated labor: the alienation of the worker from the product of his work, the alienation of the worker from the activity of production, the alienation of the worker from his human identity, and the alienation of man to man.  Now, Marx believed that Capitalism alienates the worker from the product of his work, when in fact, it does not.  If anything, capitalism more fully allows the worker to keep what he has earned rather than surrendering it to the state for redistribution or artificial pricing.  Socialism alienates the worker from the product of his work because it does not allow the worker to keep what he has earned, but rather has him surrender it to the state/popular control in order to be distributed as they see fit.  Now, how can a worker be alienated from the activity of production?  Marx maintains that the worker is alienated because the activity he is doing is not of his own creativity or will, but rather something he is forced to do by another.  Firstly, in a capitalistic society, a worker is never forced to do anything unless he is a slave (last I checked slavery was abolished in the 1800’s in the U.S.).  Capitalism allows a worker to leave a job and search for another one if he doesn’t like it.  Socialism, however, assigns workers to certain jobs to certain people and they are forced to produce for the state or those who hold popular control rather than for themselves.  What they produce is not an activity of creativity, but rather an act carried out based upon an economic plan that has been employed by those in popular control and/or a government.  Capitalism allows the worker to compete for and choose a good job, and it allows him to leave that job should he no longer want it and work in whatever field he wishes with the right amount of effort.  Next, Marx identifies the human identity as being solely based on work.  Work is a life purpose, according to Marx, and the act of producing things from inorganic matter is at the core of human identity.  Apparently, private ownership takes away from Marx’s idea of human nature by alienating the man from his work, which it does not.  But is that what we are reduced to?  Is the human person totally directed toward taking inorganic material and making new things out of it?  Wouldn’t that technically make a bird who builds a nest or a swarm of bees who build a hive human?  No. Even if Marx was right, his premise refutes itself because Socialism alienates the man from his work by, you guessed it, confiscating it from him in order that the popular control will dictate where it is best used.  Private ownership allows a man to enjoy the fruits of his labors.  If you make $10 in a capitalistic society, that’s your $10.  If you own milk cows, that’s your milk until you sell it and those are your cows until you sell them.  In a socialistic society, if you have milk cows, the milk that comes from them is taken from you and distributed according to the economic plan of the state or popular control.  Finally, we have the alienation of man to man.  Marx believed that because the product of the man’s work in a capitalistic society was owned by another man, the worker would identify the owner as alien and hostile.  This, however, is untrue.  The man who owns the means of production pays his workers.  Therefore, the worker does not find him alien or hostile unless he pays him an unfair wage.  In a socialistic society, the worker would find the state or those in charge of distributing the produced goods hostile because they are taking his hard earned product from him and giving it to whom they see fit to give it to.  The principles of alienated labor refute themselves.
  3. They reject an economic order based on gross inequalities of wealth and power.  This is the most ironic one.  I actually can’t help but laugh when I hear this.  Can you have any more inequality in power than in a socialist government?  The people who have control of the means of production, elected or not, have control over EVERYTHING.  They decide where the food goes, where the energy goes, how high or low prices are for anything that gets sold, how much of everything is produced, how much you are allowed to buy, where you work, what you read, what you watch on television.  That is complete power over the rest of the population.  In a capitalistic society, every man is his own master.  If someone wants to produce certain books they can, while another guy is allowed to produce the type of books he wants.  One guy is allowed to buy milk cows and sell them at whatever price he wants just as much is the next guy is.  That’s equality in power.  As for equality in wealth, we’ve already shown that evil and selfish men are always attracted to positions of power, so what’s to stop the evil men from lying to get elected and then stealing from the people?  They have control over everything, so if they really wanted to they could just take more food than everyone else, take more gas than everyone else, and the people couldn’t do anything about it because they elected them already and they have the power.  Even a democratic socialist government would end up like Stalinist Russia (the USSR actually did start out as a revolution of the Russian people and they chose a socialist state…technically, that’s democratic socialism).  Capitalism allows every man to create his own wealth, and while it may be easier for some than others, every man has the OPPORTUNITY, great or small.  Inequality in wealth will exist as long as there is inequality in intelligence, creativity, and ingenuity.  It’s human nature and we can’t stop it.
  4. They reject an economic order based on discrimination according to race or sex.  Ironically, Hitler was a Democratic Socialist, and I’m pretty sure he discriminated based on race.  Wherever you have socialism in any form, there will be discrimination because the state may favor one group over another.  The same can be said of discrimination by sex.  If the government is run by a bunch of sexist men, than they might distribute the wealth in a way that excludes women.  On the other hand, if the government is filled with sexist women, they might do the same to the men.  In a capitalistic society, men and women of any race or color are able to pursue their enterprise regardless of whether they are black or white, male or female.  They are only subject to the discrimination of those they wish to deal with, and in a society of high moral standards, that discrimination is scarcely found.
  5. Finally, they reject an economic order based on brutality or violence in defense of the status quo.  Don’t we all?  In a free market economy, there is no status quo except that which you create for yourself.  You are free to change your status from worker to employer at anytime.  You simply have to have the means to do so through creativity and capital.  Whether the capital comes from investment or loans from a bank, the beauty of capitalism is that whoever you are, people will be willing to invest in your idea if it is a profitable one.  The status quo created in Crony Capitalism comes directly from government interference in the free market.  When a government imposes taxes or penalties on businesses, business owners seek to develop close ties to political candidates and sitting politicians in order to gain an unfair advantage through tax breaks or government grants.  If government were to remain out of the free market completely, then the market would determine who succeeds and who doesn’t and it would be completely fair.  I’d recommend reading How and Economy Grows and Why It Crashes by Peter D. Schiff for a basic explanation of how free market capitalism works for the benefit of everyone.

 

The economic planning aspect of Democratic Socialism is also refuted in the book by Mr. Schiff, as well as in the book Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell, which is being used for the economics crash course series of articles we are currently writing.  I encourage you to read both and stay up to date on our series in order to make the most informed decision this coming election.  The last thing America needs is a “Democratic” Socialist like Bernie Sanders in office, but I’ll give you the info and you can make that decision yourself.

I hope this has been educating, and I hope it will help you be a better informed American.

Publius

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