History repeats itself – unless stopped. Growing advocacy of “democratic socialism” among Democratic presidential candidates is more than troubling. It is misinformed, ignorant of history, and downright scary. Here is why.
The faster life moves, the shorter memories become. Thirty years ago, when in my 20’s and studying history in Europe, a fellow Oxford student invited me to Poland – then dominated by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which began as the Russian Social Democratic Party.
That party, like other democratic socialist parties, took the view that centralized control over all things made by the private sector, decisions made by private individuals, and direction of society was superior to millions of private decisions. The government could do it better.
In the name of socialist advancement, authoritarian control was systematically imposed over private lives – directing everything from education to health care, security to economy. A command and control economy, directed by party leaders, first subsumed then suffocated private sector initiative, production, quality and access.
To enforce compliance with socialist expectations, penalties were assessed – personal and financial, then physical and horrific. Accountability for misuse of government power was nowhere to be found, since ruling socialists do not hold themselves accountable. They are, by definition, unaccountable.
Private activities were disallowed, punished and perished, except in dark allies and at great risk. Enforcing compliance was necessary to assure happiness. That was socialism at its best, a welfare state skipping glibly down the proverbial road paved by good intentions – to hell.
After all, what could go wrong if the aim was good? To force equality on humanity might cost personal liberty, but that was a price worth paying, right? That is the unstated, unholy and immoral belief of socialists: Forced redistribution of wealth is justified, so coercive government action against the individual is justified.
The problem, of course, is that individuals get wise to this coercion, loss of control, penalties for private initiative, and loss of access to quality goods. Put upon by the socialist state, they object. That is when screws are tightened. Socialism, like a cancer, does not give up easily.
Speech is punished, prior freedom to offend, complain and politically resist repressed. Repression starts slowly, through coordinated social pressure, humiliation and legal action. Socialist influence over media grows, becoming party to the repression. Dissidents are disparaged, persecuted, and isolated. Fear grows, as political freedoms enjoyed by Americans in the Bill of Rights – shrink, eventually disappear.
That was Poland in the 1980s, under Soviet socialist democratic control. That was the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany and Yugoslavia, too, under socialist domination. I visited dissidents in each of those places. Today, you see socialism at work in the economic and political repression of Venezuela, Cuba, Laos and China.
So, here is the point. Socialism is not a game, joke, slogan, joy ride, lark or political free lunch. It is a deadly serious error in judgment, one that begins innocently enough, promising all for everyone at the expense of no one, soon becoming a nearly inescapable bear trap, swapping individual liberties for the illusion of equality – ultimately suffocating democracy, capitalism and liberty.
By the grace of God, my friends in Poland – who showed unimaginable political courage – were reinforced by a freedom-loving American president, Ronald Reagan, Great Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. They escaped the bear trap.
How much better would it be, given the chance, not to step in such a trap? That is where we are now. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is an avowed socialist, having spent his 1988 honeymoon in the Soviet Union trashing American foreign and domestic policy – the same policies that freed those Russians and Poles from socialism’s unclenching grip.
Bernie Sanders is joined by other Democratic candidates, in a ready embrace of democratic socialism. They could all use a refresher in where democratic socialism leads – nowhere good. History repeats itself – unless stopped.