The 2016 Presidential race saw for the first time in a very long time, a candidate that clearly did not fit the standard mold. Bernie Sanders unapologetically calls himself a Democratic Socialist, and has done great work at rehabilitating the term Socialism which, in this country has been a dirty word since the Cold War (and even before).

Nevertheless, there are still those who think that the term Socialism, or Democratic Socialism represents some sort of evil empire, in spite of all the evidence that has been placed before them. However, what most Americans think of as socialism is nothing of the sort.  Images of the old Soviet Union and Red China abound, memes pollute the discussion of the benefits of this form of government and economy that can be found in freedom loving countries like Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Ireland, New Zealand, Belgium, and others. Comparison between Democratic Socialism and National Socialism are both ignorant of the facts, and largely offensive, and, particularly since the candidate in question is both a Jew and descendant of people who died in the camps in Germany in WWII, antisemitic.  People who publish them should be ashamed of themselves.

As much as the mainstream candidates may be having a field day with the term, you have to wonder why they think you are so ignorant.  Is it because you are? Willfully so? Then what you get is your own fault and no one else’s.  If you persist in believing that Democratic Socialism is the equivalent of Communism, Stalinism, Marxism, or, as in the case of a recent meme making the rounds, National Socialism, then you are as ignorant as the demagogues believe.

The Economist, in their 2015 Democracy Index, ranked Nordic-style Democratic Socialism very highly.  The first thirteen nations on their index were all Social Democracies.  The United States, with our hyper-capitalistic oligarchy (and don’t kid yourself, that’s what we have), ranked 20th overall, the very last in the “Democracy” category, just before #21, Italy listed in the “Flawed Democracy” category.  The United State’s basic “functioning of Government” score was significantly lower, and our “Political Participation” scores were dismal.

The key features of Democratic Socialism are:

  1. Social and Economic Decisions should reflect the needs of the overall population. Democratic Socialism, however, unlike classical socialism, rejects the notion of a centrally planned economy while focusing on the improvement of socially conscious projects such as mass transit, housing, and energy. Meanwhile, the market determines the demand for consumer goods.
  2. Democratic Socialism is not, I say again, NOT Authoritarian. Unlike the USSR and PRC, which were hardly true socialist economies, Democratic Socialism is just that Democratic.  This country has the bad habit of labeling any sort of radical idea as “communist” – that simply isn’t true.
  3. Democratic Socialism is, unlike the USSR and PRC, Democratic. The old “communist” regimes (and I’m loathe to call them that, as even they merely wore the trappings of Marx’s idea of what Communism was meant to be), were authoritarian oligarchies.  While elections may have been held, the choices for who one would vote were limited.  In a Democratic Socialist form of government, elections are held in which anyone qualified may run for office.  Additionally, everyone who is qualified to vote is allowed to.  There are systems in place now in limited form that could bypass the current crop of laws, passed largely by “conservative” states (I am loathe to use that term also, as these states, and the politicians involved in them, are largely not conservative).
  4. Private Corporations are treated as what they are, legal entities that exist at the behest of the state. Yes, that is what a corporation is, a legal fiction.  There is no guarantee in our constitution that any state should be required to support a corporate structure. It is purely a legal device.  As such, corporations are not people and therefore do not have rights.  Decisions by the Supreme Court to the contrary are wrong-headed.  If it doesn’t bleed, it cannot be a citizen.  In Democratic Socialism, the taxes paid by a corporation are not meant to be used to establish some sort of Faux-Personhood, they are dues paid by corporations allowing them to access what are, inarguably, very rich markets within the U.S. borders.  By evading those taxes, and attempting to become more powerful through legal shenanigans, corporations have created a class of “super-citizens” that demand the attention of what are supposed to be flesh-and-blood citizen’s representatives.
  5. Democratic Socialism is a tried and true model. High wages, basic health care, basic education through college, excellent infrastructure

Stalinism is the thing most often confused with socialism of any flavor.  This is a result of decades of largely irrational fear and hatred of the Soviet Union.  It’s understandable, Joseph Stalin was by any measure, a monster. A dictator of the first order who killed between 30 to 50 million of his own citizens (20 million in the 1930’s alone), placing him as a greater disaster for humanity than even Adolf Hitler.

However, Stalinism is not socialism. It is barely Marxism.  This is true for two basic reasons, 1: Stalin rejected the basic foundation of Marx that socialism could be established in a single nation, from his book, Foundations of Leninism, Stalin wrote; “Is it possible to attain the final victory of socialism in one country, without the combined efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries? No, it is not.”  In saying this, Stalin rejects one of Marx’s basic foundations of Communism, that the “revolution” will occur naturally and without external force. This philosophy, viewed as flawed by some of the founders of the USSR is one of the wedges that Stalin drove between himself and the early founders such as Trotsky who called it a “reactionary theory.”

In this one theory, Stalinism deviates away from the orbit of both Marxism and Leninism.  Two forms of government that this world has NEVER seen effectively administered in any meaningful sense (except of course, in name only).

Stalin’s confrontation with both capitalism and imperialism, and the active pursuit by the USSR under Stalin of various revolutionary worker’s parties (i.e. Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea, etc.) is contra-Marx, who argued that for such ‘revolutions’ to be successful, they must be naturally occurring and not forced.

Trotsky further repudiates Stalin’s positions in his 1937 essay, “Stalinism and Bolshevism” saying, “The experience of Stalinism does not refute the teaching of Marxism but confirms it by inversion.”  It should be noted that Trotsky was, at the time one of Stalin’s most vocal critics.  Leon Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico in 1940 after being found guilty of treason in absentia.

Maoist China fares little better in a comparison with classical Marxism.  Though some would argue that Mao was a better Marxist than Stalin, there is little doubt that Mao was Stalin’s equal when it came to purely evil behavior.  The numbers that died under Mao’s rule are highly debatable, but range between 49 – 78 million (~5-8% of the population of China) depending on the source, making Mao the second greatest mass murderer in history based on percentage of population, only Ghengis Khan, who is responsible for the deaths of up to 10% of the world’s population during his lifetime, a death toll that actually affected the world environment, exceeds him.

Any comparison between the tenets of Democratic Socialism and Stalinism or Maoism fall flat because neither represent any sort of true socialism, but instead represent authoritarian dictatorship with blended economies based on one’s position on the (officially non-existent) social ladder.

Hitler, of course, was a monster, the most commonly talked about even today.  Historically, the number of deaths Hitler and his Third Reich were responsible for is comparable to both Stalin and Mao, and is in fact on the low side comparatively.  What made the Reich so monstrous was the industrial efficiency with which they caused death.  Whether in the camps, or on the battlefield with new weapons such as Hitler’s Buzz saw (The MG42 machine gun), the V1 and V2 rockets, and jet aircraft. The Germans under Hitler found new, creative, and more efficient ways to end life than any empire before them.  Perhaps the only thing that prevented WWII from being an even greater disaster was the abandonment of the line of battle tactics of the 19th Century by the end of WWI.  Imagine Gettysburg level casualty rates (28-37%) on the scale of WWII (Russians could do this of course)!

But National Socialism was socialism in name only.  A convenient and popular moniker to gain support amongst Germany’s working class so as to snatch power when the time was right. Ultimately Nazi Germany was less socialist and more feudalist.  A power relationship between those who rule, and the vassals below them. The average German’s relationship to Hitler bordered on the pseudo-religious extremism you see today in places like People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (AKA, North Korea).  Both National Socialism and Italian Fascism bore striking resemblances, given that both steeped their rhetoric (and dogma) in the idea of a revolutionary spirit coupled with restoration of imperial splendor (Both Germany and Italy under the respective leaders initially started their conquest in search of “living space”- Lebensraum).

Unlike Lenin, neither Hitler nor Mussolini rid his country of competing economic systems, they instead corrupted them to their own use by swinging the power of the state such that in any conflict between the economic apparatus and the state, the state would always come out ahead.  The political term for this is a cleptocracy, an economy based on theft. Effectively, while appearing to be highly legalistic on the lower end of the social spectrum (the vassals), on the higher end of the social spectrum both Nazism and Fascism were lawless except in that the laws would be interpreted for the benefit of the state and its direct representatives (i.e. the Feudal lords). In fact, the Nazis attempted to undermine the German belief in law by instituting personal loyalty oaths to the Fuhrer (does that sound like someone who is in the news today?) and to other “little Fuhrers,” substituting a faith in men for a faith in law. Nazis were elitists, they saw themselves as a Teutonic Order, answerable only to Hitler.  This is seen both in Rosenberg’s NSDAP and in Himmler’s Schutzstaffel (SS). In the end, men like Himmler, Goering, Goebbels, Speer and Bormann had so established their own fiefdoms that they were nearly independent powers in and of themselves, still answerable only to Hitler, but ultimately only because they chose to be.

This Feudalistic nature of National Socialism, and to a lesser extent Italian Fascism, makes determining the features of Fascism and National Socialism very, very difficult.  But they bear a resemblance more to the old Byzantine Empire than to any form of socialism. As much as the Nazis and the Fascist used Roman imagery, their political, social, and economic structures were more related to the Ottoman Empire, than to Rome.

Ultimately, neither National Socialism, nor Italian Fascism can exist in a Democracy.  Any Democracy which allows them to flourish, is eventually overthrown and replaced with the Feudal Empire. As such, any comparison between Communism (in whatever flavor), National Socialism or Italian Fascism to Democratic Socialism is either a red herring, based on ignorance of history at any depth, or a diversion from the real topic by people who are leading the sheep astray, and to slaughter.