All four of my grandparents were sent to prison for their socialist convictions at some point in the 1920s or 1930s. When I was growing up in Europe, democratic countries from France to Italy were ruled by self-declared socialists. As a young activist in the Jusos, the youth organization of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, I sang along whole-heartedly when my comrades would intone the Socialist International at the end of rallies, rounding off each rendition with a loud shout of “long live socialism and liberty!”

Given my background, I am baffled both by the fear and the fascination which the socialist label now evokes in the United States. To someone who has grown up in a democracy that provides its citizens with universal health care and (virtually) free higher education, the idea that such policies are dangerously “socialist” is at best question-begging, and the insinuation that they somehow impinge on human liberty is simply bizarre.

But the great differences among the movements and countries that have historically called themselves socialist also makes me skeptical about leftists who think that embracing this label is enough to explain what kind of future they want. Some members of the Democratic Socialists of America, for example, simply want to emulate the rich democracies that provide their citizens with a generous welfare state. But others seek to “abolish capitalism” or sing the praises of the Venezuelan dictatorship.

Anybody who has studied the history of Europe—or, for that matter, Latin America—should know that some socialists crafted systems that left virtually no space to private enterprise and crushed the political freedoms of dissenters, while others combined government benefits with a robust market economy and the rule of law. What mattered was not whether a party or movement called itself socialist, but whether it recognized the danger of autocracy, and carefully formulated limiting principles that would stop it from going down the same path as the Soviet Union. So activists who hope to mainstream socialism in American politics must, at the very least, make clear what exactly they mean by the term.

This is why I was very hopeful when Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign announced that the candidate would hold a major speech on “How Democratic Socialism Is the Only Way to Defeat Oligarchy and Authoritarianism.” After years of using the term about as imprecisely as many of his followers, I hoped that Sanders would finally set out why it holds such …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Best of


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What Kind of Socialist Is Bernie Sanders?

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