In defense of Bernie’s socialism — really!

By Barry Farber

What is a socialist? More to the point, what is a democratic socialist?

Very few Americans understand. And I’m afraid if I toss in a few facts and then drizzle it with a little history, nobody will understand!

In the early 1990s, I was more than slightly surprised to see one of the newly elected members of the House of Representatives describe himself as a “democratic socialist.” That was, of course, Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Long before Bernie learned what fun it is exposing the weaknesses of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, I was curious to know how an avowed socialist managed to pull it off. Bernie agreed to an interview.

For the first few minutes, Sanders and I got along like a slow waiter and a poor tipper. My Southern accent and unconcealed conservative preference aroused his suspicions that my intentions were more McCarthyite “gotcha” than kindly curiosity. After a few speed-bumps, however, Bernie unlimbered, and we enjoyed a good interview together.

Bernie Sanders is surfing atop a very high wave. His appeal to young people and working-class Democrats is obvious, and who on the right can have anything but cheers for a grizzled and fuzzy political street-fighter who can do such an effective job of humiliating Hillary Clinton?

First off, it’s unfair to ridicule Bernie for describing himself as a “democratic socialist” as though he’d ad-libbed that self-description early in the morning on the day he declared his run for president. Many Americans perceive a straight line beginning with “capitalist” and proceeding leftward to socialist and finally communist. Wrong, wrong, dreadfully wrong! To many Americans the word “socialist” means “almost communist.” Don’t be ashamed if that nails you. It’s the fault of major media and American education that a major political force known as “social democrats” or “democratic socialists” has been airbrushed out of the world picture almost completely. Why? Because the democratic socialists’ bitterest enemies, the Leninist-Stalinist communists, won the Russian civil war. The losers, the democratic socialists, believe in Marxism, wealth redistribution, the works when it comes to economics, but they abhor torture, state control of the media, secret police, the post-midnight knock on the door, life sentences in the gulag and all the other outrages we freedom-lovers find so sickening about communism.

So, the very best kind of anti-communists are the kind of socialists Bernie Sanders purports to be! I won’t vote for them, but I’ll pre-denounce as political idiots anybody who tries to smear Bernie by emblazoning hammers-and-sickles across his face, if by some miracle he’d be allowed to win the Democratic nomination! To make this all the more confounding, the Russian communists during the life of the USSR didn’t call themselves “communists.” They insisted, “We’re struggling to become communists, but all we’ve achieved so far is socialism. The USSR still has currency, money! That’s not communism!”

The likes of Bernie Sanders, avowed socialist, do not belong alongside names like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Tito or Kim Jong-un. He belongs alongside names like Rosa Luxemburg, whose followers founded the “Socialist International” in 1951, which attracted “progressive” but democratic leaders like Willy Brandt of Germany, Luis Ayala of Chile (not the great tennis player of the same name), George Papandreou of Greece and whoever used to be elected to anything in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. If you’re the kind of socialist who points proudly to those Scandinavian countries for their successful brand of socialism, I advise you to speak fast. The political push-back toward the right is well underway all over Scandinavia. Besides, the means of production – the factories – in those countries are in private hands, not in the hands of the state, or, as communist poets like to say, in the hands of “the people.” So, they may have high taxes and deep and broad welfare, but they weren’t really “socialist” to begin with. At the New York World’s Fair of 1965 the sign across the entrance to the Swedish pavilion read, “Sweden: Land of Free Enterprise”!

So, would I vote even for an anti-communist socialist?” No! Not only “No,” I wouldn’t even negotiate without pre-conditions. You’ve first got to show me a socialist economy that’s worked, anywhere in the world.

You can’t do it!

My cousin Guerney takes a softer approach toward Bernie Sanders. He believes a Hillary victory would destroy America and Israel and other democracies, too. And, since Bernie is making Hillary weaker by the hour, Guerney finds it irrepressibly cool that after all of our rich history, it takes a 74-year-old Jewish boy from Brooklyn to save America!

Media wishing to interview Barry Farber, please contact [email protected].

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