Without examining Sen. Sanders' platform in great detail--beyond reproducing a popular online meme below--it is the notion of socialism itself that merits scrutiny.
The instant analysis will, in the first instance assimilate socialism with Communism, Marxism, Maoism, Stalinism, Leninism, and any other similar -ism. "Communism" will initially be employed as a catch-all term for the foregoing. Foremost attention will be given to the global experience and rational deductions rather than technical economic theories and calculations.
The first, ineluctable, observation that has to be made is that Communism has been an abject failure everywhere in the world it has been implemented and operated. The Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact states, pre-1990s India, Cuba, Venezuela, Viet Nam, and dozens of countries at different times in Central and Latin America, Africa, and Asia all experienced Communism and, given a chance, all, down to the state, resolutely spurned it, after years or decades of iron-fist Communist rule. Despite that, there are still fervent advocates for Communism, not least among the self-styled intelligentsia on college campuses in the West. (The supreme irony is that intellectuals were almost always the first to face the Communist purges and firing squads, but, then, logic and intelligentsia are these days not always in the happiest of marriages.)
Tomes upon tomes of academic and popular material has been written examining, pontificating about, and apologizing for the causes of the disintegration and invalidation of Communism. The most fundamental explanation is very simple, however. The theory of Communism fails to take into account human nature. The average person wants to own things. The average person wants to own nice things. The average person wants to own nicer things. The average person wants to wear nice clothes and visit nice places and reside in nice houses. The average person wants to get wealthier. The average person wants to express his/her individuality. The average person wants to compete. The average person wants to improve him/herself. The average person wants to get better: better autonomously (self-actualize) and better than others. The average person does not want to be a mindless automaton, an anonymous cog in a nondescript wheel, one in millions of such wheels, without a personality, without anything to work toward, purposed only with playing a minuscule part in making the whole plod along.
That is what Communists do not understand wherefore, whenever the Communist theory came to be enacted in practice, it encountered the brick wall of indomitable human nature. The Politburo's functionaries' answer to this conundrum was predictable: endeavor to change human nature. That was invariably done in several stages:
- Relentless propaganda and brainwashing: "Yes, we want to be gray, mindless drones! We want to be an amorphous mass called the Working Class™! We want to fight the endless [though the "endless" part was never openly admitted] fight to create a People's Utopia!" En passant, it is always amusing and telling how Communist regimes feel the need to prefix just about everything with the possessive "people's": the "people's" army, the "people's" republic, the "people's" assembly, the "people's" museum, theater, supermarket, etc. The chuckle-worthy part is that The People™ under Communism have about as much stake in the above as they do under an absolute monarchy.
- Fear: "Enemies external and internal are chomping at the bits to subvert our glorious struggle! Capitalist, imperialist swine lurk in the shadows--indeed, possibly in every shadow--scheming to make you their slaves! Resist!"
- Threats: "Better watch what you say and do, or we just might start thinking you might be one of those enemies we talked about!"
- Coercion and force: blacklists, punishing entire families, show trials, disappearances, gulags.
There is also the small matter of the Communist economics, which are antiquated and irrelevant to the modern world. The vaunted Working Class™, insofar as it even exists anymore, no longer encompasses the majority of those in gainful employment of a country nor are countries (especially the developed world) anymore replete with tractor drivers, assembly-plant workers, and coal miners. Manual labor is of marginal importance in the today's knowledge-based economy and information-based society. The service sector does not require a Revolution!, and the call center workers, Walmart shelf-stackers, and McDonald's burger-flippers will be replaced with robots and online processes within the next decade anyway. Other than the permanently unemployable, Communism has nothing to offer to an increasing proportion of people with jobs or those willing and able to secure one.
Two retorts are commonly given to the above: (1) That was not real Communism, and (2) Communism is one thing; socialism is quite another. They will be addressed in turn.
#1: The U.S.S.R., China, Cuba, Nicaragua, India, Viet Nam, Laos, Angola, Mozambique, North Korea, dozens of Soviet satellite states, Yugoslavia, El Salvador, Albania, Argentina, Bolivia, and several dozen others were not a genuine representation or faithful reflection of an unadulterated form of Communism. Whatever the system those places had may have been, it was at best a warped, perverted version of the true ideology of Communism, which is nothing if not humane and humanistic. If that sounds familiar, it is because the selfsame assertion is trotted out with tiresome frequency in an attempt to whitewash the indelible link among Islam, the dozens of Moslem terrorist groups worldwide, and the tens of millions of active supporters and sympathizers (also, of course, Moslems) of those groups. Indeed, it seems that the more destructive, barbaric, and brutal an ideology is, the more vocally this argument is propounded. It is, however, fundamentally wrong.
- Firstly, it is the archetypal, textbook-perfect No True Scotsman fallacy. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and has little ducklings for offspring, then chances are extremely good it is indeed a duck rather than an elephant wearing a duck costume. The various iterations of Communism globally can be safely adjudged to have been "genuine" enough.
- Secondly, even if it be accepted that, somewhere along the process of implementing the said system, the protagonists deviated from the [insert favorite Communist dogmatist]'s vision, it is indisputable that their initial design fully was to implement Real Communism®. It would be ludicrous to suggest that millions of revolutionaries and their leaders, all across the globe, were only paying lip service to Communism, all the while plotting to establish a grossly bastardized version thereof.
- If, therefore, it is the case that, in spite of the best intentions of the comrade leaders, one nation after another after another fell victim to a phenomenal misapprehension of
Real Communism®, then the logical corollary must be that Real Communism® itself is fundamentally flawed. Surely a viable, feasible, practical ideology would be more immune to corruption than Real Communism® has consistently, yea exclusively, demonstrated itself to be.
- The risible and pitiable cheerleaders for Communism, however, breezily ignore all the antecedent. Their gambit is, in essence: Relinquish your freedoms, liberties, wealth, individuality, personality, ambitions and dreams, forget history, and just let us take yet another crack at setting up this system sure to rectify so many wrongs and benefit all. In other words: Hand over your money, shut up, and... - revolution, comrade!.
#2: Communism is altogether different than socialism, so criticism of the former does not--can not--apply to the latter.
There is some merit to this rebuttal. On paper, socialism and Communism are indeed quite dissimilar. Communism is an all-pervasive, intrusive, control-freak-y regime, which seizes and maintains an ironclad grip on every facet of individual and collective lives, education, commerce, politics, law, the economy, and even philosophy. Socialism, on the other hand, is a collection of so-called "social programs" that is large enough--yet unquantifiable--to merit being labeled as socialism. It is unquantifiable because, while to many the eponymous ObamaCare warrants the label socialist, to others even trippling all the current federal programs would not constitute socialism.
In practice, however, this protestation rings hollow. The more "social programs" are instituted, the larger the bureaucracy and machinery necessary for operating them. That in turn requires a bigger government and a more bloated public sector in general, as well as more material resources. All that ultimately leads to having to take more money from the working people. Unremitting raids on the taxpayers' pockets sooner or later call for indoctrination, which the more observant of the readers will recognize as the first step in establishing a Communist hegemony. One would certainly not wish to commit the slippery-slope fallacy by proposing that socialism invariably evolves into Communism, and examples to the contrary do abound. It is, nonetheless, beyond controversy that socialism is close on the ideological spectrum to Communism and that the difference between the two is not conspicuously demarcated.
#3: Bonus argument: The Scandinavian states are social democracies, so surely America can be, too. The Left in America likes to flaunt Scandinavia as an example, indeed paragon, of many desiderata: from anti-gun laws to multiculturalism to the socio-polito-economic system. Yet, if comparing Communism and socialism be a false analogy, then so is comparing Scandinavia and the United States. The Scandinavian states' combined population is around 7% of America's and, until very recently, they were all highly homogeneous demographically and, crucially, psychographically. In other words, those countries had comparatively few people and they were all, colloquially speaking, "on the same page" as regards their values, including diligence, interdependence, taxation, etc. America's population as well as inimitable diversity--most importantly in values and lifestyles of its inhabitants--mean that replicating the Scandinavian system would be implausible. Indeed, following the unprecedented and seismic changes (read: prodigious non-Western immigration) those states experienced in the past decade or two, reports are now plentiful of the social democratic system bursting at the seams. Warnings, each more dire than the previous, are coming thick and fast about the working Scandinavian population no longer being able (or even willing) to support its unemployed, unemployable, and employment-averse counterparts. This, to anyone who ever participated in a group project of any sort, will be unsurprising: Five motivated people get along fine and work like a well-oiled machine. Twenty people working on the same thing, and with varying levels of motivation, evidence a considerable incidence of "freeloading," sometimes to the extent of making the group unworkable or causing it to disintegrate beyond the committed core.
If the foregoing has veered between scholarly and demotic in tone, it is only because it is difficult to ascribe full seriousness to this type of topic. In 2015 no-one except the ignorant, the indolent or the malevolent should be extolling or prescribing Communism, socialism, fascism, or any kind of an oppressive, forcibly-collectivist ideology. The fact that so many do means that the lovers of freedom must remain vigilant because the battle for common sense is never-ending.
©2015 Michael L.S.