(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Photo: Charlie Neibergall
Photo: Charlie Neibergall

Opinion: An open letter to “Democratic Socialists” visiting Atlanta

Dear democratic socialists coming to town,

The Democratic Socialists of America is holding its annual conference in Atlanta at the beginning of August. As a newly minted Atlantan (by way of Lithuania), I welcome you. But I also want to ask you a favor.

If you want to argue for single-payer healthcare, high taxes, or any other big government policies – fine, do that. Just don’t call it “democratic socialism.”

For those of you who have not experienced socialism, the term “democratic socialism” might seem innocent or perhaps even idealistic. As someone who has lived under it, for me, socialism is oppression, occupation, mass murder, severe material deprivation, and complete lack of freedom.

Yet, in a spirit of freedom, I would wholeheartedly defend your right to use the term “democratic socialism.” I simply ask you not to. Using that term is not merely adopting the latest politically “woke” branding. It is to rehabilitate an ideology responsible for some of history’s greatest atrocities (and many of today’s as well).

And tacking on the word “democratic” doesn’t change things. Socialism has never been democratic. Democracies protect the minority against the abuse of the majority. A society, where the individual’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness are not protected is not a democracy, but much closer to mob rule.

And yet socialist countries never even achieved true majority rule. The socialists came to power and maintained control through literal, physical oppression of the people. In the Soviet Union, people who did not agree with socialist doctrine were either shot or starved to death. Later, people who did not agree with socialism were put in psychiatric hospitals and in many cases force-fed drugs that destroyed their minds.

Also, please stop pointing to Scandinavian countries as successful examples of “democratic socialism.” They are not. You could argue that their governments play a larger role in health care, for example, or that certain tax rates are higher than in the U.S. But this needs a very careful case-by-case examination, which will yield some unexpected results. For example, Sweden and Norway have more billionaires per capita than the U.S. School choice and student vouchers are widespread in Scandinavian countries. And Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are consistently ranked toward the top of the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index (the U.S. ranks at 8).

Scandinavians themselves insist they are not “democratic socialist.” Listen when the Prime Minister of Denmark says: “I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy”.

Finally, if you think inequality is too high under capitalism, take a look at inequality in socialist countries. The Soviet Union had special grocery stores for party members, which regular people were not even allowed to enter. Do you think markets harm the environment? Just look at environmental devastation brought by the Soviet Union, e.g. Chernobyl or the Aral Sea. And human rights? Don’t get me started.

At the end of the day, you want to increase taxes? Have more government intervention in peoples’ personal lives? Fine (although I still think this is a bad idea and will fight against it). But don’t use “democratic socialism.” Socialism has caused too much suffering to be given any credence today.

Zilvinas Silenas is the president of the Foundation for Economic Education (est. 1946). Zilvinas is a native of Lithuania, and lived there under occupation by the Soviet Union. Having spent 13 years in public policy in Europe, he and his wife recently moved to Atlanta.

Zilvinas Silenas is president of the Foundation for Economic Education.

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