Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Difference Between Democrats and Socialists? You Bet!

Frank P. Zeidler - Milwaukee's 3rd Socialist Mayor  - from 1948-60. Barack Obama - Democratic President. Is there a political-philosophical difference between these two? It's so vast it would boggle your mind!

Recently, in an appearance on MSNBC's 'Hardball' Democratic National Committee Chairwoman  Debbie Wasserman Schultz was asked by Chris Matthews about the differences between Democrats and Socialists - given Bernie Sanders (a Socialist) is running as a Democrat.  After sporting a deer in the headlamps visage for several minutes, Debbie spouted something incoherent but not really informative. Did she not wish to 'go there, or did she simply not know?'

Matthews himself didn't appear to be the sharpest knife in the drawer on the democratic socialism of Sanders, say,  and the difference from the centrism (leaning to center rightism) in the standard Demo - like Hillary or Biden.. At one point Matthews,  appearing on 'Meet the Press', claimed that "socialists want the government to control the entire economy while Democrats just want to make small reforms to the economy to help out the poor".  Thereby confusing democratic socialists with standard Marxists-Leninists.

The loudmouth, brash centrist twerp went on to say that the reason Debbie Wasserman Schultz wasn't making the distinction between socialists and Democrats was that she "didn't want to offend the Bernie people."  Seriously? And this douchebag was actually once in the Peace Corps like yours truly?

As a 10-yr. member of the Democratic Socialists Of America (DSA)this sort of persistent ignorance and gaping historical blind spot galls me no end. I simply see no excuse for it.(Though it is a patent failure of the American educational system - still more concerned with supplying parts for the corporate state than autonomous citizens and critical thinkers.)  But short of countering the reams of false information with actual facts, there’s little one can do. No one has yet passed an amendment (nor will one ever be able, I suspect) making free speech contingent on actual facts and information. Anyone can therefore offer blurtations on socialism anytime he wants, never mind he gets 99 percent wrong.

Let's first get a general idea of socialism as I was first introduced to it, in Milwaukee, and then respond to the question of whether there are any similarities with Democrats - by which I mean members of the Democratic party. By actual Socialists I mean Democratic Socialists such as Sen. Sanders and myself. Democratic Socialism will then apply to us as well as certain countries including: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Barbados. (It does NOT apply to North Korea, China, or the former Soviet Union - nor does it apply to the "National Socialism" of Hitler which was actually an abuse of the word. Hitler's "socialism" was in fact a form of fascism, and to make a further emphasis on it - he had socialists beaten up and often killed by his gangs of S.A.and S.S. thugs.)

I thank my mother for educating me on Milwaukee’s last Socialist Mayor, Frank Zeidler - who was a member of the Socialist Party of America. On assorted streetcar trips in the early 1950s (back from her night school - teaching English to the foreign-born)  she'd point out special landmarks and places in Beer City and inform me how these were there thanks to the efforts of Milwaukee's mayor.

Note that before Zeidler, Emil Seidl became Milwaukee's first Socialist Mayor in 1910, followed by Daniel Hogan who lasted from 1916-1940 keeping the city out of debt during the Great Depression. Zeidler,  in his mayoral election campaign, noted the problem of ethnic division in other parts of the country and how this was exploited – especially by wealthy Republicans- to keep working class people divided. Zeidler vowed, if elected, he’d ameliorate these divisions and ensure all Milwaukeean Working class folks benefited – whether Croatian, German, Polish or whatever. Zeidler ended up winning three terms, enduring from 1948 until 1960 and turning Milwaukee into a prosperous post-war city.

Jobs proliferated, especially in major manufacturing (Allis –Chalmers etc.) while the Breweries hired thousands with excellent pay and benefits, including health care. Housing abounded as well, affordable housing off of Greenfield Ave. and Teutonia and in other suburbs to the north and west. Parks, meanwhile, were the envy of many other cities for their beautiful layouts, amenities and services. I can still recall going to Washington Park (across the street from where my family lived on 48th and Cherry Streets) on the 4th of July for band performances and later fireworks. I also enjoyed going to the Washington Park Zoo as often as I could, especially to visit the denizens of the Reptile House.

Crime was almost non-existent, despite Milwaukee reaching a population of 747, 000 by 1960. Zeidler also provided health care through the city, so no one needed to go broke to get any treatment. Like all REAL Socialists, Zeidler believed health care was a right, not merely having health insurance!. Education also benefited, and Milwaukee’s schools became some of the finest – not just Catholic but public schools as well, thanks to a higher local taxation rate, and not merely property taxes, which Zeidler knew would hit the elderly hardest.

Was any of this "communistic"? Of course not! It actually represented the ideal of what an American city ought to be about - as opposed to citizens subject to the law of the jungle and every man for himself.

In the Economic Bill of Rights, published by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), it is interesting to see:

1.. The right to a useful and remunerative job

2. The right to sufficient and nutritious food

3. Safe, healthy, secure and affordable housing

4. Free, accessible health care to all

5. Free, high quality public education

6. The right to organize to form unions, as well as community organizing

All of these were evident in Frank P. Zeidler’s Milwaukee, but you will definitely not see them in any Democratic Party manifesto today - nor will you see any Dem candidate espousing any of them - unless he is Bernie Sanders, already a Democratic Socialist but campaigning as a Dem. That's because this country offers no rational route to elections, if one is a third party member - and no proper forum for debates. In other words, the game is rigged for the duopoly.

In fact, to see how hostile a traditional (centrist) Democrat is to Socialism - even the Democratic Socialism of Bernie - one need only revisit Sen. Claire McCaskill's recent outburst against him, e.g.

What about John Fitzgerald Kennedy? While he initiated his Presidency as a cold warrior, we see over time he evolved to a "peacenik" - especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many hothead military types (think Gen. Curtis Lemay), in fact were ready to rip Kennedy to shreds after they learned that part of the deal to resolve the crisis included: 1) No further invasion attempts on Cuba or aggression, and 2) Removal of all Jupiter missiles from Turkey.

While not yet what a socialist might do, it was close. But after the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in August, 1963, and then the document (NSAM 263) to pull troops out of Vietnam by 1965, that was exactly what a socialist would do.

In any case, Kennedy was already viewed as a "statist" - if not a full-fledged socialist - by late 1962 and 1963. One can see this by perusing the financial press at the time.

Fortune, for example, implored Congress to stop JFK from using tax policy "as instruments to manage the economy". ('The Dream Businessmen Are Losing', Sept. 1963, p. 91).

Along the same lines, the "central organ of finance capital" - The Wall Street Journal, launched various articles and diatribes accusing JFK of being a "statist" and other things. Some of those articles include:

- 8/6/62 'No Cause for Celebration'; p. 6;

- 3/26/63 'Too Much Money, Too Little Thought', p. 18;

- 8/15/63 'When Friends Become Foes', p. 8

Meanwhile, Henry Hazlitt, contributing editor at Newsweek (The Washington Post's sister publication) was airing many of the same complaints against JFK. These polemics, appearing regularly in Hazlitt's 'Business Tides', included taking JFK to task for his tax policies - including the proposed tax on U.S. business earnings abroad. JFK was also chastised for "welfare spending".

Well, who would be more inclined to do welfare spending than a socialist?

The hard fact also is that if a REAL socialist were in the White House - as opposed to a Neoliberal centrist - we'd never have seen any of the following:

- Ramping up of troops in Afghanistan in 2009-10 and leaving thousands still there.

- Keeping the Iraq occupation going as long as it was

- Keeping Guantanamo open - it'd have been shuttered by executive order

- Sustaining a massive - secret surveillance state under the NSA - such as exposed by Edward Snowden

- Establishing a "debt commission" to cut Social Security

- Putting forth a healthcare system like Obamacare,  as opposed to a single payer system such as in Canada and the UK  No true socialist would demand a citizen pay for his own premiums or care!

- Signing and promoting a trade pact like the Trans Pacific Partnership

Having said all this, the closest Democratic program to a socialist one would be Social Security. But even that falls way short of what a true socialist would propose or implement. That is, there'd be no  payroll tax cap nor would it ever be proposed (as LBJ did once upon a time) that Social Security monies be mixed with general revenue so it could be raided at intervals. In this way there'd never be any problem about the program's "insolvency" and hence the need to cut it to save it - as so many Repukes (and even Dems) now propose.

No, most people have no clue what socialism is about and how far the Democrats are from it. Let's also keep in mind the Dems have been mutating toward the center right for at least the last 35 years. So they're no longer the party many of us still recognize. They have in many ways become Republican Lite - which is just as well given how far right the Repubs have themselves mutated.

In the current issue of 'Democratic Left' - the bulletin of the Democratic Socialists of America, it is acknowledged that neither regular party - Rs or Ds- is able to deal with the issues at the very heart of Democratic Socialism's wheel house.  As noted (p. 4):

"The bipartisan corporate elite cannot deal with rampant inequality, wage stagnation, mass immigration, and continuing racial exclusion"

Most of this was cast in stone with the formalizing of the Constitution which itself is a very limiting document that reflects more a republic than a democracy. As noted (ibid.):

"The founders  explicitly feared a majority of indebted small farmers would use their political power to inflate away their debts and threaten the power of slaveholders and bankers. So they wrote a constitution that enhanced the power of educated elites and made rapid democratic change difficult to achieve."

Of course, much of this difficulty was also self-inflicted as both parties have now revised the filibuster (one can now 'phone it in' as opposed to standing and manning the floor) and also demanded a super-majority in both houses of congress to get anything passed without being subject to executive veto.

By contrast, a unitary parliamentary system enables a party - if it gains a simple majority - to implement its programs rapidly, since the legislature appoints the executive and the courts lack powers of strong judicial review.  All of this means socialists are handicapped in getting most of their programs through and those like Sen. Sanders are like fish out of water unless they ally with one party.

On the other hand, as observed in the DSA Bulletin (p. 5) Sanders' campaign "represents a unique opportunity for DSA activists to legitimate our democratic socialist politics with a wide and diverse audience".

It also provides an excellent opportunity to educate Americans on what democratic socialism is all about- assuming they really want to know!

See also:


"All Bernie Sanders wants to do is make the US more like Scandinavia. He doesn't want the government to take over the economy. I repeat, he doesn't want the government to take over the economy.

And that's because state control over the economy isn't a democratic socialist idea. It's a communist idea, but democratic socialists like Bernie have zero interest in Soviet-style communism."

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