Read: Socialism, but in Iowa
This history makes it all the more important for Sanders to be clear on the kind of role that he envisages for the market in the society he is setting out to create. What forms of private economic initiative would be allowed? After sitting through his 40-minute speech, I was none the wiser about this basic question. Instead of clearing, Sanders’s long-standing ambiguity about the nature of the socialism for which he stands settled over me like a sea of fog.
If Sanders was coy about the details of a “socialist” economy, he was downright disdainful of the notion that a speech on socialism and authoritarianism should seriously grapple with the long history of socialist movements that have ended in dictatorship. In his view, the threat of autocracy comes exclusively from the right. Just as in the 1930s, “America and the world are once again moving towards authoritarianism.” This danger is driven by “right-wing forces of oligarchy, corporatism, nationalism, racism, and xenophobia.” The only answer that will stave off fascism is, you guessed it, “democratic socialism.”
Thus Sanders name-checked Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini but remained silent about Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. And while he rightly decried the autocratic tendencies of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, he neglected to mention leftist autocrats such as Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Cuba’s Raúl Castro, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, or North Korea’s Kim Jung Un. Indeed, the only connection between socialism and autocracy that Sanders was willing to acknowledge is the one that exists in the feverish imagination of the ignorant right: He decried the “red-baiting” in which Republicans have long engaged.
The implication was obvious. Anybody who was hoping for a clear account of the differences between Sanders’s political ambitions and those of autocratic socialist regimes is a fellow traveler of Richard Nixon, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Donald Trump, and the Heritage Foundation.
Read: Trump’s new Red Scare
Over the past few months, Senator Elizabeth Warren has issued a series of ambitious proposals for economic reform. Under her plans, the tax system of the United States would become a lot more redistributive. Americans would enjoy far more generous entitlements. Every resident would be guaranteed access to affordable health care. And the state would become much more active in curbing the formation of monopolies.
But Warren has argued that she is seeking to rescue, rather than bury, capitalism. (She cleverly dubbed one of her most ambitious plans the “Accountable Capitalism Act.”) And she has clearly articulated that the market has an important role to play in the country she hopes to build. In fact, many of her proposals are as much about ensuring that there is true competition in areas like tech as they are about restricting the operation of free markets.