Recently I had the opportunity to debate a Bernie Sanders supporter and democratic socialist on the radio. As the democratic socialists become more prominent, both nationally and at our dinner tables and parties, it’s very likely you will find yourself engaging in a similar debate.
Here are a few lessons I learned from my experience that can help you debate a democratic socialist.
Lesson 1. Be Prepared
My opponent came prepared. She knew that I immigrated from Communist China and have written a book on the horrors of socialist communism. Therefore, she quickly pointed out that democratic socialism is not the same thing as what I experienced in China.
She claimed that she didn’t want to get rid of capitalism, private property rights and personal responsibility. She said she hopes democratic socialism, with all the free handouts and government intervention and workers’ power, will make capitalism a better system. She treats capitalism like a puppy: cute but needing adult supervision to ensure it will behave.
Fortunately, I came prepared too. While a foot soldier of democratic socialism like her treats capitalism as a misbehaving puppy, my research reveals the leadership of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) view capitalism as their ultimate foe that ought to be destroyed. DSA’s Vice-Chair Jeff Stein, writing for Vox, declares that DSA believes in abolishing capitalism for an economy run either by “the workers” or the state.
He wrote, “In practice, that means DSA [members advocate] ending private ownership of a wide range of industries whose products are viewed as ‘necessities,’ which they say should not be left to those seeking to turn a profit…DSA also believes that the government should ‘Democraticize’ private businesses — i.e., force owners to give workers control of them — to the greatest extent possible.”
There is a clear disconnect between what socialists like my debate opponent claim about democratic socialism versus what the DSA leadership openly advocates.
Lesson 2. Stress that Democratic Socialism Is Not New or Better
DSA leadership’s stated goals are the same goals declared by murderous communists Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and many other socialists in the past , which shows democratic socialism is not that much different from what we’ve seen before.
Here is more proof. I read my opponent the following quote:
- “We demand profit sharing in big business.
- We demand a broad extension of care for the aged.
- We ask that the government undertake the obligation above all of providing citizens with adequate opportunity for employment and earning a living.
- In order to make possible to every capable and industrious citizen the attainment of higher education and thus the achievement of a post of leadership, the government must provide an all-around enlargement of our entire system of public education. We demand the education at government expense of gifted children of poor parents.
- The government must undertake the improvement of public health-by protecting mother and child, by prohibiting child labor, by the greatest possible support for all clubs concerned with the physical education of youth.”
I asked her if these statements sound similar to what democratic socialists stand for, and she nodded. Then I revealed that they were excerpts from the 1920 declaration of the National Socialist Workers Party of Germany, more commonly known as Nazis.
My opponent argued that just because a party or a government calls itself socialist does not make it so, a standard and deceptive defense prescribed on the DSA website. Once again, she said democratic socialism today is very different from what was implemented in Stalin’s Soviet Union or Mao’s China.
But it’s today’s democratic socialists like her who get the history lessons wrong. Today’s DSA leaders not only share the same goals as socialists from the past, but also promise the same kind of socialist paradise that has been often promised but never realized.
Neither Stalin, Mao, nor other socialists ever declared that their goal was to bring starvation, mass murder, and unimaginable misery to their people. In the early days of their revolutions, just like today’s democratic socialists, they painted a rosy picture for all: everyone will have adequate food, housing, health care, child care, and education.
Socialist countries usually delivered their promises of free stuff at the beginning, by forcefully taking property from its rightful owners for redistribution. Yet their destruction of the rule of law and property rights always soon led to a destroyed economy. In the end, socialist countries always “ran out of other people’s money.”
That’s when government turns its brutal force against the people it was supposedly trying to help and suppresses voices they were supposedly trying to elevate. From the former Soviet Union, to Mao’s China, Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, Fidel’s Cuba, and Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela, no matter where socialism is implemented, they all started with the same great-sounding promises and end up going down through history in the same miserable way.
Lesson 3. How to Talk About Sweden
This lady made it clear from the beginning that democratic socialism won’t turn America into Maduro’s Venezuela, even though Venezuela has everything DS believers want: anyone who wants a university degree can get one regardless of prior educational experience or qualifications; socialized comprehensive health care because health care as a social right was written into the Venezuelan constitution; the government controls the economy by nationalizing thousands of private companies; price controls keep many things cheap for ordinary Venezuelans—i.e., a gallon of gas cost only 15 cents; the government raised the minimum wage by some 3,000 percent to $30 a month from the less than $1 a month workers now make.
When I asked, my debate opponent wouldn’t say which of these policies she doesn’t like. I imagine if democratic socialists like her had the power to duplicate these socialist policies in the United States, they would do it in a heartbeat. Like all democratic socialists, she refuses to see that Venezuela’s socialist policies are the causes of its problems such as mass starvation, a high infant mortality rate, and shortage of everything from diapers to medicines.
Venezuela is a perfect example of how democratic socialism fails in real life right in front of us. But it’s obvious democratic socialist apologists want to disassociate their movement from this troubled socialist country.
While democratic socialists disavow Venezuela, they clearly want to talk about Sweden. My opponent says democratic socialism will turn the United States into a bigger version of Sweden. I pointed out that Sweden is only able to afford its welfare state as a result of capitalist policies she and other democratic socialists despise: deregulation, strong protection of private property rights, privatization of failed state enterprises, strong support of free trade, and a national school voucher system.
This lady and other democratic socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez want to raise taxes on the rich and corporations in the U.S. to provide every American Swedish-style social welfare. But they either fail to mention or have no idea that Sweden’s tax policy is actually quite friendly to rich people and corporations. There is no property tax, and no inheritance tax.
Sweden’s corporate taxes rates (23.5 percent) were much lower than the U.S. rate of 35 percent before the U.S. tax cut in 2017. By these measures, Sweden is a much more capitalistic country than the United States is.
To pay for their expensive social welfare system, the Swedish government makes the poor and middle class pay huge tax rates, something that will never fly in the United States. Sweden’s top marginal tax rate of 56.9 percent applies to all income over 1.5 times the average income in Sweden. If we adopted the same personal tax system, any American who earns over $75,000 (1.5 times the average income of about $50,000 in the U.S.) would be taxed at 56.9 percent, in comparison to the present 22 percent.
In addition, both Sweden’s rich and poor pay the exact same amount of value-added tax (a consumption tax) at 25 percent. I doubt any democratic socialists really think this through when they say they want to model the United States after Sweden.
This lady came across as a kind woman. She seems genuinely concerned about other people’s well-being. Yet her prescriptions to cure social ills are wrong and her willful ignorance of history and reality is shocking. Socialism is an evil and immoral social economic system. No matter what kind of adjective someone today tries to decorate socialism with, it won’t change its evil nature.
It’s like trying to put lipstick on a pig, although it’s not fair to pigs to compare them to socialism. Let’s just call it as it is: democratic socialism is a scam, and it’s the same tyranny the world has seen over and over again. Anyone who loves liberty should be ready and be well prepared to vigorously push it back into history’s dust bin.