When it comes to the trajectory of Socialism, critics of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are either ignorant or liars. Historically, Socialism is an economic system in which 1.) society, not the private individual, owns the “means of production”; 2.) planning, rather than the market, determines the production of goods; and 3.) co-operation, rather than competition, is the guiding principle.
Socialism arose as a response to what people saw as the “injustices” of Capitalism; poverty, frequent unemployment; the destruction of the old handicraft industries, awful living conditions in factory cities, and a political system that tilted hard in favor of the capitalists. Unions and strikes were illegal; there were high property requirements to be able to vote or run for office in most places; and real power belonged to the bourgeoisie.
Early Socialism (1820s-1848) argued that a humane economy and society could be created by building co-operative factories and towns managed by the people who worked and lived in them. Many amusing stories come from this time. (See: phalanstery; see: Brook Farm.)
In 1848 the German intellectuals Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto, creating the form of Socialism later called Marxism. Marxism argued that a) capitalist greed would lead to a few owners gobbling up all their competitors so that ownership would end in a few hands; b) capitalist greed would lead to wages being forced down to the bare survival level; c) poor people can’t buy the things they produced, so capitalist governments would fight wars to conquer new markets and destroy surplus production that they could not sell; and d) all the miserable poor people would recognize that they belonged to one class (“those who work”) and the few owners belonged to another class (“those that don’t”); and e) revolution would replace Capitalism with Socialism. Everyone would live happily ever after.
Marxian Socialism became the dominant movement in Socialism after 1848. However, capitalism began evolving: unions were legalized, wages and living standards rose, governments created social insurance systems, and the bourgeoisie accepted political democracy. In the early 20th Century, Marxism split into two opposing groups. Reformist or Democratic Socialists said that Marx’s predictions hadn’t worked out, that revolution had to give way to participating in democratic politics, and that politics required a willingness to bargain with the other classes. In contrast, Communists said that to achieve Socialism it would take a small group of professional revolutionaries to organize “the masses” and then to lead a continuing revolution.
In practice, Communism turned out to represent “prison camps, overalls, and a damned long march to nowhere.” Communism is what contemporary American conservatives describe as “Socialism.”
In fact, the British Labour Party, the French Socialist Party, and the German Social Democratic Party have never been anything but guardians of political democracy. They have never tried to create a monopoly on political power and they have never failed to yield power when they lost a democratic election. Sanders and Warren clearly fall within this tradition.
Fight them on the real and many failings of Socialism, but don’t scare-monger and lie.