The month Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for president in 2015, the word that was searched for more than any other on the Merriam-Webster website was “socialism.” Many millennials didn’t even know what the word meant.
Europeans know what socialism is and have never feared it like Americans. Democratic socialist parties have governed 55 nations since 2000. In France the major socialist party was a democratic socialist party (Parti Socialiste, considered by most political scientists as a center-left party in France. It maintained a majority in the French parliament from 1981-86 and 1988-93. It has had two socialist presidents, François Mitterand (1981-95) and François Hollande (2012-17). Just before I retired in 2000, 60 French cities had communist mayors.
Even Germany has a vibrant democratic socialist party (Sozialdemokratische Partei) and three socialist chancellors since WW II: Willi Brandt (1969-72), Helmut Schmidt (1974-82), and Gerhard Schröder (1998-2005). Before the Jewish genocide, the Nazis tried to eliminate the communists and socialists, forcing them underground. In U.S. war movies, the “partisans” and “underground” resistors were socialists.
So, what happened in America after WWII? Well, HUAC and a senate committee chaired by Joseph McCarthy happened. McCarthy announced in 1950 that he had a list of 57 known communists in the State Department. Once they were fired, he claimed that members of the communist party or "communist front organizations" had infiltrated the Army, our universities, and Hollywood. McCarthy's investigations cost thousands their jobs and instilled fear of being called socialist in all Americans.
McCarthy witch hunt was televised daily on U.S. television. It assumed that the USSR was a fair example of socialism. Americans were already fearful of the USSR because of its occupation of all the Eastern European nations on its border and its avowed desire to spread its version of socialism all over the world.
McCarthy left unexplained why the National Socialist (Nazi) Party of Germany and the Soviet socialist (Communist) party were mortal enemies. If we take those two “parties” as crime syndicates in control of two countries, as I have argued before, then the war between the two is more easily understood as one major crime syndicate’s attempt to take over the territory of another.
The 19th century socialism of Karl Marx has over the years morphed into Democratic Socialism, a left-of-center labor party in France, Germany, Italy, and other nations around the world. Older Americans think that Democratic Socialism is a far-left set of ideas. The difference between our opinion and the European view is explained by the lack of the big socialist programs in the United States already been adopted throughout Europe: government-run health care, university education, transportation, a big national radio-TV network, etc.
Democratic socialism is simply a labor party—it even calls itself that in the UK. Today it tries to remove capitalism where it does not belong by regulating capitalism, so it doesn’t imbalance society. It considers the primacy of the profit motive out of place in economic sectors benefiting the entire society, like health care, education, transportation and utilities. It does not advocate a government takeover of all sectors.
Like all other countries, America is already a mixed capitalist-socialist society: free public education, no child labor, the 40-hour work week, social security, Amtrak, the Fed (national credit bank) all originated in socialism. That's why capitalists and their party so oppose these laws and programs.
It’s time for us to overcome our fear of socialism and try to blend the two systems more favorably together.