Thursday, April 21, 2016

Socialist Ideals and Reality


The Presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, the Socialist Senator from Vermont, seems to be falling short especially after yesterday’s double-digit loss to front-runner Hillary Clinton in New York. Nevertheless, Sanders continues to attract record-breaking crowds of fervent supporters to his campaign rallies.

One of his supporters, a self-styled “community activist” from Bridgeport, CT penned an op-ed in the CT Post, my local newspaper, urging Americans to get over their irrational fear of Socialism. For him, Socialism “defines the essence of  ‘civilized’ life by human beings.”

Fortunately, it is possible to test his hypothesis in the many laboratories of human experience over the past one hundred years. We have the example of Socialism in Russia that began with the Communist revolution in 1917. We have the example of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany that led to World War II and the Holocaust. We have the example of Maoism in China during the great purge that murdered over 20 Million people. We have the example of the various Socialist “republics” set up in Eastern Europe after World War II.

All of these Socialist experiments began with high-sounding ideals and slogans but all degenerated into police states ruled by a small minority of party bigwigs and their bureaucratic servants. I was reminded of this the other day while viewing a truly great German film, “The Lives of Others.”

Before the collapse of the Berlin wall, East Germany’s population was closely monitored by the State Secret Police or Stasi.  Only a few citizens above suspicion were permitted to lead private lives. The film revolves around a loyal and favored East German playwright and his beautiful actress girlfriend. When a corrupt government official falls for the actress, an ambitious Stasi policeman is ordered to bug the writer’s apartment to gain incriminating evidence against the rival. It is a good story, extremely well told, and it won an Oscar in 2007 for best foreign film.

The story plays out against the background of socialism in the German Democratic Republic or GDR with its ruthless and inhumane interrogation tactics, and its constant spying on and surveillance of an incredible number of ordinary people considered to be potential enemies of the Socialist republic. (Use this link or click on the video below for the five-minute opening scene of a lesson in interrogation.)

However, the film makes it clear that it was not just the secret police and their tactics that were at fault. The whole system was corrupt. Socialist idealism easily gave way to corruption and cronyism. Party bosses ruled with an iron hand. They ruled by fear. They struck fear into their immediate underlings, who in turn struck fear into their own subordinates.  There was no real equality. The workers’ paradise had turned into hell. The film claims that the suicide rate in the GDR was so high, that the government, which counted everything else, just stopped publishing suicide statistics.

Although we have so far been spared a Socialist revolution in the USA, many aspects of Socialism have crept in by the back door. I live next to Bridgeport, the most populous city in Connecticut. For years, Bridgeport has been a one-party city. It’s Democrat Party leaders not only control municipal government, but also usually manage to bring out enough votes to play a key role in state elections.

Last year, the Democrat politicians managed to bring back into office a former Mayor who had spent time in prison for corruption during his first administration. He is now cleaning house to balance the budget but also to get rid of political enemies and find jobs for his own supporters. Here’s a couple of examples.

The Commissioner of Parks, a long time figure in Democrat politics, was told that his position was being eliminated. One of the Mayor’s aides explained that the job was no longer necessary even though the Commissioner had managed to augment his $125000 salary with $50000 of overtime pay in the last year. The Commissioner chose to retire and was given a $15000 bonus, and a couple of years of free medical insurance. I suspect that his already generous pension was augmented by the additional overtime pay in his last year. Another official who was forced out is threatening to sue the City in order to regain his position. He has, however, indicated his willingness to settle out of court for a Million dollars.

How many ordinary people can claim such benefits when their jobs are eliminated? Examples like the above are typical of what is going on throughout the country as politicians and so-called public service employees rack up benefits and pensions that are busting budgets from Connecticut to California. I call this back door Socialism where all are equal, but some are more equal than others.


1 comment:

  1. Claire from Connecticut comments:

    You are absolutely right about socialism: it is a system of "equality" for the "common" citizen--that is, for the common citizen to fear and suffer while the small group on top ulive the good life. Total equality is just a myth.