What Socialism Is and How It Works

Gallup says that 65 percent of Democrats think that socialism is a good idea. Gallup says that, overall, 39% of Americans like socialism and that 45% of them would vote for a socialist for president.

They may have different ideas about what "socialism" means. Some people probably mean the standard definition, which is that the government owns the means of production. Others may be thinking of what people in Europe call "social democracy," like when Sen. Bernie Sanders said he wanted the U.S. to be more like Denmark to defend his self-proclaimed socialism. "Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy," said the prime minister of Denmark right away. Denmark has a market economy."

The other day, I read an article in the Washington Post that gave an interesting example of real socialism. But before I quote that article, I'll look at what other people have said about what socialism means.
Socialism: Why It's Back and What It Means
When Stephen Colbert asked her what she meant by “democratic socialism,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio‐​Cortez responded, “I believe that in a modern, moral and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live.”
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says:

Socialism is a rich tradition of political thought and practice.…Socialists have deployed ideals and principles of equality, democracy, individual freedom, self‐​realization, and community or solidarity.

The Socialist Party USA says:

The Socialist Party USA strives to establish a radical democracy that places people’s lives under their own control — a classless, feminist, socialist society free of racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia, in which people cooperate at work, at home, and in the community.

Socialism is not mere government ownership, a welfare state, or a repressive bureaucracy. Socialism is a new social and economic order in which workers and consumers control production and community residents control their neighborhoods, homes, and schools. The production of society is used for the benefit of all humanity, not for the private profit of a few. Socialism produces a constantly renewed future by not plundering the resources of the earth.

The presumably more moderate Democratic Socialists of America, whose membership shot up after Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, says

We want to collectively own the key economic drivers that dominate our lives, such as energy production and transportation.

And now, with those definitions in mind, a Washington Post report on socialism in practice:

SEOUL — Lee Suk‐​jeong made good money as a smuggler across the North Korea‐​China border, bringing in items coveted in North Korean black markets: gold, cigarettes and popular South Korean television shows, movies and music.
That made her a frequent target of surveillance, and her home would be searched without warning. Once, she was held at a detention center for more than a year, said Lee, 49, who defected to the South in 2019.
Those who pursued Lee worked for a shadowy surveillance operation inside North Korea called the Non‐​Socialist Groups, which use a network of informants to crack down on a wide range of behaviors deemed “nonsocialist” or against the principles of the nation by the Kim Jong Un regime.
The enforcers rely on fear, bribery and extortion to help Kim maintain his grip on society, and can be quickly mobilized to quash activities deemed problematic, according to a report by the Seoul‐​based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights that was first provided exclusively to The Washington Post.
The violations pursued by the groups include possessing or consuming South Korean media; singing, dancing or speaking in a manner that is not considered North Korean; attempting defection; or criticizing the regime. Those who are found in violation may be sent to labor camps or in extreme cases, publicly executed, researchers found.

Now I know that everyone I mentioned above will say, "That's not real socialism!" The thing is, every socialist experiment starts out as a bright new day and ends up as a "that's not real socialism!" hellscape after a few years. Russia, China, Cuba, Zimbabwe, and Nicaragua were all praised by socialists at first, but once the results were clear, they were ignored or thrown out of the picture.
One socialist was more candid. The bestselling economist and author, Robert Heilbroner, wrote in a 1978 Dissent magazine article, “What Is Socialism?”:

Socialism…must depend for its economic direction on some form of planning, and for its culture on some form of commitment to the idea of a morally conscious collectivity….
If tradition cannot, and the market system should not, underpin the socialist order, we are left with some form of command as the necessary means for securing its continuance and adaptation. Indeed, that is what planning means…
The factories and stores and farms and shops of a socialist socioeconomic formation must be coordinated…and this coordination must entail obedience to a central plan…
The rights of individuals to their Millian liberties [are] directly opposed to the basic social commitment to a deliberately embraced collective moral goal… Under socialism, every dissenting voice raises a threat similar to that raised under a democracy by those who preach antidemocracy.

The Meaning of
Few socialists outside of the Communist Party are willing to admit that real socialism means giving up our "Millian liberties" for the supposed good of economic planning and "a morally conscious collectivity." And social democracy in western Europe has not led to such a disaster. But in places like Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, where real socialism has been tried, it has led to economic decline, poverty, the loss of human rights, dictatorship, and police states.
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