To people who have been stung by socialism — ask any American refugee from Cuba, Venezuela or any of the Baltic states that only recently have thrown off Soviet tyranny — there is not much difference between professed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
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Socialism has a long pedigree. The first socialist leader of a large European country was chancellor of Germany Otto von Bismarck. German nationalism and Bismarckian socialism, largely a reaction to anti-monarchical socialists and anarchists, sprang from the same political font. Bismarck sought to subvert the reckless and borderless advance of socialism by offering Germans universal health care.
Progressivism in the United States, stretching from the post-Civil War through the Great Depression, was socialism’s half-way house, a via media between communism at one end of the political spectrum and free-market economics at the other end. Once one accepts the premises of progressivism, the transition to socialism becomes effortless.
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And socialism is, ideologically, the antechamber of communism, which is why Sanders felt so comfortable canoodling in 1985 with Latin American communists such as the Castro brothers of Cuba and the Ortega brothers of Nicaragua. Sanders honeymooned in the Soviet Union, which still lay under the shadow of Leonid Brezhnev, general-secretary of the Central Committee of the governing Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in 1982. Honeymoons are what happens after newlyweds are wed, and Sanders romanced the Soviet Union only six years after Brezhnev had assumed room temperature, while former President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, glasnostian Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and others were laying cordite at the foot of the Marxist-Leninist failed experiment, following, let us not forget, Nikita Khrushchev’s debunking of the myth of Nietzschean superman Joseph Stalin.
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Warren did not honeymoon in the Soviet Union, nor has she praised Latin American communist potentates. But she is waiting patiently in the antechamber.
Like Sanders, she wants some form of a universal health care system — never mind how she plans to pay for it — which will give the central government of the United States permanent control over an even larger chunk of the U.S. economy, a confiscatory tax on wealth, rather as if wealth were a social disease, and a limitless claim to the assets of the American public.
Progressivism is an effort to make the world over by confiscating wealth and redistributing it — without regard for limitations set by constitutions or the reasonable vetoes of common sense — and then distributing the appropriated wealth not to the poor, as Marx suggested, “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs,” but rather to factional political groups that keep deceptive politicians in power.
When progressives imagine MORE, they also spin emotionally pleasing narratives in which MORE is presumptively beneficial for the general run of humanity. There comes a point, however, in which quantitative changes trigger a qualitative change — a tipping point at which progressivism becomes socialism and socialism becomes communism.
True witnesses to the 20th century — possibly the most murderous in history — who have lived their lives with their eyes open are fully aware of the dangers of illusions, impossible dreams and bewitching narratives.
But what is the witness of history to romantic American progressives other than a mere impediment that may be overcome by appeals to the heart? It’s doubtful that the typical Connecticut scholar graduating from Yale or UConn would recognize any of the heroic names cited above. Certainly they are not likely to meet the ghost of Solzhenitsyn in any recent news story outlining the ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Stalinization of Ukraine through famine does not even merit mention in stories detailing the annexation by Putin of Crimea, deeded to Ukraine by Khrushchev, Stalin’s Falstaff who, as a Ukrainian, suffered from a bad conscience when forced by Stalin to swallow the deaths by starvation of 8 million to 10 million Ukrainians. Today in news reports, Ukraine serves only as a theater in which the son of a prospective U.S. president, former Vice President Joe Biden, got his plunder from a corrupt (read: Russianized) Ukraine.
For progressives, history matters not at all because, as Marx memorably put it, the purpose of communism is not to recall history — but to change it. That has been the chorus of the progressive itch to plow the past under and create the world anew. The thoroughgoing communist always has a Utopian plan that ends with the wreck of Western civilization, after which comes the deluge.