When I was a high school student, back in the 60s, I used to trot out the “but that wasn’t real socialism/communism” canard whenever anyone threw Stalin and Soviet Russia in my socialist face. I was probably just being a good son to my father who often lamented that “socialism is probably the best theoretical system of government but people are not really capable of applying it” whenever I asked him about Russia and the Soviet Republics.
50 years later and the same thing is happening everywhere you look. Right-wingers and self-identified liberals fling Venezuela and Pol Pot into the ring whenever they feel a “democratic socialist” coming on. And the “left” is still trotting out the canard.
The particular spin put on the classic canard by many of America’s contemporary “millennial socialists” and their slightly older confrères involves naming Norway and Denmark as real exemplars of socialism, in spite of the frequent denials by Norwegians and Danes that such is the case.
So the rule on the American left is: if a nation has undergone a socialist revolution and calls itself a socialist or people’s republic, it is absolutely not really socialist but two tiny constitutional monarchies, the Kingdoms of Norway and Denmark, are.
The point of this absurdist exercise is clear: whereas the history of capitalism and its ugly backside imperialism is fair game when it comes to debating the merits of systems, the history of socialism is yet to be written so all we can refer to are the tracts and tweets that make up socialist reality.
Plus the Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway of course.
Besides this utterly American tendency to prefer the fantasy of discourse to the discourse of history, this denial is related to the contemporary American left’s inability/unwillingness to distinguish itself from the liberalism that pervades the atmosphere of all American “democratic socialist” discourse.
According to much of the American left, democratic socialism is going to both “deepen democracy” and “make people free”. This sounds good until you begin to ask yourself what sort of “freedom” a “deeper democracy” is going to grant to communities of evangelicals and fervent Trump supporters. Will a democratic socialist America grant regions the “freedom” to ban abortion and institute racial discrimination in schooling and employment if local majorities support such policies? Will some localities be empowered to ban the hijab and the building of mosques?
The liberal answer to all such questions is to simply equate the individual rights doctrine of liberalism with “real” democracy and dismiss the preferences of the demos as bigoted reactionary ignorance.
What will the “millennial socialist” answer be?
I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting to hear. There are some questions that are better not asked because the answers are all equally unwelcome.