There’s a remarkable essay in a recent issue of the Socialist Forum, a publication of the Democratic Socialists of America. “Socialism Against Sprawl” is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the new crop of radicals and the ideas they have for the country. Considering that Bernie Sanders a top Democrat presidential hopeful, and given that the Democratic Socialists elected some 40 national, state, and local candidates in 2018, including overnight political celebrities like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Talib, for better or worse they’re a political force. Their ideas warrant critical evaluation, and the Socialist Forum is a small but growing outlet that offers a window into their ideological agenda. It is a largely fact free environment.
A defining aspect of the Democratic Socialists’ message is their claim that, to paraphrase the late George H.W. Bush, they’re a kinder, gentler breed of socialists. The realities of proposals like the “Green New Deal” are shaded, cloaked in anodyne euphemisms and linked to climate change as if they are the only possible means of arresting a coming global cataclysm. They assure Americans that they envision a benevolent, Scandinavian style communitarianism (an audacious assertion considering that actual Scandinavians are all over the record disavowing socialism, including former Danish and Swedish Prime Ministers).
Never mind that one of the Democratic Socialists’ most influential outlets is Jacobin Magazine, approvingly named for the 19th century French political party that guillotined as many as 40,000 ideological opponents during the Reign of Terror. But not to worry: Bernie Sanders has said, “To me, when I talk about democratic socialism, what I talk about are human rights and economic rights.” In the New York Times Jamelle Bouie recently assured us that “there’s not much fear to monger.” Some, apparently, but not much. Over at Vox, Dylan Matthews intones that what we’re talking about is “social democracy” that will achieve its ends through small-d democratic processes as opposed to revolutionary means. And here’s a piece from jalopnik.com entitled “No, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t Coming to Take Your Cars Away,” in which the writer eloquently concludes, “All the hysterics are, in case it’s not obvious, bulls***” (That last headline at least is accurate insofar as the Congresswoman isn’t going to show up personally in your driveway with a tow truck. She’s too busy zipping around in labor exploiting Ubers, ozone depleting airplanes, and gas guzzling SUVs).
On the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) website, the party states that “At the root of our socialism is a profound commitment to democracy, as means and end,” and that “we believe that social and economic decisions should be made by those whom they most affect.” Yet on the very same website “Socialism Against Sprawl” speaks approvingly of government seizure of private property: “The expropriation of all land in the suburbs…will facilitate a shift in population distribution from suburban and rural areas into urbanized places.”
It would be interesting to hear Bernie Sanders or AOC explain how forced expropriation of tens of millions of homes in suburbs across America is a democratic means of letting people make their own economic decisions.
It gets worse:
- “If many more people are to fit into an urban environment, the city must densify–that is, reduce the acreage allocated to each person who lives there.”
- “Urbanization will also force residents to transition away from the private lawns of suburbia and toward shared public green spaces.”
- “Urban communities can encourage widespread use of mass transit while practically eliminating use of the private automobile.”
“Seizure.” “Expropriation.” “Force.” “Elimination.” None of it sounds very democratic, but it is awfully socialistic. Green New Deal pogroms – excuse us, programs – will “remind all residents of a city at every turn that they are part of a society, and that their individual lives cannot be divorced from those of their neighbors.” Big Brother will be watching and reminding us of our proper places and roles. Only instead of Little Red Books the vanguard will be brandishing copies of the Green New Deal. Green is the new Red.
Finally the essay reaches the endgame: ““[C]ities can develop an urban environment where residents of a neighborhood are able to live a full and enriching life without ever traveling more than a few blocks from home” (emphasis ours).
Re-read that sentence, then re-read it again. Burn it into your memory, because the truth is that “democratic socialism,” like every other manifestation of history’s most destructive and murderous ideology, ultimately is about control. Period. End of discussion. Even the Bolsheviks started life as superficially benign democratic socialists promising to free the benighted urban industrial proletariat (a tiny proportion of Russian workers at the time) from the shackles of capitalism. The only fluidity in socialism is the nomenclature; its goals have never changed
The essay quotes a 1973 missive in which New Left theorist Andre Gorz asserted that “an ideological (‘cultural’) revolution would be needed to break this circle [of dependence on automobiles].” Chillingly, he wrote those words as the actual Great Cultural Revolution was claiming lives, careers, and families by the million
But what about cars? “Socialism Against Sprawl” spells it out in black and white (or rather, bright red): “Reducing or totally eliminating private car ownership is a critical step towards combating climate change. If private cars stick around at all, they’ll only work as a mode of transportation if their use is strictly limited.” (emphasis ours)
So, yes, the socialists are coming for your car. And your house. And your front lawn. And your barbecue. “Socialism Against Sprawl” is one of the few honest missives outlining where the brave new Left wants to take this country. The problem is, besides mega developers and the activists and politicians who serve as their useful idiots few Americans want to swap their Subarus for Schwinns or their front lawns for communal green spaces maintained by corrupt local governments. Home ownership remains the heart of the American Dream. And a car is one of the first major purchases most people make when they have a few dollars. It’s human nature: The urge to wander and the desire to have a place of one’s own are elemental.
And of course, as with virtually every Leftist ideology the hardest hit will be the lower classes, working poor, and immigrants. Consider that for millions of immigrants a secondhand car or truck, while expensive, is their central economic lifeline. That’s true of lower income people generally. According to a 2010 paper in the journal Urban Geography, “studies of mostly welfare populations have suggested that while public transportation is not unimportant, the automobile is a critical factor in moving from welfare to work.” (emphasis ours).
As we have previously written in these pages, a 2018 UCLA study commissioned by the Southern California Association of Governments – one of the leading governmental boosters of density, transit, bike lanes, and the rest – notes that over the last 15 years in Southern California “vehicle ownership has grown particularly sharply among subgroups most likely to use transit, such as the low-income and the foreign born from Latin America.” Moreover, “With very few exceptions, acquiring an automobile in Southern California makes life easier along multiple dimensions, dramatically increasing access to jobs, educational institutions and other opportunities” (emphasis ours).
Indeed, even the Utopians tacitly acknowledge these realities, which is why states like California issue driver licenses to illegal immigrants and soften requirements such as registration fees for low income people. When it comes to economic mobility and opportunity the individual automobile remains unsurpassed.
“Socialism Against Sprawl” isn’t idle theorizing. Policymakers in cities and states around the country already are doing everything they can to force people out of their cars and ratchet up the burden of private property ownership. California is proposing a 70% tax on estates worth more than $3.5 million ($7 million for couples). Anyone who lives in L.A. or the Bay Area can attest that a $3.5 million estate, including the value of a home, hardly establishes you as rich. The real goal is to make inheritance of real property as burdensome and expensive as possible for the middle class. New York’s 2019-20 annual budget includes “congestion pricing” in Manhattan, tolls charged to drivers to enter certain parts of the borough. Progressives hail the idea as a mechanism for reducing driving and hastening the arrival their car-free Utopia. Again, it’s middle class commuters who’ll be hardest hit. These are just two of hundreds of examples.
The question, then, is what happens if policies like estate taxes, congestion pricing, Vision Zero, and all the rest fail to convince Americans to radically change their way of life? What if people just really, really like their cars, to the point that no amount of gridlock is going to pry them out? What if millions of Americans continue to dream of owning their own home one day, with a front lawn, a backyard, and a barbecue? What if we’re willing to shoulder all the cost, inconvenience, and uncertainty that government can throw at us just for the chance to enjoy a glass of wine on the back porch after work?
History does not suggest pretty answers. The fatal flaw in socialism is that it requires everyone to agree. Which is why Bernie is nothing but a Bolshevik reboot and Occasio-Cortez is just a wannabe Castro with better fashion sense. Like every other attempt in history, “democratic socialism” is just another way of saying social engineering.