Regardless of whether America's young "democratic" socialists realize it or not, the line between socialism and its "democratic" prefix goes through private property. So long as socialists respect private property they can aspire to call themselves "democratic"; respect for private property is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a democratic society. When socialists do not respect private property, they have lost the last connection to democratic principles.
When socialists in Europe used government to confiscate, or nationalize, or socialize, private property in the wake of World War II (and earlier in the Soviet Union) they made it illegal to defend private property politically. People and political parties that defended private property were branded as counter-revolutionary and enemies of the state. The reason is as obvious as it is devious: confiscation of private property is a necessary element in the de-capitalization of the economy.
Socialists rightly see capitalism and socialism as mutually exclusive systems, with the former relying on private property to exist. In Marxist theory, the capitalist's ownership of the means of production defines capitalism as an economic system: their conflict theory says that so long as capitalists own property, they will continue to exploit workers. The purpose of socialism, say the socialists, is to end this exploitation and institute a completely different form of distribution of production value.
In other words, socialism cannot fulfill its promise of ending exploitation unless it ends private ownership of property. To achieve this goal, in other words to end capitalism, socialists must both ban private ownership and prohibit political advocacy of the same. If political parties were allowed to defend private property, there would always be a risk that capitalism will make a comeback.
Therefore, socialism necessarily means both the end of private property and the end of any form of democratic government, whether a parliamentary democracy or a constitutional republic.
This last point is very important to keep in mind as we approach both the November elections and the presidential race in 2020. The aggressive radical wing of the Democrat party has taken a sharp turn to the left, so sharp that it now openly propagates the confiscation of private property. Or, in the words of Sarah Jones of The New Republic (emphasis added):
It’s certainly true that Sanders is to the left of most Democrats. But contrary to how he’s often portrayed in the media, he is not a doctrinaire leftist. His principal benefit to the left has been to mainstream certain beliefs—namely, that access to health care, education, and living wages are rights, not luxuries. But Sanders is not a revolutionary. His views aren’t even entirely consistent with democratic socialism, the political tradition he claims. It’s one thing to call for breaking up the big banks, and quite another to call for the nationalization of private industries. Sanders isn’t just to the right of the average American socialist; he’s to the right of Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the U.K.’s Labour Party. While nationalization is a key pillar of the party’s platform, it is ground politicians in the United States still fear to tread.
Jones makes three points here. First, her socialism is revolutionary, i.e., it aims to overthrow our current constitutional republic by whatever means are necessary. When she criticizes Senator Bernie Sanders for not being a revolutionary, she defines the work that Sanders is doing within our current political system as the wrong path for socialists to go. She paints a clear contrast between our political system against the revolutionary method, a contrast that marks the difference between the United States as it is, and armed, violent revolution.
It is logical for her to advocate armed revolution. The goal is a dictatorship where private property is illegal and where it is against the interests of the state to advocate private property. Such a political system is inherently violent: the only way to uphold a dictatorship is with violence or fear of violence. There are no common, positive values holding society together.
Jones's second point is about private property per se. By defining nationalization - i.e., confiscation - of private property as the defining difference between socialism of the Bernie Sanders brand, and her own, she defines property confiscation as necessary for realizing her ideology. Thereby, she also casts herself as an un-democratic socialist.
Since socialism depends on the abolition of private property, it is inherently non-democratic. However, the path to its abolition can be either revolutionary or reformist; the Scandinavian egalitarian welfare state is reformist, but eventually ends up in the totalitarian camp to which revolutionary socialism takes a shortcut. The eventual goal of egalitarian welfare state is to - literally - end economic differences between individual citizens, a goal that can only be accomplished through the confiscation of either property or income from property.
Long term, the difference between the two confiscatory techniques is of no consequence; reformist socialism is slower and leaves impatient revolutionaries frustrated, but that is it.
The third point that Jones puts out is that it is now time for Democrats to do what radical leftist parties in Europe do, namely to formally propose the confiscation of private property. This is a declaration of intent by some of the most radical, totalitarian elements in American politics, that they intend to openly and aggressively challenge the political establishment. The election of candidates such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Brooklyn, NY is a harbinger of what is to come in the next couple of elections.
It is enormously dangerous to disregard this kind of radicalism as fringe politics with no chance to tap into the political mainstream. One need look no further than European history in the 20th century, or Venezuela in the past 20 years. It is equally dangerous to disregard calls for armed revolution: such calls often lead to violence from terrorist groups who see themselves as the avantgarde of the socialist revolution. Again, European and Latin American history serve up plenty of experience to learn from.
Socialism is inherently totalitarian. The "democratic" prefix serves as a veil to hide the dictator whose role it is to institute socialism by force. However, even if one were to remove the dictator from the socialist roster of political methodology, as Part 2 of this essay will show, even the reformist alternative to armed revolution eventually brings about the same totalitarianism as the armed revolution does.
Again: socialism is inherently totalitarian.