Democratic Leaders Join House Republican Attack on “Socialism”

House Republicans have wasted no time in red-baiting the Left, and the centrist leadership of the Democratic Party has apparently been happy to join them.

Representative Nancy Pelosi during an event to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 2, 2023. (Ting Shen / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Thursday, Hakeem Jeffries — a newly significant leader in the Democratic Party, now that, with Nancy Pelosi’s impending retirement, he’s the House Minority Leader and the leader of the House Democratic Caucus — gave a master class in being a craven tool.

When House Republicans brought an absurd resolution condemning the “crimes” of socialism, just after stripping Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar of her committee positions, Jeffries was quick to call bullshit, dubbing it — repetitively though pointedly — a “fake, phony, and fraudulent” resolution. Jeffries said the House resolution gave “cover” for “MAGA Republicans to try to undermine an agenda that is designed to lift up the health, safety, and well-being of the American people.”

Thanks for your support, Hakeem. We’d describe socialism the same way.

Jeffries pointed out that historically, Republicans have used the word “socialism” to try to undermine support for popular government programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, Obamacare, and even the Obama-era stimulus bill. His indignation was palpable over what he called a “so-called resolution.”

Yet after this rousing speech, Hakeem Jeffries voted for the Republicans’ resolution.

So did Nancy Pelosi. Yea votes also include other members of centrist leadership, including Adam Schiff, who we’ve written about before, and Jim Clyburn, notorious opponent of Bernie Sanders and Nina Turner. Rising “progressive” icon Ro Khanna, whose Silicon Valley constituents badly need expropriation, also voted yes.

The resolution sweepingly equates every socialist leader from Hugo Chavez to Joseph Stalin and ignores most of socialist history and present-day experience. After a name-check of socialist dictators, the resolution invokes America founding fathers condemning what Republicans and Democrats probably agree is the more pressing evil: redistribution of wealth.

To that end, the resolution quotes from Thomas Jefferson on the sacrosanct nature of wealth, even inherited wealth:

To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.

This is especially rich coming from someone whose wealth consisted of actual human beings. Jefferson held more than six hundred people as slaves during his lifetime, and only freed ten.

The founding fathers had no experience of twentieth-century authoritarianism. Their evocation here plays a revealing role: this resolution isn’t about abusive autocrats, but about sending a message that any kind of redistribution is dangerous and un-American, at a time when socialist ideas — ranging from increasing taxes on the rich to worker ownership of the means of production — are more popular than ever. Please note that these Republicans and Democrats are evoking ardent slaveholders’ opposition to redistribution and collectivity, to silence a growing movement for social and workplace democracy.

Explaining why she brought the resolution, Representative Maria Elvira Salazar said on the House floor that young people were “falling for” socialism, noting with alarm that 40 percent of millennials thought the Communist Manifesto was a better declaration of freedom and equality than the Declaration of Independence.

Those millennials are correct, of course: the Communist Manifesto and the Declaration of Independence are both visionary documents, but Marx’s manifesto is far more specific about what freedom and equality is and how it is achieved.

Salazar noted that 40 percent “of all Americans, not only the youth” believe that “socialism is good” (we couldn’t agree more with this 40 percent), and that 33 percent said they were likely to support a member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) for office.

If Jeffries truly didn’t agree with the Republicans’ McCarthyite statement of plutocratic entitlement, he could have done much more than say so: he could have voted no. That he didn’t shows yet again that the Democratic leadership is willing to side with the Republicans against the Left, something we’ve seen again and again (recall how New York State Democratic chair Jay Jacobs put more energy into defeating India Walton, a socialist running for mayor of Buffalo, than in helping New York Democrats beat Republicans in congressional races, choices that have cost the Democrats the House majority and are the reason Jeffries is a Minority rather than a Majority leader today

While the behavior of these senior Democratic leaders was depraved, there’s some good news here. Eighty-six House Democrats voted against the resolution. It’s hard to convey to those who didn’t grow up during the Cold War what a huge advance in our political culture this represents: even a decade ago, many more of these Democrats would have supported this resolution.

The reasoning of those members who opposed the resolution was heartening. Berniecrat Pramila Jayapal noted that the Republicans are fearmongering about socialism in order to attack popular entitlement programs, and distract Americans interested in emulating popular models of social democracy like those in Nordic countries. Even some of the liberals less sympathetic to socialism recognized the Republican resolution for what it was: a craven attempt to tar the entire public sector with the blood of Pol Pot’s victims.

The most encouraging dimension of the whole weird episode, however, is what it demonstrated: the Republicans and centrist Democrats know that socialism has traction right now. This resolution was really about self-identified democratic socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman, as well as the modest but growing power of DSA in New York and elsewhere. Red-baiting is of course always despicable, but red scares are much more likely when the reds are doing something scary. At present, socialists are building power, winning some victories, and as Salazar noted, persuading many Americans to give their ideas a try. That scares the Right — and the centrist Democrats in thrall to the business elite that funds their campaigns.