OPINION: AOC Needs A Refresher Course On The History Of Socialism

Marion Smith Contributor
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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has some strong words about American free enterprise. At the South by Southwest Conference last weekend, she declared that “capitalism is irredeemable.” Strong, indeed — and wrong.

First and foremost, AOC’s comments sound like lyrics from the Karl Marx hymnal. She claimed that free enterprise pits labor (the worker) against capital (the business owner). This supposed struggle is why Marx popularized the term “capitalism,” which he meant it as a criticism. Although the communist ideology he authored is now synonymous with tyranny, the bourgeois-raised Marx claimed to be fighting against a system that propped up the oppressor and exploited the oppressed.

But Marx’s theory was never grounded in reality. He simply made it all up — and so does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

To be clear, AOC is not the problem — she is a symptom of a much larger problem. Today’s so-called socialists are ignorant of history. They don’t know that free enterprise is the original radical idea. It’s founded on the simple notion that people deserve to make their own economic choices — what to buy, where to buy it, and most importantly, how to use their own individual talents and skills to innovate and exchange.

Socialists also don’t seem to know — or maybe they just won’t admit — that free enterprise has delivered two centuries of real progress.

Just look at the facts. In 1820, pretty much the entire world lived in poverty — 94 percent, to be precise. Fast forward to the start of this decade, nearly 200 years later, and only 17 percent of the world is poor.

It’s even more impressive when you look at extreme poverty — those who survive on less than a dollar a day. In 1990, this accounted for more than a third of the world. Now it’s at 10 percent. More than a billion people have risen out of extreme poverty in less than 30 years. Similarly, global child mortality declined by nearly 50 percent between 1990 and 2013.

This didn’t happen through Soviet central planning, but rather through the collapse of socialist regimes across the world. The world’s socialists were sick and tired of being sick and tired – so they increasingly chose free enterprise instead. Think India, Eastern Europe, or even Communist China, which still tries to combine market freedoms with political control. By abandoning socialism and embracing capitalism, they spurred the very progress that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez now takes for granted.

And just as socialism failed in the 20th century, it’s still failing in the 21st.

I’m not talking about the dreamy kind of socialism taught in college (and increasingly, high school) classrooms. They’re usually focused on supposedly socialist havens in Scandinavia, but those countries aren’t socialist at all. Countries like Sweden and Denmark were long high-tax welfare states but have enacted sweeping market-based reforms in recent decades. By some accounts, Swedes now enjoy more economic freedom than Americans.

No, I mean actual socialism — the kind that we saw in the Soviet Union and the dozens of countries where it exported Marxist ideology with disastrous consequences. In each case, socialism created more poverty, less opportunity, and worse futures for the average person, while the people in power thrived.

Or look today at Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. The socialist state that Fidel and Raul Castro established 60 years ago has not only impoverished and oppressed its own people, but also exported its failed model to its Latin American satellites. The success of the Castro Doctrine is seen in Nicaragua, who’s socialist ruler Daniel Ortega tyrannizes his citizens, and in Venezuela,, where the socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro has turned the region’s richest nation into its poorest and most dangerous.

And while Venezuela’s socialist state is murdering desperate, malnourished protestors, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez refuses to condemn it. Her response when asked earlier this month: “It’s a complex issue.” Her fellow socialist Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, won’t call Venezuela’s ruler a dictator, even as he steals elections and starves the Venezuelan people. Sadly, their silence about socialism’s consequences will never get the same headlines as their criticism about capitalism.

Whether they know it or not, Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, and their comrades are following in the Marxist tradition of abusing language for their own political goals. They think that by setting the terms of the debate — capital vs. labor, rich vs. poor — they will win the argument and, eventually, control America itself.

They may succeed unless we stop them. Our best weapon is history itself, which is littered with examples of socialist failure. Socialists and communists have always claimed their radical solutions will solve society’s problems. But once they take power, the cure is always worse than the disease.

Free enterprise may not be perfect, but it’s far better than anything else humanity has tried. And no matter what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may think, no system is more irredeemable than socialism.

Marion Smith is executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating future generations about the ideology, history and legacy of communism.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.