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Don’t conflate socialism with democratic socialism

To the editor:

As a longtime reader of Adirondack Daily Enterprise, I was disappointed to read Jeff Branch’s letter to the editor, “No socialist agenda for Saranac Lake,” without distinguishing commentary or fact-checking from the paper. Mr. Branch’s conflation of socialism with democratic socialism is common, and one that warrants elucidation for the readers of this paper.

Broadly speaking, socialism involves any of several economic or political theories (of which democratic socialism is one) advocating for the collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production. Some theories of socialism, for example, advocate for violent revolution against the ruling class. In contrast, democratic socialism is implemented and sustained by democracy — that is, through free and fair elections rather than authoritarianism. (Picture Venezuelan socialism versus Danish democratic socialism.) To wrench the hallmarks of democratic socialism into the wider umbrella of socialism feared by most Americans is to do a disservice to the readers of this paper and this community, including those who fought bravely to keep authoritarian-type socialism from reaching the shores of this country.

Mr. Branch fundamentally misunderstands democratic socialism and expresses ire over what is, at its essence: a reasonable yearning on the part of Saranac Lake residents for a more equitable tax system providing for basic human rights for everyone. As an example, universal, high-quality health care is a basic human right. Likewise, all workers deserve a living wage. Democratic socialism also demands safe and affordable housing for houseless individuals, access to a debt-free college education for all who want it, the prioritization of an anti-racist mental health care system in lieu of the industrial prison complex, and a transformation of our economy from one that relies on dirty fossil fuels, which are actively harming the Adirondacks, to one that would curb the disastrous effects of climate change while creating sustainable, climate-neutral jobs available to all who need them. None of these demands, when properly understood, should be viewed as radical in the wealthiest democracy in the history of the world. None of these desires should be dismissed as a “socialist agenda” in a modern, moral society. Whether or not Mr. Branch agrees with these ideas is not the point; distorting them without careful consideration and claiming that “[the] village is under assault by the local socialist party,” however, reeks of McCarthyism.

I have no doubt that the members of the High Peaks branch of Democratic Socialists of America who wrote this paper in March of this year (“In support of an equitable Adirondacks”) would agree, if only their input had been sought before publishing Mr. Branch’s fear-mongering headline and piece. The people of this country and region need less divisiveness and more tolerance. We cannot expect to achieve that until we stop irresponsibly slapping labels on one another without taking time to understand the meanings or consequences of the political theories we each espouse.

Rachael Lyle

Jersey City, New Jersey

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