We are all familiar with this slur the right uses. We can go blue in the face explaining why this is wrong. However, this is not about political science. This is about social order. First, let me go back to the Russian Revolution and the American Revolution. They are very different beasts. If you add the French Revolution this will make sense.
The American Revolution was a civil war, that did not change the social order. Yes, it has some changes in the sense that the founding documents potentially opened the way to equality. However, the compromises over slavery were a poison pill that would lead to a second civil war. Over the course of the twentieth century, we saw a further opening of American society, which loosened the strictures of caste.
Both the French and Russian revolutions were peasant revolts. Both overturned the ancient order, and both killed their ruling families. The Russian Revolution came with the baggage of ideological beliefs that included equality. So did the French Revolution. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was just as aspirational as the idea that we all needed access to food, shelter, medical care. But both did something else. Both became quite dystopian in short order.
We may argue about this and whether human nature can allow for more equality, or not. But this is not the point of this short piece. The United States has slowly opened the doors to less of a caste society. This scares the usual crowd that fears a peasant revolt because they may be caught in the violence. They want a society where people know their place. They fear the firing squads of the Revolution, even when many opposing this are near the bottom of society.
Near the bottom is what matters here. In the United States Blacks and Brown people are at the bottom. It matters little how much wealth or social capital you have. This is why the Barack Obama presidency was a ten alarm fire. This is why Trumpism took hold and was not fully repudiated. The ground is fertile for this.
We also have a long history of this. Martin Luther King was a communist before he became an American hero. Black Lives Matter members and founders are a bunch of communists. The Democratic Party became a red party as the Voting Rights Act became law. This is how the slur has become code.
The question is not whether MLK was a communist or a socialist. He dared lead a civil rights movement that gave blacks the vote. That battle is not over, but it is not as it once was. It also does not matter if Black Lives Matter has some progressive, even Marxist tendencies, or not. This is about White Supremacy. Calling activists socialists and communists is code for a peasant revolt.
This includes the Democratic Party since the party has been behind major legislation advancing the rights of minorities. It also includes things like the Affordable Care Act. Republicans and the far-right would not call it a socialist take over of government if it did not include these minorities. This is one reason why they are against it.
This is the crux of the moment. We live in a deeply divided society, with an emerging pluralistic majority. However, this majority is an urban phenomenon. It still has to confront a minority that is doing all it can to stop it. So when you hear “Democrats are socialists!” What you are hearing is fear of change. This is not about the definition of the term, or even of Democratic Socialism. The New Deal had many elements of it, but it was hardly able to penetrate the Jim Crow south.
Expect this to increase as we face a new Joe Biden administration. He simply has more roads to 270. The president has one. This is also why Mitch McConnell, he won re-election, will do all he can to stop a New Democratic administration. One man represents the future. The other is firmly in the past.