Few subjects are more taboo among self-described socialists than the historical track record of socialism in action.
Bernie Sanders recently bristled at the suggestion of any commonality between the government of Venezuela and his own platform, even though less than a decade ago he was touting the country along with other leftist governments in South America as exemplars of the “American dream.”
When Anderson Cooper presented Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a similar question, she scoffed at the suggestion. It is unfair to link their ideology to its violent forebears, they insist, because the “democratic socialism” they envision is a Scandinavian-style welfare state, modeled after the economy of Sweden.
But there’s also a neglected dark side to the Swedish welfare model that its “democratic socialist” admirers seldom mention. That same welfare system developed in explicit conjunction with a violent and coercive eugenics policy, intended to ensure its fiscal solvency and prevent abuses of its programs by persons who were deemed genetically “unfit” by the state.
To counteract the perceived risk of welfare dependence, the SDP government consciously paired its new welfare policies with a complementary system of eugenic laws — intended to prevent or dissuade “unfit” persons from reproducing. These included a narrow compulsory sterilization program, applied to persons with hereditary “defects,” and a much larger “voluntary” sterilization program targeting behavioral considerations. As part of the latter program, the government could induced lower-class citizens to submit to the procedure by using the suasion and levers of the new welfare state itself.
The “voluntary” measures went far beyond involuntary sterilization, which was restricted by law to explicit eugenic reasons. As a 1997 study of the program documented, government officials are known to have used submission to “voluntary” sterilization as a condition for release from mental institutions and public hospitals, for continued access to certain forms of public housing, and even marriage licensing among the poor. In total, an estimated 63,000 Swedes were sterilized between the 1930s and the expiration of the main eugenic law in 1976.