Definitions of communism, socialism, fascism, totalitarianism, economic theories and dictatorships were aired in debate Tuesday as senators sorted what Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez had in mind with her bill to create a holiday memorializing victims of communism.
Is it a stand against places like Fidel Castro‘s Cuba, or a red-meat bill for a Republican base that has reestablished communism as a front-line threat to American democracy?
For Rodriguez, a Doral Republican, the definitions of various totalitarian ideologies bandied about in Tuesday’s meeting of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs clearly all referred to the same thing: the brutal end results of communism that her parents fled when they escaped Cuba and which have cost an estimated hundred million lives worldwide since the Bolsheviks first came to power in Russia in 1917.
She responded mainly to Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat whose grandparents escaped Czarist Russia, and who argued there are many kinds of brutal totalitarianism not cited in SB 1606. She added communism is an economic system, not a form of government.
“There are other descriptions. As you said, there’s fascism. And many of those feed into communism,” Rodriguez said in response. “Fascism. Socialism is also a term that is used interchangeably with communism. But communism is the ultimate direction which all these types of ideologies end up in practice becoming. Communism.”
For Polsky, Rodriguez’s bill singles out one system and doesn’t really address totalitarian governments that brutalize their people, which often are based on many other economic systems.
“This bill is not about America. This bill is about our stand on communism itself,” Polsky said.
The bill speaks exclusively to communism, establishing Nov. 7 as Victims of Communism Day. It also directs that “The Legislature shall, on the final day of each regular Legislative Session, observe a moment of silence in observance of the victims of communism.”
The committee overwhelmingly approved the bill.
Polsky, as well as Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach, suggested the bill might be nothing more than a partisan attempt to inject anti-Communist rhetoric into Senate legislation, a push for a red-meat bill to stoke political division, not to recognize victims of brutal regimes.
“Words matter. I actually don’t know how I’m going to vote on this bill, because if I vote against it, it makes me look like a leftist commie,” Polksy said. “And I think that’s the position you’ve put us in.”
Polsky ultimately voted in favor of the bill.
Powell challenged Rodriguez’s contention that socialism and communism were the same.
Rodriguez responded that “socialism opens the door to communism.”
Polsky then offered, “I think Denmark would take offense to say that socialism leads to communism, which leads to totalitarianism, which leads to many victims.”
At the requests of Polsky, Powell, and Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa, Rodriguez allowed for the prospect that she might expand the language in the bill to clarify that people brutalized under other forms of government might also be recognized, in addition to those under communism.
But Rodriguez stood firm on the title, and the bill’s emphasis on communism, saying “communism is the much broader term that would capture all these other types of oppression governments.”
She was strongly supported in that stand by Republican Sens. Ileana Garcia of Miami, Travis Hutson of Palm Coast, and Dennis Baxley of Lady Lake.
“I think what you are saying, with all due respect Senator, is your interpretation,” Rodriguez told Polsky after the Democrat argued that communism isn’t inherently violent, but governments using communism are. “But as a victim of communism myself, and many of us who are in this Legislature, we would argue that it is very violent and very oppressive. And I think communism is the appropriate word.”
“Doesn’t communism just mean sharing of wealth?” Polsky followed up. “Isn’t that the definition of an economic system?”
“It’s actually sharing poverty, not really sharing wealth,” Rodriguez replied. “That’s the textbook definition of communism. But in reality it is complete opposite. Again, subject to interpretation. But we’ve lived it.”
The bill’s next stop is the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee.
The House counterpart (HB 1553) comes from Sweetwater Republican David Borrero.