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Discussion of Whether Bernie Sanders is a Socialist

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In his State of the Union Address, President Trump rebuked socialism, “Socialism destroys nations. But always remember: Freedom unifies the soul”. Why does “socialism” have such a bad connotation to it? Using the word “socialism” in a historical, Soviet-Union, Red-Scare context, President Trump, and many people, generalized socialism as an economic framework in which the government controls every aspect of the economy, in which there is no private markets, which can only be seen in a pure communist state. Big “S” socialism is worth denounced. However, socialism is a broad category for other ideologies underneath the umbrella of its name. Many people say Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is not a socialist although he calls himself one. This paper will first, define socialism, second, dive deeper into two different economic ideologies that both have “socialist” in their names though their meanings are significantly different from one another, and third, conclude Senator Sanders’s belief about socialism. Pure, big “S” socialism is an economic system that is based on collective, common, public ownership of the means of production. There are two socialist pursuits in policy of Senator Sanders that are worth mentioning. The first point is his pursuit of “true single-payer Medicare-for-all”. Medicare-for-all would be a socialist program because there would be a single entity taking over the entire health insurance industry and covering for all the needs of the people.

The second point is his proposal to increase the number of worker cooperatives. His plan is about making the stakeholders owners. Sanders denounces corporate greed and corruption because they destroy the social and economic fabric of society, where the top 1 percent of wealthy CEOs make decisions that have increasingly impacts on the future economy, environmental, and politics. Sanders would like to make a fundamental shift of the wealth of the economy to the workers by giving them ownership, or stake, in the companies for which they work. The purpose of this is to “break up corrupt corporate mergers and monopolies”. This policy is socialist since it would create businesses where the workers are in control of the means of production. Through a general look of his position, there are only a few points that are explicitly socialistic; two of which were mentioned above. In fact, Senator Sanders does not show much of an interest in promoting this change of pure socialism in the government. In his speech at George Washington University, Sanders defined democratic socialism:

“What democratic socialism essentially means to me is completing the vision that Franklin Delano Roosevelt started some 85 years ago, and that is to go forward in the wealthiest country in the history of the world and guarantee a decent economic standard of living in life for all of our people”.

All he means by “democratic socialism” is a continuation of the political program of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. However, FDR was not himself a socialist; he only sought social reforms in order to save capitalism. In a similar way, Sanders has not mentioned doing away with capitalism in America. Running on the platform as a reformist, he proposes various reforms to make the distribution of wealth fairer to the middle-class workers. In fact, Sanders has misused the term. Democratic socialism, strictly speaking by its standard definition, is an economic ideology that “advocates social ownership of the means of production and is therefore committed to the overthrow of capitalism as an economic model, while maintaining a commitment to political democracy”. This is intense. Senator Sanders never stated he wanted to do away with capitalism. Moreover, he wants the U.S economy to pursue that of Nordic countries, which have not done away with capitalist ways of production or a private market.

Although Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist, his ideology is more known as socialist democracy. He is discontent with the top 1 percent controlling 90 percent of the U.S. economy. He is all about spreading that wealth to the middle class. He fights for universal health care, total employment, free college education, more public spending, a living wage, environmental regulations, and tax on extreme wealth. And all of these are to be achieved by democratic means. Socialist democracy “incorporates both capitalist and socialist practices”. Regardless whether Senator Sanders is a democratic socialist or socialist democrat, he is still a socialist in the end, a small “s” socialist – that is a person who believes that a country’s economy should take care of the needs of the people. Even in the United States, some goods and serves are distributed based on need rather than ability to pay: public high school education, public libraries, police services.

By definition, everyone is a socialist. It is not socialism as Karl Marx defined during the industrial revolution. Senator Sanders is not a big “S” socialist. He certainly does not want to do away with capitalism. However, he is a small “s” socialist, as many of us are. There are many arguments and strong emotions about how bad socialism is because of the historical baggage that comes with the word.


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  7. Sargeant, H. democratic socialism. In Dictionary Plus Social Sciences. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 5 Mar. 2020, from
  8. Social Democracy. (n.d.). Retrieved from democracy

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