The Bernie Sanders campaign has obtained an immense deal of support from the grassroots corners of the United States as well as a considerable majority overall. Sanders’ platform of moving the nation forward in the fashion of more Liberal Scandinavian nations has resonated significantly with people in the past year. His record for being a consistent and principled Vermont Senator in the fight for equality and the working class has established his character as an exemplary public servant in American Democracy. His tough approach to banking establishments and corporate greed has won the hearts of those seeking economic justice and stability, his refusal to run a SuperPAC has proven to be a beacon of hope for those seeking a man for the people and not one in the pockets of private donors, and his faith in a brighter future for the United States has given a revolution for the people to strive for.
As a supporter of Bernie, as one of the most likely candidates to make it to the nomination, theres a lot I could go on about him and the discussion surrounding him: how his core policies like Medicare for all, Tuition-Free public college and a living wage are largely centrist ideals in other modern, developed nations; how the political spectrum in the Untied States being in favor of the right grants him the burden of being labeled as a crazy person when he introduced these otherwise centrist policies to the US; what his campaign means for everyone across the board, and so on.
In this instance, however, I want to give my comments on his self-identification as a Democratic Socialist, what that means in contrast to simply “Socialism”, if its the correct term when compared to his actual policies, and the responses to this aspect of the presidential candidate.
Bernie has described himself as a democratic socialist for quite sometime in the light of the public, and this has unsurprisingly garnered him mixed commentary. He has defined in recent speeches and interviews his vision of democratic socialism. “It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1968, when he stated that, ‘This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.’ It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor.” He goes on, “I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families of this country who produce the wealth of this country deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down.” [motherjones]
Hearing Bernie talk about his aspirations as President, its evident to me and others on the left where he stands in the socialist spectrum, and its a place not uncommon in history or to the rest of the current, modern world. A place in political thought that has the great potential to bring America into where it should be in 2016.
Understanding the historical and ideological background of the actual term is important in identifying his political alignment correctly. Firstly, understanding socialism itself, it is a socioeconomic system in which the working class collectively own the means of production and the distribution of the fruits of labor, as opposed to the hierarchical, private ownership of production and distribution which is the basis of capitalism. This system has historically been applied through transforming a previously centralized and private economy into the social ownership of the workers, in some instances through reform, but historically through revolution. This is where people get scared that socialism immediately equals revolutionary disruption of their lives, but only through the fault of not taking into consideration the basic function of the system itself (social ownership) and only thinking of an implementation method. However, because of the transformative principle of socialism as expressed by the early notable writers on the subject, socialism cannot be reconciled easily with capitalism, as it is by nature opposed to its operation and wage system. Democratic socialism in its true form is the exact same way: It is the social and economic system of socialism with a political democracy of a sort, as opposed to something like the Soviet Union, the dictatorship of the proletariat or essentially state capitalism.
It seems that Bernie has used democratic socialism interchangeably with Social Democracy, as the two are quite different. We understand that he is more of a social democrat than a democratic socialist based simply on his policy proposals. Social Democracy is a democratic political system with hybrid economic systems, where capitalism is retained and regulated through social and economic interventions, and welfare state provisions, collective bargaining and progressive taxation is upheld. This is where his admiration of Scandinavian nations comes in, where countries like Denmark and Norway have expanded on this in prioritizing single-payer health care, free education, infrastructure, green technology and a sustainable tax system. We also see that the private sector is alive and well in these countries, within reason to where the working class is equally well. This is the overall vision Bernie has for America, where everything is evened out with socialism, welfare provisions, and a more humanized capitalism.
Keeping these things in mind about Social Democracy and Bernie’s actual policies, it isn’t at all equal to Marxism-Leninism, the form of Socialist thought that influenced Soviet Russia and what many on the right have come to incorrectly think of Bernie as the subscriber to. Not like the commentators actually give a shit about substance and policy; they’d rather resort to slinging labels and the Red Scare around like it means anything to those other than their old, Regan-worshipping audience, incapable of logical independent thought. I have far more respect for people with legitimate concern over Bernie’s actual policies than those who simply call him a Communist. I say simply to them that if the Socialist Party USA and CPUSA doesn’t endorse him, and that fully fledged American socialists call him a sellout, there isn’t much you can argue with.
In terms of the supporters of Bernie, there is nothing more pleasant to see in the course of American politics than people of various backgrounds and even political associations coming together over issues which most of us can agree on. In regard to the label of democratic socialism, this is really my only concern for the support, as one who aligns with actual socialism.
I think some — particularly young — people are just eager to call themselves socialists, without entirely understanding socialism at the root. The nature of socialism is the opposition to capitalism, not the mere support of its regulation. The attitude among Bernie supporters comes back to people simply adopting controversial labels as publicity for something going on, relying on the reaction from the public to fit the name in somewhere, in this case Bernie. I’m not saying this is a bad thing as much as its just not accurate of him. You’re not supporting actual democratic socialism if you’re supporting Bernie Sanders, you’re supporting social democracy — something more realistic and sustainable for the current developed condition of the United States. So I prefer that the supporters would acknowledge themselves as social democrats rather than vanilla socialists, simply for logical correctness. Sharing these distinctions of socialism within the community should be a responsibility for all of us. I would even urge Bernie himself to drop the democratic socialism label and explain Scandinavian social democracy to people more than anything.
But I think this is exactly Bernie’s formula for gaining support and recognition, otherwise the media would only be able to rage on about how he’s a crazy liberal old man who should head a retirement home or a neighborhood watch group instead of a nation, without the word ‘socialist’ appearing anywhere based off his own words.
Honestly, how do you get as much commentary and mixed coverage on yourself than by going out into the Democractic presidential race as a proud ‘socialist’? To stand out in the humdrum election cycle of the United States requires something new in a candidate. Something bold and exciting to the people. A self-proclaimed ‘socialist’ couldn’t fit that bill any better, especially when he clearly speaks for the people as his policies resonate with them significantly.
Call it a branding for his campaign, a genuine bemusement of democratic socialism, or somewhere in between — it certainly appears to be working. I guess as a stickler for terms and etymology, this gets under my skin more than it should.
Either way, the man has my vote. We have time and again been presented with numerous opportunities in the modern era to set the nation on the course of a reformist, subutopian reconstruction. Alas, we have settled in the current time for the private ownership of our democracy through a horrendous campaign finance system, which has in turn desolated the conditions of the working class as corporate industry expands disproportionately, undermined civil liberties in the veil of security, spread bitterness and tribalism in public discourse to divide us as a people, and secured the citizens in a pacified conscience to the wrongs of the powerful. The policies of Bernie Sanders have stood gleaming as the solution to these ills of our society, and the people are rising to this call. This moment in history we are witnessing is the rift between the progression of developed society, and all its potential resting in the wrong hands, very unlikely to be given back to the people. Do we cross that rift in time to move forward, or remain idle as we elect yet another pawn of the deep-seeded cancer of our democracy?
Perhaps thats one interpretation of Bernie’s meaning of democratic socialism. Not simply economic, but to restore this democracy to the people — the workers, the families, the youth, the ambitious, the kind, the noble, all of us. Its ours.