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Democrats Are Not Socialists, and Neither Is Bernie Sanders

Debbie Wasserman Schultz was recently mocked [1] for flubbing a question [2] on Chris Matthews. Asked the difference between Democrats and socialists, Wasserman Schultz tries to talk about the difference between Democrats and Republicans.

The exchange doesn’t reflect well on Wasserman Schultz, who plows through her talking points as if the question had never been asked. But it has a pretty easy answer. Historically, the essential feature of socialism is the demand for public ownership or direct government control of major sectors of the economy. A bit more abstractly, socialists have aimed to eliminate considerations of profit from as many areas of life as possible. They used to the describe this goal as “revolution”, which didn’t necessarily mean violence.

The modern Democratic Party isn’t about revolution. Since FDR, Democrats have consistently supported regulated competition and redistributive policies that direct private profits toward the relative losers in market exchange. These strategies are better understood as “welfarism” than socialism. A concrete example? Compare Britain’s NHS before Thatcher’s reforms to Medicare…or Obamacare, for that matter.

There’s something of a spectrum between these positions. Even so, you don’t meet many socialists in mainstream politics these days. Most “Socialist” parties in Europe abandoned their revolutionary dreams a long time ago. And the self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders offers a welfarist agenda [3] that’s barely updated from the ’50s.

So no, Democrats aren’t socialists. We might be able to have a less stupid discussion of their actual positions if welfarists, and their critics, knew the difference.

Samuel Goldman is assistant professor of political science at The George Washington University.

Follow @swgoldman [4]

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45 Comments To "Democrats Are Not Socialists, and Neither Is Bernie Sanders"

#1 Comment By Viking On August 10, 2015 @ 4:59 am

It would help if Senator Sanders didn’t describe himself as a “socialist”. That contributes to the confusion. Another thing that does is the insistence by many that he isn’t a socialist, but rather a “democratic socialist”. But various forms of government have had “capitalism”, without radically changing the economic system within each, so why insist that it’s different with capitalism’s rival?

#2 Comment By Lo On August 10, 2015 @ 9:43 am

Socialism is control of the “major means of production”—which is you and I. Once you understand the term “major means of production” then you will understand socialism.

This is done by using the tax code plus regulations and mandates how to control the property of the people for egalitarian purposes.It’s still socialism, just a variant kind.

#3 Comment By Mr. Libertarian On August 10, 2015 @ 10:08 am

Prof. Goldman,

I largely concur with you on the points you make. Socialism, is a term is misused and abused in American political discourse. You make the relevant argument. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a party hack, a career politician, she just blathers on about talking points. Nobody should take her seriously.

But as regards Sen. Sanders, I’m not so sure about what his economic and domestic political beliefs are. In my viewpoint, beyond his self-description, I’m at a loss as to just where he’d draw the line. It’s all very well and good, and consistent with markets, to say, break up the big banks, increase the minimum wage, increase the top marginal income tax rate, even to adopt a single-payer healthcare system. But Sanders, he seems to be the socialists mold when he assails greed, profit, and he cannot seem to utter anything positive about markets or the private sector, even in theory. I mean that sounds like old school socialism. I think that Sanders would, if he could, shut down or drastically curtail trade, turn America into an autarky, and turn all firms into worker run collectives on the syndicalist/ trade unionist model, while perhaps turning all of America into a version of Vermont, with tough environmental regulations, and anti-development laws. And I think he would, if people were still paid wages/income, he’d tax it heavily and use the funds to pay for very expansive and generous public programs and benefits.

And btw, I say that as a supporter. I’m a libertarian; I’m inclined to oppose that agenda. But he’s never going to get that enacted. Presidents, contra Obama, cannot just legislate or tax, from the executive branch. Many of Sanders’ more extreme economic policies would be DOA—even in the Democratic controlled Congress. I more interested in his foreign policies and his positions on civil liberties and drones, where his is superlative, doesn’t mince words or leave one guessing, and where the President can effect real change. I also mostly agree with his social policies, which are in alignment with my interests. But imagine a President Sander’s dismantling the security state, kicking the military industrial complex out of the Defense Department, and keeping us out of foreign entanglements! One can dream… This would be much the same as a vote for Eugene Debs, of the Socialist Party, to stay out of WWI and stop the draconian domestic crackdown of the Woodrow Wilson administration.

#4 Comment By Nicolas On August 10, 2015 @ 10:14 am

The point is debatable. Mises, for one, disagreed:

“It suffices here to say that the planned economy which the advocates of dictatorship wish to set up is precisely as socialistic as the Socialism propagated by the self-styled Social Democrats.” ― Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis

#5 Comment By KD On August 10, 2015 @ 10:48 am

But if you call the Democrats “welfarists” then it makes it very difficult to distinguish them from the “compassionate conservatives”, except maybe they are striving for a slightly different cultural aesthetic (Norman Rockwell vs. Ben & Jerry’s).

#6 Comment By balconesfault On August 10, 2015 @ 11:06 am

Amen.

I don’t really think that Sanders describing himself as Socialist has had an impact on the discussion btw – I’ve seen conservatives declaring everything from public school standards to Medicaid to the minimum wage to EPA regulations to the auto company bailout to represent “socialism” long before Sander’s profile really broke through the public consciousness.

As the author notes – those things aren’t socialism. If the US Government now owned General Motors, that would be socialism. If duPont wasn’t simply bound by regulations on where it could discharge waste, but on what products it could manufacture and what markets it could sell into, that would be socialism.

There are some sectors of our economy that I believe would be much better off if we did have a greater level of socialism – one that occurs to me are power utilities. And I would keep ownership/control of our nations highways in the hands of government.

I’m not sure “welfarism” is the right term … but it’s a lot more descriptive of a lot of the programs that get called “socialism” than the latter.

#7 Comment By Sam On August 10, 2015 @ 12:09 pm

But if you call the Democrats “welfarists” then it makes it very difficult to distinguish them from the “compassionate conservatives”, except maybe they are striving for a slightly different cultural aesthetic (Norman Rockwell vs. Ben & Jerry’s).

Ben and Jerry’s is not a cultural aesthetic! At least have the charity to give us Robert Crumb, or even Dr. Seuss.

#8 Comment By Dan Phillips On August 10, 2015 @ 1:03 pm

I would call Bernie and the Democrat Party Social Democrats. Meaning, as I understand it, that they generally support private ownership of the means of productions but might support nationalization of certain industries. Instead they support heavy regulation of the private economy and a generous welfare state for those who can’t make it. (I have been told that Social Democrat has lost meaning with age, but I believe that’s what it is in theory.) Bernie is just more of a Social Democrat than is the Democrat Party as a whole.

#9 Comment By Al On August 10, 2015 @ 1:37 pm

“Socialism is control of the “major means of production”—which is you and I…This is done by using the tax code plus regulations and mandates how to control the property of the people for egalitarian purposes.I”

Firstly, taxes and regulations are not even remotely the same as direct government control of the means of production. If socialism merely means any regulation of the market by law, then the Republicans are socialists as well, and we’ve been living in a socialist country for a long, long time.

Secondly, the means of production are land (implements, factories, actual land etc), labor (you and I), and capital. That’s Economics 101. So, even at a basic level, you’re statement is incorrect.

#10 Comment By Johnny F. Ive On August 10, 2015 @ 2:19 pm

The US has a mixed economy and it will continue to have such. We just need to figure out how to get the crooks from harming it while they get their cut. The difference between what we have and socialism: [5]

I’m waiting to hear Bernie talk about how he is going to pay the corporatist to help the country instead of getting it into wars and harming it. Where is our high speed rail and clean energy? Surely those things would be more useful than a F-35. Would Lockheed care one way or the other if the same funds keep coming to them what they made? He could frame it in militarist garments on how we are going to use the military (which is responsible for developing computers, internet, GPS, the microwave, etc) and leave everyone else in the economic dust and destroy the market for terrorist sponsoring oil producers.

Ron Paul offered the country liberal economics and they didn’t vote for him, and those favoring corporatism attacked him and ignored him. His son is trying to appease those interest and failing. I guess its time to take a conservative approach (keeping the crooked institutions instead of seeking radical change) and just work with it the best we can.

#11 Comment By Nick On August 10, 2015 @ 2:35 pm

I’m not sure that a certain faction within the Democratic Party is not, at heart, socialist even by this definition. The Warren/Sanders fringe. Elizabeth Warren’s well-known scold that businesses cannot exist without government seems to be of a part with the notion that government is the single necessary factor in bringing about any production or innovation. And when Obama talks about “tax code spending” he is necessarily implying that the government really has first dibs on any income received from any source.

I think it would be a mistake to think that Sanders is just touting freebies for the stupids the way Democrats do every 4 years. He talks about those freebies universally in terms of “rights”. If something is a “right” and it’s the government’s role to protect “rights” and it’s the government’s role to provide for those “rights”, which can only be done if the government is procuring the allocation and development of those “rights”.

#12 Comment By c matt On August 10, 2015 @ 3:22 pm

A bit more abstractly, socialists have aimed to eliminate considerations of profit from as many areas of life as possible.
….
Since FDR, Democrats have consistently supported regulated competition and redistributive policies that direct private profits toward the relative losers in market exchange.

Isn’t the redistribution of profits to the relative losers in market exchanges simply a form of eliminating consideration of profit? If no matter the success of your enterprise, your profits will be redistributed to those who “lose” in the market, how is that not eliminating the consideration of profit? Or are you arguing that the difference is one does it directly by taking control of the industry, the other indirectly through regulating it? Sounds like a distinction without practical difference.

#13 Comment By balconesfault On August 10, 2015 @ 4:15 pm

@Nick The Warren/Sanders fringe. Elizabeth Warren’s well-known scold that businesses cannot exist without government seems to be of a part with the notion that government is the single necessary factor in bringing about any production or innovation.

One could make the argument that government’s law enforcement and deed recording functions are irreplaceable in promoting the free market economy that we enjoy.

If companies had to dedicate a huge amount of their own resources to protecting themselves and their workforces from theft, violence, extortion, kidnapping, etc … you don’t think that would create a serious drag on innovation and production that would seriously damage our economy?

What if all land ownership (and water rights, etc) were constantly called into question … with the effective principle being whoever could exert the most force to expand and control their holdings got to own the most stuff?

Are security and property rights something that can be defended WITHOUT government while allowing businessmen and entrepreneurs to focus on their core mission – production and innovation?

Now lets add roads and other public infrastructure, public education, courts for adjudicating disputes, maintenance of a stable currency, laws to make sure that people have access to clean air and water, etc, etc … if you think that all these things can happen without strong government (or something that would eventually be morphed into a strong government for reasons of efficiency) you’re delusional. And if you think America would be a leader in global innovation and productivity without those things … you’re worse than delusional.

#14 Comment By Commenter Man On August 10, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

Thanks for bringing up this important point, but “welfarists” does not seem to be that accurate either, and is pejorative. Recall Reagan’s dog whistle term “welfare queens”.

If you read Sanders platform, or what Warren has been saying, it’s mostly *not* about welfare nor about the other commonly used term used to describe their stance “redistribution”.

#15 Comment By Viking On August 10, 2015 @ 4:39 pm

Al, I believe that implements and factories are classified under capital, not land. The land, again IIRC, is natural, although its value to humans can certainly be enhanced or depreciated by human endeavors. And land would also include the atmosphere and hydrosphere as well as the lithosphere.

Nick, if you’re expressing concern that the ideology of government essentialism subscribed to by Obama, Sanders, and Warren is a serious threat to freedom, then I’m with you on that. I believe you could another: “tax expenditures”, which seem to be tax money that the gov’t doesn’t get due to deduction or exemption.

#16 Comment By Andrew On August 10, 2015 @ 5:05 pm

This is stupid. They most certainly are socialists, and British Labour and european politicians are more honest about answering that question. No socialists want to fight for economic marxism anymore; they’re fighting for cultural marxism and that doesn’t mean they’ve ceased being socialists.

#17 Comment By grumpy realist On August 10, 2015 @ 5:23 pm

Nick–do you really think that businesses would exist without government?

I suggest you look at a little thing called Property Law. I also suggest you look at a little thing called Limited Liability.

#18 Comment By jonathan thomas On August 10, 2015 @ 5:30 pm

I really enjoy the intellectual and well written posts of The American Conservative. Being a liberal I can concur with the writer, and am very happily going to cast my vote for Bernie Sanders next election. We can quibble over adjectives to place on Sanders but it is his policies that I am in agreement with. Bernie Sanders 2016.

#19 Comment By appletree On August 10, 2015 @ 5:35 pm

Since FDR, Democrats have consistently supported regulated competition and redistributive policies that direct private profits toward the relative losers in market exchange. These strategies are better understood as “welfarism” than socialism.

What you’re describing is in fact classic liberal ex-post-facto redistribution. I.e. take the market distribution of income as given, and then redistribute via taxation, public spending, etc.
Here is the difference with Bernie Sanders and democratic socialism: the latter attempts to restructure markets so that the market itself better reflects the contribution and deserts of all participants. Take a look at Sanders’ economic plan
[3]
There are some classic welfarist elements. But there are also attempts to restructure market competition itself so that it does not concentrate income and wealth at the top. E.g. item #3: creating worker co-ops. Item #4: strengthening trade unions.
These are not classic welfarism, and neither are they traditional socialism. They do not abolish or replace market processes. They restructure them, and shift the balance of power within them.
This is something conservatives typically have a hard time getting their head around. The market is not found in nature. It has to be constructed. And you can in fact construct markets and embed them to serve different social values in different ways.

#20 Comment By Miguel Madeira On August 10, 2015 @ 6:04 pm

Al:

“Secondly, the means of production are land (implements, factories, actual land etc), labor (you and I), and capital. That’s Economics 101. So, even at a basic level, you’re statement is incorrect.”

In Economics 101, this is the “factors of production” – in marxist jargon, the “productive forces”; continuing in the marxist jargon, in the “productive forces” you have a subdivision between labor and the “means of production” (capital and land).

c matt:

“Isn’t the redistribution of profits to the relative losers in market exchanges simply a form of eliminating consideration of profit? If no matter the success of your enterprise, your profits will be redistributed to those who “lose” in the market, how is that not eliminating the consideration of profit?”

Only if the profit tax is of 100% (or very close to that); if the profit tax is lower than 100%, the managers of the enterprise still will want to maximize profit, and considerations of profit will remain important in the corporate management.

#21 Comment By Ken Hoop On August 10, 2015 @ 6:07 pm

A real socialist would not have voted for funding the Iraq war,(rejecting the Paul-Kucinich legislation to cut off funds)funding Israel, and regularly soft-pedaling , that is, pulling punches against Israel’s various excesses against the Palestinians.
[6]

#22 Comment By William Dalton On August 10, 2015 @ 7:05 pm

Bernie Sanders has repeatedly been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, not as a Democrat, but as a Socialist. He himself defines himself as a Socialist and not as a Democrat. He is entering into the Democratic primary for President for the same reason Ron Paul, an avowed Libertarian, entered into the Republican primaries of 2008 and 2012 – not because he shares the views of others in the Democratic Party, but in order to propagate and win converts to his own views.

Since no one else has achieved for “socialism” what Bernie Sanders has, I think it behooves critics like Professor Goldman to set aside their pretensions to provide academic definitions for a term in common use in the general public and acknowledge that Sen. Sanders, by his having won the public’s approbation wearing that label, to define what it means.

#23 Comment By Jeffrey Kesselman On August 10, 2015 @ 7:55 pm

The author gives a pat academic definition, but the fact of the matter is that the real world does not use the term in as narrow a context as he would suggest.

The Scandinavian countries, which Bernie Sanders takes as a model, DO describe themselves as “democratic socialist.”

In this context, Socialism means having a society which ensures a dignified lifestyle to all members OF that society. Its viewing society not as a bunch of individual winners and losers, but as a joint effort among all those that make it up.

As a friend of mine from Norway once said:
“Socialism just means taking care of each other. How can that be bad?”

#24 Comment By Kurt On August 10, 2015 @ 9:43 pm

The most brilliant definition of Socialism ever:

1924 and Ramsay MacDonald had just won the General Election making him the Labour Party’s first Prime Minister. The British public, particularly the Establishment, was uncertain and curious as to where the first man to call himself a Socialist would take England. A newspaper reporter asked “Mr. MacDonald, there has been a lot of talk about having a Socialist as Prime Minister. The question is, are you a Fabian Socialist? A Christian Socialist? A Marxist? Syndicalist? Mr. MacDonald, what exactly is Socialism?”

MacDonald looked the reporter in the eye, stood up tall and ramrod straight and with all of his Scottish seriousness, intoned “My lad, Socialism is whatever is in this year’s Labour Party Manifesto.”

And rather than take that as a flippant remark, maybe we should realize that Socialism is a living, breathing political movement. It adapts and changes and develops new insights. Contemporary with many of the slogans of socialists referenced, the Republican Party declared itself opposed to “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.” Does anyone insist this defines Republicanism?

#25 Comment By panda On August 10, 2015 @ 10:07 pm

“If no matter the success of your enterprise, your profits will be redistributed to those who “lose” in the market, how is that not eliminating the consideration of profit”

Some details aside, we live in a state defined by the New Deal and Great Society. Could you be honestly that detached from reality as to think that we have eliminated incentives to “winners” and that succesful people don’t enjoy the fruits of their labor?

#26 Comment By Jeff McDaniel On August 10, 2015 @ 10:58 pm

Revolutionary intent is not a requirement to be a socialist. All that is needed is a superiorty complex, a desire to control the means of production (automotive industry, banking industry, tobacco industry, healthcare industry and coal industry just to name a few) and a belief in the concept “to each according to their needs (and willingness to be a lifetime voter for the DNC) from each according to their means”.

You blew up your premise in your own article “The modern Democratic Party isn’t about revolution. Since FDR, Democrats have consistently supported regulated competition and redistributive policies that direct private profits toward the relative losers in market exchange.”

Oh and Bernie is a self avowed socialist….

#27 Comment By cka2nd On August 11, 2015 @ 1:36 am

Historically speaking, the best description of Bernie Sanders is probably “Social Democrat.” The German Social Democracy or Social Democratic Party (SPD) of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the leading socialist movement of its day. Like the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs, the SPD was a “Big Tent” party that included reformists and revolutionaries. The reformist wing included folks who, like the revolutionaries, wanted to fundamentally transcend capitalism and replace it with socialism and eventually communism. The other brand of reformists were those who wanted to reform and regulate capitalism, to manage it for human needs, without overthrowing private ownership of the means of production.

World War I and the Russian Revolution broke the revolutionaries off from the reformists, From Russia through Germany, the U.S. and around the world. Hard times for the working class in the 1920’s and the Great Depression then split the reformist camp, albeit usually only temporarily. World War II and the Cold War led to the triumph of the “Let’s manage capitalism for the common good” wing (also known as “Sewer Socialism” in the U.S. for their commitment to well-managed public services and clean government) over the “Peaceful Transition to Socialism” wing. The international triumph of neo-liberalism and the Washington Consensus over the last 40 years has pretty much wiped out the last vestiges of socialist thought, practice and morality within the socialist, social democratic and labor parties of the world, reducing them to pinkish shadows of the U.S. Democratic Party: socially liberal, business-friendly and more than willing to force austerity on the working class whenever the finance sector deems it necessary.

Sanders has held onto some of the socialist morality and policy prescriptions of U.S. sewer socialism in domestic and economic matters but has largely abdicated on foreign and military affairs. I have no problem calling him a reformist socialist or a social democrat, although I wouldn’t call him a democratic socialist because that title assumes that revolutionary socialists are by not democratic in any way by definition.

The Democratic Party is not, by any reasonable definition, a socialist party of any kind as there has never been even a plurality, let alone a majority of the party, that has ever even dreamed of replacing capitalism with socialism. It is closer to the Liberal Parties of Canada and Australia and the Liberal Democratic Party of the U.K., being the representative of the liberal wing of the ruling class and their junior partners in the working class and the petite bourgeoisie.

Here endeth the history lesson.

#28 Comment By cka2nd On August 11, 2015 @ 1:53 am

Lo says: “Socialism is control of the ‘major means of production”—which is you and I. Once you understand the term ‘major means of production’ then you will understand socialism.”

Incorrect. The “means of production” in classical socialism refer to the factories, the mines and the transportation system. In theory, they can include the agricultural sector. In practice, under the pressures of war, civil war, economic collapse, natural disasters and political exhaustion, corruption and opportunism, the means of production can be warped into including ever damn shop and restaurant and fruit stand, but I doubt even the hoariest Maoist wants to return to those days.

Lo says: “This is done by using the tax code plus regulations and mandates how to control the property of the people for egalitarian purposes. It’s still socialism, just a variant kind.”

So, what, capitalists can’t use the tax code, regulations and mandates for even the mildest of egalitarian purposes? That would shock some of the Catholic Distributists and Crunchy Cons who hang around TAC, not to mention some of the most prominent billionaires in the world. We might even have to severely change our opinion of one of TAC’s founders if we’re redefining socialism as broadly as you seem to think we should: “Hey, Pat Buchanan, it turns out that you’re a socialist for wanting to use tariffs to re-build a manufacturing sector with well-paid jobs! Who’d a thunk it?”

#29 Comment By cka2nd On August 11, 2015 @ 2:01 am

Nicolas says: “The point is debatable. Mises, for one, disagreed:

‘It suffices here to say that the planned economy which the advocates of dictatorship wish to set up is precisely as socialistic as the Socialism propagated by the self-styled Social Democrats.’ ― Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis”

Except that the Social Democrats of Northern and Western Europe and the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan left huge swathes of their economies in the hands of the private sector, including massive conglomerates controlled by private families. The scale of nationalization and public ownership DOES matter and DOES determine whether an economy is fundamentally capitalist or socialist.

#30 Comment By cka2nd On August 11, 2015 @ 2:13 am

Dan Phillips says: “I would call Bernie and the Democrat Party Social Democrats. Meaning, as I understand it, that they generally support private ownership of the means of productions but might support nationalization of certain industries. Instead they support heavy regulation of the private economy and a generous welfare state for those who can’t make it. (I have been told that Social Democrat has lost meaning with age, but I believe that’s what it is in theory.) Bernie is just more of a Social Democrat than is the Democrat Party as a whole.”

Right on about Bernie but not the Democratic Party. The closest any of the Dems get to nationalizing any industry is Single Payer health insurance, and that’s the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The Democratic establishment is absolutely committed to the preservation of the private health care industry as evidenced by both Hilarycare and Obamacare.

#31 Comment By cka2nd On August 11, 2015 @ 2:22 am

balconesfault says: “One could make the argument that government’s law enforcement and deed recording functions are irreplaceable in promoting the free market economy that we enjoy.”

THANK YOU, balconesfault! It’s known as the Rule of Law, Nick. Of course, if you free market capitalists would like to do without intellectual property law and copyrights, contract law and torts, we can talk about that…

Historically speaking, of course, the monarchs and aristocrats absolutely did believe that they had “first dibs on any income received from any source” and we’d have to really warp the language to call them socialists.

#32 Comment By cka2nd On August 11, 2015 @ 2:43 am

Jeffrey Kesselman says: “The Scandinavian countries, which Bernie Sanders takes as a model, DO describe themselves as ‘democratic socialist.'”

If they do, that’s a relatively recent change from “social democratic.” I’ve been told since the late 70’s that “democratic socialist” was basically the American form of “social democrat” because the latter didn’t make sense in the American context, especially with the Democratic Party NOT being remotely socialist.

Jeffrey Kesselman says: “As a friend of mine from Norway once said: ‘Socialism just means taking care of each other. How can that be bad?'”

Yes, and it’s been said just as simplistically that “You’re a feminist if you believe in equality for women.” Like capitalism, there are different strands of socialism and feminism, and each strand can come with its own logic, theory and praxis, not to mention historical baggage.

#33 Comment By cka2nd On August 11, 2015 @ 2:54 am

Jeff McDaniel says: “Revolutionary intent is not a requirement to be a socialist. All that is needed is a superiorty [sic] complex…”

And now we enter the realm of pop psychology and echo chamber indignity. Mr. McDaniel, not all socialists have a superiority complex, not all conservatives are mean-spirited idiots, not all centrists have spines of jelly, not all liberals have bleeding hearts, not all libertarians are condescending snots, not all fascists are racists and not all anarchists have a desire to bomb Wall Street (more’s the pity), so please dial back the political ideology as personality disorder analysis.

#34 Comment By panda On August 11, 2015 @ 9:11 am

“A real socialist would not have voted for funding the Iraq war,(rejecting the Paul-Kucinich legislation to cut off funds)funding Israel, and regularly soft-pedaling , that is, pulling punches against Israel’s various excesses against the Palestinians.”

No offense, but none of this has anything to do with socialism. For better or worse, socialists were never pacifists (witness, for instance the SPD’s famous support for funding WW1..)

#35 Comment By TB On August 11, 2015 @ 10:32 am

Both parties are corporate welfarists. Sanders stands apart from the Dems in that he wants to shift the tax and spend dynamic a little to the general population’s favor and do it at the expense of the investor class and their corporate tax structure.
His impulse is both moral and farsighted.

#36 Comment By Perry Robinson On August 11, 2015 @ 11:16 am

Socialism-the government regulates the means of production.

Communism-the government owns and regulates the means of production.

#37 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 11, 2015 @ 3:15 pm

We need to begin this discussion with Karl Marx who posited that the central contradiction of capitalism, factory owners constantly lowering wages and thus destroying their own consumer base, could only be resolved by the violent seizure of the factory equipment (“the means of production”).

John Maynard Keynes intervened in this process by suggesting that the good parts of capitalism could be salvaged if we addressed the bad parts. That is, resolve Marx’s central contradiction through government support of higher wages and government expenditures to prop up consumer spending.

The problem with Keynesianism is that it led to stagflation in the 1970s and seems to have have led to “the military industrial complex” and resulting war economy.

Since the 1970s the ideas of the Chicago School, dubbed “Utopian Capitalism” by C. Wright Mills, have replaced Keynesian thought. However, the old Marxian contradiction has, once again, started rearing its threatening head. The triumph of the “free market” has left the former “middle class” broke and work insecure. With Karl Marx laughing in the background, all the money is flowing up.

I am not sure how many “means of production” are left in the US since the financialization of our economy. It would now seem that seizing the means of finance is at the core of current political issues. However, as my tax lawyer father used to say “Nothing is easier to move than money”.

I would say that we are in for a century of unpleasantness.

#38 Comment By JoshInCa On August 12, 2015 @ 12:04 am

Historically, the essential feature of socialism is the demand for public ownership or direct government control of major sectors of the economy. A bit more abstractly, socialists have aimed to eliminate considerations of profit from as many areas of life as possible.

Is operationally equivalent to

regulated competition and redistributive policies that direct private profits toward the relative losers in market exchange.

#39 Comment By cka2nd On August 12, 2015 @ 7:28 pm

Michael N Moore says: “I am not sure how many ‘means of production’ are left in the US since the financialization of our economy. It would now seem that seizing the means of finance is at the core of current political issues. However, as my tax lawyer father used to say ‘Nothing is easier to move than money.'”

I remember reading more than 30 years ago that bank employees in Iran simply refused to press the necessary buttons to transfer the Shah’s money from Iranian banks to foreign ones, so I have hope that someone will find a way to “seize the means of finance.”

#40 Comment By Battle4cry On August 12, 2015 @ 9:03 pm

This is surprisingly honest commentary from a conservative publication on the subject of socialism and Bernie Sanders. It is absolutely correct in pointing out that Bernie Sanders does not advocate the replacement of capitalism, nor does he question the legitimacy of the underlying processes of capital accumulation, wage labor and dominance of private ownership of industry. His philosophy is, as the article correctly points out, harkening back to the post-war era of capitalism and can best be described as “social democracy” (which is what European “welfarism” or “welfare capitalism” is usually referred to as).

Socialism is fundamentally about the social ownership of productive assets – what this means is that the surplus product (in the form of profit, interest, rent) generated by value-producing property accrues to society at large as opposed to a group of private owners (called “capitalists” or “rentiers”). This is the essence of what “social ownership” and the elimination of class distinctions is about.

More comprehensively, socialism implied an entirely different set of economic dynamics than those of capitalism – replacing the profit-loss mechanism of accounting and resource valuation with a set of dynamics that would more accurately reflect economic costs and losses without being subject to distortions, encapsulated in the old socialist slogan “production for use”.

The article is correct to point out that there are very few socialists in mainstream politics today. Actual socialists don’t want to “level the playing field”; they question the legitimacy of the wage labor system. An actual socialist would not be talking about the need to constantly create jobs to prop up the capitalist system; an actual socialist would talk about lowering the length of the working day and transforming private enterprise into public enterprise. This is what classical socialist thinkers like Karl Marx, Eugene V. Debs and Bertrand Russell had as the goal of socialism – freeing the individual from having one’s life structured around work (or “alienated labor”) by harnessing automation and productive property to produce value (or “profits”) that are disbursed among the wider population.

Socialists don’t focus their critique on corruption, greed or corporate influence over public policy – socialists critique the capitalist system itself, and argue that the issue is not how morally corrupt or greedy capitalists, corporate executives or politicians are but that regardless of how “greedy” people are, the capitalist system itself is inherently unstable and inefficient – hence the justification for replacing it with an entirely different economic system.

So yes, Bernie Sanders is a far cry from being an actual socialist and socialists are a rarity in today’s politics. But we do exist, and with the threat of increasingly unstable employment prospects from increasing job automation, genuine socialism is becoming more relevant than ever for discussion. Bernie Sander’s insistence on calling himself a “democratic socialist” rather than a social liberal or “social democrat” is only going to make having an honest discussion about socialism in this country more difficult.

#41 Comment By Jaap Verduijn On August 25, 2015 @ 1:46 pm

Indeed, the term “democratic socialist” is a NON-term, newly and unnecessary confusingly invented in the United States where established worldwide definitions seem to be unknown. The common definition of what’s meant by this total misnomer (yes, it IS a misleading misnomer!) is “social democrat”. Please, PLEASE… what gets written about Bernie Sanders describes NOT any kind of “socialist”, neither democratic nor anything else. Don’t confuse the already confused Americans who are prone to mixing up political definitions to a truly astonishing extend with yet another incorrect “definition”.

SOCIAL DEMOCRAT, and SOCIAL DEMOCRACY. Can you learn and remember that? Good!

#42 Comment By Ellim On August 29, 2015 @ 1:57 pm

Battle4cry, I mostly agree, but actually think Bernie is good in the long run. Bernie (and ironically, the Republicans) have widened the meaning of socialism for most people. It might make more people take interest in actual socialism in the future. And at least some of his platforms (i.e. worker cooperatives) at least do bring out the idea that the system could be reconstructed.

#43 Comment By DianeH5 On September 1, 2015 @ 10:02 am

I have read that Bernie Sanders is not a democratic socialist, he is a social democrat. He doesn’t want to eliminate capitalism, he just wants to make capitalism more humane.

#44 Comment By PH On October 19, 2015 @ 5:34 am

I believe the correct term would be SOCIAL DEMOCRAT, not Democratic Socialist. I think this was a huge mistake by Bernie that hopefully does not cost him the presidency.

#45 Comment By Eduardo On August 22, 2016 @ 3:51 pm

Democrats started to become socialists in 1932, backtracked a little in 1960 with JFK, and then went full steam ahead with LBJ. All Democrats and most Republicans support taking from people who earn it and transferring it to people who didn’t. Marxism at its core.