12 June 2019

Bernie Sanders explains "democratic socialism"

Excerpts from a major speech Bernie Sanders delivered today at George Washington University:
We must see ourselves as part of one nation, one community and one society — regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or country of origin. This quintessentially American idea is literally emblazoned on our coins: E Pluribus Unum. From the many, one. And, I should tell you, it is enshrined in the motto of our campaign for the presidency — Not me, Us.

Let me be clear. I do understand that I and other progressives will face massive attacks from those who attempt to use the word “socialism” as a slur. But I should also tell you that I have faced and overcome these attacks for decades — and I am not the only one.

Let us remember that in 1932, Republican President Herbert Hoover claimed that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was, “a disguise for the totalitarian state.” In 1936 former Democratic New York Governor and presidential candidate Al Smith said in a speech about FDR’s New Deal policies, “Just get the platform of the Democratic Party and get the platform of the Socialist Party and lay them down on your dining-room table, side by side.” 

When President Harry Truman proposed a national health care program, the American Medical Association hired Ronald Reagan as their pitchman. The AMA called the legislation that stemmed from his proposal “socialized medicine” claiming that White House staff were, “followers of the Moscow party line.”

In 1960, Ronald Reagan in a letter to Richard Nixon wrote the following about John F. Kennedy: “Under the tousled boyish haircut is still old Karl Marx.” In the 1990s, then Congressman Newt Gingrich claimed President Bill Clinton’s health care plan was “centralized bureaucratic socialism.” The conservative Heritage Foundation has claimed that the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was “a step towards socialism.” Former Speaker of the House John Boehner claimed the stimulus package, the omnibus spending bill and the budget proposed by President Barack Obama were “all one big down payment on a new American socialist experiment.” 

In this regard, President Harry Truman was right when he said that: “Socialism is the epithet they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years…Socialism is what they called Social Security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.”

Now let’s be clear: while President Trump and his fellow oligarchs attack us for our support of democratic socialism, they don’t really oppose all forms of socialism. They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires...

[during the 2008 market crash] Overnight, Wall Street became big government socialists and begged for the largest federal bailout in American history — some $700 billion from the Treasury and trillions in support from the Federal Reserve.

But it’s not just Wall Street that loves socialism — when it works for them. It is the norm across the entire corporate world. The truth is corporate America receives hundreds of billions of dollars in federal support every single year, while these same people are trying to cut programs that benefit ordinary Americans.

If you are a fossil fuel company, whose carbon emissions are destroying the planet, you get billions in government subsidies including special tax breaks, royalty relief, funding for research and development and numerous tax loopholes.

If you are a pharmaceutical company, you make huge profits on patent rights for medicines that were developed with taxpayer funded research...

And let me be absolutely clear: democratic socialism to me requires achieving political and economic freedom in every community. And let me also be clear, the only way we achieve these goals is through a political revolution – where millions of people get involved in the political process and reclaim our democracy by having the courage to take on the powerful corporate interests whose greed is destroying the social and economic fabric of our country. At the end of the day, the one percent may have enormous wealth and power, but they are just the one percent. When the 99 percent stand together, we can transform society.

These are my values, and that is why I call myself a democratic socialist.
Fulltext of the speech at Vox.


  1. I am not a rich man. I have a house in a provincial town of New Zealand, I own $250k of it, the bank owns $110k.
    I recently had to have a heart bypass operation, I was in hospital for three weeks, the first two to run tests and 'stop me going home and dying from a heart attack' the third to cut me up and fix me.
    I am home now, recovering slowly from the 7 hour operation.
    I still have my house. I still have the same small savings I had before.
    The operation cost me nothing except the lack of income, from laying in a hospital bed for 3 weeks. and now, sitting at home recuperating.
    The total cost of my visit was covered by the government.
    Do I feel guilty ?
    No, I paid that same government taxes on every dollar I earned during the, so far, 42 years of my employment, they in turn used (most) of that money wisely and they have been able to support a free health system.
    Which is fantastic.
    I used to think every country had the same free health care, but now I know different, places such as Sweden and Denmark (citation needed) actually pay you a living wage while you are in hospital.

    Then I read about the USA and it's health system.

    And why you all have not had a civil war to change your whole system of governmental management, especially with regards to your health system, is beyond me.
    Seriously, you need to sharpen your pitchforks.
    Or embrace your NRA's slogan.
    Or maybe vote for Bernie Sanders

    1. The problem of providing free healthcare to a nation of 300 million is a little more complicated than providing it for a country with about the same number of people as Los Angeles. I do appreciate that New Zealand has a system in place that genuinely works for New Zealand, but I find the idea that it can be reproduced and increased a hundred-fold to be unrealistic.

    2. "unrealistic"
      Indeed, that's the standard argument against any kind of reform in the United States, and has been as far back as Sanders is referring to. Exactly why "can do" Americans can't do just about anything the rest of the world seems to be able to accomplish abound. Shouldn't we expect more from the "leader" of the free world? After all: NZ GDP Per Capita = $42,940.58 USD; United States GDP Per Capita = $53,500.00 USD

  2. What a decent gentleman Mr Sanders sounds ,i wish him all the best with his campaign .
    But is this America he is talking about ,and look who the EC made POTUS last time.

  3. The problem is socialism has a much stronger meaning than he is giving it:
    "socialism. An economic system in which the production and distribution of goods are controlled substantially by the government rather than by private enterprise, and in which cooperation rather than competition guides economic activity."

    or, according to Merriam-Webster:
    1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
    2a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
    b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
    3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

    so, is that what Bernie is in favor of? government ownership of the means of production?
    Perhaps we need to start calling it something else?

    1. Richard Wolff explains the three kinds of socialism: https://youtu.be/p7x7oVwhHok

      It's pretty clear that Sanders--and all of the Democratic candidates-- support the first kind (as Wolff himself points out).

  4. I'm currently reading "The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi's Critique." Excellent book. From it (pp. 26-7):

    ...Polanyi's belief in expanding democracy to include the economy is expressed in his idiosyncratic definition of socialism: "Socialism is, essentially, the tendency inherent in an industrial civilization to transcend the self-regulating market by consciously subordinating it to a democratic society."

    Implicit in this definition is a critique of the Marxist stipulation that the coercive power of the state would "wither away" once the socialist revolution ended class exploitation. Polanyi sees this claim as a parallel utopian fantasy to that of the self-regulating [libertarian] market. Indeed, he explicitly follows [Max] Weber in recognizing that political authority and power would inevitably continue into any future social order, especially as a countervailing source of power to that of the economy.

    Two fundamental points follow. First, socialists could not ignore the difficulties entailed in imposing democratic accountability on governmental power. Second, Marxists were guilty of imagining that a shift in property relations would--by itself--usher in a new and better society. According to Polanyi, Marx mistakenly had accepted the claims of classical economists, especially [David] Ricardo, that property relations can and will determine the entire shape of the social order.

    Polanyi's view here is based on his unique insight that market society was imposed in the nineteenth century through political means. What we think of as "modern capitalist society" was, for Polanyi, not the result of underlying inevitable economic mechanisms, but rather the consequence of a series of political choices and explicit government policies. The pretense now stripped away of the economy as a "force of nature," it follows logically that these arrangements can be undone and reversed through the same mechanism--the use of political power.

    While Polanyi is usually not explicit on this point, his argument is consistent with those who have argued that private property represents a bundle of different rights that owners had at one particular moment in time. It follows that political and legal changes introduced over time can change that bundle of rights until many of the most important structural inequalities in labor markets, capital markets, and product markets are effectively eliminated.
    (apologies for any typos)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...