What is Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Socialism?

Socialism.  It’s such a scary word, isn’t it.  Did you think the word and the ideal died with the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics?  It didn’t; we just stopped talking about it as often.

Many in the media, and perhaps even some of your friends, have become very vocal about Bernie Sanders and a different political movement he claims to subscribe to, called democratic socialism.  They seek to contrast it with that evil form of socialism, called, coincidentally, socialism.  You’ll hear over and over that they are two thoroughly different political ideologies.  They’ll even try and scare you by saying that you are thinking about “Marxist socialism.” Any political “ism” forced upon the world by a guy with a K and an X in his name must be terrible.

But, toned down, and called democratic, it sounds so much less threatening, doesn’t it?

So, what is the difference between the two ideologies?  Why does one provoke fear of tyrannical, dictatorial governments while the other is invoked as the answer to all of our nation’s woes by the winner of last night’s Democrat primary, possibly the next President of the United States?

A quick Google search provides the following basic definition:

Socialism: a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

This definition conforms with Karl Marx’s definition of socialism as set forth in The Communist Manifesto.

For the sake of clarity, let’s define the relevant terms contained in the definition above:

Means:  an action or system by which a result is brought about; a method.

Production:  the action of making or manufacturing from components or raw materials, or the process of being so manufactured.

Distribution:  the action of sharing something out among a number of recipients; the way in which something is shared out among a group or spread over an area; the action or process of supplying goods to stores and other businesses that sell to consumers.

Exchange:  an act of giving one thing and receiving another (especially of the same type or value) in return.

Ownership:  the act, state, or right of possessing something.

Regulation:  a rule or directive made and maintained by an authority.

Community:  a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.

Community as a whole:  a government.

In short, socialism is government ownership and/or regulation of the method of production, distribution and exchange within a community.  Socialism doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  What can be so terrifying about owning a little piece of the pie?

Why then are politicians like Bernie Sanders doing all they can to convince us they are not actual socialists?  Why do they find it necessary to clarify that they are not advocating that the “government” own everything?  So, what are they then, if not socialist?

They are democratic socialists, of course.  Don’t you feel better now?  Anything based in democratic principles must be safe.

What, then, is democratic socialism?  Bernie Sanders, speaking at Georgetown University last year, outlined his democratic socialist beliefs.   He stated unapologetically the following:That the government should provide Medicare for everyone in the nation;

  • That a college and university education should be free to everyone in the nation;
  • That the federal government should mandate a minimum wage of at least $15 per hour for everyone in the nation;
  • That the federal government should guarantee employment to everyone in the nation;
  • That everyone in the nation, by way of a significant estate tax, should benefit financially from the death of billionaires and millionaires;
  • That today’s political system is unfair to nearly everyone in the nation; and
  • That oil and energy companies are heating the earth to extremes that will be harmful to everyone in the nation.

Sounds a lot like Bernie Sanders is advocating that the “community as a whole” seek to own or regulate nearly the entire U.S. economy.  But, in spite of his actual words, we continue to hear and read that because we have nothing to fear, and that no one is advocating that the government take control of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

But his is just political doublespeak, isn’t it?  Bernie Sanders is just saying what is necessary to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton, right?

Since Sanders is a politician, shouldn’t we be careful with what he says and fact-check his statements about his political beliefs?  Where can we find the accurate definition we seek?  Let’s go directly to what may be best source we can find – the Democratic Socialists of America (“DSA”).

The DSA website states the following:

“We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated   labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power, discrimination based on race and sex, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo. We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships. We are socialists because we are developing a concrete strategy for achieving that vision, for building a majority movement that will make democratic socialism a reality in America.”

DSA further states that:

At the root of our socialism is a profound commitment to democracy, as means [to    an] end” and that since “[w]e are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism, DSA           fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people.”

“We are activists committed to democracy as not simply one of our political values but      our means of restructuring society. Our vision is of a society in which people have a real voice in the choices and relationships that affect the entirety of our lives. We call this   vision democratic socialism – a vision of a more free, democratic and humane society.”

There you have it – the DSA itself defines democratic socialism as the means to end capitalism and ultimately reach a state of actual socialism. 

Democratic socialism, then, is nothing more than using elections and votes to secure government control (through ownership and regulation) of nearly the entire economic system of the United States – energy, healthcare, education, telecommunications and media, manufacturing and even the service sector.

The goal of democratic socialism is socialism, plain and simple.  Perhaps not through the violent coups and conflicts of yesteryear, but by convincing voters that they are deserving of and have rights to control of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

So, when your friends tell you that Bernie Sanders and others should not be feared, now you know that democratic socialists and socialists are one and the same.  If you fear socialism, you should fear democratic socialists.


Once your friends realize they cannot win the socialist/democratic socialist argument, they will immediately begin to rationalize socialist policies by naming programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as successful implementations of socialism.  They will further state erroneously that the Constitution actually condones socialism by authorizing expenditures of government funds for military and defense, police and fire departments.

When they realize they cannot win their argument that a democratic socialist is not a socialist, they will instead begin to rationalize socialism.  Do not fall for these lies either.

Our next essay will address these claims and help you better understand what socialism is, what it isn’t and how it affects the economics of a nation.



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  1. Avatar for Guy Robert Vestal Guy Robert Vestal May 9, 2016
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