Is Bernie Sanders a Democratic Socialist?
The confusion comes from Bernie’s use of Democratic Socialism as a synonym for Social Democracy.
Bernie is social, Bernie is a humanist, Bernie is a Democrat, Bernie is a lot of things, but none of them are “a Communist who wants the social ownership of the means of production” (as his detractors sometimes try to imply).
TIP: This is all a bit semantic on one hand, as all we are doing is taking two terms Democrat/Democracy and Socialist/Social and putting them in a different order with each term. The rest of the weight is given by historic movements, the core of what the terms mean doesn’t change. On the other hand, to the extent that we consider Social Democrat and Democratic Socialist to be distinct and to carry with them their Wikipedia definitions (see citations or other links on this page), then, in those terms, we can make a case for Bernie as a Social Democrat and not a Democratic Socialist (despite the terminology Bernie uses, his policy on-paper and in-action backs up this idea). Making this distinct avoids having to listen to socially conservative right-wingers, neocons, and libertarians slander Bernie in their fight for free-enterprise against progressivism by conflating terms and implying he favors a Communist economic system; he does not.
Social Democracy vs. Democratic Socialism
By the book (in this case, Wikipedia):
- Social democracy is a political, social and economic ideology that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a capitalist economy, and a policy regime involving a commitment to representative democracy, measures for income redistribution, and regulation of the economy in the general interest and welfare state provisions. See also Social Democracy from Encyclopedia Britannica.
- Democratic socialism is a political ideology that advocates political democracy alongside social ownership of the means of production, often with an emphasis on democratic management of enterprises within a socialist economic system.
Whatever we Call Him Bernie Sanders is Progressive Left American Social Liberal Who Believes in Capitalism with a Safety Net, not in a Communist Economic System
Since literally every policy Bernie Sanders has ever put forth is one of a Social Democrat who supports Social Democracy and since essentially none of his words of actions have ever been that of a Democratic Socialist, we can say that Bernie’s use of the term “Democratic Socialism” is semantic and different from today’s common text-book meaning.
With that said, Democratic socialism is also sometimes used as a synonym for social democracy (for example by Bernie Sanders and to a large extent the “Democratic Socialists of America“).
This can be misleading because text-book democratic socialism generally “advocates social ownership of the means of production”, whereas social democracy does not. Bernie Sanders isn’t actually advocating for “social ownership of the means of production” (nor are the Democratic Socialists of America from what I can tell).
Bernie Sanders generally advocates for “a political, social and economic ideology that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a capitalist economy, and a policy regime involving a commitment to representative democracy, measures for income redistribution, and regulation of the economy in the general interest and welfare state provisions” AKA Social Democracy (by a general definition).
(Democratic Debate) Bernie Sanders explains Democratic Socialism.
TIP: There are socialist groups in America that advocate for the common ownership of the means of production, and socialist groups who don’t. Some are Communist, most aren’t. Since the mid 1800’s there have been many different forms of socialism and Communism that arose to stand against social, political, and economic inequality.
What Does Democratic Socialism Mean to Bernie Sanders?
Text-books aside, Bernie Sanders has a uniquely American Progressive Social Liberal ideology that shares elements with Social Democracy and which he describes as Democratic Socialism. This may all seem like we are splitting hairs, but such is the nature of politics, symbolism, and identity.
Bernie believes in Democracy and a strong safety net in an otherwise capitalist system. He believes in a Second Bill of Rights like FDR and a democracy that works for all Americans like Obama, he is not a statist authoritative socialist like Stalin (to say the least).
At the core of his ideology, Bernie favors the people first, and not the neoliberal or neocon elites.
With that said, he is clearly more willing to side with the social neoliberal left against the radical social conservatism found in the Tea Party than he is to side with all populists against both the neocon and neoliberal elites (as Ted Cruz said to him during the healthcare debate, “I said, listen, Bernie talks about how Washington is corrupt, how both parties, how both parties are in bed with big business and big money and it is a corrupt system benefitting special interests. I agree absolutely and entirely” and then went on to propose a flat tax which is like the opposite of everything Bernie).
In other words Bernie is Populist Left, but he is Left first. He isn’t going to support a policy that creates jobs but destroys the environment for example.
In terms of economics, not social issues, Bernie Sanders supports a “mixed” form of what I call maybe “social capitalism with a social safety net”, he does not support a Communist economic system in his words or actions. He simply supports a strong safety net that doesn’t put the wants of .01% before the needs of 99.99%. He is populist in that way, but he is not populist in terms of any sort of know-nothing (socially conservative) sentiment.
All this to say, Bernie is a type of social liberal, and he describes his unique American type as Democratic Socialism. Despite the semantics, his words and actions show clearly that he not a text-book Communist as his detractors would like you to believe.
TIP: With all the above said, I’m not Bernie, he is. So you’ll need to listen to his own thoughts in the videos below if you want to do his ideology justice and actually hear what he thinks.
SEE: Senator Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States. Nothing he says meets the definition of Democratic Socialism as can be found on a website like Wikipedia, everything he says meets the definition of Social Democracy as can be found on Wikipedia.
TIP: Consider different groups of different nations have used the same terms to describe different things, including the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) (who are also called the Democratic Socialist Party).
TIP: Actual modern Democratic socialists define themselves, although third party definitions aren’t irrelevant. Listen to what the American Democratic Socialists have to say about “what is Democratic Socialism?” they specifically note that they are not Communists either.
NOTE: Sanders describes himself an admirer of the Nordic model practiced in the Scandinavian countries. In an address on his political philosophy given at Georgetown University in November 2015, Sanders identified his conception of “democratic socialism” with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s proposal for a Second Bill of Rights, saying that democratic socialism means creating “an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy,” reforming the political system (which Sanders says is “grossly unfair” and “in many respects, corrupt”), recognizing health care and education as rights, protecting the environment, and creating a “vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person, one vote.
Bernie Sanders Democratic Socialism FULL Speech – Georgetown Univ – Nov 19, 2015.
TIP: The attempt to conflate Bernie Sanders with Leninist, Maoist, Stalinist, National Socialist, or other types of authoritative or Communist social ideologies is slander by the establishment and right-wing. Sometimes libertarians address the ills of social liberal welfare state social democracy in relation to Bernie honestly, but a lot of the talking points being spread beyond that amount to little more than slander mean to discredit a popular leader of Social Liberal American politics.
FACT: Bernie and his family bought a $600,000 lake house after working in Congress for 25 years. $600,000 is chump change to the economic elite in America and around the globe (see how the economy works). Trump University-related lawsuits settled for $25 million.