Bernie Sanders, please stop calling yourself a socialist. You’re a social democrat!

Bernie Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist.

But he’s not a socialist at all.

Noam Chomsky and Cornel West say that Sanders is a social democrat and a New Dealer. See Bernie Sanders is NEITHER a Socialist nor a Democratic Socialist and What does Sanders mean by ‘democratic socialism’?.

Professor Frances Fox Piven, the honorary chairperson of the official Democratic Socialists of America coalition, says Sanders “does not quite meet the definition of the term,” calling him a New Deal Democrat. Source: What does Sanders mean by ‘democratic socialism’?.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman says the same thing.

Forbes’ contributor Tim Worstall is a fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London. He has written Bernie’s Democratic Socialism Isn’t Socialism, It’s Social Democracy.

Marian Tupy, of the libertarian Cato Institute, writes in The Atlantic: “Bernie Sanders is not a socialist, but a social democrat.” Bernie Is Not a Socialist and America Is Not Capitalist: Scandinavia is, by one measure, a freer market than the United States. Tupy writes:

Considering the negative connotations of “socialism” in America, it is a bit of a puzzle why Sanders insists on using that word. It would be much less contentious and more correct if he gave his worldview its proper name: not “democratic socialism,” which implies socialism brought about through a vote, but social democracy.

I wholeheartedly agree.

Indeed, this Bloomberg article points out that the Nordic countries so beloved of Sanders and many of his followers are mostly capitalist, not socialist: The Choice Isn’t Between Capitalism or Socialism. “Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen stated bluntly that Denmark was a market economy rather than a socialist one.”

A New Yorker article on Ocasio-Cortez suggests that she calls herself a democratic socialist not because of any deep ideological commitment. Her self-appellation has “less to do with theory or ideology than with the simple fact that she kept seeing members at rallies for every cause she cares about, from the Hurricane Maria rescue effort to Black Lives Matter. She defines her politics as a struggle for ‘social, economic, and racial dignity.’”

That doesn’t sound like socialism to me.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, distorted with embossing via gimp

According to Wikipedia:

Democratic socialism is a political philosophy that advocates political democracy alongside social ownership of the means of production[1] with an emphasis on self-management and/or democratic management of economic institutions within market socialism or decentralized and participatory planned economy.[2] Democratic socialists hold that capitalism is inherently incompatible with the democratic values of liberty, equality and solidarity; and that these ideals can only be achieved through the realization of a socialist society. Democratic socialism can be supportive of either revolutionary or reformist politics as a means to establish socialism.[3]

So, democratic socialism is still a form of socialism. Adherents want social ownership of the means of production.  Such ideology is out of the mainstream in America, and adherents are susceptible to criticism and ridicule — which they are already getting plenty of.      Republicans called even Obama a socialist.

Chomsky points out that Dwight Eisenhower — who said that anyone who questioned the New Deal doesn’t belong in the political system — would be called a raging leftist in the current extreme political climate.

This NPR article paints a mostly radical (i.e., accurate) picture of democratic socialism: What You Need To Know About The Democratic Socialists Of America.

This webpage What is Democratic Socialism Q & A by the (Young) Democratic Socialists of America has clear explanations of what they believe. So does this article from the NY Times.

Paul Krugman says Bernie Sanders isn't a socialist

Most progressives are social democrats: they are not completely opposed to private wealth and corporations. They just want private wealth to be adequately taxed, regulated, and counter-balanced by a robust social safety net, for the sake of the common good.   Think FDR, Robert Kennedy, and Dennis Kucinich, not Eugene Debs.   Think the mixed Nordic model, not democratic socialism.

Social democracy is apparently the goal of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, and, I’m sure it’s the goal of most of the millions of followers of Sanders.

Words matter.

Some supporters of democratic socialism describe it in a way that makes it seem compatible with private ownership and capitalism. For example, I saw this meme image on facebook:

Description of Democratic Socialism that makes it look compatible with capitalism

From what have gathered, the description in the image above is inaccurate. The image describes social democracy.  Democratic socialism is opposed to private ownership.

I have no problem with people who are really socialists calling themselves socialists. I do have a problem with sloppy language that can harm the Left.

Some people want to change the meaning of socialism or to convince the public that socialism is a good thing.  I think that effort to change the meaning of the word is foolish. Why bother when we have perfectly good words that don’t carry the burden of negative connotations?

For heaven’s sake, and for the sake of the progressive movement, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez should call themselves what they are: social democrats! Otherwise they will be destroyed by GOP attack dogs.


Relevant links

If democratic socialism is so bad, why is Norway so great?. Ryan Cooper argues persuasively that Norway has a much more successful society and economy than America. He says Norway embraces democratic socialism. I say: it embraces social democratic policies. The choice of words may seem to be unimportant, but as George Lakoff says, names and framing matter! Calling it socialism makes it an easy target for right-wing ridicule.

Here’s the difference between a ‘socialist’ and a ‘Democratic socialist’ agrees that socialism refers to state ownership of the means of production, though worker-owned corporations are also allowed in some forms of socialism. “In general, socialists believe the government should provide a range of basic services to the public, such as health care and education, for free or at a significant discount.” (The same is true of social democrats.) Democratic socialists are socialists who believe in democracy.

This informative article (Feb 14, 2019) agrees with my analysis about Sanders not really being a socialist:

What socialism is — according to Bernie Sanders

Kamala Harris: “I’m A Progressive Democrat… I’m Not A Socialist”

The difference between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, according to a socialist

Paul Krugman says it again:  Bernie Sanders isn’t a Socialist

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