Why Does Bernie Sanders Call Himself a “Socialist?”

by O Society Feb 10, 2020

One of our O Society people sent the following message:

It seems like with a country this big we would have better choices.  I am afraid Trump is going to win again.  I am amazed by how many people we know who really, really support Trump.  One recently confronted us with “Tell me what lie has Trump told, name one?”  WTF?

Well, Sanders continues to look very good in the polls and it surprises me, but I have no clue how anyone with whom I was raised is going to vote for someone who calls himself a “socialist.” And I mean “no one.” That’s a BIG problem.


I have no clue why he gave himself the label. One can argue he is a “democratic socialist.” Good luck with this argument. Why not propose Medicare for All, an increased minimum wage, free college tuition, and so on, but just don’t call yourself a “socialist”?

In multiple tests, terming policies as “socialist” – Medicare for All, Green New Deal, guaranteed income for those unwilling to work – raises the intensity of the negative of the policy proposal by seven to ten points.

When I was a kid, we were raised with the fear Russia was going to bomb us any minute.  We all had to wear name tags to school so our bodies could be identified after such an attack.  We had drills all of the time where we all had to get under our desks as if that were going to be helpful during a bombing.  In our minds, there was no difference between “socialists and communists” because the word “socialist” was part of the name in U.S.S.R. 


So, my point is people raised like this are never, ever going to vote for someone who calls himself a “socialist.”  It’s not going to happen.  Not in a thousand years. 

Add to this the fact so many people think the government is the “enemy” and can do nothing right because of the “red tape” and, hence, oppose all government programs and Sanders doesn’t have a chance.  The only surprising thing is how well he is doing in the polls despite being a terrible public speaker who is always angry and grumpy.

From where I come from, it’s not going to be 50% Sanders and 50% Trump.  It’s going to be 99% Trump and 1% Sanders.  It’s going to be like McGovern who was certainly a better candidate than Nixon, but it just did not matter in the least.   And those who get mad about this and won’t support any Democrat other than Sanders are going to stick us with four more years of this Trump mess.

The ^ above ^  raises a really good question, which we can restate simply as:

Why does Bernie Sanders call himself a “Socialist?”

First, let’s do the right thing, which is this little thing we like to call “telling the truth.” And the truth is the United States of America is neither a “Capitalist” nor a “Socialist” country. Instead, the good ole USofA uses what’s called by economics people a “Mixed Economy,” meaning what we have here is a mixture of the two.

Yes it is. This is not an economics class and I am not an economist either. That said, the statement “America has a mixed economy.” is not controversial. Read a book or this:

Socialists, Democrats, and the Liberal Imagination

To see only one or the other is to be as blind as closing one eye and keeping the other open. You can still see with one eye open, but you have no perception of depth. I think some folks like it that way. Half blind or tactical stupidity or whatever you wish to call it. So be it.

Second, what is Socialism exactly? As in a definition.

What Socialism is and is not

For our purposes, we’ll use Karl Marx’s definition, which in simplistic terms is determined by who owns the means of production. Easy peasy to understand.

We have a car factory. Our car factory is located entirely in the USA and makes Ford/Chevrolet/Dodge for the sake of argument. Now, if the car factory is publicly owned in common by the people, a public car factory with government administration of it for the good of all, this is socialism. If instead, the car factory is owned privately by stock holders, a private car factory with corporate administration for the good of the share holders only, this is capitalism.

Got it? Good. Now what is the United States? For the sake of simplicity, we’re only looking at automobile production.

If you said automobile production is purely a capitalist thing in the USofA – as American as mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet – you’d be wrong.

Yes, it’s wrong. Why?

Because the American government bailed out the car industry not long ago. Gave Ford/Chevy/Dodge a huge amount of the public’s loot.

Yes, it did.

Auto Industry Bail Out

Again, this is not an economics class. However, anyone can understand the bottom line, which is:


See the part where it says, “The Treasury Department lent money and bought stock ownership in GM and Chrysler.”?

^This is socialism.^ Yes it is.

We the People bought stock in the auto industry and lost $10,000,000,000 in doing so. That’s not capitalism, folks. That’s throwing taxpayer money at a problem – specifically making a significant party of the auto industry publicly owned aka “nationalizing” it. And the public lost money doing it. It’s what’s called “socialism for corporations.”

Was this a good idea? I don’t know. Blame Obama or whatever. It wasn’t my call to make. The point is still the same: in reality, even the most “capitalist” seeming thing in America – making cars – is not a purely capitalist thing, no matter what the guy down at the autoworkers’ union says.

Now, there is a good point raised in the original message, which is there is a certain demographic who will never vote for anyone who calls him/herself a “socialist.” Fair enough. Here they are:


Easy peasy to see what is going on here. Voters under the age of 30 hold a more positive view of Socialism (51%) than they do of Capitalism (45%). We get the inverse relationship as age increases, with an inflection point around ~30 years of age. Voters over the age of 30 have a more positive view of Capitalism (~60%) and just as our O Society person reports, the older the cohort, the less the folks approve of Socialism (40-30%).

The point is valid, with the caveat it depends on your point of view.


When we lookit the same thing by political party, the difference is even more clearer:


People who consider themselves a “Democrat” approve of socialism at a rate of 57%, while folks who identify as “Republican” disapprove of socialism at a rate of 84%.

If we believe people get more conservative as we get older, then we’d probably not be surprised to see the correlation

older age: Republican identity: disapproval of socialism

If you don’t agree with these observations, take it up with Gallup and get off my lawn.


Now, as regular readers know, I don’t consider myself a Democrat or a Republican. I don’t “identify” with the views of either political party as currently constructed.

O Society Philosophy

Today’s politicians are universally bought by billionaires. I ain’t no billionaire; therefore, these politicians do not represent my interests. Anyone who believes otherwise is nuckin’ futs in my honest opinion.

I do believe economic inequality is probably the biggest cause of violence afflicting mankind today and always has been, if you look at our collective recorded history.

Income Inequality’s Most Disturbing Side Effect: Homicide

Therefore, we need to do something soon about the gaping rectum between the ultra-rich and the rest of us. It’s obvious to everyone. Otherwise some pretty heinous  world-wide violence is gonna come out of it sooner rather than later. You can say it’s “just human nature.”

I say, even if this is true, we need to teach people to share because the super-greedy few will kill us all if we let them. Given a long enough timeline, this is inevitable. Human beings will cause our own extinction unless we make some big changes. Again, all this should be easy peasy to see for O Society regulars.

Now back to the original question, why does Bernie Sanders call himself a “socialist,” especially given he is not one. Not a real one anyway. He isn’t calling for the government to own the means of production with automobile factories, building houses, or agriculture. These seem like the “biggest three things America makes” to me – cars, buildings, and food – and all of three these are privately held sectors.

Nobody is coming to take your cheeseburgers or Mustangs or McMansions, in other words. Not Bernie. Not me. Not anybody. Not today.

To Bernie Sanders ‘Democratic Socialist’ Is Just a Synonym for New Deal Liberal

Is it a good decision, you know, marking his “brand” wise?

I don’t know. Our voter demographics say Bernie is doing a “wise” thing if he’s targeting young voters and a “stupid” thing if he’s targeting older voters. Older people typically do vote and tend to have their minds made up already. Younger folks … maybe you have to motivate them to vote and say they’re more likely to have their vote  influenced than an established senior citizen. It’s a strategy.

For Sen. Bernie Sanders, socialism was a way of distinguishing his left-wing views from those of the dominant moderate wing of the Democratic Party in Vermont.

Is it a winning strategy? I don’t know. It isn’t up to me. About all I know for certain is I ain’t God, omniscient and so on.


Personally, I’d benefit from student loan jubilee, universal healthcare, and doubling the minimum wage from say… the $7.50 it is now to $15… a helluva lot more than I’d benefit from Trump cutting taxes on rich folks again.

Republican and Democratic Parties Reboot Their Two Santas Scam

Any so-called “working class” or “middle class” person would. Fuck the Bezos. Really not worried about his wallet to be blunt about it.

So why does Bernie do it? Calling himself Socialist?

My best guesstimate is to take the power out of the word. That’s what Tyrion would do. It is probably the reason Franklin Delano Roosevelt called himself a “socialist.” Because he knew his opponents would.

Conservatives Don’t Hate Socialism, Conservatives Hate Equality


Bullies can only hurt you with words if you allow them to do so. Sticks & stones. So don’t be offended or butthurt when the predictable happens. We all agree Donald Trump is going to call Bernie Sanders a “Communist Jew” over and over no matter what Bernie calls himself. Trump called Obama a “Socialist” too. So what?

Donald Trump On Socialism

It’s going to be Trump’s whole campaign. Because that’s what fascists do.

Which Way Out of Neoliberalism: Fascism or Socialism?


Trump takes everything to WWF Wrasslin’ lowest common denominator name calling bully level because he simply can’t compete at a higher level, and he knows it. If I were Bernie, I’d laugh in Trump’s face, tell him he’s an idiot on national TV, insult his hair and orange skin, whatever it takes to show him you’re not afraid of  him or his minions. Do this for a while, just until everyone is clear you aren’t going to be bullied by this assclown, then hammer Trump to death on real issues for the rest of the campaign.

Tell Trump to “go make me a sandwich while I do some real work.” That’s what I’d do.

The cry of “socialism” was patented by the powerful interests who desire to put a damper on progressive legislation. Is their cry of socialism anything new? Not to a man of my experience. I have heard it raised by reactionary elements and the Republican party … for over a quarter century.

~ Al Smith 1928


Here’s what Bernie says about it.

Don’t ask me. Probably take his word for it instead.

Sanders invokes FDR to defend democratic socialism

‘Almost everything he proposed, almost every program, every idea, was called ‘socialist,” the candidate says.

by Gabriel Debenedetti  Bernie Sanders sought to wrap himself in the mantle of Franklin D. Roosevelt on Thursday afternoon, seeding a long-anticipated speech about his brand of democratic socialism with references to the successful efforts by the New Deal architect — who also featured in Hillary Clinton’s campaign — to end the Great Depression.

“Against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day, people he called economic royalists, Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty, and restored our faith in government. He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our nation. He combated cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed the country, and that is what we have to do today,” said the Vermont senator, an independent who caucuses with Democrats while identifying as a democratic socialist

“And, by the way, almost everything he proposed, almost every program, every idea, was called ’socialist.'”

Sanders’ address, which his campaign team had previewed for weeks amid escalating primary season questions about his Democratic credentials, but which was announced only on Wednesday, came just hours after Clinton, the front-runner, delivered a high-profile address of her own in Manhattan — outlining her vision for countering the Islamic State.

Sanders stuck primarily to domestic policy — referring frequently to Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pope Francis — and only veered into international affairs in the wake of the attacks in Paris at the end of the speech, instead opting to defend his ideology against what he characterized as “attacks.” At times, the address was an echo of his stump speech, down to individual statistics on income inequality he likes to repeat at his signature mega rallies.

Speaking for more than an hour before taking questions in a packed, gilded lecture hall on the Georgetown University campus, the insurgent candidate who is running neck-and-neck with Clinton in New Hampshire — but behind her nearly everywhere else — suggested many of his policy proposals fit the rubric of “democratic socialism” without deviating far from mainstream Democratic beliefs.

“Let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans,” Sanders explained. “And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968, when he stated that, ‘this country has socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor.’ It builds on the success of many other countries around the world who have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, their elderly citizens, their children, their sick and their poor.”

For a candidate who has acknowledged that he must convince Democrats of his electability, making that case has long been a crucial task.

“It’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations, huge tax breaks for the very rich, or trade policies which would boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs,” he said, echoing a line that he frequently repeats in his standard campaign speech across the country.

“It means that we create a government that works for all of us, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what American stands for. It means that health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege.”

But, given the changed tenor and content of the national discussion in recent days, the senator also made sure to address international policy — something he rarely does at length unprompted on the campaign trail.

Sanders is clear the reason he calls himself a “socialist” is because his heroes such as MLK and FDR called themselves socialist. FDR called his own New Deal programs following the Great Depression by the term “socialist.” Sanders is an FDR New Deal Democrat.

FDR was not actually a socialist:

How FDR Saved Capitalism

Sanders is not actually a socialist either.

The point about “electablity” is one we hear often. It is a conservative talking point placed in the mouths of voters who hear it over and over in the mainstream media and believed because of the illusory truth effect.

FDR is the reason we have term limits. The 22nd Amendment. FDR served four terms. Umm… so he’s more “electable” than any president in US history, folks. That’s not conjecture, it’s what we call reality.

FDR the Four-Term President and the 22nd Amendment

Therefore the “Bernie is too left-wing to be electable” trope is just another example of today’s media turning facts upside down like Alice and Wonderland. The same media pundits repeated over and over Donald Trump would never get elected. Lookit how that turned out. They lie to themselves and to us.


Bernie Sanders’ Policies are Mainstream, Normal, and Popular No Matter How Often They are CalledSocialist


As for the rest of our original question, the people who voted for McGovern didn’t elect Richard Nixon. The people who voted for Nixon elected Nixon.

Let’s break it on down. This is what we in the USofA like to call math:

A vote for Donald Trump is counted as 1 for Donald Trump.

A vote for Bernie Sanders does *not* equal a vote for Donald Trump. This is not math. This is bullshit.

A vote for Bernie Sanders is counted as 1 for Bernie Sanders and *zero* for Donald Trump. This is math. This is not bullshit.

So maybe stop trying to guilt and shame people who have nothing to do with electing Donald Trump. Fuck Donald Trump. I didn’t vote for him. Blame the people who did!

I don’t owe HillBillary Clinton anything. I don’t owe Joe Biden or Pete Buttgig or Bloomberg or Obama or Oprah or any of the rest of these neoliberal asshats anything either. 

Zilch. Zero. Nada.

So suggest y’all take the “you have to vote for the Democrat no matter what” because you’re obligated jive somewhere else and sell it. I ain’t buying it.

Neither are all the people who vote Nobody. *We* are the majority. Not the Ds and not the Rs.

2020 Vision: If Nobody’d Run, They’d Have Won!

When’s the last time somebody listened to us? FDR? That’s 80 years ago folks. When’s one of these so-called presidents going to be a public servant again and work for US?

8 thoughts on “Why Does Bernie Sanders Call Himself a “Socialist?”

  1. On Sanders, it’s just his shtick — sounds kind of edgy, appeals to young voters. There are several kinds of socialism. Sanders used to claim support for democratic socialism, and as such, advocated for legitimate poverty relief programs. (Democratic socialism ensures modest incomes even for those left jobless.) But that was years ago, and he no longer supports that. Just ask him if he intends to call for restoring relief to those left jobless (he doesn’t). Sen. Sanders is a Democrat, campaigning to middle class voters (reframed as “working class”), in support of our class-divided capitalist system.


  2. The thing about Bernie Sanders is that he’s not a socialist in any way, shape or form. He’s a rather mild social democrat whose policies, if they come to fruition, will take a bit of the edge off of living in a capitalist society. It’s “capitalism with (some) socialist characteristics.”

    People won’t have to worry about losing their healthcare benefits if they quit or lose their job and they won’t have to remortgage or sell their homes to pay for cancer treatment, poor people will have more opportunities to get an education, which will help them increase their chances of obtaining a decent paying job…it’s injecting a little bit of fairness and humanity into a brutally unfair system but it is hardly radical stuff. Bezos and his pals will still be billionaires if Sanders becomes president, there will still be massive economic inequality and capitalism will still prevail. But it’s a step in the right direction.

    I don’t know why the social democrat Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist but even with that inaccurate moniker he’s out fundraising his PAC and Shadow app backed rivals and powering ahead in the Dem nomination race, while the media and panicked corporate Democrats like Pete “CIA” Buttigieg and the evil turncoat phoney Liz Warren are lying, smearing and doing Juan Guaido impersonations and desperately trying to bring the kibosh down on his campaign, with limited success. Hopefully Sanders and his campaign team will play hardball when required instead of rerunning their mistakes from 2016 or Corbynizing themselves trying to appease their detractors. So far they seem to be doing ok, better than in 2016 at any rate.

    Anyway, I am not convinced that Sanders calling himself a socialist is a liability. The kind of people who cower in terror at hearing the S word will never vote for him regardless of what he calls himself. The brainwashed and paranoid people on the John Birch right who see plotting commies lurking in every shadow are very much set in their ways. These are people who think the mega corporation Apple, Inc. is “socialist” because the company plays the identity politics PR game and that the Democratic Party is ideologically on the far left because why else would un-American Marxist radicals like Hillary Clinton and the crypto Muslim traitor Barack Hussein Obama be proud members. I have heard this stuff first hand. People who think like this, and I use term loosely, are not going to vote for any Democrat, ever. This far down the Bircher rabbit hole dictionaries and logic are just another pinko plot on the slippery slope to a Clintonite Stalinist dictatorship. Bernie dropping the socialist shtick and calling himself something else won’t make any difference down here.


  3. Bernie Sanders is not a socialist. He calls himself one though.

    I guess in our society we need to remind ourselves words don’t really mean anything specific or static anyway. All of these terms, be it “liberal” or “socialist” or “fascist” degenerate into slurs, which at the end of the day, actually just mean “people I don’t like” and nothing more sophisticated than this to the average American.

    George Orwell saw this phenomenon 80 years ago and we certainly haven’t gotten better in the interim:



  4. Thoughtful piece, thanks for writing!

    I only disagree on two points:

    The first is I’d argue the US is firmly a capitalist economy. The example of the bailout of the auto industry doesn’t necessarily disprove this, as the stock purchased did not give Americans any kind of controlling stake in the company or access to profits, which are key components of socialism. I haven’t been invited to any GM board meetings or received any Chrysler dividends, things that normally come with purchasing large amounts of shares of a company. The bailout was a massive free transfer of public wealth to the private sector, which is essentially capitalist, if not colonialist.

    On the second point, on Sanders not being socialist, I must also disagree — though I wouldn’t have as recently as 2016. One of the things that aggravates me is muddying the waters on socialism, particularly when social democratic policies (like publicly-funded utilities or healthcare) are conflated with or attributed to socialism and I have felt Sanders was guilty of this. I’ve felt he could’ve done a better job articulating concepts like workplace democracy, which probably sounds appealing to the same people who’d kneejerk against the term “socialism”.

    However, Sanders’ has proposed two policies that should truly be considered socialist: The first would require corporations to reserve seats on their boards of directors for workers, the second would require corporations to reserve a portion of stocks for a fund controlled by employees, giving them dividends, owning stake and voting rights. These are true socialist agendas, as they give workers larger control over capital and the means of production.

    Just my thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for your thoughts Enfant. Your thoughts are important and clarify what’s going on. We have what’s called a semantic debate going on here. Semantic debates are about the meanings of words. What is the definition of X?

    Here we are talking about what’s the definition of socialism (and related concepts, capitalism, communism, social democracy, democratic socialism, and so on).

    Semantic debates make up the majority of arguments on the internet. The average political discussion can often be boiled down to “what is the definition of liberal and conservative?”

    My definitions don’t match yours and off we go…

    We have what’s called a mixed economy in America. This is what economists call it. So I’m repeating what the economics professor says. It’s not socialism or capitalism really; it’s both and neither at the same time.

    I am not an economist by training. I’m a biologist. My favorite economist is Michael Hudson. He puts things in context so I can understand why otherwise random-seeming concepts are important. Have you read him?


    My take is modern American economics is mixed up with religion and politics to such an overwhelming muddy mess, no one agreed on much of anything. This is no doubt on purpose, intentionally caused by the acolytes of the neoliberal cult.

    So this is what I call the American Dream/ ideology/ cultural hegemony/ religion/ economy/ political thing. I call it Neoliberalism.

    There is no pure capitalism or pure socialism. There is no pure democracy or republic either. These are mythological terms. Like rainbow unicorns, we make up terms and act as if these concepts are real the way horses are. Utopia doesn’t exist except as a concept.

    When it comes to the term “socialism,” Karl Marx means one thing and Bernie Sanders’ take is different when he uses this same term. We cannot point to a horse and say “this is what it is” to settle the Marx/ Sanders argument because there is no socialism in the way there are horses.

    As Zhuangzi says, the meaning of words is not fixed, which is why we have so many semantic arguments. Words have meaning; this meaning changes over time.

    As Wittgenstein says, the meaning is different in different contexts in different language games depending on its function, so how’s it used in the political game? How’s it used in the Marx/ Engles game? How’s it used in the patriotism war propaganda game?

    Next thing you know, we’re worshipping money/ status or a golden calf or Donald Trump, which are all really the same thing in different forms.

    Liked by 1 person

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