Bernie Sanders is running his presidential campaign as a democratic socialist, but there is some confusion among Americans over what that means.
What is democratic socialism?
In their Q&A, the Democratic Socialists of America explain democratic socialism as the belief that "both the economy and society should be run democratically - to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few."
Aren't socialism and communism the same?
No. Socialism and communism are different. While communism is mostly a political system, socialism is mostly an economic system. Both are based on the idea of public ownership but go about it in different ways, communism gives ownership to the state and socialism give ownership to the public, most notably workers.
What about capitalism and democracy? Why would we want or need socialism?
Socialism is very different from capitalism, but a number of Americans believe we are no longer living in a capitalist or democratic society but are instead living in or are drawing closer to a plutocracy (government controlled by the wealthy) or an oligarchy (government controlled by a small group) or a combination of both, which is called a plutarchy. Bernie Sanders shares this view and wants to save America from what he sees as certain disaster using the guiding principles of democratic socialism.
Is democratic socialism different from socialism?
It is, though how so varies. Socialism is an ideal, and there are no specific instructions on how it should be carried out. So different people may give different definitions to how they view socialism, and to that extent democratic socialism. In general, democratic socialism is socialism mixed with principles of democracy (thought what exactly those principles are varies with who you ask). In that sense, it's best to look at what Bernie Sanders has to say about democratic socialism:
You can view Bernie's 12 Point Plan for America here. Some of the more socialist aspects of it include:
+ Government funded jobs program. (think "The New Deal")
+ Creating Worker Co-op. (look up "Publix," which is a worker-owned grocery store)
+ Affordable College (think of Finland or Norway)
+ Universal Healthcare (think of Canada or Briton)
+ Strengthen Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare
+ Tax reform based on ability to pay
+ Ending tax breaks for corporations and billionaires
+ Tax fossil fuel companies for carbon omissions
+ Reduce military spending
+ Tax Wallstreet transactions
The United States actually has a large number of socially run programs, from Medicaid to public libraries to fire departments to the roads and bridges we travel every day.
Evaluating whether or not socialism has been successful in other countries is a complicated endeavor. There are a number of countries that have declared themselves socialist, but just because they claim they are socialist does not mean they are follow socialist principles. Furthermore, no country has ever been purely socialist. but many countries practice socialism in one aspect or another, from US social security to Canadian healthcare. Finally, socialism can look different from country to country, such as the case with "socialist" heath care and education.
One thing we do know is Burlington, Vermont flourished with Bernie Sanders as Mayor. And the Burlington Community Land Trust that was built on the idea to secure housing as a right, not a commodity, was successful and exists today as the Champlain Housing Trust. Admittedly, what works small scale, doesn't always work large scale. President is a far cry from Mayor. But Bernie has worked in the House and Senate for decades. He has the experience to put to practice and be successful, at least in part.
Supporters of Bernie Sanders don't expect him to be a miracle cure to all of our country's problems. But they do believe he holds the experience and ideals necessary to move this country in the right direction and at the very least set the ground for change.
Where can I find out more about socialism and Bernie Sanders?
Check out the Democratic Socialists of America. Do some research on socialism and Bernie Sanders. Visit the links in the sidebar of this blog. And engage the community. Go on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and ask people why they support Bernie Sanders and why they think democratic socialism could work for America.
UPDATE: added wall street tax
UPDATE 1/11/16: Fixed broken video link