Tamara Ortega Uribe es integrante de la Fundación Emerge

Political contest implies different types of struggles, such as the electoral process and ideological disputes. The Bernie Sanders campaign included both issues with significant results, challenging any political prediction about American left-wing candidates. Despite the stigmatization of the word socialism in the United States and despite all criticisms against the political figure of Bernie Sanders, his campaign constitutes a turning point of American politics and rights of the American people. He has invigorated the return of “socialism” in the country and this could contribute to make it possible in the future. Certainly, the main effects of political struggle led by Bernie Sanders and the movement that supports him have been demystifying socialism, making people talk about what democratic socialism actually means and creating a political movement beyond electoral juncture. In this essay, I will outline and discuss some interesting criticisms to democratic socialism alongside reasons that support their inclusion in the current political ideological dispute in the United States.

According to Joseph Stiglitz, a well-known economist, the use of the word “socialism” in the current American politics is not appropriate, nor its use during Bernie Sanders’s campaign. The economist believes that if the Democratic Party is smeared as socialists, they could lose the 2020 presidential election. He prefers the concept progressive capitalism because socialism is more accepted by young people in some states but not everywhere (Hirsh, 2019). However, one of the most interesting issues of political ideological disputes is the ability to demystify certain common senses, which seem naturalized in the beliefs of Americans. According to Day (2019), Bernie Sanders has contributed to changing the mainstream political narrative in the country. Precisely, he is talking to Americans who have not talked about socialism because of its stigmatization and marginalization of American politics. Besides contributing to demystifying socialism in the United States, Bernie Sanders and the movement that supports him have caused people to begin to talk about this topic and about the possibility that people have guaranteed rights. In other words, this movement has restored the socialist tradition in the national politics for the first time in decades (Day, 2019).

On the other hand, it is supposed that candidates use in their campaigns the common senses and familiarized topics to the majorities of people. Therefore, a clear political campaign targeted specifically at voters is expected (Marans, 2019). However, Sanders has worked on demystifying democratic socialism as part of his genuine identity, distinguishing himself from other democratic candidates. It can be understood that his self-identification with democratic socialism has been actually a sort of political game of his campaign, where Sanders’s option for branding himself a socialist, despite being less popular, seems like a political strategy with interesting consequences.

Another common criticism is the definition of democratic socialism and how radically it is. Here is where the political ideological dispute comes out. It is common that candidates receive criticisms from diverse political sectors. According to Matt Stoller, a fellow at the antitrust policy-focused Open Markets Institute, Sanders is “not a socialist, he’s a New Deal Democrat”. In the same way Mike Mikus, a Democratic campaign consultant, thinks that speeches about socialism have been a big mistake because of the unpopularity of the word (Marans, 2019). Nevertheless, although democratic socialism provokes confusion, it means, in simple words, to think about a better society and how to achieve it (Meyer, 2018). In 2015 Bernie Sanders developed a speech about democratic socialism, where he started comparing the current situation of the United States with the context of the Great Depression in the 30s and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created a strong strategy to take people out of poverty and reinvigorate democracy. Mainly because millions of people had denied the basic necessities of life. Sanders affirmed that these policies of FDR were called socialist (Prokop, 2015). In a certain way, Bernie Sanders is pointing out that everything what means important interventions in the market in order to enhance the rights of people are called socialist. Hence, basically democratic socialism aims to address healthcare, abortion rights, climate change and income inequality, without middle ground.

In a deeper analysis, and despite recommendations of economists Joseph Stiglitz, Sanders went further and stated that capitalism has to be transformed, and it has to be through democratic socialism where “economic rights are human rights”, in his words (Day, 2019). Capitalism should be overcome because corporate power is motivated by private profit rather than public well-being. Nevertheless, Sanders is not promoting a socialism in the traditional sense, for example with the nationalization of massive private industries, but protecting the rights of Americans and “the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor” (Prokop, 2015). Furthermore, the people responsible for making it happens are those in the working class. In other words, he is making that people get involved in the political process and democracy as a whole.

A third important aspect is the criticism to target the failure of Sanders in the electoral process, who started gathering popularity and voters, but over time it declined. Furthermore, there are many people who do not trust the proposals of Sanders because they think it is likely that the impact of Sander’s campaign in American politics has been high due to a leftward shift in the Democratic Party, before Sanders, and the young Millennial voters who tend to progressive policies (Marans, 2019). Therefore, it could be change in any direction with or without Sanders. However, although it may be true that the Democratic Party has had a leftward shift and it even could have affected the relevance of Sanders’s campaign, there have been other important things surrounding the phenomenon of Bernie Sanders. A movement was created, which can go beyond Sanders and which remains as well as the supporters ready to keep fighting. Indeed, Sanders has declared that the movement of which he is part has transformed the American consciousness and has won the ideological struggle. Even Joe Biden has recognized that Sanders not only made a political campaign, but also created a powerful movement (Joseph, 2020). Additionally, Sanders contributed to opening a new era in progressive politics in America and to creating a new mainstream to leftward drift on the Democratic Party (Joseph, 2020). Despite his campaign has being finished, he created a stamp which will persist inside and outside of Democratic Party. Recently, even some conservative people said that Trump’s government has accelerated leftward shift in America (Douthat, 2020), and that Trump is fueling progressivism (Leonhardt, 2020).

In conclusion, the Bernie Sanders’s campaign and the movement for democratic socialism have contributed to demystifying socialism, making that the movement goes beyond electoral juncture and making that people are talking about social justice as a something possible. What it is true is that Sanders capitalized the turn of American politics and the ongoing situation of pandemic has shown the relevance to change health system and inequalities. These perspectives confirm the impacts of this movement on the political ideological dispute and the possibilities of building a socialist alternative in the future, against the points of view that point out the ineffectiveness and risky of talking about socialism in the current American politics.


Day, M. (June 12, 2019). Bernie has opened the door for democratic socialism. Jacobin. Retrieved from https://jacobinmag.com/2019/06/bernie-sanders-democratic-socialism-speech-fdr

Douthat, R. (2020). It’s Trump’s Revolution. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/13/opinion/sunday/trump-presidency.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20200615&instance_id=19396&nl=the-morning&regi_id=118086616&segment_id=30929&te=1&user_id=d17888faafa1a6bd76fdd4b3fdfab404

Hirsh, M. (May 20, 2019). An icon of the left tells democrats: Don’t go socialist. Foreign Policy. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/20/an-icon-of-the-left-tells-democrats-dont-go-socialist/

Joseph, C. (April 8, 2020). Where does the Bernie Sanders movement go now? Vice Media Groups. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/v74av3/where-does-the-bernie-sanders-movement-go-now

Leonhardt, D. (2020). How Trump is fueling progressivism. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://messaging-custom-newsletters.nytimes.com/template/oakv2?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20200615&instance_id=19396&nl=the-morning&productCode=NN&regi_id=118086616&segment_id=30929&te=1&uri=nyt%3A%2F%2Fnewsletter%2F03e97dfe-9be4-413d-b838-82d9919bdf7f&user_id=d17888faafa1a6bd76fdd4b3fdfab404

Marans, D. (June 13, 2019). Why democratic socialist Bernie Sanders gave a speech explaining democratic socialism. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/bernie-sanders-democratic-socialism-speech-2020-democratic-primary_n_5d01c315e4b0985c4197ac63

Meyer, N. (July 2018). What is democratic socialism? Jacobin. Retrieved from https://jacobinmag.com/2018/07/democratic-socialism-bernie-sanders-social-democracy-alexandria-ocasio-cortez

Prokop, A. (November 19, 2015). Read Bernie Sanders’s speech on democratic socialism in the United States. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2015/11/19/9762028/bernie-sanders-democratic-socialism