Democratic Socialism All Around: What Bernie Sanders’s New York Can Teach Us about America’s FutureRoundup
tags: New York, socialism, urban history, Bernie Sanders, social democracy
Joshua Freeman is distinguished professor at Queens College, CUNY, and author of “Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World."
As Bernie Sanders has emerged as the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, his insistence that he is a democratic socialist is a dealbreaker for many voters and pundits. What does socialism mean in the context of modern America, and could it ever succeed?
An honest answer to this question is not what you might think, and it’s not what we’ve been hearing from Sanders’ opponents.
In the Nevada debate, Mike Bloomberg equated Sanders’ socialism with communism. “Other countries tried that,” he said, “and it just didn’t work.” Paul Krugman made a contrary argument when he declared “Sanders isn’t actually a socialist in any normal sense of the term,” but rather “What the Europeans would call a social democrat.” Others have described him as a New Deal liberal. Sanders himself, in the face of fierce criticism from Republicans and Democratic centrists alike, has refused to budge, pointing to Denmark, rather than the Soviet Union, as the embodiment of his ideal.
The confusion about Sanders’ politics reflects a false assumption that there is a sharp line between liberalism and socialism. In the history of the United States, that has not been the case. Rather, the divide between them often has been porous, as ideas, language and programs flowed fairly freely from one to another. Some of the most successful instances of American reform, especially in New York, have come from the fusing of socialist and liberal ideas in a variety of hybrid forms.
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