Sanders’ campaign raises questions about socialism

A Marxist Response

The large rallies and recent gains in the polls following the debate for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed “socialist,” have many workers wondering what “socialism” is. Many more are confused because his ideas do not seem fundamentally different from those of others in the Democratic Party.

chart_1024Sanders added to the confusion during the debate on Oct. 13, 2015, when questioned about socialism. Instead of clearly defining the term, he attacked wealth inequality as “immoral and wrong,” a view even some capitalists espouse, and promised universal health care and paid family leave, benefits that are available in many countries with capitalist economic systems. He did not distinguish socialism as an entirely different structure for society.

Whatever Sanders means by “socialism,” one thing is clear from his popularity, workers in the U.S. are open to discussing the idea and want to know more about what it means. A lexicographer associated with the Merriam Webster dictionary tweeted about searches for the definition of socialism after the debate: “’Socialism’ spiking off the charts.”

Confusion about socialism stems not only from the decades of anti-socialist propaganda by the capitalist media, but also from the fluidity of its definition. Like any concept, the idea of socialism is not fixed or static; people use the word to mean many very different things. Even the co-author of the “Communist Manifesto,” Friedrich Engels, had to carefully distinguish the version of socialism he and Karl Marx described from earlier, “utopian” socialist experiments.

One reason why people with such varied and conflicting ideas all use the same word to describe their politics is that most of these ideas, parties and organizations had historic roots in the same socialist or social democratic parties of the 19th century, parties which were based on the ideas of Marx and Engels. (Workers World, April 26, 2012,

V.I. Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, was a member of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. Over the last 150 years, disagreements over two main ideas led to the big differences between groups claiming the term socialist. Those main points of contention are over the issue of ownership of the means of production and the idea of revolution.

Ownership of the means of production

The “means of production” is a term used by Marx to mean all the infrastructure of modern society that produces and transports goods and services. It includes factories, trains, stores, farms and warehouses. In a capitalist society these are all owned by a relatively small number of people, even though millions of people worked to build them and work to make them useful. Even when workers own shares of stock directly or through their pensions, the control of these industries remains in the hands of the ruling class. The owners take huge profits while people who work there their whole lives barely survive.

Engels wrote in his book, “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific,” that prior socialist experiments failed because they were not based upon an understanding of the progression of society and its productive forces. The scientific socialism that Marx and Engels described would be based upon workers seizing the “socialized means of production,” from the capitalist class that currently owns them, the “1%,” (really one-tenth of one percent) and converting them into socialized production, based upon a planned economy, with the output of production put to the use of all of society rather than simply to produce profit for the few.

Sanders does not advocate taking the ownership of factories and corporations away from billionaires, ending the profit system that exploits workers, or creating a system where decisions about how and what to produce are made based upon human need rather than private profit. He describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” and seeks to keep the capitalist system in place, only expanding the social safety net, providing universal health insurance, lowering barriers to education and increasing taxes on corporations.

Several European capitalist countries provide more benefits for workers, better health care, more vacation time and higher wages, similar to what Sanders proposes. Those countries are often labeled “socialist” or “social democracies,” even though they still have predominantly capitalist systems, where corporations generate massive profits by exploiting workers.

Some ruling-class political scientists have said that Sanders is really more of a “social democrat” than a “democratic socialist,” terms that only further confuse many workers. (Washington Post, Oct. 17, 2015, What they mean is that a social democrat would, like Sanders, keep the capitalist system in place but seek to reform it. On the other hand, as the Washington Post goes on to say, “Democratic Socialists in the United States want a system where workers or the government own factories and other means of production.”

In the April 26, 2012, editorial referred to earlier, WW wrote, “When Workers World describes someone or some party as socialist without quotes, this means they are for taking the means of production — including land — out of the hands of the capitalist ruling class and having it owned publicly.” Some who describe themselves as democratic socialists also demand public ownership of the means of production, but what they usually mean is nationalized property, industries owned by a capitalist government, or worker-owned collectives within a capitalist society, not the planned, socialized production described by Engels, where everything is held collectively for the benefit of all.

This brings us squarely to the second key question that separates socialists like Workers World Party from democratic socialists or social democrats, an understanding of the state and the necessity for revolution.


When Bernie Sanders talks about a “political revolution,” he makes clear that he is not talking about the kind of revolution made by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917. Lenin thought it necessary to smash the capitalist state because the state itself is a tool of the capitalist class used for oppression and exploitation. Sanders rhetorically calls for a “political revolution,” asking for people to vote for him and others who promise various reforms to the capitalist system, but he opposes fundamental changes to the government. He praises “American [U.S.] democracy” even though it is founded on the genocide of Native Americans and slavery and continues to deny even basic democratic rights to women, people of color and immigrants.

Social democrats and democratic socialists, even those who advocate some form of collective ownership of the means of production, believe that sufficient changes to society can be made by working within the existing “democratic” process, that is, within what Marxists call bourgeois or capitalist democracy. History has proven this is false. Where socialist candidates have been elected who seek to make revolutionary change, world imperialism has used violent methods to overthrow them, such as with Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, or with the imperialist coup in 2002 against Hugo Chávez, when he was subsequently defended by a mass uprising. The tiny ruling class refuses to give up capitalism — and the huge profits it makes for the capitalists — without a violent response.

Even the modest promises of Bernie Sanders, as attractive as they are to workers, clash with the current corporate drive to increase profits while constantly decreasing the number of workers employed. Corporations worldwide are demanding “austerity” from the workers, which means expropriating even more of what workers produce. Any concessions to workers can only be won through struggle.

In its statement, “What is WWP,” the party writes, “Workers World Party is a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist party dedicated to organizing and fighting for a socialist revolution in the United States and around the world.” (  That means that WWP recognizes that only through revolutionary struggle can the racist exploitation of the capitalist system be overthrown. Capitalism won’t allow systemic change to be simply voted into policy.

Article from Workers World |


Are Capitalists Job Creators?

by Andrew Wagner

Capitalist apologists—particularly those aligned with the Republican Party—have long referred to the 1% as “job creators.” As this popular myth goes, the capitalists alone are responsible for investing in the economy (“taking risks”), thereby creating the jobs that provide everyone else with a living. The legislative conclusions that flow from this idea include the infamous policy of “trickle-down” or “supply side” economics, which opposes progressive taxation and shifts the burden of funding the government away from the 1% and onto the working class. They justify such policies by arguing that taxation takes money away from the private sector, which the capitalists could otherwise use to invest in the economy. This explanation contains a grain of truth, but unfortunately the outcome doesn’t jibe with the way the capitalist system actually works.

With millions unemployed or underemployed, crumbling infrastructure, factories lying idle, and lagging labor productivity, one would think that direct investment into the economy is necessary. However, the capitalists have other ideas. According to Standard and Poor’s, the biggest corporations are currently sitting on $1.82 trillion worth of cash. What’s more curious is that central banks have set interest rates at record lows (in some cases, interest rates are nominally negative), in an effort to coax banks into lending in order to spur investment. On top of this, treasuries around the world have embarked on the uncharted voyage of quantitative easing—in essence, printing money in order to give banks the liquidity necessary to lend so companies can invest. Such measures have achieved nothing; investment in the advanced economies remains historically low.

As a result, productivity growth has come to a near standstill. As the Financial Times points out, “Companies may not be investing enough in new equipment and ideas. Instead they are frittering away cash on share buybacks and dividends that totalled $903bn for S&P 500 companies in 2014 . . . The fall in productivity growth started before the financial crisis, suggesting longer term forces are at work” (FT, 5/25/15). This represents a crisis of the development of society’s productive forces. As Marx pointed out, such a crisis often signals that revolutionary events are on the horizon, as the productive forces rebel against the constraints of their economic shackles.

What are the capitalists doing with all of their accumulated wealth? Just about anything other than “creating jobs.” According to the Wall Street Journal (5/26/15), corporations are now spending more money paying out massive dividends to “activist investors” than they are on investment in physical capital. Essentially, they are putting more money into the pockets of the super wealthy than they are into actual production. In fact, for some companies, this development comes at the same time as they are actually laying people off and closing down their plants. Some businesses are even taking advantage of the low interest rates mentioned above to borrow—not to invest in productive capacity—but to pay out dividends to their rich investors! Other companies are borrowing in order to buy back their own stock (which drives their value up on the stock market). In essence, they are borrowing in order to speculate on the stock market (which is not a new practice!) while laying people off, adding to the already swollen ranks of the unemployed. This is the practice of turning money into more money directly, neglecting the step of creating real use values for the rest of society.

job creators

Other capitalists have found even more egregious ways to spend their money. Hedge fund manager John Paulson, who made a fortune betting that the subprime mortgage bubble would burst in 2007–8 while millions of workers lost their homes, recently made a $400 million gift to Harvard University, adding to its $36 billion endowment. Apparently, giving to an already rich institution and its largely wealthy students was a more worthy investment than putting people to work at a decent wage. Examples of the 1% speculating on real estate in places like Manhattan, Vancouver, and San Francisco (driving working class people out of the areas in question) are legion, as are examples of the ultrarich speculating on pieces of modern “art,” creating what many have called an “art bubble.”

Inherently parasitic

Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the term “job creators” is little more than Orwellian doublespeak, crafted to justify the existence of a tiny minority of people which rules over the majority. We must tear down this myth to expose the true nature of the capitalist class, which represents a parasitic growth on human society.

The process of production under capitalism is exploitative. Workers only find work—and therefore, are only able to live—at the whim of those who own all of the productive property in society: the capitalists. Knowing this, the capitalists exploit the weak position of the workers to pay them less than the actual value of the commodities they produce. The difference between the sale price of these commodities and the wages paid by the capitalists to the workers who actually produced them is “surplus value,” which the capitalists take and use as they see fit.

The capitalists publicly justify their existence by arguing that they play a key role in the economy: reinvesting this surplus value into the economy, thereby providing more paid jobs, which begins the cycle again. Marxists recognize that early in capitalism’s history this was the case. As capitalism was in its ascendant phase, capitalists tended to devote most of the surplus wealth back into the economy through investment, in order to outcompete their rivals.

Evidence (such as that above) shows that this is not the case today, as capitalism has entered an organic crisis of the system. Due to the exploitative nature of capitalist production, and the fact that the workers never receive the full value of their labor in the form of wages, they are consequently unable to spend enough to purchase their collective product from the capitalists. This represents a massive contradiction in the system, which is the ultimate root of capitalist crises like the 2007–8 Great Recession. The capitalists tried to postpone this crisis by extending massive amounts of credit throughout the system, but now this debt acts as a tremendous drag on the economy.

Workers are struggling under these conditions to pay their consumer, student, mortgage, auto, medical, and other forms of debt, and are therefore buying even less than they once could. If the capitalists can’t sell their commodities because consumers—the bulk of whom are workers—can’t afford them, what incentive do they have to invest in order to produce them? The capitalists are in the business of making money, not in the business of producing for need, so they will naturally find other ways to do it. Hence all of the speculation on unproductive property, stock buybacks, and demands for higher and higher dividend payouts. Unfortunately, for those investors demanding payouts, the same economic conditions apply to them as well as the companies they’re invested in. Ultimately, the capitalists will be saddled with huge reserves of cash, restrained by the limits of their own decrepit system from investing in actual production. This is an absurd situation.

Humanity deserves better. People need jobs, the sick and elderly need care, the youth need opportunities and environments to learn, clean sustainable energy sources need development, we must fix our crumbling infrastructure. The resources exist to accomplish all of these things and more, yet those who own the bulk of society’s wealth see no reason to utilize them. The capitalists will continue their parasitic existence for as long as the working class permits them to remain. It’s high time we excised them from our economy.

Andrew is an organizer with the Workers International League and the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor

This article first appeared in Socialist Appeal and can be found at