Democrats hoping for salvation from Hillary Clinton can now look to Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s socialist senator, who offered himself to America’s voters on May 26.

Some had hoped for a blonde Amerindian Harvard professor, but Elizabeth Warren is unavailable. This only leaves the hope that Bernie will score some upset primary victories and draw the Massachusetts senator into the contest.

Bernie calls himself a “Democratic socialist.” The media commonly refers to him as an “independent,” occasionally as a liberal or as a “progressive Democrat,” less frequently as a socialist. He runs as an independent, caucuses with the Democratic Party, and serves as the ranking Democratic member on the Senate budget committee.” He’s running in the Democratic presidential primary.

Ultraconservative fanatics often insist that there’s no important distinction between progressives and socialists. Some in the media seem to agree even while denying that Democrats are socialists.

Sanders co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991 and chaired it until 1999. Since all varieties of socialists and Marxists and most liberals like to call themselves “progressives,” I think it makes most sense to call him — and the whole lot of them — progressives while assuming that the whole Progressive Caucus membership, including Chellie Pingree, are sympathetic to “socialism” in some degree.

Saying that is not to say much. The definition of socialism looked pretty clear to me when I entered college in 1961 but the great Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek concluded that traditional socialism was dead as a political force by 1974. In its traditional form, socialism meant nationalization of business enterprises with central direction of the economy. The old-time socialists believed that this economic arrangement would not only be fairer, but also more efficient. Hayek engaged in a prolonged debate about the merits of a centrally planned economy with Robert Heilbronner, Norman Thomas professor of economics, emeritus, at the New School for Social Research. Heilbronner wrote 20 books about the merits of socialism and horrors of capitalism, making him the most widely read American socialist.


After the collapse of the Soviet Union. Heilbronner conceded that Hayek was right; central economic planning was a bust. I can’t make out whether Bernie got the Heilbronner memo. He does not appear to advocate central planning in explicit terms. Neither does he renounce it in explicit terms. Hayek argues that progressives of all varieties have abandoned the nationalization objectives 40 years ago and now prefer private ownership of enterprise under increasing government regulatory control. Bernie’s speeches don’t contradict this approach, but don’t affirm it, either.

About 90 percent of the senator’s socialism consists of attacks on American capitalism and capitalists. In this he is consistent with all other varieties of socialism since Karl Marx wrote “Das Kapital.” Actually, the original Marxist screeds were more like 99 percent critiques of capitalism with almost nothing about how the socialist tomorrow works.

The senator does a bit better. The tomorrow for which he clearly yearns resembles the Scandinavian model. It’s not clear how much he actually knows about these countries apart from the fact that they give away a lot of “free stuff” to their citizens.

This is going to sound prejudiced and partisan, and maybe it is, but I have concluded that the man is simply stupid, although I have no way of knowing whether he is naturally stupid or became stupid by muddling his brain with left-lurching reading and conversation.

Here’s a sample of BernieThought: “You can’t just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems. All right? You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country.”

Superficially, this sounds like mere babble. It seems to reflect an 80-year-old theory, that the Great Depression was caused by overproduction, i.e., that the American economy produced all the goods that anyone could want, so it remained only to make sure they are fairly distributed. It also may incorporate an even older fallacy: that the sagacious, expert choice of just one standard product and avoidance of needless duplication was one of the superior merits of a centrally planned economy.

John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of Email to

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: