In my opinion, Senator Bernie Sanders uses Marxist sociological theory in his political activism. Does this make him a Marxist? I don’t believe it does. While Bernie uses Marxist theory in his political activism, I don’t think he is a Marxist. Instead, he uses the theory to better understand the world and the conflict between the rich and poor. Therefore, what is Marxism? It is a sociological analysis of class relations and social conflict.
History of Bernie Sanders
Bernie’s story began in Brooklyn, New York where he attended high school and later college before he transferred to the University of Chicago. Within Bernie’s first year at the University of Chicago, a scandal erupted when an interracial group of students uncovered the systematic housing discrimination at the university-owned apartment buildings. At the time, Bernie was a chapter leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (which organized the Freedom Rides) and launched sit-ins at the office of the university’s president to end the policy. After 15 days, a compromise with the administration was reached.
This was Bernie’s first experience with class conflict. In this case, socially constructed classes were forced against each other. the classes included white students with the privilege of being able to live in the apartments, the people of color who were not, and the property owner (the University, with the most power). In this situation, Bernie chooses to be a participant and take direct action or revolt against the property owners (bourgeoisie).
Additionally, Bernie has been politically active since college. He witnessed racial and economic inequality which pushed him to find answers. Bernie used his passion for justice and equality to become Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He did this while even self-describing himself as a “socialist.” He also was elected to the U.S. House and then U.S. Senate in 2007. Bernie has become the longest-serving independent politician in Congress.
Inequality and Exploitation
Bernie has proved that throughout his life, he has been fighting for the working class and against the exploitation of the workers. He has done this through his work as Mayor of Burlington, Congressperson, and Senator. He has been talking about income inequality and injustice, and his message hasn’t wavered. He understands the struggles of the poor and the working class, including the origins of injustice and inequality. Therefore, I believe that Bernie uses Marxist theory to help him understand these complex inequalities.
Thus, during Bernie’s political life and campaigns he has shown that he does indeed see the problems of capitalism. This is evident in his work and his messaging during his campaigns. More on this later.
Bernie’s Understanding of Marxist Theory
During the Democratic primary for president, Bernie called out the bourgeoisie for their growing power over the government. “We are living in an increasingly undemocratic society in which decisions are made by people who have huge sums of money,” said Sen. Sanders (Kruse). I believe that what Bernie is saying here is similar to the same idea that Marx had about capitalism and its control over the government. And this is what both Sanders and Marx were getting at. “It has agglomerated population, centralized means of production, and concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralization” (Marx in Calhoun 2012, p. 159).
Furthermore, Bernie calls for a political revolution. “I am talking about bringing in the voices of millions who have given up on the political process,” said sen. Sanders (Johnson). He works for this because he understands that the only way for the proletariat to gain equality in all forms of life is to acquire political supremacy. This is an idea that many revolutionaries get from Marx. “Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of word” (Marx in Calhoun 2012, p.169).
He also calls out the exploitation of the work who works longer hours for low wages even though technology has made productivity increase. “Do you think it’s right that despite an explosion of technology and an increase in worker productivity, the average worker is working longer hours for low wage?” said Sen. Sanders (Kruse). This is another point that shows his influences by Marx where he believes that as productivity increases so should pay.
“Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of monetary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce” (Marx in Calhoun 2012, p. 160). This quote from Marx is talking about where we are at today. It is talking about why we have so many poor. It is because of the phenomenon in capitalism where people must work to live, and their lives revolve around work, where prices continue to go up, and profits for the wealthy continue to rise, but wages are stagnating.
Marx saw this then and Bernie sees it now. “Is it right that the middle class continues to disappear while there has been a massive transfer of wealth from working families to the top one-tenth of 1 percent? Trillions of dollars in the last 30 years have flowed from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent, ” said Sen. Sanders (Kruse).
Is Bernie Sanders a Marxist? No, he is not. However, he is influenced by Marxist theory in a way that helps him understand the world and the exploitive effects of capitalism. He uses class conflict in his campaigns where he explains how the working class’s interests are inherently different from that of the top 1 percent to mobilize millions of people to stand up and get involved in the political process to create the change that they seek.
Kruse, Michael. “14 things Bernie Sanders has said about socialism” politico.com. POLITICO, 17 Aug. 2015 Web. 9 Oct. 2016.
Johnson, Dav. “Sanders’ Socialism Speech: America is For All of Us, Not just Wealthy” ourfuture.org. Campaign for Ameria’s Future, 19 Nov. 2015 Web. 9 Oct 2016.