What Bernie Sanders Won't Say in His Socialism Speech Tomorrow

In which we relate the strange saga of Jasper McLevy, because he probably won't turn up in Sanders' speech


Tomorrow Bernie Sanders will deliver his long-promised speech "to explain what democratic socialism is." Ordinarily Sanders defines his style of socialism by pointing to the social democracies of Scandinavia (which have been moving in a more market-oriented direction relatively recently). Some pundits of the left have urged him to reorient his rhetoric toward native examples, such as Sanders' old hero Eugene Debs. Perhaps he will.

One name they generally don't mention, and which I'm pretty sure Sanders won't mention either, is Jasper McLevy. McLevy and Sanders do have a few things in common: Both were self-described socialists who became popular mayors of New England cities. But Bernie Sanders is not a Jasper McLevy socialist. If he were, he'd be preaching austerity instead of denouncing it.

Jasper McLevy: one dapper socialist

Jasper McLevy was a member in good standing—and sometimes not-so-good standing, but we'll get to that later—of the Socialist Party. He also served as mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut, from 1933 to 1957. Elected on a promise to clean up the town's notorious corruption, he pursued some of the policies you might expect from a Socialist: His city government took over trash collection, built public housing, and bought the local airport. But he also cut taxes, slashed the municipal debt, instituted competitive bidding, at times rejected state and federal aid, and regularly balanced the budget. Above all, he was tight with the public purse. His reputation as a skinflint was cemented after 1938, when a story circulated that he had been reluctant even to spend city money plowing the streets; asked why the snow was piling up, he supposedly replied, "God put the snow there; let him take it away." He didn't actually say that, but the fact the legend was so persistent speaks to his parsimony.

In the words of the Bridegport-based journalist Lennie Grimaldi,

In McLevy's first six years, federal relief spending in Bridgeport reached ten million dollars, yet McLevy seemed to grow more and more frugal on how it, and particularly city money, would be spent. For instance, in 1940 McLevy spent only $10 all year on office supplies and $89.44 on postage, telephone and telegraph service. McLevy retained only one secretary and his initial $7500 mayoral salary was increased quite infrequently, reaching only $10,500 during his 24 years in office. His salary was far below the incomes of mayors running cities of comparable size….

In 1939, McLevy shot down a proposal to pay $4500 a year toward retaining a full-time school physician, even though federal money would have fully funded the first two years, paid for the physician's car and would even have added assistance for many more years. City health officials scoffed at McLevy's argument, insisting an additional $4500 wouldn't affect the city budget and amounted to a mere 17 cents per student.

When it came to federal money, McLevy said he couldn't be sure how long it would last.


McLevy's relations with the rest of the socialist movement were frosty, and at one point in the '30s he temporarily left the party to join the more conservative Social Democratic Federation. In 1950 he split with the national party again, following a row over one of my favorite political footnotes: the Connecticut Socialists' alliance with the libertarian-leaning tax resister Vivien Kellems.

When McLevy made one of his periodic runs for governor that year, he accepted the endorsement of Kellems' Independence Party. She, meanwhile, was to be the nominee for the Senate. The plan fell apart when the party failed to get ballot access, but the Socialists' national leadership was still furious about it. They "assailed the McLevy group's tie-up with Viv Kellems as 'a travesty on common sense,'" the Bridgeport Sunday Herald reported. "They pointed out that Miss Kellems' main political tenet is an attack on the income tax law on the grounds that it is Socialistic." But McLevy and Kellems were unfazed. "The Connecticut Socialist Party is far to the right of both the Republican and Democratic Parties," Kellems claimed. "I am no Socialist, I am an American. Jasper McLevy is also an American, a truly great one. He and I stand for the same things—direct primaries, economy in government, lower taxes, and an active political role for women."

So that's one sort of homegrown socialism. Like I said, I don't expect Sanders to invoke it tomorrow. But if he ever wants to make a bid for the Tea Party vote…

NEXT: Texans Go Naked as Rates Rise Under Obamacare

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  1. That you always run out of other people’s money ?

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  2. The further – farther? – further we get from the era of the Soviet Union or where we feel comfortable reporting on the shortcomings of North Korea or Venezuela, the more palatable socialism will become to voters.

      1. As it should be. Incredible book.

      2. I read that book when I was in high school, and it made me even more contemptuous of the larval pinkbots surrounding me in the Fairfax County school system than I was before.


    1. ^This, Fist. We are fucked.

    2. The optimist in me suspects that it’s only the *word* “Socialism” that people are attracted to. To the average Democrat, the word doesn’t seem to carry the connotation “state ownership of industry” as much as “tax the rich to pay for my college.”

      My former office mate was a self-described socialist, but when I mentioned that entailing government ownership of businesses, he looked at me like I was crazy.

      I think all he really meant by “socialist” was thinking progressive taxation is OK and there should be such a thing as welfare. Which to me is a Democrat, not a Socialist.

      I think this also describes Bernie. He is a Democrat who thinks calling himself a “socialist” makes him sound intellectual.

      1. Yeah, that does seem to be what most American lefties mean by socialism these days. What they really want is a friendlier version of Fascism. It’s still terrible, but ought to assuage some of the fears that we are going to turn into the USSR or something.

        The flip side is that it probably makes it easier to whitewash the history of actual socialist states like USSR in such people’s minds.

      2. I don’t know too many self described progressives that actually want the govt to take ownership of businesses either. Their definition of socialism has nothing to do with ownership of the means of production. For many of them it’s just this kind of fuzzy, emotional thinking.

        Socialism: the system driven by cooperation, community, love, kindness, equality

        Capitalism: the system driven by greed, fear, competitiveness and selfishness

        1. What “progressives” want is progress and fairness for society as a whole. That sounds good until you think it through and realize what it actually means in practice. Progress and fairness according to who? Who needs to make sacrifices for who? Who will be given the power to hurt one person in order to benefit another?

      3. My former office mate was a self-described socialist, but when I mentioned that entailing government ownership of businesses, he looked at me like I was crazy.

        Socialism with private ownership is a variant commonly known as “fascism” or “national socialism”.

      4. Most of the people I know attracted to “socialism” basically see it as a welfare program for the middle class. Nevermind that what they envision isn’t really possible, they’re paying out of the nose for poor people to draw benefits, now they want people one class over them to pay out of their noses so they can get something too.

    3. Evil Regimes had a point, Fist.

    4. True, most of the current stuff about the Blacklist or the Cold War imply that only reactionary nutjobs opposed Communism or the USSR.

      1. Was pleased to see that the Tinker, Tailoer, Soldier Spy protrayed the Reds as the evil, murderous bastards they were.

      2. Usually very little mention of how the Kennedy’s made their name in HUAC. Only ever just that McCarthy guy…

        1. Also HUAC was a HOUSE Committee and McCarthy was a Senator.

          Also I’ve found an article showing that Jimmy Stewart opposed the blacklist, something his biographies have ignored since he was a Republican who opposed Communism so he must have supported it, right? This also means that the claims of Jane and Peter Fonda that their Dad almost had a falling out with Stewart over HUAC is bullshit. Hanoi Jane is full of it, what a shock!

          1. Or Henry Fonda supported the blacklist?

            1. Really? Link? So perhaps Jane and Peter Fonda were right except that they make it look like Daddy and Jimmy had the opposite views?

          2. I believe that Hanoi Jane had found religion, and has apologized for her treason. I knew a guy who worked for the Fondas, he and his wife used to hang with them. He was her pot dealer (grew it himself in NM). He says that’s a major reason why they separated: She got less stupid, Pete didn’t. Never met them, myself, so it’s not something I would swear to.

        2. Usually very little mention of how the Kennedy’s made their name in HUAC. Only ever just that McCarthy guy…

          Kennedy’s masterful evasion of McCarthy’s censure vote was a Ferris Bueller classic, makes Shrillary’s bank money because 9/11 shtick look every bit amateur as it is. No wonder people liked Kennedy.

    5. An argument I’ve made before. The fall of the USSR was great, don’t get me wrong. But the removal of the greatest communist power has resulted in a generation growing up without the bad example to point to. I think this shows up, not just in stupid kids being stupid kids, but also allowed the current surveillance state to emerge.

      1. Also, Vivien Kellems was very attractive.

  3. When it came to federal money, McLevy said he couldn’t be sure how long it would last.

    Bernie knows it’ll last forever.

    1. Well, they have printing presses…

      1. Plus, there will always be a “top 1%”.

        1. Well, until all but 99 people have starved or vanished.

        2. That’s what the proggie wench who got wrecked bt Cavuto said too!

  4. All Bernie understands is free shit = votes and rich people are jerks.

    1. I wonder how much of Bernie’s understanding of the 1% is informed by jealousy, especially that he doesn’t know how to schmooze like Billary.

  5. That quip about God taking away the snow in lieu of plowing was also attributed to the mayor of Terre Haute, Indiana in the late 1960s, Leland Larrison.

  6. Sometimes a benevolent dictator is better than “democracy”. Or in this case, the city was probably engaged in so much crony capitalism that it was in fact better to have the city take over. But that is only true because of the personal ethics of this particular “dictator”.

    Of course, one of the main problems being, the NEXT dictator……..

    1. “Of course, one of the main problems being, the NEXT dictator……..”

      ^ This.

    2. Socrates made this point thousands of yrs ago in Plato’s Republic.

  7. I, for one, am looking forward to this speech — for the lulz.

    1. “Many people ask me, ‘Bernie, just what *is* democratic socialism?'”

    2. Until the millennial poll shows that they lapped it up. My cousin is a doctor and is on the Bernie derp train because she thinks he’s going to make her loans go away.

      1. Gimme gimme free shit!
        But remember, it’s those OTHER people who are greedy.

        1. Indeed.

          1. Fun: Ask young Sanders supporters if they’ll support taxpayer-funded college tuition on the condition that current college students are grandfathered and free tuition begins with freshmen who enroll in 2017.

        2. Microaggressor|11.18.15 @ 4:49PM|#
          “Gimme gimme free shit!
          But remember, it’s those OTHER people who are greedy.”

          Ask commie-kid about his mortgage.

          1. Give him a break, I’m sure some mean banker put a gun to his head and made him sign the contract.

            I mean, I’ve taken out three loans today just from banksters forcing me to sign bad contracts at gunpoint. It’s a common problem.

            1. Yeah, my neighborhood is terrorized by roving gangs of banksters, cornering little old ladies and schoolkids, making them sign loans right and left, and putting up random “for sale” signs, AKA “tagging”. A scourge, they are.

            2. If bankers don’t give loans to high-risk customers, then they are racist and support gentrification. If the gov’t uses the community reinvestment act to counteract this, and the person can’t pay the loan back, it was a predatory loan.

        3. I wonder if they realize they they themselves are the special interest.

      2. Until she realizes that Jim-Bob from the trailer park, Carlos from the barrio, and Jamal from the ghetto have all been eying her nice clothes and new car, wondering why the hell is it that she gets those things and got to go to college and med school while they’re stuck flipping burgers, driving clunkers and shpping at Wal-Mart.

        1. Yeah. The spoiled rich brats don’t understand who’s on the menu when they chant “eat the rich!”.

  8. I hope all of you racist tea baggers are happy now that you have made another word unacceptable in public.

    1. “John” being unacceptable is entirely down to you.

    2. Please, John, oh, please, tell what is a ‘racist tea-bagger?’

      Does saying that just make you feel good about your self or do you have a coherent and logical proof of such a thing?

      1. New here, aren’t you?

    3. A proggie bitching about making words unacceptable…I do believe I’ve been triggered!

    4. I’m not sure I understand the concept of a “racist tea-bagger”. Is that kind of “racism” expressed by tea-bagging members of certain groups, or by refusing to tea-bag them?

  9. Its a tragedy of education that any politician can claim to be a socialist without being run out of town. At least if he said he were KKK I’d know he only wants to fuck half the population instead of 100% of it.

    1. This is what I keep thinking. Its mainly a failure of the US highschool system, across the country, not educating kids on government and history sufficiently. Its truly amazing that the Soviet Union existed as recently as 1990 and it’s almost not even discussed why it fell, what it was, etc. in high school history classes

      1. Yeah I’ve always wondered why people think they can get away with saying ‘socialism gets a bad rap because of the USSR, Cuba, and about every other country in the world.’ Why doesn’t that work for Fascism or Naziism? I mean why isn’t it just as socially acceptable to say “I’m a fascist, but don’t worry, not a ‘bad’ fascist like Hitler. He got it all wrong, so you should give us another try. Oh, and don’t be so ignorant as to judge fascism by the things done by actual fascist countries; that’s ign’ant.”

        It’s also annoying that people seem to have forgotten that the Soviet Union didn’t fail merely because they sent people to camps; most importantly, it was that their economy fell apart – because of their socialism.

      2. “…protectionism, socialism, and communism are basically the same plant in three different stages of its growth.”

    2. Gold Jerry, Gold!

  10. I expect more of the current lefty “we already are socialist, just look at government program x” talk. It sort of the political version of “Look, we’ve already been making out, which means we’ve virtually already had sex, so let’s just take off our clothes and seal the deal.”

    1. Libertarians aren’t against socialism because they still want to have a military!!! Everyone’s a little socialist…

      1. This is what Tony actually believes.

      2. What makes you think libertarians want to have a military?

    2. Come on baby, just the 1%.

      1. LOL I see what you did there!

    3. But what about ROADZ?!


      1. Only the State can build roads. And schools. And do charity work. There are zero examples of any of that ever being done without pointing guns at people.

  11. As far as I can tell democratic socialism is just socialism. The problem with socialism is once you get moving down the path your fucked. The prescription for all the problems of socialism is more socialism just like we see in Venezuela. The cure for shortages and poverty is just to nationalize more stuff and punish more people for not sharing.

    Half the population becomes dependent on the other half and a feedback loop spirals everyone to the bottom except the rulers.

    1. It’s the economic equivalent of Creation Science.

      1. Huh?

    2. What do you mean by “socialism”? I think a big part of the problem here is a failure to define terms well.

      If I were in charge “socialism” would mean a system where government owns important industries directly and we’d use another word for generous social welfare systems and subsidies for favored industries. I don’t think that the former necessarily leads to the latter. Western Europe has been moving away from the hard socialism stuff for some time now.

      1. I don’t think that the former necessarily leads to the latter.

        Well, one of us is wrong. In the short run, I can see what you’re saying. The problem is it doesn’t work in the long run. Over time, people respond in ways that make the system unsustainable. You have two choices at that point, back off on the socialism or intervene some more. And of course, they just learn to respond to that intervention, as well. And the cycle repeats.

        1. See: Greece

          1. I think there are two paths countries go down once they’ve dipped their toes in socialism: after things go awry, they start moving back from it, as is happening in the more ‘austere’ parts of Europe; or, they double down on socialism and end up like the Greeks seem to want to do (whether their government will obey is another matter). I don’t think either direction is a foregone conclusion in the US yet.

    3. Rulers are never at the bottom – regardless what system is in place.

  12. Bridgeport is frequently given as a “successful” socialist administration along with Milwaukee’s “sewer socialists”. They “worked” to the extent that city governments can; ie providing local government services efficiently. Trouble is that when it comes to providing the kind of services that the Scandinavian governments provide, you can’t d it without taxing at Swedish government levels and the fact of the matter is that even the Swedes got tired of those levels.

    The only socialist government that ever lasted at any kind of real (ie state or provincial) level in North America was the Commonwealth Cooperative Federation (CCF) (now the New Democratic Party – NDP) government administration that ruled Saskatchewan from 1944-64. They lost in 1964 after Kieffer Sutherland’s grandpa pushed socialized medicine through .

    1. Interesting. Such examples do of course lend themselves to willful selection bias. There are dozes of shitholes in the US that have had socialist style administration (a la Detroit) that didn’t work out. The idea that picking out one 1 or 2 that didn’t crumble is proof of, what, a mere 95% failure rate? Same when people talk about Europe.

      There are 2 or 3 European countries with more ‘socialist’ policies than the US and a higher average wage. There are at least ten times as many countries that are more ‘socialist’ than us that have far lower average wages.

      Which leads a logical person to the conclusion that socialism isn’t an asset; it’s a liability and a luxury; a few rich countries can survive and even do alright with socialism because they’re already rich. And while plenty of poor countries would be almost as poor without their socialism, there are still far more that are clearly poor because of their socialist-style policies than there are rich pseudo-socialist countries in total.

  13. Perhaps Sanders would just do well to recycle socialist and anti-capitalist quotes from Joseph Goebbels.

    1. No no, that’s right wing socialism; left wing socialism works great.

    2. Sanders has already recycled most of the 25 Point Program.

  14. Not sure if I should go for the lulz and derp or not?

  15. The McLevy story was interesting, but largely irrelevant. The problem with Sanders is that he *believes* socialism will make a better society, no matter how wrong his belief actually is.

  16. Invite your friends over for the speech. Whenever Bernie mentions some new free program we should have, everyone drinks somebody else’s beer. That will teach them how Socialism works. Extra points if your friends buy all the beer first.

    1. Dude, are you trying to fucking kill me with alcohol? FFS

  17. I believe that many people think that Socialism has to do with Social Justice. However it is defined regarding ownership of production and how leaders are chosen, it is thought of as a way to right wrongs in society–especially those wrongs thought to have been brought about through class differences. The result is that too many see Socialism as a way to a more equitable society and ignore the implications and implementation.

  18. A favorite tactic of the left is to redefine words at will to mean whatever they want them to. Most definitely, “socialism” has received this treatment.

    1. Phrases too. Impossible not to notice “global warming” (literal claim) morphing into “climate change” as “global warming” became an increasingly dubious – and politically toxic – piece of marketing.

    2. Like how “fascism” became what what 1930s Fascists opposed?

  19. We need a dictionary of Progspeak:

    Cut budget – increase more slowly
    Rape – speak harshly
    Liberal govt – controlling govt
    Reasonable – liked by progs
    Liberal – state control of industries

    1. Social Darwinism – deciding not to impliment an expensive new entitlement
      Racism – the act of disagreeing with the arbiters of popular kultur

      1. Science – whatever we vote on
        Free Speech – NYT
        Taxes – puppies

    2. The last one is wrong. Republicans and CPUSA types use “liberal” as if it meant communo-fascist socialist (which is closer to the meaning of republican). The liberal party formed in 1930 to oppose DemoGOP religious and prohibition laws. Government control of trade and production is fascism. Add some nationalization and you have socialism.

  20. At a party meeting, a Communist party officer is drilling a local worker. He asks him:
    “Comrade, if you had two houses, would you give one to the Communist Party?”
    The worker responds “Yes, definitely, comrade, I would give one of my houses to the party!”
    Then he asks “Comrade, if you had two cars, would you give one to the party?”
    Again, the worker says, “Yes, I would give one of my cars to the party!”
    Finally, the officer asks, “If you had two shirts, would you give one to the party?”
    The officer asks “But why? Why won’t you give one of your shirts to the party?”
    The worker says: “Because I HAVE two shirts!”

  21. I was born in Bridgeport shortly after McLevy left office, and his legacy was a crumbling city infrastructure. Almost all the schools in the city were built before he took office in the late 1930s, and by the 1960s they were falling apart. It’s one thing to be frugal with money, it’s another to ignore city improvements. There is a down side to austerity, especially if you don’t privatize the things you don’t want to fund. The tax payers of the 1960s and 1970s paid dearly for the previous 20 years of austerity.

    1. Once a thing is nationalized by looters, the stupidest thing you can do is rob good money to flush after the bad. Looks to me like McLevy did the least harmful thing, for when the crumbling wreck of ANY socialist slum is again up for grabs, it can always be sold for exactly what remains of its worth. Go anywhere in South America if you want to see slums that are little more than money sponges for looter bosses. The world could use more non-looter socialists like McLevy.

  22. “such as Sanders’ old hero Eugene Debs. Perhaps he will.”

    Maybe. I hope he mentions– given the present situation– how Debs went to jail over his opposition to WWI. This article is about how socialists can actually end up spending less money. given his opposition to the Iraq War and profligate military spending in general I wonder if we could have balanced the budget by now even factoring in bullshit spending on things like schools and health care. Nah. On second thought, it’s probably better to send 18-year-olds to duke it out with Islamist assholes in the ME. Beats having to duke it out with college students worried about getting raped by frat boys. Those people are soooo annoying.

    1. And maybe we’d have a good socialist president who’d put an end to foreign military adventures.

      Problem is, we can’t really have that, because they bring so much economic garbage with them.

      One minute, it’s “Yeah! I’m not paying for war in Kerzblackistan!”

      The next minute, you’re standing in line for some government-issued tylenol.

      1. “Standing in line for Tylenol”

        Nice one. I believe the score is 15-love with you in the lead. I thought it was my job to engage in agitprop.

        1. Your job is to be a raging hypocrite racist who whines in support of limited government if and only if terrorists are murdering people.

          1. Oh ok… That’s good to know.

            Mark thinks America has a better human rights record than Cuba. It must be all that bombing of impoverished and desperate people that counts in our favor.

            1. He’s probably just not counting the boat people right.

    2. Hi AmSoc!

      I’ve got another STALIN Badge question! When the Ponzi schemes run out of money, what should the color of the new denominations be? And should Barry have the gray-where’s-my-geritol hair or the brown-shovel-ready?


    3. None of which has anything to do with socialism. And you might remind yourself that socialist countries in general have a far worse human rights record than the average country.

      Btw, not sure if you got the memo, but being a victim doesn’t add credibility to a person’s beliefs; Hitler sending communists to gas chambers doesn’t make them any less wrong than Stalin sending fascists to the gas chambers makes them any less wrong.

      Here’s a great idea: let’s not shit money away on useless Sherman tanks AND let me keep the stuff I’ve worked damn hard to earn? Yeah, I think I’ll pick that option.

      1. “And you might remind yourself that socialist countries in general have a far worse human rights record than the average country.”

        They do? Where?

        “I think I’ll pick that option”

        And for many people here that involves voting for Marco Rubio. Have at it. I think Democrats and Republicans both suck so I’m not voting for either.

        1. They do? Where?

          Do the words “Cuba” or “Venezuela” ring any bells, shithead?


        2. They do? Where?

          East Germany. Yugoslavia. The USSR.

          Have at it. I think Democrats and Republicans both suck so I’m not voting for either.

          I’m planning on voting for whoever is likely to cause the most government gridlock. The less government gets accomplished, the better.

          1. So you’re voting for Shillary or the Bern?

            Because unless the Republican Nominee is Paul or maybe Cruz I doubt we’ll be getting much gridlock. Particularly if its an establishment candidate like Rubio or any of the other Republican candidates (ok maybe Trump and Carson would cause gridlock too).

    4. Odd to hear a socialist speak disparagingly of rape. Forcibly making use of what belongs to others is the warp and woof of socialist ideology, comrade. And if “need” is still a looter justification, then needing to get laid justifies the initiation of force, right? But why not stir in some altruism too, and call it sharing? That sufficed to sell the George Bush Junior asset forfeiture sharing plan–until it took the entire economy down the toilet. They quickly figured “subprime” sounded catchier than “ASSET FORFEITURE LOOTING COLLAPSE.”

  23. Are you ok? That post was pretty incoherent. Stroke or just posting from a smartphone?

    1. “Stroke what?” he says with a narrowed gaze.

  24. Whenever I drive through Bridgeport I like to play the “Can you see more homeless people or abandoned buildings?” game.

    1. Cue the ‘Detroit excuse’: Well, socialism would’ve worked if only the capitalists had given them more money.

  25. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  26. Anyone wishing for the Tea Party vote need only declare America a Positive Christian nation and suggest a Final Solution for those semitic bedouins in deserts on the other side of the planet. Look at their platform.

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