In the 1970s, Bernie Sanders wanted to nationalize industries and create a 100% tax rate

It has become pretty standard for media outlets to defend socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by claiming they are being unfairly attacked by the right as extremists. Just last week New York magazine published an article titled “Pinkos have more fun” which advanced this claim:

Stripped of its Soviet context and cynically repurposed by conservative partisans, the word had lost its meaning by the time it got hot again. For some DSA grandees, like NYC chapter co-chair Bianca Cunningham, socialism means a planned economy that replaces market capitalism. “It means we own the means of production. It means we get to run our workplaces and our own government,” she says. But that is unusual. For Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, and most of their devotees, it’s closer to a robust version of New Deal liberalism — or, perhaps, Northern European social democracy.

A few days after the magazine published this, AOC described capitalism as “irredeemable” which suggests she’s somewhere to the left of Scandinavian social democracy. As for Bernie, he’s a bit smarter these days about keeping his inner Marxist under wraps, but it wasn’t always so. Today CNN reported that back in 1970s Bernie was openly advocating for the nationalization of major industries starting with the oil companies:

In 1973, during his time as chairman of the Liberty Union Party, Sanders took to a Vermont paper to oppose Richard Nixon’s energy policy and oil industry profits, calling for the entire energy industry to be nationalized. Consumers at the time had been facing steep price increases and heavy shortages as a result of the OPEC oil embargo.

“I would also urge you to give serious thought about the eventual nationalization of these gigantic companies,” Sanders wrote in a December 1973 open letter to Vermont Sen. Robert Stafford that ran in the Vermont Freeman. “It is extremely clear that these companies, owned by a handful of billionaires, have far too much power over the lives of Americans to be left in private hands. The oil industry, and the entire energy industry, should be owned by the public and used for the public good — not for additional profits for billionaires.”…

He also wanted public ownership of electric and telephone companies:

In a press release on his policy positions, Sanders campaigned on the public ownership of the state’s electric companies, without compensating the banks and stockholders.

“I will be campaigning in support of the Liberty Union utility proposal which calls for the public ownership of Vermont’s private electric companies without compensation to the banks and wealthy stockholders who own the vast majority of stock in these companies,” he said in a July 1976 press release. “I will also be calling for public ownership of the telephone company — which is probably the single greatest rip-off company in America.”

And of course, the banks:

In an interview with the Burlington Free Press, Sanders argued the richest two or three percent should not control capital.

“I favor the public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries. In Vermont we have some $2 billion of deposits in our banks,” Sanders told the paper. “In Vermont, as well as nationally, it is not tolerable to me that the control of capital would remain in the hands of the richest two or three percent of the population to do with it as they like.”

He also had a unique tax plan that called for a 100% marginal tax rate on income above $1 million. In effect, a maximum wage. In his mid-30s his politics would have been difficult to distinguish from Hugo Chavez.

CNN suggests he’s not so radical these days as he once was, but I wonder. Has he really changed all that much? He still supports universal health care as he did back then and still wants higher taxes and rails constantly about billionaires. It would be fascinating to know when and why Bernie Sanders changed his mind about expropriating most of the nation’s industries. But it’s the kind of question he rarely gets asked by a media eager to paint him as a more moderate kind of socialist. Listen to him and tell me he doesn’t want to nationalize everything if he thought he could get away with it.