Skip to main content

An Experiment in Municipal Socialism

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Bernie Sanders’s Democratic Socialism
  • 217 Accesses


This chapter deals with Bernie Sanders’s election to the mayorship of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981, on the campaign and on his first months in power. His experience in municipal politics taught Sanders, as he writes it in Outsider in the White House, “that a progressive agenda could never be implemented without the efforts of a strong and successful political movement.” The stage was set for further political developments: Sanders did not conquer Burlington on a distinctively socialist agenda but turned out to be successful as a third-party politician with a socialist profile in a city that had voted for conservative Democrats since 1965, and in the context of a national conservative trend and a hostile state government.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or eBook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD 84.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 109.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 109.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions


  1. 1.

    Sanders, Eugene V. Debs, band 6, “The Early Background of Eugene Debs.”

  2. 2.

    Ibid., band 5, “Democrats, Republicans, and Capitalists.”

  3. 3.


  4. 4.


  5. 5.

    Id., Our Revolution, op. cit., p. 20.

  6. 6.


  7. 7.

    Pierre Clavel, The Progressive City: Planning and Participation, 1969-1984, New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press, 1986, p. 164.

  8. 8.

    Sanders, Outsider in the White House, p. 35.

  9. 9.

    Ibid., p. 34. Bernie Sanders was still politically active between 1976 and 1981, although not as a politician. He founded and directed the American People’s Historical Society, a small independent production company. His biggest project was the documentary he produced on Eugene Debs in 1979 (op. cit, p. 3). Hillary Clinton attacked Sanders during his campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination for being a career politician who never actually worked until he was 40. Sanders holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Chicago (1964) and claims that he worked from 1964 to 1976 as a freelance writer, carpenter, youth counselor, and state employee. See: Jade Scipioni, “Hillary Clinton Says Bernie Sanders Didn’t Get a Real Job Until He Was 41—Here’s a Copy of His Actual Resume from the ‘80s,” CNBC, March 2, 2020, On the American People’s Historical Society, see: “Before Bernie Sanders Made History, He Sold It,” Special Collections, University of Vermont Libraries, June 16, 2015,

  10. 10.

    Richard Sugarman was an advisor to Bernie Sanders on his 2016 presidential campaign.

  11. 11.

    Bernie Sanders Lost by Only Ten Votes: 4,330 to 4,320. “Vt. Governor,” November 2, 1976, Our Campaigns,

  12. 12.

    Sanders, Outsider in the White House, p. 37.

  13. 13.


  14. 14.

    Banks, op. cit., p. 54.

  15. 15.

    Sanders, Outsider in the White House, p. 37.

  16. 16.

    The other defeated candidate was Richard Bove (I), 11.04%. Burlington, Vt. Mayor, March 3, 1981, Our Campaigns,

  17. 17.

    Dudley Clendinen, “It’s New Politics vs. Old in Vermont as Mayor Strives to Oust Alderman,” New York Times, February 28, 1982,

  18. 18.

    Clavel, p. 169.

  19. 19.

    Sanders, Outsider in the White House, p. 134.

  20. 20.

    About the Burlington Progressive Coalition, see: David Reynolds, Democracy Unbound: Progressive Challenges to the Two-Party System, Boston, MA, South End Press, 1997, pp. 165–170.

  21. 21.

    Burlington Free Press, April 8, 1882, p. 12.

  22. 22.

    Sanders (I) ran against Judy Stephany (D), 30.68%, and James Gibson (R), 17.21%. “Burlington, Vt. Mayor,” March 1, 1983, Our Campaigns,

  23. 23.

    Sanders (I) ran against Brian D. Burns (D), 31.9%, and Diane Gallagher (I), 12%. Burlington, Vt. Mayor, March 5, 1985, Our Campaigns,

  24. 24.

    Sanders (I) ran against Paul Lafayette (D), 30.7%. Burlington, Vt. Mayor, March 3, 1987, Our Campaigns,

  25. 25.

    Jon Margolis, “Bernie of Burlington,” New Republic, March 14, 1983,

  26. 26.


  27. 27.

    Banks, op. cit., p. 54.

  28. 28.

    Altman, op. cit., p. 34. Norman Thomas was a socialist candidate for governor of New York in 1924 and ran six times for president beginning in 1928.

  29. 29.

    Margolis, op. cit.

  30. 30.

    The Socialist Workers Party was formed in 1937 after a split from the Socialist Party of America.

  31. 31.

    See supra, p. 54.

  32. 32.

    Sanders, “Urban Issues of Concern,” C-SPAN, January 20, 1988,

  33. 33.

    Id., “It Is Imperative for Radical Voices to Be Heard,” The Militant, January 20, 1984, p. 13,

  34. 34.

    John Anderson was a Republican representative fom Illinois (1961–1981) who ran an independent campaign for president in 1980. See: Doug Bandow, “Is Bernie Sanders Still a Communist at Heart?” American Spectator, November 23, 2019,

  35. 35.

    Joseph Simonson, “Bernie Sanders Campaigned for Marxist Party in Reagan Era,” Washington Examiner, May 30, 2019,

  36. 36.


  37. 37.

    Sanders, “Andrew, We’re Delighted to Have You,” The Militant, June 12, 1981, p. 10,

  38. 38.

    Annie Lowrey, “The People Who Think Bernie Is Moderate,” The Atlantic, August 29, 2019,

  39. 39.

    Nick Baker, “Interview with Socialist Action’s Presidential Candidate, Jeff Mackler,” Socialist Action, June 26, 2016,

  40. 40.


  41. 41.

    “Democrats More Positive About Socialism Than Capitalism,” August 13, 2018, Gallup,

  42. 42.

    Donald Trump, Twitter post, July 15, 2019,

  43. 43.

    Lowrey, op. cit., p. 84.

  44. 44.

    Sanders, Outsider in the White House, p. 85.

  45. 45.

    Ibid., p. 81.

  46. 46.


  47. 47.

    Ibid., p. 85.

  48. 48.


  49. 49.

    See supra, p. 54.

  50. 50.

    Sanders, quoted in Wallace-Wells, op. cit., p. 56.

  51. 51.

    As senator, Bernie Sanders consistently voted to limit American military interventions abroad, and opposed bills that took Israel’s side in the Middle East peace process. He focused on domestic issues during the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, in part because the foreign policy establishment accused him of championing a foreign policy aligned with socialist regimes around the world. Another reason, arguably, was that Democrats usually do not fare well when competing on the national stage with Republicans on international affairs and national security. Foreign policy issues helped Ronald Reagan win his first term and George W. Bush win his second. On Bernie Sanders’s positions pertaining to Israel, see: Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Where Bernie Sanders Stands on Issues That Matter to Jewish Voters in 2020,” The Times of Israel, November 20, 2019,

  52. 52.

    Sanders, Letter to President Ronald Reagan, October 17, 1984, quoted in David Matthews, “Bernie Sanders’ 1980s Nicaragua Letters Show His Early Interest in Foreign Policy,” Splinter News, February 12, 2016,

  53. 53.

    Id., Address at Puerto Cabezas Sister City Public Meeting, July 10, 1985, CCTV,

  54. 54.

    Id., Outsider in the White House, p. 82.

  55. 55.

    Id., “Interview with Mayor Sanders After His Trip to Nicaragua,” August 8, 1985, CCTV,

  56. 56.


  57. 57.

    Michael Crowley, Michael Kruse, “The Foreign Minister of Burlington, Vt,” Politico, July 31, 2015,

  58. 58.

    Sanders, “Interview with Mayor Sanders After His Trip to Nicaragua,” op. cit., p. 88.

  59. 59.

    Id., Outsider in the White House, p. 85.


Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nicolas Gachon .

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2021 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Gachon, N. (2021). An Experiment in Municipal Socialism. In: Bernie Sanders’s Democratic Socialism. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics