In a play on the word, Sandinistas (a socialist faction in 1970s Nicaragua), Lawrence Martin lists the pluses and minuses of the “Sandernistas,” devoted followers of self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in their quest to put Bernie in the White House.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events

Key Question(s) to Explore:

  • What is socialism?

New Terminology:

Sandernistas, communism, socialism, fascism

Materials Needed:

Globe article, Internet (preferred link from “the balance”:

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Bernie Sanders, an avowed social democrat, is running to become the Democratic Party’s candidate for president of the United States. Canadians are used to the notions of democratic socialism because one of our major political parties, the NDP, is based on that political philosophy. In the United States, the predominant political philosophy these days is libertarianism, with the focus on preserving individual freedoms and rights above all else. Any tinge of socialism in a potential political leader is viewed as a liability, in part because Americans tend to associate socialism with communism and atheism (More than 80% of Americans self-identify as theists). Hence, Bernie Sanders’ self-proclaimed stance as a socialist is setting off alarm bells among Republicans and moderate Democrats.

Students can benefit from a short lesson on socialism: its definitions, types and examples of its application in different countries over time; as well as the ways it is differentiated from capitalism, communism and fascism. After a brief class discussion and reading of the attached article, students will be assigned a short report on socialism, suitable for homework.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Probe to find out what students know about Bernie Sanders. For example, is he more of a capitalist or a socialist? Ask students about socialism:

  • Would you call yourself a socialist? Why or why not?
  • What is meant by socialism? (Answers will vary)
  • How is it different from communism? (answers will vary)

Have students read aloud the article by Lawrence Martin. Discuss it with the class. Ask:

  • What are some examples of socialist governments? (The NDP government in British Columbia; governments in northern Europe, among others)
  • Do Canadians tend to be concerned about a socialist politician running for office in Canada; why or why not?

Provide students with the article by Lawrence Martin, and the link to a summary of the definitions, types and examples of socialism. The link suggested appears to be reasonably fair, but feel free to use your preferred links, as always. Wikipedia offers a very lengthy explanation and history of socialism more suitable for a senior class doing in-depth work.


Using the link provided above, write a report on the topic of socialism. Include:

  • A short definition of socialism—its key distinctive features;
  • A list of eight types of socialism, noting which seems to be closest to Canada’s NDP;
  • A few advantages and disadvantages each of socialism, capitalism and fascism;
  • A definition of “factors of production,” and what this means in practice in a socialist state;
  • The key differences among socialism and capitalism, communism and fascism;
  • A quick review of the article’s sources—do they seem credible to you, balanced, or biased in favour of or against socialism?
  • Finally, based on what you now know about Bernie Sanders and socialism, do you think American voters should be cautious of his intentions or should they endorse them? Which would you do and why?

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Students discuss their reports in class.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students’ reports indicate an ability to describe basic socialism and the ways it differs from other political philosophies.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students note media reports on the socialist aspects of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic Party nomination and report these to class.