How Upton Sinclair Upended California’s Democratic Party and the Lessons for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Run

Never in American history has a socialist been elected governor of a state, but in 1934 Upton Sinclair came close. He almost became governor on a program known as EPIC — End Poverty in California.

American socialists typically think of Eugene V. Debs’ 1912 presidential campaign as the high point of their movement since Debs won 6% of the vote, or just over 900,000 votes. Sinclair nearly matched that in 1934 by winning 879,000 votes, some 37% of the electorate. With two dozen EPIC candidates elected to the California legislature in 1934, Sinclair’s 37% was a far more politically meaningful result than Debs’ one-in-a-lifetime single-digit showing.

Despite nearly matching Debs’ power at his peak, the EPIC Sinclair campaign of 1934 has all but disappeared from the historical memory of American socialism. Almost a century later, it is the greatest story never told. These days, EPIC warrants but a single misleading mention by one Leninist journal and seems forgotten by the Democratic Socialist of America, a group that advocates the very strategy Sinclair and his followers pursued in 1934 — capturing the Democratic Party for socialism.

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The 12 Principles of EPIC (End Poverty in California)


  1. God created the natural wealth of the earth for the use of all men, not of a few.
  2. God created men to seek their own welfare, not that of masters.
  3. Private ownership of tools, a basis for freedom when tools are simple, becomes a basis of enslavement when tools are complex.
  4. Autocracy in industry cannot exist alongside democracy in government.
  5. When some men live without working, other men are working without living.
  6. The existence of luxury in the presence of poverty and destitution is contrary to good morals and sound public policy.
  7. The present depression is one of abundance, not scarcity.
  8. The cause of the trouble is that a small class has the wealth, while the rest have the debts.
  9. It is contrary to common sense that men should starve because they raised too much food.
  10. The destruction of food or other wealth, or the limitation of production, is economic insanity.
  11. The remedy is to give the workers access to the means of production, and let them produce for themselves, not for others.
  12. This change can be brought about by action of a majority of the people, and that is the American way.