The Bernie Sanders campaign has demonstrated the potential to rally millions to a progressive social-democratic agenda. Sanders even called his campaign “socialist,” a term which is no longer anathema to many younger Americans, although Noam Chomsky was right to characterize Sanders as less a socialist than a “decent, honest New Dealer,” which nonetheless compared to the corporate Democrats makes Sanders appear as a revolutionary fire-brand. But he is decidedly not, for the simple reason that his political vision is about reforming capitalism, not abolishing it.
Support for Sanders has inadvertently exposed just how profoundly undemocratic the Democratic Party actually is, with its super-delegate system, closed primaries, and corporate super-PACs. Sanders campaign rhetoric has also exposed just how conservative Hilarity Clinton actually is. For many voters the Sanders’ challenge has brought into sharper public focus what a Wall Street sycophant Clinton is. But now, with Clinton claims victory the pressure is growing for the Sandernistas to vote for the “lesser evil” Clinton over Trump in November. This was never ever a problem for Sanders who often stated he would support the Democratic Party candidate for president. It does, however, pose a difficulty for his supporters who endorsed his platform, one very different from Clinton’s proposals.
For sure, Trump’s “populism” is just pure demagoguery, a bogus prescription for the ills of capitalism sold by a racist and ultra-nationalist—a billionaire capitalist—who trades in scapegoating and fear-mongering of the proverbial “other” to promote himself as a political savior. If Karl Marx were around he would likely find in Trump only a super-sized version of the familiar figure of the petty shopkeeper, the classic petty-bourgeois for whom the entire drama of life is reduced to dollar signs, deals, and what’s in it for me? Indeed, every vulgarity associated with the capitalist culture is embodied in Trump’s person. But Trump really is only a little less vulgar politically than Clinton, who once laughingly declared “we came, we saw, he died” to describe the horrific death—sodomized by bayonets—of Libyan leader Muammar Qadaffi? Does it matter that she supported the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq? Does it matter that she supports global assassinations by drone as an instrument of foreign policy? Or that as Secretary of State in 2009 she had her slippery hand involved in the right-wing coup in Honduras? Does it matter she has stood as an unabashed apologist for Israel’s repeated assaults on Palestinian Gaza? What hypocrisy and moral vacuousness from someone who once called Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak a close “family friend,” who as secretary of state proudly sought foreign policy counsel from one of the notorious war criminal, Henry Kissinger.
According to the 2015 Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) report, The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us, gains in wealth in the United States over the last decade flowed at vastly disproportionate rates upward to further enrich the top one-tenth of one percent of the richest Americans. There are now 20 people in the United States who own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the American population. 20 percent of the people now own 89 percent of wealth, while the bottom 80 percent owns only 11 percent. The inequality of United States of 2016 is entrenched and growing, an even wider gap than existed 50 years ago. 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending, a total of $598.5 billion, the rulers of this country currently devote to military armament. Does anyone seriously believe Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will do anything to challenge this growing economic divide, the increasing concentration of financial wealth in the hands of a very few?
Political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page concluded in a 2014 study that drew upon an empirical analysis of variables for 1,779 policy issues, “The majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose.” And lose they will again in November 2016.
For those galvanized Sanders supporters, how will the spirit of activism for social and economic justice be sustained once their candidate endorses a conservative Democrat, another cheer-leader for Wall Street and the global American empire, for president? The idea that the Democratic Party can be transformed from an instrument of Wall Street into a party that fights for the cause of working-class America, for socialism, is a delusion. It’s true the Sanders campaign has helped to break down the public stigma surrounding the word “socialism.” But it’s worth asking now what kind of socialism can really solve the crisis of society? Isn’t the essential idea of socialism that the workers who make the economy run should also run the economy? In this socialism envisions a dramatic expansion of democracy into the very heart of the economy. A century ago the great Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg described socialism as workers’ self-rule, workers power. Socialism is a vision of a society guided by genuine economic democracy, one inspired and guided by humane values of solidarity and cooperation, not the profits of a few. Luxemburg famously warned, the choice facing humanity was one between socialism or barbarism. In the century, since that prophetic warning was raised, the counter-position of these two alternatives has only become even more urgent.
Some will say socialism is utopianism. But isn’t it naive to think this era of endless wars and environmental destruction, of vast economic inequality and entrenched global poverty, can be healed under the very same socio-economic system that continually recreates this diseased social reality? Despite their differences, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (and yes, Bernie Sanders) are ideologues of archaic capitalism, a system that for Trump and Clinton has earned them enormous personal riches, but which for the majority has long outlived its social purpose. Is there any alternative now to so much needless human suffering and social deprivation, to all the horrors of the modern era, than to embrace a revolutionary vision of democracy—socialist democracy—on the grandest scale ever imagined?
Clinton can paint Trump as a hypothetical threat but her history shows she is a proven threat. The Democratic plutocrats are not worried by her. Bernie Sanders has taken you as far as he wants to go. At the Democratic National Convention, the Democratic Party will show its true capitalist colors.