Monday, February 01, 2016

Sanders is no socialist

In the US, elections take place like this: Citizens elect delegates, delegates elect nominees, and nominees become presidents. The circus begins in Iowa on Feb 1st. 

The Socialist Party of America presidential candidate Eugene Debs’ poster hangs in Bernie Sanders’ Senate office. Sanders is no Debs, not even close.
 “But he’s a socialist,” many leftists exult. He does not call for socialism. He does not criticize or even refer to the capitalist profit system, the underlying political-economic regime that is wired for the endless upward distribution of wealth and power and the ruination of livable ecology. Sanders rails against “the billionaire class,” against economic inequality, against the Republicans, against FOX News, against the Citizens United decision, and especially against those terrible Koch brothers. He’s running as a populist Democrat. When a Vermont leftist questioned Representative Sanders in public about his failure to help build a left-progressive alternative to the capitalist party duopoly, Sanders said he was now too busy with his Congressional work to worry about such things. Candidates like Sanders serve an important purpose. They energize the activist base and raise hopes that the Democratic Party is open to progressive ideas, even though the money, use of super-delegates and drawn-out primary limit the victors circle to establishment candidates. Sanders campaign will help divide the left and bind many of them to the Democratic Party. Plus, having a left-wing candidate allows Clinton to appear as the center moderate. By the time the convention is over, those who hopped on board the Sanders train to nowhere will have reconciled themselves with supporting Clinton, whatever their misgivings. It’s basic psychology. Like investors who throw good money after bad, it’s hard to admit after spending more than a year of your life advocating for a candidate that lost, that maybe it’s time to stop investing in the Democratic Party.

The sole purpose of these liberal “outsiders” within the Democratic Party is to keep the Left locked inside of a party that no longer actively represents any of their interests Bernie Sanders had a choice. He could have run as the outsider he claimed to be. He could have run as an independent. He could have chosen to have run as a the democratic socialist he describes himself as, or even offered his services to the Green Party that share more of his policies than the Democrats. He could have been a threat to the status quo. But he didn’t because Sanders really is at heart a Democrat (the alternative conclusion would be that he is political coward, unable to put his career as a politician on the line.) He chose to lend credence to a party that has brutalised nearly every progressive policy he claims to champion.

“If Socialism, international, revolutionary Socialism, does not stand staunchly, unflinchingly, and uncompromisingly for the working class and for the exploited and oppressed masses of all lands, then it stands for none and its claim is a false pretense and its profession a delusion and a snare. Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement while they entertain such aristocratic notions of their own assumed superiority,” answered a real socialist presidential candidate , Eugene Debs

Sanders said on ABC News that if elected president he will not end the United States’ controversial and mass-murderous drone program in the Middle East. He said he would maintain the targeted killing campaign but suggested he would adjust the program so that “drones don’t kill innocent people.” The military-industrial complex was pleased, no doubt. Bernie repeatedly called for the murderous House of Saud to boost its military profile as if the intervention to suppress Bahrain’s Shi’ites and the bombing of Yemen is not enough. Sanders has been heard telling voters and journalists that the viciously reactionary and monarchical, jihad-fueling state of Saudi Arabia needs to step up its military aggression in the Middle East to help make the region and world more secure from terrorism and to “save the soul of Islam.” When he is asked about wars and says Saudi Arabia should pay for and lead them, nobody has followed up by asking whether the wars are themselves good or not or how the theocratic murderous regime in Saudi Arabia which openly seeks to overthrow other governments and is dropping US cluster bombs on Yemen will transform the wars into forces for good. Since when is THAT “socialism”? It’s a bizarre and alarming position to take. As Sam Husseini recently argued at CounterPunch:
“What? Why should a U.S. progressive be calling for more intervention by the Saudi monarchy? Really, we want Saudi troops in Syria and Iraq and Libya and who knows where else? You’d think that perhaps someone like Sanders would say that we have to break our decades-long backing of the corrupt Saudi regime — but no, he wants to dramatically accelerate it….[this even] after the Saudis started bombing Yemen with U.S. government backing earlier this year, killing thousands and leading to what the UN is now calling a ‘humanitarian catastrophe,’ and suffering that is ‘almost incomprehensible.’ Progressives in the U.S. are supposed to look toward the Saudi monarchy to save the soul of Islam? The Saudis have pushed the teachings of the Wahabism sect and have been deforming Islam for decades. This actually helped give rise to ISIS and Al Qaeda. It’s a little like Bernie Sanders saying that the Koch Brothers need to get more involved in U.S. politics, they need to ‘get their hands dirty.’”

Bernie’s repeated reference to Hillary Clinton as a “good friend” and his related refusal to offer any substantive criticism of her. Why would a “socialist” and “independent” politician and “activist” be “good friends” in a supposedly adversarial political culture with a fabulously wealthy and notoriously mendacious arch-corporatist and militarist major party politico like Hillary Clinton, who forcefully backed George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and applauded her husband’s elimination of public cash assistance for poor families through a vicious welfare “reforms” that has had disastrous consequence for the nation’s most vulnerable.

Sanders may appear to be the friend of social movements with his campaign rhetoric, but his crusade is by its nature primarily about “who’s sitting in the White House,” not building militant grassroots organization and “who’s sitting in the streets” (Howard Zinn’s well-known dichotomy). After 2016 Sanders is not going to turn over his organization with its apparatus, lists and expertise to the leftists.

If America is the land of the get-rich-quick scheme, the American left is the province of the get-power-quick scheme. It’s always looking for the one tactic, the one protest, the one election that will change everything. [In reality, however], Building power that’s strong and flexible takes years in the trenches developing organization, trust, community, leadership, action, and theory. Taking an electoral shortcut to power means fracturing movements as those with the least power are pushed to the sidelines. Leftists may thrill at finding a ‘socialist’ horse on the electoral merry-go-round, but if they hop on board they’ll be the ones taken for a ride” ” - Arun Gupta on CounterPunch

“Bernie, is making socialism legitimate in America again?” He is not running as a “socialist” at all. He does not criticize capitalism’s profit system, the underlying political-economic regime that is wired for the endless upward distribution of wealth and power and the ruination of Earth’s ecology. When quizzed by reporters on what socialism means to him, Sanders simply says that the United States can learn a few things from Scandinavian states when it comes to having a stronger welfare state, socialized health care, stronger unions, and the like. He is diluting the meaning of the word socialism (which for actual socialists refers to workers’ control of production and the democratic running of the economy for people and the common good, not the profits of a capitalist elite) as much as advancing it. Bernie blames the US billionaire class for the increase in poverty, joblessness, homelessness, and even war. It also makes it clear that Bernie believes the system that created this relatively minuscule group of billionaires can reform itself given the right person at the helm with a large popular movement behind them. This belies the idea that he has a socialist understanding of how capitalists accumulate wealth.

In other words, Bernie Sanders is no socialist. Instead, he is a ‘progressive’ in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt or FDR. Like both of those men, Sanders believes that capitalism can work if it is properly tethered and monopolies are broken up. Similarly, Sanders progressivism understands–perhaps not consciously–that in order for the US population to have such benefits as universal single payer health care, free college education, homes for all, and a revived dependable infrastructure, other people in other lands will have to pay for it via the global capitalist economic system erected and maintained by Wall Street and its lessers around the world.

But a cardinal rule for a socialist is to tell the truth. The Democratic Party is not our friend. Nor can it be reformed to do our bidding. The purpose of the Democratic and Republican parties is to keep us enslaved. To pretend otherwise is to sow confusion and carry the ball for the other team.

Nothing has held American working people back more than organized labor’s obeisance to the two corporate parties, together with confusion on this issue by many on the left. Albert Einstein warned, “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” Yet Sanders would have us believe one can simultaneously oppose and build the Democratic Party. Sanders raises all kinds of interesting populist issues in his speeches, but he is seeking the nomination of a party that is the proven enemy of the working class and he has promised, citing the lesser-evil doctrine, that he will endorse the Democratic nominee whoever it happens to be. So we can see that progressives like Sanders are not really opposed to standing on principle. It’s just that they have replaced the principles of working class solidarity and telling the truth with the “principle” of lesser-evil politics.

Bernie Sanders focuses on money issues, taxing the rich, spending on the poor, but has thus far been permitted to engage in the general practice of speaking only about the 46% of federal discretionary spending that it not military. Nobody has asked him about the 54% that by the calculation of National Priorities Project is military. Nobody has asked him if Eisenhower was right that military spending produces wars.

Let’s imagine for example that Bernie Sanders won the 2016 presidential elections. What do you think would happen? Could he bring radical change in the structures of power of the capitalist system?

“Suppose that Sanders won, which is pretty unlikely in a system of bought elections. He would be alone: he doesn’t have congressional representatives, he doesn’t have governors, he doesn’t have support in the bureaucracy, he doesn’t have state legislators; and standing alone in this system, he couldn’t do very much. A real political alternative would be across the board, not just a figure in the White House. It would have to be a broad political movement. In fact, the Sanders campaign I think is valuable — it’s opening up issues, it’s maybe pressing the mainstream Democrats a little bit in a progressive direction, and it is mobilizing a lot of popular forces, and the most positive outcome would be if they remain after the election.
It’s a serious mistake to just to be geared to the quadrennial electoral extravaganza and then go home. That’s not the way changes take place. The mobilization could lead to a continuing popular organization which could maybe have an effect in the long run,” explains Chomsky

Bernie Sanders doesn’t want to replace or overthrow capitalism.  He thinks capitalism can be fixed or tamed with reforms.  By contrast, we socialists understand that the essence of capitalism—private ownership of major industry, resources and the exploitation of labor by appropriating surplus value (profit)—is antithetical to democracy.  In fact, for all of Bernie’s talk about “democratic socialism”, he turn a blind eye to the lack of economic democracy that is the very hallmark of the capitalist system.  Because Sanders is in favor of tweaking capitalism but opposed to dismantling it, he ignores the systemic lack of democracy in the workplace and the economy—the very aspects that most affects people’s lives. For as long as Sanders limits his critique to reforms of the existing system, he is unable to propose concrete, workable solutions for the big problems we face such as climate change, for example. Gentle prodding by the State hasn’t changed corporate behavior up to now and we shouldn’t expect it to succeed in the future.  As long as there are profits to be made by disregarding regulation and legislation, corporations will do so.

Sanders’ policies are not socialist, but rather they actually pose a threat to socialism. If elected, Sanders’ policies would likely moderate the capitalist model both domestically and globally, but they would leave intact the fundamental global injustices inherent in the capitalist system. And when those capitalist policies implemented by a self-proclaimed socialist ultimately fail to address these global injustices in any meaningful way, it will be socialism that will be discredited. ‘socialism-lite’ greases the path to right-wing reaction.

 While a vote for the reformist candidate of a capitalist party might make some people feel good, no one should expect it to change much. If Sanders wanted anything even approaching a “revolution,” he wouldn’t be diverting the meager resources of socialists into the system he claims to be against. Remember he’s promised to endorse whatever candidate is put forth by the Democratic Party, that same Democratic Party which is but one component of capitalism. Sanders plays the good cop against the bad cop Clinton and the evil cop, the Republican candidate.

If you plan to vote for yet another lesser evil in 2016, go ahead but vote or no vote, all that matters is what you’re going to do for the other 364 days to help bring down this global system of oppression and exploitation. Instead of a candidate who comes along and says, ‘I want to talk to you and tell you what I’m going to do for you.’’, the people ought to say, ‘Well, you can come listen to us …we’ll tell you what you want, and you can try to persuade us that you’ll do it; then, maybe we will vote for you”. People should get together and discuss, talk about, and argue about what they want.  That’s a very different form of democracy.


"I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the Promised Land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition" - Debs

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