Their Socialism and Ours, Jordan Martinez. Reproduced from Issue 1 of the journal.
Jordan Martinez, former member of Socialist Alternative (CWI in US), has produced this robust critique of those on the US Left who support Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders. This critique is particularly important as, at the current time, a huge debate has erupted within Socialist Alternative over the leadership’s support for Bernie Sanders through their new popular front organisation, Movement4Bernie. Marxist World support the opposition within Socialist Alternative, but would urge members of the faction to examine how such a major blunder could come about and be railroaded through without consent of the membership in the first place. We would recommend a deeper study of reformist, opportunist developments around Kshama Sawant, her programme and the 15 Now initiative. Finally, we would encourage members of the faction to read our third document we produced when in opposition to the Socialist Party (England and Wales) Executive Committee, Building A Revolutionary Party in the 21st Century, and to contact us should any questions arise.
Jordan makes the case that, given that US electoral politics are completely dominated by two capitalist parties, Democrats and Republicans, Marxists should seek to build class struggle organisations with a revolutionary perspective and, ultimately, programme. Unlike the UK, where reformist organisations such as the British Labour Party offer socialists a chance to critique reformism from within such organisations and win the best elements to revolutionary Marxism, Jordan argues the situation in the US is such that any revolutionary organisation must be built independently from US electoral politics, which are completely tied up with the capitalist state. This is also a tactical move to undercut the radical right and militia movements. We welcome Jordan’s critique and contribution to the debate on revolutionary method and organisation, and publish the article in full below.
A specter is haunting Socialism – the specter of Sanders. The US presidential run of Bernie Sanders, a nominally “independent” Senator from Vermont, has garnered at least nearly 200,000 claimed volunteers and $73 million in donations in 2015. His campaign has been heralded by the Left for its unabashedly populist rhetoric, with economistic calls for a “political revolution against the Billionaire Class.” There’s apparently just one problem: he’s running as a Democrat.
Sanders and the Democrats
In spite of how some on the Left might portray him, Bernie Sanders did not just wake up one day and say we need a political revolution, nor was his decision to run as a Democrat an incidental mistake. Sanders has long played a role as a false alternative from the Democratic Party, the primary run being only the most recent blatant shattering of his myth, although many supporters still cling to the pieces of “independence.” Bernie Sanders became involved in third party politics beginning in 1971 , with his membership in the anti-war Liberty Union Party and his candidacy under their name for various statewide Vermont political positions from 1972 to 1976, before leaving the Party and orientating towards local elections. On the national level, the exit from LUP was underpinned by Sander’s support for Democratic presidential candidates – Jimmy Carter beginning in 1976, and campaigning for Walter Mondale in ’84.(“Vermont Socialist’s Guide to Bernie Sanders”).
In 1981 , Sanders successfully ran for Mayor of Burlington, Vermont as an independent, unseating a six-term Democrat incumbent. A new liberal progressive coalition formed to drive the electoral bids of Sanders, the precursor to the modern Vermont Progressive Party. From 1983 to ’87, Sanders would continue to win re-election against both Democrat and Republican challengers. Sanders was noted for his ardent anti-war positions, and opposition to certain imperialist policies of the federal government, a marked contrast from his current stances. In 1986, Sanders ran for Governor of Vermont, apart from the Liberty Union Party (who fielded their own candidate), solidifying the past division between himself and a layer of grassroots third-party supporters who buoyed his earliest campaigns. Despite continued “progressive coalition” support, Bernie’s electoral momentum came to a halt in 1988, following a failed run for the US House of Representatives. After seeing out his Burlington mayoral term, Sanders briefly departed from political activity. When returning to active political activity in the 1990’s, a new Bernie Sanders was formed. As the Vermont Liberty Union Party describe the rightward consolidation:
“Bernie–out of office for the first time in eight years–then went to the Kennedy School at Harvard for six months and came back with a new relationship with the state’s Democrats. The Vermont Democratic Party leadership has allowed no authorized candidate to run against Bernie in 1990 (or since) and in return, Bernie has repeatedly blocked third party building. His closet party, the Democrats, are very worried about a left 3rd party forming in Vermont. In the last two elections, Sanders has prevented Progressives in his machine from running against Howard Dean, our conservative Democratic Governor who was ahead of Gingrich in the attack on welfare.
The unauthorized Democratic candidate in 1990, Delores Sandoval, an African American faculty member at the University of Vermont, was amazed that the official party treated her as a nonperson and Bernie kept outflanking her to her right. She opposed the Gulf build-up, Bernie supported it. She supported decriminalization of drug use and Bernie defended the war on drugs, and so on..
After being safely elected in November of 1990, Bernie continued to support the buildup while seeking membership in the Democratic Congressional Caucus–with the enthusiastic support of the Vermont Democratic Party leadership. But, the national Democratic Party blew him off, so he finally voted against the war and returned home–and as the war began–belatedly claimed to be the leader of the anti-war movement in Vermont.”(“Liberty Union Party | Bernie the Bomber’s Bad Week”)
A very clear affinity to the Democratic Party was then established. Democratic leader Howard Dean clarified the relationship Bernie Sanders has to the Dems on a 2005 episode of Meet The Press. Responding to a question on Sanders’ socialism in the run up to an upcoming Senate bid, he said “Bernie can call himself anything he wants. He is basically a liberal Democrat, and he is a Democrat that… runs as an Independent because he doesn’t like the structure and the money that gets involved. And he actually has, I think, some good points about campaign finance reform. The bottom line is that Bernie Sanders votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time And that is a candidate that we think (w)e may very well end up supporting. We need to work some things out because it’s very important for us not to split the votes in some of the other offices as well.” (JoetheElectrician)
For Sander’s loyalty to the Democrats, the current primary campaign opposite Hillary Clinton is the first time in the 21st Century he has faced a DNC-backed challenger for electoral office. Even with a decades long electoral success resume, no independent party has been built with the seal of Sanders’ approval outside of loose endorsements for Vermont Progressive Party candidates. Instead, he has given consistent endorsements and funding for Democrats nationally including, through PAC fronts, right wing Democrats.(“‘Socialist’ Bernie Sanders Funds Scumbag Democratic Party Campaigns”) Disgracefully this is matched by his active campaigning against other independent campaigns, such as that of Ralph Nader’s in 2004. On which Sanders said, “Not only am I going to vote for John Kerry, I am going to run around this country and do everything I can to dissuade people from voting for Ralph Nader.”(“A Socialist in the Senate?”)
Unfortunately, even armed with history, the role of Bernie Sanders as a loyal opposition has been ignored by much of the Left. To posit that perhaps paradoxically running openly as a Democrat allows the opportunity of potential success for a “Socialist” candidate is fatally flawed, an understanding that cannot escape Sanders. The campaign has long been doomed as a non-starter, exactly because of the Democratic Party machine Sanders has aided and continues to provide pseudo-independent cover to.
The Democratic Party, surprise surprise, is not actually democratically structured. Instead the primary process is overly determined outside of the caucuses by “super delegates,” primarily currently elected Democratic Party politicians. These super delegates control 20% of the overall delegate vote, and five hundred out of nearly eight hundred have already pledged support for Clinton. (“Bill Clinton Rallies Superdelegates as Hillary’s Campaign Hints at Growing Roster”) These pledges are not even coming exclusively from party hardliners, even presumed Sanders endorsers like Sherrod Brown of Ohio have gone into the camp of Clinton. Hillary then has the greatest party backing of any Democratic Party primary candidate at least since 1980. Only two House Representatives have endorsed Sanders, no senators, no governors. (Bycoffe)
As for the other 80% of delegate votes, derived via the caucuses, the picture isn’t much prettier. While the first two primaries of Iowa and New Hampshire look likelier by the day to swing towards Sanders, they represent a fraction of a percent of the number of delegates required at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Additionally, New Hampshire and Iowa, along with Sanders’ Vermont, are three of the nations five whitest states. Demographics will give an inevitable electoral challenge to Bernie Sanders, particularly in the South, who was polled last June at only 9% support amongst non-White Democrats nationally. Clinton however enjoys generally positive name-recognition and support amongst Black Democrats. (Silver) This is in large part due to the complicity of the extra-parliamentary wings of the Democratic Party.
The majority of unionized workers now belong to a union which has endorsed Clinton, an affirmation of labor activist Steve Early’s warning that if “organized labor plays it cautious and safe, jumping on the Clinton bandwagon instead of rallying around Sanders, it will be just one more sign of diminished union capacity for mounting any kind of worker self-defense, on the job or in politics.” Much of the institutions of the Black community are also firmly embedded in the Democratic Party machine, and thusly the Clinton campaign. (“Hillary Clinton Is Pulling Away From Bernie Sanders With Union Endorsements”) In September, Sanders reached out to the Congressional Black Caucus, holding a meeting for the Caucus generally panned as a failure with only six CBC participants. This is half the number of CBC members who have already endorsed Clinton, twelve, a full quarter of CBC members. (Tesfaye)
The lock-step march of the Black elite behind the Clinton campaign in the form of intellectuals like Michael Eric Dyson, over fifty Black mayors and the U.S. Black Chambers (of Commerce) endorsing Clinton, conservative church leaders, and continued patronage by Democratic Party front groups like the Urban League and the NAACP, communicates less the monopoly Clinton has over the political imagination of Black workers, and more a deep political disconnect. This political disconnect between the Black elite and the Black working class continues the political crisis exemplified by the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore. To this, Democratic Party offers no solutions, most certainly none desired by much of the Black youth who have ruptured with the old guard.
In September of 2014, in the wake of the Ferguson protests, over thirty elected Black Democrat St.Louis County, Missouri officials formed the “Fannie Lou Hamer Coalition.” While invoking radical rhetoric, the Coalition endorsed a Republican for the Missouri State House, citing an anti-incumbent and anti-Democrat mood. As one Republican supporter said: “We’re so baptized into voting for Democrats… Look at all the Democrats that have done wrong to you.”(“Black Voters in St. Louis County Direct Their Anger at the Democratic Party – The Washington Post”) At the Coalition’s launching press conference a 27 year old Black factory worker and hip-hop artist from the neighborhood Mike Brown was murdered in, “told the coalition that most of the youth are not going to follow them, but they will follow young men like him who have been on the ground since day one of the protests.” A coalition which pendulum-like swings from Republicans to Democrats is hardly a solution to the political fissures erupting in Black America. Numerous new organizing efforts have used the rhetoric of a New Civil Rights Movement, while funnelling that energy into co-optionary dead ends. “Our generation is tired of this. It’s the young men who have being doing the fighting, but it’s still the young men who are not being heard. If it wasn’t for us fighting, these organizations wouldn’t be forming right now.” (“Black Dems Form ‘Fannie Lou Hamer’ Political Organization”) Unfortunately nor does the dominant organization emerging in this new period, Black Lives Matter, offer any alternative to the two-party system.
The Two-Way Street of Pressure Politics
The Black Lives Matter organization, headed by intellectuals Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, for a lengthy period strategically maintained an anarchistic abstention from the 2016 elections in terms of endorsements, while tactically simultaneously disrupting various election rallies. BLM came to strain under the new terrain of party politics. Rightist branches of the network, like that in Boston, embarrassingly appealed to the moral faculties of politicians,(“#BlackLivesMatter Performs a Self-Humiliation at Hillary Clinton’s Hands | Black Agenda Report”) while more controversial actions like the shutdown of Bernie Sander’s Westlake Plaza speech in Seattle haven’t been principally defended. On the Seattle incident, BLM addressed it in a statement, saying “(r)egardless of the merits of this individual action which, among some, are still up for debate, one isolated incident cannot be the basis of judgment for the movement as a whole.” This is a shameful distancing from the actions of BLM activists, if “one isolated incident” was correct, then absolutely it should not just be defended- including its “merits”- but held up as an example for the “movement as a whole”! While they claim that their “work is not funded or driven by any political party nor is it influenced by local or national candidates,” this is clearly contradicted by the electoral orientation of the network. Flowing from this work, came the inevitable reckoning with reality. (“Two Years Later, Black Lives Matter Faces Critiques, But It Won’t Be Stopped | Black Lives Matter”)
Black Lives Matter aided in creating a political vacuum in the modern Black Freedom Movement, by not definitively pointing to alternatives to the two-party system, while simultaneously placing demands on that system. This vacuum was readily filled by liberals like DeRay McKesson who, with his liberal Campaign Zero, met with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and requested meetings with Republican candidates as well. Quickly, Campaign Zero took headlines and their platform began to define the movement, propelling BLM to build a relationship with the Democratic Party. Where McKesson called for a town hall candidates forum, BLM one-upped with a petition for a debate. However it was made clear on an episode of MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry’s show that, radical language aside, the differences are minimal. Alicia Garza clarified the trajectory of BLM as such: “I think the big thing that we`re concerned about is that thus far, the Democratic Party has not done the work that it needs to, to genuinely engage black voters. And we have been doing that work. So has my colleague, DeRay. And certainly, again, it’s less a question of the format to us. We want to make sure that the Democratic National Committee is having serious conversations at every single level about how to address the crisis facing black communities today. And what we think that does not mean is resting it on the shoulders of black folks to do that work for them.”
“I think what`s relevant is the question of our access to the democratic system. And what`s also relevant is the question of how democracy works right now, which to be honest, and to be frank, is locking out people like the members of our network from participating in genuine ways. The issue with the lack of response from the DNC, and this is not a new demand, right? There`s lots of conversation happening in the DNC about opening up the process so more people can participate. And actually opening up the process so candidates can get closer to movements without being sanctioned for doing so.”(“Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 10/25/15”)
Garza, rather than pointing to a break from the Democrats, instead gestures towards further inroads between “movements” and the DNC. The failure of pressure politics was put on full display, when Alicia Garza appealed to the very DNC resolution endorsing BLM, which BLM had supposedly rejected, as leverage to demand a full debate on #BlackLivesMatter with the Democrats. This was a furthering of BLM’s general strategy of confrontational pressuring, rather than challenging, of the Democrats.
What is made clear here, is that rather than the campaign of Bernie Sanders and the 2016 Democratic Party primary election cycle being an across the board gain for the “Left,” it in fact has been a rightist influence on large swaths of the Left, both on recent movements, as well as long-standing organizations. This is an inevitability where generally the working class have no independent institutions to resist electoral conservatism. American Leftist political parties in their current idealist (liberal) form, disconnected from specifically working class activity, cannot replace the role of institutions. Other examples can be made reflecting this reality.
Nominally the Green Party has maintained an independent position from the Democratic Party, with a Jill Stein campaign underway already. However, within the rank-and-file fissures have formed on the issue of Bernie Sanders. This is most visibly the case in Maine, where leadership members intervened to silence discussion of supporting Sanders, sparking threats of a wide-scale departure from the GP. The creator of the “Greens for Sanders” Facebook page, Maine State Party Treasurer Daniel Stromgren, claimed that “the majority of our 40,000 voter membership is going to vote for Sanders if he beats Hillary.” This claim was reinforced by Benjamin Meiklejohn, State Party Senior Advisor: “Statistically speaking, if you look at the numbers, between 80 and 97 percent of our own party’s members will not vote for the Green presidential candidate in the general election.” (“Conflict Erupts in Green Party after Censorship of Sanders Supporters | Fighting the Tides”) For the Greens, the Sanders campaign cannot be boiled down merely as a short term tactical orientation, as due to the present ballot access laws, organizing here and now is a necessity to maintain a presence in upcoming ballots and consistent openings for electoral challenges to the Left of the Dems.
As Bruce Dixon writes “Currently the law keeps Greens and others off the ballot in more than half the states. Precise details vary according to state law, but if a third party candidate after obtaining one-time ballot access receives about 2% of total votes, a new ballot line is created, granting ballot access to any potential candidate from school board to sheriff to US congress who wants to run as something other than a Republican or Democrat. That, many participants agreed, would be a significant puncture in the legal thicket that now protects Democrats against competition on the ballot from their left. But a nationwide trans-partisan ballot access campaign to create a national alternative to the two capitalist parties is something left activists must begin serious work a good 18 months before a November election, essentially right now.” (“Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders: Sheepdogging for Hillary and the Democrats in 2016 | Black Agenda Report”)
This again points to the barriers Bernie Sanders builds impeding potential third-party victories. An orientation towards the Sanders campaign, without simultaneously concretely building an alternative (not just vocalizing in favor of one), reveals a level of disingenuous populism. This is why Green Party candidate “Dr. [Jill] Stein is asking for [Sanders] supporters to think about helping her party now with ballot access in order to have another option on the ballot in November as a “Plan B” for them.” (“Plan B?”) “As of July 2015, [the GP] are on the ballot in 20 states, reaching 55% of the population. In play for 2015 is 9% of the population. In 2016, [the GP will] be fighting for another 26% of the population. About another 10% of the population lives in states with the most challenging ballot access laws.” (“Ballot Access”)
Of course, it is absurd to speak with any seriousness of an independent Bernie Sanders campaign, even aside from the ballot access laws. Sanders himself has made clear his intentions to not run as an independent multiple times. (“‘This Week’ Transcript”) Additionally, his ties with the Democratic Party have been strengthened through the primary. In November, the Sanders campaign agreed to a join fund-raising agreement with the Democratic National Committee. “The move, which comes more than two months after Hillary Clinton’s campaign signed such an agreement in August, will allow Sanders’ team to raise up to $33,400 for the committee as well as $2,700 for the campaign from individual donors at events (Sanders) also recently lent his name to a fundraising letter for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to a campaign adviser, in another indication of his slowly growing ties to the party’s infrastructure.”(Debenedetti) The majority of Sanders supporters are just as tied to the Democratic Party, with a recent poll showing Clinton with 59% and Sanders with 26% of the party’s support, and of primary Sanders supporters – 59% also comfortable with a Clinton nomination. With Clinton consistently polling around merely 1 5% unfavorability amongst Democrats, the number of Sanders supporters who will find it within themselves to vote Clinton in 2016 is sure to rise.(“Most Bernie Sanders Voters OK with Hillary Clinton Winning”)
Dead On Arrival is my assessment of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and the movement of “Sandernistas.” Even where a movement for Bernie is a Left rather than Rightward shift, it is a zero-sum game to the DNC’s benefit. This is why the DNC has allowed an “insurgent” their platform, even highlighting Sanders’ campaign in email blasts.(Marshall) Whereas, in the midst of inner-party disputes, “progressive” Howard Dean had his 2004 primary run brutally taken down by a Clinton led leadership. A precursor to Sanders, Dean and his 140,000-strong “Deaniacs” movement broke records at this pre-Citizens United time with over $15 million raised, and an average donation of $25. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on attack ads against Dean by DNC insiders, culminating in a failing third-place at the Iowa caucus, and the infamous decontextualized “scream” for which he would be politically eviscerated.
“Howard Dean was assassinated in broad daylight. Unlike Kennedy’s ‘grassy knoll,’ Dean’s killers are not hiding—it was the Democratic Party itself, and more specifically the Democratic Leadership Council.”(“What Bernie Sanders’ Supporters Can Learn From Howard Dean”)
No less will Sanders campaign be eventually suffocated by the DNC, however, whereas Dean’s campaign was partially the product of a rift within the leadership of the Party, Sanders hardly could be said to have the Democratic Party, leadership or structures, in his cross hairs. Calls for a movement then coming from campaign offices, are marching orders into the DNC. Even explicit calls for a broader movement must be questioned by the previous measure– “A campaign has got to be much more than just getting votes and getting elected. It has got to be helping to educate people, organize people.”(“Bernie Sanders”) Is this a statement of pressure politics, or the politics of rupture? Given what we know, this is clearly the former, a “socialism” not even passing for reformism. This is a repetition of history which should remind Leftists of all the calls after the 2008 presidential election to “hold Obama’s feet to the fire.” We should not fight to hold the state accountable, but to undermine it, as the Capitalist state can never be accountable to the oppressed.
Sanders, or Soviets?
Unfortunately, following decades of degrading labor and anti-capitalist movements, the Left is dominated by liberal ideas even on the fringes. Amongst Socialists, the conception of “movement” is less Trotskyist and more Alinskyist. Saul Alinisky was the author of Rules for Radicals, published in 1971, it became a bible for NGO “community organizers.” Inherently reformist and economistic, Alinskyism sees working class action in a utilitarian lens, as a means to an ends, rather than an expression of class consciousness. The ends in this case often are the winning of narrow reforms or predetermined “leaders” being placed into positions of power. Given the recent history of various pressure campaigns like 15 Now and Black Lives Matter, whether intentionally so or eventually subsumed as such, the following critique of Alinskyism seems prophetic on its gains and limitations: “(T)he Alinsky form of opposing power is not sufficient, of course. That model takes a basic insight–one almost entirely absent from our national discourse these days–about the need to fight if you hope to win, and the need to oppose power with power, and does almost as little as possible with it: it defines powers narrowly, challenges them with a deeply formulaic strategy, and wins predictably narrow victories. These victories are actual victories, which should be a slap-across-the-face wake-up to the countless liberal and progressive organizations and ‘movements’ out there that never give the [few] people they involve in their campaigns an opportunity to experience the empowerment of actually winning something. But the victories of Alinsky groups are generally narrow and local; rarely if ever do they contribute to the creation of a new political circumstance in which similar groups of citizens will not have to form and fight and win in other places to achieve the same basic gain. They do not catalyze political change, really–just the resolution of a particular community’s ‘unique’ problems.”(“Activism, Incorporated”)
Returning then to the question of accountability, only institutions of the working class can ever hold their own “to the fire.” However, Sanders is not of the working class but a career politician, and is thus an impediment to class independence where workers are expected to, in popular front fashion, liquidate themselves into his campaign – a liquidation evidenced by Socialist Alternative’s “Movement4Bernie” front group, whose website contains not a single criticism of Sanders. After decades of genuine workers institutions and organizing efforts being repressed by state violence, such as the case of the Black Panther Party, such institutions are vitally needed as the basis for “accountability” to bear any material meaning. Without them, elected Leftists, particularly those who carry no analysis of the extra-parliamentary wings of the Democrats, are forced into a centrism – swinging between, at worst, realpolitik allies, and at best, spontaneous class activity.
Proletarian institutions historically mean the commune, the soviet, the class-struggle based neighborhood and workplace councils. They build upon and transcend spontaneity, and they are the basis of dual power and thusly a new society: “All power to the Soviets.” The construction of such institutions, and the preparation for them to fulfill their historic role – this is the real task, which history in motion does not concede time to vacillate on. For Sanders though, Socialism has nothing to do with the “withering away of the State,” nothing to do with actual working class democracy and power. Instead, while appearing to be working class centered, Sanders is first and foremost state centered – in this historical context, centered on the Capitalist state. This overrides whatever promised reforms he may be campaigning on, as this places him at odds with the working class. Sanders, by defining Socialism so loosely as simply anything the government does, including the police and military(!), empowers the delusion that “progressive” Democrats are “Socialists” by reinforcing the state. This is why the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, can refuse to answer what the difference between a Democrat and a Socialist is when asked. Her response, “the more important question is, what’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?” may also be shared by the leadership of SAlt and much of the soft-Left.(“No Really—What’s the Difference Between a Democrat and a Socialist?”)
Murray Bookchin wrote of Sanders as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1986, describing him as “a centralist” with an “administration, [that] despite its democratic proclivities, tends to look more like a civic oligarchy than a municipal democracy.” Bookchin concluded his criticism, which included details of a Burlington waterfront sellout, thusly: “This ‘managerial radicalism’ with its technocratic bias and its corporate concern for expansion is bourgeois to the core — and even brings the authenticity of traditional ‘socialist’ canons into grave question. A recent Burlington Free Press headline which declared: ‘Sanders Unites with Business on Waterfront’ could be taken as a verdict by the local business establishment as a whole that it is not they who have been joining Sanders but Sanders who has joined them. When productivist forms of ‘socialism’ begin to resemble corporate forms of capitalism, it may be well to ask how these inversions occur and whether they are accidental at all. This question is not only one that must concern Sanders and his supporters; it is a matter of grim concern for the American radical community as a whole.”(“Murray Bookchin, “The Bernie Sanders Paradox”)
The numerous Sanders campaign promises have limitations exactly because of the restrictions of the capitalist state which he is tied to in his “Sewer Socialism” even more than he is tied to the Democratic Party. The economic program of Sanders, which could be generalized as a Keynesian one, is a 2016 version of Obama’s “Hope and Change,” and just as sterile – sterile, as a result of the constraints of the Capitalist system in crisis. In the midst of all this talk of taxing the “Billionaire class” lies a economy struggling with a marginal recovery post-Great Recession and teetering on collapse. The assumptions present in the economic outlook of Sanders are completely at odds with a Marxist outlook. Whereas liberal economists look at the drop of investment in productive sectors of the economy, as opposed to speculative investment, as a political issue of mis- or non-allocated funds, which the state must thusly appropriate to direct the marketplace, Marxists actually have an analysis founded not in (politically Left) Keynesianism, but in (politically Right) classical Liberalism. The world is then flipped on its head from the perspective of a Keynesian. The root causes of the 2008 long depression – Ponzi speculations, fantastical casino betting, and easy credit – are in reality the superficial expressions of a low rate of profit, the ability for the Capitalist class to turn a dollar into two dollars. Government investment outside of particular circumstances, which both Keynes and Krugman have acknowledged to be a World War economy, are an encroachment on the profits of corporations.(“Krugman and Depression Economics”) This encroachment cycles further drops in investment, as the promise of profitable returns is lowered. On this, New York University professor Michael Rectenwald wrote that, “As it stands, over the past forty-plus years, we have witnessed a tremendous curtailment of investment in social reproduction, such that the withering of state and private property investments has resulted in a shrunken and shrinking fixed capital base, along with the continual sloughing off of even more layers of variable capital [the labor power of workers]. Given the new, vaunted robotic automation that is promised, even more layers of workers could lose their jobs, thus offsetting or more than offsetting any gains Sanders or Clinton might achieve in employment. And if this were not bad enough, the increased technology investments in robotics [to the detriment of labor] would have the effect of further drawing down the rate of profit, thus serving to further stifle investment in production and thus labor. Likewise, the increasing introduction of robotic automation would enlarge the already growing layers of displaced workers.”(“Syriza and Sanders”)
On multiple fronts then the Socialism of Bernie Sanders, and the Socialism of much of the Left is found lacking. In common discourse it has become a trope to posit Sanders as the “good,” contrasted to the “perfect” that is a pie-in-the-sky Socialism. At this historical juncture however, the perfect is not the enemy of the good; in fact, the good is the enemy of the perfect – and it’s not even very good. Whereas the “Left” is supposedly a spectrum from liberals and progressives to radicals and revolutionaries, on the crucial issues before us today of the economy and the state, Marxism is not simply a ratcheting up of “progressive” rhetoric, but is its own logic entirely. Stoking illusions in the ability for the Capitalist state to respond to the needs of the people is a doomed strategy, one having already played out under Syriza in Greece. The only correct political response to Capitalism in crisis is the organization of a working class conscious of itself as having interests separate from the ruling class and the Capitalist state.
Jim B further wrote in his previously quoted 2006 article that “(i)n the end, real organizing and ideology are deeply linked. When the left has either one of these without the other–as with the Alinsky-based models (real organizing without ideology) and countless 20th-century manifestations of intellectual socialism (ideology without real organizing)–the right has the opportunity, if it has both (as it does in the U.S. today, in spades), to beat the living shit out of us.”(“Activism, Incorporated”) While the Far Right, emphasized most by ISIS, are consolidating in the wake of the failures of the Left, whether it be Syriza’s capitulation to austerity in Greece or Chavizmo’s historic electoral loss in Venezuela, we must build up the conscious forces of the historic revolutionary Left amongst working and oppressed communities. A strategy of autonomy from the state matching that of the Far Right is both a tactical manoeuvre to undercut and transcend divisions within the working class, while also a strategic necessity in building towards a situation of dual power.
While it may seem laughable to contrast organizing around Bernie Sanders to organizing for a revolution, that is precisely the situation we’ve found ourselves in 2016 – closer to the precipice of another economic crash, with the Far Right much better positioned to take advantage. Immediately, campaigns around democracy – “the lifeblood of Socialism” – should be introduced for every facet of working class life, such as campaigning for community and tenant run public housing. Mass movements should not be treated as means, but as the basis for new expressions of class organizing. Ultimately, the “vanguard,” as the highest expression of class consciousness, can only appear out of class struggle. That the United States is populated by numerous “vanguard” parties, each an exception to the history of such organizations as the central bodies of co-operation and debate between genuine working class leaders, should cease to be the norm. Replacing today’s Left should be one which is both rooted, and emanates from, the working class and their conditions. Nothing else can move us forward.
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