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Bernie Sanders, the Progressive Capitalist?

Progressive is not an unusual label for Sen. Bernard “Bernie” Sanders (I-VT). In 1991 he was a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), along with Rep. Ron Dellums, Rep. Lane Evans, Rep. Thomas Andrews, Rep. Peter DeFazio, and Rep. Maxine Waters (all Democrats). The CPC now has 70 members, 68 of them members of the House, 1 a member of the Senate (Sanders), and a non-voting delegate from the District of Columbia. They represent some 13% of Representatives in Congress, and 17% of registered voters. They are a full 29.2% of the elected members of the Democratic Party. They are the formal pro-capitalist, center-left in American electoral politics.

They have a New Deal-esque plan, “People’s Budget”, which is a moderately anti-austerity, pro-state capitalist document. And that plan is supported by the majority of Americans. According to Gallup, the majority of Americans know corporations and the wealthy have too much power (74% and 60%, respectively), want financial monopolies dismantled (58%), the riches’ taxes raised (68% to 82%), the hedge fund managers and banks’ financial transactions well regulated (73%), and end fossil fuel company obstruction of renewable energy (64%). Americans, in the majority, also support, a heavy reduction in wealth inequality (66% to 92%), utilizing social programs to reduce poverty (82%), a raise in the wage to $15/hr (63%), paid leave for maternity, paternity and illness (80%), unions (62% to 82%), universal healthcare (50+%), and supporting higher education and reducing tuition (55% to 79%).

With such large support, it must be surprising that these policies have received little coverage. The People’s Budget is non-existent, totally overshadowed by the austerity-driven corporate media. This is because while it is very positive that so many Americans support these policies, the institutional political apparatus and the organizations reproducing it would never allow these policies to pass. These policies counter to capitalist and imperial imperatives in the twilight of the neoliberal age. Within that institutional political apparatus Bernie and the CPC are only a weak and puny force, even within their own party.

The party, Democrat, is a corporate-owned subsidiary of the oligarchy, with little regard for their constituency. The Democrat leadership would move swiftly to sabotage the CPC and Bernie if they ever did have enough power to bring the People’s Budget to a vote. And how serious are the CPC and Bernie about the People’s Budget? Knowing that their own party worked to pass workfare, repealed Glass-Stegall, pushed for NAFTA, TPP, and various other transnational corporate-rights agreements, advocates and pursues school privatization, along with the corporatization of the university, and gentrification, it seems disingenuous on their part to act as if the Democrats are a vehicle for the change they are calling for. That is, they are in the exact party that they claim to have a policy corrective for. Does the CPC think all of this horrendous austerity was just a Democrat hiccup? An error? Are they naïve?

The CPC remaining with the Democrats represents the crudest and most unprincipled form of pragmatism. Even worse, while the CPC and Bernie have voted against the austerity-driven economic policies of the New Democrat-Republican coalition, they have voted to support countless wars and military weapons transfers to dictatorships and serial human rights abusers, like Egypt, Mexico, and Israel. Also, while calling for money out of politics, the CPC and Bernie have never called for a move towards parliamentary democracy, which would actually open up political space in the formal arena. Bernie should being do so, if independent meant much to him. Rather, The CPC and Bernie are the willing accomplices of a political duopoly in a stagnant, decaying formal democracy as it destructively terrorizes the globe.

By joining up with the Democrats, Bernie won’t be a socialist for long, as little as he ever was. He is claiming his CPC crown. Soon, I predict, he will duck the term socialist and use the sedate “progressive” instead. It will be a more apt description, one with a better connection to the US political history he represents, one in which progressives play the role of Captain Save-A-Capitalism. The socialist is much more Eugene V. Debs, of who Bernie keeps a picture, but with who he differs in key ways. Rather, the progressive is Woodrow Wilson, with whom Bernie shares American imperial and capitalist policy, even if a much more amicable version of both.

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Andrew Smolski is a writer and sociologist.

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