House Socialists, Field Socialists and Bernie


I wholeheartedly support the populist programs that Bernie Sanders advocates—from single-payer healthcare, to free college tuition, to taxing the rich and more.  But borrowing from Malcolm X, Bernie is a house socialist and I’m a field socialist.

Bernie doesn’t want to replace or overthrow capitalism.  Like all house socialists, he thinks capitalism can be fixed or tamed with reforms.  By contrast, we field socialists understand that the essence of capitalism—private ownership of major industry, resources, banks, 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 and other house socialists turn a blind eye to the lack of economic democracy that is the very hallmark of the capitalist system.  Because Bernie 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.

Bernie rightly denounces the unequal distribution of wealth, wherethe top 1% owns more than the rest combined.  But like all house socialists, Bernie fails to identify important institutions as being controlled by and serving the interests of the 1%.  Congress, the Democratic and Republican parties, the national media, the police and the military are all captives of the 1%.  In a class-divided society, all important institutions are wielded as tools of the dominant class.  Field socialists understand that these institutions answer only to the needs of the 1%, even though much effort is made by official propagandists to convince us that they serve us all.  Bernie and other house socialists aid the 1% in the criminal charade of pretending that government institutions, the police and the military exist and operate independent of the class divisions in our society.

This is why it’s no surprise that Bernie and other like-minded house socialists are military hawks.  They see the US army as “our” army rather than a weapon of the 1%.  This is why Bernie has voted for nearly every war appropriations bill.  This is why Bernie supports drones and US military involvement in the Middle East; why he supported military action in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere.  This is why Bernie supported sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s that caused the deaths of more than half a million children and he supported US military action in Kosovo in 1999. This is why Bernie refuses to denounce the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine but supports billions in military aid for Israel, Saudi Arabia and other brutal US client states that serve to extend the reach and protect the interests of the 1% overseas.

Field socialists oppose imperial war-making, understanding that the individuals and institutions of the 1% that exploit us here at home cannot be trusted to defend our interests abroad.  In contrast to the hawkish house socialists, field socialists demand: “All US Troops Out Now!”  “Dismantle All US Military Bases Abroad!” “Not One Bomb, Not One Bullet for the Wars of the One Percent!”  “Money for Jobs, Not for War!”  (For a complete field socialist election platform, see here.)

Because house socialists like Bernie limit their critique to reforms of the existing system, they are unable to propose concrete, workable solutions for the big problems we face.  Take climate change, for example.  Sure, house socialists say we must do more.  But they emphasize tweaking economic incentives in the hope of persuading energy monopolies to change their behavior.  House socialists support keeping the energy industry in the hands of private, profit-mad corporations.  But gentle persuasion 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 rules and incentives, corporations will do so.  No incentives and no amount of persuasion can induce a leopard to change its spots; you have to replace the leopard.  (For a field socialist analysis of climate change and the energy monopolies, see here.)

Few Americans realize that there are different kinds of socialists. Since house socialists are less of a threat to the powers-that-be, they tend to get a wider hearing than field socialists.  In many European countries, house socialist parties have mass followings. House socialists have served as prime ministers in France, Sweden, Portugal, Norway, Luxemburg and elsewhere.  Yet, capitalism hums merrily along in Europe as in most of the rest of the world.  If electing house socialists to high office made a crucial difference to addressing global injustice, climate change or endless war, we would have seen it by now.

Unfortunately, there’s no field socialist to vote for in the upcoming presidential election.  Nor do we in the US yet have a mass labor party—rooted in the working class and linked to fighting trade unions—which could serve as a real alternative to the parties of the 1%.  Given this void, it’s not surprising that those fed up with the status quo might put their hopes in Bernie Sanders, a house socialist seeking to be the leader of a big-business party.  But beware: while a vote for the house socialist candidate of a capitalist party might make some people feel good, no one should expect it to change much.

More articles by:

Bruce Lesnick is a long-time political activist who lives and writes in Washington State.  He blogs at blogspot.com.  He can be reached at blesnick@bugbusters.net.

Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is The EPA Hazardous
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Ali Mohsin
A Disheartening Week for American Death Penalty Opponents
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Robert Koehler
Normalizing Violence
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring