FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why America’s Next President Will Not Be a Socialist

shutterstock_342185006

With the latest polls showing US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders leading rival Hillary Clinton only weeks before the first two primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, many Americans are contemplating the real possibility of having a socialist president in the White House. But even if Sanders wins the election, the United States will not have a socialist president. Why not? Because Sanders is not a socialist.

Sanders has often stated that he is a “democratic socialist” and, last November, he defined that term for the American people. Shortly afterwards, Forbes Magazine published an article that stated, “What he’s talking about, whatever the heck it is, isn’t socialism of any type or form.” And, for once, Forbes was right. Sanders is not a socialist in any shape or form. At least not according to the content of his public statements and campaign platform. But if Sanders is not a socialist, then what is he? He is a social democrat; which is radically different from being a democratic socialist.

It is true that Sanders is advocating going after the wealthy elites who dominate the economy by raising taxes, closing tax loopholes and placing tax havens off limits while at the same time doubling the minimum wage to help low-income earners. And it is true that he is proposing to also redistribute that wealth in the form of funding universal healthcare, tuition-free university and much-needed infrastructure projects. But none of this constitutes socialism.

Government policies that redistribute the wealth generated by the private sector in the form of social programs constitute social democracy, which is still capitalism. The fundamental pillar of capitalism is the right to private property, which means the right to establish a private business, or a corporation, and to produce for the market in order to generate profits. Social democracy does not challenge the principal of private property; it leaves the fundamental pillar of capitalism intact and only seeks to redistribute some of the wealth generated by the private sector. In short, it is regulated capitalism.

In stark contrast, under socialism, there is no private sector. This is because there is no right to private property. Karl Marx argued that the right to private property ensures that a small privileged minority will dominate the economy and that the economy would inevitably serve the interests of that small minority rather than ensuring the wellbeing of everyone. Marx’s call to abolish private property did not pertain to personal property or belongings; it sought to prohibit an individual from owning a business for his or her own personal gain while reducing workers to nothing more than virtual slaves forced to work under an authoritarian corporate structure.
americanleech

Under socialism, workers—the overwhelming majority of people—would all have a meaningful democratic voice in how their workplaces operate (i.e. determining wages, hours, benefits, production and distribution of goods, etc.). In other words, democracy would exist in both the economic and political spheres of society rather than only in the political sphere, which is the reality under capitalism. Furthermore, under democratic control, the economy would more likely be managed in a way that ensures the basic needs of everyone are met rather than prioritizing profit generation for a small minority.

This is why the Soviet Union was not socialist, nor did it reflect the philosophy of Marx in any meaningful way. It constituted some form of authoritarian state socialism in which one set of elites that control the economy (capitalist elites) are replaced with another set of elites that control the economy (political elites). In both systems, workers are effectively reduced to laborers serving the interests of the elites. In contrast, in “democratic socialism,” the workers would have a meaningful democratic voice in the economic sphere of their lives. This is not the case in a “social democracy”, where the power and privilege of capitalist elites remains firmly in place and workers remain disempowered and alienated as wage laborers.

The description of democratic socialism provided by Sanders more closely reflects the social democracy that came to prominence in the United States under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Keynesian-inspired New Deal than anything espoused by Marx. For example, as Sanders has stated, “Democratic socialism means, that in a democratic, civilized society the wealthiest people and the largest corporations must pay their fair share of taxes.” Actually, in democratic socialism, those private corporations wouldn’t exist. They would be turned over to the workers to manage either as worker-owned cooperatives or as worker co-managed state enterprises. Either way, the workers would have a democratic voice in the workplace, which would not only more fairly distribute the wealth generated, it would also redistribute power.

Furthermore, according to Sanders, “Democratic socialism, to me, means that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person one vote.” But such a narrow view of democracy as existing only in the political sphere also would not exist in democratic socialism. The “democratic” component of “democratic socialism” pertains both to the political and economic spheres of society. As previously mentioned, workers would have a meaningful democratic voice in all aspects of their lives—their government and their workplace.

There is little doubt that the social democratic policies advocated by Sanders will redistribute some wealth to benefit poorer Americans, but they will also leave capitalism intact. And from its birth capitalism has required an imperialist global structure to ensure that corporations from wealthy nations can exploit the natural resources of the Third World to ensure our “development” at the expense of the majority of the world’s population. From the genocide of the indigenous peoples in the Americas to the enslavement of more than 12 million Africans to imperialist wars throughout the Third World to the so-called war on terror we have used violence to access the resources of others in order to ensure our privileged lifestyles.

That exploitation—and imperialism—continues today under neoliberal globalization, which has been spearheaded by the likes of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization and through regional and bilateral free trade pacts. Even during the post-World War Two Keynesian era, global inequality increased, capitalism’s onslaught against nature continued, and any people who dared to challenge the hegemony of capitalism were crushed mercilessly by the United States. Just think Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Vietnam, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua and El Salvador, not to mention the countless aggressions against Cuba.

But while Sanders is by no means a socialist, the Keynesian policies that he is advocating are by far the most progressive that have been put forth by a serious presidential contender for many decades. Furthermore, his campaign has pulled the word “socialism” out of the garbage can, dusted it off and initiated a healthy debate about both capitalism and socialism in the United States Perhaps most importantly, more than a decade into the early 21st century, it seems that we are finally starting to recognize that the Soviet Union was not an accurate representation of socialism.

Sanders’ policy proposals represent a welcome and long overdue challenge to the right-wing neoliberal rhetoric and policy agenda that has dominated US politics since the Reagan years. But not only aren’t Sanders’ policies socialist, 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.

Finally, not only will the fundamental inequalities in power and wealth that are inherent to capitalism remain in place globally, they will continue within the United States. After all, under President Sanders, Corporate America’s elites will still live luxuriously on incomes of hundreds of millions of dollars a year instead of billions. Meanwhile, a full-time worker earning Sanders’ proposed minimum wage will have to survive on $30,000 a year and will remain disempowered and alienated in the workplace. Such inequality in wealth and power does not constitute democratic socialism under any definition of the term. So sure, let’s elect Sanders, but let’s vote for him as the capitalist that he is: a social democrat.

More articles by:

Garry Leech is an independent journalist and author of numerous books including Ghosts Within: Journeying Through PTSD (Forthcoming, Spring 2019, Roseway Publishing), How I Became an American Socialist (Misfit Books, 2016), Capitalism: A Structural Genocide (Zed Books, 2012); The FARC: The Longest Insurgency (Zed Books, 2011,  Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia (Beacon Press, 2009); and Crude Interventions: The United States Oil and the New World Disorder (Zed Books, 2006).  He also teaches international politics at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, Canada.  

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail