Bernie Sanders, Democratic Socialism, and the Other America

The Legacy of Michael Harrington, Hillary Clinton, and the Marxist Critique, pt. 5

“Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”

—Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach

Super Tuesday is not the end for democratic socialism and for greater democratic governance. Whether Bernie Sanders is the next president or not, does not matter, precisely because the movement he has created intends to destroy the rigged political system of corporate contributions and a nation controlled by the wealthiest 1% of Americans. It is, nevertheless, a formidable task to subvert the dominant ideas. It must continually be shown that these ideas do not conform to reality, especially the reality for the working class and poor. For instance, the promise of social mobility that capitalism holds out to the public is continually challenged with economic crisis (boom-bust cycle). Downturns in the economy then result in layoffs, underemployment, and financial crisis for individuals. As a result, in the richest country in the world, 1 in 7 in the United States now relies on food stamps to survive. Clearly evidence like this contradicts the theory underlying capitalism and opens the door for the possibility of revolutionary change. Addressing the structural nature of capitalism itself is the precondition for remediating an economy that will better serve the common good.

The eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room.

Nobody is addressing, at least directly, the class warfare issue. Bernie Sanders hammers away on how the rich are getting richer and the middle class poorer, and how the rich need to pay their share of taxes. But the discussion shuts down when any serious analysis, usually by politicians, academics and the media, starts to “following the money.” They leave the discussion satisfied by the fact that business is business and that corporate executives have fiduciary responsibility to create profits for their shareholders. And this means attempting to obfuscate the systemic analysis of a market economy designed to serve the 1%. What would an analysis look like if the rights of workers were discussed in terms of the vast majority of profits they create? Why couldn’t this discussion run parallel to the vast majority of profits created by major league baseball players for the owners of major league teams?

Revolution means bridging the distance between labor and capital by paying workers the lion’s share of the surplus value they create. And this is why Bernie is the best chance yet for the average person in the United States who supplies their labor to a corporation or business. For Marx, gaining a deeper insight into the contradictions of capitalism was not a purely intellectual exercise. The point of developing theory was to inform political practice—but this only comes about first and foremost from the concrete existential experience of real live human beings. Moreover, the point of learning about historical struggles is so the working class can better understand what are the most effective levers for changing society. Ideas alone are insufficient for altering capitalist relations.

Conservatives like Josef Schumpeter have argued that the “success” of capitalism would indeed lead to socialism, while liberals like Marx understood that the victory of socialism over capitalism was not inevitable. Capitalism, despite being wracked by internal contradictions and periodic economic crises, is not going to collapse of its own accord. What is needed is revolutionary social change focused on class struggle to claim the wealth created by workers and the power of elites illegitimately expropriated form the democratic majority. Indeed, to achieve any progressive social change, it is imperative to understand that “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” as the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass once put it.

A cursory glance at history confirms this.

It is working class people who have had to fight to win the 8-hour workday. It is working class people who have had to fight for and continue to fight for just wages, equal pay for women, and civil rights. None of these gains were handed to working class people by some impersonal law of economic development. Nor were they handed down by some benevolent politician. So who might best be the “change agent” for this reconstruction of democratic society? Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? For sure Trump and the Republicans will never betray their class interests. What is at stake here, on post Super Tuesday, is the much larger issue of democratic governance in politics and economics. Democratic socialism is simply a means to promote a more democratic society, and for all intents and purposes, it transcends both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The goal in this process is to end the oligarchy and plutocracy that has undermined the fundamentals of democratic rule.

And the Congressional Black Caucus is not immune to being co-opted by big money and a rigged economy. Their allegiance to Hilary Clinton is understandable but nevertheless reprehensible. After all, Obama was a perfect example of this for eight years.

Edward Martin is Professor of Public Policy and Administration, Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Long Beach, and co-author of Savage State: Welfare Capitalism and Inequality.. Mateo Pimentel lives on the Mexican-US border. You can follow him on Twitter @mateo_pimentel, or read more at www.guerrillaprose.info.

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