Friday, February 19, 2016

Sanders, Social Democracy, and Socialism

The Bernie Sanders phenomenon is gaining momentum in the wake of his strong showing in Iowa and twenty-two point margin of victory in New Hampshire. In this year of the outsider, voters are flocking to Trump and Sanders, and, though there is a long way to go, it's not impossible that both corporate parties will see their voting bases in full revolt. Let us hope so.

Extreme imperialist Hillary Clinton is particularly unappealing in her identity politics quest to be the first woman president of the U.S. While Donald Trump calls Vladimir Putin a genuine leader and trusts in his negotiator skills to deal with him, Clinton regards him as the personification of evil and eagerly courts WWIII to put him in his place. On Sanders, her sound bite of the moment is that she agrees with his "democratic socialist" analysis, but as an experienced politician "knows how to do it" (i.e., reign in Wall Street), better than the (allegedly) utopian dreamer Sanders. Given her $200,000 lecture fees on the Wall Street circuit, and the avalanche of corporate money inundating her campaign coffers, it's not a very convincing claim.

Meanwhile, the corporate media seem to have lost themselves in the Bermuda Triangle of spin vis-a-vis Sanders, eager to find some means of discrediting his surging campaign, then simply lapsing into silence at their inability to do so. This is the common fate of New Deal holdovers like Jerry Brown (1992) Dennis Kucinich (2004) and Jesse Jackson (1988). They are either slandered or rendered invisible by non-coverage. Such contemptuous treatment extends to populists of the right as well. When libertarian Ron Paul finished second in the 2008 Nevada primary, the corporate media reported the first place finisher and the third place finisher, but ignored Paul.

Although Sanders supporters may not know it, their candidate didn't necessarily win the New Hampshire primary in terms of delegate count. There are hundreds of "super-delegates" in the party that do not even have to consider the primary results in deciding whom to support, and the vast majority are in Hillary Clinton's pocket at the moment. These are Democratic Party elites, not average Joes, and very subject to the crackpot realist philosophy alleging that liberal populists like Sanders "can't win" a general election. After the tie in Iowa and the 22-point Sanders rout in New Hampshire, Clinton has nearly four hundred delegates and Sanders around forty. It's actually possible for her to lose every primary from now on and still take the nomination via her control of the super-delegates. But according to what Jeffrey St. Clair calls "the Sandernistas," the super-delegates will shift their allegiance to Sanders once they see how popular and inspiring he is. Sure. This ignores the fact that the super-delegates were invented precisely to ward off liberal populists like Sanders. Do we really think it's an accident that the Democratic Party has collaborated extensively in the erosion of the New Deal for the last forty years?  

Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist, but there is really nothing socialist about him, which is not to say he is undeserving of support. Sanders stands for a deepened and expanded New Deal, which was slandered by FDR's enemies as "socialism," though it never was that. FDR claimed his achievement was to have restored the capitalist system after the 1929 collapse, and he accused the rich of ingratitude for his efforts. This is quite correct.

As for socialism, if it means anything, it means the workers are in charge of the economy, primarily by deciding what to to with the economic surpluses their labor generates. This would entail a fundamental restructuring of society, with corporate boards replaced by worker committees, which would be free to create a radically different society. Sanders is clearly not calling for this. Tellingly, Sanders backer Robert Reich (Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton) has a new book out entitled "Saving Capitalism." That is precisely what the Sanders campaign seeks to do.

The social democracy advocated by Sanders and Reich has been proven to work elsewhere (Scandinavia), though it does not do away with the divide between wealth-makers and wealth-takers, i.e. social classes. To his credit, Sanders wants to reduce inequality, though apparently without realizing that "inequality" is the wrong term to describe the relationship between a parasite and its host. A fungus and a blighted potato do not have an unequal relationship, they have a parasitic relationship, and there's no way to end up with a healthy potato without eliminating the fungus. The big banks and insurance companies are the "fungus." They produce nothing of any value to society, merely reproduce diseased social relations.

Yes, we can reduce the extent of the fungus, and should, which is what Sanders wants to do. But we should be clear that social and economic health require that the body politic be fungus-free. Would you trust a doctor that said the best treatment for cancer is to keep a "balance" between healthy cells and cancer cells, in order to take advantage of the "dynamism" of cancer? This is the liberal line on capitalism. It's a crock.




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