Socialist viewpoint: The political role of the Bernie Sanders campaign

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11 February 2016

Tuesday’s landslide victory for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic New Hampshire primary has intensified the crisis of the Hillary Clinton campaign and raised the possibility of Sanders pulling ahead in the Democratic Party primary process as a whole.

The details of Tuesday’s vote provide more evidence of the widespread support for the Sanders campaign, particularly among younger and lower-income voters. According to exit polls, Sanders was backed by 83 percent of voters under 30, by 67 percent of those with no college degree, and by 72 percent of voters with incomes under $30,000 a year. A third of voters said that income inequality was the most important issue in the election, and these backed Sanders by 71 percent. The only demographics that went to Clinton were voters over the age of 65 (54 percent) and voters with incomes over $200,000 (53 percent).

One further statistic points to the essential political role of the Sanders campaign: Forty percent of voters in the Democratic primary identified themselves as “independent/undeclared” (that is, not registered as a Democrat), and these backed Sanders by 72 percent. The Vermont senator has repeatedly said the principal aim of his “political revolution” is to bring voters back into the fold of the Democratic Party.

The growing support for Sanders is an initial political reflection of deep tensions in the United States, which have been artificially suppressed for decades, as social inequality rose to levels not seen since before the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Particularly since the 2008 financial crash, the American ruling class has engaged in a restructuring of class relations that has seen trillions funneled to the banks while the vast majority of the population faced falling wages, attacks on health care and pensions, mass unemployment and rising indebtedness. Young people, who back Sanders by a wide margin, have known nothing but economic crisis, war and attacks on democratic rights. An eighteen-year-old new voter would have been four years old when the “war on terror” began and 11 at the onset of the global financial crisis.

The growth in support for Sanders is a delayed reaction to these objective conditions. In a country where socialist ideas have been suppressed for decades, it turns out that millions of people have essentially, if as yet vaguely defined, anti-capitalist views. The politics of identity, based on race, gender, sexual preference—the obsession of upper-middle class layers—has very little broader impact, as revealed in the failure of Clinton to win over women voters by trumpeting her bid to become the first female president (along with claims that Sanders backers are sexist).

However, to say that the support for Sanders is an expression of deep social anger is very different from saying that the Sanders campaign itself articulates and represents this anger. Sanders does not speak for the working class, but for a section of the ruling class and political establishment that views the growth of social opposition with fear and is seeking some way of containing it. The ruling class sees as the greatest danger the emergence of an independent movement of the working class that challenges its economic and political power. Sanders’ task is to block such a development by channeling popular opposition back behind the Democratic Party.

Anyone who is under the illusion that Sanders is not completely conscious of his assigned role should study his Tuesday night victory speech. Hailing an increase in voter turnout in the primary, Sanders declared, “That is what will happen all over this country. Let us never forget, Democrats and progressives win when voter turnout is high.” He added that it was necessary to “remember—and this is a message not just to our opponents, but to those who support me as well —that we need to come together in a few months and unite this party” behind whomever is nominated (emphasis added).

Sanders is seeking to “bring new people into the political process” to strengthen the credibility of the Democratic Party, which has suffered severely under Obama, the supposed “candidate of change.” In 2012, Obama became the first president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be reelected with fewer votes in his second election than in his first. This was due to a sharp fall in voter turnout, which the World Socialist Web Site noted at the time was an expression of “an electorate that is disillusioned and increasingly alienated from the entire two-party political system.”

In terms of his actual program, the most essential issue is not Sanders’ promises of a $15 minimum wage and free tuition at public colleges and universities—which President Sanders would quickly drop because they would cut into corporate profits—but his support for imperialist war. Throughout the campaign, Sanders has said very little about foreign policy, but what he has said is aimed at assuring the ruling class and the military that he poses no danger.

In Sanders’ speech Tuesday night, perhaps the loudest applause from the audience came when he referred to his vote against the Iraq war in 2003. However, this was followed immediately with the pledge that “we must, and will destroy ISIS”—that is, prosecute the war in Iraq and Syria.

These comments are made as the Obama administration, whose foreign policy Sanders has repeatedly defended, is preparing an enormous escalation of the war in Syria, aimed above all at the removal of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The conflict in Syria threatens to spark war with nuclear-armed Russia, the target of relentless threats by the US and the European powers, including a vast militarization of Eastern Europe.

Sanders opposes none of this. If he were called upon by the ruling class, he would use his “progressive” credentials to buttress support for war. Those “feeling the Bern” today would experience bombs tomorrow. Sanders would justify breaking his empty promises of social reform by pointing to the financial requirements of war.

The Vermont senator’s political affiliation is not a secondary question. He is fulfilling a task that has been assigned to political figures—functioning either within the Democratic Party or nominally outside of it—many times before. This has included the presidential campaigns of William Jennings Bryan in the early 20th century (as the “populist” candidate of the Democratic Party), Robert La Folette in the 1920s (for the Farmer-Labor Party, which later became a wing of the Democratic Party), and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s former vice president Henry Wallace in 1948 (for the Progressive Party, backed by the Stalinist Communist Party). More modern examples include the likes of Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich within the Democratic Party, as well as the various Green Party campaigns directed at pressuring the Democratic Party from the outside.

Sanders aims not to create a “revolution,” as he asserts in his campaign speeches, but to prevent one. If he is elected, he will rapidly and brazenly repudiate all of his promises. His actions will mirror those of Syriza in Greece (elected on the basis of opposition to austerity in January 2015, now implementing an even more brutal austerity program dictated by the banks) and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK (the “left” Labour Party leader elected last year, who played the essential role in facilitating the Conservative government’s decision to take the country into war against Syria).

Organizations that argue that Sanders, under pressure, can be pushed to the left are themselves moving to the right, utilizing his campaign as another mechanism for integrating themselves into the capitalist state.

There are many signs that class tensions in the United States are beginning to erupt to the surface, from the militant opposition of autoworkers to last year’s sellout contracts, to the sickouts of teachers and students in Detroit and the mass anger over the poisoning of Flint, Michigan residents by lead-contaminated water. The conspiracies of the ruling class to expand war abroad will come into conflict with the deep antiwar sentiment that exists in the American working class.

However, a political path forward for the working class can be forged only through a struggle to establish its political independence on the basis of a socialist and internationalist program. This requires an uncompromising exposure of the politics of Sanders and all those who, in the name of “getting close to the masses,” adapt to him and cover up his role.

Joseph Kishore

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/11/pers-f11.html

The global economic breakdown

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9 February 2016

China’s foreign currency reserves dropped by almost $100 billion last month, following a decline of $108 billion in December, adding to fears the country is experiencing capital flight and that financial authorities are losing their battle to prevent a rapid fall in the renminbi (also known as the yuan). The announcement had global significance because, together with the ongoing rout on international share markets, it indicates that the economic breakdown that began in 2008 has entered a new and explosive stage.

The outflow of $99.5 billion, following the biggest ever monthly fall in December, takes the country’s reserves to a more than three-year low of $3.23 trillion. At first sight this figure gives the appearance that China has sufficient reserves still in hand. However, according to calculations by the International Monetary Fund, China needs reserves of around $2.75 trillion to maintain operational flexibility in managing its currency and financial system. In other words, China has a buffer of just $500 billion before it encounters difficulties, and if money keeps flooding out at the present rate, that buffer will be rapidly exhausted.

The global significance of the mounting Chinese financial problems emerges when the present situation is examined within the framework of the economic history of the past quarter century. The liquidation of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 was accompanied by a wave of bourgeois triumphalism and celebrations of the “free market” around the world, which was joined by the Chinese regime.

Having already initiated the restoration of capitalism and organised the bloody repression of the working class in the Tiananmen massacre of June 1989, the regime moved, from the beginning of 1992, to integrate China more directly into the capitalist world market and make it the cheap labour platform for global capital.

In the ensuing years, this set up a so-called “virtuous” economic circle. For global corporations, the opening up of China and its cheap labour force—pay scales were at one point one thirtieth the levels in the US—provided a significant boost to profits as well as benefits for US financial markets.

In a bid to first establish and then maintain its position as the world’s premier cheap labour platform, the Chinese regime recycled the dollars it received from exports to the US and other Western markets back into the US financial system through its purchases of US Treasury bonds. This prevented the value of the renminbi from rising.

This, in turn, enabled the US Federal Reserve to maintain interest rates at historically low levels throughout the latter part of the 1990s and into the first years of the new century, in what was referred to as the “great moderation.”

Low interest rates fuelled the speculation in financial assets, land, housing, stocks, etc. that increasingly became the dominant mode of profit accumulation in the US. The financial boom and the increase in home values also helped sustain consumption spending in the US, even as real wage levels declined, providing the markets for the manufactured goods produced in China and generating further trade surpluses, which were then recycled into US Treasury bonds, keeping interest rates low.

This house of cards collapsed when the crisis in sub-prime mortgage schemes set off the US and global financial meltdown of 2008.

The crisis spelt the end of the China export boom. In response to the loss of more than 20 million jobs in 2008–2009, the regime initiated a fiscal stimulus package worth half a trillion dollars and financial authorities engaged in a massive expansion of credit, leading to an infrastructure and property investment boom based on borrowed funds.

This, in turn, boosted the prices of oil and other industrial commodities in what became known as a “commodities supercycle.” As emerging markets benefited from the increased demand for their commodity exports, finance houses, looking for higher yields, poured in money to finance debt-based projects.

At the same time, the Fed, along with other central banks, ensured the continued inflow of ultra-cheap money by setting interest rates at historic lows and increasing the supply of cash through purchases of government bonds and other financial assets under their respective “quantitative easing” programs.

These measures, however, did not return the global economy to the conditions that prevailed prior to 2008. What “recovery” did take place was at best anaemic, with investment—the crucial driver of real growth in the capitalist economy—remaining at historically low levels, as corporations piled up cash to use in speculative activities such as mergers and acquisitions and share buybacks.

The significance of the massive expansion of Chinese credit is indicated not simply by China’s rising share of the global economy, but also by the fact that the “commodities supercycle” it generated meant that China-dependent emerging markets contributed about 40 percent of global growth after 2008.

But far from overcoming the crisis, all the measures undertaken since 2008 have only created the conditions for another financial and economic meltdown.

Last week, an analysis published in the New York Times pointed to a massive stagnant pool of non-performing loans—bad debts—which is posing an increasing threat to the entire banking system. In China, it is estimated that “troubled credit” could exceed $5 trillion, equivalent to half the country’s annual economic output.

According to financial analyst Charlene Chu, cited in the article, China’s financial sector will have loans and other financial assets worth $30 trillion at the end of the year, compared to $9 trillion seven years ago. “The world has never seen credit growth of this magnitude over such a short time,” she said. “We believe it has directly or indirectly impacted nearly every asset price in the world, which is why the market is so jittery about the idea that credit problems in China could unravel.”

The phenomenon of non-performing loans is not confined to China. It is estimated that bad loans in Europe amount to about $1 trillion, and the IMF has calculated that emerging markets have over-borrowed by about $3 trillion.

If we take the last quarter century as a whole, the picture that emerges is very different from the triumph of the “free market” proclaimed with the liquidation of the Soviet Union. The first phase of growth was the result of the boost to profits provided by the exploitation of cheap labour in China and elsewhere. After this ended in financial disaster, the severely shaken world economy was propped up only by the trillions of dollars pumped into the financial system by the major central banks and the massive expansion of credit in China.

Now this process has come to an end, giving rise to deepening recessionary trends and the emergence of a new financial crisis, the consequences of which threaten to be even more far-reaching than 2008.

The deepening crisis in China and its global ramifications expose one stark fact: there is no economy or group of economies that can provide a basis for global economic expansion. The US, regarded until recently as a “bright spot,” is heading for recession—manufacturing has probably already arrived there—as indicated by the plunge in yields on 10-year Treasury bonds. Yesterday, they finished at just over 1.7 percent, as investors rush for a “safe haven.”

The European economy continues to stagnate, with predictions that unemployment will remain at double-digit levels indefinitely and concerns grow over the level of bad loans in the banking system. The Japanese central bank is undertaking further quantitative easing measures and has moved to negative interest rates because of the failure of “Abenomics” to provide any boost to the Japanese economy.

So intense are the recessionary pressures that more than one quarter of the world now operates under negative interest rates, a historically unprecedented situation.

Having no economic solution to the mounting crisis, the response of the ruling classes around the world will be three-fold:

  • An intensification of the assault on the working class, through job- and wage-cuts and attacks on social conditions.
  • The development of ever-more authoritarian forms of rule and attacks on democratic rights to crush the social and class struggles now emerging.
  • An accelerated war drive, as each of the capitalist “great powers” seeks to unload the crisis onto its rivals, if necessary by military means.

Nick Beams

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/09/pers-f09.html

Detroit and Chicago teachers fight to defend public education

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8 February 2016

The past month has seen the entry of thousands of teachers into open struggle against the attack on public education by the Obama administration and both the Democratic and Republican parties. After decades of relentless budget cutting, teacher layoffs and school closings—accelerated in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash—teachers in Detroit and Chicago have begun a battle that is of immense importance for the entire working class.

In fighting to defend the fundamental democratic right to a decent education, teachers have been thrust into a conflict with every section of the political establishment, from the two big business parties and the capitalist courts to the corporate-controlled media and the teachers’ unions that falsely claim to defend their interests.

Last month, thousands of Detroit teachers conducted a series of “sick-out” protests that culminated in the shutdown of virtually the entire school system on January 20, the day of President Obama’s visit to the city. The actions were initiated by rank-and-file teachers using social media and carried out independently of and in defiance of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Teachers in the city named by Obama’s former education secretary as “ground zero” for the administration’s education policies demanded adequate resources and personnel to repair unheated and unsanitary school buildings, reduce class sizes, and provide social services to address alarming rates of poverty among their students. They also demanded a return of wages and benefits ceded by the DFT.

The efforts of the media and the state-appointed emergency manager of the school system to slander the teachers as greedy and indifferent to the needs of their students backfired. Parents vocally supported the sickouts and hundreds of students walked out of their high schools to oppose a witch-hunt against their teachers for “illegal strikes.”

In Chicago, the third largest school district in the US, tens of thousands of teachers and other school employees are battling the demands of Mayor Rahm Emanuel—a former investment banker who served as Obama’s White House chief of staff—to starve the public schools, slash wages and benefits, and funnel even more money to big bondholders and for-profit education firms.

More than three years after the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) betrayed the 2012 strike, leading to the closure of 50 schools and the layoff of more than 1,000 teachers, rank-and-file teachers rebelled against the union and its so-called left leaders, who sought to push through an agreement on behalf of Emanuel to shift pension and health care costs onto the backs of teachers and give school authorities a free hand to expand privately run charter schools.

Last Monday, the CTU’s bargaining committee unanimously rejected the deal after rank-and-file teachers began circulating on social media the details of the sellout, which the CTU had hoped to keep secret.

The day after the bargaining committee vote, the school authorities, complaining that they had a deal with the CTU, announced plans to cut $100 million from the school budget and lay off another 1,000 teachers. Defying this blackmail threat, 2,000 teachers marched in downtown Chicago Thursday evening, drawing expressions of solidarity from thousands of office workers, public employees, young people and other city residents.

The eruption of social opposition among teachers and students is a part of a broader radicalization of the working class, signaling a return of mass class struggles in the US. Last fall, in an incipient rebellion against the United Auto Workers union, autoworkers rejected a national auto contract for the first time in 33 years. The union was able to push through sellout deals with General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler only by resorting to lies, threats and outright fraud.

In Flint, the birthplace of General Motors and the site of the 1936-37 sit-down strike that established the UAW, working class residents have mobilized to protest the poisoning of the city’s water supply by state and local officials, assisted by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

These stirrings of the American working class are part of the resurgence of class struggle internationally. From Greece and Brazil to China and South Africa, the working class is coming into conflict with capitalist governments, from the pseudo-left Syriza regime in Greece to the Tory government in Britain, which have imposed savage austerity on workers while transferring vast amounts of wealth to the world’s billionaires since the financial breakdown in 2008.

The fight of the teachers directly and urgently poses basic political questions. The AFT and its local affiliates in both Detroit and Chicago, which have long collaborated with the enemies of public education, are trying to smother the movement by promoting the Democratic Party and depicting the attack on education as a purely Republican matter.

This is a fraud. The Obama administration has gone well beyond the reactionary policies of its Republican predecessor in using test-based “accountability” schemes to scapegoat teachers, close so-called failing schools, and undermine the public schools in order to make education a new source of profit for the corporations and banks. Under Obama, more than 300,000 teachers and other school employees have lost their jobs and the number of students enrolled in charter schools has grown at a faster rate, almost doubling, since George Bush left office.

The Obama White House has cut Title 1 funds earmarked for impoverished districts like Detroit and Chicago by 11 percent, while special education funding has been cut by 9 percent. The bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed by Obama late last year to replace Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, authorizes a “Pay for Success” scheme that allows wealthy investors in the for-profit education business to bid for services previously under the control of public schools, including special education, and lowers standards for the education of teachers in high-poverty districts.

The teachers’ unions do not oppose the attacks on teachers and public education. They merely seek a seat at the table so they can secure new sources of dues money from low-paid charter schoolteachers. The unions, including the CTU, whose vice president is a member of the pseudo-left International Socialist Organization, defend the capitalist system and insist that teachers and students must pay for the consequences of its crisis.

The democratic and egalitarian principles embodied in public education are incompatible with a society that is divided by such colossal levels of social inequality that 28 billionaires control as much wealth as the bottom half of the population—152 million people. The American ruling class long ago repudiated the principle that all children, regardless of socioeconomic background, have the right to a quality education.

The corporate and financial elite has nothing to offer working class youth except poverty-level jobs and war. Like the slave owners of an earlier period, today’s financial oligarchs want to keep those they exploit in ignorance. They fear the spread of knowledge and culture among a generation that is increasingly dissatisfied with the current state of affairs and determined to have a future free of oppression and war.

While the Chicago teachers were gearing up for mass protests last week, top officers in the Army and Marine Corps were telling a Congressional hearing that it is time for young women to register for a future military draft. On the one hand, schools are being starved of resources and working class students relegated to dilapidated and filthy buildings with over-packed classrooms. On the other hand, the White House is touting plans for a new generation of nuclear missile submarines costing $100 million each.

The struggle to defend the right to a quality public education is a political struggle against both big business parties and the capitalist system they defend. In this fight, teachers and students must turn to their real allies—the broad mass of working people. The immense social power of the working class must be mobilized to break the grip of the corporate-financial elite over society and reorganize the economy on the basis of public ownership and democratic control of the corporations and banks. Only on this socialist foundation can the basic social rights of working people, including the right to education, be secured.

Jerry White

 

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/08/pers-f08.html

Report: Low-income households are low priority in US budget

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By Brad Dixon
6 February 2016

According to a January 27 report by the Center on Budget Policy Priorities (CBPP), the 2016 appropriations legislation enacted by Congress in December includes funding increases for non-defense programs, but the increases for social programs that benefit low or moderate income households are substantially smaller than in other areas.

Eleven subcommittees are in charge of allocating funding to non-defense programs. Two subcommittees handle the appropriations: (1) the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education; and (2) the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

These two subcommittees handle more than 80 percent of the appropriations for programs that benefit low-income groups, but saw a mere 3.6 percent growth in funding, less than seven of the other subcommittees.

By contrast, the nine other subcommittees saw increases averaging 6.9 percent.

As a result, social programs benefiting low-income households continue to lack adequate funding in the midst of growing economic inequality, high rates of unemployment and stagnant or declining wages.

For example, due to cuts to HUD funding, only about 25 percent of eligible families receive low-income rental assistance. As a result of the sequestration budgetary measures implemented in 2011, state and local housing agencies cut the number of families receiving housing vouchers by about 100,000. While roughly a third of these were restored between 2014 and 2015, the final appropriations package only managed to restore a further 8,000 vouchers (earmarked for homeless veterans).

And while the president requested $295 million to fund 25,000 new housing units for people with disabilities, the final bill only included $38 million aimed at reducing youth homelessness.

The low levels of funding appropriated to the Departments of Labor, Education and HHS means that funding for education for disadvantaged students was increased by only 3.1 percent (leaving the program at 10 percent below its funding level in 2010), while grants for job training grew by a mere 3.3 percent (18 percent below the 2010 figure).

Dramatic budget cuts were imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which has governed appropriations for the past five years and placed caps on funding through 2021. It also imposed a “sequestration” mechanism that substantially lowered caps in the event that legislators failed to agree on deficit-reduction measures.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, enacted by Congress in December, raised the appropriation caps set by the BCA for 2016 and 2017. The 2015 Act also increased appropriations for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which is used to pay for the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and is funded outside of the BCA caps.

The structure and priorities of the latest budget reflect the irrationality of the capitalist system. While social infrastructure crumbles in the US—seen most vividly in the widespread lead toxicity in the drinking water of Flint and other American cities—and vast sections of the population face poverty, homelessness and unemployment, the ruling class spends astounding sums on weapons and other means of destruction to support its endless wars abroad, maintain the unchallenged superiority of its armed forces, and conduct military provocations that threaten the outbreak of nuclear war.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/06/budg-f06.html

Whose lives matter? The limitations of Bernie Sanders

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  • February 7, 2016

Our only hope for a radical internationalist movement lies in the self-organization of working-class people. It certainly will not come from Bernie Sanders.

As the next US presidential election creeps closer, a significant segment of the American left — including the Democratic Socialists of America, Socialist Alternative, and the socialist publication Jacobin — has thrown its support behind the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. While perhaps predictable, these stances are symptoms of an American left that is both devoid of a practical strategy for radical change and ethically bankrupt with regard to the principles of solidarity.

The principles at stake are not fringe concerns. If anything, they are basic litmus tests of any individual’s commitment to socialism and human dignity. The fact that Sanders fails these tests raises an important question: Why is a large swathe of the left promoting a candidate who is neither anti-imperialist, nor anti-border, nor even socialist?

REASONS TO REMAIN SKEPTICAL

In terms of his actual policy proposals, Bernie Sanders is a milquetoast social democrat at best. He is not an anti-capitalist; he believes in the private ownership of the means of production and production for profit. In a socialist system, the means of production are owned and controlled by the working class. Sanders more-or-less explicitly rejects this vision, arguing instead for a US version of Scandinavian social democracy: a single-payer healthcare system, free higher education, a decent minimum wage, and Keynesian economic stimulus to support employment.

These policy issues are the basic positive proposals put forth by the Sanders campaign, and they have earned him the support of many US socialists. There are good reasons to remain extremely skeptical of Sanders’ candidacy, however.

First, Sanders is an imperialist whose foreign policy is more akin to that of Barack Obama than any anti-interventionist leftist. In his platform-defining speech, Sanders calls for a new “organization like NATO to confront the security threats of the 21st century.” In Congress, Sanders has been a vocal supporter of the appallingly wasteful F-35 program, opting to designate even more funding for the US military despite an ostensible commitment to cut defense spending.

Sanders is also a long-time supporter of Israel, even going so far as to approve of Israel’s unprovoked 2014 assault on Gaza, which killed over 1,600 Palestinian civilians. In October, the Sanders campaign ejected a group of activists from a campaign event for holding up a vague pro-Palestinian sign. If this were not enough, Sanders clearly states that he approves of and would continue Obama’s drone targeted assassination program, which has killed over 3,300 people in Pakistan alone since 2004.

Even beyond the question of imperialism, Sanders demonstrates an almost complete lack of internationalist principle. Sanders described open borders as “a Koch brothers proposal …which says essentially there is no United States,” contending that open borders would flood the country with immigrants who would wreck the job market and take ‘American’ jobs. This sort of rhetoric should be familiar to any leftist — it is exactly the same as that used by right-wing nativists to justify violence and discrimination against migrants.

The fact that Sanders buys into such nativist fantasies is particularly appalling. In doing so, he lends credence to a narrative that displaces working class anger from capitalism, which is actually responsible for poverty and unemployment, onto working people from other countries. In effect, Sanders implies that he would be more than happy to continue the disastrous immigration policies of the Obama administration, which has broken previous records by deporting over two million people.

A WIDER POLITICAL SHIFT

More than anything, Sanders’ success is symptomatic of an ongoing political shift in the United States. Popular support for “Third Way” neoliberal politics, as exemplified by the Clintons, is crumbling. The Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements have begun to reintroduce radical thought into the American political consciousness. In particular, young people are starting to recognize that capitalism is a deeply flawed system, and they are looking for alternatives.

Now is the time to articulate a coherent vision for radical change and organize in working-class communities so that we stand a chance of actualizing that vision. Organizing for Sanders, however, is not a realistic way to build a radical movement in the United States.

The arguments in support of the Sanders campaign remain remarkably unconvincing. In a recent Jacobin article, Nivedita Majumdar argues that the Sanders campaign can be used as a tool for organizing around the idea of socialism. She chides Bernie’s critics on the left for being “insular” and “apolitical,” seemingly more concerned with the social pressures of work within small activist groups than becoming politically relevant. However, as Lance Selfa points out, the strategy of organizing within the Democratic Party in hopes of building a larger movement has never been successful, despite repeated attempts by left reformists to that end.

Majumdar’s stance is based on an analysis of the American left that presumes an almost crippling weakness. She argues that revolutionary transformation is simply “not on the table,” which leads her to endorse Sanders despite his many flaws. The problem with this analysis is that it accepts defeat before the struggle has even begun. If the American left is so weak that we must be content with supporting any left-liberal candidate, how exactly do we plan to build support for the radical changes we actually need? We cannot build support for a socialist future by misleading the public about what socialism is. We cannot hope to win if we accept the premise that revolutionary change is impossible.

The American socialist left seems to be aware of many of Sanders’ limitations: his lack of genuine socialist politics, his imperialism, and his unjustifiable stances on immigration. The question, then, is why so many socialists choose to support his campaign anyway. If one’s stance on the means of production, NATO, the Israeli occupation, drone strikes and border controls are all negotiable, what positions are non-negotiable?

It is hard to believe that these shortcomings should be ignored simply because Sanders has social democratic convictions. By choosing to support Sanders, the reformist left suggests that it is acceptable to advocate for policies that seriously harm people of color, from undocumented migrants in the United States to innocent civilians in the Middle East.

A QUESTION OF LEFT STRATEGY

As much as it poses an ethical dilemma, the Sanders campaign presents the American left with a question of strategy. Reformist participation in electoral politics is appealing because the route to power appears to be a question of running a successful election campaign. If Sanders can succeed, the argument goes, why not a real socialist party in the near future?

The problem with this line of thought is that the United States is constitutionally undemocratic — its political system was explicitly designed to thwart radical change. Through the Senate, representatives of just 11 percent of the nation’s population — concentrated in some of the country’s most rural, conservative states — can veto any national legislation. Any meaningful reforms would face immediate constitutional challenges in the Supreme Court, which is made up of lifetime legacy appointees whose politics are liberal at best and reactionary at worst.

Participation in US electoral politics is therefore not a realistic strategy to bring about radical social change. It is easy to believe that we can gradually transition to socialism by winning a series of elections. It is much harder to realize that this route will never deliver the change we desire, because that realization requires us to pursue strategies beyond the ballot box.

Rather than channeling popular anger into institutionalized politics, we need to articulate a vision for the radical reconstruction of the political and economic structures of society. We have to devote ourselves to the hard work of organizing in working-class communities, building power in the streets and in workplaces rather than the halls of Congress. More than anything, we have to recognize that the radical left is at its strongest as a grassroots movement and at its weakest when it tries to bargain with institutional powers.

We cannot succumb to an opportunistic streak that is more than willing to sacrifice vital principles for legal expediency and electoral fantasies. It is painful to see this tendency in today’s left, despite the myriad lessons offered by Syriza’s recent failures. A left that values minor economic gains over humanity is not worthy of the name — it is a left that has defeated itself before even beginning to struggle.

What we need now is a movement that is both rigorously internationalist and capable of victory. Our only hope for such a movement lies in the collective self-organization of working-class people. It certainly will not come from Bernie Sanders.

 

Ben Reynolds is a writer and activist based in New York. His commentary has appeared in CounterPunch and other forums.

 

https://roarmag.org/essays/whose-lives-matter-bernie-sanders/

Sanders and the left feint in capitalist politics

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, to discuss Republican efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare and other programs that have an impact on working families. Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, became the ranking minority member on the Senate Budget Committee when the new GOP-controlled Congress began. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

6 February 2016

Four days before the first presidential primary election, self-styled “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders holds a double-digit lead in New Hampshire over the presumed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The first national poll taken in the wake of Sanders’s virtual tie with Clinton in the Iowa caucuses showed that the senator from Vermont had surged nationally, trailing Clinton by only a narrow margin, 44 percent to 42 percent. If confirmed in subsequent polling, this would signal a remarkable shift in political sentiment compared to three months ago, when Clinton led Sanders by 61 percent to 30 percent.

The growing support for Sanders signals a dramatic change in the political environment in the United States, and hence, the world. It is all the more remarkable in a country where socialist ideas have been suppressed and excluded from official political discourse for three-quarters of a century.

The past three decades, in particular, have seen an extraordinary lowering of political culture, even by the standards of American politics. The political environment has been utterly stagnant, dominated by a relentless glorification of wealth and the exclusion of anything that smacks of genuine opposition. Every State of the Union address, including President Obama’s last month, has carried the obligatory assurance of how good things are in America.

The corporate media have perfected the art of creating a synthetic public opinion that bears no relation to the real sentiments of the vast bulk of the population, and then using that supposed public consensus to justify the reactionary policies of the ruling class. The broad support for Sanders and the crisis of the supposedly unbeatable Clinton campaign, which have taken the entire political and media establishment by surprise, have exposed the fraudulent character of what has passed for public opinion.

Particularly noteworthy is the radicalization among young people, who sided with Sanders over Clinton in the Iowa caucuses by 84 percent to 14 percent. Sanders leads Clinton by similar margins among likely Democratic primary voters 30 and under in New Hampshire, according to the most recent polls.

As Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell grudgingly admitted in the Friday edition of the newspaper, the current generation of youth, to which she belongs, “love Sanders not despite his socialism, but because of it… Many of us also entered the job market just as unbridled capitalism appeared to blow up the world economy. Perhaps for this reason, millennials actually seem to prefer socialism to capitalism.”

The support for Sanders is inextricably linked to his professions of intransigent hostility to the financial aristocracy that dominates American society. In Thursday night’s debate in New Hampshire, Sanders declared again that “the business model of Wall Street is fraud,” while reiterating his criticisms of Clinton for accepting millions in campaign contributions and speaker’s fees from Goldman Sachs and other major financial institutions. The entire first hour of the debate was devoted to a discussion of the pernicious role of big business and whether the major banks should be broken up to prevent a recurrence of the 2008 Wall Street crash.

The rise of Sanders is a response to decades of war and reaction, culminating in the financial collapse of 2008, with its devastating impact on social conditions in the United States. As the consequences of the global crisis of capitalism have unfolded—the destruction of decent-paying jobs, the austerity policies of capitalist governments throughout the world, the buildup of the forces of a police state to suppress working class opposition, and the unending series of wars by American imperialism—tens of millions of workers and youth have begun to draw increasingly radical conclusions.

There are signs of panic setting in within the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party establishment as a whole. This is not because they view Sanders himself as a threat to capitalism or the political domination of the corporate-financial elite. The ruling class has a long experience with the “independent socialist” from Vermont. For decades, first in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate, he has caucused with the Democratic Party and supported every Democratic presidential candidate and every Democratic administration.

Always treated respectfully, he has been seen as a valuable political asset, providing a left cover for the Democratic Party and promoting the illusion that this right-wing capitalist party is somehow a progressive party of the people.

However, the popular credibility of the Democrats has been massively undermined by seven years of the Obama administration. In this situation, the grave danger confronting the American capitalist class is the emergence of a political movement outside the two-party system that challenges the domination of the super-rich over every aspect of US society. Bernie Sanders is not the herald of such a movement, but a false prophet who is neither genuinely socialist nor genuinely independent.

The Socialist Equality Party evaluates the significance of the Sanders campaign not by its campaign promises, or the illusions of those who now support him, but on the basis of a Marxist analysis of objective class relations and a historically grounded international perspective.

The rise of the Vermont “socialist” is not purely an American phenomenon, but the American expression of an international process. In country after country, under the impact of the global economic crisis of capitalism, the ruling class has brought forward “left” bourgeois parties to divert mass opposition into harmless channels. This is the role of figures like Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected leader of the Labour Party in Britain, and Podemos in Spain, now maneuvering to form a coalition government with the discredited social democrats. In the most extreme cases, as in Greece, the “left” has been brought directly into power, in the form of the Syriza government, and charged with the responsibility of imposing capitalist austerity policies on the masses.

Leon Trotsky, the co-leader of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia, explained how the ruling class manipulates the political system within the framework of bourgeois democracy. “The capitalist bourgeois calculates,” he wrote, “’At the right moment I will bring into existence opposition parties, which will disappear tomorrow, but which today accomplish their mission by affording the possibility of the lower middle class expressing their indignation without hurt therefrom for capitalism’” (Terrorism and Communism, p. 58).

If the American financial aristocracy thought Sanders represented a genuine threat to its interests, it would not be putting him on national television to deliver his jeremiads before a mass audience. The ruling elite has more than a century of experience in the use of such figures to manipulate mass sentiment and safeguard the profit system from challenges from below. These include third-party efforts like the Populist Party of the 1890s, the Progressive movement of the early 20th century, the Farmer-Labor Party of Robert La Follette in Wisconsin in the 1920s (and related groups in Minnesota and the Dakotas) and the Progressive Party of Henry Wallace in 1948. All these campaigns dissolved, sooner or later, back into the Democratic Party.

In the past half-century, the ruling elite has sought to avoid any significant “left” third-party efforts, using the Democratic Party itself as the principal vehicle for containing and dissipating mass popular opposition to the US ruling elite, whether over the Vietnam War, the violent attacks on labor struggles in the 1980s, or the endless wars in the Middle East and the staggering growth of social inequality. Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972 were followed by Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, Howard Dean in 2004, and now Bernie Sanders.

Considered in this historical framework, what is remarkable about Sanders is how vacuous his supposed radicalism really is. He is far less radical in his domestic policy than the Populists, the anti-Wall Street presidential campaigns of William Jennings Bryan, and the Farmer-Laborites. In the crucial area of foreign policy, he is virtually indistinguishable from Obama and Hillary Clinton, even attacking them from the right on issues like trade with China. When asked directly last year about his attitude to US military intervention abroad, he declared he was for “drones, all that and more.”

If Sanders goes on to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency, he will betray the aspirations of his supporters flagrantly and with extraordinary speed. A thousand excuses will be brought forward to explain why the wars must continue abroad and nothing can be done to rein in Wall Street at home.

Sanders is not the representative of a working class movement. He is rather the temporary beneficiary of a rising tide of popular opposition that is passing through only its initial stages of social and class differentiation.

The Socialist Equality Party welcomes every sign of a leftward movement and radicalization among workers and youth. The objective conditions of capitalist crisis and imperialist war are the driving forces of a profound leftward shift in the consciousness of tens of millions. But there is nothing more contemptible than to patronize and adapt to the illusions that characterize the present, initial stage in the development of class consciousness and popular opposition. That is the specialty of the various pseudo-left appendages of the ruling class and the Democratic Party.

It is legitimate for genuine socialists to adopt a sympathetic and patient attitude to the growth of popular opposition, but it is politically impermissible to politically adapt to the movement’s prevailing level of understanding. It is necessary to expose the contradiction between Sanders’ social demagogy and his bourgeois program, without suggesting that he can be pushed to the left by popular pressure from below.

The task taken up by the Socialist Equality Party is to open up a new path for the movement of the working class and lay the foundations for a broadening and deepening of the radicalization, breaking irrevocably from the Democratic Party and all forms of bourgeois politics and establishing the political independence of the working class. This is the essential basis for transforming the growing opposition into a conscious political and revolutionary movement for international socialism. The prerequisite for this task is to tell the working class the truth.

Patrick Martin

 

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/06/pers-f06.html