Sure, Vote for Bernie, but Let's Just Make Sure We Don't Lose Sight of Our Long-Term Goals
By Thomas Estabrook / onestruggle.net
Feb 15, 2016

In deliberating on what to write about for this latest edition of the Hair of Samson, it was suggested that I write about Bernie Sanders. I was initially somewhat skeptical of this endeavor. After all, it is quite obvious that Sanders is not a socialist but a social democrat, and that his stances on drone strikes and Palestine are troubling at the very least. To criticize these aspects of his platform from a left-wing perspective would be incredibly naïve at best – it’s not as if such criticism will change his campaign in any meaningful way. Moreover, the American elections, like some jealous demiurge, demand such rapt attention that even talking about a presidential candidate seems like a capitulation.

However, being a bit of a contrarian, and continually seeing knee-jerk reactions by supposed “leftists” against any criticism of Sanders, I feel compelled to offer a measured criticism against the tendency to allow far-reaching and radical aspirations be eroded by supposedly “pragmatic” bourgeois political lines. As comrade Lenin wrote in The State and Revolution, “Today, the bourgeoisie and the opportunists within the labor movement concur in this doctoring of Marxism. They omit, obscure, or distort the revolutionary side of this theory, its revolutionary soul. They push to the foreground and extol what is or seems acceptable to the bourgeoisie.” He was writing about turn-of-the-century Russia, but the tendency he described is no less present today. Accordingly, I intend to criticize a couple aspects of Sanders’ campaign that seem least objectionable and most progressive, in an effort to elucidate the limita­tions of attempts at reform that fall within the horizons of liberal-democratic capitalism. I do not wish to argue against voting for Sanders, nor do I intend to posit some sort of “all-or-nothing” approach to socialism that allows tenuous strategic considerations to justify a failure to alleviate present suffering. Instead, I hope only to illumi­nate some theoretical considerations that are relevant to the struggle beyond the specific instance of the Sanders campaign.

To begin, then, the primary problem with supposing that Sanders is in some way radical hinges around the way his supposed “challenge” to capitalism comes entirely from within the bounds of what capitalism already considers acceptable. Consider, for example, his focus on the fact that some miniscule percentage of the richest Americans have more money than the bottom half. This is indeed a despicable state of affairs, but it serves to mystify the actual problems. After all, we would do well to ask ourselves what exactly would make for an actually fair income distribution. A fifteen dollar minimum wage? Taxing the highest earners at 90%? 95%? The ever-insightful Karl Marx responded to a similar question in his Critique of the Gotha Program: “Do not the bourgeois assert that the present-day distribution is “fair”? And is it not, in fact, the only “fair” distribution on the basis of the present-day mode of production? Are eco­nomic relations regulated by legal conceptions, or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise out of economic ones?” When the left focuses its strategy on issues of income distribution, we risk ignoring the real problems leading to income inequality: the use of private property to exploit the working class. Using income redistribution to smooth over the theft inherent in the capitalist system is at best a temporary measure.

Alternatively, consider Sanders’ call for free college education. Again, this seems like an admirably progressive idea – challenging for-profit educational institutions, elim­inating debt, and expanding the supposed “good” of educa­tion to a wider public all have an enticing rhetorical appeal. However, we should take the intent of this initiative into account: as Sanders’ website puts it, “In a highly competi­tive global economy, we need the best-educated workforce in the world.” Despite the “socialist” veneer, this ultimately amounts to an effort to render American capitalism more efficient, and little more. In all but the narrowest views, it is not liberatory, but merely a reformulation of exploitative class relations. And moreover, it is open to legitimate cri­tique from opponents on the right – after all, it is possible that in some circumstances, having a larger portion of the population spend its productive youthful years in college might not make American capitalism more effective. A key limitation to welfare initiatives like universal education and healthcare is that they will always be at the mercy of the market unless action is taken to change the entire economic context in which they are situated.

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters much whether or not Sanders is actually elected. Even if he succeeds in attaining the oval office, there’s little reason to think that he will be able to handle congress even better than Obama has. And even if he does do that and manages to turn the USA into a Scandinavia-esque welfare state with universal healthcare, it’s not as if he will have disrupted the exploita­tion and capital accumulation relentlessly transpiring outside America’s borders (or within, for that matter). But, as mentioned previously, it isn’t as if one could reasonably expect an American presidential candidate to start talking about plans to impede capital accumulation and seize the means of production. The problem lies in the fact that there are those who think that income redistribution is a suitable substitute for the abolition of private property, that it is only consumption that must be made egalitarian, and not production, and that reforms brought about through bour­geois political institutions can replace revolutionary action by the proletariat.

Ultimately, the American left can do better. By all means, support Sanders – certainly, he’s preferable to any of the Republican candidates. But if the Sanders campaign causes those of us on the radical left to lose sight of our ac­tual goals, then the elections have served their function as an instrument of bourgeois ideological domination. If we’re going to organize in support of Sanders, we need to have plans to continue the struggle after the election – even in the unlikely event that Sanders is elected, our work will not be over. As long as this strange and wonderful planet that we call home is dominated by the accumulation of capital, subjected to the inhuman bondage of the wage system, balkanized into an assortment of mutually opposed nation states, and slowly poisoned by the excesses of an economic system motivated by profit, our work will not be done.

Of course, this is not an easy path to pursue. It would be wonderfully convenient if we could peacefully over­throw capitalism by playing by the rules, thus not risking the retaliatory violence that inevitably strikes at every genu­ine revolution. But when the game itself is the problem, the only winning move is not to play. When the law is designed to reproduce capitalist property relations, we must become criminals. For those in the working class, this involves little more than the collective pursuit of class interests. For those of us in the petit bourgeoisie, this demands the unity of a rigorous theoretical understanding of capitalism with action in accordance with the interests of the proletariat.

Again, there are good reasons to support Sanders. It may be that in pushing for a welfare state, contradictions in capital will be exacerbated in ways that provoke the conditions necessary for actual change. And while slight­ly improving the standard of living in a single country is not radical goal, it is by no means a bad thing. It would be callous to ignore opportunities to alleviate suffering in the name of ideological purity. The key is not to mistake Sanders for an actual challenge to the capitalist order – that is something we have to provide ourselves.

So, feel the Bern all you want, but don’t let it be a substitute for the cleansing flames of revolution.

3.8 ·
1
Trending Today
Looking Forward to the Day That Nationalism Is as Reviled as Racism
Tim Hjersted · 9,281 views today · Nationalism is a form of geographical racism that makes some lives matter more than others, and explicitly justifies that logic without apology. While today, not even lying...
Supporters 'Ecstatic' After Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence
Nika Knight · 5,913 views today · Whistleblower to be released from military prison in May
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 5,159 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 3,209 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 1,688 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
Escape! From the Cult of Materialism (2016)
50 min · 936 views today · Does the philosophy of materialism work to destroy our identities, experience, and environment? Join narrator Daphne Ellis on a radical romp through the evidence and decide for...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 930 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Before He Was Assassinated, MLK Jr. Was Advocating For An End To Income Inequality
10 min · 897 views today · We can honor MLK Jr. by pursuing the causes he was advocating for before he was killed.  ​​ Part 2: The Basic Income, A New Human Right (3 minutes) MLK's idea of a basic...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 688 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
One "Piece of the Oppressor" That I Have Discovered Within Myself
Tim Hjersted · 623 views today · One "piece of the oppressor" that I have found in myself during my inner activist journeys is my use of shame as a method of engaging with the world's problems. Having learned...
Coping With Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the White House
N Ziehl · 623 views today · I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are...
Here's How We're Going to End Factory Farming
2 min · 601 views today · Factory farming is a huge problem. But the solution is simple, if you'll join us. Watch this short 2 minute video to see how... Help make a kinder world possible...
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 588 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 374 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
The Greening of the Self: The Most Important Development of Modern Times
Joanna Macy · 368 views today · Something important is happening in our world that you are not going to read about in the newspapers. I consider it the most fascinating and hopeful development of our time...
What Martin Luther King Jr. Can Teach Us about Nonviolence
John Dear · 336 views today · I've been reflecting on the principles of nonviolence that Martin Luther King Jr. learned during the historic yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. After Rosa Parks refused...
This Woman Gets No Applause...Why? They Are Too Creeped Out...
7 min · 329 views today · Think you aren't being fooled by advertising tricks? Take a look at this so-called expert revealing food marketing's secret weapon. No amount of marketing makes factory farming...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 287 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
The Corporation (2003)
145 min · 280 views today · The Corporation is today's dominant institution, creating great wealth but also great harm. This 26 award-winning documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts and future...
Stunning Photos By Alexander Semenov Showcase The Alien Beauty Of Jellyfish
Earth Porm · 264 views today · Jellyfish appear like beautiful aliens in Alexander Semenov’s photography, calling a new attraction to a magical species of marine life. Alexander Semenov is a marine...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
Sure, Vote for Bernie, but Let's Just Make Sure We Don't Lose Sight of Our Long-Term Goals