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

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
What's Next
Trending Today
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 10,446 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Problem with Hating Our Enemies
Charles Eisenstein · 9,364 views today · He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee. —Nietzsche
Van Jones: Only a 'Love Army' Will Conquer Trump
Tim Dickinson · 7,946 views today · Though it's important to fight Trump's policies, "it's at the values level that we need to do a reset," says Jones
How to Expose Trump's Dastardly Bait-And-Switch
Robert Borosage · 7,265 views today · Trump is not an economic populist, he’s just playing one on TV.
This Polish Ad Will Give You The Feels, For Reals
3 min · 7,236 views today · This is an ad for Allegro, a Polish company similar to eBay, and it's heartwarmingly lovely.
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 6,378 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 4,754 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 4,256 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
10 Stunning Images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award
Natural History Museum · 3,335 views today · These incredible images are a selection from of the 25 shortlisted by The Natural History Museum for the People's Choice Award from this year's Wildlife Photographer of the...
Why You Should Stop Apologizing for Doing All That You Can
Kelly Hayes · 3,307 views today · I’ve noticed lately that a lot of allies and accomplices I talk to about NoDAPL and other struggles will name what they are trying to contribute to the cause, and then promptly...
David Graeber: We Need a Revolution in the Way We Think about "Work"
4 min · 3,108 views today · David Graeber on the Value of Work. Does the world really need neuroadvertisers, PR researchers and branding consultants? Renowned academic and coiner of the ‘we are the 99%’...
Trump: The Illusion of Change
Helena Norberg-Hodge · 2,019 views today · “Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.” — Wendell Berry
Black on Black Crime Isn't a Myth
Donyae Coles · 1,793 views today · Let’s talk about Black on Black crime. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news, specifically likely in regards to Black people murdered by other Black people. Perhaps you’ve...
15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like Shit
Maritsa Patrinos · 1,600 views today · You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
Swanage Protectors Camp - Campaigning to Stop New Oil and Gas Exploration in Dorset, UK
7 min · 1,482 views today · The planning permission for an exploratory oil rig near Swanage ran out on 3rd December 2016. A good day all round for those campaigning against the fossil fuel industry. Hear...
Time-Lapse Satellite Images Give a Startling Snapshot of Past 30 Years on Earth
2 min · 1,389 views today · Working with satellite images from NASA and the US Geological Survey, Google has created a searchable snapshot of the past 3 decades on Earth, creating startling time-lapses of...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,310 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
It's The Damn Police
Walter Fields · 1,298 views today · From an early age Blacks are socialized to live defensively and to absorb the mental body blows that come from the day-to-day indignities that are hoisted upon us by the very...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,275 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...
A New History for Humanity - the Human Era
8 min · 1,217 views today · It is time to reframe how we think about our past. We need a new year 0 for humanity. But which one should we choose and why?
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Sure, Vote for Bernie, but Let's Just Make Sure We Don't Lose Sight of Our Long-Term Goals