Bernie Sanders: Reform and Revolution and the Political/Economic Elite
Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for president and the excitement it’s created among millennials has brought to fore the old discussion about revolution versus reform. Although he calls his presidential campaign a “political revolution”, obviously, it’s not; what he’s advocating is reform. A political revolution would mean changing the power structure, which means taking the power from politically powerful, who are influencing, or rather making the decisions and pushing their agenda and who also are the economically powerful. If he wants to do that, he’s not saying how. He’s not saying how, as president, he’s going to implement changes that will eliminate the influence and control of large corporations and their billionaire share holders. Such a move would require power and the system doesn’t give the president such power, and that is assuming that he does win the presidency and that he doesn’t sell out the people as Obama did after winning the elections. Where would he get the political power to go against the political establishment, which he himself has been a part of and for over 30 years acted as if the system was fair, even if it produces quite unfair results? What he ignores or fails to mention is that the question of economic “fairness”, which he rightly stresses, is not separate from political fairness. Economic results aren’t separate from the political power structure and the processes that create them. He says he wants to eliminate the influence of money on politics, but capitalism is what produces wealth inequality, which then leads to political inequality, which then further exacerbates the inequality.
He does say that the system that produces such vast income and wealth inequality is “rigged”, but doesn’t implicate the political process that helps create it and what it would take to change it; that is, what would give him the power to counter and defeat the existing power structure and implement the reforms. In reality, such power can only come from the people, through their direct action on the streets, through a mass movement, not from the ballot boxes alone and certainly not from the legislation. Such a movement can take off through a presidential campaign and grow, but that would require a leader who’s willing and able and radical enough to face off and struggle against the political and economic elite and their police, their military, their media and their courts. Clearly, he’s not that person. If he truly were after a “political revolution”, he’d have to first start with the Democratic Party, which along with the Republicans, maintains the status quo.
Sanders himself has been a part of the political establishment, just as Hillary Clinton has. His criticism of the system is just that: a criticism, without a plan or even the will or desire to defeat it. Such criticism thus becomes pointless lamentations of an otherwise career politician, at best, and political demagoguery to win office, at worst. The difference between a liberal reformist and a revolutionary is that the former believes in the fairness and virtue of the system in its overall framework, albeit, with some changes to be implemented at the top, if possible and not too risky politically, through the president’s office. And, if his effort at winning the office doesn’t pan out, he will graciously concede defeat, congratulate his opponent, whom he previously exposed as part of the corrupt political establishment, and ask his supporters to vote for her, with total disregard for all those who thought he was different, who thought he really meant everything he said and that he really wanted to fight for them. You see, fighting for people isn’t the same as fighting to win the presidency, even if it’s claimed to be the pathway to implementing the reforms one wants to implement. A revolutionary doesn’t stop his struggle because Hillary Clinton was able to “win” with the help of the Party establishment. A revolutionary doesn’t accept a Hillary victory at the ballot box as the end, as if it were all about that. All the injustices, police brutality (a white police officer killed a black person nearly two times a week during a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to a USA Today review of those reported to the FBI, which admits not all killings are reported and such killings have increased since the report), mass incarceration (about 2.3 million, many, especially African Americans for long periods for non-violent crimes), unemployment and underemployment, poverty (over 100 million Americans live in poverty), homelessness (many war veterans who fought in imperialist wars are tossed aside like overused and worn out tools), child hunger (millions go to bed hungry and are malnourished), endless wars for empire, inaccessible healthcare (about 30 million still have no insurance and millions more can’t afford to see a doctor because of the out of pocket expenses), and unaffordable education (millions of college graduates can’t find a decent job after borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to pay for their higher education) is all okay now (not that Sanders will or even wants to address them) because that’s what people voted for in a “fair” election.
Elections in capitalist societies are the means for justifying and validating the system and shutting down dissent. Through elections, the ruling class gets to legitimate its rule and policies and invalidate voices of dissent, as having lost the “contest” (people’s lives depend on a contest!), so they should shut up and suffer the consequences quietly, and I mean suffer literally, as in going hungry and not having shelter over their heads. Elections in capitalism is as “fair” as playing a game with schoolyard bullies over who gets to eat your lunch. The game seems fair and you’re assured as much chance of winning as the bullies, but time and again, you end up losing your lunch to them.
Sanders will be the first to defend the electoral process as evidence that democracy works in America as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC excitedly exclaims, and will, like a good Democrat, give his support to Clinton should she win the nomination, despite the unfairness of the whole process. Consider this as just one example: thanks to Democratic Party “super delegates”, who are party elites counted as delegates, same as delegates elected by voters, Clinton now holds a commanding lead over Sanders in overall delegate count, after a razor-thin victory in Iowa (with a difference of about 0.3%) and a shellacking in New Hampshire, where she lost to Sanders by 22% (60% vs. 38%). Clinton has 394 delegates, both super and electorally assigned, to only 42 for Sanders. That’s because far more party elites are loyal to Clinton than Sanders. These “super delegates” are basically going against the will of their own voters and undoing their voting results.
What we’re witnessing is similar to what we witnessed in 2008, with Obama’s candidacy. Many, especially among the minorities and young people, who had long given up on the system and were not participants to elections, voted for him, only to once again lose their lunch to bullies and become disillusioned. “History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as comedy” (Karl Marx). This time around, the whole thing may look ridiculous enough to pass as “comedy”.