When You See Bernie Sanders, Think Military Capitalism Not FDR
Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. Richard Wolff defines socialism as democratically deciding who makes what, how that’s organized, and what we do with the surplus. It knocks down the wall between politics and the economy that liberalism does as it means a world beyond class society.
Bernie believes that we need to take back our government, and to implement laws, taxes and programs to dilute the privilege of the rich. My question, as with many of Bernie’s proposals and proclamations, remain the same. How?
Sanders hardly ever mentions the word capitalism. His supporters seem to be split between wanting it destroyed, and counterbalanced by his
Bernie and his followers point to FDR as the basis of their beliefs. The problem? FDR did not come into office promising the “four freedoms” Sanders has celebrated, but rather a balanced budget. In the face of the growing wave of class struggle in the United States, FDR began to embrace more reformist policies, and persuaded a section of the ruling class that such reforms were necessary to placate that struggle. Sanders is not trying to persuade the ruling class. He and his acolytes want it destroyed. They are the Democrats who took the party over from New Deal Democrats in 1968, rejected LBJ, and pushed the far left agenda that saw George McGovern and Walter Mondale lose in landslides. For them to claim that mantle is hilarious to anyone who knows the history of the Democratic Party.
Additionally, FDR built a working class coalition. Sanders never mentions this though he is a union guy. The problem is just 6.6 percent of private-sector workers belong to a union, and the Supreme Court is seemingly ready to jeopardize the status and influence of public-sector unions. Bernie has not really mentioned those cases nor of building a working class coalition.
Working for a wage is a defining feature of our society. It is only by organizing and gaining control over our work lives that people will build the collective strength to challenge capital. Does Bernie believe this or not? It seems he wants it, unlike FDR who was led to it, but without doing the work that FDR did to ensure its success.
Sanders The Military Capitalist
Sanders’ geopolitical intervention is Palinesque. His declaration that the problem of ISIS is primarily a problem of religion that “Muslim nations” must solve is willfully blind to the hand-in-glove relationship between capitalism and militarism. The US has roughly 800 military bases globally and a nearly $600 billion annual defense budget that it uses to pursue its political and economic interests without restraint. With his promise to build a bigger, better NATO and set aside “historic disputes,” Sanders fails to challenge this reality.
Sanders has attacked previous US interventions, from the invasion of Iraq to American backing of coups in countries like Guatemala and Iran. Yet his proposed alternatives made it unclear on what grounds he objected to such actions. Sanders harkens back to the establishment of the NATO alliance after World War II, but NATO was hardly a force for democracy. The US maintained support for the brutal Greek junta of 1967–74 because of Greece’s place in NATO. In Italy, NATO agents helped maintain far-right paramilitary networks linked to the reactionary terrorism attacks of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Sanders lauded King Abdullah II of Jordan (a
socialist Democratic Socialist praising a monarch?) for his role in the fight against ISIS. Yet Jordan, like most American allies in the Middle East, is a highly repressive country, where criticizing the king entitles someone to three years of imprisonment in the country’s notoriously torture-filled jails.
This is the contradiction at the heart of Sanders’s campaign: while he calls for reforms that no
socialist Democratic Socialist could oppose, his talk of political revolution falls woefully short in provoking the struggles needed to win those reforms. There is also little evidence at this point that his campaign is providing a spur to those kinds of struggles. It seems that Bernie’s fans are holding out faith that Bernie’s agenda will be implemented because he’s Bernie and people will submit to his will because he makes them feel good.