Workers Vanguard No. 1083
12 February 2016
Break with the Democrats!
Bernie Sanders: Imperialist Running Dog
For a Revolutionary Workers Party!
FEBRUARY 8—The Democratic Party nomination of Hillary Clinton was thought to be a foregone conclusion. But the Iowa caucuses ended in a virtual draw between her and Bernie Sanders, disrupting the expected coronation of part two of the Clinton dynasty. A self-proclaimed “independent” with a “democratic socialist” veneer, Sanders has for the past quarter century been a member of the Senate Democratic Caucus. As the party’s former National Committee chairman Howard Dean observed in 2005: “He is basically a liberal Democrat.... The bottom line is that Bernie Sanders votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time.” So it’s hardly an aberration that he is running for the presidency, the top executive office of U.S. imperialism, on the ticket of one of the two parties of American capitalism. What is an aberration is that Sanders’s candidacy is seen as introducing the idea of “socialism” to the United States.
Tapping into widespread anger against the stark economic inequalities in America, Sanders has made his rallying cry the populist appeal for a “political revolution against the billionaire class.” Yet he has long served the interests of this class, particularly with his support for the bloody wars, occupations and other military adventures of U.S. imperialism that have devastated countries around the globe. Now this longtime Vermont Senator promises to provide some relief for the folks “at home” from poverty wages, skyrocketing college tuition and student debt and the profit gouging of the “health care” industry.
Faced with the alternative of mainstream Democratic Party hack Hillary Clinton, Sanders’s promises of some economic relief have proved attractive. This is especially the case for white petty-bourgeois youth who are in hock for tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, with dim prospects for the future they hoped would be open to them. In this, the “movement for Bernie” echoes the Occupy movement with its populist cries of representing the “99 percent” against Wall Street bankers and high-rolling corporate magnates. Occupy dissolved during the 2012 campaign to re-elect Wall Street Democrat Barack Obama. And, much as Obama’s election as America’s first black president aroused great expectations of change that were necessarily dashed, Sanders’s campaign is directed at refurbishing illusions in the democracy of American capitalist rule.
Amid chants of “feel the Bern” from his supporters at a closing rally in Iowa, Sanders declared: “What the American people understand is this country was based and is based on fairness.” On the contrary, this country was built on the brutal enslavement of black people and is maintained through their continuing segregation in the mass at the bottom of this society. It was established on the genocide of Native Americans. And American history is replete with the bodies of fighters for the working class, killed at the hands of the bosses’ thugs, their police and their courts.
While some of what Sanders calls for—like free tuition, Medicare for all and higher wages—would certainly be welcome, the true purpose of his campaign is to promote the myth that the capitalist Democratic Party is the party of the “little guy.” What he is introducing into “the conversation” has nothing to do with socialism but is rather the fraudulent idea that the “people” can vote into office a benevolent capitalist government that will defend their interests against the robber barons of Wall Street. Such illusions have long served to tie the working class to the rule of its exploiters.
The populist view that “99 percent” of the population share common interests is false. Society is divided into two fundamental classes: the capitalists—the handful of families who own the banks and corporations—and the working class, whose labor is the source of the capitalists’ profits. The working class is not just one more victim of capitalist austerity. It is the only force with the potential power and historic interest to sweep away the capitalist system, which is based on the exploitation of labor and rooted in racial oppression. To lead this fight, the workers need their own party—a revolutionary workers party that takes up the cause of all the oppressed.
The Face of Capitalist Oppression Abroad and at Home
Contrary to the myth peddled by Sanders that the banks and corporations have hijacked “our democracy,” the purpose of the American government since its foundation has been to defend the property and profits of the ruling class. The capitalist class runs both the Democratic and Republican parties. The main difference is not what they do but how they do it. The racist, reactionary, Christian fundamentalist lunacy of the current Republican Party is one expression of a decaying system whose masters are driven to further starve the poor, bust the unions, drive down wages and slash such threadbare social programs as still exist. The Democrats lie and do the same thing because they serve the same interests. They just try to put a nicer face on it.
America is ruled by a single class: it is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The facade of democracy is designed to facilitate capitalist class rule. It obscures the fact that the capitalist state, with its cops, courts, prisons and military, is not some neutral arbiter. It is an instrument for organized violence to preserve the rule of capital. The choice at election time is simply over which capitalist party will oversee the exploitation of the working class as well as the repression of black people, immigrants and all the oppressed at home, while prosecuting U.S. imperialism’s wars abroad.
Many are revolted by U.S. war crimes, including the bombing of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, committed under Hillary Clinton’s watch as Obama’s secretary of state. While Sanders scored some debating points against her by citing his refusal to vote for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he has a long record of support to U.S. military depredations around the world. He backed the United Nations sanctions against Iraq that led to the deaths of some 1.5 million people and eviscerated the country in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion. He voted for the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that launched the war on Afghanistan. Sanders has since regularly voted for military funding to these wars and occupations. Today he supports the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria and vows that, if elected, he would continue the murderous drone strikes that Obama has unleashed in the Near East, Africa and Central Asia. In 2014 Sanders joined the other 99 Senators in endorsing the Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.
Indeed, Sanders’s record on the foreign policy score is so shameful that even his most ardent supporters on the left, Socialist Alternative (SAlt), have felt compelled to address it. A 28 January article on socialistalternative.org concedes that Sanders’s foreign policy is “mistaken” and “falls short,” but assures the reader that this “does not negate enormously progressive aspects of his campaign.” But imperialist war abroad is a counterpart of increased misery and repression for the working masses and oppressed at home.
In the face of massive protests against racist cop terror, both Clinton and Sanders have been trying to woo Black Lives Matter leaders. To hear the mainstream pundits, Hillary Clinton has the “black vote” sewn up, particularly in the South. However, Sanders, backed by black preacher/professor Cornel West, a leader of the Democratic Socialists of America, has been playing up his credentials as a participant in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Sanders recently won support from former NAACP president Ben Jealous, as well as from left-wing academic Adolph Reed and a number of other prominent black activists.
The truth is there isn’t much daylight between Clinton and Sanders when it comes to promoting racist “law and order.” Both backed Bill Clinton’s 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which vastly expanded the crimes punishable by death at the hands of the federal government and provided for 100,000 more cops on the streets and billions more in prison funding. Twenty years later, with countless more black and Latino people gunned down by cops and the prisons overflowing, the Clintons cynically regret their “mistake.” With equal hypocrisy, Sanders today decries “the disgrace of having more people in jail than any other country, disproportionately African-American and Latino.”
Since the time of slavery, the racist rulers have oppressed black people in America based on the color of their skin. The capitalists foment racial and ethnic hostilities to obscure the irreconcilable class divide between labor and its exploiters. This is supplemented by the great lie that the Democratic Party, the historic party of slavery and Jim Crow segregation in the South, represents the interests of black and working people. This lie has in turn been reinforced by the misleaders of the unions, who have shackled the power of labor to the class enemy, particularly through support to the Democrats. The results can be seen not only in the wreckage of once-powerful unions but also in the absolute devastation of the lives of the ghetto poor.
The road to black freedom lies in the struggle to smash this racist capitalist system through socialist revolution, and the power to do that lies in the hands of the multiracial working class. But this power cannot and will not be realized short of forging a class-struggle workers party that champions the cause of black liberation and mobilizes in defense of immigrants and all the oppressed.
Reformism vs. Revolutionary Politics
The bottom line for Sanders’s more left-talking supporters is the notion that he is motivating people, notably youth, to take at least a first step to the left. Some even admit, in the words of a 5 February counterpunch.org article, that “socialism” for Sanders is really “Scandinavian-style capitalism (capitalism with a ‘human face’).” But the crucial thing, they claim, is that he is starting a “public discourse” about socialism. In reality, Sanders’s radical liberal acolytes are leading youth straight into the demoralizing dead end of the Democratic Party.
Early in the Sanders campaign, the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO) took SAlt to task for supporting a candidate running on the capitalist Democratic Party ticket. This is rich coming from an organization whose own leaders have run on the ticket of the Green Party, a small-time capitalist party that serves as a liberal pressure group on the Democrats. Following Sanders’s strong showing in Iowa, the ISO is singing a new tune. In an article titled “Iowa’s Radical Message” (socialistworker.org, 2 February) they opine: “Pretty much no one—Socialist Worker included—guessed that the wave of discontent could lift him to more than perhaps a single victory in New Hampshire.” The ISO goes on to enthuse that Sanders’s Iowa result has “demonstrated a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo” which “blasts open the lie that America is a fundamentally conservative country.”
There are indeed many boiling discontents in American society, and not all of them “progressive.” To gauge that anger, just look at the crowds at Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” election rallies or the evangelical Christians thumping their Bibles for Ted Cruz. Whipped up by the current crop of Republican presidential candidates, these reactionary yahoos see “illegal immigrants,” Muslim “terrorists,” Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter activists and the political establishment (read: a White House that is occupied by a black president) as driving America down the road to a socialist Sodom and Gomorrah. This is one reflection of the declining economic might of the world’s “only superpower.”
For their part, the Democrats are looking to cash in electorally among the millions who are desperate for decent jobs, housing, food, education for their children, health care. Sanders’s campaign provides a useful vehicle for luring people into believing that the Democrats will deliver. But the fact of the matter is that any significant gains won by labor and the oppressed in this country were wrested through hard-fought class and social struggle against the exploiters and their parties. Today, what remains of these gains continues to be ravaged in a one-sided capitalist class war enabled by union misleaders who have long forsaken the very means through which the unions were built.
As communists, we champion the fight for jobs at good wages; for quality, fully government-funded health care for all; for free, quality education for all at all levels. Our purpose is to link such demands to building a multiracial revolutionary working-class party that will lead the working class to overthrow this decaying system of exploitation, oppression and imperialist war. The resulting workers government will expropriate the capitalist owners of industry and the banks and use the wealth produced by labor for the benefit of the many, not the profits of a few. Fight, don’t starve! For a workers America!