Barnie Sanders’ withdrawal does not mean a political defeat

Sankar Ray

Even incorrigible optimists in the camp of 79-year-old Bernie Sanders or thousands of his sympathisers the world over were not sure of Sanders’ success in the nomination of the Democratic Party for the US presidential poll, scheduled to be held in November this year. But Sanders did two things. One, lighting up an optimism that he might succeed and two – rather more importantly – creating a footprint for democratic socialism. At a time, when official Marxist parties (grown along the Leninist tradition and as contingents of Communist International) are tending towards virtual irrelevance, within the so-called social democratic parties that combat the neo-liberal finance capitalist order a separate stream of libertarian socialism, committed to democracy, is emerging. Sanders is symbolic leader of this new stream in the USA.   

The Left radical,  as Sanders has penned a  3900-plus word thesis, 'What Democratic Socialism Means Today' in the forthcoming collection of essays, 'An Inheritance of Our Time: Democratic Centralism' (Ed Michael J Thompson & Smulewicz Zucker), due to be published soon simultaneously from New York and London – actually scheduled to be released on the May Day this year but everything turned upside down after the Coronavirus pandemic.

He stated his position unequivocally. “In the year 2019 the United States and the rest of the world face two very different political paths. On one hand, there is a growing movement towards oligarchy and authoritarianism in which a small number of incredibly wealthy and powerful billionaires own and control a significant part of the economy and exert enormous influence over the political life of our country.

“On the other hand, in opposition to oligarchy, there is a movement of working people and young people who, in ever increasing numbers, are fighting for justice. They are the teachers taking to the streets to make certain that schools are adequately funded and that their students get a quality education. They are workers at Disney, Amazon, Walmart and the fast food industry standing up and fighting for a living wage of at least $15 an hour and the right to have a union. They are young people taking on the fossil fuel industry and demanding policies that transform our energy system and protect our planet from the ravages of climate change. They are women who refuse to give control of their bodies to local, state and federal politicians. They are people of colour and their allies demanding an end to systemic racism and massive racial inequities that exist throughout our society. They are immigrants and their allies fighting to end the demonization of undocumented people and for comprehensive immigration reform”.

“When we talk about oligarchy, let us be clear about what we mean. Right now, in the United States of America, three families control more wealth than the bottom half of our country, some 160 million Americans. The top 1% own more wealth than the bottom 92% and 49% of all new income generated today goes to the top 1%. In fact, income and wealth inequality today in the United States is greater than at any time since the 1920s. And when we talk about oligarchy, it is not just that the very rich are getting much richer. It is that tens of millions of working-class people, in the wealthiest country on earth, are suffering under incredible economic hardship, desperately trying to survive”.

“Today, nearly 40 million Americans live in poverty and tonight, 500,000 people will be sleeping out on the streets. About half of the country lives paycheck to paycheck as tens of millions of our people are an accident, a divorce, a sickness or a layoff away from economic devastation. While many public schools throughout the country lack the resources to adequately educate our young people, we are the most heavily incarcerated nation on earth”.

Almost along the same line, Richard D Wolf and Peter Hudis –both celebrated Marx scholar, stated in their paper rejecting the totalitarian experiment of official Marxism. Wolf in his essay, ‘Giving Socialism a Democratic Base’ stated, “Socialisms based on undemocratically organized enterprises – whether regulated private or state-operated – proved to be problematic. They became undemocratic socialisms. For many socialists, this proved to be a difficult contradiction to bear. In some socialist societies their undemocratic economic base undermined their social stability, their very ability to survive. It then follows, as we argue below, that to be democratic and to be viable over time, socialism requires a democratized enterprise organization as its basis”. He sticks to Marx’s  class analytics showing how capitalism produced and distributed surplus value in ways that prevented it from realizing those revolutionary promises but pulled up the Leninists (nor directly by name). “The betrayal of capitalism’s promises emerged in part because revolutionaries mistook a change in the forms of enterprise hierarchy and exploitation for the quite different end of all their forms”. He blamed the Socialists for broadly adopting ‘capitalism’s original revolutionary promises as their own’.

Hudis in his paper, ‘Democratic Socialism and the Transition to Genuine Democracy’ wrote, “While socialists of Social Democratic persuasion held that political democracy is incorporated and maintained in socialism, those of Stalinist persuasion argued for its annulment. Despite the profound differences between them, both viewed democracy as antecedent to the emergence of a full-blown socialist society. As a result, the question of how to achieve a transition to democracy did not weigh as heavily upon them as that of achieving a transition to socialism”. He remembered Rosa Luxemburg’s words, penned 100 years ago: “Socialism in life demands a complete spiritual transformation in the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois class rule…The only way to [such] a rebirth is the school of public life itself, the most unlimited, the broadest democracy.”

Sanders defends Cuba’s successes unflinchingly but disapproves the absence of democratic polity. At the same time, China today is allotropy of neo-liberal economic system. His exit from the contest does not mean a political defeat but an advance towards genuine democracy.

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Apr 10, 2020

Sankar Ray

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