Defending Bernie from SEP

by Eric Schechter, 4 Oct 2019.

The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) and its daily publication, the World Socialist WebSite (WSWS), have frequently attacked Bernie Sanders. They claim that he is working to perpetuate capitalism and the Democratic Party, to lead people away from socialism, to save capitalism as Franklin Roosevelt did.

Last night I attended an SEP lecture which, though not devoted solely to Bernie Sanders, repeated these views. In the questions-and-answers period after the lecture, I attempted to outline my differing view. In response I was verbally beaten down in a fashion that was not logical or friendly. I was, however, invited to present my views in my blog. It seemed to me that that invitation was issued sarcastically, but nevertheless I am accepting that invitation here.

Every member of the SEP, every socialist, and every thinking person, in the USA, should be supporting Bernie Sanders’s campaign for president. I will explain why.

However much we might prefer a real socialist, we’re not going to be able to elect one in November 2020, nor are we going to have a socialist revolution by then. Socialist consciousness is rising in the USA, but not that fast. Be honest and admit it: Regardless of your efforts and mine, some Democrat or some Republican is going to win in 2020. It does matter which one wins, because the candidates are not all the same, and the president does have a significant amount of power — both constitutionally and through his bully pulpit. Bernie Sanders is significantly preferable to the other candidates on all the issues. There is some urgency on the climate issue, as I will explain later.

The candidates are not all the same. The WSWS often gives the impression that all Democrats are the same, but that is not so. There is currently a wide schism within the Democratic Party, a civil war between the corporate Democrats and the progressive Democrats; these two factions are fighting for control and direction of the party. Bernie Sanders is leading the progressive faction. Progressive is not socialist, but Bernie Sanders comes close, as I will explain.

If you were running for president, what policy positions would you promote? Would you simply recite the “Statement of Principles” of the SEP? That would not get you elected — and as I mentioned earlier, getting elected does matter. To get elected, you have to present a message that the American people can understand now. That’s not the same as the socialist message that we socialists hope the American people will eventually understand. If you called for “worker control of the workplace,” the capitalist-controlled mainstream press would rip you apart, and the American people wouldn’t learn a thing from the experience. We can only speculate about whether Bernie Sanders secretly hopes that someday a presidential candidate (one who actually wants to win) will be able to advocate worker control of the workplace. If you (a socialist) were running for president right now and actually trying to win, I think your message might sound a lot like that of Sanders.

It’s true that Sanders isn’t quoting Marx. It’s true that Sanders attacks “the billionaire class” rather than “the capitalist class.” But that may be a distinction without a difference. It’s true that “billionaire” refers to how much capital you have, while “capitalist” refers to how you use the capital you have — but you can’t really become a billionaire except by being a capitalist (or having capitalist parents or grandparents). Sanders is walking the fine line between what the capitalist-controlled mainstream press would rip apart, and what they have to leave alone. They cannot deny that billionaires have much greater influence over our lives than the rest of us do.

Revolution doesn’t happen through gradual reforms, but it does take gradual preparation, recruiting would-be-revolutionaries one at a time. Though Bernie Sanders doesn’t deliver an explicitly anticapitalist message, he is actually helping to move people away from capitalism. Since 2015 (when he began running for president), he has already persuaded the American people that capitalism cannot properly manage healthcare or education. The American people are mostly not abstract thinkers (see, for instance), and so they need the concrete examples of healthcare and education before they can move on to the more general realization that capitalism can’t properly manage anything else either. Socialist consciousness is rising in the USA, and I would attribute part of that to Bernie Sanders.

It’s true that Franklin Roosevelt saved capitalism, and averted a socialist revolution that was about to happen in his time. It’s true that Sanders has been quoting Franklin Roosevelt, and that Sanders’s policy positions resemble the social welfare program of Franklin Roosevelt. But Sanders is moving in the opposite direction with those policies, because the historical context is reversed.

  • In FDR’s time, socialist consciousness was very high, a socialist revolution was near, and FDR’s concessions and appeasement moved the country back from socialism toward capitalism.
  • After that, after the Joseph McCarthy investigations and the Powell Memorandum, socialist consciousness in the USA was crushed. It was at a very low level by 2015; we were far from a socialist revolution.
  • Sanders’s railing against “the billionaire class” is moving society back toward socialism. That’s why the billionaires fear him.

Finally, electing Sanders is urgent. The climate problem is much worse than the SEP speaker indicated last night. The climate problem is much worse than has been indicated by the UN IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). The IPCC is, after all, muzzled by politicians, and held back by scientists who for political reasons fear for their jobs.

Temperature is rising exponentially due to feedback loops; take a look at how abruptly the right end of the exponential curve shoots upward. Crop failures and Arctic methane emissions have already begun. I would estimate that humans and most other species will be extinct by 2035 unless all nations make big changes in the next five years. (For instance, see — the audio isn’t very good, so be sure to turn on the subtitles.) We don’t have time to work on an 20-year plan to elect a real socialist to save the climate. Among the several people who have any chance of being elected president in 2020, Bernie Sanders is the only one who is taking climate seriously enough. Support Bernie as though our lives depend on it, because they do.