Some far leftists have been attacking Bernie Sanders for not being left enough. Does that describe you? Well, I’m supporting Sanders and calling on you to do likewise, even though I’m probably even leftier than you.
(I seek an end to all hierarchy and all property, as I’ve explained elsewhere [http://LeftyMathProf.org/ending-capitalism/]. That’s not just a change in laws, but an immense cultural change, a total metamorphosis in our way of life. That puts me even farther to the left than socialists.)
My worldview is nuanced. We all see different portions of the truth, and even politicians are not immune to being fooled by propaganda. To be my ally, you don’t need to hold exactly the same position as me — you just have to be pulling the Overton window in the same direction as me.
Below, I’ll answer the most common left-criticisms of Sanders, and then describe what good he can do and is doing.
Many criticisms can be answered by this one observation: There’s a limit to how much truth you can tell and still run a viable campaign for high public office. If Bernie attacks the empire too directly and openly, he will get JFK’d or Russiagated, or locked up like Manning and Assange. Bernie thinks he can be more effective out of prison. He is skillfully walking a fine line, telling as much truth as he can get away with.
“But he ran in the Democratic Party, which is evil.”
Yes, most politicians in the Democratic Party have been evil. They’ve supported plutocracy and imperialism, just like the Republicans have. Most politicians. But not all of them.
For 40 years Bernie Sanders has consistently promoted progressive ideas and fought neoliberals. The neoliberals have tried to ridicule, smear, and block his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns.
And yet, some leftier-than-thous have accused Sanders of being a “sheepdog,” secretly working for the neoliberals, herding progressives into the corporate Democrat pen with the intention of disempowering them. That accusation is too far-fetched even for a rabid conspiracy theorist like me. Bernie’s behavior can be explained much more innocuously:
The way things are right now, only a Democrat or a Republican has any chance of winning the presidential election. Bernie’s goal is not just to deliver a protest message, as the sinless Green Party has been doing for years. Bernie’s goal is to win, and incidentally also to lead progressives in taking over the Democratic Party. This alternate explanation is in Bernie’s speeches, if you just look for it. And I do predict Bernie will change the Democratic Party deeply:
- If the Dems cheat Bernie again, I think large numbers of voters will see it this time, and will leave the Democratic Party. That party will then die, leaving room for some other party such as the Greens.
- On the other hand, if the Dems don’t cheat Bernie again, he’ll win. Then the corporate donors may leave the Democratic Party, and it will go progressive or die.
“But Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton, who is the opposite of everything Sanders claimed to stand for.”
He had to promise to endorse whoever the Dems nominated. Without that promise, the Dems wouldn’t let him run as a Dem. And then he had to keep that promise, or lose his future political career.
Moreover, Sanders believed that however evil Clinton might be, Trump would be far worse. So Sanders tried to support the lesser evil — a strategy that makes some sense, when it’s clear that one of the evils is going to win.
But anyone who thinks even a little bit can easily distinguish between the views Sanders actually wanted to promote and the views that his situation forced him to endorse.
“But he’s not really a socialist.”
Capitalism can’t be reformed, but bluntly saying so does not persuade people who have been hypnotized by capitalist propaganda. Bernie actually is leading people away from that propaganda, but he has to do it gradually: If he gets too far ahead of the crowd, he’ll lose them. Bernie has already led the public to realize that healthcare and college shouldn’t be managed by capitalism. That is real leadership.
“But we need a real revolution, not just reforms.”
I agree that the plutocrats will not relinquish power voluntarily, and the plutocracy cannot be ended by electing better plutocrats. We do need an abrupt revolution. And I’m annoyed that Bernie’s reformist organization calls itself “Our Revolution”; that’s a misuse of the word.
But a couple dozen of us far leftists cannot make a revolution. We must get many people on our side. We must get the public to see what you and I have seen. I don’t know whether that awakening can be done quickly, but it certainly can’t be done instantly. It is an evolutionary process. And Bernie is actually one of the best catalysts for that process. After people question college debt (for instance), they start to question all debt and all economic inequality, and the economic system that has condemned them to servitude.
What positive good do we see from Sanders? Well, I’ve just described him as a real leader and a catalyst for cultural change. In 2016, even though he lost the presidential race, he changed the national conversation in a positive direction, more than all our socialist parties have done in decades. That by itself was worth the Berners’ efforts. In the 2020 race I’m sure he’ll continue acting as a catalyst. Sanders gets people thinking and talking in ways that represent a radical change for our society. For instance, Sanders and his supporters promote universal healthcare, but if you listen carefully to how they talk about universal healthcare, it becomes clear that they are not just talking about dollars. They are talking about a society of people who care about each other.
Also, incidentally, Sanders is our best chance of getting some good climate legislation in the near future. If we don’t get that, we’re all dead, and then it doesn’t matter how far to the left you are. And Code Pink has rated Sanders best for peace, among all the major candidates.
Admittedly, Bernie Sanders is not perfect. On the day after he is elected, I’ll begin protesting all the things he is still doing wrong. But he has been fairly consistent in his progressive political views for nearly forty years, so I don’t expect any surprises or betrayals from him. He does listen and learn; I think we can work with him. He’s preferable to any of the other candidates who have any chance of winning. So I’m supporting him with some time and money. (But at the same time I’m also continuing to promote my own more radical views; see http://LeftyMathProf.org.)
I may revise this essay further; I invite comments at LeftyMathProf@gmail.com.
2019 April 2, version 2.17. Direct links to sections: truth, Democrats, Clinton, socialism, revolution, positive.