Not Feeling the Bern
I have observed a great enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders among the people I know. In a way, I should be happy that many people are interested in socialism. Instead, I feel indifferent to annoyed. I don’t want to rain on a parade. I like parades. Floats, crowds, marching bands, clowns, candy…parades are fun. But, I just don’t like where the parade is marching. Marching onward into the abyss of electoral politics or the deep into the Democratic Party’s lair. This parade that promises candy for everyone is a trap!!
So, here I am, watching the parade go by. There are things that look and sound good. Invoking Eugene Debs, free education, anti-Wall street, single payer health care…actually using the word socialist. I might be dazzled by this parade if I could suspend my understanding of socialism. Sometimes the spectacle is jarring. A socialist who still refers to the middle class? The shrinking middle class…that amorphous club that everyone belongs to and no one can define? The middle class is a vague word employed by politicians to appeal to everybody and sound class conscious. A socialist who doesn’t want to end capitalism? A socialist who doesn’t want to seize the means of production? A democratic socialist? Heavy emphasis on the democrat…. Perhaps I could make peace with a well-meaning democratic socialist, running within a socialist party of some sort…but this, someone running in a mainstream capitalist party…a party that has promoted imperialism with the same zeal as its conservative counterpart…is an absurdity!
Of course, this is where everything goes off track and that parade starts careening off a cliff. I’ve been a socialist for thirteen years or so. So, I feel almost offended that this is what passes for socialism.
My worldview must be very different. As I stand in the middle of all of this, I just want to scream. Instead, I’ll rewind. There was a time long ago that I was a democratic socialist. It was when I was first learning about socialism, countries like Norway and Sweden appealed to me. That kind of socialism conformed to my peaceful, college student hopes for the world. In this world view, socialism happens without struggle and bloodshed, somehow through elections or having socialist and labor parties. Of course, this world view ignores historical labor struggles that were bloody (for instance, Norwegian workers of the 1920s-30s had to fight armed militias and the army) or how these countries participate in imperialism and the plunder of the planet’s resources (Norwegian oil is never the elephant in the room). This world view also ignores the vast poverty of the rest of the world. This broke the spine of democratic socialism for me. Capitalism is a big problem. That is central to my worldview. 3 billion people in this world live on less than $2.5 a day. It occurred to me that democratic socialist countries really don’t do a lot to solve these big problems of capitalism….like, these world wide systemic problems of poverty. They are even a part of the problem. Sweden, which at the time controlled Norway, participated in the Berlin conference and actually sent troops to the Belgian Congo to secure trade interests there. Neutral Sweden supplied iron ore to Nazi Germany and allowed Nazis to use their roads and railroads to fight the Soviets. Sweden still has 900 troops in Afghanistan! I only pick on Sweden because Stockholm is beautiful…a beauty built upon empire and dubious neutrality since the Napoleonic wars. Democratic socialism does not and cannot resolve the problems within capitalism.
Some people are much better at compartmentalizing than I am. In the case of Bernie Sanders, perhaps the whole…he’s in the democratic party thing can be bracketed out. Personally, I can’t bracket this out, but to others, maybe party doesn’t matter. If he calls for things that people believe in, than he must be okay. That is fine and dandy, but I can’t bracket it out reproductive rights from say…war or Palestine. Everything matters. So, even if I could bracket out party affiliation, I can’t bracket it the fact that Bernie Sanders supported bombing Yugoslavia in 1999, supported funding the war in Afghanistan, Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, and supports a unilateral coalition to fight ISIS. I am not sure why unilateral actions somehow have a veneer of legitimacy. So, if the U.S. goes alone, it’s bad, but if the U.S. and some imperialist buddies fight a war together, it is just? Revolution sounds a bit too bloody for you, but the bombing of civilians does not?
I really just don’t get into politicians. I don’t. That parade passes me by and unfortunately with more bafflement than amusement. Take for instance, Don Ness. People thought he was a cool mayor. I didn’t see it. I guess I don’t think crossing picket lines, balancing the city budget on the backs of retirees, and trying to squeeze gaming money from Native Americans aren’t cool. Supporting higher priced modern housing to appeal to economic growth and attract young professionals is also incredibly shitty…when housing is overpriced and scarce for the hundreds of homeless people I worked with this year. I guess everyone else is much better at bracketing than I am. Perhaps when everything is awful, people just take the crumbs they get and try to be happy. I don’t want to be too harsh. From time to time, there is a policy or reform that improves life just a little. I have heard some people have benefited from the Affordable Care Act, for instance. But, enjoying a few bread crumbs from the top should not be treated as a holy sacrament. These crumbs do not fall from the body of a savior. They are concessions to pacify the masses.
So, that is Bernie Sanders. A lamb given to the masses who long ago embraced his most radical ideas. It isn’t cutting edge. It is behind the times. It invokes the Occupy Movement, but without the movement, just a hero to follow. Follow where? Into the clutches of the democratic party and away from radical reforms to capitalism (or building movements for its overthrow). But, this is a tired argument that I am sure has been said much better by better, more articulate Marxists than myself.