by Alexander Smith
Over the last several months, the self proclaimed “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders has grown in popularity and put a dent in the Hillary Clinton political machine. He has made calls for free access to healthcare for all, free college education, and a series of other left-wing populist economic reforms. One might expect that this would lead to an outpouring of support from the socialists and communists who are often marginalized in our capitalist political climate. However, many socialists and communists, including myself, have shown some opposition to the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Why is this? Many socialists have identified one of Sanders’s major problems as his participation in the Democratic Party primaries. Sanders is a member of the left-wing Vermont Progressive Party, but in his pursuit of the presidency he entered the race for the Democratic nomination. Many Sanders supporters, and Sanders himself, will claim that this is because it is the only realistic way for him to achieve victory. However, with the odds of a Sanders upset of Hillary Clinton being so slim, joining the Democrats seems counter productive.
The Democratic Party over the last several decades has not shown itself to be a vessel for economic change, and has even supported bills which hurt American workers. In the 90’s, nearly half of the Democrats in the senate voted “yea” to NAFTA, and a Democratic president signed it into effect. In addition, most of the party is far to the right of even Social Democrats like Sanders, ensuring the Sanders presidency with a “D” next to his name would still face strong opposition from elements in the center and the right of his party. By running as an independent, any support he received could be funnelled into a new third option movement which could live on after him. But by running as a Democrat, any support he receives will either become useless when he loses to Clinton, or be transferred to her.
Another issue socialists have with Bernie Sanders’s campaign is his self-identification as a democratic socialist. One struggle of the American socialist movement is constant misinformation about what our goals and objectives are. Many believe that socialism is a system where the government owns everything and constantly interferes with the lives of its citizens. Socialists actually desire a society where the economy is owned collectively by the working class, not the government. As Lenin wrote, “While the State exists there can be no freedom; when there is freedom there will be no State.” Unfortunately, Bernie Sanders’s views align more strongly with a system of welfare capitalism or social democracy because he wants to make some improvements within the capitalist system. His policies are closer to the false idea many Americans have of socialism, and by calling himself a socialist, he perpetuates these myths.
Would a Bernie Sanders presidency be better in the short term than every other mainstream candidate? Yes, and I think all socialists understand this. While it is doubtful he could enforce his platform, he could at least veto some of the more right-wing bills sent to him from congress. However, he is being heralded as some kind of savior to the left, but mostly likely his campaign will have no long lasting positive impact. For socialism to succeed, we need more than one good politician. We need an entire revolutionary movement which can function on its own and in opposition to both the Democratic and Republican parties. It must be an educated and powerful movement which can stand firm in opposition to the entire capitalist system.
Supporting Bernie Sanders does not bring us any closer to this revolutionary movement. His support for the Democrats, and his spreading of misinformation about socialism actually distances us from this goal. At first glance, Bernie Sanders seems like the best possible least bad candidate, but perhaps he is even worse than the least bad candidate because he gives false hope. When there are a thousand different parts that need to be put together for a better society to be built, he is sucking in all of the effort, all of the attention. He is only one piece, and we need so much more.
*Disclaimer: At the Spectrum we encourage dialogue regarding issues that affect our nation. The above article is the opinion of one student, not the Spectrum or East Greenwich High School in whole.