Bernie Sanders’ Withdrawal from Democratic Primary Race
Limits of Articulation of People’s Concerns within Ruling Class Politics
“Bourgeois socialism attains adequate expression when, and only when, it becomes a mere figure of speech.” (Manifesto of the Communist Party)
On April 8, Bernie Sanders announced suspension of his campaign seeking to be the nominee of the Democratic Party in the coming November 2020 US Presidential election. His campaign started collapsing soon after he emerged a front runner after first three state primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. A number of his rivals, who had crowded the field, started dropping out one after one, even those who had done relatively well in the first primaries. All except one i.e. Elizabeth Warren, who shared several points of the platform on which Sanders was contesting, dropped out of race before Super Tuesday (so named as a number of states hold their primaries on that day). Before that, South Carolina’s Democratic primary, dominated by African American voters, had given a sweeping victory to former Vice-president, Joe Biden, who had abysmal showing in the earlier primaries. In recent memory, a candidate who had won first three primaries has not lost nomination to a candidate who had contested and dismally lost all three first primaries. At times, a high point is the beginning of decline. So has happened with Bernie Sanders. So long he had been running second, his services were used to bring into the fold of Democratic Party those sections, particularly the youth and white workers, which were distancing themselves from Democratic Party for its association with corporate establishment. But once he had emerged as a presumptive nominee, the real powers behind the throne pulled all strings to bring him crumbling down. Obama, Clintons, even Carter, all worked overtime to see that Bernie is forced out. Candidates started pulling out, community leaders and law makers were egged on to endorse Joe Biden, all orchestrated into a campaign to bring down Sanders. The Democratic Party establishment showed who pulls the strings of power. Once more the truism was reinforced that Parties are representatives of classes; in the case of Democratic Party of USA, of the big bourgeoisie of USA. And the classes have their interests defined by the current needs of the class; in the instant case, big capitalists of USA.
Sanders had run his campaign this time as well as in 2016 on some issues. These included single payer govt. funded Medicare for all, no tuition fees, minimum wage @ 15 US$ an hour, etc. These reformist steps are well within the paradigm of capitalist system and are already to varying extent in practice in some European countries, yet the corporate US does not want to have anything to do with these. Putting all these steps into practice would entail govt. expenditure which will have to be made good by raising taxes. Sanders had proposed raising taxes on the extremely rich who now have very low rate of taxes. These steps put forth by Sanders are to an extent a part of redistributive policies, Sanders used to label himself as a Democratic Socialist. He was labelled as communist, Stalinist and the like in US mainstream media. In fact, he at best is a bourgeois socialist i.e. who thinks and works for some pro-people measures within capitalist system and labels his efforts as socialist. That his efforts failed, has more to do with the present drive of monopoly capitalism in USA and not because these steps are theoretically impossible in a capitalist system. It is the corporate who summoned the combined might of Democratic Party establishment, past Presidents who hold their constituencies and the local leaders who are backed by big money, to stop the Bern lest it burnt.
Unlike last time i.e. in 2016, when the Democratic Party earned many black points for scuttling the chances of Bernie Sanders, this time the game was played more systematically and with more finesse. The whole issue was centralized on the personality of the incumbent, Donald Trump. Defeating him, and not the policies pursued by him in so far as they affect the common people in USA directly, became the battle cry, the only game in the town. This was crystallized into question of electability. It was articulated in unison by all his rivals, thereby establishing through sheer noise an impression about in-electability of Sanders come November. With Sanders leading the other contenders in the opinion polls, beating Donald Trump in the polls rather more comfortably than other Democratic Party contenders, the question of electability was further narrowed to who can best unite the Democratic Party. With the question thus formulated, it was inevitable that a candidate of the establishment i.e. so-called moderate wing, would be the natural choice. Itis the moderate wing backed by corporate which is the core of the Party. One is entitled to question everything, even white supremacy, but questioning corporate profits is a different kettle of fish. The indiscretion cannot and has not been forgiven. It is obvious, as we had observed in our comment on 2016 elections, that Democratic Party would rather win corporate backing than the White House if the choice narrows down to that i.e. if they cannot have both. This is the class character of the Democratic Party.
With Sanders suspending his campaign and endorsing Joe Biden, the hopes of some who saw in his proposed measures the realization of their socialism, have been dashed. These are generally the forces and sections of intelligentsia aligned to revisionists who hope against hope that socialism will emerge outside the framework of class struggle, the struggle led by working class overthrowing the rule of reactionary ruling classes. For long these sections had been flaunting public sector as socialist, different variations of structural socialism.
Sanders’ entire movement, despite the issues he took up, grew around registering members, taking out voters and the like, all revolving around electoral calculus. There was not even an attempt to directly organize the workers though many issues concerned them. There was no attempt to address the social oppression, so acute a problem relating to African Americans. He of late made attempts in that direction but it was too little too late. On the other hand, the social leaders of these groups are aligned to the leaders of Democratic Party and it is not easy to break their stranglehold without rousing common members of the social groups and linking it with class issues. Otherwise stranglehold of identity politics keeps delivering mass of voters to the very forces promising some superficial reforms. Sanders stood up against Democratic Party establishment but did nothing substantial to challenge the matrix in which this establishment operates and wields its influence.
Earlier defeat of Corbyn in the recently held general elections in UK had been the earlier let down for such forces i.e. forces wanting socialism without working class coming to power. Causes of his defeat are somewhat different though ultimate outcome same. Corbyn emerged as the leader of Labour Party in UK as the Labour’s rank and file’s disillusionment against Blairite New Labour grew. Disastrous aggression in Iraq had been widely unpopular among the workers in UK. New Labour’s fully embracing neo-liberal policies had led to deterioration in its conditions. There had been gradual but steady decline in the industrial working class as more and more labour intensive industries were located abroad and mineral extraction declined. With the decline of the strength of working class, Labour Party increasingly undermined the importance of trade unions, a key constituency of Labour Party. After the explosion of world financial economic crisis from 2008 onwards, adverse impact on the working class becameserious. New Labour having fully embraced neo-liberalism, and with big bourgeoisie launching further attacks for increasing their profits, New Labour lost control of Labour Party. Before Corbyn it was Id Miliband. After Miliband lost elections, Corbyn came to leadership in avowed attempt to bring Labour close to working class articulating their concerns. Corbyn was brought from Labour fringe to Centre. Some Trotskyite circles also played their role having long renunciated the working class revolution in their visceral hatred of Stalinism.
Corbyn roused the rank and file of Labour on the basis of his rejection of neo-liberal prescriptions. His platform was similar to Sanders. Waiving of tuition fees and student loans, increase in expenditure on health and education, increase in minimum wage and all these to be met by increasing taxes on the super rich. Corbyn stood for something more also. He advocated nationalization of some industries and services. Corbyn had been active in support of progressive causes in third world countries, an issue on which Sanders had not been so active. Corbyn had supported those issues even going against Labour or any significant section of Labour. Corbyn had long been a Labour back-bencher but was brought to the front.
In wake of deteriorating conditions of working class and decline of industries in UK, the ruling bourgeoisie faced a split on the strategy to be followed. With contradictions and trade rivalries growing among imperialist powers and becoming particular sharp after 2008 world financial economic crisis, big bourgeoisie was sharply divided on either aligning with continental Europe or America. A section of the big bourgeoisie tilted towards aligning closer of USA and carving out its place in a US dominated world market. It created images of UK capturing the old times when the sun never set on its empire. They spread hatred against immigrant workers which was also directed against workers from East European countries who had a right to come to UK being members of European Union. This move crystallized in the drive to come out of EU (Brexit). Workers in UK, hard pressed by declining standards of life, supported Brexit, being fed this as a solution to their woes. A significant part of middle classes opposed leaving EU. Backed by the working class, Brexit won the referendum called on the issue winning 52.1% of the vote. It was the situation when Corbyn came to the leadership of Labour Party. He had been a supporter of Brexit besides articulating some policy prescriptions mentioned above. While his leadership won increasing support among workers, he was openly opposed by important leaders of the Labour Party. There was a concerted campaign about un-electability of Corbyn (a la Sanders) in an attempt to undermine his leadership. However, in the election called by Theresa May to secure her Brexit Deal through Parliament, Corbyn’s Labour performed much beyond expectations; depriving Conservatives of their majority. Despite open sabotage from important Labour functionaries (well known, but also substantiated in recently released dossiers), Labour under Corbyn came close to capturing power This election ended the propaganda about un-electability. Hence the battle shifted to another plane. Sections of Labour Party threatened to leave Labour unless it endorses platform against Brexit i.e. of calling another referendum to cancel the first one. The plan of anti-Corbyn New Labour acolytes was to prevent Corbyn from coming to power even at the expense of undercutting their own party. The plan was to divert a chunk of anti-Brexit voters to Liberal Democrats. Anti-Corbyn sections had in the meantime launched a vigorous campaign of anti-semitism in the Labour Party targeting Corbyn and his supporters for their support to Palestinians. All this put Corbyn on the defensive. He sought peace with his detractors, New Labour leaders. But most suicidal was his back-tracking from Brexit which had taken firm hold of the workers and where Parliament was seen to be frustrating the will of British people expressed in Referendum. Probably scent of power inebriated him. Crobyn supported the Call for Second Referendum little realizing that by such back-tracking he had made the election itself a Second Referendum. He was given a sound thrashing forcing his exit. Big bourgeoisie had been successful in keeping Brexit at the Centre relegating Corbyn’s platform to obscurity.
While Sanders paid for his standing up to the establishment in his adopted Party, Corbyn paid for surrendering before it. In both the cases class character of the parties through which they wished to pursue their agenda came in the way. All parties of ruling classes, particularly large ones, and especially at times of being out of power, keep a wing articulating people’s concerns (also called ‘left’ wings of these rightist parties) but only in a subordinate position. To an extent it also means recognition of people’s concern but basically aiming to emasculate the opposition to their policies. While all bourgeois parties throw about election promises just as salespersons selling their ware, the presence of a ‘left’ wing gives authenticity to their ware.
Before rise of Sanders and Corbyn as standard bearers of the people’s opposition to neo-liberal economic policies, in particular the hardships heaped on the people in the wake of explosion of World Financial Economic Crisis from 2008 onwards, there were some other articulations in Europe. Articulation by Sanders and Corbyn has been from within the main ruling class parties in their countries. The earlier articulation in Southern Europe was in the form of setting up new parties or strengthening of some parties which were not the main political parties in their countries. With the condition of people worsening in Greece post-2008 crisis, Syriza rose in that country, becoming a dominant party from a small party earlier. Post 2008 crisis, ruling classes adopted austerity measures reducing expenditure on welfare measures, reducing wages and social security benefits of workers, pensions of retirees, generally reducing expenditure on the people. The main thrust was to meet the debt obligations of the state by reducing expenditure and making exports rise again by producing cheaper. While big bourgeoisie had profited in the earlier period, the burden of crisis was heaped on the shoulders of working masses. Capitalists, the creators of the problem, were projected as saviours and protected. In Eurozone countries the austerity measures were enforced as monetary policies i.e. currency was under the control of European Central Bank (ECB). Besides the austerity measures, the other option was a bailout by ECB controlled by Germany. Bailouts were granted conditional to implementation of the abovementioned austerity measures. In Southern European countries where the pain of crisis was more acute for the people, austerity measures evoked sharp opposition from the people.
Syriza rose to prominence opposing the austerity plan. But the path shown and propagated by Syriza was to renegotiate the bailout package with EU. Opposition to austerity was hitched to EU agreeing to it for leaving EU was ruled out to start with. But it needs two to tango. EU refused to climb down, a premise on which castles of Syriza were built. Though Syriza enjoyed near total support among workers in Greece, it relied not on workers but on the munificence of big capitalists dominating EU. Syriza was not among the main representatives of ruling bourgeoisie in Greece, it rose to be one by promising the moon i.e. getting rid of austerity plan but remaining within Eurozone; getting the bailout but without conditions. They overestimated or rather created illusions among the people of Greece that EU big capitalists can be persuaded to abandon their class interests, only good persuaders like Tsipras are needed. Needless to add Syriza failed and dominance of earlier dominant party was restored. Syriza, in which Trotskyites played an important role, thus acted to deceive the people.They deliberately wasted an opportunity to let the working people chart out their own course. It once again proved Trotskyites’ lack of faith in the revolutionary potential of working class, of their ability to lead other sections of working people, a lesson that needs to be reinforced again and again in every country, in every age.
Once again, the lesson was driven home that there can be no workingclass movement without a working class party leading it. Some ML organizations who supported Syriza soon realized it. The positive side of the development was that the working masses were willing to come out of the influence of the main ruling class parties. Revolutionary politics however, entails not only rejection of the given ruling class parties but ruling class politics itself. Syriza articulated its positions within the ruling class framework. It created illusions about the efficacy of parliamentary institutions as vehicles of addressing people’s growing frustrations in the present system.
Fortunes of Pedemos in Spain, a much larger country than Greece, rose and fell following Syriza. They too tried to articulate people’s concerns outside the main parties of the ruling classes but within the ruling class framework. They gained electoral successes but with Syriza capitulating in Greece, its main platform collapsed i.e. of addressing people’s concerns within ruling class framework or specifically to get rid of austerity while remaining in Eurozone. When it came to a crunch, they betrayed their petty-bourgeois philistinism, obviously they did not have proletarian courage.Pedemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece do retain some electoral bases but this is ruling class politics as usual, their loud mouth phrases notwithstanding, reminders of the essentially deceptive nature of their programme.
Sanders, Corbyn, Syriza, Pedemos, all these and their lesser known versions only highlight the fact that people’s concerns cannot be addressed in the present crisis ridden capitalist imperialist system. Their utility to the present system primarily lies in the fact that they create illusions among the working people about the present system and restrain the people taking to path of struggle and going over to revolutionary parties who alone can lead the struggle of addressing people’s concerns to its logical conclusion i.e. of overthrowing the present system dominated by imperialism and reaction. As the crisis of the present system deepens, the ability of rulers to carry out meaningful reforms gets limited even as the need for such reforms continues to grow. The resultant of the interplay between these two is determined by the intensity of class struggle and people’s movements and the outcome conditioned by the state of the revolutionary forces, their preparedness and most importantly, the depth of their relations with working masses. Forging these relations is among the most important tasks of the revolutionary forces.
However, rise of these forces and the need of the ruling classes to allow some space to these forces stems from the growing contradictions of the present system. The accumulation of capital has gone much further and much faster. This accumulated capital demands ever increasing share of the values created by the working people as its profits. On the other hand, the realization of these profits is dependent on markets i.e. on sale of produce, which needs increasing of effective demand i.e. demand backed by purchasing power. Cornering of increasing part of the value by capital however, leaves lesser and lesser share for the working people who constitute bulk of the demand. Capital will not produce without securing profit, and capital cannot remain idle i.e. not securing profit. This is giving rise to the increasingly rapacious nature of capitalist imperialism. It is at the root of the growing contradictions of the system i.e. contradiction between imperialism and oppressed nations, contradictions between labour and capital in capitalist countries and contradiction among imperialist powers and monopoly groups.
Neo-liberalism is a vehicle of maximizing profits of capital in the period of relatively stagnant markets. It is a vehicle of delivering more and more part of the created value to the coffers ofcapital in the form of profits. It does so by reducing other claimants to the share of the created value i.e. wages accruing to workers (attacks on wages and benefits), interest accruing to suppliers of capital i.e. banks etc. (reduction in interest rates), taxes accruing to govts. which results in withdrawal of govt. from social welfare schemes) to name a few. Besides, it continues thedrive to take its products to all corners, crushing producers outside its pale and/or subordinating them and bringing all resources under its control. This drive is further intensified under neo-liberal regime. But by reducing share of other claimants to the value produced, the capital under neo-liberalism undercuts the conditions of the realization of its increased demands for profits thus making the whole system increasingly rapacious, and also instable. It results in ever increasing growth in inequality as it reduces the shares of all other participants in the economy and depresses their living conditions and makes their working conditions increasingly precarious. Growth of inequality is not an accidental but inevitable result of the policies being pursued by the rulers at the behest of the big capital (corporate).
The system riven with increasingly deepening crisis, is pregnant with immense possibilities for the revolutionary forces. Converting these possibilities into realities i.e. growing people struggles under the leadership of revolutionary forces is the main challenge of the situation. The realization of these possibilities will obviously have to counter the ruling class attempts against them. They are coming across and have to come across the ruling class conspiracies as well as limitations of different other classes. Class struggle is the sole vehicle of conversion of possibilities into reality though its course is bound to be zig zag, each turn must make for the advance.