Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bernie Sanders: Talking about a Revolution

"As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked - and rightly so - what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government." - Martin Luther King, Jr. [April 4th 1967 - Source]

With the US presidential primary season in full swing, the media spotlight is fixed on the campaigns like the Eye of Sauron. Beyond the GOP/Donald Trump freak show, there has been a great deal of analysis concerning the chances of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders seriously challenging Hillary Clinton, the natural choice of Wall Street and the US establishment. After he tied the popular vote in Iowa and trounced Clinton in New Hampshire, the hopes of his supporters went into the stratosphere.

Polling data for the forthcoming primaries show a solid lead for Clinton in most states. Much has also been said on the issue of so-called 'superdelegates', a deeply undemocratic element of the nomination process. The [recommended] Naked Capitalism blog provides an informative and balanced analysis:

While Sanders does have a modest 36-32 lead among elected delegates — those that are bound to the candidates based on the results of voting in primaries and caucuses — Clinton leads 362-8 among superdelegates, who are Democratic elected officials and other party insiders allowed to support whichever candidate they like.

If you’re a Sanders supporter, you might think this seems profoundly unfair. And you’d be right: It’s profoundly unfair. Superdelegates were created in part to give Democratic party elites the opportunity to put their finger on the scale and prevent nominations like those of George McGovern in 1972 or Jimmy Carter in 1976, which displeased party insiders.

...

The Democratic party’s nomination will ultimately be decided by more than 4,700 delegates at its nominating convention in the summer. Most of those delegates are allocated based on votes in each state’s primary or caucus. However, the party also assigns what are known as ‘superdelegates” – 700 or so people who aren’t elected by anyone during the primary process and are free to vote any way they want at the convention. They are made up of members of Congress and members of the Democratic National Committee – which is made up of much of the establishment that Sanders is implicitly running against.

Party elites who have announced who they are supporting have almost universally broken towards Clinton’s camp. A recent unofficial count put Clinton’s advantage at a staggering 355-14. And given how Sanders falls well outside the establishment compared with Obama in 2008, it’s hard to see how he can gain a significant number to make up for Clinton’s lead – meaning it’s more likely that superdelegates would at least want to tip the scales in favor of Clinton, even if he ends up winning more primaries.


That is not to say it is a foregone conclusion. If Sanders wins the popular vote by a significant margin - an outcome polls do not currently point to - superdelegates may switch to the Senator:

It’s hard to imagine that the superdelegates would outright steal the nomination from Sanders if he won the popular vote by, say, 10%. But it’s certainly possible to imagine them demanding a high and not at all metaphorical price for their support if the Sanders margin of victory was much smaller. (What would Big Pharma give, for example, to avoid a Sanders victory, or cripple his single payer initiative?) Nate Silver gives the most benign prediction:

What you’re likely to see in close cases like these is competing claims to legitimacy, with Democratic party elites showing their bias by interpreting the evidence in favor of Clinton.

It’s hard to know the exact point at which such claims go from laughable to credible, but my guess is that it’s somewhere around the 5 percentage point gap… So superdelegates do provide some advantage to Clinton: They’ll break a true tie in her favor, and perhaps anything that can reasonably be described as a tie in her favor also. It’s just not the massive advantage implied by the delegate count so far.

(And at this point I remember that Clinton has also been sharing fundraising money with the State parties, and Sanders small contributions have not been devoted to that, so a lot of those superdelegates may feel honor-bound to reciprocate for their walking around money. And I also remember that when the DNC took Michigan delegates away from Clinton and gave them to Obama, they violated procedural rules to do so; like changing the agenda during lunch, IIRC. So these are people not necessarily concerned with the niceties.)


The idea that this superdelegate system is entirely undemocratic is fueled by the words of none other than Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who said the following on CNN in answer to a question from Jake Tapper [Emphasis (bold) mine]:

Well, let me just make sure that I can clarify exactly what was available during the primaries in Iowa and in New Hampshire. The unpledged delegates are a separate category. The only thing available on the ballot in a primary and a caucus is the pledged delegates, those that are tied to the candidate that they are pledged to support. And they receive a proportional number of delegates going into the — going into our convention.

Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grass-roots activists. We are, as a Democratic Party, really highlight and emphasize inclusiveness and diversity at our convention, and so we want to give every opportunity to grass-roots activists and diverse committed Democrats to be able to participate, attend and be a delegate at the convention. And so we separate out those unpledged delegates to make sure that there isn’t competition between them.


It is worth highlighting also that Clinton is a clear odds-on favorite to win the nomination, according to bookmakers.

Polls of course can be misleading and surprises occur. A major scandal engulfing Clinton, for one, would play into the hands of the Sanders campaign. What, in such an instance, could one expect from President Sanders?

The campaign website has set out a series of progressive goals such as the Rebuild America Act, which proposes 'a $1 trillion plan to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and put 13 million Americans to work'. This will be paid for 'by making corporations pay taxes on all of the “profits” they have shifted to the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens, which the Congressional Research Services estimates may currently create losses that approach $100 billion annually, and other loopholes'. He also proposes 'making public colleges and universities tuition-free and substantially reducing student debt, in a plan that would cost about $75 billion a year' paid for by 'imposing a tax on Wall Street speculators that would generate about $300 billion in revenue'.

What's not to like? Three little words spring immediately to mind: 'Hope and Change'. Back when Candidate Obama was running in his first campaign, inspiring rhetoric literally gushed out. Marvel here at the young idealist's promises of more transparency and at these embarrassing clips on government spying before and after the Snowden disclosures.

If a voter is naive enough to believe that a politician - any politician - won't back down on pre-election promises once safely in power, it is extremely likely they will also be naive enough to think that the ruling elites of the United States would let Sanders get anywhere near their tax havens and various cash cows. A good and hopeful citizen, fed up of all the inequality, poverty and police violence (to name but three pressing issues in the US), may even believe that this time is somehow different, that Obama's broken promises will not be repeated under an integrity-driven Sanders presidency.

The sober reality, however, is that nothing can ever radically change within the establishment consensus, the unbreakable duopoly that represents the true government of the US. Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin I. Page - hardly firebrand radicals - found in a 2014 study that the US is an oligarchy, not a democracy.

They concluded:

Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

Why can nothing radically change as things stand? Historian William Blum explains:

Why does a person raised in a capitalist society become a socialist? It could be because of a parent or parents who are committed socialists and raise their children that way. But it’s usually because the person has seen capitalism up close for many years, is turned off by it, and is thus receptive to an alternative. All of us know what the ugly side of capitalism looks like. Here are but a few of the countless examples taken from real life:

* Following an earthquake or other natural disaster, businesses raise their prices for basic necessities such as batteries, generators, water pumps, tree-removal services, etc.

* In the face of widespread medical needs, drug and health-care prices soar, while new surgical and medical procedures are patented.

* The cost of rent increases inexorably regardless of tenants’ income.

* Ten thousand types of deception to part the citizens from their hard-earned [w]ages.

What do these examples have in common? It’s their driving force – the profit motive; the desire to maximize profit. Any improvement in the system has to begin with a strong commitment to radically restraining, if not completely eliminating, the profit motive. Otherwise nothing of any significance will change in society, and the capitalists who own the society – and their liberal apologists – can mouth one progressive-sounding platitude after another as their chauffeur drives them to the bank.

But social democrats and democratic socialists have no desire to get rid of the profit motive. Last November, Sanders gave a speech at Georgetown University in Washington about his positive view of democratic socialism, including its place in the policies of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. In defining what democratic socialism means to him, Sanders said: “I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production.” (Senator Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States, November 19, 2015.)

I personally could live with the neighborhood grocery store remaining in private hands, but larger institutions are always a threat; the larger and richer they are the more tempting and easier it is for them to put profit ahead of the public’s welfare, and to purchase politicians. The question of socialism is inseparable from the question of public ownership of the means of production.

The question thus facing “socialists” like Sanders is this: When all your idealistic visions for a more humane, more just, more equitable, and more rational society run head-first into the stone wall of the profit motive … which of the two gives way?


While the profit motive, the driving force and underlying principle of capitalism, remains intact in the US and the world in general, none of the social ills targeted for improvement or eradication by Sanders can ever be tackled. Like pouring a bucket of fresh water into a poisoned lake, the overbearing sickness will always return no matter what the short-term gains because all of the key public institutions in the US are compromised, controlled by the ruling classes, who will inevitably work to ensure their interests are served. Add to this the corporate ownership of the media and the result is a confused populace kept ignorant of reality, led around by the nose in whichever direction is ultimately beneficial to the aforementioned oligarchy.

Further evidence of lack of socialist credentials despite Sanders' claims to them is provided when one looks at his professed support not only for Israel, a nation engaged in a long-running campaign of brutalization against the Palestinian people, but also for the phony, imperialist war on terror, including drone strikes, in which 90% of all people targeted are innocent civilians. As evinced so perceptively by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the quotation at the head of this article, social justice for the poor within US borders can only occur when US violence abroad is terminated forever. In failing to acknowledge or extend this philosophy, Sanders betrays his true nature: that of a faithful establishment Democrat; most certainly not a socialist.

True social activism and awareness knows no boundaries and is only valid when applied to all people equally everywhere forever. In striving for this ideal, compromise - so often decreed necessary by tortured, 'nuanced' liberals - is self-defeating, as demonstrated by the adoption by millions of people of the cowardly, insipid and morally bankrupt 'lesser evil' argument, the oldest scam in the book since divide and rule; the means by which 'nicer' rulers have extended and entrenched the interests of the rich and powerful over ordinary citizens since the birth of democracy.

Bernie Sanders has captured and embodied the social mood of these dark times, has won the hopes and trust of many original supporters of the now safely co-opted Occupy movement. His supporters are good, ordinary people who want a better life for themselves and others and have latched onto what seems their only viable option. It is therefore vital that this massive movement for social justice is not co-opted into support for the Democratic party and its policies of maintaining the status quo. Their energy and passion must be channeled into grassroots protest and mass mobilisation.

Real revolution will never come about until the powers in control of the key institutions - national and global - are eradicated; until a system of government predicated on social justice and equality is implemented, one where the rich are removed and forever barred from unduly influencing politics. Bernie Sanders offers nothing even close to this, as journalist Chris Hedges concludes in a recent article:

This will be a long and desperate struggle. It will require open confrontation. The billionaire class and corporate oligarchs cannot be tamed. They must be overthrown. They will be overthrown in the streets, not in a convention hall. Convention halls are where the left goes to die.

No truer words. Do not be fooled again.

Written by Simon Wood

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