Even if had won the nomination and actually become President of the United States of America, his freedom of action would be very restricted by economic and political realities and he would have had very little option but to accommodate the capitalist class and their agenda. If he was elected there would be a number of cosmetic changes but the fundamental problem, capitalist property relations, would remain essentially unchanged.
Sanders calls himself a ‘socialist.’ ‘Calls himself’ are the key words. If ‘socialism’ means that a society’s means of production are socially, not privately or state owned – then Sanders is no socialist. But even if he doesn’t mean the same as we do when he talks about socialism, he can be thanked for at least bringing the term back into vogue, particularly in America where it had disappeared from popular discourse since the times Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas ran for the Presidency. It has been a long time since a serious aspirant for the presidency of the United States talked about ‘socialism’, no matter how vague their meaning of it is.
Sanders considers the Scandinavian countries as models to emulate, all capitalist, albeit with comparatively strong social safety nets, but where the wealthy still enjoy a preponderance of economic and political power. These countries have little in common with the socialism envisaged by Marx and other socialist pioneers. What Bernie Sanders means by ‘socialism’ is something more akin to capitalism with a human face. But this is not what socialism is about. The Scandinavian model has managed to achieve certain social welfare objectives, but they never involved fundamental alterations to capitalism’s underlying property relations. Neither would reforms Sanders proposed. Scandinavian reformists thought the benign hand of the state would replace the merciless invisible hand of the market but today the reformers have their hands full just trying to keep hold of what they can from the gains of the past.
The Democratic Party is a party that embraces capitalism. It calls for the reform, not the abolition of capitalism. As again now, Sanders routinely supports Democrats when they run for office. He, in other words, is a reform capitalist politician. He stands on the other side of the class line dividing the working class from the capitalist class. When socialists speak of working class independent political action, we think in terms of class independence. In other words, a political party entirely under the control of working people, representing their interests and their interest alone.
Sanders’ campaign did not rest on any anti-capitalist principle or working-class movement. It was about him getting elected and doing things for working people; he was not encouraging working people to do things for themselves. There was no thought given to constructing a real working-class movement but simply to encourage the unions and working people to remain an appendage to the pro-capitalist Democratic Party. The socialist goal, on the other hand, is not to create a socialist society for the working class but to encourage the working class to build socialism for itself. Using the words of Eugene Debs, ‘If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out’.
Neither Sanders nor any other politician can lead us to the alternative society we fight for. We must build it for ourselves. America badly needs a vigorous socialist party. America is a plutocracy, which means government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. Everything supports that fact. The American working class have been fooled into accepting the concept of common interests wherein the problems of the capitalist class and the state machine are theirs also – that people in the US all belong to one of the world’s mightiest military and industrial powers, sharing equally in the glory; so let’s all work still harder to increase the arms and wealth of the rulers. The belief that there exists a community of interests from which we all derive common benefits is a mistaken one but nevertheless held strongly.
Two crucial political fallacies permeate American workers’ thinking. First, that the present system can be so organised that it will operate in the interests of the majority, through a process of applied reformism, and second, that ‘proper leadership’ is an essential requirement. However, neither of the foregoing will ever remove any of the major social evils and the socialist mission is to demonstrate that fact.