By Doctor Comrade
Bernie Sanders is not a socialist. He does not support the overthrow of global capitalism or the democratization of the means of production. He does not support a classless society or a dictatorship of the proletariat. He does not support revolution or incremental progress towards a communist utopia.
At most, he is a moderate social democrat. In the US, this makes him a leftist, certainly, but in a broader sense, he can hardly be called a radical.
What we know about Bernie Sanders is that he favors a reformist agenda that will prolong and sustain capitalism. He intends to decrease income inequality by redistributing capital. He intends on reducing the grotesque wealth gap between rich and poor, and he believes that a strong middle class is the key to economic and social stability. By passing reforms, he will temporarily disperse the revolutionary energy of America’s working classes. In short, he will do little to weaken global capitalism or foster class-consciousness.
But I will support Bernie Sanders because I am a pragmatic socialist.
A Sanders presidency would see millions of Americans gain access to education, healthcare, food, and shelter. When we consider any of the political candidates from both political parties, what becomes most obvious is that Sanders genuinely seems to believe in the power of unionized labor, wealth redistribution, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and some form of economic fairness. If Sanders is elected president, the living standards for many Americans, particularly those of the working classes, will improve.
My principal argument is that we cannot allow ourselves to turn our backs on our own people to score a narcissistic point against capitalism. We can’t delude ourselves into thinking that we are hastening the coming revolution by undermining the wellbeing of the very people we claim to hold closest. When a person living in poverty can’t afford to feed or clothe their kids, or when a person who is homeless is sleeping on the street, or a person who is very sick can’t go to the hospital, I challenge you to tell them, “Don’t worry, we’re starting the revolution soon.”
WE CANNOT ALLOW OURSELVES TO TURN OUR BACKS ON OUR OWN PEOPLE TO SCORE A NARCISSISTIC POINT AGAINST CAPITALISM.
If leftists choose to make a political statement by abstaining from voting or by voting for fringe candidates who will not win, then we are forsaking short-term improvements to working-class livelihoods. By not helping a candidate like Sanders win, we might not only be handing the election to fascists like Donald Trump, but we will certainly cause suffering for our working-class brethren. If we wish to address some fundamental and historical problems in our society—like economic, gender, and racial segregation—then we cannot afford to let the conservatives and reactionaries win. This includes both the Republican Party and Hillary Clinton. The GOP has unabashedly allowed itself to become a Wall Street puppet, and Hillary Clinton is only marginally better. If they win, our people will lose. If Sanders wins, our people will benefit.
Additionally, this country is not ready for a Marxist revolution. The working classes are not unified or organized. There is no coherent revolutionary theory that would unite the working classes in order to overcome racist, sexist, religious, and nativist impulses that have so successfully divided the working classes. Our national unions are bourgeois; our local unions are weak. And most importantly, capitalism’s ideological foundations are deeply embedded in every social interaction. In short, we have no revolutionary consciousness.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that a Republican victory will help build revolutionary consensus. It will only help the reactionaries continue to segregate this country economically and racially. We will be farther apart than ever before. They will make it harder for unions to organize, for people of color to stay out of prison, for people of color to stop being killed by police, for women to achieve social and economic equality, for LGBT people to win rights and protections, and for immigrants to search for better lives. They will deepen the hole of poverty that consumes the lives of millions of Americans. And while they exploit the working classes, they will continue to drive wedges between us, making Americans who would otherwise unite behind a revolution fight each other for the leftovers.
The Left, however it is defined, has to unite against bigger threats. Whomever the Republican Party nominates for president certainly intends on unleashing another destructive wave of Reaganomics upon our people. And the working classes will suffer. Revolutions do not occur because of Republican victories: we saw no national, unified movement during the Reagan, Bush I, or Bush II administrations; we’ve had 35 years of trickle-down economics and no revolutionary consciousness has been formed. We need to continue to agitate, but in order to do that, we need to cooperate with each other and remember who the real enemy is. Bernie Sanders is not our enemy. He’s also not our ally, but at least his agenda does not seek to directly harm and hamper our movement.
The Republicans will guarantee that our real allies will be deprived of food, shelter, health, and the ability to organize in the workplace. I cannot morally stand by while our people starve, or are driven to violence and crime, or are forced to squander our potential under the burden of reactionary and fascist politics. I cannot morally stand by and watch people of color be tortured, murdered, dehumanized, interned, and deported. And I cannot stand by while free trade agreements and imperialism continue to destroy the environment, victimize the world’s workers, and consolidate the power of the multi-national elite.
Individual state contests form the backbone of the presidential election process: states are the sites for primaries and apportionment of Electoral College electors. Sanders will need all the help he can get to defeat Hillary Clinton outside of New England, and he’ll certainly need good turnout to defeat any Republican in the general election. Swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida will play a key role, but leftists in all states should turn out in order to help Sanders win the presidency and put Democrats in Congress that will be sympathetic to his agenda. In the past, I’ve voted for fringe candidates because I lived in Idaho and every election was a foregone conclusion. But I now support the idea of voting for Sanders, even in states where he will win or lose by sizable margins, to help him gain leverage to claim an electoral mandate by referring to the popular vote.
I am not a defeatist or a nihilist or a pessimist. We already know that the socialists and communists of this country will not win the 2016 election. We have a long way to go before we can create the kind of change we actually want. But in the interim, we can’t lose sight of what is actually important: the day-to-day lives of individual members of the working classes. If we are concerned with forming a revolutionary consciousness, our objectives will not be achieved by entrenching our people in poverty and segregation, but only through organization and education. We have to dismantle the bourgeois institutions, which will only be achieved through national and international action. Forfeiting the 2016 election will ensure that unity, class consciousness, and action are forestalled.