A caller to the Thom Hartmann program called to ask how to define for friends and family what a democratic Socialist was. Thom struggled with a somewhat long-winded response, indicative of the difference between nuanced characterizations of issues on the Left and the bumper-sticker simplicity of the Right. Given that the Right has worked hard to turn the word socialism, let alone, any concept or interpretation in a pejorative, it would seem that it is not a simple argument. Those words mean more to people over 40 who still recall the Cold War and the constant, generation’s long drumbeat about communism.
There are a couple of deep and unassailable truths here. The first is that neither China nor the Soviet Union were ever actually Communist, let alone socialist. They were dictatorships, more closely aligned to fascism than communism. The second ultimate truth is that we are all socialist by nature, and that even the most strident capitalist is, well, socialist.
The root of socialism is of course “social,” that intangible mix of family, community, culture and survival that we all are born to. To be social is to be part of society, and no matter how much Ayn Rand cultists infect neo-Libertarian or Tea Party ideology, we all rely and depend upon society to degrees few of us realize. The Bible, Koran, Torah, the parliamentary system, the constitution when realized fully are all socialist institutions and documents: We the People!
Communism and Socialism are not synonymous terms, except for the intentionally ignorant. Like capitalism and true democracy none have ever been honestly attempted on a grand scale, and so, all systems of economy and government on the planet are at worst corruptions and at best hybrids of one another. Bernie sanders has long described himself as a social-democrat, and through no small part of his life was active in the socialist party in Vermont. Sanders is running now as a democrat. That doesn’t make a great deal of allies on either the right or the far left.
Despite criticism from so-called purists in the socialist party, it is astounding that his message has found such resonance among voters and supporters. Just one or two elections ago mainstream candidates were all but running from being described or even associated with socialists. While on the ever aging Right socialism is still ubiquitous with communism, progressives and liberals, and many unaffiliated younger voters are far less alarmed by the word. In truth, many of his positions, consistent with socialist ideals, have become mainstream. A new generation, informed in politics, justice and social issues by the Occupy movement and the blatantly corrupt marriage of money and politics, embraces solutions and issues championed by Sanders, ideas once held as far left utopianism.
Still criticism by the left against Sanders persists. According to the website socialistworker.org:
“We do support many of Sanders’ proposals for reform, like free higher education, the breakup of the mega-banks, a green jobs program to promote alternative energy and stop climate change, and measures to challenge corporate domination of the political system. We also disagree with Sanders’ support for apartheid Israel and his failure to consistently challenge U.S. imperialism, his weak position on the issue of racist police violence, and his support for restrictions on immigrant rights.”
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly for a malleable campaign which must react swiftly to a veritable hail storm of issues from terrorism, the Iran nuclear deal, the death of Sandra Bland and gun violence. For a candidate who fashions himself as a true reformer, Sanders has shown an ability to react quickly while actually listening to constituents rather than promoting focus group and special interest positions.
But for many on the Left, particularly in the socialist party, an often splintered group known for bitter internal battles, the problem is party affiliation. Ashley Smith and Alan Maass, writing for the Socialist Worker, believe Sanders’ “biggest problem is Sanders’ relationship to the Democratic Party. It poses as the “party of the people,” but it is, in fact, a capitalist party, funded and controlled by Corporate America and the political elite. The party establishment tolerates liberals and even radicals in their midst, so long as they don’t represent a significant threat. (http://socialistworker.org/2015/05/27/an-faq-on-sanders-and-the-left)”
But elections are won in the middle, and Sanders has built an amazing base, drawing record crowds around the nation, including in red states such as Texas. Those audiences are comfortable and encouraged that he does not shy away from being identified as a socialist.
The issue in the campaign is not that Bernie Sanders is running as a democrat or identifies as a socialist. The greatest threat to sanders’ campaign currently are the Press, factionalism on the Left and the Corporate Oligarchy, which holds inordinate sway over both parties, particularly when it comes to elections. But socialism is dangerous, right?
The Press and corporate oligarchy could be viewed as one in the same. Since the Reagan administration it has emerged as the information wing for that oligarchy. There remains a synergy between corporate media coverage of select corporately sympathetic candidates and the amount of money, especially following the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, flowing to candidates (http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2015/07/for-gop-senators-running-for-white-house-campaign-cash-correlates-with-export-import-bank-position/ ).
Even more, the number of Americans donating to elections and candidates, primarily via Super-PACs is dangerously skewed to a very elite minority, all of them wealthy and expecting a return on investment. That idea of return on investment is the structural strategy behind the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, a pipeline for corporate-crafted legislation placed in the hands of legislators. That fundamentally threatens the democratic process of voting, in the same way it would be undemocratic and unfair had a law passed allowing corporate CEOs to dictate all their employees vote for a specific candidate or face retribution or termination.
Just as alarming is the skewe3d coverage by the media in favor of select candidates while ignoring others. The coverage by networks and outlets favors candidates like Donald Trump with near constant coverage and validation despite a lack of substance in a campaign which is very clearly more about entertainment and Trump’s ego. There is nothing in any of his positions and comments beneficial to the pressing issues of the nation. More substantive candidates, attempting to have rational, real conversations have been kept out of regular media, those messages relying almost entirely upon social media. Social vs traditional media will be covered in a later post.
Factionalism within the Left remains a looming question. In the 2014 mid-terms low turnout on the left enabled key victories on the right. Particularly on the Left, dominated by younger voters there is both apathy and discontent. Both were reasons many young people refused to vote in 2014. Sanders has inspired many, even if coverage of his meteoric popularity has been ignored by the mainstream press. The factionalism on the Left may be a greater issue for Hillary Clinton than for Sanders. That remains to be seen. At the end of July she still led nationally in polls, but that lead was shrinking steadily. Still, the corporately co-opted DNC, like their GOP counterparts is pressing ahead with their choice: Hillary Clinton.
Getting out the vote is the key. Too many young people and progressives no longer have faith in that process. Numbers of votes are still the key. Someone is going to cast those votes. The right is counting on the elderly and actively working to polarize the nation along racial and economic lines. At the end of the day the candidates you get into office are the ones who drive the policies, make the laws and impose them on the rest of us. Voting is the only way to offset the corruption in the system.
Expecting any candidate to be 100% ideologically pure 100% of the time in a complex and diverse nation of 380 million is unrealistic and foolish.