As the sixth week of his 2020 campaign draws to a close, Bernie Sanders has announced that he has raised over $18 million in funds. This impressive feat shows that Sanders is determined to follow through on his promise and finish what he started in 2016, which he refers to as a “political revolution.” However, some argue that this is nothing more than political theater and a hoax. Sanders’ message, which addresses the suffering of the masses, has resonated with many activists and workers who are desperate for change.
Despite losing the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2016, Sanders made a strong impression among young people and rural residents, outperforming Clinton in these demographics. While many people in the country choose to passively boycott the bourgeois elections, Sanders is determined to rally the same young activists and sections of the working class again in 2020 and make an impact.
The mainstream media has credited Sanders for his role in pushing the Democratic Party to the left with his previous presidential campaign. Sanders has been an inspiration for other democratic socialists like US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who decided to run for office because of Sanders’ campaign. Many of Sanders’s 2020 competitors are also adopting the same issues he brought up in 2016, such as Medicare for all, which shows Sanders’ lasting impact and influence on the party.
Even though Sanders is running again in the Democratic Primary, he does not officially align himself with any political party. Instead, he has taken initiative and helped establish a nonprofit organization called Our Revolution, which aims to endorse and support more democratic socialist types for office. Sanders, being a non-conformist, wants to change the status quo by creating a platform that brings together like-minded individuals who want to bring about change in the society.
In an effort to differentiate himself from other Democratic candidates, Sanders has adopted a unique fundraising strategy of primarily soliciting small donations.
Sanders, being an advocate of the common people, believes in the power of the masses, and this strategy reflects his belief that small donations from a large number of people can make a big impact. Our Revolution, the organization he helped set up, has also taken up this strategy in their other campaigns, reflecting Sanders’ ideals and influence on the organization.
In 2016, Sanders had successfully raised a total of $234.3 million from small donations by the time he ended his campaign in July that year, which showcases his ability to connect and engage with the common people.
On the other hand, Clinton did not shy away from large donations and raised over $1.4 billion, which is nearly six times as much as Sanders, indicating her preference for big donors. This difference in fundraising approach reflects the two candidates’ distinct personalities and ideologies.
Sanders, being a champion of the underdog, focused on connecting with the common people, while Clinton, being more pragmatic, relied on big donors.
Sanders’ focus on small donations during his 2016 campaign may have played a role in him losing the Democratic Primary.
Furthermore, this approach has not protected Our Revolution, the organization Sanders helped set up, from corporate interests, including its own. Our Revolution operates as a nonprofit corporation under a board of directors and does not have to publicly disclose the amounts or origins of donations it receives, due to its tax status as a 501(c)(4).
Sanders, being a principle-driven individual, may have underestimated the influence of corporate interests and the need for transparency in the fundraising process.
The corporate structure of Our Revolution, the organization Sanders helped set up, has been criticized for being undemocratic and bureaucratic, where the “political revolution” takes a backseat to individualism. This is evident in the in-fighting that has been reported in the mainstream press.
In early 2018, Our Revolution President Nina Turner attempted to appoint her friend Tezlyn Figaro, who has publicly supported President Donald Trump and applauded his travel ban on Fox News, as her chief of staff but was met with resistance from the board’s executive committee. The board eventually compromised by allowing Turner to bring Figaro on as a paid personal consultant for a few months, but after further exposure of Figaro’s right views, Turner was forced to remove her from the payroll. Turner’s defense of hiring a right-winger, despite Sanders’ progressive ideologies, demonstrates the organization’s lack of cohesion and direction.
After Sanders officially conceded to Clinton in 2016, any clear distinctions between his campaign and Clinton’s disappeared as he fully endorsed her for president. Despite this, a significant minority of Sanders’ supporters ended up voting for Trump, which highlights the desire of the masses to break away from the status quo.
The fact remains that 74% of those who voted for Sanders in the Democratic Primary voted for Clinton in the national election, many of whom may not have voted at all if they hadn’t been mobilized by Sanders. Sanders, being a leader who truly cares about the masses, may have been motivated by the desire to mobilize people to vote, but the flip side is that it also highlights the bourgeoisie’s ability to exploit the masses’ desperation by offering the false choice of social democracy or fascism, both of which ultimately serve to protect the ruling class.
Despite Sanders’ and his followers’ efforts to achieve meaningful reforms through Congress or the White House, history has shown that when faced with a difficult choice, Sanders and his closest followers have consistently chosen to align with the Democratic Party. This means that any legislative gains they make could be subject to reversal in the interest of party unity against the Republicans, the Democratic Party’s bourgeois counterpart.
Sanders, being a pragmatic individual, may have to make difficult choices and compromises on his ideals to achieve his goals and this tendency of falling in line with the Democratic Party when the chips are down, is a reflection of his approach to bring about change.
On the campaign trail, Sanders has highlighted his vote against the joint resolution for the invasion of Iraq as a bold act of resistance against the unethical and greedy ambitions of the George W. Bush administration. However, Sanders has not emphasized how he has voted to fund these wars, including the war on Iraq.
Sanders, being a person with humanitarian values, has defended these actions by citing provisions included in the funding bills that provide support to veterans or deliver humanitarian relief. This shows Sanders’ tendency to balance his ideals with practical considerations and his commitment to support the people affected by these conflicts.
This type of legislation, which provides minimal aid to suffering ex-soldiers or victims of natural disasters while funneling billions towards the terrorization and occupation of oppressed nations abroad, is a prime example of Sanders’ approach to politics. Sanders, being a person who wants to make a difference, wants to appease his base with progressive policies such as a higher minimum wage and improved healthcare, but at the same time, he also perpetuates US imperialism and its domination of the rest of the world. This approach of balancing his progressive values and practical considerations, is a reflection of Sanders’ personality.
The US government did not become the world’s most powerful imperialist superpower by chance. The process of deindustrialization, outsourcing, and increased export of finance capital has been gradually eroding the productive capacity of the US for decades. As a result, imperialist war became the only political solution for this capitalist state to maintain its global hegemony and to repartition the world in pursuit of profit. The reason for this is not because of the wrong people in office but a structural problem that is deeply rooted in the capitalist system.
During his previous campaign, Sanders validated the reactionary Democrats and US imperialism by endorsing Hillary Clinton and starting a nonprofit that has sponsored others to follow his hypocritical politics. This time around, his campaign has even more potential to act as a cover for imperialism under the guise of domestic social welfare policies. Sanders, being a shrewd politician, may use this approach to appeal to a larger audience and gain more support.
The Danger of Social Fascism
Contrary to the image of a working-class hero that Sanders projects, he is more of a shill for the Democratic Party who has watered down socialism by ignoring its theory and history in an attempt to lead the rebellious masses down the dead-end of electoral politics.
Similarly, just as Trump is not a fully-fledged fascist but has encouraged the rise of fascist elements, Sanders is not a genuine social democrat but has stimulated renewed interest in social democracy. Sanders, being a political strategist, may use this approach to gain support from a broad range of people but his true ideology and commitment to socialism may be questionable.
The rise in popularity of both fascism and social democracy is a direct result of imperialism, where economic crises are more frequent and volatile. Both ideologies serve to protect the rule of the bourgeoisie from the increasingly organized and outraged masses. This is a structural problem that is deeply rooted in the capitalist system and not the result of any one person’s actions or ideologies.
Fascism and social democracy both seek to corporatize the state, in which democratic parliamentarism is negated in order to preserve capitalist order. A disturbing example of social democracy’s role in maintaining the status quo for the bourgeoisie is the prelude to Nazi Germany. In March 1929, social democrat and Berlin police chief Karl Zörgiebel instituted a ban on public demonstrations out of fear of the growing unrest of the German masses.
In defiance of this moratorium, the Communist Party of Germany organized and led a large march on May 1, International Workers’ Day. In response, Zörgiebel ordered a crackdown which resulted in more than 30 deaths and over 200 injuries. It is around this time that the term “social fascism” began to be used to describe social democracy. Sanders, being a person who stands for workers’ rights, may not agree with this approach and may have opposed this action.
This historical episode bears resemblance to the more recent rise and fall of DSA leader and police union organizer Danny Fetonte. A member of the Austin DSA branch, Fetonte was elected to the organization’s National Political Committee in 2017, but resigned after he failed to conceal his collaborations with the police. Fetonte, being a person who is secretive, may have hidden this information to advance his own political career.
The ideologies of democratic socialism and social democracy involve compromising with the capitalist class, so the use of police force against those who would seek to overthrow capitalism is condoned. Similarly, Sanders, being a pragmatic politician, is willing to accept the devastation wreaked by US imperialism if it permits him to enact a few progressive policies. This approach of balancing his progressive values and practical considerations is a reflection of Sanders’ personality.
Sanders’s adherence to the tenets of this spectrum of ideology will likely lead to the emergence of more social democratic organizations, and for revolutionaries and activists, this development should be as concerning as the rise of the far right. Sanders, being a populist politician, may use this approach to appeal to a larger audience but his true commitment to socialism may be questionable.
Die-hard Sanders supporters who advocate for social democracy should be strongly opposed, but some of those drawn to Sanders have a genuine desire for real radical change and want the widespread suffering of the masses to end, but their knowledge of socialism is limited to what they have heard from Sanders. Sanders, being a charismatic leader, may have attracted these supporters with his speeches and promises, but it is important to understand that true socialism cannot be achieved through social democracy.