Bernie Sanders’ Bid for President: What Would Eugene Debs Think?

Freedom Socialist Party:

Bernie Sanders and Eugene V. Debs

It’s clear why fed-up voters are attracted to Bernie Sanders. He rails against the billionaires and calls for a U.S. political revolution. Who doesn’t want to end the rule of banksters and CEOs? Who doesn’t want to stop the corporate harvesting of all things profitable at the expense of people and the planet? Who doesn’t want to hear the needs of working people promoted for a change?

Sanders’ self-professed hero is U.S. revolutionary socialist Eugene V. Debs. As a Socialist Party candidate, Debs ran for president five times in the early 1900s, twice gaining over 900,000 votes. But Debs understood that workers and the poor need a party independent of the duopoly of power. In a 1904 speech, he said:

The Republican and Democratic parties … are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principle.

With either of these parties in power one thing is always certain and that is that the capitalist class is in the saddle and the working class under the saddle.

… The ignorant workingman who supports either of these parties forges his own fetters and is the unconscious author of his own misery.

In contrast, Sanders is running as a Democrat; he has chosen to hitch his wagon to the overlords in the saddle. He has promised to support whoever wins the Democratic primary. In Congress, he votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time, and he consistently supports their presidential candidates.

His function in this election is the same as left-identified Democratic presidential contenders like Jesse Jackson, Dennis Kucinich, and others before him. It is to bleed off protest against the two-party chokehold over U.S. politics and to make sure that unionists and progressives once again vote — against their own interests — for a Democrat acceptable to big business.

And what about Sanders’ actual record? It’s seriously at odds with his image.

Wall Street — Sanders promises to reform Wall Street. But this can’t be done through tweaks such as taxing certain financial transactions, as Sanders proposes. Given the devastating power they wield over people’s lives, the banks need to be nationalized under workers’ control! Also, Sanders aims his anti-corporate fury almost entirely against Republicans, while giving a pass to Democratic friends of finance capital.

War — Sanders accepts the U.S. role as World Cop. In Congress, he has voted to fund nearly every imperialist military action by the U.S., from Iraq and Somalia to Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. He refuses to denounce Israel’s war on Palestinians, and endorsed the sanctions that killed over a million Iraqi civilians.

Labor — Sanders’ version of defending U.S. workers is of the jingoistic, “America First” variety. He points to immigrants and foreign workers as the source of job loss, rather than the bosses’ policies of speedup, automation, and the global “race to the bottom.” But, internationally, an injury to one truly is an injury to all! Even when it comes to U.S. workers, Sanders hasn’t stepped up to the plate when it counts. Earlier this year, he didn’t resist when the Democratic governor of Vermont, his ally, pushed through a budget that meant cutting hundreds of union jobs.

Civil rights — The Vermont senator has supported racist federal legislation, like Bill Clinton’s Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which props up the prison-industrial complex. He has not championed the Black Lives Matter movement or other groups aimed at ending police murders and the criminalization of youth of color.

In his campaign speeches, this supposed socialist generally has refused to pinpoint capitalism as the problem and socialism as the solution. While more and more voters are identifying their affiliation as “independent,” Sanders is headed in the opposite direction.

He excels at rousing populist oratory, but considers Hillary Clinton, warmonger of U.S. foreign policy, his “good friend.” Sanders is the man for the job for the beleaguered Democratic Party in these times of growing anger and dissent. Not as president, mind you, but as the latest in a series of perennial false hopes for a kinder, gentler party — and social system.

On the socialist Left, there are groups, like the Socialist Alternative of Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who give Sanders direct or indirect support, ignoring or downplaying the ugly parts of his record and wishing away his longtime collusion with the Democratic Party. This is no way to build a movement for lasting fundamental change.

What would be productive is left cooperation rather than competition on the electoral battlefield. By joining forces, it would be much more possible to give people opportunities to vote for bold, honest, radical opponents of the profit system and its ravages at home and abroad.

A big part of any joint anti-capitalist effort would have to be challenging the tangle of state and federal laws that keep Left and independent labor candidates off the ballot. And a possible outcome of such an effort could be the launch of a new national party to defend working people and the oppressed. The Freedom Socialist Party is for a national conference that could discuss these ideas and get something moving. And the sooner the better! U.S. voters need relief!

12 thoughts on “Bernie Sanders’ Bid for President: What Would Eugene Debs Think?

  1. Green_w_o_Adjectives

    The critique of Sanders in this article is pretty much dead-on, but I think the strategic perspective of SA and Sawant with relation to Sanders is the smarter way to go. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach and radicalize people who otherwise couldn’t be reached and simply condemning Sanders as a Democrat is not the way to reach them. Obviously the author is right unity is required by I don’t see the Freedom Sociailst Party (or any M-L party, including SA) leading in that respect.

    As for Molyneux, sure the first few times I saw him I thought he was cool and a potential ally, but over the years I’ve seen enough intellectual dishonesty and outright truth-twisting from him that I cannot in good conscience recommend any of his videos and/or recommend investing 57:29 to view his critique of Sanders.

  2. paulie Post author

    Methinks BOTH Sanders and Molyneux could really benefit by learning a tiny bit of Thermodynamic Economics.

    You may want to explain what that is for those who don’t know what that means.

  3. Steven Berson

    Paulie – The essential basics of Thermodynamic Economics (also called “bio-physical” or “ecological” economics sometimes) – a school of economic thought first proposed by Nobel prize winning chemist Frederick Soddy in the 1920’s – is that energy is the master resource from which all potential economic activity is derived from, and as such offers a method of quantifying economic activity via non-arbitrary measures such as per capita net energy use, the amount of energy embedded in any object (aka “emergy”), and the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) for any energy source. Since economic activity depends on energy to exist then it also can be shown to follow the physical laws of thermodynamics as well (such as conservation of energy and entropy – meaning a “perpetual motion machine” is impossible – including “perpetual motion machines” of eternal exponential growth on a finite planet that many previous economic schools of thought absurdly claim as being in the realm of possibility)

    As such with access to energy supplies with a positive EROEI, as well as access to the true wealth of natural resources (e.g. clean water, fertile soil, metals, fossil fuels), then labor can create products and infrastructures which benefit human existence – but without these critical physical elements then labor (in contrast to the assertions of some Marxists and Simonists) ends up being a futile exercise.

    Thermodynamic Economics recognizes that “money” is merely a man made abstraction of “virtual wealth” being the “nothing you need to exchange something for in order to get anything” and is subject to distortion and volatility towards what “real wealth” of actual energy supplies, natural resources, and existing tools and infrastructures, and labor it may represent.

    It also recognizes that there can in fact be “UN-economic” activities or growth in those behaviors which consume energy, labor and materials but that do not yield useful or desirable products – or that have more “negative externalities” of debilitating by products that outweigh the positive impacts of those behaviors or products. This is in direct contrast to some previous economic schools which would chalk up “breaking windows” or the processes engaged for the destruction of war as being line items for additional gross domestic product

    Why I bring this up in Sander’s case is he obviously believes that simply by artificially increasing the “virtual wealth” of money supply that he can somehow increase “real wealth” even though increasing currency supply simply dilutes the value of each unit of currency relative to the unchanged actual physical body of real wealth.

    Why I bring this up in Molyneux’s case was the first minutes of this video (posted in the response above the first of mine by Andy) where he harps on “money” as somehow being a viable comparative measure of economic activity between eras (and I’d argue that in the figures he sites it is not), and that he also seems to not quite grasp through out his talk that it is in fact energy and not money that is the “master resource.”

    Hope that helps!

  4. Dave

    Considering Sanders is drawing crowds of tens of thousands everywhere he goes, I can’t really fault him for running as a Democrat. He’d be unlikely to get this kind of press of momentum outside the Democrats. In fact, a poll just came out from the Boston Globe I believe that shows him leading in New Hampshire. The voters were hungrier for an alternative to Hillary than the establishment or media suspected. He could be the left wing Ron Paul in this respect, and it will be interesting to see if any of the leftist third parties promise to endorse him should he win the nomination. Or how they’ll campaign to his disappointing voters should he lose to Clinton.

    Readers might enjoy this recent article from Politico, which covers Sander’s conflicted views on the Democratic Party;

  5. Green_w_o_Adjectives

    Good link Dave. The funny thing about that article is it seems like a favorable portrayal to people like us who basically loathe Dems, but (while the piece is fine on its own terms) it comes off as a bit of a hit-piece…and we’ll see more of them in the near future. With this latest coup of the largest nurses’ union endorsing Sanders, TPTB are getting concerned, and now we see a left-liberal (Lessig) throwing his hat in to peel off many of the affluent liberals and middle-class professionals that have been a base of financial and online support for Sanders’ Democratic nomination run. We veteran political junkies saw this coming….but it may have happened too late as Sanders’ momentum may already be enough to surpass even the Ron Paul bids of 08 and 12 in terms of overall impact on the consciousness of Americans. But it’s early days still and we’ll just have to see. .

  6. Dave

    I don’t think that normally Sanders would have a chance, but the dems put all their eggs in Hillary Clinton’s basket, and this email scandal is really hurting her. If she dropped out and a more ‘electable”(establishment) Dem got in the race, I think Sanders would be neutralized. But I don’t think she will, and since almost every Democrat of note has endorsed her, no one can run against her either. Well there’s Biden, but he’s a pretty weak as a candidate. And polls show he takes most of his support from Clinton. So the Democrat establishment is in a bit of a pickle, and it will be interesting to see how it resolves.

  7. Green_w_o_Adjectives

    Honestly I don’t believe Sanders gets the nomination even if he won all the primaries (and I’ll be surprised if he wins any….even New Hampshire)…there are super-delegates to consider and if necessary they’d just rig the process.

    What the Dem establishment fears is the appearance that Sanders has more actual grassroots support than all of the Dem candidates combined (which at this stage is obviously the case). This is what Ron Paul threatened to do to the GOP in 08 and 12 (and may have actually done) and Sanders is arguably doing an even better job at a similar project. Even when Sanders endorses the Dem candidate, a large number of his supporters will be ready to jump ship, and the Green Party needs to be an attractive option at that point. The Greens desperately need to organize a national meeting long before the nominating convention (in August, gulp) where they rebrand themselves as the party of the 99% and appeal directly to the concerns of the vast majority of Americans, including Sanders supporters.

  8. Andy Craig

    “Honestly I don’t believe Sanders gets the nomination even if he won all the primaries (and I’ll be surprised if he wins any….even New Hampshire)…there are super-delegates to consider and if necessary they’d just rig the process.”

    Unpledged “superdelegates” who get that position ex officio, are only about 17% of the total. They alone couldn’t stop somebody who won *all* the primaries.

  9. Green_w_o_Adjectives

    Fair enough—there is a theoretical path to the nomination if he wins *all* or even *most* of the primaries… but to be perfectly honest I just don’t have that much faith in the integrity of our electoral institutions (particularly primaries) and that’s pretty much where I was coming from making the above comment. Even if our electoral systems are beyond reproach, we saw in 2004 with the Dean Scream how the media is capable of manipulating public opinion in favor of the preordained corporate candidate when they really focus on the task. If Sanders comes out of Iowa in a good position all the corporate Dems (Hillary, Biden, O’Malley, Chafee, and whoever else throws their hat in), as well as the media, will quickly coalesce behind one candidate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.