Sanders Socialism, Now and Then


There is a history to FDR’s New Deal that E.J. Dionne Jr.’s column in the Washington Post of Dec. 27, 2015, scratches in Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders’ run to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. Case in point is the labor-led movement behind the enacting of the landmark New Deal legislation in the 1930s.

One, Dionne elides the involvement of communist and socialist interests stateside, part of something bigger. I mean an international workers’ movement.

Its opposition to the freedom of capital investment and trade suffered a world-historic defeat. Dionne ignores this workers’ movement in his sketch on democratic socialism and capitalism in Sen. Sanders’ campaign.

Compare Sen. Sanders’ democratic socialism to other socialist movements? He, as Dionne writes, defines democratic socialism as a state, or government policy, of redistribution only.

Sanders has said: “I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.”

Freeing private property, e.g. labor, has a precedence in US history. The Civil War abolished slavery, ending the private ownership of one group of people by another.

The Cuban Revolution, a century later, saw the seizing of private property. The Bolivarian Revolution more recently redistributes Venezuela’s oil revenue to the working class.

In the current moment of extreme capitalism, (the economy and ecology) it is precisely the energy of energized and mobilized human beings to make class-based demands, e.g., a workers’ movement. Yes, it does not exist now.

The reasons for that are complex. The why of this matters, with a short look back helpful to see where things stand in 2016.

Post-World War II politics changed the class composition of the grassroots’ mobilization that in the 1930s pushed FDR, America’s most popular president, to convince capitalist interests to accept higher taxes to fund the social programs and policies begun in the Great Depression, e.g., Social Security and unemployment insurance. These moneyed elites reluctantly accepted FDR’s depression-era ultimatum to share capital socially, according to economist Richard D. Wolff.

In short time, such reluctance took a political turn. To call this counterrevolution might be a good fit. Labor law is a useful start. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 [passed over President Harry Truman’s veto] “required unions to purge their ranks of communists, cutting organized labor off from its most effective organizers and the most articulate challengers of the status quo,” writes CSU Chico economist Michael Perelman in The Confiscation of American Prosperity (Palgrave, 2007).

To use a boxing metaphor, capitalist interests using Cold War politics attacked the body of a radical movement. Its head died.

Eliminating a core constituency of working-class politics paved the path for the freeing of private-sector workers from collective bargaining agreements with employers, gutting the rise of labor unions under New Deal legislation. Currently, 93.4% of private-sector workers nationwide labor union-free, hired and fired at-will, e.g., the whim of management.

Union density, or participation, has fallen from to 20.1% in 1983 to 11.1% in 2014, according to federal Labor Dept. data. This union-free trend drives our social conditions of precarious life for the working majority.

Inequality of income (flow) and wealth (assets) among and between nations is the new normal. In my hometown of Sacramento, recent Census Bureau data underscores this point. The upper 20% of households alone upped their inflation-adjusted income by 1.4% during 2007-2014, versus absolute losses for the bottom 80% in Sacramento’s four-county region. The poorest 20% of Sacramento region households lost the largest amount of income, 27%, in the same seven-year period.

The Great Recession has spurred mass consciousness of this gap between the 1% and everybody else, thanks to the language of Occupy Wall Street. This process is legitimating the re-entry of socialism to the body politic, along with its opposite: fascist reaction.

The insecurities and instabilities of the capitalist system create the conditions for revolution. The counterrevolution of fascism aims to destroy such an outcome.

What participatory forms the socialist impulse takes after the presidential campaign is critical.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2016

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