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Opinion Op Ed 03 Mar 2020 Communists might bac ...
The writer is a Kolkata-based journalist specialising in Left politics and history and the politico-economics of India’s neighbours

Communists might back Bernie, but he’s not one

Published Mar 3, 2020, 1:44 am IST
Updated Mar 3, 2020, 1:44 am IST
Mr Sanders, the longest serving Independent senator, joined the Democratic Party last year only.
Donald Trump (Photo: AP)
 Donald Trump (Photo: AP)

Progressives the world over may feel encouraged to know that prominent Marxist scholars, albeit hyphenated from official Marxist parties and their fellow travellers, back Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and have generated a friendly theoretical debate. On May Day this year, An Inheritance for Our Times: Principles and Politics of Democratic Socialism is scheduled to be released from New York and London. It is to be a collection of 30 papers and essays split into five sections, the principles of democratic socialism, socialism’s democratic essence, socialism, democracy and history, socialist alternatives and socialism and the challenges of the present.

It happens when Mr Sanders has sent shivers down the spine of US plutocrats after his comfortable win at the Nevada caucus on February 22 — connoting another step forward in the contest for Democratic Party nomination in the US presidential election. He poses a threat to the American polity dominated by unbridled corporate greed and corruption that has been destroying the social and economic fabric of American society with a small group of ultra-wealthy CEOs calling the shots. In a recent interview with CNBC, billionaire investor Leon Cooperman spoke of him as a “bigger threat” to the stock market than the coronavirus and accused him of “misrepresenting himself” as a socialist rather than a communist. Considering Mr Sanders as one of the biggest risks to markets, Mr Cooperman said, “I’m not a big long-term optimist; I think things out there are very troubling to me. Number one is Bernie Sanders.”

 

Mr Sanders, the longest serving Independent senator, joined the Democratic Party last year only. He is conspicuous for his opposition to increasing economic inegalitarianism and neoliberalism and a defender for labour rights, universal and single-payer healthcare as also for reduction in defence spending and diplomacy for international co-operation. After all, as the Chinese-American political analyst Zeng Ziyi wrote, Bernie has grown up in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York and “he encountered Jewish refugees who still had serial numbers branded on their arms from the Nazi Holocaust. The experience had a profound impact on Sanders”.

Among contributors are some of the topmost Marxist scholars such as Paresh Chattopadhyay, Richard D. Wolf, Peter Hudis, Barbara Epstein, Kevin B. Anderson, Gregory R. Smulewicz-Zucker and Michael J. Thompson. Mr Sanders’ theme is “What Democratic Socialism Means Today”. Editors Mr Smulewicz-Zucker and Mr Thompson (editors of “Radical Intellectuals and the Subversion of Progressive Politics: The Betrayal of Politics”, 2015), in the introduction stressed “a new awareness of and interest in democratic socialism has begun to emerge. In Western democracies, where it had been deemed, at best, a historical curiosity, socialism has become a real subject of debate within electoral politics. The desire has been sparked by the massive inequalities of late capitalism, but it is rooted in a basic sense that this inequality is more than a matter of redistribution. A new kind of society based on a new set of values is needed. A new sensibility is beginning to grow that sees that only a new way of organising society will begin to address the deep damage done to our society, our culture and our natural environment.”

Mr Chattopadhyay, who wrote the most important chapter in The Oxford Handbook of The History of Communism (ed. Stephen A. Smith), “Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on Communism”, in his essay, Socialism and Democracy, discards 20th century socialist states as “party-state regimes, undemocratic (usually a single party power) ruled by force”. An adherent of Marxian theory and logic but refusing to be called a Marxist, he states: “Till now there has been no socialism anywhere in the globe…Till now attempts to build socialism were undertaken in countries, a large part of which remained under the conditions of pre-capitalism with the population mostly under patriarchy, having unscientific mindsets, deep rooted social and economic inequalities, political and social repression or colonial domination and hardly any democratic tradition”.

Richard D. Wolff snaps fingers at those “socialisms based on undemocratically organised enterprises — whether regulated private or state-operated — proved to be problematic” and some of those “undemocratic socialist societies whose undemocratic economic base undermined their social stability, their very ability to survive”. Anderson, author of Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Societies, in his paper, “Marxism, Anarchism and Democracy”, looks up to “something entirely new today, the global resurgence of neofascist and like-minded regimes and movements and the odd types of support they have received”. He takes on statist socialists who have little regard for democracy, “excusing or even defending regimes like Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Bashar Al Assad’s Syria, or Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines.”

Mr Sanders is down to earth, keeping mind 40 million poverty-ridden Americans, 500,000 people sleeping out on the streets in contrast to policies that have “encouraged and subsidised unbridled corporate greed” over decades for the economy — “fundamentally broken and grotesquely unfair”. Shunning jargons, he asserts: “I believe in a democratic socialism that works for the working families of this country. What I believe is that the American people deserve freedom — true freedom. Freedom is an often used word but it’s time we took a hard look at what that word actually means. Ask yourself: what does it actually mean to be free?” 20th century socialism was totalitarian, that Karl Marx never wanted, alike Mr Sanders.

Political commentators find a reflex of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and the welfarist Nordic model in the political philosophy of the 79-year-old lawmaker who too admits this. He indeed has created waves for social democratic and progressive orientations. Small wonder, the Communist Party of the US is soft towards Mr Sanders. Its co-chairperson Joe Sims appreciates that Mr Sanders “bravely put forward far-reaching, sensible proposals and issues, many of which reds like me agree with”, but Mr Sims hastens to add that it doesn’t make Mr Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the like communists. “The moral imperatives of socialists to reform the capitalist system are great but not enough,” he explains. On the contrary, the Monthly Review group ignores and undervalues Mr Sanders and his “so-called democratic socialism”. Mr Sanders retorted, identifying the MR’s fascination for third-world Stalinists.

The writer is a Kolkata-based veteran journalist specialising in leftist politics, history and environmental issues

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