From a reader, July 12, 2015:

Thoughts off talking to a revolutionary-minded student about Bernie Sanders


July 20, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


I had a chance to talk recently to a young African-American student who has been seriously getting into BA and the revolution. He burns with desire to end all the oppression this system rains down on people and he clearly sees the need for a revolution. And he is anxious to learn more about how to do that. So the other day, when the topic of Bernie Sanders came up, he said that he gets confused when he thinks about Bernie Sanders. On one hand, he knows that Bernie Sanders is not a revolutionary and it will take a revolution to end all the horrors that flow from capitalism. But on the other hand, the student said, he finds himself liking some of the things that Bernie Sanders says—like free health care and education for all and breaking down inequality. So he asked me if there might not be something good that could come from supporting Bernie Sanders.

Good question, I said. And I responded that first, while the things that Bernie Sanders said and the student liked are important concerns, they are not the most essential concerns that need to be addressed. I pointed to uprooting white and male supremacy, ending the U.S. plunder of the world, and stopping the destruction of the environment. The whole thing has to be transformed or we are not going to get anywhere. Even if you could make a little progress for a while on some of the things that Bernie Sanders is championing, the overall system of capitalism would still be in place, with its dog-eat-dog competition for profit and domination still grinding up lives and destroying spirits. And any “progress” made in the U.S. would come at the cost of great suffering by the oppressed of the world.

The student said he appreciated this because he kind of already knew this, but it was important to hear the point made. But I said there is still the question of why he was pulled by what Bernie Sanders is saying. I said that I thought it came, at least in part, from a view of “politics” that reduces it to material needs―like wages, social services, legal protections, etc. I said that this view has a long and problematic history on the left and even among communists. It is not that these things aren’t part of what a revolution needs to address. They are necessary, but they are not sufficient. If material needs are all that the revolution addresses, it will leave many of the social, cultural and ideological needs of the revolution unmet. Instead, this approach basically reduces people to “walking stomachs,” as opposed to full human beings who need to be emancipated in all ways. This is the point that BA makes in the Dialogue with Cornel West where he says that while he is not religious, he does agree with Cornel that “man cannot live by bread alone.” And BA goes on to stress the importance of the revolution meeting the needs of all humans to engage in art and culture and to experience awe and wonder.

Going back to Bernie Sanders, I also pointed out that NO good can come from supporting him—only great harm. This raised the student’s eyebrows. Great harm—what do you mean?

I explained that you have to be scientific and go back and look at the role that numerous Bernie Sanders-like candidates have played over countless decades in holding this capitalist-imperialist system together—Eugene McCarthy, Ralph Nader, Bill Bradley, Dennis Kucinich—just to name a few. While their programs have differed somewhat due to the different conditions of their times, they have all had one thing in common. They have all appealed to progressive people who are alienated from “politics as usual” and held out to them the promise that at least some of their concerns could be met through working within the electoral process (and by implication, within the rules of the capitalist-imperialist system). And in this way, many, many people who were losing all faith in the system and potentially going over to the side of much more radical change have been drawn back into the killing confines of the system—working for and supporting some “people’s candidate” and rekindling the illusion that some good will come out of that.

In a recent editorial in the New York Times, Todd Gitlin (a founder of SDS back in the 1960s) laid out some of this history of Bernie Sanders and his predecessors and lauded them as “the left wing of the possible” (using a quote from the activist Michael Harrington). This quote concentrates exactly why candidates like Bernie Sanders play such a harmful role. The quote implies (without even having to say it) that what is possible is what already exists—capitalism-imperialism. And the best you can do is try and reform this system—to sand down some of its rough edges. But that is a lie—a huge lie that hangs over and suffocates humanity like a cloud of poisonous gas. Capitalism-imperialism is NOT all that is possible. There is a whole other way that the world could be and there is a revolutionary path for humanity to get there charted by BA. The problem is that most people still don’t know about it. Instead of challenging people to raise their sights—to learn about and engage BA and his liberating new synthesis of communism, campaigns like Bernie Sanders’ drag people’s sights down—in the name of being “practical” and “realistic”—sucking them back into playing by the rules of this oppressive system.

And let’s be honest about this. While there is certainly a lot of deception going on by the ruling class of this country in creating space for candidates like Bernie Sanders to sow their illusions, there is also a lot of SELF-DECEPTION on the part of many “progressive” people who support these candidates. How many times do people have to be let down by these candidates (remember Obama and “hope you can believe in” in 2008) or have these candidates shunted aside as “not viable” as elections go down to the wire before they sum up that they are being played? How many times before they realize that this is not a strategy to end any form of oppression in any fundamental way? How many times before they confront that after all these attempts over all these years to elect all these progressive candidates, the system of capitalism-imperialism is not only still firmly in control but has become even more oppressive, exploitative and destructive on a world scale?

These “progressive” people remind me of a reference BA made to one of the Charlie Brown cartoons where Lucy says she will hold the football for Charlie while he tries to kick a field goal. But just as Charlie approaches the ball, Lucy pulls it away and Charlie falls on his ass. Then the cartoon goes on to repeat this over and over. Each new time, Lucy promises not to pull the ball away and each new time Charlie believes her. But Lucy still pulls the ball away and Charlie ends up on his ass again.

It is time for a lot of progressive people to stop being Charlie Browns and wake up! This system has no solutions for the profound and intensifying problems facing humanity, but the revolution does. Don’t start with how you would “like” things to change. Take an honest look at how this system actually works and what that implies for what is required to change it. Throw off your blinders and get into BA! A whole better world really is possible and you need to be part of the solution and not—like Bernie Sanders—part of the problem.



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