The following article appeared at in April, during the build-up to the Democratic National Convention. We are reposting it in light of developments inside, and outside the Democratic Convention.

If You’re into Bernie Sanders...

by Lenny Wolff | April 4, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |’s not hard to see why.

You listened and agreed when Sanders decried the outrageous and grinding inequalities that mark U.S. society. Same when he went after the ruthless way that tens of millions have been locked out of basic necessities like housing, health care, decent jobs, and education. Or when he talked about the tens of millions more who had been taught to expect a better life—and now find themselves in a cycle of huge debt and utter uncertainty about the future.

You nod when Sanders proclaims the mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth to be intolerable, and calls for an end to the war on drugs. And you know that Hillary Clinton and all the rest were neck-deep in that horror till people began rising up. Sanders talks about the need to overcome the oppression of women, gay people, and immigrants, and you feel all that, too. When he attacks the other candidates for having supported destructive wars against other countries and people, and he calls for a different relationship to the environment and goes after the fossil fuel industry—that hits you, too.

More. He says “the system is rigged” in favor of the super-rich. He points the finger at “Wall Street and the billionaire class” and says “they can’t have it all.” He goes after “the 1%” and counts it a badge of honor that the bankers have never asked him to give a speech, let alone throw the money at him like they do at Clinton or Ted Cruz. He says that we need a revolution and that all real change comes from ordinary people banding together and saying “no more.” Sometimes he even talks about “socialism.” When he says “future to believe in,” well, you want that, too—it’s not an exaggeration to say that most of your friends are terrorized when they even think about the shit going on and what the future holds. Sanders says it in a way that seems direct and honest, and seems to be about uniting people and not dividing them.

And then there’s the answer: vote for Sanders. Give some money, and then vote and get others to vote. It sounds almost easy: a revolution with no real upheaval, no real battle, no real sacrifice. Even those who say that the Sanders campaign is a way to build toward a movement that would be full of upheaval and struggle—and we’ll return to just what kind of movement that would be a little later—still find themselves seduced by the ease of a “jump-start” off elections.

Now if you think about that for a minute, you might say a “just add water” shortcut approach to revolution is a bit of a contradiction. And you’d be right. If you are one of those people drawn to the Sanders campaign because you feel deeply that the old ways are working against people and we badly need something new, then you’ve got the responsibility to ask yourself whether this really IS what’s needed.

To be clear: We’re not about to tell you to lower your sights, or to “be realistic” in the nay-saying way that just means to go along with the status quo and do what you can on the margins. You probably get enough of that from the Clinton people and your parents. And we’re not gonna tell you to give up your principles—we’re gonna tell you to be true to the best of your convictions and to seriously dig into what it would take to bring about a world in which seven billion humans could flourish. To raise your sights to that.

But first we have to talk about Bernie.

How Bernie Sanders Defines the Problem

Let’s begin with how Bernie Sanders defines the source of the horrible situation we face. Sanders sees this as principally a problem of the super-rich “rigging the system,” but not the system itself. He bitterly attacks Wall Street and says “it can’t have it all”—but he never mentions the word “capitalism.” Wall Street is just a manifestation of the economic and political system of capitalism-imperialism. It’s a symptom, not the disease.

So, what is capitalism? First of all, it’s a whole “mode of production”—that is, the whole set of ways people must relate in order to produce the necessities of life. Like any other system, it’s got rules. Capitalism means that a relative handful of private individuals and blocs of capital own, control, and dominate the wealth that is socially produced by billions around the world. Capitalism means a system where that small class uses their ownership of the means to produce wealth to compel others to work for them. That relationship—that exploitation—is the fundamental source of the huge amounts of wealth concentrated in individual hands. Capitalism means that the capitalists compete with each other to maximize profit in a deadly game of “expand or die.” If you don’t exploit to the fullest, if you don’t constantly search out how to get more, sooner or later—and usually sooner—you will go under. Capitalism leads to huge wealth at one pole and tremendous immiseration on the other—independent of the intentions of any individual capitalist or group of capitalists. And this gets reflected—and it must get reflected—in the power relations in every single sphere of society.

The problem is not that the system is rigged; the problem is the system itself. In defining the problem as he does, Sanders points to the symptoms of the disease but refuses to name the disease itself.

Bernie Sanders and Empire

Girl in India, US troops in Afghanistan
Left: A girl in India. Background: U.S. troops on patrol in Afghanistan. Photos: AP

Sanders likes to talk about the time when poor immigrants like his parents were able to have a decent life. True, there was a time when, on the basis of dominating and plundering the entire world, the U.S. was able to provide a secure standard of living for a relatively broad section of people. That time—which again was based on a global reign of terror, stretching from Iran to Vietnam to South Africa to the Middle East and Latin America and costing the lives of millions of people—is gone, both because people fought back but even more so because other capitalist-imperialist powers came up to challenge the U.S., as well as reasons having to do with globalization, etc. And nobody should shed any tears over its demise, either. To be clear, the U.S. still tries to run roughshod over the world, still plunders the people and environment all over Africa, Asia, and Latin America. But they cannot provide the same crumbs to the “home population.”

That leads to a second huge and related problem with Sanders. Bernie Sanders has at best a blind spot toward the very towering injustice that makes both the flagrant parasitism he decries and the dream of redistributing those spoils even possible. Sanders compares the U.S. unfavorably to other “major countries” in measurements of citizens’ well-being. But he never says how these “major countries” got to be “major.” He can’t bring himself to say the “I” word—imperialism. He conceals the most profound division in the world today—the division between imperialist and oppressed nations. The only time Sanders really mentions these nations, which contain the vast majority of the seven billion people on this planet, is as destinations for what he calls “American jobs.” Well, there are no “American jobs”—there is a worldwide system of exploitation in which capital flows, and must flow, to where the maximum profit can be made and which exploits people in those areas.

Let’s be clear here: millions of children every year—millions—die from preventable disease and malnutrition in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America. Millions today are fleeing imperialist military invasions, economic devastation and looting, and ecological catastrophe. These outrages are neither accidental nor necessary—they are products of the ways in which the imperialist, or in Bernie Sanders’ parlance, the “major,” countries plunder and fight to dominate the vast majority of the world. And Sanders really says nothing about this. More: quiet as it’s kept, his whole program of taxing the super-rich depends on these super-rich still being super-rich... which is only possible on the basis of this plunder and immiseration. (By the way, these so-called model northern European countries—the examples of the so-called socialism that Sanders talks about—not only partake in this plunder, they distinguish themselves by their heartless attitude toward the refugees they’ve helped to create.)

American lives are NOT more important than other people's lives

Yes, compared to the other candidates, Sanders is not an outright warmonger and he did vote against the invasion of Iraq. But press him, and Bernie Sanders makes very clear that he is about maintaining a “strong military”—a military whose basic function is to ensure the continuation of that division into oppressor and oppressed nations and the continuation of America’s status vis-à-vis the other powers. When push comes to shove—as it did with Israel’s invasion of Gaza—Sanders supports imperialist aggression.

In short, the program put forth by Sanders would leave untouched the most towering and fundamental injustices in the world. And, really, let’s tell the truth here: Bernie Sanders’ campaign is training people to see everything from the standpoint of “what’s good for Americans” and NOT what’s good for humanity. There is a very ugly, if unspoken, chauvinism at the heart of his campaign. The trappings are different from Trump and Cruz, and even Clinton, but at the end of the day, the effect is the same.

Third, Sanders points to the racism, the oppression of women, the bitter exploitation and persecution of immigrants, and the destruction of the environment. He will change these, he says. But he does not actually get to the ways in which these people-mutilating horrors have been woven and structured into the capitalist-imperialist mode of production. Getting rid of these whole interknit systems of oppression is not as simple as a few reforms—it will require tearing up the roots of these institutions through revolution to get rid of capitalism and all the institutions and ideas which reinforce it. How can anyone and why should anyone take him at all seriously on this?

Bernie Sanders and the Myth of Peaceful Change

Because Sanders so badly misdiagnoses the problem, his solution is not really a solution. It’s a trap. Let’s just suppose for a minute that Sanders did get elected and suppose somehow he could implement his program. Very quickly, those with investment capital would feel that “the climate was unfavorable,” that American capital was being put at a disadvantage. Money for investment would flow out of the U.S. at an even more accelerated rate, searching for higher profits. Not mainly because the capitalists would be rigging the system, and not mainly because of their greed. No. The main reason that they would have to do this is the expand-or-die compulsion at the heart of the system. Before long they would present Sanders with an ultimatum—either change the policy or else.

But suppose Sanders defied this edict. First, capital would in fact flow out of the U.S. and the economy would be devastated. But much more likely would be that the real power of the capitalist state—concentrated in the courts and the military/police forces, with their power of violent suppression—would move against him, in different ways. Sanders himself may not be “in the pocket” of this or that bloc of capitalists in precisely the same overt way as Clinton is. But even with a “President Sanders,” the capitalists as a class will still control both the levers of production and the state apparatus of violent suppression, and on that basis will present Sanders with “an offer he can’t refuse.”

If you were “President Sanders” at that point, either you would fold or you would have to lead people into a battle which you haven’t prepared them for. This is what has happened in many countries where people tried this path of seemingly “painless progress.” People in Chile tried this path in the early 1970s, electing an avowedly socialist president, Salvador Allende. Allende tried to carry out a moderate program of reform and adopted a different policy toward the Soviet Union (which was the chief rival of the U.S. at the time). By 1973, the U.S. orchestrated a military coup in which thousands, including Allende, were slaughtered. People in Greece tried this just last year, where the Sanders-like “anti-austerity” Syriza government ended up caving in to all the demands of the dominant European imperialist powers.

The fact that this would be true in a situation where the only thing at stake would be an effort to make some reforms makes doubly clear that unless and until the instruments of violent suppression of the capitalist class are defeated and dismantled, there can be no liberation. Conversely, so long as those instruments continue to exist, the masses of people will be at the mercy of the capitalist ruling class. The overthrow of this power of violent suppression is at the very heart of any real revolution.

So What DO We Do?

Revolution Club, New York City
Revolution Club, October 24, 2015, New York City. Photo: Alex Seel

Right about now you may be saying, “OK, Sanders may not be the total answer. But what am I supposed to do?”

First, Sanders is not just “not the total answer,” he is actually part of the problem. He is putting forward a FALSE solution, an “easy-bake oven” road to liberation that is nothing but illusion. This does real harm. It may “feel” liberatory, people may be getting active around this—but you have to ask what the program actually does. If it’s not going to solve the problem, if it’s actively promoting illusions about the character of the problem, the source of the problem and the solution to the problem... then, yeah, it’s harmful.

Let’s be blunt here. This “wisp of painless progress” that Sanders promotes... this idea that voting and sending 27 bucks is gonna change anything for real... this is just BS, if you’ll excuse the pun. Any REAL revolution—in fact, any serious act of standing up against the injustices of the system—is going to involve a lot of sacrifice. And those of you who claim this campaign will jump-start a movement of mass struggle—the same claim people made eight years ago—think about this: you hope to build a movement based on a lie. The lie that you can make this beast work in the interests of the very people it consumes... the lie that you can fundamentally change the way this system does the seven billion people on the planet WITHOUT a complete rupture with its economic and political relations and structures, a real, root-and-branch revolution. Where can such a movement built on such a lie lead but right back into the killing embrace of that same system you claim to oppose? But don’t take our word for it. The history of movements that died in the suffocating “embrace” of the Democratic Party goes back decades in this country.

To those who in all sincerity, though, are awakening through the Sanders campaign: Look, you are right to think the situation is urgent. You are right to think that something drastic must be done.  You are right to be thinking about revolution. But think about—check out—get into the REAL revolution. And get into, learn about and follow the real leadership we have for that revolution.

The Revolution We Need…

The revolution we need is a communist revolution. The ultimate goal of this revolution, as we say on our website, is

A world where people work and struggle together for the common good…Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings…Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.

This revolution is both necessary and possible.

Necessary because of everything we’ve only touched on here about how this system functions and much, much more. Possible because with the advent of capitalism, production became global and highly socialized in a way far beyond anything previous. The means to eliminate want and to make possible a full life for all humans now exists. It is the system of capitalism that stands in the way of that and instead brings in its wake misery, terror, privation, and foreclosed lives and futures all over this planet. It is from this contradiction—both the crises that it repeatedly gives rise to, and the ways in which people resist and search for answers in response to this—that makes this revolution possible.

The first real attempts at this revolution took place in Russia and then China in the 20th century. Contrary to what you are taught in school and the media, these revolutions actually achieved great and unprecedented things, up against enormous resistance and aggression. But they were eventually defeated. There are today no communist countries in the world, despite the labels that various regimes may claim.

...The Leadership We Have

But there is leadership to carry all that forward, to build on the positive achievements and overcome the shortcomings and the errors—sometimes serious ones—of those first attempts. That leadership is Bob Avakian.

BA has taken to another level the scientific method to understand and change the world first developed by Marx. Because of BA and the work he has done over several decades, summing up the positive and negative experience of the communist revolution so far, and drawing from a broad range of human experience, there is a new synthesis of communism that has been brought forward—there really is a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world, and there is the crucial leadership that is needed to carry forward the struggle toward that goal.

On the Strategy for Revolution” can be accessed on or in the book BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian. Beyond that, there is the basic framework of a doctrine that could, when and as conditions change, with the system in even deeper crisis and millions ready to fight, enable people to actually defeat the violent suppression of the state. (See “On the Possibility of Revolution” online at and in print in the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation.) There is a plan, concentrated in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, written by Bob Avakian and adopted by the Revolutionary Communist Party, which gives a concrete and living sense of how the contradictions of the new revolutionary society would be grappled with, struggled over and resolved, as part of getting to the communist world described above.

And if you want to hear someone who REALLY tells the truth... who REALLY is “the real thing”... who can tell you why we’re in this horror and what to do about it, then watch BA’s speech BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live, or REVOLUTION AND RELIGION: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion—A Dialogue Between Cornel West & Bob Avakian. (Watch online or get the DVD at

What to Do Right Now

So, what to do now? Right now? Get into the movement for revolution—real revolution. Get into and spread BA, learning about his work and helping spread it to others. As you do, fight back against the outrages that drew you to Sanders, not through the killing dead end of the ballot box, but through mass resistance. Join with the Revolution Club in doing this, or write to us and find out how to start one. If there’s a Revolution Books near you join it. Learn about and relate to the vanguard of the revolution, the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Be part of raising funds, right now, as people are agonizing over the future and what to do about it, to get the work and leadership of BA everywhere.

This is controversial. If you think about it for one minute, a REAL revolution would have to be controversial. This goes all the more if it is a revolution in human thought as well. As Ardea Skybreak has said:

In any field of science, whenever you have people who are bringing forward genuinely new thinking and really visionary analyses and syntheses, and who are critiquing old ways of thinking, old methods, old ways of approaching things, it’s unfortunately often the case that, for a while at least, their work is not understood, is mocked, and reviled, or simply ignored. The history of science—all science—is full of examples of this. And it’s a shame really... it constitutes a loss for humanity. In my view, every minute that goes by where Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism is not being seriously engaged and grappled with is another minute lost in the struggle to emancipate humanity from the horrors of this capitalist-imperialist world.
Science and Revolution: On the Importance of Science and the Application of Science to Society, the New Synthesis of Communism and the Leadership of Bob Avakian, an Interview with Ardea Skybreak

“Another minute lost.” The people can’t afford any more of those minutes. As we said at the beginning, if you’ve been into Bernie Sanders, it’s not hard to see why. Our call to you is not to settle for something less, but to truly raise your sights to the greatest thing worth living and fighting and dying for—the emancipation of all humanity and to act on that basis.



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REVOLUTION AND RELIGION The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion, A Dialogue Between Cornel West & Bob Avakian
BA Speaks: Revolution Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live
BAsics from the Talks and Writings of Bob Avakian
Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
WHAT HUMANITY NEEDS Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism
You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation Its History and Our Future Interview with Raymond Lotta
The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need