Had Martin Luther King Jr. been here to write speeches for Bernie Sanders campaign for president in the United States Bernie’s stump speech might have gone something like: ‘ Socialist at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re talking socialist at last!’ Thank you, Bernie. We can-finally—talk together seriously about the failings of capitalism and the socialist alternative.
Thanks again to Bernie as he has managed to focus on the real differences and keep the discussion from bogging down in arcane arguments about terminology. Sanders is no ideologue trying to stuff real meaning into the confines of oversimplified language. When Bernie uses the term socialist—or democratic socialist—he uses it primarily to signify that he wants to see fundamental changes in politics—as opposed to the overwhelming American political tradition of a bunch of hollow election promises before election day and on with pillaging the country in the interests of the 1% the day after the election. Bernie seems to relish shouting out the once forbidden term Socialist: “When I use the word socialist… I say it is imperative that we create a political revolution, that we get millions of people involved in the political process, and we create a government that works for the many, not the few.” More than anything else he uses the term to signify that he is talking about fundamental change in what government is about/for. Specifically Sander’s campaign promises include: a $15 minimum wage, free tuition at public colleges, funding the public good with more taxes on the wealthy and corporations, single-payer health care, a genuine search for peace and justice rather than the current efforts to bomb everything and everyone you can’t surreptitiously control and subvert.
The truly revolutionary thing Sanders has done is to start off just tossing out the old arguments over who should own the means of production. He so nonchalantly leaps over that old, tired and irrelevant ideological argument by noting that what politics should be about is the outcomes rather than the means. Socialist countries rely heavily on market mechanisms to distribute goods and services rationally. Countries calling themselves capitalist recognize the essential social justice and efficacy of providing public services like police, armies, schools, health care, water, social services. Sanders clearly believes in a basic market economy with the kind of regulations and public services that ensure we are actually becoming a just, sustainable and sustaining society. In a comment to Common dreams.org Sanders laid out his belief in the Socialist or Social Democratic alternative to the current people and Earth destructive practices of barely restrained capitalist greed. “I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or 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 decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down. I do believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America, companies that create jobs here, rather than companies that are shutting down in America and increasing their profits by exploiting low-wage labor abroad.”
In last week’s post to The Activist, I quoted Robert Kennedy’s view of the failings of our obsession with an ever increasing the GNP(GDP). I come back to the insights in this quote because this crazy obsession of ours with ever growing, undifferentiated growth seems to be the root cause of so many of the world’s (our) social, personal, environmental, political, economic problems; because I think there is a lot of common ground between the views of Bernie Sanders and Robert Kennedy; because both of them were so clearly focused on the outcomes: what kind of a world do we want to create together?
According to RFK, “Gross National Product includes air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. ..It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. “
I think what Sanders is saying is that it is past time to give up unfettered capitalism and its obsession with undifferentiated economic growth and start to ask ourselves how we can come together as a democratic society to discourage’ air pollution…,highways of carnage…’napalm and nuclear warheads’ and to encourage ‘compassion, wisdom, learning…that which makes life worthwhile.’
Here in our country we have a most fascinating example of the blindsidedness of capitalist thinking. After nine years of unflinching capitalist devotion to turning Canada into a petrostate in the pursuit of petrodollars—indifference to the impact on Earth’s climate that makes life as we know it possible—what do we have to show for it other than a big fire and a bunch of provincial and federal politicians that have no idea of how to build a sustaining and sustainable economy?
Unfortunately, in the last federal election we did not have a socialist alternative to vote for. Tom Mulcair, leader of the one party that used to proclaim itself as Democratic Socialist, spent most of the election campaign trying to convince voters that he was no socialist. In what has, unfortunately, become the New Democratic Party federal and provincial mantra of defeat after defeat, Mulcair spent the election trying to convince voters that the NDP was hardly any different from the other parties and voters–obviously–got the message. They voted in a government that promised to pick up the commitment to people and environment the NDP had so willy-nilly cast aside. Most regrettably, even with the recent dismal results for the federal NDP In BC fresh in everyone’s mind, John Horgan—leader of the BCNDP–seems to be picking up the NDP provincial election script directly from the hands of Tom Mulcair. Swaggering like a resurrected Jack Munroe and sounding like a slightly dusted off Adrian Dix, Horgan proclaims that there will be no Leap Manifesto and its commitments to addressing climate change and other “socialist” values while he is leader of the BCNDP.
One has to wonder/hope; could there possibly be a BC equivalent of Bernie Sanders!