Americans have convinced themselves (or perhaps more accurately, permitted themselves to be convinced) that electing a new president will change things. “It's gonna be different this time.” But it won’t be. Even if Bernie Sanders were actually to become President of the United States of America, it would hardly matter for his freedom of action is too restricting and he would have very little option but to accommodate the capitalist class and their agenda. If he was elected there would be a number of cosmetic changes but the fundamental problem, capitalist property relations, would remain essentially unchanged.
Bernie calls himself a ‘socialist.’ ‘Calls himself’ are the key words. If ‘socialism’ means that a society’s means of production are social, not privately or state owned — then Sanders is no socialist. But even if he doesn’t mean the same as we do when he talks about socialism, he can be at least thanked for at least bringing the term back into vogue, particular in America where it had disappeared from popular discourse since the times Eugene Debs ran for the Presidency. Socialists won’t be jumping on Sanders’ band-wagon anytime soon. Nevertheless, it has been a long time that an aspirant for the presidency of the United States has been talking about ‘socialism’, no matter how vague his meaning of it is. To be fair, Sanders also appears to see himself more as a vehicle for re-emergent class politics as his motivation. No such movement, however, is currently on the horizon. If Sanders succeeds in getting the idea of socialism back in peoples’ minds, he may well be sowing the seeds of thought that will someday take hold in a more constructive way and that would be very welcomed even if he really means something else by the word.
Sanders considers the Scandinavian countries as models to emulate, all capitalist, albeit with strong social safety nets, but where the wealthy still enjoy a preponderance of economic and political power. These countries have little in common with the socialism envisaged by Marx and Engels where the working class itself would be in control. What Bernie Sanders means by ‘socialism’ is something more akin to capitalism with a human face. But this is not what socialism is about. The Scandinavian model has managed to achieve certain social welfare objectives, but they never involved fundamental alterations to capitalism’s underlying property relations. Neither would Sanders reforms. Scandinavian reformists thought the benign hand of the state would replace the merciless invisible hand of the market but today the reformers have their hands full just trying to keep hold of what they can from the gains of the past.
The Democratic Party (or as we like to describe them, the Damnocrats) is a party that embraces capitalism. It calls for the reform, not the abolition of capitalism. Sanders routinely supports Democrats when they run for office. He, in other words, is only a reform capitalist candidate. He stands on the other side of the class line dividing the working class from the capitalist class. When socialists speak of working class independent political action, we think in terms of class independence. In other words, a political party entirely under the control of working people, representing their interests and their interest alone.
One basic question rarely raised is who asked Bernie to stand for president? Sanders’ campaign does not rest on any anti-capitalist principle or working-class movement. The Sanders’ campaign is about him getting elected and doing things for working people; he is not encouraging working people to do things for themselves. There was no thought given to constructing a real working-class movement but simply to encourage the unions and working people to remain an appendage to the pro-capitalist Democratic Party. The goal is not to create a socialist society for the working class but to encourage the working class to build socialism for itself. Using the words of Eugene Debs, ‘If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out.’
Neither Sanders nor any other politician can lead us to the alternative new society we fight for. We must build it for ourselves. America badly needs a vigorous socialist party. America is a plutocracy, which means a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. Everything supports that fact. The American working class have been fooled into accepting the concept of common interests wherein the problems of the capitalist class and the state machine are theirs also. The suggestion is that people in the US all belong to one of the world's mightiest military and industrial powers, sharing equally in the glory; so let's all work still harder to increase the arms and wealth of the rulers. The belief that there exists a community of interests from which we all derive common benefits is a mistaken one but nevertheless held strongly. Two crucial political fallacies permeate American workers thinking. First, that the present system can be so organised that it will operate in the interests of the majority, through a process of applied reformism, and second, that ‘proper leadership’ is an essential requirement. However, neither of the foregoing will ever remove any of the major social evils and the socialist mission is to demonstrate that fact.
Without vibrant grassroots movements changing reality, the richest people in power will keep on trampling upon the working class. We need BOTH activism on the streets demonstrating against specific grievances AND we need effective electoral action for social change. A powerful socialist party should be the conduit for change. Protests have often been aimed at the wrong target. Occupy Wall Street was a step in the right direction. We now need to go further. A socialist party is an organisation which can connect the dots between issues and movements -- from winning justice for workers to fighting for immigrant rights to interacting with global social justice movements. We cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which we must battle.
If you’re taken aback by the number of socialist, anti-capitalist and otherwise radical-left parties in the United States and ask why when America is already blessed with a multiplicity of so-called Labor, Socialist, and Communist parties, why we add another with the World Socialist Party of the United States (WSPUS) to increase the confusion? The answer is there is no way of challenging and refuting the confused theories and spurious programmes of the parties which promise to reform capitalism except by building up from the ground an organisation of socialists working only for socialism.