We don’t need to listen to Bernie anymore.
I wrote this piece in March, but it remains relevant today with Bernie’s recent endorsement of Joe Biden.
During the 2020 primary, I mistakenly believed that since the 2016 primary was so blatantly rigged, the DNC wouldn’t be able to get away with it again. I was very wrong. As it turned out, 2020 was even more rigged than 2016 as they had more time to prepare. In hindsight, that campaign was entirely useless. The material conditions for the working class have gotten worse under Biden and the Bernie campaign did not push him left. Rather, Biden has pulled Bernie with him and the Overton window continues to shift right.
I campaigned very hard for Bernie Sanders during the 2020 primaries. I donated, tabled, texted, called, canvassed, and ended up as a national delegate for Colorado. A Bernie presidency would have done wonders for the working class of the United States. I don’t regret the effort, even though in hindsight it was very clearly a waste of time, I felt it was worth fighting for and made a lot of friends along the way. Bernie gave up on the fight long before we did though and has made it clear he no longer fights for those same ideals in his support for Biden and the stances he has taken.
Bernie recently shared this CNN op-ed in an email saying, “We hope you’ll take a moment to read CNN’s important op-ed about the need to transform our economic and political systems to work for all of our people, not just those at the top.”
Here is what the op-ed had to say:
“Some people would say that capitalism is immoral, no matter what form it takes. But that doesn’t seem to be Sanders’ argument. Rather than making the case for a Democratic socialist government, Sanders appears to want a reform of American capitalism and to see the country embrace a kind of New Deal liberalism.”
It is not unusual for CNN to smear Bernie, but since Bernie shared this, it is safe to assume he agrees with it as it is an “important op-ed about the need to transform our economic and political systems…” Bernie always identified as a democratic socialist, but he is now fully embracing the social democrat reformist label. He has more in common with Bernstein, Kautsky, and Elizabeth Warren than with his own hero, Eugene V. Debs.
Bernie and Foreign Policy
Bernie has never had a great track record on foreign policy. But in the 2020 campaign, he gave the appearance of attempting to fix this. In an op-ed in Foreign Affairs entitled Ending America’s Endless War, he took a fairly pro-peace stance. Here are a few relevant quotes from that article:
We need to rethink the militaristic approach that has undermined the United States’ moral authority, caused allies to question our ability to lead, drained our tax coffers, and corroded our own democracy.– Bernie Sanders, Foreign Affairs
The American people don’t want endless war. Neither do we want a foreign policy that is based on the logic that led to those wars and corroded our democracy: a logic that privileges military tools over diplomatic ones, aggressive unilateralism over multilateral engagement, and acquiescence to our undemocratic partners over the pursuit of core interests alongside democratic allies who truly share our values.– Bernie Sanders, Foreign Affairs
The time has come to envision a new form of American engagement: one in which the United States leads not in war-making but in bringing people together to find shared solutions to our shared concerns. American power should be measured not by our ability to blow things up, but by our ability to build on our common humanity, harnessing our technology and enormous wealth to create a better life for all people.– Bernie Sanders, Foreign Affairs
He has changed his tune significantly since then and his recent positions are more in line with Joe Biden than with his op-ed from 2020. Joe Biden co-wrote an op-ed in 2017 for Foreign Affairs entitled How to Stand Up to the Kremlin.
But Washington and its partners cannot only play defense. They also must agree to impose meaningful costs on Russia when they discover evidence of its misdeeds.– Joe Biden, Foreign Affairs
When confronted about supporting billions to Ukraine, Bernie has asked anti-war activists “Who is paying you?”
And more recently, he once again defended that decision to fund Nazis in Ukraine:
In December 2022, Bernie was attempting yet again to end the war in Yemen. But rather than pushing his bill through, he pulled it after resistance from the Biden administration. This was similar to the bill that had passed and was vetoed by President Trump, yet with Democratic control of both house and senate, Bernie was unwilling to put it up for a vote.
Rather than opposing war, Bernie is following the establishment in their mad rush to World War 3. And worse than that, he is defending Biden every step of the way.
Bernie Gets Behind Biden
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Bernie endorsed Biden and told us he could be the “most progressive president since FDR.” At the time it qualified that statement by saying “if he in fact implements” his platform. None of that platform has been implemented. Yet Bernie continues to defend Biden as a progressive. On February 19, on Face the Nation, Bernie told us:
I think he is a much more progressive president than he was a United States senator.
In the same interview, he went on to say:
I think there’s a general consensus right now that President Biden has done, not everything we would like. He has done a good job. If he runs, announces that he is going to run, I will support him.
Look at what they do, what they believe in. What are they fighting for?
What does Donald Trump stand for? Do you believe in that? Well, I certainly don’t. What does Joe Biden stand for? What is he doing? Has he accomplished — look at — look at him in that way, not on age.
Yes, Bernie, let’s look at what Biden has accomplished. Let’s judge him on that.
There is nothing progressive about this. Biden has not “done a good job” as Bernie claims. Biden’s policies differ very little from Trump’s. He has just proposed a record high $885 billion military budget for 2024. He recently backed overturning a criminal justice reform bill in Washington D.C. He is considering reinstating detention of migrants. He just cut food stamp funding for over 30 million people. He preemptively broke a railway strike in November (which Bernie backed). If this is what a good job looks like, I would hate to see what Biden doing a bad job is.
Bernie Used to Be Worth Listening To
And let me answer it, uh, in this way. Um, first, um, I think it is, you know, we are not a movement where I can snap my fingers and say to you or to anybody else what you should do, because you won’t listen to me. You shouldn’t. Uh, you’ll make these decisions yourself.– Bernie Sanders, 2016
My goal is to see that we create a third party in this country which represents as I indicated before a wide spectrum of people.– Bernie Sanders, 1989
Once upon a time, Bernie Sanders supported third party politics and running outside of the corrupt democratic party. He still remains the longest serving independent member of congress, but no longer appears independent at all. As Matthew Karp wrote for The Nation in 2019:
Real politics, for Sanders, also meant third-party politics. In the late 1960s, he moved to Vermont and spent nearly a decade running for state office with the left-wing Liberty Union Party. Though he never won much more than 6 percent of the vote statewide, he made headlines with his calls for worker-controlled businesses, publicly owned utilities, a guaranteed family income, and, at one point, a redistribution of the Rockefeller family fortune.
And when asked to criticize third party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson as spoilers in 2016, Bernie told Detroit News:
I don’t want to go there, because I have run as a third-party candidate myself in the state of Vermont. Historically, third parties have played a very important role in bringing out ideas that were ahead of their times, (that) the mainstream politicians adopt 20 years later. I don’t want to go that route.
Now rather than fighting for real change, he lines up behind Biden, the democratic party, and capitalism.
Bernie has softened his criticism of capitalism today. He now indicates that “uber-capitalism” is the problem, not just capitalism.
No, Bernie, it is the capitalist system, not “uber-capitalism.” Biden bragged about beating the socialist and routinely says he is a capitalist. This is who Bernie is going to support in 2024.
It is time to stop listening to Bernie. Instead, we should listen to his onetime hero, Eugene V. Debs.
Capitalism is rushing blindly to its impending doom. All the signs portend the inevitable breakdown of the existing order. Deep-seated discontent has seized upon the masses. They must indeed be deaf who do not hear the mutterings of the approaching storm.
Poverty, high prices, unemployment, child slavery, widespread misery and haggard want in a land bursting with abundance; prostitution and insanity, suicide and crime, these in solemn numbers tell the tragic story of capitalism’s saturnalia of blood and tears and shame as its end draws near.
It is to abolish this monstrous system and the misery and crime which flow from it in a direful and threatening stream that the Socialist party was organized and now makes its appeal to the intelligence and conscience of the people. Social reorganization is the imperative demand of this world-wide revolutionary movement.
The Socialist party’s mission is not only to destroy capitalist despotism but to establish industrial and social democracy. To this end the workers are steadily organizing and fitting themselves for the day when they shall take control of the people’s industries and when the right to work shall be as inviolate as the right to breathe the breath of life.
Standing as it does for the emancipation of the working class from wage-slavery, for the equal rights and opportunities of all men and all women, for the abolition of child labor and the conservation of all childhood, for social self-rule and the equal freedom of all, the Socialist party is the party of progress, the party of the future, and its triumph will signalize the birth of a new civilization and the dawn of a happier day for all humanity.
Debs was a Marxist. He understood the importance of class independence and breaking with the capitalist parties. He was anti-war. He did not support the for profit system of military accumulation. He knew that we needed a working class movement to overthrow the capitalist system. This remains true today. Working within a corrupt, capitalist party is not going to achieve better material conditions for the working class.
Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. He has not come; he never will come. I would not lead you out if I could; for if you could be led out, you could be led back again. I would have you make up your minds that there is nothing that you cannot do for yourselves. You do not need the capitalist. He could not exist an instant without you. You would just begin to live without him.– Eugene V. Debs, 1905
Originally posted on March 10, 2023 in An Appeal to Reason substack.