Monday, June 13, 2016

The Sanders revolution

Chaos is always risky. As Katalin Balog writes in An Inconsistent Triad, Sanders
construed his job [as Presidential candidate] to be the articulation of a vision of a just society, a kind of overarching social democratic Utopia, simple to explain, simple to understand. He didn't seem interested in exploring real world complexity, the delicate balance between competing values; he was not at all riveted by policy detail. He proposed to implement his program not via the nitty-gritty of democratic give-and-take and incrementalism, but via the "political revolution" whose nature has been left a little vague but which he saw himself as leading. The revolution was what was supposed to bridge the yawning gap between his proposals and what seems feasible in today's America. This view of politics and history implies a dismissal of "technocrats", meaning politicians who work in the system. Society needs to be bent to the Utopia, all at once, so to speak, not via the dithering process of machine politics. Though he never indicated that by revolution he meant anything like overthrowing the regime, he did at least flirt with the idea.

Such an attitude is fitting for youth steeped in age-appropriate contempt for the adult world, but bitter experience has shown revolution to be, almost always, a great evil, bringing forth blood, tears and terror in its wake. Sanders' candidacy evoked an earlier era of the socialist movement but that – as should be clear – is a painful dead end of history.

Balog makes some errors here. Notably, Sanders has been a sitting Senator for nearly a decade, a Congressman for 15 years before that, and was Mayor of Burlington, VT. Sanders is a career politician; I think he understands "the nitty-gritty of democratic give-and-take."

Also, I have a very different take than Balog about "technocrats": she labels them simply as "politicians who work in the system," which would seem to include Sanders, who has, after all, been working in the system at its highest levels for 25 years. In contrast, I see "technocrats" as Professional-Managerial Class academic meritocratic elitists, who haven't quite realized they lost power in 1980.

And at what point did Sanders even "flirt with the idea" of "overthrowing the regime"? The only "regime" Sanders was interested in overthrowing was the control of our government by Too Big To Fail banks, big Pharma, the Koch brothers, etc. ad nauseam. I've never seen Sanders once talk about overthrowing the republic or the Constitution. Sanders was interested only in trying to make the liberal capitalist system deliver on its own promises.

Balog could certainly paint me with that brush, but it does not apply to Sanders. Balog implies that demanding single-payer health care, free college tuition, more unions, and serious financial regulation is not only equal parts youthful naivete and cynicism but also "a great evil" and a "dead end of history." Balog avoids lying outright, but with a Ph.D. in philosophy, the connection between Sanders and revolution cannot be unintentional.

I think this point is what infuriates me most about this election: that any opposition to absolute rule of the bourgeoisie in this second Gilded Age is tantamount to Bolshevism.

But perhaps Balog is entirely correct, and we should take her at her word: Sanders is a revolutionary, a Bolshevik, someone who really does want to tear down the regime and start over.

The regime that matters is not the republic: elections, legislative deliberation, checks and balances, the rule of law.

The regime that matters really is the absolute unconditional power of the bourgeoisie, to whom the proletariat comes hat in hand for a few scraps. In the regime that matters, all the trappings of the republic are simply theatre, a cunning illusion; the decisions that matter are made in boardrooms and mansions.

Sanders' real problem, his supporters' real problem, is that they do not yet realize they are revolutionaries.

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