Too many leftists have turned up their noses at the Bernie Sanders campaign because his platform neither opposes – nor barely mentions American Imperialism (let’s name it), let alone wars in the middle east, covert/overt interventions world-wide.
Social democracy historically has not consistently opposed imperialist war. It did in Vietnam, by and large. But in the Russian Revolution, the social democrats like Bernie were called Mensheviks. They took power (with the help of the Bolsheviks) in January of 1917 under the program of Peace, Bread, Land. But they didn’t end the Russian involvement in World War I. That’s what gave the Bolsheviks under Lenin the opening to seize power in October. The Bolsheviks withdrew Russia from the war.
I’m not suggesting the situations are parallel, heaven forbid. For one thing, we’re not in a World War (yet).
The revolution that Bernie is calling for isn’t really a revolution, in the sense of overthrowing the system, the Capitalist system. Full disclosure: I think the Capitalist system has outlived its usefulness and is in the process of collapsing world-wide. People like me have been predicting this collapse for 150 years – but one day, we’ll be right. It is arguable that capitalism can’t be overthrown – the serious attempts to do so in the USSR and China seem to have failed – at least not until the system collapses from its own internal contradictions.
The essential philosophy that Marx taught us is called dialectical materialism. I think he took his materialism too far (religion as the opiate of the people is as sectarian a concept as there is), but the dialectical process is undeniable. We know it from such basic principles of positive and negative charge, yin and yang, male and female, the binary number system that informs our electronic world. The thesis-antithesis-synthesis dynamic seems at least a good a metaphor as any for how things work.
One way to look at social democracy is as the synthesis of Communism and Capitalism. The social democracies that arose in Scandinavia, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, many parts of Europe after World War II came about because the working classes of Europe, the U.S. and most of all the Soviet Union defeated Fascism (the most violent and ruthless wing of Capitalism). The left was very powerful right after that war. Under the leadership of the Capitalist winner of the war, the good old USA (through the Marshall Plan), Europe negotiated its way out of giving way to revolution by fulfilling – co-opting – many of the programmatic demands of working class: free health care, childcare, University education, paid parental leave, month long annual vacations, decent retirement – oh, and parliamentary systems significantly more democratic than the U. S. system, with multiple parties and proportional representation – that and launching the Cold War.
There are those who would argue that these type of reforms simply set the revolution back, which they do – but they make a large number of peoples’ lives better, which seems to me is the goal of whatever we do and whatever we call it.
The revolutionary aspect of fighting for reform is that in order to achieve those reforms requires a class unity that can’t help but allow us to experience our power.
That power is what we’re after, the power of working people as opposed to the billionaires and their millionaire allies and their duped supporters. Exactly how that power expresses itself as the movement grows will be determined by the particularities of our situation, by what’s unique, not by what happened historically.
The Sanders campaign is a reform movement which seeks to profoundly expand democracy, political and economic, to the people of the United States. No it doesn’t directly challenge American Imperialism, but the democratic reforms will make the struggle against that imperialism easier. Back in the day, we used to say “Elect McGovern in 72. Expose McGovern in 73.” The more successful the Sanders-led movement is in re-framing the essential debate between people and profit, the more politically conscious people will become, and that will make people’s lives better. For leftists to sit back aloof from such a massive movement merely increases their isolation and ultimately, their irrelevancy.