The sudden collapse of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the presidency comes amidst what official sources are calling the worst viral pandemic to hit the United States and much of the world since the misnamed ‘Spanish Flu’ in 1918. Sensational news coverage of the resulting health crisis and the daily exigencies of life under state mandated lockdown have dramatically shifted public attention away from conventional politics thereby eclipsing the announcement in early April by Sanders that he is suspending his campaign and endorsing the utterly corrupt Joseph Biden as the nominee of the corporatist Democratic party.
Sanders’ decision to withdraw from the race represents an anti-climactic end to his “political revolution.” His endorsement of Biden constitutes a betrayal of his many youthful, idealistic and passionate supporters. Sanders’ political treachery is not without precedent.
In 2016, after having been robbed of the nomination by Hilary Clinton and the DNC, Sanders capitulated to the party establishment and threw his support behind a politician he rightly attacked as a Wall Street shill during the primary campaign. Sanders’ nauseating subservience to the political establishment of the Democratic party should not have come as a surprise in 2020 given his prior endorsement of a war criminal and racketeer for president during the last election cycle.
Without a doubt the political and media establishment worked tirelessly to deny Sanders the nomination this time around by relentlessly attacking him as “unelectable,” “unaccomplished,” “disagreeable,” “unrealistic” and “too radical.” All of the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination lined up against Sanders during the primary elections. Several withdrew from the race and endorsed Biden on the eve of the ‘Super Tuesday’ contests. The attack was well coordinated by the DNC. The Democratic party and its puppet politicians are firmly committed to neoliberal economics on behalf of their corporate masters and have absolutely no use for the ‘New Deal’ reforms that were championed by Sanders.
The attack on Sanders was also well orchestrated by the corporate media judging by the tenor of the interviews its journalistic propagandists conducted with the candidate, the questions its moderators asked him during presidential debates and the overall coverage of his campaign. As could be expected in the land of the free press, the media presented the policy choices advocated by Sanders as being idealistic, unaffordable and unachievable, in other words, as being the politically irrelevant ravings of an impotent politician.
Faced by the overwhelmingly negative impact on his public image that was intentionally manufactured by an unrelenting, undisguised and exceedingly hostile pattern of attacks on his candidacy by the political and media establishment, Sanders fell behind in the delegate count and withdrew from the race without continuing the fight to the convention.
The Democratic party rewarded Sanders for his capitulation by removing him from the New York State ballot and canceling the primary election that was slated to take place in June asserting the Joseph Biden was an uncontested candidate and it is in the best interests of public health not to hold the election. Although he had suspended his campaign, Sanders wanted to accumulate enough delegates to influence the platform of the Democratic party, truly an exercise in political futility. This may be news to Sanders, but after he endorsed Biden, he lost any leverage he may have had within the party and will be promptly discarded like an old shoe after he campaigns for the Democrats in the upcoming general election.
There are several lessons to be learned from the Sanders defeat and capitulation.
Firstly, the idea, tirelessly advanced by the Vermont Senator, that it is possible to wage a grass roots “political revolution” from within the Democratic party of American imperialism is an illusion. The Democratic party of U.S. imperialism, like its Republican counterpart, cannot be reformed from within and must be defeated from without by a viable third party committed to fighting for the needs and aspirations of America’s working people. Sanders could easily have laid the foundation of a populist party in both 2016 and 2020 by running as an insurgent candidate outside of the Democratic party. He chose not to do so. He unwilling to pay the price of being treated like a political pariah while openly challenging the corporatist system from outside of an established party. Sanders is a consummate insider. And that is a lethal strategic failure.
Despite the open hostility he faced from the entire political and media establishment, Sanders played directly into the hands of his enemies by not vociferously attacking the deplorable syndicate known as the Democratic National Committee, his opportunistic and servile campaign opponents led by Joseph Biden and the corporate media.
Temperamentally, Sanders is too polite. He tried to beat his opponents by treating his rivals with kindness, repeatedly referring to “my friend Joe” in reference to Biden while simultaneously indicating that the former Vice-President would beat Trump if nominated. Why then risk a vote for Sanders? That question was answered definitively by many rank and file democratic voters in South Carolina and beyond.
Programmatically, Sanders is a reformist, not a revolutionary. He is politically housebroken. He has cooperated with the Democratic party for so long that he could not truly oppose its fundamental precepts, particularly in the realm of foreign policy, aside from demanding a more diplomatic and sanction based approach to U.S. interventionism. Ditto for domestic policy. His advocacy of Medicare for all, free public higher education, higher taxes on the rich and tighter regulations on corporations would restrain certain excesses of capital accumulation but would not impede its essential parasitism.
The second lesson to be drawn from the Sanders’ debacle teaches a very hard fact of political life, namely, that it is impossible to lead a political revolution without clashing with the American empire. Joseph Biden is a representative of that empire in all of its ugliness. Sanders never took Biden to task for supporting imperialist adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Palestine aside from pointing out that Biden voted for the Iraq war. As to the consequences of that horrific war, particularly for the Iraqi people, not a word was said by either candidate. Furthermore, the United States has a much larger imperialist agenda in the Middle East that Sanders does not effectively challenge.
Additionally, Sanders never confronted Biden for his behavior in Ukraine although that behavior is the Achilles heel of the former Vice President. Sanders never acknowledged the fact that what Obama and Biden did in Ukraine, namely foment a coup d’état, was a criminal act. Furthermore, Biden’s nepotistic behavior in Ukraine constitutes a dramatic case of venal political corruption. It is a legitimate political issue. Yet, Sanders said nothing to overtly condemn Biden’s corruption. These are issues Sanders could not address because he toes the line of humanitarian interventionism touted by the Democratic imperialists, particularly as it involves U.S. policy in Ukraine, Russia, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
The failure of the American left to call Sanders out as a political opportunist demonstrates the bankruptcy of both identity and lesser evil politics. Much of the American reformist left abandoned class politics and for the lesser evil politics of identity after the overthrow of the Soviet Union. Some of the most visible and highly respected representatives of the liberal left relentlessly point to the prospect of nuclear war as being one of the two greatest dangers facing humanity, the other being climate change. Trump is accused of accelerating both potential catastrophes, charges that are not without merit.
Nevertheless, the consistent political orientation of these activists and intellectuals entails an unwavering commitment to a lesser evil politics that shamelessly advocates support for Joseph Biden and the Democrats now that Sanders has suspended his campaign. The point they argue, is to stop Trump at all costs.
A brief review of history reveals that the same proponents of voting for the lesser of two evils in 2020, advocated support for Hilary Clinton and the Democrats in 2016 as they did for Barak Obama and the Democrats in 2008 and 2012 and Bill Clinton before that. They do so in the name of political realism. The reformist left is willfully blind to the perfidy and danger of the Democrats. They consider support for the Democrats as being the only realistic alternative to the ultra-right wing Republican party. As such, they are, what the irreverent American sociologist and critic of oligarchic power C. Wright Mills, once referred to as “crackpot realists.”
With regard to advancing the possibility of nuclear war, it should be noted that the Democrats are just as dangerous as the Republicans. After all, it was a Democratic president who first used nuclear weapons in 1945. It was also a Democratic president that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
More recently, the Democrats and the Republicans have alternated in prosecuting a ‘New Cold War’ with Russia. Bill Clinton advocated expansion of NATO to include the former Warsaw Pact countries of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as early as 1994 thereby betraying George Herbert Walker Bush’s promise not to extend NATO “one inch to the east” if the Soviet Union allowed the reunification of Germany, which it did. It was Bill Clinton’s administration that engineered the breakup and privatization of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and bombed Serbia in 1999, a war that was opposed by the USSR.
Barak Obama ordered a massive deployment of battle tanks and heavy weapons as part of a NATO military buildup in Eastern Europe along the Russian border; imposed sanctions on Russia in response to the unfounded allegation of ‘Russian hacking’ of the 2016 U.S. election; and allocated $1 Trillion in 2016 for the modernization of nuclear weapons to take place over a ten year period thereby provoking a new arms race with Russia.
Obama disingenuously justified the unprecedented nuclear arms build-up as a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That no invasion actually took place is of no consequence to imperialists who lie without remorse. In point of fact, it was the Obama/Biden regime that fomented a coup d’état in Ukraine in 2014 thereby deposing the democratically elected Yanukovych government and replacing it with a pro-IMF regime handpicked by the United States thereupon provoking a civil war in that beleaguered country.
The Republicans have done their part in pushing the world toward nuclear catastrophe as Bush Junior withdrew from the ABM treaty in June of 2002 and began deploying missile defense systems in Poland and Romania that same year. Trump withdrew from the INF Treaty in 2019 and seeks $46 Billion for nuclear weapons for the 2021 defense budget.
For his part, Bernie Sanders supports the policy of a ‘New Cold War’ with Russia and does not propose meaningful nuclear disarmament in any form. He supported Obama’s actions to freeze Russian assets and impose sanctions on Russia as the result of ‘Russian aggression’ in Ukraine and ‘Russian interference’ in the 2016 elections. These Russophobic allegations are political myths used to justify American aggression.
Sanders also supported the impeachment of Trump. The unrelenting ‘Russiagate’ and ‘Ukrainegate’ attacks on Trump that were launched by the Democrats, the National Security State and the corporate media have made it impossible for Trump to pursue détente with Russia thereby increasing the chances of a nuclear war that supporters of lesser evil politics, like Bernie Sanders and the liberal left insist would increase if Trump were to beat Biden in 2020.
The logic is convoluted and treacherous. The Democrats have simply alternated with the Republicans to wage a ‘New Cold War’ against Russia as part of the neoconservative doctrine of global domination to which both parties are deeply committed. The Democrats have become the party of war and Wall Street no less so than the Republicans. Nothing less than a genuine political revolution will stay the hand of these mad dogs.
Political revolutions are not led by opportunists. Nor are they led by ‘nice guys’ who consider their class enemies to be their “friends.” Class warfare is animated by hatred. Hatred of oppression, hatred of exploitation, hatred of war, hatred of human degradation and suffering, hatred of lies and hatred of liars. Political revolutions are principled, determined, militant and uncompromising. They demand the political guillotine for opponents of the revolution. They take no hostages. And their leaders certainly do not capitulate to the enemies of the revolution.
Until progressives learn this final lesson and fight under the genuinely revolutionary banner of anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism, the twin parties of the American plutocracy will continue to decimate their class enemies in this country and around the world.
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Donald Monaco is a political analyst who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He received his Master’s Degree in Education from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1979 and was radicalized by the Vietnam War. He writes from an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist perspective. His recent book is titled, The Politics ofTerrorism, and is available at amazon.com