“Comrade” Bernie Sanders’ Poor “Revolutionary” Ethics, By Adeolu Ademoyo
The 2016 American Presidential elections have thrown up some surprises ranging from the left to the right of the political spectrum. There are two candidates from the extreme left and extreme right. They are Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent self defined “democratic socialist” who is using the platform of the Democratic Party to run for the presidency. On the extreme right is Mr. Donald Trump who also chooses to run on the platform of the Republican Party. Interestingly, while both are from extreme positions, they are also similar in many respects.
In an uncomfortable coincidence for anyone with a slight modicum of progressive political views, some supporters of both candidates are actually ready to vote for the other if their candidate loses nomination! Members of Senator Bernie Sanders’ “revolution” have said openly that they (i) will not vote for any other democrat (in this case Secretary Hillary Clinton) and that they will rather vote for the right wing Mr. Donald Trump if their candidate is not the nominee of the Democratic Party! Can anyone imagine the Russian communist Bolshevik – the historic precursor of today’s Senator Sanders’ “democratic socialist” groups – voting for the Russian Czar or German Hitler?
This is why Senator Sanders’ recent courting of the same “establishment” of the Democratic Party he has attacked, ridiculed and demonised, will raise some ethical issues.
Part of Sanders’ questionable ethics lies in the fact that as an independent candidate who has chosen to run on the platform of the Democratic party, he has failed (because he cannot otherwise) to show loyalty to a party which gave him the platform upon which he is running. In an earlier statement, he had shocked progressives when he said he chose to run on the platform of the democratic party – a structure he is against – in order to be able to profit from the necessary publicity this will give his campaign. In other words, Senator Sanders implies that he is not committed to the party, but needs it only for publicity in his campaign.
This kind of claim raises ethical issues for a person who has presumably built his campaign on moral principles such as transparency, anti-opportunism, non-instrumentalist ethos, the refrain from the use and abuse of others, and purity! For Sanders, this unfortunately means a cold, calculating, potentially abusive, crass and instrumentalist ethical position that the end justifies the means. Senator Sander’s use of the Democratic Party he distances himself from seems to be a regular “revolutionary” strategy in “revolutionary” politics – in other words: just use them as your platform since they are not “revolutionary” or “progressive” enough for “our” “revolutionary” purposes!
But close watchers of American politics and Senator Sanders’ campaigns, rallies and fund raising know that he is running on the platform of undisclosed party and political structures (the mushrooming and often invisible radical, leftist organisations) within the Democratic Party. Yet, he gives the wrong impression that he is running as an “independent” and that he has no political organisation behind him! Part of what gives this away is the often invisible and murky online crowd-sourcing for funds from individuals, organisations and political parties. Senator Sanders touts the information that each of his online contributors gives him $27 and this is supposed to suggest his is the “peoples” base! A simple question is: How many American poor, home bound can give either a one time $27 or give $27 per month as Senator Sanders’ campaign is claiming?
Let me be clearer. Online giving and crowd-sourcing are legitimate fund raising sources, but to suggest that this is all to be said and that can be said on this when political organisations use such method, and that the massive funds Senator Sanders have raised suggests a base among poor people and home bound and the poorest among us in America who are looking for what to eat daily is disingenuous and a stretch.
Because they can be and are driven by small political organisations which are spread all over the place, online crowd-sourcing shows that it can be more popular than traditional fund raising methods. But to say it does not have its own little political, social and economic baggage and hegemony, and that it necessarily shows that what is being funded is tied to the poor because the money is from “the people” are questionable. This is because we have to ask who “the people” are, for $27 is a huge amount among the poor who (are home bound and are forced to sadly strategise around soup kitchens looking for food) may not be part of “the people” who are contributing the Bernie Sanders $27. This raises important ethical questions.
Also, Senator Sanders needs to stop the questionable claim that he is running as an independent (under the Democratic Party) without any political affiliation. “Comrade” Bernie Sanders is politically affiliated beyond being just an “independent” running under Democratic Party. He should be morally courageous enough to disclose publicly and come clean on the support he is getting from the mushrooming radical political organisations that are often invisible and that cannot be controlled, and hence the reason they reject the open discipline of party structures.
The second issue Senator Sanders built his campaign on is what he called “anti-establishment”. By this Senator Sanders means that as an “independent” candidate he is running against the “establishment” of the Democratic Party on whose platform he has chosen to run in order for him to gain publicity. On this he conveniently tapped into the sentiments of some of us humans against the open discipline of established and conventional political structures such as parties.
When the primaries started, Senator Sanders defined Secretary Clinton as the candidate of the “establishment” of the Democratic Party. Given the sentiments some people have against structures, Senator Sanders’ campaign tactics in defining Secretary Clinton as “establishment” candidate he-Sanders – is campaigning against worked wonders! This tactics brought Sanders a lot of good will.
But the “establishment” (which Senator Sanders is campaigning against) in the Democratic Party includes party officials, Governors, etc. who have rights to vote at the convention of the party. In the lingo of American Democratic Party, they are called “super delegates”. Super delegates are different from pledged delegates who candidates win at the primaries. But “super delegates” join the pledged delegates (who candidates win during primaries) to formally elect the Democratic Party candidate during the party convention.
Majority of these “super delegates” are committed to Secretary Clinton. But seeing defeat on the wall, Senator Sanders is asking these “super delegates” who are part of the “establishment” he has demonised, excoriated and ridiculed to vote for him at the convention! In other words, a candidate – Senator Sanders – is running as an ‘anti-establishment” candidate, he has gained the good will of a section of the American people because of this, he sees defeat on the wall, he says wait a minute, “I want the same political party “establishment” who I have demonised but who built the party I am using to achieve my political goals to make me their candidate”. And for “Comrade” Bernie Sanders this is fair, just and moral!
These raise ethical issues. Is it that “Comrade” Bernie Sander is a-moral? Is it that “Comrade” Bernie Sanders does not mind the support of those “corrupt” party “establishment” he claimed Wall Street has bought as long as he gets the nomination? Is self-righteous and self-justifying “revolutionary” a-morality the new political and moral norm?
Senator Sanders “revolutionary” and “democratic socialist” movement is interesting for some other reasons. Strangely, there are “revolutionary” forces in a Sanders’ “revolutionary” movement who will prefer an extreme right wing candidate – Mr. Donald Trump whose fascist temperament is well known – to a democrat – Secretary Clinton-against whom they (“Comrade” Sanders “revolutionary” forces) are campaigning in the primaries!
By this “revolutionary” act, Bernie Sanders and his groups have raised the “revolutionary” practice to a high “revolutionary” bar to the point that in a situation where Senator Sanders is not the nominee of the democratic party and Secretary Clinton is the nominee, some “revolutionary” groups within his “democratic socialist” “revolutionary” camp will rather vote for Donald Trump-a right wing fascist rather than Secretary Clinton. Does this mean that for some “revolutionary” forces in Sanders’ “democratic socialist” movement after Senator Bernie Sanders, the next “revolutionary” candidate is a right wing Mr. Donald Trump?
Senator Sander’s a-moral “revolutionary” ethics is understandable but unconscionable. This may not be surprising. In classical Marxist Literature and thought, class analysis is taken to be omniscient. Class analysis is an all knowing, all solving, over arching frame. For example, even where it is obvious that slavery, colonialism, gender oppression, race and racism are historically rooted in the domination and class rule of capitalism, some class analysts still see race and gender as allegedly forms of “false consciousness” and hence they are historically and in practice blind to domination and oppression along colour, race, and gender lines.
They are blind to patriarchy and racism and how these shape our society. Patriarchy and racism are at the margin of traditional Marxist thought, act and class analysis the all-knowing single narrative, single theme problem solver! This is why as popular as Senator Sanders is with some sections of the American population he cannot win a general election because following classical Marxist narrative he is running on a single theme, single issue-class issue-when America is a multi-theme, multi-issue country where class intersects with race and gender in a historically inseparable manner.
Hence, it is not by chance that Bernie Sanders loses badly among minority groups in America. It is not by chance that “revolutionary” forces in Bernie Sanders’ “revolutionary” movement call their opponents (Mrs. Hillary Clinton’s campaign) “whores” and would rather vote for a male right wing fascist-Mr. Donald Trump! It is not by chance that “Bernie Bros” –one of Sanders campaign alter egos would wrongly focus on Mrs. Clinton’s voice as a “serious” and “legitimate” “campaign” issue. Given what these “revolutionary” forces focus on it would seem that the thought of a female Commander in Chief is a violation of “revolutionary” ethos of some ‘revolutionary” forces in the Bernie Sanders’ “revolutionary” movement!
But the kind of revolution that will make Senator Bernie Sanders appeal openly that those-the super delegates”- he wrongly painted and excoriated as being in the pay roll of Wall street, the super delegates he claimed are part of the “establishment” should make him their candidate is clearly immoral because it means he desperately is ready to vicariously receive through the backdoor the support of Wall street he publicly denounces! Senator Bernie Sanders would have shown a morally superior position if he had been consistent by not asking those he claimed have been bought by Wall street to support him.
Finally, the kind of “revolution” and “socialist” principle that will make members of “Comrade” Bernie Sanders movement to vote for a right wing fascist–Donald Trump-in an election is truly strange and ought to be morally problematic for Bernie Sanders’ “revolution”. There must be more to be known about this kind of political practice and choice. It means this Sanders’ “revolution” is no longer about issues.
These moral questions in Senator Sanders’ campaign are reasons I had all along been wary of his “revolution” and its capacity for disparaging propaganda where everyone is a demon except oneself, where the ‘socialists” are the angels whose monumental campaign money “does not corrupt” the electoral system just because it is “socialist” money, or because it is not “bourgeois” money but where the campaign money of others “corrupt” the system just because it is “non-socialist” or perhaps because it is “bourgeois” money, where the campaign money is from “voters like you” , yet “voters like you” are not giving Senator Sanders the lead in the primaries, where in a crass, instrumentalist and unscrupulous manner the end justifies the means.
My point here is not about politics but about moral scruples. My point is about moral consistency just in case you claim (as Senator Sanders has claimed) that you are running a morally better and transparent campaign and on a morally superior agenda. If you are running on a “pure” (suppose there is something like that) moral agenda then stick with it.
Do not “pollute” your “purity” your “pure” moral agenda by asking for support from those who you say have been bought by the “corrupt” Wall Street “bourgeoisie” who allegedly (in “Comrade” Sander’s opinion) contribute nothing to the economy, not even a single employment but milk the economy and kill the working people!
My point is about crassness, which ought to be un-acceptable. My claim is a simple moral claim that you do not bring close to your nose what you will not eat. Some “Revolutions” care less about these. Senator Bernie Sander’s “revolution” may be one of these “revolutions’ that care less about moral scruples. Senator Bernie Sanders has brought close to his nose and is actually willing to eat what he said he would not eat, what he scorned, disrespected and excoriated (the “establishment”) when the primaries started!
With this “revolutionary” summersault, will “Comrade” President Bernie Sanders be different from those “Comrade” Senator Sanders criticised before and during the primaries?
Finally, Senator Bernie Sanders and his “democratic socialist” movement may be either by act of omission or commission facilitating the failure of the Democratic Party at the presidential polls this year by continuously ignoring the call for the candidates not to run negative ads against one another and by ignoring the call for unity within the Democratic Party at this late hour when it is obvious that Senator Sanders “democratic socialist” movement cannot win the popular vote and the delegate count at this crunch primaries time within the democratic party.
For Senator Bernie Sanders to ignore the call for unity within the democratic party so that the democratic party start preparing to fight the Republican Party in the national election is to fail the simple test of the first call of genuine revolution and change which is that: the act and art of making the revolution are the act and art of increasing the forces of change.
Senator Bernie Sanders and his “democratic socialist” movement are missing this simple first call of change agents by alienating and decreasing the voting forces of change by his cantankerous and negative campaigns against the Democratic Party and Secretary Clinton. This has to stop to prevent an unwanted outcome the handing of the white house over to the right wing fascist -Mr. Donald Trump or any of the republican candidates.
Adeolu Ademoyo, firstname.lastname@example.org, Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.