Bernie Sanders Barely Scratches the Surface of What Socialism Is

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Bernie Sanders

via Politico

In the first Democratic debate on CNN on Tuesday, Bernie Sanders explained his democratic socialism to the nation, which instantly caused a spike in online searches for “socialism.”

When Sanders talks about socialism, he describes a sick economy, but usually speaks of symptoms and treatment, not the disease itself: capitalism.

The symptoms? He rages against an economy where the 1% of wealthiest citizens own as much wealth as the bottom 95% of citizens. Shockingly, the bottom 80% of Americans own just 7% of the national wealth, while the top 1% owns 40%.

This inequality worsens by the year. According to economist Ha-Joon Chang, from 1989-2006, the top 1% took in 59% of income growth (nearly all the rest went to the top 10%). From 2009-2012, 95% of income increases went to the top 1%.

This is because worker wages have stagnated or even declined since 1980, while CEO pay skyrocketed to 300-400 times the wage of the average worker. 48% of Americans, some 150 million people, live in poor or low-income households, either unable to find work or paid absolutely dismal wages. The bottom 50% own just 2.5% of American wealth.


via Huffington Post

The treatment Sanders pushes for? A $15 an hour minimum wage. Restoring the very high tax rates on the rich the U.S. had from FDR to Johnson, to pay for free healthcare and free college for all, and for public sector jobs for the unemployed to rebuild infrastructure like roads, schools, clean energy plants. And most Americans agree with his ideas.

This treatment would do immense good for a great many people, but is not the overthrow of capitalism socialists envision. Socialism calls for far greater changes, to eradicate forever authoritarianism, poverty, and war; not by increasing government power (as under the State Socialism of the U.S.S.R. that many socialists opposed), but by increasing democracy, the power of ordinary people.

Workers would own their workplaces. In a capitalist society, a business is structured like a dictatorship: an owner or small group of board members and investors hold all the power and make all the decisions, including how company profits are used: to increase production, to open new plants or stores, invest in new technology, increase advertising, hire more workers, increase worker pay, or increase owner pay.

Predictably, owners often award themselves huge sums of money and pay workers little. Capitalism is the few growing rich off the labor of the many.

Adam Smith, an economist that inspired Karl Marx, wrote in The Wealth of Nations of a central conflict under capitalism: “The workmen desire to get as much as possible, the masters to give as little as possible.”

Adam Smith

via Adam Smith Institute

Marx believed, and modern socialists believe, that all wealth is created by workers. Originally, it is the company founder creating the good or providing the service, but eventually the owner hires workers and takes a managerial role. Without workers, an owner cannot produce on a scale larger than him- or herself. Wealth is created by workers because workers directly provide the good or service that is sold for profit by the owner.

That sale covers the cost of production, the cost of labor, and a little extra: profit the owner uses as he or she chooses. This means workers are not paid the full value of what they produce for the company. Socialists call it “exploitation,” theft.

Worker cooperatives–businesses that are owned and run by the workers–are more democratic. They are “socialist” because power and wealth are “socialized,” or shared equally, within a firm.

Hundreds of successful worker cooperatives exist in the U.S., and many more around the world, some with a few employees, others with tens of thousands. Decisions are made democratically, by the vote of each employee, or by elected managers. Profits are distributed more equitably, enriching everyone, not just the few. These were organized by people, not government; the State must not force this structure on citizens, citizens must push for it themselves.    

Karl Marx

via Salon

When workers own their workplaces, there is little chance they will decide to fire themselves and outsource their own jobs to poorer nations. Capitalists do this so they can pay workers pennies and follow fewer worker safety and environmental regulations. Worker-owners are less likely to poison the soil, water, and air of their own communities, or ignore workplace safety guidelines. New technologies no longer lead to mass firings–they allow everyone to work fewer hours while making more money.

Unsurprisingly, workers-owners are happier, more productive, and their businesses less likely to fold than capitalist firms.  

In Sanders’ defense, he has pushed for worker ownership before. But he’s said little during his presidential campaign.

Neither has his passion extended to the anti-war sentiment embraced by many socialists around the world for a century and a half. Sanders sounds like every other American politician when it comes to war, saying war should be a “last resort,” yet supporting massive “defense” budgets, the preservation of America’s global military machine, and intervention that consistently widens violence and results in the deaths of countless innocents.

Compare that to the ideas of socialist Helen Keller: “The burden of war always falls heaviest on the toilers. They are taught that their masters can do no wrong, and go out in vast numbers to be killed on the battlefield… Nothing is to be gained by the workers from war. They suffer all the miseries, while the rulers reap the rewards.”

Helen Keller

via Biography

Or America’s most famous socialist, Eugene Debs, who in protest of World War I said, “The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles.” For this he was imprisoned.

The Fourth International, a worldwide socialist organization, angrily declared Sanders’ socialism a “ruse” because of his support for American global dominance, among other things.

Also disappointing is Sanders’ conventional view on the nature of government. Sanders draws attention to the horrific erosion of our representative democracy by corporations and the wealthy (“Congress does not regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress”), but doesn’t push for the “socialization” of political power through direct democracy, a system seen in Switzerland.

The Communist Manifesto, far from advocating dictatorship, declared that “the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat [common people] to the position of the ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.”

A socialist democracy would do away with politicians who can be bought by corporate power. All public policy would be decided by national vote, from abortion to a national education curriculum. Hopefully the people would vote against war, and for using our national wealth to fund universal healthcare (taxes covering medical bills; the State would not own the hospitals, the doctors, nurses, janitors–everyone–would), universal education (teachers, paras, librarians would own their schools; professors, students, and groundkeepers would own the colleges), and universal employment (local community improvement projects run by local people to abolish joblessness).

Congressmen would be elected only to carry out the policies decided upon by the (perhaps two-thirds) majority of Americans, with elected Supreme Court members and the president preserving a system of checks and balances. Short term limits and the threat of immediate recall vote (even of the president) would keep officials in line with the desires of ordinary people.

As Polish socialist Rosa Luxemburg said, “There is no democracy without socialism and no socialism without democracy.”  

socialists america

via Wikipedia

Garrett S. Griffin is a political writer for Weekend Collective and the author of Racism in Kansas City: A Short History. A former religious conservative, he is now an atheist and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Follow him @garrettsgriffin.

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