Bernie Sanders is a self-described Democratic Socialist – though the Left prefers to describe him as a Social Democrat, as he does not subscribe to abolition of capitalism or workers’ ownership of the means of production! Bernie Sanders, the longest serving independent in U.S. congressional history, an independent senator from Vermont, who has served in government since 1981, had first time campaigned for the Presidency of the United States in the Democratic primaries in 2016.
An admirer of Scandinavian countries, for Sanders, democratic socialism means creating an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy, reforming the grossly unfair and in many respects, corrupt political system, recognizing health care and education as rights, protecting the environment, and creating a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person, one vote. In short, he stands for a program of extensive social benefits, funded by broad-based taxes. The bottom line is that his proposed policies emphasize reversing economic inequality – for all – irrespective of any distinction of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, sexuality or any other.
On April 8, 2020, while announcing the suspension of his presidential campaign and thanking his supporters, Bernie Sanders best summed up his philosophy:
“Election days come and go. But political and social revolutions that attempt to transform our society never end. They continue every day, every week and every month in the fight to create a nation of social and economic justice. That’s what the trade union movement is about [and so are all other progressive movements]. …
“Real change never takes place from the top down, or in the living rooms of wealthy campaign contributors. It always occurs from the bottom on up …
“Together, we have transformed American consciousness as to what kind of nation we can become, and have taken this country a major step forward in the never-ending struggle for economic justice, social justice, racial justice and environmental justice. …
“As many of you will recall, Nelson Mandela, one of the great freedom fighters in modern world history, famously said — and I quote — “It always seems impossible until it is done,”. And what he meant by that is that the greatest obstacle to reach social change has everything to do with the power of the corporate and political establishment to limit our vision as to what is possible and what we are entitled to as human beings…”
He talked about the need to fight for universal healthcare, decent wages and working conditions, education, and drew attention towards an increasingly uninhabitable planet –climate change, droughts, floods, rising sea levels. He asserted entitlement to live in a world of justice, democracy and fairness, and need to do away with – racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia or religious bigotry, massive income and wealth inequality, prejudice and hatred, mass incarceration, terrified immigrants, and hundreds of thousands of Americans sleeping out on the streets. He reminded that –
“It was not long ago that people considered these [pro-people] ideas radical and fringe. Today they are mainstream ideas, and many of them are already being implemented in cities and states across the country. That is what we have accomplished together…
“Please also appreciate that not only are we winning the struggle ideologically, we are also winning it generationally [meaning supported by majority of young people] …
“While this campaign is coming to an end, our movement is not. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. The fight for justice is what our campaign has been about. The fight for justice is what our movement remains about…”
He went on to emphasise the need to “institutionalize the progressive changes that we are all building together. And if we keep organizing and fighting, I have no doubt but that that is exactly what will happen. While the path may be slower now, we will change this nation and, with like-minded friends around the globe, change the entire world.”
In “Thank you Bernie Sanders”, Ronan Burtenshaw aptly puts it: “He (Berne Sanders) understood that real political power came through organizing working-class people and building a movement. That’s why he has spent the past five years building not just a campaign, but a political revolution.” (Jacobin, April 8, 2020)
Naomi Klein, a senior correspondent at The Intercept, Rutgers University professor and long-time Sanders supporter, in an interview to Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!), tells that Sanders’s movement “opened up the window of what was possible politically in this country… what the campaign did is help us find each other. And by “us,” I mean that huge “us” of the “Not me. Us.” campaign… this system that was funnelling so much wealth upwards and spreading insecurity, precariousness, poverty and pollution for everybody else … this is a time for us to be organizing and taking leadership from … workers.”
Bhaskar Sunkara tells Dylan Matthews that Sander’s stance, as a Social Democrat, is specially found wanting on foreign policy, on NATO, and he ought to have focused “more on supporting democratic movements, on the tireless fight of the Kurds and other progressive forces in the region, and the need to build solidarity with those forces.” (“A leading socialist explains what Bernie Sanders’s socialism gets right — and wrong”, Vox, November 20, 2015),
In an interview to Amy Goodman, for “Democracy Now!”, Noam Chomsky, the political dissident, linguist and author, is of the view that Sanders’ campaign/ movement was an extraordinary success, and energised millions, and completely shifted the arena of debate and discussion. And, as a result, issues that were unthinkable a couple years ago are now right in the middle of attention.
“The worst crime he committed, in the eyes of the establishment, is not the policy he’s proposing; it’s the fact that he was able to inspire popular movements, which had already been developing — Occupy, Black Lives Matter, many others — and turn them into an activist movement, which doesn’t just show up every couple years to push a leader and then go home, but applies constant pressure, constant activism and so on. That could affect a Biden administration.”
After secession of the presidential campaign by Bernie Sanders on April 8, 2020, seven progressive groups made up of young activists, including NextGen America, Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, issued the Biden campaign a series of platform demands, saying, “The organizations … will spend more than $100 million … but we need help ensuring our efforts will be backed-up by a campaign that speaks to our generation,” they said. And, so, the movement is ON!
Hasan Abdullah is a political commentator