The Danger and the Opportunity in the Democratic Party’s Red Baiting of Bernie Sanders
The ruling class’ anti-communist attacks on the popular politician holds the danger of moving the left in an even more conservative direction.
“Sanders’ popularity presents a chance to challenge the legitimacy of racist anti-communist tropes.”
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews recently warned viewers that it remains unclear whether Bernie Sanders aligns with so-called “Nordic socialism” in Denmark or Castro-led socialism in Cuba. Matthews raised the possibility that a Sanders presidency would result in “assassinations in the streets” of Central Park. He added that a “victory for the reds” during the Cold War would have placed him in front of the socialist firing squad. At the New Hampshire debate, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked candidates to raise their hands if they were concerned about Sanders’ identification with democratic socialism. While much of the red baiting and anti-communist narrative in the corporate media has been centered on how Trump would hypothetically approach Sanders in a general election, the last four years of Russiagate alone have made it painstakingly clear that the Democratic Party is just as committed to Cold War era anti-communism as its Republican counterparts.
Of course, one doesn’t have to study Bernie Sanders very hard to understand where he falls on the socialist political spectrum. Sanders very proudly calls himself a democratic socialist and compares his agenda to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s. Whenever asked about his affiliation with the word socialism, Sanders very clearly defines his ideology as a commitment to the social welfare of working people rather than the profits of the rich. But he rejects Venezuela, Cuba, and the rest of the non-Western world’s vision of socialism. Socialism is not a revolution in the economy, it’s a revolution in the way that bourgeois Western governments address the needs of workers. Sanders truly believes that the bourgeois right to elect political representatives within the capitalist state can coexist with the socialist right to healthcare, a living wage, and the right to decent standard of living. He has even suggested that a preemptive military strike on the DPRK or Iran would be appropriate if these nations exercised their right to defend themselves from imperialism by way of nuclear weapons.
“The Democratic Party is just as committed to Cold War era anti-communism as its Republican counterparts.”
Democratic socialism is thus another way of saying social democracy. Social democracy retains capitalism and imperialism as the motive forces of society. Socialism, on the other hand, is a completely new stage of economic development. Socialist societies are controlled and directed by the formerly exploited classes through the mechanism of the state. However, the state under socialism does not retain the same form as its capitalist predecessor. Socialist states institute a planned economy to meet the needs of all of society and are governed by a political organization truly representative of the masses. In the last century, the predominant organization of the masses within socialist countries has been the Communist Party. The state under socialism not only carries out the economic, social, and political imperatives of the people but is also tasked with suppressing the ability of the disempowered capitalist class to reassert its control over the means of production.
In this regard, Chris Matthews’ fear of socialism is half correct. Cuba is indeed one such socialist society that has suppressed its former U.S.-backed oligarchy after a completing a successful revolution in 1959. With the Communist Party of Cuba in the vanguard, the Cuban government has socialized property to ensure that healthcare, housing, education, and employment are rights guaranteed to the Cuban people. Corporate media pundits such as Chris Matthews could never find traction in a nation like Cuba. The same goes for China, the DPRK, and Vietnam. These countries have maintained the historical legacy of the socialist movement by keeping the interests of workers in command of society. And the benefits, such as massive reductions in poverty, illiteracy, and political instability, are palpable for anyone paying attention.
“The state under socialism is tasked with suppressing the ability of the disempowered capitalist class to reassert its control over the means of production.”
Still, Matthews’ fearmongering over the possibility that Sanders is a violent “red” in disguise presents numerous dangers. For one, it obscures the fact that capitalism and its imperial and white supremacist foundation is the most violent and murderous stage of human development to date. The United States alone has used its military to kill over thirty million people since the end of the Second World War, many of them in nations either socialist themselves or friendly with China and/or the Soviet Union. One must also include the many more millions of indigenous and Black people whose lives were cut short by the U.S. and Western world’s thirst for slavery and colonial genocide when making comparisons between the levels of violence produced by capitalism and socialism.
Another major danger of the intensified anti-communist attack on Bernie Sanders is that it will strengthen the most rightwing aspects of the Bernie Sanders-led social democratic movement. Bernie Sanders has on numerous occasions denounced revolutionary socialism. He called Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro a “vicious tyrant” early in the primary process. During the New Hampshire debate, Sanders equated Xi Jinping of China and Kim Jong-Un of the DPRK with the Saudi monarchy. Red-baiting and anti-communism are embedded in the DNA of U.S. imperialism. From the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 to the Russiagate-infested impeachment debacle of 2020, U.S. imperialism has made the eradication of socialism a domestic and international priority for over a century. Bernie Sanders is not immune from this history.
“Red-baiting and anti-communism are embedded in the DNA of U.S. imperialism.”
Being called a “red” has always carried violent consequences for workers and oppressed people. As we described in our book on American exceptionalism, the early to mid-twentieth saw the U.S. intelligence apparatus harass, deport, and execute labor and socialist activists accused of being spies and “dupes” of the Soviet Union. In the 1960s and 1970s, leaders of the Black liberation movement were harassed, killed, and imprisoned at the hands of U.S. spooks for their opposition to war and their own calls for socialist transformation in the mainland of imperialism. While Sanders’ grassroots base remains firmly committed to the electoral framework of social change, the U.S. national security state will no doubt use the threat of a 21st century New Deal to amplify its attack on the entire left. Thus, the pressure for Sanders and his many followers to defend themselves from smears by repeating anti-communist talking points will only heighten as the 2020 election moves closer to the nomination period.
However, the ruling class war on Sanders has a potentially fatal weakness. Sanders is one of the most beloved political figures in the United States. The principle reason for Sanders’ popular support is clear. Sanders presents a clear agenda that workers and students believe will provide much needed relief from the insufferable conditions of neoliberal capitalism. The radical and anti-imperialist left must seize on Sanders’ popularity and reject the anti-communist smears against him. Establishment hate of Sanders has helped fuel his riseas a truly formidable political candidate. An opportunity is opening for radicals and anti-imperialists to generate mass public conversation about the racist and pro-capitalist prejudices which fuel wars against nations that the Democratic Party establishment is so keen on comparing to the reformist political agenda of Bernie Sanders.
“The U.S. national security state will no doubt use the threat of a 21st century New Deal to amplify its attack on the entire left.”
This opportunity should not be wasted. A desperate need exists for the masses of people in the U.S. to develop real ties of solidarity with socialist countries such as China and Cuba, as well as any nation that finds itself threatened by U.S. imperialism. Anti-communist smears of Sanders may make socialist countries attractive in a period where millions of younger workers are explicitly identifying with the term. China, for example, is rapidly overtaking the United States as the economic superpower in the world. There are many lessons that Sandernistas could learn from China and its current President, Xi Jinping. China leads the world in the production of renewable energy. Xi Jinping’s biggest political commitment is to the eradication of absolute poverty in a nation that was one of the poorest in the world not seventy years ago. This has been validated by Bernie Sanders himself. Furthermore, China and the Sandernistas share the common goal of rooting out corruption in their respective societies. However, consciousness among the “socialist” leaning segment of the U.S. population needs to move away from Yellow Peril anti-communism and toward a curiosity of the conditions that must exist for China to achieve such milestones.
White supremacy blinds workers in the motherland of U.S. imperialism to the common interests they share with oppressed peoples. To combat white supremacy, the left must seize any opportunity to move the struggle for social justice forward in a revolutionary direction. Sanders’ popularity with young people of color and low-wage workers presents a chance to challenge the legitimacy of racist anti-communist tropes used to demonize nations such as China. The intense pressure Sanders faces from oligarchic foes combined with the limitations of the social democratic political tradition ensures that a settler colonial and imperial orientation toward socialist and non-aligned countries will be a key aspect of how the establishment attempts to legitimize its policy of endless war and austerity throughout the 2020 campaign. Sanders embodies a wide-spread spirit of social welfare reformism that has been absent from U.S. politics for two generations. The ruling class’ anti-communist attacks on the popular politician holds the danger of moving the left in an even more conservative direction and the promise of making millions of more people in the U.S. curious about the legacy of socialism worldwide. Whether the left can adequately defend the socialist countries that Sanders distances himself from will ultimately determine which trend prevails in the final analysis.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News--From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @spiritofho, and on Youtube at The Left Lens with Danny Haiphong.
Please join the conversation on Black Agenda Report's Facebook page at http://facebook.com/blackagendareport
Or, you can comment by emailing us at [email protected]