Left Wing Attacks on Bernie Sanders

Numerous attacks on the economic program offered by Bernie Sanders have be launched in the last few weeks. A letter was written to the Sanders campaign from several past chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA). In the letter the economists claim that Sanders’ domestic economic agenda is nothing more than a bunch of hooey.

“We have worked to make the Democratic Party the party of evidence-based economic policy. When Republicans have proposed large tax cuts for the wealthy and asserted that those tax cuts would pay for themselves, for example, we have shown that the economic facts do not support these fantastical claims. We have applied the same rigor to proposals by Democrats, and worked to ensure that forecasts of the effects of proposed economic policies…are grounded in economic evidence… We are concerned to see the Sanders campaign citing extreme claims by Gerald Friedman about the effect of Senator Sanders’s economic plan—claims that cannot be supported by the economic evidence. Friedman asserts that your plan will have huge beneficial impacts on growth rates, income and employment that exceed even the most grandiose predictions by Republicans about the impact of their tax cut proposals.

As much as we wish it were so, no credible economic research supports economic impacts of these magnitudes. Making such promises runs against our party’s best traditions of evidence-based policy making and undermines our reputation as the party of responsible arithmetic. These claims undermine the credibility of the progressive economic agenda and make it that much more difficult to challenge the unrealistic claims made by Republican candidates.”

But like so much of what liberals argue about any given issue they are once again right, but for the wrong reasons. Nobel prize winning economist, and bourgeois butt-face (I’m sorry; I just couldn’t help myself), Paul Krugman linked to this letter on his blog. His input was limited to arguing that the Senator, who has worked at the Capitol for more than two decades, is “not ready for prime time” while also being unwilling to “face up to the reality that the kind of drastic changes he’s proposing, no matter how desirable, would produce a lot of losers as well as winners”.

Krugman also added that anyone who responds to this letter with a critique that believes it is most certainly relevant which kind of institutional, economic and political, interests those economists represent, then you are part of the problem. Of course Krugman admits to his true allegiance right in his own blogpost when he writes about the Sanders plan producing a lot of losers. He is speaking here, of course, of Capital. Capital loses when policies benefiting Labor are implemented. Though I guess I am just part of the problem for quoting Krugman back to himself.

All this is quite ironic coming from a political commentator who is filled with righteous fury each and every time some blockhead pundit espouses false equivalence between the Democrats and the Republicans. I suppose if one is going to offer a critique of Sanders’ plan from the Left that is not a classic case of red-baiting then one may just as well call Sanders’ a deluded amateur. Sure, he did it politely, so I suppose he gets points for that, but let us not blind ourselves to exactly what is happening here. This is a fight within the left-wing coalition, a fight between the liberal and radical factions. Given where my allegiance lies, therefore, one would be pretty shocked to discover that I agree with the analysis offered by Krugman and the former CEA economists; well, sort of.

It is often the case that a liberal is right about a particular issue, or even a multitude of issues. They just happen to be right for the wrong reasons. One wonders just how well bourgeois economists like Krugman and those formerly of the CEA really understand capitalism or economics, especially since the plan offered by Sanders is not that radically different from the kinds of plans offered by Keynesian economists such as Krugman over the last six or seven years. This is an argument over degrees, not actual policy.

These institutionalist liberal economists believe that the Sanders plan goes too far in redistributing the wealth that has been expropriated from Labor by Capital over the last several decades. Krugman and his ilk will go one television and rail against inequality, unemployment, the destruction of the social safety net and the welfare state. But when a genuine attempt is made by a candidate running for President to push down on the scales in favor of Labor they holds their hands in the air, shouting “Stop,stop,stop! Whoa, buddy, just where do you think you’re goin’ so fast?”.

Theses are economists who advocate the consumption theory of capitalism, that it is the consumer who is the real driving force of the system. Give the consumer more money and you will produce economic growth. For Keynesians, extra spending is produced by money creation, which leads to increased employment, then increases in income and economic growth and finally increases in profits. In reality, however, the capitalist economy works in exactly the opposite direction. Only when profits are high enough do capitalists have the incentive to invest, which produces higher employment, higher incomes, and increased consumption.

Therefore, using the political system to shift the balance of power back to Labor, as Sanders would do, would weaken capitalism, drive down profitability, lead to a strike of investment, layoffs, declining incomes and consumption and ultimately a recession or depression. As we Marxists argue there is no solution to the crises of capitalism within capitalism itself because it is the very crises, recessions and depressions, that are the means for the system to restore profitability. The capitalist class is not going to stand by and do nothing while it is under attack, hence the conflict between the liberals and the radicals within the Democratic Party.

Regardless, we Marxists support any attempt by the political left to implement policies beneficial to Labor. However, both the liberal and the radical factions of the Democratic Party are wrong about the ultimate solution to this crisis. The long term solution is not a moderate or even a radical challenge to capitalism in a period of low profitability. Rather, the capitalist system of production for profit has to be replaced by a system of planned investment under common ownership.

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Pendulum Politics Under Capitalism

The election of Justin Trudeau in Canada is another in a long series of elections around the world signaling a leftward lurch in reaction to the age of austerity. Unfortunately, the likelihood that these movements through the electoral system are going to accomplish much of anything is small. Trudeau, the son of a former Prime Minister, and a millionaire who became wealthy the old fashioned way, through inheritance, is more reminiscent of Barack Obama than Eugene Debbs. While many of the stated goals of political parties and politicians like Syriza, Podemos, Justin Trudeau and Bernie Sanders are admirable they are merely one side of a coin.

None of the political events of the last seven years that have provided indications of a genuine change in the status quo have produced said change. The election of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in 2008 produced a health care bill that will likely save and improve numerous lives while further enriching insurance and pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and doctors. Two years after that election a reactionary resurgence returned control of Congress to the Republicans. Liberal disillusionment and apathy can always be counted upon to provide ample opportunity for Conservatives to lie, cheat, and steal their way into power.

At this late stage in the development of global capitalism there is nowhere for working people to apply pressure to the system in an attempt to force reform. The nationalist period of capitalist development is gone. No longer do capitalists see their interests aligned with a particular country. Their interests extend across the globe, enveloping the planet in a class hegemony heretofore unknown in world history. No mere political party or politician, regardless of which country they represent, is going to be able to roll back the developments of the last several decades. Attempts at piecemeal reform through “legitimate” mechanisms of power will accomplish nothing.

This dynamic has played out repeatedly since the emergence of Neoliberalism in the 1970’s. The Conservatives gain power and then lose it to the Liberals, the Liberals gain power and then lose it to the Conservatives, the pendulum swinging back and forth with hardly anyone noticing that what seems like genuine, uncontrolled, unmanaged, representative democracy is in actuality a predetermined course, a weight tied to a string and swinging from a pivot. Therefore, what seems most likely is a short period of political upheaval followed by stagnation and the inevitable swing back in favor of the conservatives.

The only variable potent enough to instigate real revolutionary change is the forthcoming economic crisis. The capitalist class and it’s allies within the state have jerry-rigged this economy with gum and twine, hoping to drain as much wealth and resource as they can while they can. At least the smart ones are doing this, the rest are likely too delusional about the nature of the system to understand just how precarious is the situation. As Marxist economist Michael Roberts has detailed the capitalist system is in a sharp decline. Profitability, the driving force of the capitalist system, is at its lowest point since it reached its peak in the 1960’s.

Profits drive investment and investment drives employment. Without sufficient profitability the capitalists will begin to pull back further and further on investment. Investment is already incredibly low, but the free flow of credit from governments has bridged the gap. However, this measure cannot last forever as the burden of both public, and private, debt weighs on the system, further inhibiting capitalists from investment and slowing economic growth. How the working class responds to this crisis will determine if we are able to save ourselves and our planet from capitalism.

The Left Fails to Understand Capitalism

The liberal blog Hullabaloo, founded by Heather “Digby” Parton, is an excellent place to find adroit analysis on a variety of relevant political, economic, or social topics. With several regular contributors there is no dearth of heterogeneous perspectives on any number of issues of concern to the political left. Tom Sullivan is one of those contributors. His command of a wide ranging number of political issues is impressive, but a recent article he wrote, entitled “Capitalism is Overdue for an Upgrade” is indicative of a prevalent sentiment on the Left today, particularly in America. Sullivan quotes from, and responds to, an article by Mike Lux entitled “A Bold New Agenda Bubbling Up From the Grassroots,

Contrary to the current trickle-down economic orthodoxy, our economy will only grow and strengthen over the long run if we focus on helping more poor people climb the ladder into an expanding and more prosperous middle class. That is not happening today. It has not been happening much since the Reagan era introduced us to trickle-down. Capitalism is overdue for an upgrade. “Rules are not the enemy of markets,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren observes. ‘Rules are the necessary ingredient for healthy markets”.

That is why my business law textbook is 2-1/2 inches thick. It is chapter after chapter of real-world examples of who did what to whom, who gets paid, and who gets left holding the bag, demonstrating precisely why rules exist in business. It only works if everyone understands and plays by them. Rules need to be enforced again.

All this government focus — or is it myopia? — on protecting the incentives of the investor class, on their rewards. Yet unless the carrots are sticks, no similar care for the incentives of the working class, and on designing an economy that rewards the people who actually do the work that adds the value that creates the wealth. What’s wrong with this picture?

“Anything we can create we can reinvent,” says Gabriella Lemus, president of Progressive Caucus.e The economy is not a product of nature. People designed it. People built it. People crafted the rules that govern it. If it no longer serves We the People as it should, we can and should improve the design. That is the American way, isn’t it?

American Family Voices holds a conference in Washington, D.C. on Friday on building a new economy. Lux concludes, “We need to make our economy grow from the bottom up and middle out, rather than from the top down.”

Building a factory from the top down? Now that would be a neat trick.

Essentially, this critique of capitalism is arguing that the basic logic and underlying assumptions of the capitalist system are right and good. The only problem is that the wealth generated by the system is being distributed to the wrong people. So, this “critic” of capitalism is essentially arguing that the lion is a perfect animal, except that when the lion eats the antelope the calories distributed in the process should go to the antelope instead of the lion. If only we could institute a perfect set of rules to redistribute the expropriated value created by the wage laborer for the sake of the capitalist’s profits then we would really solve this inequality thing.

This only makes sense when if we ignore the very exploitative nature of capitalism, and really all class societies, itself. The very logic of the system itself necessitates the existence of poverty alongside wealth. For it is poverty that creates wealth in class societies. So, tell me, how exactly does the capitalist, or the system overall, benefit by helping poor people in the western world, with our high living standards and thus high cost of living, climb out of poverty? It is not a coincidence that as millions in the western world are falling from the middle class down into the working class and into poverty while at the same time hundreds of millions of Chinese poor and working class people are rising into the middle class.

A return to the golden age of western welfare state capitalism is a utopian fantasy. Capitalism does not need the millions of Americans living in poverty to escape poverty, which is precisely why they live in poverty. There is no means by which to expropriate sufficient surplus value from their labor while at the same time providing them with high wages and excellent public services. Should their plight really concern you let us not forget about the hundreds of millions, or even billions, of people on this planet who live on a mere two or three dollars a day. Ultimately this economic system is dependent on the existence of sweatshop slavery, wage slavery, migrant slavery, etc. Therefore, to argue that we can somehow convince, through statutory regulation, the capitalist system to work against the tendency and logic of it’s own nature is equivalent to trying to convince a lion to not eat antelope.

The Young Turks, Wolf-Pac, and the True Nature of Capitalism

The Young Turks are an online news and opinion program that recently reached two billion views on YouTube. As a progressive outlet they provide a platform for a variety of viewpoints that rarely find expression in mainstream sources. They provide excellent, valid critiques of corporate malfeasance and misfeasance, political corruption within the political parties, the modern state of policing, civil liberties, economic inequality, reproductive health rights, and so on; they are a valuable arrow in the Left’s political quiver. One of their longest standing projects is something called Wolf-Pac. It is a political action committee created for the sole purpose of passing a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizen’s United Supreme Court ruling and bar the influence of money within politics. While in and of itself this is a noble goal it is reflective of a general misunderstanding on the Left as to exactly how capitalism functions.

The Young Turks believes that cases like Citizen’s United and the financial collapse in 2008 are a byproduct of a corrupted capitalism; a capitalism that only functions on behalf of the wealthy, the ruling class. From this perspective it makes all the sense in the world to address the malfunctions of the political system as a product of a disproportionate influence over the process by the rich. Therefore, the solution is to exclude from the entire calculation what the rich have that the rest of us do not: capital. This is misguided. Ignoring for the moment the entire consideration of what function the State actually serves within a class society, mainly as the enforcement mechanism of the dominant class’ hegemony over the rest of the society, we are still left with this underlying assumption that capitalism is innately democratic but has somehow been co-opted, and with just the right amount and kind of regulatory infrastructure it can be harnessed to produce the kinds of equitable outcomes liberals and progressives want.

This is one of the gravest problems the Left must overcome if it is to have any real influence over the direction of the society in the coming decades. Yes, acquiring political power is important, a vital first step to enacting the kinds of changes we want to improve our society. However, we cannot continue to make the same mistakes. The Left in societies as different as the European and North American welfare state as well as the Left in state capitalist countries China and the Soviet Union, among others, has historically conflated political power with economic power. By assuming political office and then wielding the apparatus of State to enact the changes we want the Left has argued that this is socialism, or liberalism, or progressivism, depending on where one lives. Not once have they sought to disentangle the relations of capitalism through economic democracy, the removal of the distinction between employer and employee. Only through the destruction of this distinction can actual Socialism be achieved. We must not equate political control in a capitalist society to economic control nor to the overthrow of capitalism. Only through economically democratic control over the distribution of the surplus created will we be able to begin the construction of a more equitable society.

Certainly it will not be the last and only step in this process. The social relations of class society under capitalism will persist for some time, and action will have to be taken to protect minority communities from the negative effects of majoritarianism. In America in particular minority groups such as African Americans, LGBT, and others will need affirmative action programs and other privileges in order to bridge the historical discrimination visited upon these groups by our society. But until we realize that attempts to reform the society when taken from the purely political aspect, as in the case of Wolf-Pac’s constitutional amendment, then counter-revolutionary forces will always have the advantage, given that they control the economic base of the entire process. Capitalism has always been an inherently undemocratic mode of production. The mere fact that the vast majority of the wealth on the planet is controlled by far less than one percent of the population should be proof of that fact. Unfortunately, many on the Left today are unwilling to admit the true nature of capitalism. Wealth creates poverty. Examine it from the perspective of the austerity regime currently in place throughout Europe.

From the point of view of the mass of the people austerity seems irrational, self-destructive. Why should we continue to cut public services, fire public employees, reduce pensions along with other portions of the welfare state, raise taxes on middle and working class people, when all that produces are increased deficits and the need for further cuts? This is one of the primary ways capitalism historically, and in the twenty first century, produces wealth. The productive capacity of the society must be reduced in order to restore profitability, which then restores investment, which then restores employment for the mass of the people. From the point of view of the capitalist class austerity makes perfect sense. Create economic instability for a majority of the people. This makes them less combative when it comes to destroying the welfare state, driving down wages, and so on, so long as they believe that things will not get any worse. If all the policies and practices earned by the working class movements over the last century can be rolled back then less and less of the surplus created will be used in maintaining those policies and practices. Thus more of the society’s wealth can be redistributed back to those on the top of the food chain. This is not a conspiracy by a secretive cabal. This is the fundamental logic of capitalism. And this is why it is our enemy.

Unified Leftist Politics: An Ongoing Investigation

In the wake of the Rachel Dolezal controversy and my critique of Identity Politics I feel it necessary to discuss further the importance for revolutionary praxis of breaking away from sectarian politics. If we are to create a political movement to counter the hegemony of Global Capitalism it must be a unified movement. The problem with Identity Politics is that it fractures the Left into an inordinate number of varying identity groups. This form of politics leaves us with conversations about the comparative degrees of oppression faced by transgendered white women versus gay men or women of color. We are repeatedly left to debate whose victimhood is more legitimate, creating a kind of language turf war wherein the battles are fought within the movement itself over placement in the hierarchy of oppression rather than in developing a unified revolutionary praxis for countering the hegemony of Global Capitalism.

The practical, concrete result this ideological formation has on street level political activism is the dominance of Movementism. Movementism is purely a reactionist enterprise. It tends to take the form of political activism in response to a single issue: the war in Iraq, police brutality, abortion restrictions, voter disenfranchisement, etc. As a result of this disorganization and spontaneous formation there is very little that the organizations formed around these issues can actually accomplish. Their disunity from the rest of the goals of the Left is precisely the reason that they generally fail to achieve their aims. They only appear spontaneously in the wake of an immediate crisis, feeding off the energy of the local populace to fill their ranks. Once that energy dissipates, as it always does when people begin returning to their normal lives, the organization falls apart, slipping back into obscurity.

We need to develop a movement across the left on the basis of a shared political line in opposition to Global Capitalism just as the Bourgeoisie united as a single class in opposition to Feudalism. We must take the various forms of oppression which exist under Capitalism and bring them within a unified politics. Instead of arguing over the hierarchy of oppression we must identify the various expressions of oppressions under Capitalism as anachronisms within the context of a better world and should thus be abolished along with their progenitor, Class Society, the modern formation of which is Capitalism. We need political organizations that live within, and recruit from, their communities around the country, devoted to the daily task that is the construction of revolutionary organizations capable of creating and promoting a revolutionary politics and the concrete strategy for its practical application.

The economic crisis that has brought suffering to so many millions of Americans would have been an excellent opportunity for these organizations to begin their practical efforts toward seizing political power through the established channels were these kinds of organizations being built in the preceding decades. However, Capitalism is yet again in crisis and the Left in America remains utterly impotent to do anything about it. This is not to say that the Left should ignore reformist struggles aimed at incremental improvements. Any reformist legislative campaign that is likely to be enacted and thus likely to improve the lives of millions of Americans, like the expansion of insurance and access to Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, should be supported. But surely that does not mean that reformist struggle should be the only practical political activity of the Left.

The struggle for the overthrow of Capitalism through political revolution should not remain merely an academic, theoretical exercise. We need to develop practical tools for concrete revolutionary praxis all the while incorporating, and focusing, the energy of spontaneous political activism in the wake of crises into our paradigm. When these crises emerge there must exist revolutionary political organizations that the mass of the people can turn to for assistance. And these organizations must exist within and be derived from all the communities, but particularly those communities with the least access to the established avenues of political participation. As Marx correctly concluded the slaves make history, for they have nothing to lose but their chains. Certainly this will be a herculean undertaking.

Nevertheless, if the Left in America wishes to address and solve the many challenges that face not only the country but the planet, with climate change being the most dire, then this sectarianism must not persist. We have spent far too long huddled in our individual corners, fighting our own small, individual battles against attacks on the environment, anti-poverty programs, reproductive rights, voting rights, police brutality, corporate crime, and so on. Without a unified front there can be no long term victory in any of these fights. For there is too much money and power behind the counter-revolutionary forces within our society who desire to see the perpetuation of Class Society in the form of Global Capitalism for it is from the maintenance of the status quo that they benefit. Not to mention those who want to see the achievements of human liberation and progress rolled back. I hope to continue my investigation into this issue by researching the thought of revolutionaries past and present who also struggled with these same concerns.