Rise and Fall of Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders – File Pic

Is there a case for socialism?

Makhdoom Mohi-ud-din

STRUGGLING with COVID–19 crisis US President, Donald Trump seems to be conceding ground to Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, who exudes insipidity and drabness. Bernie Sanders was another Democrat who failed to get nomination in both 2016 and 2020. Sanders entering the fray had given hope  to the socialist–inclined intelligentsia. Sanders and his post–capitalist socialism in the United States of America, once a seat of McCarthyism and ‘Red Scare’ is a major departure from the predictable trajectories of the politics.

Sanders is now history, but socialism makes comebacks in different avatars. The issue of modestly analyzing it as a post-war political and economic idea precedes the topicality of US presidential election. Socialism has assumed a variety of theories and praxis. In the Indian sub-continent there are two well known shades: Islamic Socialism and Gandhian Socialism. From the start of twentieth century, socialism in the sub continent attracted people as socio–economic and political instrumentality for a just and equitable society. It inspired strong anti colonial and anti imperialistic struggles in Asia, Africa, South America and other places where revolutionary violence was kosher. Socialism and its claims as a universalist political and economic theory had lost their resonance in early 1990s. Marxist historian Erric Hobsbawm quotes M. Lewin in Kerblay (1983) to deflate exclusive claims of universal acceptance of socialism in his book ‘The Age of Extremes’: ‘It is not true anymore that a single official creed is the only operative guide to action. More than one ideology, a mixture of modes of the thinking and frames of reference co-exist not only in society at large but also in the party and inside the leadership’.

Francis Fuquyama, American political scientist celebrated the ‘End of Socialism’ and devoted huge volume of literature to mark the advance of universalist pretentions of liberal democracy. More than two and a half decades since the ‘End of History’, it is the plural models of the government that have taken over – conservative, democratic arrangement  of Iran, monarchies of Persian Gulf, state capitalism of China and rentier state of Russia have created a scenario where ‘a hundred school of thoughts contend’.

How should we define socialism in the twenty first century? The question was asked to Noam Chomsky, the grand old intellectual and critic. In the American context he preferred and agreed to John Dewy’s extensional statement. Dewy, American social philosopher, mentor of B.R. Ambedkar styled socialism contended that the workers should be the ‘masters of their industrial fate’ and ‘means of the production, exchange, publicity, transport and communication should be under public control’.

In the Indian sub continent, publicly known religious people imbibed influences of socialism. Moulana Hasrat Mouhani was the founding member of Communist Party of India in 1920s. Moulana Obaid Ullah Sindhi, a maveric and radical, who fought against British, spent more than one and half decade in exile. He remained in former Soviet Union for more than a year and was impressed by its industrial development. Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement was in the spirit of Gandhian Socialism though it never came to anything like revolutionary. Bhartiya Jan Sangh, earlier precursor of BJP incorporated elements of Gandhian socialism in its economic program.  Indira Gandhi and late Z A Bhutto made cynical use of socialism. Programs of the both were insubstantial and were more or less geared at self preservation. Socialism followed a tumultuous trajectory after World War –II. The capitalism, earlier pejorative denomination of market economy, managed to expand and maintain stranglehold through political and propagandistic means. The US and its camp followers did not hold back from military and repressive means to thwart radical and social democracies. In Asia, popular and democratic governments of Mosadique of Iran and Sukarno of Indonesia were toppled with US help. In Africa and South America tin-pot generals and dictators were put in power. The list of depredations is long, each one with its particular locale and liminality. The CIA operations were used by US to topple left labour Whithlam government in Australia in 1975 and the Aldo Moro government in 1976. Noam Chomsky makes a reference to the alarm, the secretary of the state, Henry Kissinger sounded about “domestic evolution of communist parties in western countries— nurturing moves towards independence and threatening NATO alliance. Under US Marshall Plan, aid to the allies in the Europe was threatened if any prospect of socialist and radical democrats loomed on the horizon.

Radical democracy as a resistance to neo-liberal capital is localized. The strategy and vision are eminently desirable. Democrats have long before cast off affectations of New Deal of F D Roosevelt. The mere existence of Sanders calls for a new New Deal – a package deal of relief, reforms, and recovery from excruciating disruptions of neo liberal capital. “He, Sanders seems to be a decent and honest New Dealer, which is not so different from European social democracy,” commented Noam Chomsky.

So, why did the campaigns of Sanders, generating hope and energy in 2016 and 2020 fizzle out? The reasons are systemic and structural. The political parties in US as reported in erudite analyses are not class based. Fund raising prevails over participation and membership. So, radical democratic forces need not to show up at elections only their growth, perseverance and deepening is necessary to keep afloat optimism of a better world. For approaching times Americans can be content with New Deal American welfare capitalism.

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