In the world of the far left, revolution has a much different meaning than the one Senator Bernie Sanders espouses at his packed rallies. Instead of the peaceful demonstrations in front of Capitol Hill, the lines at the voting booth, we might think for a moment about the Bolsheviks in Red Square, the international brigade in the Spanish Civil War, or even more modern sentiments about the YPG in Rojava, Syria. For many leftists, revolution is a violent thing.
The Sanders campaign is often a divisive one in far left circles. Some say he isn’t even a socialist. Others say the policies he proposes are the equivalent of putting a bandaid on cancer.
And while I’ll address these things in further depth in a moment, more importantly, I need to talk about the three major camps the far left has been split into about this. The reformists. The revolutionaries. And the accelerationists.
The reformists are usually rooting for Sanders, although some might still say he isn’t really a socialist. They want to change the current situation, even if incrementally, towards a better world for the workers and general populace. Sander’s proposals of free tuition, instituting a single payer healthcare system, opposing free trade deals, breaking up big banks, raising the minimum wage, and government investment in infrastructure are all attractive to them. They mitigate some of the worst parts of capitalism, making life easier for the working class. But unfortunately, under what Bernie Sanders’ has proposed so far, Capitalism would continue, the exploitation of the working class would continue, inequality and alienation would continue, and the world economy would remain unstable and inefficient.
The revolutionaries are those who are still pinning for that complete, well, revolution. They’re the old style socialists, communists and even anarchists who cheered on violent revolution by the proletariat. Some supported the communist bloc, or perhaps just a handful of the states who waved the red flag. They believe that the only way to overthrow a system perpetuated by violence is with violence. They’re the ones who are most likely to claim Sanders’ initiatives are the infamous cancer bandaid. Their biggest problem with him is that he isn’t Lenin. Nevermind the likelihood of violent overthrow of capitalism in the west, they’ve got their hearts set.
The accelerationists are something of a horse of a different color. They believe that the only way to achieve communism is for the material conditions necessary for it to occur, occur. Many agree that would be a post-scarcity economy. For the accelerationists, this is the self-destruction of capitalism (although, it can certainly be argued those two situations aren’t mutually exclusive). Their solution is to allow capitalism and its problems to fester until the situation is so unbearable for the general population that they have no rational choice but to revolt. In other words, their position is the polar opposite of the reformists. The end of capitalism is a goal so paramount that increasing the suffering it causes is entirely justified. So for them, perhaps the most logical choice would be Cruz, Trump, or Paul.
As for whether Sanders is a true socialist or not, much ink has been spilled on the topic. As a democratic socialists myself, I’m of the opinion that he is not and is a garden variety social democrat. That is, if he has actually revealed his entire platform. A true socialist would, by definition, advocate for worker control of the means of production. To date, the only thing he’s said on the matter during the campaign is that he doesn’t want “government to control the means of production,” which, while consistent with most democratic socialist points of view, says nothing about what he thinks of co-ops and worker ownership of private enterprise. Looking back at older statements of his, you will find a more radical point of view.
This has often led some speculate that Sanders is “hiding his power-level,” so to speak. They wonder if he is intentionally hiding just how radical his thinking really is so he can be more acceptable in a national election. It’s difficult to be sure about this, either way. Perhaps Sanders really did change his mind about his socialist principles with age, or perhaps he only became more pragmatic. We might only find out if he becomes president.
And in regard to the other criticism from leftists, I have something to say as well.
Sometimes even a cancer patient can use a bandage. Not to mention, bread and roses.