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Vol. 80/No. 7      February 22, 2016

(front page)

Sanders’ socialist reform program aims
to save crises-ridden capitalism

The contest is heating up between socialist Bernie Sanders, who beat former front-runner Hillary Clinton by 22 percentage points in the Feb. 9 New Hampshire Democratic primary, and the Clintons’ pursuit of a third family term for U.S. president.

Billionaire Republican front-runner Donald Trump trounced his opponents with over 35 percent of the vote, more than double any rival. In his New Hampshire victory speech, Trump vowed to be “the greatest jobs president,” stressing one of his key appeals to working people. “Don’t believe those phony figures,” he declared. “If we had 5 percent unemployment do you really think we’d have these gatherings?” The real figure, he suggested, could be as high as 42 percent.

The entry of the Socialist Workers Party campaign of Alyson Kennedy for president and Osborne Hart for vice president now poses a working-class alternative. They call for a break with the Democrats, Republicans and bourgeois candidates of all stripes and, through the course of workers’ struggles, for building an independent working-class political party advancing a fight for workers’ power.

Sanders’ win underlines the most significant development in the 2016 campaign, one dismissed earlier by bourgeois commentators. He is running as a socialist candidate advancing a program of radical reform to save capitalism.

Something like this hasn’t been seen in U.S. politics for some time, though it isn’t uncommon in other imperialist countries, where social democratic parties have formed governments on and off for decades when the capitalist rulers face a crisis. Sanders’ platform, in fact, is to the left of those of most bourgeois parties in Europe today that go by the name Socialist or Social Democratic.

The response to Sanders reflects growing dissatisfaction among workers and many in the middle class who have faced years of grinding depression conditions as the world capitalist contraction drags on. In his stump speeches Sanders calls for an infrastructure program to put millions of people to work, raising the minimum wage over several years to $15 an hour and making public universities tuition-free.

He points out that unemployment and underemployment for youth is over 35 percent, and more than 50 percent for young people who are Black, while the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate. This has to be addressed, he says, for young people to “begin their adult life.” This resonates with many workers, including those who are African-American.

Sanders has begun to win some endorsement from political figures who are Black, including former NAACP President Ben Jealous and Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner whose 2014 killing by a New York City cop met with local and nationwide protests. (Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, has endorsed Hillary Clinton.)

Covering up class divisions

Sanders also focuses on income inequality, as well as campaign finance rules that he says perpetuate an “oligarchy” in government. He calls for raising taxes on corporations and the super-rich to “end a rigged economy, create an economy that works for all.”

This echoes the “Occupy Wall Street” protests of 2011-12, which popularized the catchphrase of a wealthy “1 percent” versus “the 99 percent.” The Occupy movement, and Sanders, obscure the fact that the capitalist crisis and growing attacks on workers are the product not of opposing percentiles or well-endowed campaign “Super PACs.” Instead, they register the reality of irreconcilable class interests under capitalism and state power held by a handful of ruling-class families whose entrenched power, property and privilege are defended by the armed forces, cops and courts.

The Sanders campaign, like the Occupy movement, peddles the false notion of a classless “we” encompassing nearly all Americans (99 percent or more of us, in fact), who can be brought together if only capitalism and bourgeois election campaigns can be made more fair.

Sanders presents himself as a modern Franklin Delano Roosevelt, proposing another “New Deal.” Roosevelt won office in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression. What Sanders doesn’t say is that the steps implemented by Roosevelt — from make-work jobs programs to the start of Social Security — were aimed at blunting the rising social movement marked by the CIO industrial union battles in those years, a working-class movement the rulers feared could threaten capitalist political power.

Roosevelt turned the FBI into a national political police, joining state and local cops in targeting and framing up trade union fighters and communists.

By the late 1930s, Roosevelt’s program increasingly became a “War Deal,” slashing public works and other jobs programs set up earlier as Washington and the propertied families it represents prepared to enter the second world imperialist slaughter. It was only with the conscription of millions of young men as cannon fodder in World War II that the unemployment crisis ended.

Sanders speaks in opposition to new U.S. military deployments in the Middle East and elsewhere. He touts his record in Congress of having voted against authorizing the U.S. war in Iraq in 2002, in contrast to Clinton — failing to note that he often votes to authorize funding for that and Washington’s other wars.

Sanders would be the first Jewish president, something that has not become an issue in the campaign. He says he is “not actively involved with organized religion,” and that’s not been an issue either — which is also new for a U.S. presidential race.

As Sanders has risen in the polls, Clinton has said that she’s a progressive too, but one “who gets things done.” She says she wants to “rein in the excesses of Wall Street,” even though she has accepted substantial contributions from Goldman Sachs and other “too big to fail” banks and financial institutions. The problem with Sanders, Clinton says, is that he’s utopian.

Sanders’ response is that real change “comes from the bottom on up.” He calls for a “political revolution” — one whose content amounts to voting and pressuring Congress to carry out the program he proposes to reform capitalism.

Leading up to the New Hampshire vote, Clinton’s campaign took on an increasingly panicky tone. She didn’t get much help when Gloria Steinem, a founder of Ms. magazine, said the reason so many young women are active in the Sanders campaign is to meet young men. The big majority of women who voted in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire cast their ballots for Sanders.

Trump’s nationalist demagogy

Like Sanders, Trump owes his position in the Republican race to broad discontent caused by the grinding capitalist crisis. Both speak in opposition to another U.S. ground war and Washington’s involvement in so-called free trade pacts. But beyond that, their campaigns are qualitatively different.

Trump’s campaign centers on nationalist demagogy. At the same time, he says he’s the one who will create jobs, and steers clear of calls for the cuts in social benefits that most of his Republican opponents demand. John Kasich, who ran second in New Hampshire’s primary, gains at the polls from attacks by rivals for expanding Obamacare-linked Medicaid benefits as governor of Ohio.

Trump presents himself as speaking for the little person, a straight shooter who says what he thinks and a successful businessman who can get things done. But some concrete proposals he pounds away at are anti-working-class, such as building a wall along the Mexican border to keep out immigrants (which he’s now begun presenting as a solution to growing heroin addiction as well!) and announcing this week he supports waterboarding and “worse” for those Washington accuses of terrorism.

One of Trump’s notorious positions, his call for a “temporary” bar on Muslims entering the U.S., was dealt a political blow Feb. 3 when President Barack Obama visited a Baltimore mosque and spoke against such “inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim-Americans.”

Meanwhile, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirmed he is considering a bid for the White House in a widely reported Feb. 8 interview in the Financial Times. The race today is “an outrage and an insult to the voters,” said the billionaire media owner.

Bloomberg was a lifelong liberal Democrat before registering as a Republican for his 2001 mayoral bid for electoral reasons. He won his third term as mayor as an independent. His main aim in entering the presidential race would be to block prospects of a victory by Sanders. Bloomberg says he will decide by early March.
Related articles:
Join the Socialist Workers Party 2016 US presidential campaign!
Alyson Kennedy for president  ❖  Osborne Hart for vice president
The SWP candidates
National Campaign Committee
‘Workers need control on job to ensure safety’
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