The Crisis (Pt 3)

The king of commodities

On April 20 (2020), the May futures contract for the delivery of oil fell to a negative $37 per barrel. Since the 1970s, some have suggested that oil has replaced gold as the money commodity, reflected in the term petrodollars. We can now see that this idea is based on a misunderstanding. Oil as the commodity that stores energy as well as serving as a raw material is perhaps the king of commodities as far as its use value is concerned. However, this doesn’t mean that oil is the money commodity, which in terms of its use value measures the value of all other commodities.

What would happen if global production and circulation suddenly became paralyzed? We are now finding out. With production and transportation sharply curtailed around the globe, what is the use value of oil now? Marx explained in Chapter 3, Volume I of “Capital”: “Whenever there is a general and extensive disturbance of this mechanism [credit — SW], no matter what its cause, money becomes suddenly and immediately transformed, from its merely ideal shape of money of account, into hard cash. Profane commodities [such as oil — SW] can no longer replace it. The use-value of commodities becomes valueless, and their value vanishes in the presence of its own independent form. On the eve of the crisis, the bourgeois, with the self-sufficiency that springs from intoxicating prosperity, declares money to be a vain imagination. Commodities alone are money.”

Since oil has storage costs, the owners of May 2020 oil futures contracts were for a day willing to pay buyers to take it off their hands to free themselves of those costs. This shows that not oil but money is the king of commodities. In the words of Marx, the value of oil has vanished in the presence of its independent value form. Even Trump’s move to buy all the oil that the U.S. government can physically store has not prevented the oil price collapse.

When the value of a commodity as important as oil vanishes — though it isn’t only oil that is being affected — in the presence of its own value form, the credit system is thrown into crisis. Credit is based on the assumption of a given price structure. When commodities become unsalable or at least unsalable at the expected price, the credit system begins to break at a thousand and one places. For example, banks lend money to oil companies. If the oil companies can’t sell their oil at profitable prices, they will not be able to pay the banks. How will the banks pay their creditors, which include their depositors? And what about the pension funds loaded up with oil and bank stocks?

The Federal Reserve System is reacting to the current crisis much like it reacted to the crisis of 2008, but this time on an even greater scale, creating trillions of new dollars. The Fed is hoping that by creating enough U.S. dollars as a means of payment it can prop up the credit system. The Fed is saying to the capitalists, if you have IOUs payable in U.S. dollars, don’t worry. We will turn your IOUs into brand new U.S. dollars.

The problem for the Fed, however, is that the U.S. dollar is only a representative of the actual money commodity, gold bullion. Experience has shown that if the currency system is plunged into a crisis, a credit crisis is sure to follow at the very next stage. If the Fed over-does the creation of new dollars, the value of dollars will begin to vanish in the presence of the real “king of commodities” — gold bullion. The more the dollar price of gold rises, the more the dollar’s role as a means of payment is undermined. What is the point of loaning money payable in U.S. dollars if nobody knows what the value of those dollars will be in a few months or even a few weeks?

If the Fed’s unprecedented dollar-printing spree causes the U.S. dollar to lose its role as the chief international means of payment, the entire financial scafolding of the U.S. empire will be knocked out from under it. A new historical epoch will have begun, the nature of which will be determined by the results of the struggle between the two main classes of modern society, the capitalist class and the working class. I will examine all this in a few weeks when I look at the financial, credit, currency, and general economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The world as it appeared not so long ago

The world seemed to be a quite different place in February 2020. That was, after all, only about two months ago. Let’s take a look at this now-vanished world, both politically and economically.

The COVID-19 virus seemed confined to China and perhaps a few of its Far Eastern neighbors. Trump’s Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was gloating that the epidemic would be good for the U.S. economy because it would oblige U.S. corporations to shift their production back to the U.S. If this occurred, it would enable Trump to realize his chief promise — reviving industrial America while halting what appeared to be China’s unstoppable rise. The latter is an aim Trump shares with the “Party of Order.” If things had unfolded the way Ross claimed they would, the role of the U.S. as the pivot of the entire global capitalist system would be strengthened once again.

At the beginning of this year, the U.S. economy was slowing down after what had turned out to be a record-long but also a record-weak upswing in the global capitalist industrial cycle that followed the crisis of 2007-09. This industrial cycle upswing, however, was punctuated by recessions in Europe and Latin America and a “mini-recession” in the U.S. between 2014 and 2016. The U.S. mini-recession hit the energy and basic industrial sectors quite hard even as the service sector — real estate, banks, and wholesale and retail trade — continued to boom. This downturn — which U.S. statisticians refuse to recognize as a recession — was still severe enough to play no small role in Trump’s 2016 Electoral College victory.

By 2019, it was pretty obvious that the global industrial cycle that began with the Great Recession was approaching its end. However, in the course of 2019, the Fed slashed its target for the U.S. federal funds rate three times. This had the effect of prolonging the economic upswing through 2019 and into the beginning of 2020.

Trump himself attacked the Federal Reserve System for its earlier moves to raise the fed funds rate as part of its now-abandoned moves to “normalize” monetary policy, and then denounced the Fed for lowering the fed funds target too slowly. By the beginning of 2020, the U.S. industrial economy was in a mild recession. But it seemed quite possible that thanks to the Fed’s lowering of the fed funds target rate and the lingering strength in the service sector, the prosperity such as it was could linger on through the November election. This would increase the chances of a Trump victory in the Electoral College, if not in the popular vote.

However, despite the lingering prosperity — the scope of which was monstrously exaggerated by the media and even more so by Trump — things were looking up for the electoral prospects for progressives, or so it seemed. Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, and though the results were disputed, it was clear that he had won the largest bloc of votes in the Iowa caucuses as well. The “democratic socialist” senator from Vermont won a decisive victory in the Nevada caucuses and moved well ahead of Joseph Biden in California in the polls. California has the largest bloc of delegates at the upcoming Democratic convention. Even in South Carolina, considered a Biden stronghold, Sanders was making gains among the largely African-American Democratic primary electorate.

Optimistic progressives believed that Sanders would emerge as the “presumptive nominee” as early as the super-Tuesday string of state primaries — March 3. The reason for this optimism was that all the anti-single payer Democratic candidates pushed by the mass media were fading, not least of all Obama’s former vice president, Joseph Biden.

Despite the media and anti-single payer Democratic presidential candidates’ attempts to create confusion about single-payer health care — for example, claiming that “government-run” health insurance (1) “would cost trillions,” that “we” cannot afford (2) the cost, that it would take away people’s private insurance, and that it would “raise taxes” — the idea remained stubbornly popular.

November, progressives expected, would bring a showdown between, on the one hand, the reactionary Trump and Republicans who had attempted and were still attempting to take away even the limited gains of Obamacare, and Sanders’ program of single-payer health care as a human right; as well as the right to a higher education, also called free college; the forgiveness of crippling student debt; and the promise of a renewable energy revolution often called a “Green New Deal,” on the other. (3) Progressives were optimistic that given a choice between the reactionary program of Trump and the Republicans and the progressive program of Sanders, the American people would choose the latter. Isn’t that how democracy is supposed to work?

And then things began to go horribly wrong. Among the things that went wrong were progressives’ electoral hopes. Then COVID-19 began to hit the U.S. with devastating force, with the resulting effects — to put it mildly — on the U.S. and global economies. This week, I want to review how things went so wrong so quickly for progressive electoral hopes, which occurred just before the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting financial-economic crash became apparent.

The first sign of trouble for progressives came from South Carolina. Veteran African-American Congressman James Clyburn, who has great influence among mostly older African-American voters, came out strongly for Joseph Biden.

Clyburn’s base belongs to that generation of African Americans who credit Democratic leaders such as Lyndon Johnson with ending Jim Crow. Clyburn was advising these older, more conservative African-American voters to turn out en mass to push the lever for Biden. Joseph Biden, served as vice-president under Barack Obama, a revered figure for African Americans as the first Black president. Clyburn now told African-American voters that Biden was Obama’s political heir.

On February 29, these older African-American voters — voting in far larger numbers than younger African Americans — followed Clyburn’s advice and handed Joseph Biden a decisive victory, dealing progressives a major political blow. This is true despite the fact that South Carolina is so racially polarized that neither Biden or any other Democrat is considered to have any chance of carrying the state in November.

Progressives were disappointed with the South Carolina result. But since South Carolina was expected to go to Biden anyway, the results of the South Carolina primary were far from fatal to progressive hopes. Sanders didn’t need the South Carolina delegation to win the Democratic nomination on the first ballot.

The coup

Then came the real coup. On the eve of super-Tuesday, the remaining Democratic candidates except for Joseph Biden who had any chance of winning — Amy Klobuchar, “Mayor Pete” Buttitgieg, and Elizabeth Warren — suddenly dropped out of the race. There were reports they did so at the urging of former President Barack Obama to clear the road for Biden. Klobuchar and Buttitgieg promptly endorsed Biden while the “progressive” Warren refused to endorse any candidate. But since Warren was largely seen — at least until recently — as belonging to the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party, the effect of her “non-endorsement” amounted to a shame-faced endorsement of Biden.

This left only two Democratic candidates still standing — Bernie Sanders and Joseph Biden. The signal was clear. Democratic primary voters — overwhelmingly older voters loyal to the Democratic machine — were told to turn out on super-Tuesday and pull the lever for Biden. Much to the horror of the progressives, Biden won a sweeping victory in the super-Tuesday Democratic primaries, and within a few weeks, Sanders succumbed to the pressure, dropped out, and endorsed Biden.

Here we see a curious phenomenon that cuts across even the white-non-white divide. Democratic voters older than 45 are overwhelmingly for Biden. Those younger than 45 were overwhelmingly for Sanders. To some extent, this reflects the age-old phenomena that young people tend to be more “radical” while older people are more conservative. But more seems to be involved here.

A person who is 45-years-old in 2020 was born in 1975. They would have no memory of the days of the U.S. industrial monopoly. In the days of the U.S. industrial monopoly that peaked at the end of World War II, many people with just a high school education could get a good union job that often provided: good health care; an ability to purchase a home that would gain in value while the mortgage was paid off; and, when they retired, good pensions on top of government Social Security. This is what was called the “American Dream,” which many older workers seek to return to.

But anybody born much after 1965 has no memory of the bygone world of the U.S. industrial monopoly. They have no desire to return to the past that they never experienced. Today’s young and even middle-aged workers have known a U.S. economy dominated by low-paying, insecure, non-union service jobs. The “employer-centered” health care system that often worked for their parents or grandparents who had good union jobs does not work for them. In the current U.S. service-dominated economy increasing numbers of workers cannot afford to purchase homes. This has been especially true since the 2007-09 economic crisis. These younger workers supported Sanders and, to the extent they participated in the Democratic primaries, overwhelmingly voted for him.

As it has turned out, the November election will instead of offering the voters a clear choice between Sanders and the reactionary Trump will offer a choice between two old reactionaries, Donald Trump and Joseph Biden. Progressives are now hotly debating whether to hold their noses and vote for Biden to stop Trump’s “fascism,” wait out the election, or move toward building a new political party that would represent wage workers and their allies among other exploited people.

Some progressives are expressing great bitterness toward their erstwhile hero Bernie Sanders for giving in to the pressure from the Democratic machine to “suspend his campaign” and endorse Joseph Biden. These progressives forget that this is exactly what Sanders promised to do all along. Sanders, after all, endorsed and campaigned for the reactionary warmongering Hillary Clinton in 2016 and promised to do exactly the same thing in 2020 if he was again denied the Democratic nomination.

Who is Bernie Sanders?

Who is Bernie Sanders? Is he a “reform” capitalist politician in the mold of Theodore Roosevelt or Franklin Roosevelt, or is he something different? Sanders was born to a poor Jewish (4) family in Brooklyn, New York, in 1941. Quite a contrast to Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, who belonged to an old wealthy Protestant family. If he had reached the presidency, Sanders would have been the first U.S. president of Jewish heritage. Sanders’ personal hero is the early 20th-century socialist leader Eugene Debs. This choice of heroes is certainly not typical of today’s U.S. capitalist politicians.

In his youth in the early 1960s, Sanders strongly supported the Civil Rights Movement, the leading social movement of the time. He belonged to CORE — then considered a more radical civil rights organization relative to the venerable NAACP — and SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), which stood on the left flank of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Sanders also belonged to the Young People’s Socialist League, the youth organization of what was left of the U.S. Socialist Party, the party that had once been led by Eugene Debs.

Sanders became a socialist at a low point in the U.S. and world socialist movement. Years of persecution and FBI-police repression followed by Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin had caused the largest socialist organization in the U.S., the Communist Party, to lose the overwhelming majority of its members. The Socialist Party itself had been largely taken over by the followers of Max Shachtman. Shachtman was a former Communist and Trotskyist, who moving far to the right set the U.S. Socialist Party on the road toward dissolution within the Democratic Party.

In 1968, Sanders decided to leave the big city and move to the beautiful rural and mountainous state of Vermont. He became involved with the Liberty Union Party, an electoral socialist party that was part of the same movement that also created California’s Peace and Freedom Party. In 1976, Sanders ran for governor on the Liberty Union ticket winning a surprising 11,317 votes, a substantial vote considering Vermont’s population. This was the turning point in Sanders’ political career.

The surprisingly large vote for Sanders on the Liberty Union Party ticket indicated that the increasing possibilities of building a new electoral socialist party that would challenge the joint electoral monopoly of the Democrats and Republicans. But it also raised the question of whether an individual socialist politician such as Sanders could do even better in elections if he weakened his opposition to the Democrats. Sanders chose the latter course. In 1977, he resigned from the Liberty Union Party, though he remained on the left and continued to describe himself as a democratic socialist.

In 1980, Sanders ran for mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and won — the first avowed socialist to win the mayorship of a U.S. city in decades. In the U.S., during most of the Cold War anybody with the “socialist” label, even in the sense of a West European-type Social Democrat, became effectively unelectable to even minor offices. Sanders’ election showed that by the 1970s this anti-socialist taboo was beginning to fade.

Sanders was re-elected three times as mayor. But surely, the conventional wisdom held, the U.S.’s only socialist mayor could not be elected to a higher office. Or could he if he was willing to work with the Democrats?

In 1990, Sanders ran for Congress as an “independent” and won. During the electoral heyday of U.S. socialism before World War I, the Debs-led Socialist Party had elected only a few congressmen, some mayors, but no U.S. senators — who were not popularly elected for most of the “Debsian era” anyway but were chosen by state legislatures where there were no socialist majorities, or by state governors. But Sanders, drawing ever closer to the Democrats, was able to win a seat in the House of Representatives and was then elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006.

The price that Sanders paid for these electoral successes increasingly depended on the Democratic Party. Today, he still is officially registered as an independent in Vermont, but for all practical purposes he is a Democrat, or perhaps rather is a captive of the Democratic Party.

As super-Tuesday made clear, Sanders is not taking over the Democratic Party. Rather, it is the Democratic Party that has increasingly taken over Sanders. In 2016, Sanders campaigned for the reactionary Hillary Clinton, and he had promised to campaign for whomever the Democrats ultimately nominated this year, such as his “good friend” Joseph Biden.

However, Sanders has never completely reconciled himself to the program of the Democratic Party. He has long since dropped any notion of the expropriation of the means of production by society. But he has stubbornly upheld health care and higher education as human rights. His approach has been to nudge the Democratic Party to the left on these issues, which are themselves perfectly compatible with the continued existence of capitalism. However, for reasons that I will explore next week, these long-overdue reforms are being stubbornly resisted by the Democratic leadership.

The political careers of Sanders and Debs contrasted

Running as a socialist, Eugene Debs was never elected to a public office, though he ran for U.S. president five times. In the 1912 presidential election, Debs won 6 percent of the popular vote — but no votes in the Electoral College. This remains the electoral high point of any socialist presidential campaign by far up to the present. The young Debs, however, was elected twice to the post of city clerk for Terre Haute, Indiana, between 1879 and 1884, and then to the state legislature in 1884. But in those years, Debs was not a socialist but a Democrat.

Debs started as a member and leader of the railroad fireman’s union, a conservative craft union. Beginning as a conservative trade unionist who believed in a partnership between capital and labor, Debs gradually radicalized as a result of his participation in the trade-union struggle. In 1894, Debs attempted to form an industrial union, the American Railway Union, that would, unlike craft unions, which still dominate the railroad industry in the United States, unite all railroad workers regardless of craft or skill. Forced to strike in the face of wage cuts by the railroad bosses carried out during the depression year of 1894, the ARU was brutally crushed by the Democratic administration of President Grover Cleveland. This was quite an eye-opener for the erstwhile Democrat Debs.

Imprisoned for leading the “Debs rebellion,” as the bosses’ newspapers called the strike, Debs read socialist literature including Karl Kautsky, who after Frederick Engels, was then considered the leading Marxist theoretician in the world. Now converted to socialism in 1900, Debs along with some former members of the Socialist Labor Party, led by the principled but inflexible and sectarian Daniel De Leon (1852–1914), formed the U.S. Socialist Party.

Unlike De Leon, Debs was not a theoretician but rather an inspiring mass leader and orator. Debs’ evolution was in many ways the inverse of Sanders. Debs began as a Democrat and only after many years of concrete experience as a trade-union leader, climaxing in his attempt to unionize the railroad industry along industrial lines, did he become a socialist and break from the Democratic Party. Once Debs finally broke from the Democrats, he never looked back.

While the broad multi-tendency Socialist Party Debs led was not the type of party that could lead a socialist revolution if the conditions had been right for one, it was still a huge step forward. This was shown by the fact that when the Communist Party — the U.S. section of the Third International — was formed in 1919, though it included people from the Industrial Workers of the World and a few from the Socialist Labor Party, the great majority came from the U.S. Socialist Party.

Later in the 1930s, it was struggles largely under the leadership of the U.S. Communists that made possible Social Security and unemployment insurance, and most importantly made possible the industrial unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Today, many young progressives are being told it was the conservative Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt who deserves the credit for these reforms. But Roosevelt as an intelligent conservative feared above all the growth of U.S. communism. He only made these concessions because he feared if he didn’t, more and more U.S. workers would turn to the Communists. (5) This is exactly what Roosevelt was determined to avoid even if he had to grant concessions to the U.S. working class to achieve it.

Sanders’ weaknesses

In contrast to Debs, after Sanders abandoned the Liberty Union Party in 1977 he made no move to organize a party of the working class. As a result, the “Sanders movement” has no press of its own, either print, air or on-line, that could on a large scale challenge the anti-Medicare for All Democrats and their mainstream media. Polls show that Democratic primary voters, including older ones, overwhelmingly support Sanders’ program — Medicare for All, free college, the forgiveness of student debt, and the Green New Deal. However, most of the older voters were convinced by the Party of Order media and the Democratic machine to cast their votes for the reactionary Joseph Biden rather than the man who supports these things.

There is another huge weakness besides Sanders’ failure to build a working-class party and media. Sanders, just like most U.S. trade-union leaders — in contrast to the internationalist Debs — is an economic nationalist. Sanders says that the U.S. should never have normalized trade relations with China in light of the wage differential between Chinese and U.S. workers. This is not a progressive, let alone a socialist, position. It is outright reactionary!

The emergence of modern China as a major industrial country is the most progressive development of the late 20th and early 21st century. But thanks to the contradictions of the capitalist system — such as capitalism’s ability to expand production faster than the market — the rise of one country implies the decline of another industrial country. The world market simply isn’t big enough to absorb all the commodities that can be produced by the industry of the old industrial countries of Europe and the U.S. and the new industrial countries such as China at profitable prices.

Sanders’ position would put the U.S. in opposition to the attempt of any other country to industrialize — for example, Vietnam, India, Venezuela, Iran, and so on. If later in this century, a great people’s revolution were to sweep Africa leading to its industrialization — which is already taking place to a limited extent even under present conditions — workers following the logic of Sanders’ politics would oppose the industrialization of Africa as well. Instead, they would support the U.S. capitalists against their “foreign” competitors. On this question, which is of no small importance, Sanders is on the wrong side of history, just as the other Democratic and Republican politicians are.

As early as the “Communist Manifesto,” Marx and Engels emphasized that workers have no country. Rather than preaching the unity of U.S. workers and Chinese workers in a common class struggle against the capitalists of both the U.S. and China, Sanders takes the side of the U.S. capitalists against both the Chinese capitalists and the Chinese workers.

Sanders, therefore, joins the chorus of capitalists who say no country should ever be allowed to challenge the U.S. capitalists even if it develops along capitalist lines. Though Sanders himself is no racist, this doesn’t change the fact that economic nationalism inevitably leads to political nationalism and political nationalism leads to racism in all its ugly forms.

Sanders’ position of supporting the U.S. capitalists against the “upstart” Chinese capitalists is as far as heaven is from Earth and the slogan of Marx and Engels’ “workers of the world unite!” or to Lenin’s later slogan “workers and toilers of oppressed nations unite!” It is also the opposite of the great German Socialist Karl Liebneckt’s slogan he issued at the beginning of World War I — “The main enemy is at home!”

As we see, Sanders stands very far from the tradition represented by Marx, Engels, Debs, Luxemburg, Lenin, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and other great revolutionary leaders of the working class on not one but two basic issues. These leaders believed not only in words but in deeds that it was crucial to create an independent party of wage workers separate and apart from all the capitalist and middle-class parties. Even though some of these working-class leaders, including Eugene Debs, began their political lives in capitalist parties, they ended in every case organizing a party of the working class.

Just as importantly, all the revolutionary working-class leaders refused to play the game of encouraging the workers to support “their own” capitalists against foreign capitalists but rather told the workers of their various countries that it was fellow workers throughout the world who were their brothers and sisters and not their own capitalists. Sanders, in contrast, has followed the exact opposite course. (6)

Since Sanders’ politics and positions on the key questions of organizing an independent working-class party and on internationalism are so far from historic positions of the socialist workers’ movement, why then are Democratic leaders so determined to defeat Bernie Sanders? That will be the subject of next weeks’ post.

To be continued.

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1 The classic socialist demand was not for the government to run the social insurance funds but rather for the trade unions — the basic organizations of the working class — to do so. This should not be confused with the policy of some U.S. trade unions to run an insurance fund only for their own members — which has often led to corruption aimed at enriching the union officials — but rather for all members of society. For example, in the Soviet Union, it was not the government but rather the trade unions that administered the social insurance fund. (back)

2 If a single-payer system is created in the U.S., taxes on individuals would rise. However, people would no longer be paying premiums to private insurance companies. Deductibles and co-pays would also disappear. Ideally, the increased taxes necessary to finance single-payer would be steeply progressive, based on the ability to pay. The result would be that except for the very rich, once the savings people would realize by not having to pay private insurance companies premiums, deductibles and co-pays, are taken into account, the vast majority would realize substantial savings, as would society as a whole.

When Joseph Biden said he would veto single-payer legislation because we couldn’t afford the trillions it would cost, he was simply lying, just as he was lying when he said he had participated in the Civil Rights Movement or had been arrested visiting Nelson Mandela. (back)

3 The basic idea of the Green New Deal is valid insomuch as it points to the need to revolutionize energy production and more broadly deal with the increasingly disastrous impact of capitalists’ assault on the Earth. However, the term “New Deal” reflects widespread illusions about the nature of Franklin Roosevelt’s original “New Deal.” The New Deal was a series of concessions that the Roosevelt administration made largely to counter the growth and influence of socialist organizations — especially the U.S. Communist Party.

Roosevelt planned to finance these concessions by bringing the entire world economy under U.S. domination. Then the costs of the New Deal to U.S. capitalists would be more than made up through a vast increase in the exploitation of the workers and toilers of the entire world. The drive of U.S. capitalism to exploit both the land and workers and toilers of the entire world, and not “the struggle against fascism,” was what U.S. participation of the U.S. in World II was all about. (back)

4 One of the ironies of this election cycle is the widespread support that Sanders as the first major-party Jewish-American presidential hopeful has enjoyed among the U.S. Muslim community. The Muslim and Jewish communities are natural allies that closely resemble one another. Since the racists that have attacked both Muslims and Jews since Donald Trump became president are against Muslims while also being anti-Semitic, the two communities are united by having the same enemies. What gets in the way of this alliance is imperialist-created and -supported Zionist-Israel and its crimes against the Palestinians and other largely Muslim peoples of the Middle East and beyond. (back)

5 Especially after the rise of Hitler to power in Germany and the Seventh Congress of the Communist International held in Moscow in 1935, the U.S. Communist Party began to move away from its original revolutionary perspective toward a reformist outlook. An important part of this shift was the electoral support the Communist Party began to extend to the Democrats — at first shamefacedly and then openly.

Today, the U.S. Communist Party, which has long outlived the Communist International that it was once a part of, is going all out to elect Joseph Biden and virtually every other Democrat who is running down-ticket. Back in the 1930s, while Roosevelt appreciated the support the Comintern and its U.S. section gave him, causing him to distinguish between the “bad” Lenin and the “good” Stalin, neither he nor the ruling class he represented enjoyed being in any way dependent on the Communist International and its U.S. section. (back)

6 The difference between Debs and Sanders reflects more than the differences between the personalities of the two men. Debs lived during the rise of the Second International. It was therefore natural that after the brutal suppression of the railroad strike by the Democratic Cleveland Administration in 1894 Debs would move to organize a U.S. Socialist Party modeled more or less on the German Social Democratic Party and the other parties of the Second International.

Sanders, in contrast, grew up in the era of reaction against the Russian Revolution that reached its climax in December 1991 when the USSR was formally dissolved by the counterrevolutionary government of Boris Yeltsin. But long before Yeltsin ordered lowering the Red Flag of the working class from high atop a tower within the Moscow Kremlin, the Russian Revolution had been in retreat. The decline of the revolution represented a retreat by both the Russian and world working classes under the pressure of world imperialism from the revolutionary high point the Russian and global working class had reached in the years 1917-1918.

In contrast, during the years of the advance of the working class represented by the rise of the Second International before World War I, the basic pressure of the class struggle drove Eugene Debs out of the Democratic Party and into the Second International and the founding of the Socialist Party as its U.S. section. Similarly, the pressure of class struggle during the historical retreat of the working class represented by the decline and retreat of the Russian Revolution drove Sanders from his early attempts at independent working-class politics into the deadly embrace of the Democratic Party.

Since 1991, the reaction against the Russian Revolution has been gradually ebbing and a new generation of workers attracted to socialism is now entering the struggle. Hopefully, the new generation will reverse Sanders’ course and repeat Debs’ journey from the Democratic Party to independent revolutionary working-class politics while learning all the rich lessons of more than a century of revolutions and counterrevolutions that separate them from the time of Debs. (back)


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