The Achievement of Bernie Sanders

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by Neil Godfrey

You may have to open Twitter to make the video work. Transcript:

It’s common to say now that the Sanders campaign failed. I think that’s a mistake. I think it was an extraordinary success, completely shifted the arena of debate and discussion. Issues that were unthinkable a couple of years ago are now right in the middle of attention. The worst crime that he committed in the eyes of the establishment is not the policies that he was proposing; it is the fact that he was able to inspire popular movements which had already been developing (Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and many others) and turned them into an activist movement – which doesn’t just show up every couple of years to push a lever and then go home, but applies constant pressure, constant activism, and so on. That could affect the Biden administration.

Interesting to pair this quote with a lengthier interview in Jacobin:

Noam Chomsky: “Bernie Sanders Has Inspired a Mass Popular Movement”

Here Chomsky discusses more the labour movement itself at some length. But he does repeat the words in the DemocracyNow interview with a more direct focus on what is “frightening the business class”.

The reason why Sanders is vilified in the media pretty much across the spectrum is not so much because of his policies. It’s because he has inspired a mass popular movement which doesn’t just show up every four years to push a button but is acting constantly — pressuring — to achieve changes and having some success. That’s frightening for the business class. The role of the public is to be passive spectators and not to interfere.

And on tonight’s news I heard a commentator expressing dismay at the prospect that Australia’s major airline, QANTAS, is facing the prospect of nationalization, which reminded me of a series of reflections like the following:

Will coronavirus signal the end of capitalism?

It begins with a flashback to the Black Death:

The pandemic begins in Asia, rips through the capital cities of Europe and wipes out at least a third of all human beings in its way. When it is all over, revolts begin, cherished institutions fall, and the entire economic system has to be reconfigured.

That is a short history of the Black Death, a bubonic plague pandemic caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, which spread from Mongolia to Western Europe in the 1340s.

Because the economy then was based on local agriculture and crafts, ordinary life bounced back relatively quickly.

But, by radically reducing the number of workers, it gave the survivors increased bargaining power, which soon translated into new concepts of liberty among the population of medieval cities.

That, in turn, started a process of economic change that brought an end to the feudal system and, some argue, triggered the rise of capitalism.

The relevance of that comparison to today?

Today, capitalism faces its own plague nightmare. Though the COVID-19 virus may kill between 1 percent and 4 percent of those who catch it, it is about to have an impact on a much more complex economy than the one that existed back in the 1340s – one with a much more fragile geopolitical order, and on a society already gripped with foreboding over climate change.

And another, a thought that has often surfaced in past years but now seems an imminent possibility:

Is this the end of the liberal international order? And what might take its place?

“Every day the liberal international order seems less liberal, less international and less orderly,” says the Lowy Institute’s executive director Michael Fullilove.

He cautions against adopting a simplistic narrative that pits an insurgent China against the US.

“I personally think it will be much messier and probably more dangerous than a simple bifurcation,” he says.

And meanwhile, an ignorant, corrupt fool keeps reassuring his supporters that everything will be back to normal in a matter of weeks while they find new scapegoats to blame for anything that will dash those expectations.