More on Bernie

Joseph Moore pieinsky at
Wed Mar 8 08:24:40 MST 1995

To the Marxism Listers who are discussing Bernie Sanders,

Bernie Sanders recently sent out "A Special Report on National
Priorities" to his constituents in Vermont.  This features on the
cover page, along with a photo of Bernie at a press conference
with some other members of the House's Progressive Caucus, a
facsimile of a letter from Bernie in which he attacks in very
strong language the Republican's "Contract with [or on] America."
While not saying anything to question the parameters of the
capitalist economic or bourgeois political system, the letter
tells many truths about the terms and effects of the Contract,
arraigning it for: its proposed tax breaks for the rich; its
attacks on the welfare of children and in general its attempts to
balance the federal budget on the backs on the weak and vulnerable
while at the same time the military and intelligence budgets are
to increase; its undermining of women's right to choose and
environmental protection; and the absence in the new Congress of
any kind of proposal for health care reform.

The inside of this "Special Report" lays out Bernie's own
"national priorities."  Again, good stuff although again not
challenging in any way the existing parameters.  Bernie says that
"the disparity in wealth and power between those few who own
America, and all the rest of us, is the major problem facing our
nation."  To address this problem, he calls for legislation that
would raise the minimum wage, establish a more equitable tax
structure, and make collective bargaining easier.  Then, he talks
about how "the creation of new, well-paying jobs [is] one of our
top national priorities."  This is to be done through
Congressional public works legislation--of the sort Bernie has
introduced.  Bernie also calls for cuts to be made in military
spending and conversion to peacetime production.  And he
reiterates his opposition to GATT and NAFTA and calls for a new
trade policy that exports American products and not American jobs.

In a final section, "Major Issues of Concern," he ticks off
women's rights, the environment, agriculture, and social security.
Nothing here could be called "radical."  This is all essentially
New Deal liberalism, palliative measures which would help many
people in the short run but not do anything to get the system off
their backs.  (It's interesting that the Republican do appeal, in
their twisted ways, to people's desire to have more substantial
changes, things taken off of their backs, etc.  I agree with Doug
Henwood's post in which he made the point about Republican
presenting themselves as "revolutionaries" while liberals and the
Left duck and cover.  We on the Left need to be more openly and
vocally revolutionary.)

Nowhere, however, in this mailing to his constituents is there
even the slightest mention of racism or national oppression as a
problem with the new Republican-led Congress (or as a longstanding
cancer infecting the whole U.S. body-politic), not to mention any
call for how dealing against racism ought to be--as I for one
think it ought to be--one of our most pressing national
priorities.  There is only the obliquest reference, if in fact it
can be construed as such, to Sanders's controversial Crime Bill
vote in the previous Congress.  This appears in the front-page
letter of the "Report":  "Despite having more citizens, per
capita, in jail than any other major nation, the new Congressional
leadership intends to address problems in criminal justice only
through punishment: by building more prisons and expanding the
death penalty.  Meanwhile, the social conditions which often breed
crime will be completely ignored."

Is this meant to be a self-criticism?  If so, it really doesn't
cut it.  There is still no acknowledgement here of the highly
racist character of the Crime Bill and of U.S. penal policies in

I would also note that, while strongly emphasizing class
questions, this "Special Report" is couched in nationalistic
language--viz., about our "American" [sic] jobs.  There is no
mention, although I do think Bernie has some sense of this
necessity, of developing an international labor movement to
counter the globalizing of capital.  And, although he has compiled
a fairly good past record on this (e.g. on Central America), there
is no mention of the struggles of working people in other
countries and on building our solidarity, only an abstract call
for "peace and justice for the entire world."

On a related matter, yesterday, March 7th, the Progressives
resumed control of the Burlington City Hall after two years of
Republican rule.  Peter Clavelle, the former Progressive mayor,
defeated the Republican incumbent and a Democratic candidate.
Clavelle has had a better record as a public official on
addressing racism in the city of Burlington than Sanders did.  His
election is a positive.  Maybe "socialist Burlington" can also be
"anti-racist Burlington."

For revolutions,

J. Moore

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