Is Bernie Sanders a communist?
By James Thompson
The Bernie Sanders campaign has ignited a great deal of excitement among people of conscience in the United States. Many people are impressed with his progressive ideas suggesting that the US needs to narrow the gap in income between the wealthy and poor working people. Many people are impressed with Sen. Sanders’ support of unions and his position on reducing the military budget. Many people are impressed with Sen. Sanders’ support of expanding and strengthening the social network in the USA.
Do these left leaning positions mean that Sen. Sanders is a communist? Many people are asking this very question.
In order to answer this question, it is important to do some clarification. Although it is widely assumed that the term “communist” implies a monolithic ideology with little or no deviation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It turns out that communists have historically been involved in never-ending internal ideological struggle. This struggle usually revolves around how much capitalism should be tolerated in a socialist system. In the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin advocated that very little capitalism should be tolerated. On the other hand, Leon Trotsky advocated more inclusion of capitalism.
Many European countries currently could be characterized as “Social Democratic.” Left parties within these countries call themselves “socialists.” Social Democratic parties within these countries typically do not oppose capitalism, or imperialism. They generally advocate for a strengthening and expansion of the social network. This is a concept which is met with tremendous hostility in the United States. However, in Europe, once in office, Social Democratic Parties are as harsh as their Conservative Party counterparts and typically advocate stark austerity for working people. It is important to note that they never advocate any austerity for the bourgeoisie.
Mr. Sanders is not opposed to capitalism or imperialism. He does advocate an expansion of the social network and a narrowing of the income inequality in the USA. He is positive about unions and wants to reduce the military budget. No one knows whether this will play in Peoria.
Although many communist parties around the world have embraced social democracy, to many communists this is a perversion of what communists stand for.
Clearly, Sen. Sanders falls in the ballpark of the European Social Democrats. To many people on the left, his views are a breath of fresh air. There is no doubt that his positions are very different from the likes of George Bush, Donald Trump and other right-wing demagogues. However, he does not advocate austerity for the bourgeoisie nor does he advocate an end to imperialist wars.
So the answer to the question “Is Bernie Sanders a communist?” is an unequivocal “NO!”
One defining feature of communist ideology is the goal of raising the working class to the status of the ruling class. Communists believe that the current bourgeois democracy in the United States should be replaced with a workers’ democracy. Communists are opposed to imperialist wars and the oppression of any sector of society. These are not positions that are advocated by Sen. Sanders or any other bourgeois politician.
However, some communists are not fools and realize that the bourgeoisie has been very effective in minimizing the political power of working people in the United States of America. Communists typically realize that not even working people advocate the elevation of their class to the position of the ruling class in the USA.
Many communists are in agreement with Mr. Sanders on narrowing the income gap, expanding the social network and reducing the military budget. However, this does not make Mr. Sanders a communist. Many communists recognize that the reforms that Mr. Sanders advocates would reduce the misery of the working class. Since communists are the indefatigable allies of the working class, we are happy when reforms are implemented which help working people. However, we recognize that reforms do not solve the plight of working people.
So, the reforms advocated by Sen. Sanders, although considered radical by many on the right, would only provide temporary and limited relief for the working class. These reforms might elevate the culture and society in the USA so that it would be closer to that achieved by European countries. However, these reforms could in no way be considered “communist” or even “socialist.”
It is important to remember that there is no viable Communist or Socialist party in the United States. Lenin urged the working class to engage in political struggle in all its forms. Electoral struggle is one means of struggle readily available to working people. Many communists are supporting Bernie Sanders because they realize that at this time he is the most progressive candidate among those who have any chance of winning the oval office. Although some members of the Houston Communist Party support Bernie Sanders, this is an individual decision. The Houston Communist Party does not and will not endorse Bernie Sanders for the office of President of the United States. However, we won’t shed any tears if he wins.