United States: Biden versus Sanders

March 19, 2020
Joe Biden (left) and Bernie Sanders. Photos: Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0.

The race for the Democratic Party nomination for president took a sharp turn in the March primary elections. Joe Biden, whose campaign had been lagging, suddenly emerged as the front-runner.

The reason for this turnaround in Biden’s fortunes is that the Democratic Party establishment rallied around him at the expense of three other candidates — Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bloomberg — who were vying with him to be the establishment candidate.

After Biden won big in the South Carolina primary on February 29, these three dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden, who went on to win most of the 20 primaries held on March 3 and 10 and the remaining three on March 16. Biden now has a decisive lead.

The two billionaire candidates, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, financed their own campaigns, and bought ads appearing many times a day on major media outlets. (Steyer also dropped out, without endorsing anyone.) Bloomberg spent about half a billion dollars promoting himself, about 0.8% of his fortune. These facts alone reveal the dismal state of capitalist politics in the US.

The media described the Democratic establishment candidates as “moderates”, implying they were between the right and left wings of the Democrats. But they were the right wing of the Democratic candidates, as opposed to the “progressives” Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.


Warren also dropped out without endorsing anyone, leaving only Biden and Sanders competing for the Democratic nomination.

Much of the media labels Sanders a socialist. But Sanders emphatically repudiates social ownership of the means of production, the historical socialist position.

In a long speech detailing his position when he was running in the 2015 Democratic primaries, Sanders began with a long and gushing tribute to former President Franklin Roosevelt and his “New Deal” and concluded: “He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our country. He combatted cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed the country. And that is what we have to do today.”

In this speech he also said: “So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans.”

He explained: “So the next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this, I don’t believe the government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal. I believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America, instead of shipping jobs and profits overseas.”

Sanders also endorsed NATO, the imperialist military alliance.

Today, Sanders continues to say he is a “New Deal” Democrat, in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt.

The current known as social democracy dropped socialisation of the means of production long ago. Leaving aside those social democratic parties that have gone completely over to the enemy, implementing reactionary capitalist policies while in government, there are left social democrats who try to reform capitalism. They are best characterised as left liberals.

Commentators in the New York Times have recognised that Sanders is not a socialist, and the paper refers to him as a liberal.

Socialism is not on the ballot in the democratic primaries. Rather, it is the Clintonite Biden on the right and the liberal Sanders on the left of the party. Both are to the left of the extreme-right Donald Trump.

This is not to say that the reforms Sanders advocates are not important, quite the contrary, and they should they be supported. They include proposals such as national health insurance for all, wiping out the vast student debt and more. “Medicare for All” takes on new urgency with the COVID-19 pandemic. Sanders does a service by popularising these reforms.

Mass movement needed

But Sanders faces an uphill battle to win these reforms. First of all, the Democratic establishment, reflecting the decisive section of the ruling capitalist class, is opposed to Sanders and his reforms. Winning the Democratic nomination against the establishment and the major capitalist media that supports Biden is very difficult.

Even if Biden does not reach a majority of the convention delegates, and Sanders is not too far behind, the roughly 770 “super delegates” to the convention — composed of Democratic elected officials, members of the Democratic National Committee, its staff and others — are almost all vociferously against Sanders, according to polling by the NYT, and would put Biden over the top.

In the unlikely event that Sanders won a majority of the delegates in the primaries, under the current rules the super delegates would not have a vote, and he would become the Democratic candidate. If he then won the general election against Trump, and the Democrats took back the Senate and retained the House, the majority of Democrats in both houses would bloc with the Republicans to shoot down Sanders’ reforms.

If they do not, the Supreme Court, which has majority of right-wing judges on it, could declare the reforms unconstitutional.

Recently, a three judge panel of the ninth US circuit court of appeals ruled that Trump’s policy of forcing thousands of asylum seekers to remain in Mexico, while the courts very slowly considered their cases, was unconstitutional. Trump appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court’s decision.

Let us consider the possibility that the majority of the ruling class could be won over to support the kinds of reforms Sanders proposes. After all, major reforms of capitalism were won in the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt (much more radical for the times than Sanders’). However, at that time there was a huge labour radicalisation and upsurge that rebuilt the union movement into a powerful force Roosevelt could not ignore.

Moreover, the US and the major capitalist powers were in a depression while the Soviet Union was making economic strides under the first of its Five Year Plans.

Today the unions have shrunk. Only 6% of workers in the private sector, including industry, are in unions. And most are led by class-collaborationist traitors who make concessions to the capitalists. The Soviet Union no longer exists. China has returned to capitalism. In 1980s Britain, Margaret Thatcher scolded the world’s masses with: “There is no alternative — TINA”.

It would take a new mass mobilisation of the working class in the US before the ruling class would even consider the modest reforms Sanders is proposing. Sanders himself says his reforms are not very radical, and he is right. But capitalist politics has moved so far to the right that they do seem radical.

Such a mass mobilisation would have to break with the illusion of reforming the capitalist and imperialist Democratic Party and form a workers’ party that could implement such reforms, and then go beyond them.

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