The Bernie Sanders Mandate on the Eve of the Iowa Caucus

Tomorrow night, the Sanders “can you spare three dollars for a ‘political revolution’?” machine faces off against the Clinton “I’ll take you to dinner and give you a signed copy of my book” machine. Over the past six months I’ve critiqued both Clinton and Sanders, but the majority of my criticism has been directed at Bernie Sanders’ proposed policies, the earnestness of his leftist political philosophy, and the methods of his campaign. It hardly seems worthwhile wasting my breath with leftist critiques of a candidate so right-wing as Hilary Clinton (and I’ll pretend to be unaware of the predilections of the Left for insular theoretical debates as another explanation for my focus on Sanders).

On the eve of the Iowa caucuses I want to supplant my aversion to left revisionism and fully acknowledge that Sanders is preferable to Clinton as the candidate for the Democratic Party (whether, as the democratic nominee, I would vote for Sanders and not the Soltysik/Walker Socialist party ticket is a separate matter). If Sanders were to be elected, it would be clear that he was elected on the mandate of breaking up the big banks and establishing single-payer health care. It’s worth briefly considering these two proposals in particular then, in deciding whether one ought to spend time entering the fray of electoral politics to support the Sanders campaign.

Breaking up the big banks is a trickier issue than Sanders would care to acknowledge in public. While Clinton misses the mark in arguing that we need to concern ourselves with the shadow banking industry (and not the big banks that have made her obscenely wealthy) because Lehman Brothers and AIG were the under-regulated parties whose failures initiated the crisis, missing the point that it is the big banks that enable the market for such trading of disastrous consequence by being willing to step in and purchase futures that will not clear, Sanders fails to appreciate that the rise of the big banks is part of the process of organized capital, where declining rates of profit due to production being tied to fixed capital investment lead to mergers and monopolizations for increased profitability through control of business cycles and crises. This second period of financialization no doubt plays an important part in the increasing wealth inequality that Sanders decries, yet Sanders cannot hope to address capital crises or inequality by breaking up banking monopolies without addressing industrial monopolies that provide a significant portion of finance capital in organized capitalism.

Sanders’ call for single-payer health care is a simple proposal that, in contrast to the overly simple proposal of breaking up the big banks, could have results. Clinton has sought to portray Sanders as an irresponsible manic for proposing a single payer system, and has said that she wants to improve on the affordable care act, not start fresh. It is worth noting that part of the vision of the affordable care act was the public option, something very similar to the idea of medicare for all, but that this was gutted due to industry influence. Suffice it to say that rewriting the public option back into the affordable care act is a worthy goal, and could be seen as the fulfillment of, or step towards, fulfilling the mandate given to the state with the election of Sanders.

The Luxemburg line of rejecting parliamentarian socialism in favor of mass movements of workers strikes me as quite right, but at least in the realm of health care, supporting Sanders should not be seen as a capitulation of principle, but a necessary intervention into the market that will enable stronger worker mobilizations in the future. When medical care is expensive enough to bankrupt families, workers are too scarred to challenge abhorrent working conditions. Freeing workers from dependency on employer provided health care could embolden workers to mobilize for better wages and shorter working hours. The rallying call of shorter working hours, a traditional aim of labor movements, seems to be forgotten in the wake of the Great Recession, when the rate of monopolizations increased drastically and labor was cut without increases in wages, cementing the existence of what has been termed the ‘precariat’. The single-payer option should not become another subsidy for corporations, what was formally spent on health care should go to wages. There is a lot of promise for the betterment of the working class in the single-payer proposal.

Even if Sanders’ views on political economy are overly simplistic when it comes to his proposals for reigning in systemically important financial institutions, his trenchant support for a just system of healthcare gives the Left reason to support his bid for the democratic nomination, even if we do not plan to support him in the general election.

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