Social-liberalism vs. Socialism at the Democratic Party Debate

Unlike the Republican carnival sideshows masquerading as debates, the first Democrat Party presidential nomination candidates debate was actually significant and historic (yes, yes, you’re right, it was a highly choreographed, staged event and it was in no sense a real debate, but it was historic nonetheless). All the five candidates presented themselves a social-liberals, the first time that has happened in more than four decades.

In fact, since the late 70s, the average Democrat candidate for the nomination has been a traditional liberal, that is, an open, fervent supporter of Wall Street, the billionaire class, imperialism and capitalism. Of course all liberals always really support capitalism and imperialism and are exactly like the old liberals from before the FDR social-liberal “revolution.” But the “new” liberals are up-in-our faces about their intimate relationships with big bankers and big business, about their slavish support for capitalism and their hatred of unions and all working class people–except for during a few weeks right before elections–while the old social-liberals were always disguised in an attempt to hide those ugly facts about liberalism.

This “new” liberal appeared on the national stage in the person of Jimmy Carter, and has utterly dominated the Democrat Party ever since. All Democrat presidents, and all but a handful of its Congressional caucus have been “New” Democrats–that is, traditional liberals–ever since. And that’s why a presidential nomination debate featuring only social liberals was something entirely different, and that’s why it drew the largest-ever audience for such a debate in history, even though it was on a cable news channel, which typically draws much smaller viewership than broadcast channels.

At this point we are compelled to ask the question, “why the sudden reappearance of the social-liberal after an absence of more than 40 years from the Democrat Party?”

Many would answer, “Bernie Sanders,” but they would be wrong. Sanders, despite his claim to be a “democratic socialist,” is not even a genuine social-democrat, much less a socialist, “democratic” or otherwise. Just like the other four on the Las Vegas stage Tuesday night, Sanders is a typical social-liberal, not a socialist. While all socialist parties include planks for social services, regulation of banks and other industries, socialists always support some form of social, collective ownership of productive property, whether that is in the form of state ownership, municipal or special district ownership, cooperative-private ownership, union ownership, ownership by workers’ councils or some other collective–as opposed to private capitalist ownership. Neither Bernie Sanders nor any of the other candidates in Las Vegas on Tuesday support this essential fundamental of socialism. In fact, when you get past the rhetoric, there’s not a dimes’ bit of difference between any of them, as they amply proved with their frequent nauseating me-too-ism. Style differences trumped difference of policy in that well-managed performance.

The Democrats are obviously trying to cash in on the recent interest in socialism. No, it is not Sanders who is creating the rising interest in socialism, it is the crippled global capitalist economy that has created the greatest groundswell for socialism in American history, and the Democrat candidates for their party’s nomination are responding in the only way politicians of an essentially capitalist party can: they turned to social-liberalism, politicians putting on socialist costumes, hoping their collective ruse is not recognized by the public.

Sanders is obviously the best positioned to pull off this farce. After all, decades ago, Sanders actually WAS a socialist, so playing the part of a socialist is not such a stretch for him. And many are falling for the deception. Clinton has also caught on that her “new” liberal persona of the last three decades will sink the ship she hopes to sail into the White House. It needed a social-liberal-lite paint job.

More than 36 percent of all adult Americans, 48 percent of all those under 30, and 53 percent of registered Democrats tell pollsters they lean socialist. And they’ve been saying that–increasingly–for the last 8 years, long before Sanders began his run for president. Sanders is not the creator of this trend as many “progressives” claim, but he was savvy enough to take advantage of it, and now all Democrat candidates are jumping on the band wagon in the only way they can, by dredging up the long-moribund ideology of social liberalism. European social-democracy and social liberalism–but not socialism–appear to be similar beasts in most ways, but they have different roots, and always yield different outcomes. The outcome of social-liberalism in power is always a pale imitation of social-democracy, mainly because of the vastly different class character of the two ideologies. While social democracy has drifted far from its roots in Marxist, revolutionary socialism, social-liberalism has never left its roots in totalitarian capitalist-imperialism. And while social-democracy is still strongly rooted in its working class social base, social-liberalism has always been alienated from the American working class by virtue of its financial dependence on the billionaire ruling class.

Both the European social-democrats and the American social-liberals are fanatical backers of U.S.-European imperialism–led by the American ruling capitalist class–in which the third world is plundered to enhance the capitalist profits of first-world capitalists. Unlike any genuine socialist, social-liberal Sanders has for decades been a champion of imperialism and its plunder of the working class around the world. European social-democrats too have been champions of imperialism for the last century, since 1914 when they turned their backs on their internationalist principles and supported their own capitalist classes against the workers of other countries during World War I. Ever since they have been selling out the interests of workers around the world in favor of their own capitalists’ interests in return for a slightly better life for themselves through the concession of social services. However, about four decades ago, the capitalists of Europe under the pressure of a severe crisis of low profit rates–the result of the historical tendency of the rate of profit to fall–decided to put the brakes on and start rolling back many of social-democracy’s social and economic gains in favor of their own national working classes. This was part of the international trend within the global capitalist ruling class to attack labor as a way to increase the profit rate. In America, the trend was represented by Democrat President Jimmy Carter and Republican president Ronald Reagan, the two leaders who launched the anti-social-liberal revolution. In Great Britain it was Margaret Thatcher who launched the anti-labor/anti-working-class rollback of social-democracy.

The “new” liberal trend, starting in the late 70s, put American social-liberalism and European social-democracy in a quandary: how could you con the workers into supporting imperialism without the inducement of socialist-lite goodies in their bag of presents? They’ve had a difficult time retaining power in Europe ever since, and in America, the social-liberal practically disappeared from Congress and totally disappeared from the White House. There was no room in the “new” liberalism for FDR’s social-liberals.

Of course, the same problems with capitalism in its advanced state of decay exist now as in the late 70s, only much worse, so capitalism and the ruling class can no more tolerate social-liberalism–much less social-democracy–in power today than it could in the late 70s.

So what gives?

Why the seeming resurgence of social-liberalism in the Democrat Party? Of course, as I mentioned above, the great increase in interest in socialism is the problem motivating the Democrats and the ruling class, and trotting out the old social-liberalism is the answer, although they are not serious about actually delivering even on the anemic imitation “socialism” of social-liberalism. This is all for show.

The day after the last federal election, in November 2014, responding to a historic low voter turnout, in which only 36 percent of registered voters voted, President Obama told the nonvoter that he recognized the message they were sending and that he was “listening.” The 63 percent of registered voters who didn’t vote in the Congressional election last year, and the tens of millions more who are not registered, are turned off by the politics of the “new” liberals that has dominated the Democrat Party and American governmental policy over the last four decades. And they are increasingly turning to socialism and to boycotting the vote and the government. In fact, the nonvoter tends to be much more working class than middle class, much more Black and Brown than White, much more poor than financially comfortable. Those are precisely the people the Democrat Party is expected to deliver to the ruling class every two years. The Democrats’ purpose from the ruling class perspective is to deliver working class votes for hand-picked ruling-class endorsed candidates. The fact that the majority–last year, the great majority–no longer votes, no longer has faith in the government and the state, brings into question the very legitimacy of the American political system. The Democrats’ newly rediscovered interest in social-liberalism–for years the most successful ruse designed to fool workers into voting for and supporting ruling class politicians–is designed to solve these problems. In the long run, of course, it won’t work because it’s based on illusions, tricks and politicians who are, in reality, still beholden to the capitalist class and not to the working class.

Sanders, who actually was a socialist in his youth, and who undoubtedly still believes in his European social-democratic vision for America, while also strongly supporting U.S. Imperialism and Israeli Zionism, is so valuable to the ruling class because he actually more believable to the American workers and might actually win some of them back to supporting the fixed-phony elections that are the foundation of illegitimate ruling class power.

The first Democrat nomination debate signaled a major new effort by the ruling class to win back those tens of millions who have lost all faith in the U.S. Congress–13 percent approval rating in the latest Fox News poll!–the imperial presidency, and the U.S. Empire (the Fox News poll also found this week that a majority of Americans think the Russian Federation is more effective at fighting terrorism in Syria and that Putin is a more decisive, strong leader than Obama in that conflict).

Make no mistake about it, the ruling class is out to win back the working class, and it’s going to be using social-liberalism to do it, with Sen. Bernie Sanders now becoming a major player on the ruling class team.

Genuine socialists in America benefited from the demise of social-liberalism 40 years ago. There was essentially no competition for the hearts and minds of the working class. Appealing to the social consciousness of the majority class was abandoned by both major parties and we socialists had the field all to ourselves. That’s part of the reason socialism has gained so much attention from the working class in the last 8 years. But that’s all going to change now. The ruling class has dredged up it’s kind of “socialist,” the social-liberal, to attract working people back into the Democrat Party and into voting.

For genuine socialists, its time to realize that a new competitor is in town, and it’s really an old–quite successful–competitor, social-liberalism. Social-liberalism was quite successful at attracting and retaining the working class’s attention from 1936-1968, and the working class in America gained in the short run by backing that compromise in which we turned our backs on the global working class and turned a blind eye to the imperialist worldwide war on workers in exchange for some social and economic advances at home. The problem with that strategy by the American working class was that it was penny wise and pound foolish as well as being short-sighted. While we gained in the short term, we also weakened the entire global working class movement, and so by the 1970s, the ruling class went in for the kill, and we have suffered just like workers around the world have as a result. The lesson is that when you make a deal with the devil, hell is the ultimate payment he expects of you.

Next time, hopefully, working people in America–and in Europe–will realize that only international solidarity with our brother and sister workers around the world will strengthen us and that Sanders-style social-liberal compromises that have us turning on the global working class are a dead end.

Genuine socialists need to relearn the value of international solidarity, of class conscientiousness, and of conscious organized class struggle against our class enemy, the capitalist-imperialist billionaire class. We need to learn from history that phony socialists like Bernie Sanders are a trap set for us by our enemies, even though they often sound great and appealing and like they are on our side, they are not. The solution is global socialist revolution, not social-liberalism. If you want victory for the working class, and if you want to turn around our 40-year-long slide into capitalist oblivion, start organizing for socialist revolution instead of wasting your precious time on getting phonies like Sanders elected.

Chris Driscoll is a life-long socialist activist, who served as media director of the 2008 Nader-Gonzalez presidential campaign, was the DC-Metro Chair of the Labor Party for a decade and spent most of his life helping to organize unions, anti-war and social and political justice movements. He is currently the national secretary of Election Boycott Advocates and can be heard each week on Carson's Corner with the Election Boycott Advocates at 9 p.m. Eastern on Blogtalk Radio. Read other articles by Chris.