By J. Richard Marra
Every act of human conscience springs from commitments to worldviews, self-esteem, and individual psychological, social, and moral dispositions. These affect our decisions about choices, choosing, and acting. Voting and other political behavior is deeply informed by our presumptions about the world and how we should behave toward others. Heeding this, I will explain my support for Bernie Sanders, focusing not only on my own worldview, but also regarding my decisions, choosing and choices, biases, and political actions.
My vote in this election will be informed and guided by Marxian social science, but embodied in my moral, and therewith my political, behavior. Nevertheless, I keep my scientific commitments in a sense distinct from my moral commitments. Marxian science provides the facts that ethics applies to political situations. Marxian science explains the systemic suffering of people who work, live, and struggle under capitalism; and explains how and why that happens. It offers overwhelming evidence that capitalism inherently thrives on increasingly unequal and ever-expanding accumulation of wealth by an elite capitalist class that owns the means of commodity production and distribution. That accumulation comes at the cost of exploiting and controlling a working class that provides the required productive labor power. These costs include environmental degradation, unequal resource availability, political repression, poverty, social conflict, and war.
Political science teaches us that fascism incorporates the current form of capitalism. It is a political system led by a visionary, charismatic, and nationalistic “Leader.” The Leader joins with capitalists to suppress and exploit workers, providing capitalists with largely unfettered economic influence. Worker unions are forbidden, although economic sector organizations (like the Italian “corporations” under Mussolini) are established by fascist governments and run under their absolute control. Fascist labor policy intends to stifle working-class consciousness and the worker solidarity that emerges from that contest. It is replaced with a predatory political attitude born of a vicious nationalism and led by a deified Leader. This is what fascists in Italy called the “Third Way” between capitalism and communism.
This Third Way is commanded by an ideologically narcissistic, and hell-bent Futurist Leader, who holds a spiritual appeal for frightened and gullible voters. As Futurist Aristocracy (1923), edited by Nanni Leone Castelli, puts it, futurism wishes “…to destroy the museum, the libraries, to fight against moralism, feminism and all opportunistic and utilitarian malignancy.” If this sounds familiar, you may have read the humbug of neofascist “intellectuals” like Steve Bannon: “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” In this, Bannon surprisingly compares himself to the Marxist Vladimir Lenin. Now, Bannon’s claim is puzzling because he is certainly no Marxist. Nevertheless, this stark contradiction in political perspectives is softened when one understands that Lenin’s views on political art were influenced by Russian Futurist ideology. Perhaps for Bannon, fascist/Futurist aesthetics imitates the fascist/ Futurist political program.
Marx’s theory of class struggle helps us understand Trump’s administration as neofascist, and by definition a capitalist enterprise. The capitalist class is enabled by Trump’s vicious neoliberalism. Working class Americans are relegated to wage slavery. At the wheel of this political juggernaut is an impulsive and revolutionary Leader who suppresses class conflict to the advantage of an emerging state capitalism.
Capitalism is not only inherently dysfunctional as an economic system, but also maintains an insidious presence within society. As Marx and Max Weber explain, capitalism is also a fundamental cultural ideology, which significantly determines the form of social life and its institutions. When it comes to assessing economic systems, many workers in the US view capitalism favorably just because of the deep cultural influence capitalism commands. Now, science explains why human beings are not generally disposed to radically changing their fundamental worldviews. In fact, they often intentionally resist discordant views or, in extreme cases, engage in risky behavior as a public demonstration of a commitment to some worldview. It is not surprising that many people retain their commitment to capitalism, come what may.
So, I don’t expect non-Marxists to become Marxists the day after tomorrow; and I don’t expect that high-minded Marxist “gas lighting” or moralizing will change many minds. Rather, I expect that most folks will abide by their commitments to capitalism, and vote for candidates that accommodate their moral and political biases. Presidents change overnight, but worldviews persist. Marxists are thus well advised to concentrate during this election season on comparing planks in candidates’ platforms with solutions consistent with socialism, while largely avoiding attempts to transform people into flag-waving Marxists.
I appreciate the urgency of removing capitalism. Yet, Marxists do not entirely agree on what they think Marx claimed about capitalism and its historical development. Given this, it is not surprising that Marxists also debate over their preferred mechanics for removing capitalism. They also argue over what each thinks can be practically accomplished in four years by a single president of a historically capitalist country. Thus, I remain circumspect about what Marxists claim to know. I am also cautious about what they claim to be the likelihoods of the success of largely untested, or poorly tested, Marxist economic and social policies. While I think that uncertainty should not stunt creativity or revolutionary zeal, my perspective is summed with a paraphrase of an insight from John Maynard Keynes: Perhaps in the long run Marxism will save humanity, but definitely in the long run we will all be dead.
Trump has promoted many pervasive and increasingly reviled corruptions. Among these, and prominent during campaign debates, is wealth inequality. Because his neofascism incorporates neoliberal capitalism, it is not surprising that Trump has cleared Washington’s swamp of neoliberal Wall Street sycophants, only to refill it with neofascist Wall Street sycophants. These folks are intent on maintaining the economic status quo of wealth inequality that has ruined the lives of workers since at least the Reagan Administration.
Trump’s neoliberal pedigree remains unblemished, and his cozy relationship with the entrenched capitalist elite is one reason why political pariahs like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka were slowly purged. Current science suggests that wealth inequality is a fundamental and potent cause of debilitating social and economic conditions in class-structured societies. Scientists have created computer simulations that can decimate virtual societies based upon extreme levels of inequality, and historians offer plenty of real-world examples.
From a personal moral perspective, my vote should manifest generosity, wisdom, patience, altruism, and equanimity toward all human beings. I must try to do as little harm as possible, and avoid angry or greedy feelings and thoughts. I must remain true to the morality guiding my words and deeds, and not act rashly. Finally, I should remain respectful of those around me, especially being sensitive to the voices of women and others who especially suffer under Trump’s unique brand of depravity.
I expect presidents to largely reflect this moral attitude. Between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, Sanders’s behavior, speech, and ideology appear to best match my own political outlook. Although Bernie is my favored candidate, any candidate, including Biden, whose politics advances a sufficient reduction in wealth inequality, would be acceptable, all other humanitarian concerns remaining equal. Nevertheless for me, Sanders brings a Marxist dimension that some other Democratic progressives lack. Being a Marxist from New England, I know something of Sanders’s political background in Vermont, and believe I have a well-informed sense of his politics. He is sufficiently socialist for me, under present circumstances.
Those aspects of Marxian science that socialists generally agree upon explain much about the current electoral situation, like the class struggle manifested in the Mike Bloomberg/Joe Biden versus Bernie Sanders debates. Although Sanders unequivocally champions the working- class and appreciates the Marxist perspective, I don’t expect that, if elected, he will immediately eradicate capitalist culture overnight. Americans, including Marxists and progressives, will still have to fight to end a rampant and rapacious wealth inequality.
Sanders is a compassionate, wise, and tested counselor; remaining an enthusiastic and supportive leader of America’s burgeoning progressive movement. He may represent a far off “specter” of socialism, or perhaps communism. In any event, I suggest that socialists would be well advised to remain circumspect about their expectations for the future. Nevertheless, they might be comforted by a paraphrase of the words of Winston Churchill, the original offered to the British people shortly after their victory in the Battle of Britain.
“We know it will be hard; we expect it to be long, we cannot predict or measure its episodes or its tribulations. But one thing is certain, one thing is sure, one thing stands out stark and undeniable, massive and unassailable for all the world to see. We cannot see how deliverance will come or when it will come, but nothing is more certain that every trace of [Trump’s] footsteps, every stain of his infected, corroding fingers will be sponged and purged and, if need be, blasted from the surface of the earth.”
If it becomes America’s good fortune that Sanders is elected, or if not, we should remind ourselves, again quoting Sir Winston, that
“…[This] is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”