- - Wednesday, March 2, 2016


After losing badly to Hillary Clinton in South Carolina, Sen. Bernie Sanders hasn’t changed his style one bit. Bernie appears to revel in the image of a radical — a not-unusual ambition for an otherwise mild-mannered, though tough Brooklyn-accented politician.

Bernie Sanders enjoys calling for a “political revolution,” but he never follows with an explanation. Neither the press nor public demand the details of this “revolution.” Bernie is allowed to continue on with broad references to taxation of the rich and unclear new entitlement programs. Mr. Sanders also enjoys claiming he follows the political path of “democratic socialism,” but he avoids crediting any of the original socialists who created the basis for contemporary theories of that name.

Perhaps one of the more appropriate writings of the early modern socialists is contained in the famous “Manifesto of the Communist Party” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. What seems to be a key aspect of Mr. Sanders‘ current political rhetoric defines existing society as divided into two basic classes — the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Engels followed a line in 1848 not much different than Sanders in 2016. Engels wrote a footnote to the first section of the “Manifesto”: “By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of the wage labor. By proletariat, the class of modern wage laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live.”

By using this convenient dichotomy, Engels lay the basis of his and Marx’s broader theory of class struggle that provided them with their justification for an explication of what they claimed was “the history of class struggles.” This is the same implication that Mr. Sanders uses to lay the groundwork for what he refers to as his belief in “democratic socialism.” More broadly, he seeks to liken that term to contemporary Western European governance — most particularly the Scandinavian countries epitomized by Denmark. Mr. Sanders, of course, ignores the fallacy of arguing “from the piece to the whole.” The fact that Denmark, for example, has a much smaller economy and landmass, as well as an accepted dominant ethnic root, is given no consideration in Mr. Sanders‘ postulation.

More important however, is Engels’ condemning argument against “bourgeois socialism,” in which he includes activities and commitments such as “redressing social grievances.”

Perhaps it would have been better to use the theme “to have one’s cake and eat it, too.” This is what Bernie Sanders would have one believe is the objective of his concept of “democratic socialism.” In other words, by urging a form of societal regimentation in his peculiarly benign and self-serving manner, Mr. Sanders, ignoring the history of his professed political beliefs, is actually perpetrating a fraud on a naive public that he wishes to make him president.

Conceivably, Bernie Sanders is nothing more than an unwitting tool of others far more sophisticated who have gone on before. Obviously, he has not immersed himself in world political and economic history of the mid-19th century through the travails of the 20th. In a way, it is insulting to the memory of the left-wing intellectuals who strove so hard to sculpt unworkable political theory into a working reality. Engels pejoratively classified as ‘bourgeois socialism” what Mr. Sanders is now promoting. It is doubtful that Mr. Sanders would get far in his organization of the youth and minority vote by using that term.

Those who seek to justify Mr. Sanders‘ views as simply a form of political altruism miss the essential fallacy in his thinking. Economic and political systems work at different levels of effectiveness dependent on the physical and intellectual resources available. Forcing one or the other or both into formats convenient to proselytize or superimpose lacks reason, and certainly is neither rational nor effective in any form of democracy. The truth is that while Mr. Sanders may be well meaning, he is either intellectually lazy or simply unwilling to admit the essential totalitarianism underpinning his so-called democratic socialism.

It might be useful for Bernie Sanders to remember that Hitler, Stalin and Mao all considered themselves “socialists.” It is doubtful that Marx and Engel would ever have considered them so — to say nothing of the true but misguided socialists of the 20th century.

George H. Wittman is the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.



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