VT socialist party comments on ‘democratic socialist’ Bernie Sanders

Article after article in ‘left’ publications have advocated for US Senator Bernie Sanders to run. Even Socialist Alternative which helped Kshama Sawant, the first Socialist member of the Seattle City Council, get into office, had a recent article describing Senator Sanders as “a genuine progressive and champion of ordinary people” and said he should run as an independent for President, while they criticized his ties to the Democratic Party, vote for the war in Afghanistan and much more. Author Ron Jacobs had a different take, writing about how Bernie Sanders supported the bombing campaign of Yugoslavia in 1999, voting to create to Department of Homeland Security, voting for the Authorization of Military Force (AUMF I), later voting to make certain provisions of the Patriot Act permanent, supporting an F-35 base in Vermont despite public opposition, and so on.

Last month, I sent questions to a small self-described “nonviolent socialist” Vermont-based party called the Liberty Union Party to see what they thought of the self-declared ‘democratic socialist’ Bernie Sanders. This article, with relevant links and corrections added in, consists my questions and answers, to them by Marina Brown, a Liberty Union Party Member who is “working to get on the ballot for the position of Lt. Governor.” After it was rejected by CounterPunch and/or ignored by the editors, I decided to publish it here. The point of this interview is to challenge the idea that Senator Sanders acts in the interest of ordinary Americans while also covering subjects such as socialism.[1] After reading this interview, if you have any further questions for Marina Brown or anyone else of the Liberty Union Partu, please send them along by commenting below I’ll add them in later on.

Burkely Hermann (BH): Numerous articles have advocated for US Senator Bernie Sanders to run as President. However, in a recent article in Salon, Charles Davis wrote that “Sanders tosses rhetorical Molotovs at America’s 21st century robber barons like few other national politicians. But he’s also rather non-threatening, his politics reformist, not revolutionary – more old-school liberal than Leninist. His words comfort those on the left desperate for a voice within the electoral system, while his actions – caucusing, campaigning and voting with the Democratic Party – show the liberal mainstream that he is no Ralph Nader.” How does your party perceive Senator Sanders? What do you think ordinary Americans should know about Senator Sanders which they don’t already know?

Marina Brown (MB): Bernie Sanders votes a little more conservatively than the most liberal of the Democrats. I oppose him because he operates as a Democratic politician. He supported Barack Obama, a politician who has spearheaded multiple wars and interventions in literally dozens of countries. We oppose war. There has to be a better way. In standing with Democratic politicians in their wars of aggression he shares in their guilt.

Here are a few points of concern i have with Sanders’s performance:

Sanders has supported basing the F-35 warplanes in Burlington. Weapons of mass destruction do not belong in Vt. Not only is the creation of these war machines unethical their presence makes Burlington a target.

Sanders supported the creation of a new position in the US of Director of National Intelligence. I view the CIA, NSA and other intelligence organizations with suspicion. I feel this much power shrouded in secrecy can only lead to bad things. The FISA warrants that Sanders voted for are nothing more than rubber stamps by the most corrupt judges. Only once in the history of the FISA court has a warrant been denied.

Sanders has supported forcing states to do standardized testing on students. The current regime of ‘No Child Left Behind’ has created a school system that is often forced to teach kids just to pass the tests. Tests do not necessarily reflect the quality of education.

BH: Many people on the left paint Senator Sanders as a person crusading for justice and in a long line of progressive politicians including Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and others since he advocates for causes such as single-payer healthcare and positions himself as standing for the worker and commoner, not big business. How progressive, in your view, is Senator Sanders? What does progressivism mean to you? Is your party based on the ideas of progressivism or is it something else?

MB: Progressivism is the belief that change that is good for the people of a country can be enacted from the top down. On the surface it seems like we agree with progressive ideals however point 2 of our party platform is where there is a radical departure.

“2. Democracy should exist at all times in all the processes of society, including in the workplace and school system.”

Democracy in this context does not mean electing a high, mighty and distant politician to manage things for us. It means that WE the people should control the workplace. This implies that the stakeholders own the workplace. You cannot have democracy in the workplace if you do not own the workplace.

We advocate democracy in medicine as well as Socialized medicine but our position really is closer to point 5 of the Young Lords Party [a short-lived Puerto Rican nationalist party] 13 point platform than it is to politicians who support the Obamacare insurance scheme.

“5. We want community control of our institutions and land.

We want control of our communities by our people and programs to guarantee that all institutions serve the needs of our people. People’s control of police, health services, churches, schools, housing, transportation and welfare are needed. We want an end to attacks on our land by urban removal, highway destruction, universities and corporations.”

I also support Internet Neutrality and advocate the there be free public wireless internet wherever there is electric service. The internet is a public good like the roads. It should not become simply a conduit for wealthy corporations to peddle their goods.

Under many cities are unused fiber optic cables. I advocate putting these under community control and ownership. It is not acceptable that the US has a very substandard internet system in many areas and that access is very expensive.

BH: Looking at his voting record, Senator Sanders seems to overwhelmingly vote in line with the Democrats. This begs the question if Senator Sanders uses his status as an independent is, in Charles Davis’s words, “a narcissistic formality.” In your view, is Senator Sanders masquerading as an ‘independent’ in order to avoid calling himself a progressive or liberal Democrat? Additionally, why do you think Sanders calls himself an ‘independent’ instead of a Democrat?

MB: I am not privy to Sanders’s thought processes. I assume he runs as an Independent because it appeals best to his voters.

BH: In November 2006, progressive news show Democracy Now! declared that “Vermont’s Bernie Sanders Becomes First Socialist Elected to U.S. Senate” and in the following interview, Sen. Sanders described his brand of socialism as learning a lot from Scandinavia and “some of the work, very good work that people have done in Europe” and in his view, have “created more egalitarian societies than…the United States of America.” Despite the laudable work of Democracy Now! in covering issues that the mainstream media does not cover, in this interview, there was no mention of the past history of the socialist movement in the United States or mentioning the debate of whether social democracy under a capitalism can even be considered socialism at all. Your party considers itself “a nonviolent socialist party.” How does your party define socialism (if it can be defined) to a ordinary American? Is Senator Sanders really a socialist or is that just posturing?

MB: Without community control of institutions and worker ownership of workplaces there is no real socialism. I have not heard Bernie Sanders advocating the nationalization of very many companies or resources.

BH: At the Left Forum this past weekend [this past month], Kshama Sawant, an actual socialist who is a member of the Seattle City Council and a member of Socialist Alternative said that the Left is abdicating its responsibility if it does not provide alternatives to what she terms the “Big Business parties” (Democrats and Republicans). In your view, is electoral action (electing candidates, supporting alternative parties, etc…) a good and effective avenue to challenge these two corporate parties? If so, is it sufficient on its own or should it be accompanied by political action like that manifested in the Occupy Movement (creative acts of protest, direct action, having a dialogue with others)?

MB: The very existence of the Liberty Union Party and the fact that we have provided an uncompromising anti-war socialist option for voters IS a creative act of protest. It also allows us to have dialogs with many people while we are collecting the needed signatures to get ballot access and it sometimes opens the doors for us to speak on the issues.



[1] In the past, I’ve criticized Bernie Sanders as a “fake socialist and closet progressive” or as having a “dark side” in a blog post citing CounterPunch articles about Sanders, but I haven’t had a full-blown or encompassing critique and that is why I pushed for this interview with a member of the Liberty Union Party, even if I don’t completely agree with them.

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