No Lenin, No Trotsky, No Bernie

When I was a kid in the 1950s, I attended a school summer camp where one of the fireside songs, sung to a Russian tune, was:

No Lenin, no Trotsky,
No Russian diplomatsky
Will ever form a plotsky
To overthrow the Czar. Hey!

We all knew what had happened some 40 years earlier, but the ditty was fun to sing, and that was about my depth of understanding of the Bolshevik Revolution at that age.

Today, another almost ancient phenomenon has magically appeared out of the radical mists of what was once considered a 20th-century failed movement.  This marvel is called Bernie Sanders.  With great wonderment, a majority of American folks look upon this old curmudgeon as a Marxist blast from the past.

The fact that a huge segment of pampered youth, as well as a few die-hard socialists and anarchists about Bernie's age, are "feeling the Bern" has caught most of us off guard, and we don't know whether to take all this as a bad joke or as a truly serious challenge to our way of life.

His drive to take the Democratic nomination in 2016 was seen by many as a fluke, but the powers that be in the Democratic National Committee made sure it stayed a fluke.  Now Bernie is whispered as the unstoppable force, and "stop Bernie" is both the open (other candidates) and secret (national committee) aim of those who realize that such an extreme left-wing specter would pretty much guarantee another four years for Trump.

One wide-eyed comment from the street that keeps cropping up about Bernie in contrast to the other presidential candidates is that he is "consistent" in his stands.  We are used to politicians being, well, politicians; they tend to waver all over the place or, as recently in the Democratic Party, make a rush like a herd to the left.  Bernie did not have to move left; he was already there 50 years ago, and hasn't moved an inch since.  And most who haven't studied Marxist history will not realize how important unmoving orthodoxy is within the movement.  There are different streams of Marxism, but once your boat is launched, you are required to stay in your lane with no deviation.  Marxist orthodoxy makes hyper-Calvinism look like a weak sister.

For understanding Bernie, it helps to contemplate an unusual Marxist stream that has a similar stubborn tendency to keep surfacing, and that is Trotskyism.  Bernie Sanders does not self-identify with the Trotskyite version of the Marxist faith, but there are similarities between Bernie's stances and worldwide Trotskyism, a movement that will simply not go away.

Leon Trotsky, an atheistic Jew like Bernie, was one of the main architects, along with Vladimir Lenin, of the Bolshevik takeover of Russia.  He promulgated what he saw as a "purer" and more internationalist form of communism.  After Lenin's death, Stalin viewed Trotsky as a mortal enemy within the Marxist fold.  Thus, Trotsky, once at the apex of power in the early heady days of conquest, found himself exiled to Siberia and eventually Mexico, where he was assassinated in 1940 at the hands of an agent of Stalin.

We lived briefly in Sri Lanka in the 1970s, and the strongest element in the left-wing coalition government at that time were the Trotskyites.  That was one of my first introductions to this odd form of international communism.  Thirty-five years in South America also taught us that Trotskyism is alive and well throughout the revolutionary elites of the Latin world.  And it was once the main Marxist movement in countries like Vietnam and Bolivia.

Other than Trotsky's view that Marxism was truly international, a movement without borders (he took exception to the reality that it took root in Russia at the time and could not extend itself throughout Europe), the main draw for worldwide ideological purists is that Trotsky's revolution has always been the version that was never fully applied, thus "true" socialism never had a chance to take.  Trotsky never got his chance to kill his own millions, although he was the military architect of the brutal suppression of the Krondstadt upraising of communist sailors in 1921, one of the only blights on his "legacy."

Bernie Sanders's version of Social Democracy can first be characterized as internationalist; he is probably the one candidate for president who has a sincere long-term ideological view that borders do not or should not exist.  Most likely, he never contemplated that opening borders might help create a larger left-wing voting population, because for Bernie, borders are simply capitalistic illusions that protect bourgeoisie financial interests.

Bernie's Social Democracy can truly be called "democratic" because he believes that the people themselves, especially the working class, should be moving society in the proper anti-capitalist direction.  Trotsky also sincerely believed in a democratic form of Marxism, where all the faithful (at least the proletariat, mainly factory workers, if not the ignorant serfs in the countryside) should be truly involved in the revolutionary struggle against capitalism.  Thus, Trotsky was highly critical of the repressive tendencies that appeared in the early Bolshevik period, and he could not countenance Stalin's move toward totalitarianism.  When Bernie speaks against the dictatorial tendencies of Castro or Putin, I sense that he sincerely believes what he is saying.  But he also has to defend Castro's literacy program because, after all, Fidel was a Marxist brother in arms.

Somewhat like Trotsky, Bernie has never had the chance to fully apply his own revolution; it has been an "idea" for the past 50 or so years of his political activity.  But very much unlike Trotsky, Bernie has not even had a brief period when he could test out his theories in the real world.  So what would a Bernie Sanders presidency look like?  He certainly would not be bringing in his revolution on the heels of a military takeover like in Russia in 1918, thus he would have to deal with the realities of a constitutional democracy with true divisions of power.  I really doubt that even a minimum of his programs would get through Congress or past the courts, but certainly he would try.

In the end, Bernie's program will most likely continue to be a dream, an ideal, and perhaps Bernie will end up like Trotsky: a symbol for that pure left-wing revolution that never got its chance.

No Bernie, no Lizzie
No Marxist shining city
Will ever turn us tipsy
To lower our great stars. Hey!

Image: AFGE via Flickr.

When I was a kid in the 1950s, I attended a school summer camp where one of the fireside songs, sung to a Russian tune, was:

No Lenin, no Trotsky,
No Russian diplomatsky
Will ever form a plotsky
To overthrow the Czar. Hey!

We all knew what had happened some 40 years earlier, but the ditty was fun to sing, and that was about my depth of understanding of the Bolshevik Revolution at that age.

Today, another almost ancient phenomenon has magically appeared out of the radical mists of what was once considered a 20th-century failed movement.  This marvel is called Bernie Sanders.  With great wonderment, a majority of American folks look upon this old curmudgeon as a Marxist blast from the past.

The fact that a huge segment of pampered youth, as well as a few die-hard socialists and anarchists about Bernie's age, are "feeling the Bern" has caught most of us off guard, and we don't know whether to take all this as a bad joke or as a truly serious challenge to our way of life.

His drive to take the Democratic nomination in 2016 was seen by many as a fluke, but the powers that be in the Democratic National Committee made sure it stayed a fluke.  Now Bernie is whispered as the unstoppable force, and "stop Bernie" is both the open (other candidates) and secret (national committee) aim of those who realize that such an extreme left-wing specter would pretty much guarantee another four years for Trump.

One wide-eyed comment from the street that keeps cropping up about Bernie in contrast to the other presidential candidates is that he is "consistent" in his stands.  We are used to politicians being, well, politicians; they tend to waver all over the place or, as recently in the Democratic Party, make a rush like a herd to the left.  Bernie did not have to move left; he was already there 50 years ago, and hasn't moved an inch since.  And most who haven't studied Marxist history will not realize how important unmoving orthodoxy is within the movement.  There are different streams of Marxism, but once your boat is launched, you are required to stay in your lane with no deviation.  Marxist orthodoxy makes hyper-Calvinism look like a weak sister.

For understanding Bernie, it helps to contemplate an unusual Marxist stream that has a similar stubborn tendency to keep surfacing, and that is Trotskyism.  Bernie Sanders does not self-identify with the Trotskyite version of the Marxist faith, but there are similarities between Bernie's stances and worldwide Trotskyism, a movement that will simply not go away.

Leon Trotsky, an atheistic Jew like Bernie, was one of the main architects, along with Vladimir Lenin, of the Bolshevik takeover of Russia.  He promulgated what he saw as a "purer" and more internationalist form of communism.  After Lenin's death, Stalin viewed Trotsky as a mortal enemy within the Marxist fold.  Thus, Trotsky, once at the apex of power in the early heady days of conquest, found himself exiled to Siberia and eventually Mexico, where he was assassinated in 1940 at the hands of an agent of Stalin.

We lived briefly in Sri Lanka in the 1970s, and the strongest element in the left-wing coalition government at that time were the Trotskyites.  That was one of my first introductions to this odd form of international communism.  Thirty-five years in South America also taught us that Trotskyism is alive and well throughout the revolutionary elites of the Latin world.  And it was once the main Marxist movement in countries like Vietnam and Bolivia.

Other than Trotsky's view that Marxism was truly international, a movement without borders (he took exception to the reality that it took root in Russia at the time and could not extend itself throughout Europe), the main draw for worldwide ideological purists is that Trotsky's revolution has always been the version that was never fully applied, thus "true" socialism never had a chance to take.  Trotsky never got his chance to kill his own millions, although he was the military architect of the brutal suppression of the Krondstadt upraising of communist sailors in 1921, one of the only blights on his "legacy."

Bernie Sanders's version of Social Democracy can first be characterized as internationalist; he is probably the one candidate for president who has a sincere long-term ideological view that borders do not or should not exist.  Most likely, he never contemplated that opening borders might help create a larger left-wing voting population, because for Bernie, borders are simply capitalistic illusions that protect bourgeoisie financial interests.

Bernie's Social Democracy can truly be called "democratic" because he believes that the people themselves, especially the working class, should be moving society in the proper anti-capitalist direction.  Trotsky also sincerely believed in a democratic form of Marxism, where all the faithful (at least the proletariat, mainly factory workers, if not the ignorant serfs in the countryside) should be truly involved in the revolutionary struggle against capitalism.  Thus, Trotsky was highly critical of the repressive tendencies that appeared in the early Bolshevik period, and he could not countenance Stalin's move toward totalitarianism.  When Bernie speaks against the dictatorial tendencies of Castro or Putin, I sense that he sincerely believes what he is saying.  But he also has to defend Castro's literacy program because, after all, Fidel was a Marxist brother in arms.

Somewhat like Trotsky, Bernie has never had the chance to fully apply his own revolution; it has been an "idea" for the past 50 or so years of his political activity.  But very much unlike Trotsky, Bernie has not even had a brief period when he could test out his theories in the real world.  So what would a Bernie Sanders presidency look like?  He certainly would not be bringing in his revolution on the heels of a military takeover like in Russia in 1918, thus he would have to deal with the realities of a constitutional democracy with true divisions of power.  I really doubt that even a minimum of his programs would get through Congress or past the courts, but certainly he would try.

In the end, Bernie's program will most likely continue to be a dream, an ideal, and perhaps Bernie will end up like Trotsky: a symbol for that pure left-wing revolution that never got its chance.

No Bernie, no Lizzie
No Marxist shining city
Will ever turn us tipsy
To lower our great stars. Hey!

Image: AFGE via Flickr.