Bernie Sanders breathes new life into the Communist Manifesto
For long stretches, Bernie Sanders's new book, It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism, reads like Marx's and Engels's 1848 Communist Manifesto. The only difference is that in their manifesto, Marx and Engels also clearly underline the positive role that capitalism played throughout history. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, doesn't have a single good word to say about capitalism, and — here he resembles Marx and Engels — he calls for a working-class revolution to raze the capitalist system to the ground.
Sanders's book "calls for a political revolution in which working people come together." The rich are portrayed in an exclusively negative light. He fills page after page with descriptions of the luxurious lives of the rich that are meant to create envy, but he has nothing to say about the great entrepreneurial achievements that made these people rich in the first place.
And what Sanders does not say is that the top 20 percent of households in the U.S. pay 83 percent of all federal taxes. What's more, the top 0.001 percent of Americans — those whom Sanders so unremittingly targets in his book — pay 39.8 percent in taxes. Readers won't find these facts in Sanders's new book, as he is far more concerned with constantly asserting that the rich do not pay enough taxes.
"The corporate elite are not nice guys[.] ... They are ruthless, and day after day they sacrifice human life and well-being in order to protect their privilege." According to Sanders, America is a terrible land: "The majority of Americans live lives of quiet desperation." Over and over again, he repeats the thesis that over the past 50 years, the standard of living of average Americans has not improved — an oft-parroted assertion that is simply not true.
He explicitly equates super-rich Americans with the oligarchs in Russia. This is, to say the least, quite an affront: America's super-rich, people like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, have become rich by developing and marketing products that benefit billions of people around the world. Russia's super-rich have often become rich through corruption and are mostly renters living off profits from oil and gas.
What is Sanders's alternative to this dreadful America? First of all, he calls for the total abolition of billionaires. He devotes an entire chapter to it. A country without billionaires? You would have to look to North Korea, Cuba, or the poorest African countries for that. Does Sanders want the USA to be that kind of country? Apparently, because even in Sweden, which Sanders has often praised as a model, the share of billionaires in the total population is 60 percent higher than in the United States!
In the America that Sanders envisions, little would remain of today's Constitution. He describes the Supreme Court as a gathering of "right-wing judicial activists." It is, he writes, "unacceptable and anti-democratic that a handful of unelected lifetime appointees exert the kind of political power they do." He does not openly call for the abolition of the Supreme Court or the Senate, but he does say that these institutions should be "rethought." In general, he does not think much of the American Constitution because, he says, it dates back to 1787 and is no longer suited to addressing modern concerns.
In the Constitution as Sanders envisages it, employment would have to be "guaranteed." This is not a new idea; it is in most socialist constitutions. The result has been frighteningly high "hidden unemployment" in socialist countries. The other things Sanders suggests, like rent control, are also common in socialist countries. In communist East Germany, for example, there was a rent freeze that resulted in most of the housing stock being either severely dilapidated or crumbling to pieces.
As a German, I was surprised at Sanders's praise for Germany: "Germany maintains carefully plotted industrial policies that allow them to prepare for the future." He is obviously referring to Germany's energy policy. This is absurd: Germany started by shutting down its nuclear power plants, then its coal-fired power plants, and then it banned fracking. Germany now has the gravest energy problems. The price of electricity was already the highest in the world before the war in Ukraine and almost three times as high as in the United States. Today, Germany is forced to import liquid natural gas from the U.S., while fracking is banned in its own country. A model for the U.S.?
As far as the health system is concerned, he praises Britain's National Health Service — a system that has become a nightmare for many Britons. The fact is that around 8 million Brits have private medical insurance, and around 53 percent say they would like to invest in some sort of private scheme.
All in all, with his book, Sanders has given the lie to everyone who has ever claimed that he is nothing more than a "moderate social democrat." No, he is a class warrior who wants to turn the United States into a socialist country.
Rainer Zitelmann is a historian and sociologist and author of the new book In Defense of Capitalism.
Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.