|Print from Max Beckmann, The Martyrdom of Rosa Luxemburg|
Friday, January 15, 2016
Bernie Sanders killed Rosa Luxemburg.
Well, no of course he didn't. But his ideological predecessors did. They did it because, like Sanders, they embraced and defended capitalist state power against actual revolution. They, like Sanders, redefined socialism to mean something so much less than the bravest of revolutionary philosophers actually understood. It's a pleasant fantasy to think of Sanders' electoral campaign as some kind of "political revolution," but nothing could be further from the real truth.
There are no short cuts to actual revolution—unfortunately!—and in the extraordinarily unlikely event that Sanders is elected, he will be custodian of the most massive instruments of repression the world has ever known, and like a previous pleasant fantasy (Obama's "change we can believe in") he will use them. Sanders' modest list of reforms, which will not actually be enacted, do not add up to the actual radical realignment of society we so desperately need. Socialism is not the system of state-administered programs Sanders supporters suggest but the transfer of power from the capitalist class to the working class, and that is something no electoral candidate can deliver.
It is very very frustrating that reality disproves the optimism of many Sanders voters, which is why I am beyond frustrated at leftists who are cynically lying about the possibilities behind his campaign. The truth needs to remain our weapon. Sure, the Republican candidates represent some of the worst of humanity; they're terrifying in obvious ways. But look deeper: the truth is that Sanders, Clinton, or Obama before them are a terribly inadequate line of defense against those forces of reaction, and actually if you look into the totality of their records, they are examples of some pretty horrible humanity themselves. Obama, for instance, who speaks movingly about gun violence while green lighting massive violence against civilians in other countries. Remember it was mostly not horrible Republicans who smashed the Occupy movement in acts of violence, it was Obama and the nation's liberal and Democratic party establishment. Bernie Sanders has sat in government for decades funding the machineries of war and vigorously backing such US allies as apartheid Israel.
Rosa Luxemburg and her collaborators challenged the socialist (social-democratic, more accurately) mainstream of her own time when she loudly condemned German socialists for supporting German imperialism in WW1. In the ruins of Germany's defeat, she dared lead an insurrection, attempting to take advantage of capitalism's disarray. The social democratic mainstream chose instead to defend the German state from that insurrection, and drowned the insurrection in blood. Luxemburg is remembered by today's left as a kind of symbolically humanist alternative to Lenin, who bourgeois history has written off as discredited. Nothing could actually be further from reality, and let us not miss the main point of Luxemburg's lifelong dedication, like Lenin's: the overthrow of capitalism. Because to do this thing is the only way to save humanity from the cannibal brutality of the system that has now survived her murder by almost a century.
It is beyond obvious that there is no organized revolutionary force capable of challenging the capitalist status quo in the USA. Indeed even Rosa Luxemburg's insurrection was probably premature and rash. But as long as we blind ourselves to the lessons of history — speaking of American exceptionalism! — the seeds and sprouts that signal the possibility of a better world (Occupy, #BLM) will fall, unwatered, on the sterile ground of playing electoral games that by design cannot actually meet our actual needs. Sure, we have to start somewhere, we need a real and legitimate mass movement. But the Bernie Sanders election campaign is not that movement, not even the seed of that movement. That's gotta be painful for some to hear in a season when we could really use some hope.
I'm glad my Facebook feed is filled with memorial postings to Rosa Luxemburg: in 21st-century America that's kind of a miracle. But the best way to honor her memory is to finish her actual work.
I really don't want to #FeelTheBern.
(crossposted from my Facebook)