Ron Radosh

‘Dear Comrade Sanders’

The most recent NBC/Marist poll has Bernie Sanders only 2 points behind Hillary Clinton in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary in California! It’s no wonder that she and her campaign team are very, very worried, and why she canceled scheduled East Coast appearances and opted instead to go right to California to have a daily series of in-person events in the hope that her poll numbers will improve. The momentum, however, is on Bernie’s side — and he might even win the primary. That result would amount to a giant loss for Hillary Clinton, and would leave the super delegates pledged to support her having to decide whether or not they want to go down with a sinking ship.

To put it simply, if this happens, Bernie Sanders could end up being the Democratic Party’s candidate for president.

Envisioning this scenario or Hillary winning the nomination in a weakened state, Paul Berman, writing in Tablet magazine, calls for a joining of forces of the two. Berman, when he writes about terrorism, the threat of radical Islam, and Muslims who pretend to be moderates but actually are Islamists, proves to be one of our most important intellectuals and critics. He has been attacked for what he writes by others in the pages of The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and other leftist media.  Indeed, he has all the right enemies.

When it comes to writing about socialism, however, he becomes a utopian romantic, proving that one of our smartest and wisest writers is very foolish. In his open letter “Dear Comrade Sanders,” Berman says to Sanders: “Your talk of socialism has been the best part of your campaign.” Now, anyone listening to Sanders’ stock speech finds him ranting about the 1 percent and income inequality — and then going on to propose would-be solutions that, if instituted, would literally break the bank and lead to havoc and a worsening of the economic state of the very poor and working-class folks he wants to serve.

As for Sanders talking about socialism, I can think of only one speech in which he emphasized this. That speech was given months ago at Georgetown University. In essence, he defines himself as an FDR Democrat, carrying out and extending the New Deal agenda for today’s United States. Like many conservatives, he argues that all of Roosevelt’s reforms were socialist, rather than, as most historians think, reforms that saved capitalism and prevented our country from taking a revolutionary turn in the direction desired at the time by radicals, especially the influential Communist Party of the United States, which actually was a mass movement, unlike the shrinking Socialist Party.

He throws out old favored terms of the Marxists. The U.S., Sanders says, is led by a “ruling class.” We must not just tax the rich, but go to the root and defeat those who hold power in America. Sanders puts it this way:

The bottom line is that today in America we not only have massive wealth and income inequality, but a power structure which protects that inequality.

What he fails to do is to ever explain what he means by socialism. Usually he says he is referring to countries like Sweden and Denmark, and not the old Soviet Union, which he calls “authoritarian” rather than what it really was, totalitarian. And as we all know, he supported all of the Soviet client states during the Cold War, including Castro’s Cuba and later the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

The part of the speech in which he tries to define democratic socialism does not explain the concept at all:

Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.

Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt.

As any real socialist or Marxist knows, the above is not a definition of what socialism is. What Sanders offers is just a bunch of meaningless platitudes. Paul Berman must know that Bernie Sanders is no Michael Harrington or Irving Howe, men who at least worked hard to try to make an intelligent case for socialism. And when Sanders turns to foreign policy, he repeats the worn-out platitudes of the Old Left, and seems totally unconcerned with the very real threat once posed by the Soviet Union, whose policies influenced much of the Third World’s leaders and forced the United States to assert its strength to defeat totalitarianism and its allies. Today, of course, Sanders proposes a foreign policy of appeasement. Sanders does not favor a policy even close to what Paul Berman stands for.

As I write this, Hillary Clinton has finished giving her foreign policy speech. John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, wrote this response to it:

With a few deletions and emendations here and there, this could have been Marco Rubio’s stump speech. It was many clicks to the right of Barack Obama — a striking fact, considering that she is still facing the possibility of a Sanders humiliation or two on Tuesday (including a loss in California) even as she will certainly clinch the nomination that evening. Her general approach has been to allow Sanders to pull her further to the left than she surely has wanted to go. She chose to risk the wrath of the Sanders leftists in order to speak more directly to the 15 percent of voters who don’t seem to know whom to vote for yet.

Indeed, in its most stunning moment, she went after Trump for attacking Ronald Reagan in 1987 in terms similar to those in which he talks about America’s standing in the world now.

No wonder Marc Cooper, a journalist and contributor to The Nation, posted on Facebook his response, in which he says this about Hillary Clinton:

With Clinton, you choose a well-crafted, complex, thought-out strategy of neo-conservatism that has learned none of the lessons of the last 50 years.

In other words, Clinton’s position is actually similar to that which Paul Berman has always held, and miles away from Bernie Sanders’ policy of left-wing isolationism that comes from a “blame America” mentality that Jeane Kirkpatrick so famously said was Democratic policy decades ago in San Francisco.

Eli Lake writes at Bloomberg.com:

Clinton has done to Donald Trump what [Jeanne] Kirkpatrick did to Clinton’s party back in 1984. Clinton questioned the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s love of country and asked why he was so nice to the dictators who hate it….Clinton succeeded in projecting a toughness in her own right. She waxed poetic about American exceptionalism. “Americans work harder, dream bigger, and we never, ever stop trying to make our country and world a better place,” she said.

Lake concludes by writing that “Jeane Kirkpatrick couldn’t have said it better.”

So Paul Berman has to choose: Does he defend Hillary Clinton’s tough approach, or Sanders’ old-style far-left foreign policy? You cannot support both.

Berman then proceeds to get many things wrong about the Socialists of the 1930s. In fact, it really was the Communist Party that was part of the New Deal coalition, that fought for FDR’s re-election, and that had its cadre try to push Roosevelt much further to the Left. As I noted a few years ago at PJ Media, the key pieces of New Deal legislation, including the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act, were written by a man thought at the time to be a forceful New Deal liberal, Leon Keyserling. In reality Keyserling was a secret communist who advocated violent revolution. In 1932, Keyserling favored the Communist Party’s extremist candidate for president, William Z. Foster, and not FDR. The reason I argue that it was the Communists, not Berman’s beloved old Socialists, who mattered most is that they, unlike the Norman Thomas Socialist Party, entered the Democratic Party en masse and worked hard to not only push Roosevelt further to the left, but to get his administration to adopt Soviet foreign policy as his own.

Clearly, contra Berman, it was the CPUSA, and not the Socialists, who were “the main engine of the Franklin Roosevelt reforms in the 1930s and 40s.” If Bernie Sanders has antecedents on the Left, it is the Communists, and not the democratic socialists, whom he most resembles. Like Sanders, they too saw the United States as evil and imperialist. Sanders’ claim to be a “democratic socialist” is clearly false—he is a replication of the worst of the old pro-Communist Left.

Next, Berman tries to make a case that it is Hillary Clinton, and not Sanders, who reflects “the Democratic Party’s reform tradition incarnate.” So, in his eyes, Bernie and his troops should join in supporting her for president and do as the far Left did during the New Deal and work to push her further in the Sanders Left’s direction. She has the policy wonks and chops; Bernie has the “poetry.” (One could say much about Bernie Sanders, but that he shows the soul of poetry is not one of them.) If Hillary is sensible and becomes president, one would hope she would do everything possible to distance herself from Sanders’ nutty policies. If the Sanders forces succeed in pushing her where she doesn’t want to go, it will be towards policies that even Paul Berman will oppose.

Don’t be an anti-Hillary candidate, he pleads with Bernie. Listen to an old socialist like the ones he writes about. He offers an example which is truly hilarious. He wants Bernie “to commune with the ghost of David Dubinksy,” head of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Socialism’s victories, he writes, “came about after the old-timers like himself had sloughed off their left-wing sectarianism and had made their way into the Democratic coalition.” Dubinsky and his allies were a rather small group of union chiefs, and did not represent thousands of members like the Communist Party did. At the time, “Red” Mike Quill, head of New York City’s Transport Workers Union, was another Communist who then joined Dubinsky in pressuring FDR. But when the Cold War started, he quit working with the Communists and opposed their call to support the pro-Soviet candidate on a third-party ticket, Henry A. Wallace. There is no doubt in my mind that were Sanders active back then, he would have stood with the Communists and been completely pro-Soviet.

Berman well knows, and I have talked with him about this, that David Dubinksy was above all a hard-line anti-Communist. He not only favored expelling the Communists from the labor movement, but he hired as the foreign policy director of the union none other than Jay Lovestone, a one-time Communist opponent of Stalin in the 1930s who started his own faction and later became a liberal anti-Communist. It was Lovestone who developed the policy of working with European unions to stand firmly against the efforts of European Communists, especially those in France and Italy, to take over organized labor and then support Soviet domination in Western Europe. The foreign policy of David Dubinsky was similar to what many neoconservatives argue for today–tough measures against our totalitarian enemies and the use of U.S. power to spread democracy and defeat our enemies. Bernie Sanders is on the other side of that issue, favoring an isolationist foreign policy of an American retreat abroad, a policy based on his belief that the United States is essentially responsible for all the evil in the world.

Finally, Berman argues that Sanders should be “promoting the Democratic Party, instead of undermining it.” He misses the reason Sanders is not doing that. As a socialist, Sanders wants his brand of politics to replace and change the party, in order to make it formally a socialist party, not a big-tent party that has centrists and old-fashioned liberals in it. He will only support Hillary if he feels she and her group makes enough concessions to the policies he favors. On the issue of Israel, which Berman skirts, Sanders believes that “socialist internationalism” means opposing Israel and backing its enemies, not the kind of support Dubinksy and company gave to Israel in the old days. It certainly is not close to the views expressed in Hillary Clinton’s recent pro-Israel speeches.

The last thing Hillary Clinton should do is take Paul Berman’s advice. Sanders will not bring “working-class eloquence” to the Democratic Party. He will favor policies that assure its demise, in both domestic and foreign policy. My own advice to Hillary, not that she will even hear of it or take it, is to stand firm against Sanders, adopt some of the centrist policies her husband instituted (like welfare reform and NAFTA), and build a party that again stands with Israel rather than against it and rejects the far-reaching dangerous programs advocated by “Comrade Sanders.”

Paul Berman’s article is more proof, as George Orwell famously wrote, that one “has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

Correction and apology: In the version put online a few days ago, I incorrectly listed The New York Times Book Review as having attacked Paul Berman for his critical views on Islam. I was incorrect. He has himself often written for it and his books have not been attacked as they were in the two other publications listed. I was particularly thinking of one review I thought had run in the NYTBR, and have found that it ran in The New York Review of Books.  I sincerely apologize to the editors of the Times and the Book Review for getting this wrong.