Sometime in the early 70s there was a wonderful political cartoon in the Bulletin, the newspaper precursor of the World Socialist Web Site. It depicted a locomotive labeled “AFL-CIO” on a collision course with a little handcart holding Richard Nixon. George Meany (AFL-CIO president) was in the cab of the locomotive, yelling, “I can’t shut the damn thing off!” When I see the support gathering around Bernie Sanders, I keep thinking of that cartoon.
What brought this to mind most recently was a complaint on Twitter that many of Sanders’ supporters are refusing to vote “down ticket”—that is, for other “leftist” Democrats. This, in its own way, is as encouraging as the vote itself. Sure, Sanders is nothing more than a New Deal Democrat using populist rhetoric, but those who specifically vote for him and do not vote for other Democrats are most likely consciously voting for socialism.
As capitalism more and more demonstrates that it isn’t capable of solving humanity’s problems, people are turning toward socialism in the hundreds of thousands and millions. Would an actual socialist have gotten that kind of support at this stage? Obviously not. That isn’t the point. The point is the growing recognition by millions that capitalism is bankrupt, and their anger about it, and their search for answers. And however hard he tries, I don’t believe Sanders is going to be capable of herding that recognition, that anger, that search, back into support for the profit system. The locomotive of working class outrage is on a collision course with the handcart of capitalism itself. Sanders no more created the outrage than George Meany created the AFL-CIO, he just happens to be its figurehead at the moment. And he can’t shut the damn thing off.