Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders, who enjoys a double-digit lead over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary battle, has sought to reinvent himself as a "Democratic Socialist," but his past — including his serving as elector — or delegate — on behalf of the radical Socialist Workers Party in 1980, may prove troublesome.
On Monday, The Atlantic reported that Sanders began his political career "on the revolutionary left," adding: "In 1980, he served as an elector for the Socialist Workers' Party."
In October, The Washington Post reported that Sanders had "served as an elector for the 1980 Socialist Worker Party nominee, Andrew Pulley."
The Socialist Workers Party, or SWP, traces its roots to the Communist League of America, a pro-Marxist group that supported Leon Trotsky in his 1927 split with Joseph Stalin. Stalin later had Trotsky assassinated in Mexico.
Among the positions Sanders' candidate, Pulley, advocated on behalf of the SWP in 1980:
- Pulley called for "solidarity" with the revolutionary governments of Iran and Cuba, according to the New York Times. His remarks appeared to suggest America should join forces with revolutionary regimes that he imagined to be beneficent actors on the global stage.
At the time Iran was holding U.S. hostages in the U.S. embassy in Tehran. In an April 1980 Associated Press report, Pulley called the possibility of U.S. military action in reaction to the Iranian hostage crisis "an ominous danger to world peace." He urged then-President Carter to hand America's deposed ally, Shah Reva Pahlavi, over to the revolutionary mullahs.
- The SWP sought to eliminate all U.S. defense and CIA spending. The $150 billion saved would be spent on public-works projects. Of course, this would amount to unilateral U.S. disarmament in the midst of the Cold War, and Western Europe's subjugation to Soviet hegemony.
- The Times reported that Pulley favored nationalizing virtually all private industry "especially oil, automobiles, and the railroads." In other words, Sanders' preferred candidate sought to end private enterprise as we know it — a system that New York Times columnist David Brooks has credited with "the greatest reduction in poverty in human history," citing the recent, rapid advance of economic conditions in India, China, and other developing nations.
- Pulley voiced strong support for the Nicaraguan revolution of Daniel Ortega. Pulley told The Associated Press in August 1979 that America should send food and medicine, rather than Marines, to Nicaragua. Pulley added that Anastasio Somoza's overthrow had "inspired the exploited masses the world over."
- According to a September 1980 Times report, the SWP platform also proposed cutting the work week to 30 hours. But it would force companies to pay workers as if they were still working 40. Cutting workers' hours without cutting their pay, it maintained, would reduce unemployment because companies would be forced to hire additional workers. The likelihood the policy would touch off massive inflation, while also incentivizing companies to automate production and eliminate workers altogether, went unmentioned however.
Pulley's candidacy was essentially symbolic. A 29-year-old steelworker from Chicago, Pulley shrugged off reporters who pointed out that he was well short of the constitutionally mandated 35 years of age.
The northeastern media outlets covering Sanders' career over the years tend to offset his radical positions by pointing to a record of actual governance that reflects a pragmatic bent.
But they make plain that Sanders was in fact a self-styled 1960s-era revolutionary.
"When he came to Vermont in the late 1960s to help plan the upending of the old social order," wrote the Times' Sarah Lyall in July, "the future presidential candidate Bernie Sanders brought with him the belief that the United States was starkly divided into two groups: the establishment and the revolutionaries. He was a revolutionary."
Sanders self-conception as someone who would overturn the established order was apparently quite sincere.
In an article for The Vermont Freeman, an alternative newspaper, Sanders described the United States as "a dying society" whose economy was based on "useless" goods that were "designed to break down or [are] used for the slaughter of people."
In another piece, titled "The Revolution Is Life Versus Death," he wrote of the daily grind of working in a New York office, calling it "moron work, monotonous work." But of course that was before he attained an office on Capitol Hill.
"Ready to start a political revolution?" his campaign web site provocatively asks.
The irony of Sanders' status as a potential Democratic standard-bearer claiming the mantle of democratic socialism is that many hard-core socialists reject him as too mainstream.
"Bernie Sanders isn't socialist enough for many socialists," Bloomberg's David Freedlander has observed.
That said, there can be little doubt his fiscal policies would transform — if not revolutionize — U.S. society.
Kenneth Thorpe, an expert on health economics at Emory University, has estimated the cost of Sanders' single-payer health plan at $2.5 trillion per year.
Sanders has proposed raising payroll taxes, income taxes, estate taxes, and capital gains taxes to help cover the difference. Also, the Sanders' campaign has hotly disputed Thorpe's calculation that the average worker's tax bill would have to jump by 20 percent to cover the shortfall.
Sanders' rhetoric seems to have mellowed over the years.
Instead of firing darts at what he used to call "the ruling class," he instead couches his diatribes in terms of Wall Street and corporate multi-nationals.
But his message that the two parties and U.S. corporate interests have colluded to squeeze the little guy is largely unchanged.
As columnist and author Paul Starr writes in The Atlantic: "He's still talking about a revolution in the name of socialism, and, let's give him credit — that's not just rhetoric."
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