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Savage writes: "Who, after all, is ultimately responsible for problems like unemployment, low wages, high medical costs, and chronic job insecurity?"

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) arrives at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner marching with Fight For $15 fast food workers on June 9, 2019 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) arrives at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner marching with Fight For $15 fast food workers on June 9, 2019 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders's Speech on Socialism Made a Bold Case for Real Freedom

By Luke Savage, Jacobin

16 June 19

Bernie Sanders’s speech on socialism made a bold case for real freedom — the freedom to flourish, not just the right to be left alone.

esterday, in a major address at George Washington University, Bernie Sanders outlined his vision of a democratic socialism for the twenty-first century.

Among his most expansive to date, the speech embraced a few themes the senator has been invoking for years: the urgent need for universal social programs like Medicare For All and liveable wages; the unchecked tyranny of corporate actors like Amazon and Disney; the growing divide in American society between ordinary people and an entrenched class of wealthy elites. Echoing these in an international context, Sanders also warned of the growing threat posed by an increasingly menacing authoritarian right melding corporatism and xenophobia with a disdain for civil liberties — a current that’s become all-too visible in the United States under Donald Trump.

Heavy on references to FDR and the New Deal, Sanders attempted a difficult balancing act: embracing and championing the socialist label in a country traditionally hostile to it while pitching socialist values in terms designed to be legible to the average person. To this end, he also invoked Martin Luther King Jr’s famous declaration that America has “socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor.”

The most novel use of this strategy arguably came in the speech’s second half as Sanders sought to advance a vision of freedom rooted in economic rights, including the right to a decent job that pays a living wage; to quality health care, to a complete education, to affordable housing, to a clean environment, and a secure retirement.

“Freedom is an often-used word,” declared Sanders, “but it’s time we took a hard look at what that word actually means.” He continued:

Ask yourself: what does it actually mean to be free? Are you truly free if you are unable to go to a doctor when you are sick, or face financial bankruptcy when you leave the hospital? Are you truly free if you cannot afford the prescription drug you need to stay alive? Are you truly free when you spend half of your limited income on housing, and are forced to borrow money from a payday lender at 200 percent interest rates? Are you truly free if you are seventy years old and forced to work because you lack a pension or enough money to retire? Are you truly free if you are unable to go to attend college or a trade school because your family lacks the income? Are you truly free if you are forced to work sixty or eighty hours a week because you can’t find a job that pays a living wage? Are you truly free if you are a mother or father with a newborn baby but you are forced to go back to work immediately after the birth because you lack paid family leave?

Although Sanders invoked the New Deal — a social-democratic movement whose program was only partially adopted — his pitch nevertheless had firmly socialist undertones, pitting the market and the powerful private tyrannies it enables in opposition to freedom itself.

Who, after all, is ultimately responsible for problems like unemployment, low wages, high medical costs, and chronic job insecurity? Most of America’s liberals now so thoroughly accept the rule of the market that they’re unable to offer a precise or satisfactory answer — preferring to cast social ills as innocent corollaries of an ultimately desirable economic system. (A conservative and unambitious policy agenda naturally follows.)

Socialists, on the other hand, have long understood that class stratification, poverty, and economic deprivation are in fact both created and necessitated by capitalism: imposed on the majority by the imperative to generate profits, cut labor costs, and commodify every aspect of life.

Real freedom therefore requires a whole lot more than the basic civil and political rights enshrined in a liberal constitutional order. It is simply not enough to be free from arbitrary coercion by other people or the state — true freedom also means independence from the dictates of the market: its bosses, its tycoons, its profiteers, its expropriation of the wealth workers collectively create.

By framing the argument for his program in these terms, Sanders is taking up the difficult but necessary task of reclaiming freedom from the Right.

The conservative movement’s decades-long assault on the postwar settlement, after all, carried its own conception of freedom — one rooted firmly in markets and the supposed agency of individuals within them. Key to this were bootstrap idioms like “personal responsibility,” which cast hardship as the product of individual failure and grotesque wealth as the preeminent marker of social value and success.

This populist thrust, though key to the New Right’s triumph in the 1980s, has proven totally illusory to the vast majority now beset by soaring medical bills, tuition fees, cripplingly low wages, and a democratic institutions perpetually disciplined by market pressure. Years of unbound finance, privatization, and neoliberal deregulation have unsurprisingly failed to make people freer, and now threaten to create new and more powerful forms of oligarchy.

Despite what generations of conservative economists and politicians have insisted, equality and freedom are in fact mutually interdependent — the former being an essential precursor to the latter and its natural and indispensable ally.

By advancing economic rights as the basis for freedom, Sanders is in essence turning the Right’s definition on its head. While there remains much more to be done, his campaign is laying the groundwork for a sweeping redefinition of the political and economic orthodoxies that have long dominated American society — and offering millions a richer and more textured definition of freedom than most have ever known.

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+10 # DongiC 2019-06-17 02:29
Sanders is a true prophet redefining the relationship between freedom and equality. He brings these two concepts into the modern world and lays out a plan by which the mass of Americans might benefit from our new methods of production. The new wealth that our technology is creating can be shared by all our citizens in the form of health care for all, enriched education, adequate housing, improved infrastructure and decent jobs as we take up the battle for our environment. At present, under Republican leadership, the fruits of our new knowledge systems are enjoyed by a very special few.

We are entering a second gilded age where the rich become super rich and the poor and middle class struggle harder and suffer more. This must stop. We need a new birth of freedom and equality and we can reach this wonderful goal by electing Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. It is time we shared the wealth with all classes and end the oligarchy that is forming. We begin with a Democratic Socialist program and continue with expanding and defending it.

For sure, the well-to-do will fight ferociously for their selfish program. They will not give up their favored position willingly. But, we have the numbers and now the leadership. We can and will promote the welfare for everyone which is, according to our Constitution, one of the purposes of our government. So let us move on and achieve this
marvelous goal. VOTE SANDERS AND WARREN IN 20/20.
+5 # chrisconno 2019-06-17 08:49
Are you suggesting that by splitting the primary vote these two can win in tandem? I think not. I truly like both Sanders and Warren but splitting the vote will only get us a lesser candidate less able to beat out the criminal jerk in the White House. We also have to keep the house and take back the senate. I will be supporting Sanders in the primary but would gladly vote Warren were she to win the primary. We need to take more care with this than the democrats allowed the last time.
+11 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-06-17 05:29
This is really good. This is why I support Sanders. He is so far ahead of all the other democratic candidates in the development of his thinking about what the US needs that I wonder how they continue in the race.

Sanders is really proposing something as massive as the Green New Deal, a total transformation of the US political economy -- as this article rightly points out at the end. It will take a generation to implement this.

The oligarchs will resist with all the vast powers they have. I just worry that other such visionaries have met very dire fates -- MLK being the most obvious. The FBI killed him on behalf of the racist oligarchs who don't want any changes in the US. They want Reagan's America. It was all about "freedom" too. But Reagan's definition of freedom really meant just what MLK said -- "rugged individualism for the poor."

The only chance Sanders has is a massive, massive popular uprising. If a vast majority of people support Sanders, the oligarchs will have trouble stopping him. I think there is a chance that this will happen. Voters have been mobilized for change for 12 years. Now is the breaking point.
+5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-06-17 05:46
This article does not deal with the foreign policy part of the speech. Here Sanders does not get it right. He is correct at the start -- worldwide oligarchy has sometimes lead to right wing authoritarian or reactionary governments. But these are in reality products of oligarchy.

Sanders' style of freedom and socialism is on the rise around the world, too. It is being countered by US - CIA - oligarchy. Putin, Xi, and others are on Sanders' side only he does not know it. The Bolivarian revolution in Venezeula is on Sanders' side. But the oligarchical authoritarianis m of Bolsonario in Brazil is on the side of the CIA and US oligarchs.

I wish Sanders would get his world politics figured out. We are still in a post-colonial struggle. The US is now the colonial master. Rejecting the US is the course of freedom for most nations. This is why the independent positions of Russia, China, Iran, N. Korea, Venezuela, and many others is the right tract and Sanders should stand with all these nations. They are where living standards are rising (except when US sanctions have destroyed economies). They are where all of his programs are favored.

The right wing oligarchs are so obviously CIA installed governments. Ukraine is the most obvious and living standards there are going straight down.
+9 # tidyidy 2019-06-17 07:19
I hope this 'news' gets out. I've just read it here and haven't looked yet to see if it's in the NYT, the WaPo and WSJ. Or on network or cable news.

Word of mouth would be nice, and a soft rubber mallet pounding it into random heads would work.

Trouble with me is that I'm 92.75 years old and live in an over 55 community in a college town where most people I meet agree with me. I could stick my head out the window and let everyone within hearing what's what - NETWORK

I am linking this to the one conservative with whom I do discuss these things civilly - neither of us is going to change much.

+8 # Robbee 2019-06-17 08:40
Bernie Sanders's Speech - major address at George Washington University
By Luke Savage, Jacobin
16 June 19

- B R I L L I A N T ! - a "must watch" for every american who cares to be informed!

bernie "out-does himself!" again!
+1 # Robbee 2019-06-17 10:46
ps - for reference, here is a link to bernie's speech -
+5 # Wise woman 2019-06-17 08:40
Well said, DongiC! I have nothing to add and everything to hope and pray for.

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