Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution

Image of Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution
Release Date: 
August 28, 2017
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Reviewed by: 

Conservatives in both the two major United States political parties can relax about Bernie Sanders’ new book. There’s nothing in Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution about how to make a revolution of any kind: political, social, or whatever. This volume is nothing like Vladimir Lenin’s What is to be Done? or even Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. It is bereft of practical advice on how to build a “revolutionary,” or any other kind of, social or political movement. 

Instead, this brief and highly readable book, full of eye-catching graphics and political artwork, offers younger readers (for whom it seems most particularly geared) two things: (1) an erudite and passionate, knowledgeable but down-to-earth and non-pedantic discussion of how the United States has become a savagely unequal corporate and financial plutocracy under the thumb of the One Percent and its powerful campaign funders and lobbyists and (2) a useful compendium of liberal and progressive policy ideas that are supported by most of the United States’ population – its “progressive silent majority.”  

The policies Sanders backs (without saying anything on how to win them beyond the admonition that it’s time to “be bold, think big, and stand up”) include an increased minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, the re-legalization of union organizing (though here Bernie fails to mention the relevant legislation), paid vacations, paid medical, pregnancy/childbirth, and sick time for all workers, giant federal jobs programs to guarantee employment and meet social and environmental needs, affordable housing, energy efficiency, child care, public education, free college (Sanders’ reflections on the rising cost of higher education are spot-on), the increased regulation of Wall Street, Health Care as a Human Right, prescription drug price restrictions, genuinely progressive and fully enforced taxation of the wealthy few and their corporations, limits on executive compensation, public financing of elections, police reform, gay rights, real Civil Rights enforcement, the rollback of racist mass incarceration and the racist police state, support for women’s right to choose, expanded health care services, and (last but not at all least), the de-escalation of the Greenhouse Gassing of the planet—an epic shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. 

This last topic deserves and gets a full chapter Combatting Climate Change. As Noam Chomsky told Occupy Boston more than five years ago, if the global environmental catastrophe created by anthropogenic climate change “isn’t going to be averted” soon, then “in a generation or two, everything else we’re talking about won’t matter.”

We can be sure that right wing would be in the streets screaming about the horrible Communist revolution that had taken hold in Washington, D.C., if Sanders had been elected president last year. The irony here is that the “democratic socialist” Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution is fairly conservative and capitalist. He goes out of his way to say that his policy agenda is “not radical.”  Look at his argument for his modest call for ten days of paid vacation per year:

“. . . Americans are working more hours than the people of any major developed country . . . They need time to rest and recuperate, travel the country, visit loved ones, or simply spend time at home with their families . . . In my view we need legislation to require employers to provide at least ten days of paid vacation to workers in this country every year. This is not a radical idea. It’s already being done in almost every country in the world. This would not only demonstrate our national commitment to family values but also make good economic sense.  Studies show that paid-vacation policies boost productivity and worker loyalty” (emphasis added).

Here Sanders says nothing about how workers need time to join movements for “political revolution.”

“Worker loyalty” to whom? To the working-class and its struggle to build unions, democracy, and social movements? No.  Bernie obviously means loyalty to their employers—a curious thing for a “socialist” to want to enhance. 

The same conservatism can be seen in Sanders’ call for Single Payer health insurance:

“When we talk about our current health care system, what is often overlooked is the negative impact it has on our entrepreneurial spirit. Millions of Americans remain in their jobs today not because they want to be there, not because they enjoy their work, but because their current employer provides decent health care benefits for them and their family . . . Universal health care would provide a major boon to our economy, unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit of millions of people” (emphasis added).

Sanders seems to think Americans should support Single Payer because it would supposedly free them up to become capitalists, not socialists.

Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution says nothing about the giant U.S. Pentagon System, which eats up 54% of U.S. federal discretionary spending and carries the world’s single largest institutional carbon footprint while accounting for 40 of the world military spending paying for at least 800 military bases spread across more than 80 foreign countries and  keeping (in David Vine’s words) “troops or other military personnel in about 160 foreign countries and territories.” 

Many on the more radical Left will raise their eyebrows at this deletion. U.S. war spending steals vast resources that are required to build a real and lasting social-democratic safety net and a people’s economy. As Martin Luther King, Jr. explained in his famous Riverside Church speech April 4, 1967, America will “never invest the necessary funds or energies” to end poverty and domestic economic insecurity so long as its military machine “continue[s] to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.”

Still, many readers will find this book a useful introduction to the questions how the United States has become a corporate and financial oligarchy and what kinds of domestic policies we need to roll back the savage inequalities and plutocracy of our current New Gilded Age.