A few days earlier than settling all the way down to learn Bernie Sanders’ new guide, I noticed a type of video clips of Jeffrey Marsh, the loopy they / them fella off TikTok. ‘It’s okay to be indignant’, Marsh mentioned, in his usually creepy fashion, just like the lovechild of Norman Bates and Oprah Winfrey. And now right here was Bernie, everybody’s favorite avuncular socialist, the mitten-wearing ethical conscience of millennials the Western world over, additionally telling me it’s okay to be indignant. It’s Okay To Be Indignant About Capitalism, his new guide known as. Would this be but extra TikTok-level remedy, solely delivered by a he / him with ideas slightly than a they / them with points? Sadly, sure, it form of is.
Bernie’s tome seems like a self-help guide for upwardly cell leftists. It’s a guide whose goal shouldn’t be a lot to transform Western society as to flatter and inflame the ethical revulsion that graduate radicals really feel in the direction of ‘dog-eat-dog’ capitalism. Or ‘vicious dog-eat-dog’ capitalism, as Bernie manufacturers it. Anybody hoping for cool, Marx-style evaluation of the social relations that pertain below capitalism will probably be sorely upset. That is much less a examine of the capitalist mode of manufacturing and its contradictory penalties and extra an explosion of East Coast abhorrence on the ‘uncontrollable greed’ and ‘grossly immoral’ behaviour of the captains of our ‘uber-capitalist’ system who ‘lie, cheat, bribe and steal’ to make a buck. Sanders appears much less excited about getting the working courses revolting than in massaging the center courses’ perception that the hyper-rich are revolting individuals.
Bernie’s brimstone is relentless. It’s anti-capitalism as church sermon. He slams the ‘greed, corruption and rampant self-interest’ of the madly rich. He rages in opposition to the ‘extreme greed’ of Jeff Bezos, with ‘all of these mansions and all of these yachts and all of these rocket ships’. (Doesn’t Bernie personal three homes? No judgement! Let’s simply hope they aren’t glass homes.)
In a single significantly odd bit, he outlines how completely different the super-rich are to the remainder of us. ‘They don’t row boats on lakes or kayak on rivers… They cruise on yachts’, he says with horror. ‘They don’t go locations in compact automobiles… They journey in chauffeur-driven limousines and personal planes’, he continues. They ‘don’t settle into the Courtyard by Marriott… They “summer season” in coastal enclaves’. ‘They don’t go to museums to see fantastic artwork. They purchase up the nice work and sculptures of the world for their very own personal enjoyment.’ They don’t ‘camp in a nationwide park’ – they’re ‘constructing spaceships in order that they will trip within the stratosphere’. Earth to Bernie! What’s the level of this? Of those ceaseless descriptions of the decadent antics of the ‘phenomenally wealthy’? It might probably solely be to arouse animus in opposition to people slightly than in opposition to the system; in opposition to the ethical failings of a handful of the hyper-rich, slightly than in opposition to the social system of capitalism itself. And therein lies your entire downside with Bernie Bro anti-capitalism.
He isn’t anti-capitalist. He’s anti-some-capitalists. The actually horrible ones. This guide ought to have been referred to as ‘It’s Okay to Be Indignant A few Few Billionaires’. Every so often, he – or maybe one in every of his fresh-faced researchers who’s just lately learn Marx – recognises that he ought to say one thing about ‘the system’. ‘We hurt the discourse after we get slowed down with personalities’, he says. Let’s keep in mind it is a ‘systemic disaster’, he continues. And but, just some pages later, he says the hyper-rich are like ‘heroin addicts’. They’re ‘by no means glad with what they’ve. They want a brand new repair. Extra, increasingly more, it doesn’t matter what the implications of their greed.’ Solely the place ‘heroin addicts find yourself lifeless or in jail… greed addicts by no means find yourself in jail’. As a substitute of ‘destroying themselves’, they ‘destroy our communities, our establishments, our society’.
It’s like Nancy Reagan on steroids. ‘Greed addicts’? Bernie, come on. For all that his political training tries to tug him again to the realm of political economic system, to a discourse of capitalism’s systemic errors slightly than its ethical ones, he simply can’t assist himself. His vicarious repugnance on the behaviour of the wealthy – ‘their personal islands, their costly artwork, their yachts, their personal jets’ – overpowers his sadly waning intuition to difficulty a political critique slightly than an ethical damnation of capitalist society. He appears to hate the wealthy greater than he feels solidarity with the poor. His tome comprises extra mentions of the phrase ‘yacht’ (six) than it does of the phrase ‘Marx’ (zero). Talking of Marx, how telling that the place The Communist Manifesto opens with reward for the capitalist class and its ‘fast enchancment of all devices of manufacturing’, Bernie’s moralistic manifesto opens with the decree that our ‘uber-capitalist’ system is ‘not merely unjust. It’s grossly immoral.’
I’ve lengthy been cautious of anti-capitalism that’s motored extra by ethical revulsion than by a clear-headed appreciation of capitalism’s contradictions and limits. Not as a result of I feel ‘Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg, Gates, Buffett, the Waltons, the Kochs’ (Bernie’s line-up of ugly billionaires) must be defended from criticism or anger. No, as a result of anti-capitalism as cultural distaste, as ethical objection, usually finally ends up distracting consideration from the massive modifications we have to make if we’re to liberate extra individuals from poverty and enhance individuals’s clout in each politics and the office. It isn’t shocking, given the depth of his ethical disdain for the ‘dog-eat-dog, every-person-for-himself tradition’ of capitalism, that Sanders’ options are expressed on the degree of morality, too. ‘We want a brand new sense of morality’, he writes. A morality based mostly on equity, superseding the ‘greed, irresponsibility and brutality of the ruling class’. Okay. However presumably the exploitation of labour, capitalist accumulation and the tendency in the direction of disaster would nonetheless exist? Or no?
Higher-middle-class abhorrence on the immorality of the hyper-rich – an abhorrence as pronounced amongst privileged Corbynistas within the UK as amongst Bernie Bros within the US – doesn’t solely elevate the ethical tinkering of society over revolutionary change. It additionally threatens to throw out issues about capitalism which are good. Most notably its exploitation of nature’s bounty to the top of constructing extra issues (and extra earnings, I do know). Bernie is a full-on climate-change alarmist. The guide comprises quite a few references to the ‘existential risk’ of local weather change. The hyper-rich are ‘destroying the planet’, he says. We urgently want to maneuver ‘away from fossil fuels’, he cries. This is the reason he spearheaded a invoice to ban fracking. It’s why, on this guide, he even criticises the Biden administration – hardly hardcore Prometheans – for ‘opening up tens of millions of recent acres of public lands to grease and fuel firms’ by the Inflation Discount Act.
Bernie’s anti-capitalist moralism elevates the integrity of Mom Nature over mankind’s want for plentiful sources of power. It elevates the rights of shale fuel to stay unsullied by human equipment over the correct to work of 1000’s of Individuals who might get jobs in fracking. That is the place anti-capitalism as ethical revulsion finally ends up – in a scenario the place the disdain for the ‘greed’ and ‘destructiveness’ of the hyper-rich turns into so overbearing that it trounces any potential to recognise that capitalism’s exploitation of nature has constructive in addition to destabilising penalties, particularly in relation to job creation and power creation. Bernie’s squandering of left populism for the modern anti-capitalism of the dejected managerial elites has led to a horrible situation the place he’s successfully arguing to scrap sure jobs and sure industries as a result of they could scar Gaia. We’re a far method from Trotsky, for whom revolutionary activism was about two issues: ‘rising the facility of man over nature’ and ‘the abolition of the facility of man over man’.
It isn’t solely on the degree of jobs that anti-capitalism as ethical revulsion impacts negatively on the working courses. Culturally, too, Sanders and others appear mystified by the fashionable working class. There’s a placing contradiction on this guide. On one web page, Bernie rightly challenges the snooty Democratic declare that working-class people voted for Trump as a result of they’re ‘racists, sexists and homophobes’. As a result of they’re ‘actually “deplorable”’, he says, citing Hillary’s haughty barb. ‘Sorry. I don’t agree’, he writes. He explains that many working-class Individuals merely really feel that the Democrats have ‘deserted them’ for ‘rich marketing campaign contributors and the “lovely individuals”’.But afterward, he says Trump ‘performed on [working-class voters’] anger and resentment’ together with his ‘delicate however usually overt appeals to racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia’. Isn’t that only a softer model of what Hillary mentioned? She thinks working-class Trumpites are deplorables, Bernie thinks they’ve deplorable tendencies that demagogues can slyly milk. How miserable if Bernie is transferring ever-closer to the classism of the Dem institution.
Bernie’s guide shouldn’t be with out benefit. Removed from it. It’s spirited. It’s enjoyable in elements. And what’s to not like about an octogenarian activist and senator, a person who was on the precise March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, opening his new guide by saying: ‘They are saying that the older you get, the extra conservative you grow to be. Properly, that’s not me.’ His argument for common healthcare within the US could be very convincing. And I used to be received over – even a bit touched – by his paean to the significance of labor: ‘I consider that, very deep within the souls of most individuals, is a want to be a part of their neighborhood and to contribute to its wellbeing. Individuals wish to be productive and have a constructive influence on the lives of their households, their mates, their neighbours, and, in the end, on their nation and their world. Work is a manifestation of this want.’ What candy aid that’s from the lazy anti-work groupthink of the brand new left, whose imaginative and prescient is to place the lots out to pasture, on Common Primary Revenue, the place they could stew and play videogames and masturbate slightly than fall consistent with that dreadful ‘rat race’.
And but, Bernie’s guide has satisfied me that he has squandered any likelihood of left-wing populism in favour of embracing the moralism of the brand new elites who hate capitalism not for its structural deficiencies, however for being too productive, too large, an excessive amount of. One can’t assist however really feel that Bernie’s most important viewers now’s these leisured courses of priestly loathers of capitalistic greed, slightly than the working courses who’ve a vested curiosity in additional job creation, extra trade creation, extra fracking, extra oil and, let’s be trustworthy about it, extra capitalism. For now anyway. These individuals don’t hate Jeff Bezos’ yacht – they need it. They’ll by no means get it, although, so long as the left is led by individuals whose opposition to capitalism has morphed tragically into opposition to modernity.
It’s Okay to Be Indignant About Capitalism, by Bernie Sanders, is revealed by Allen Lane. Order it right here.