In January, I wrote a piece for the Beacon on Hillary Clinton. I argued that she was not the progressive candidate she claimed to be, and that many of her policies and actions were horrifying and immoral. It seems, however, that the message has yet to sink in.
A few weeks ago, another contributor to the Beacon argued that “Bernie Bros” misrepresent Clinton through outdated and hypocritical arguments. The writer is certainly right to claim that the arguments are hypocritical. Sanders is not the progressive candidate that young people think he is either, and in fact, his policies and worldview have nothing whatever to do with the philosophy to which he is most often described as adhering: socialism. Bernie Sanders is not a socialist. He is not a democratic socialist either. Socialism is an economic and social theory in which the working classes (the proletariat) own and operate the means of production, having seized it through a revolutionary struggle from private owners (the ruling class). Democratic socialism (a term that has existed long before the twentieth century) is socialism—people who call themselves democratic socialists are just socialists who want to emphasize the democratic concept of the common ownership of the means of production.
Sanders, of course, proposes nothing of the sort. His ridiculous rhetoric of “revolution” is actually nothing but a call for some moderate reforms. Whereas socialism has always existed in opposition to capitalism—Sanders wants only to repair the economy without changing its underlying structure. Which again, would involve a violent struggle and radical shift in the way life is lived.
Clinton and Sanders do, in general, stand for the same things. Both are supporters of a liberal capitalist order that would continue to put band-aids on gaping wounds, allowing for the structural and necessary exploitation to continue, but with a nicer, more human face. Clinton is the embodiment of a humanitarian rhetoric that every day looks emptier and emptier. She makes all sorts of claims during her rallies and speeches, calling for worker’s rights, women’s rights, minority rights, and so on.
But in today’s climate, we should be especially skeptical of people who use these terms. “Human rights” for Clinton does not seem to include the thousands of civilians who die in drone strikes (an Obama policy Clinton rigidly supports). Nor do they seem to include citizens of countries where the United States has supported dictators and authoritarian regimes for decades—Kissinger-esque policies that Clinton continuously carried out. In countries such as Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Honduras, Morocco, and Uzbekistan, Clinton worked as secretary of state to suppress leftist democratic movements and ensure that US-friendly powers, no matter how brutal or anti-democratic, remained in place.
Stephen Zunes, a scholar of Middle Eastern politics and professor at the University of San Francisco, wrote in a piece for TruthOut, a self styled progressive news organization, that said Clinton’s positions are “more rhetoric than reality”, and that “Clinton’s legacy at the State Department has been one of continuing the policies . . . of opposing international law and human rights.”
Clinton’s foreign policy nowadays sounds remarkably similar. The “National Security” section of her campaign website stresses the need to “strengthen alliances”—such as the alliance with the autocratic Moroccan government, or the Karimov dictatorship in Uzbekistan. Her hawkish remarks about ISIS and Iran hail back to her days as Secretary of State, where she developed policies that placed United States economic interests above the rights of people in other countries.
With what we know about Hillary Clinton, should we really reserve the word “progressive” for her? Politics in the United States has shifted so far to the right that moderate social and economic reforms are somehow still considered to be “left-wing”, even when paired with an aggressive foreign policy like Clinton’s.
At this point, it does not seem that lasting structural changes will come from voting a Republican or a Democrat into office. These changes will only come from the bottom up, from people willing to escape from the confines of a two-party system and instead create a new movement based in solidarity with those who are exploited and oppressed. There are many such small movements all over the world today, from the Socialist Workers Party in the United States to the dozens of leftist democratic groups in the Middle East. It will be these people, not the politicians who ask for their votes, who will be the bearers of true change.