Bernie Sanders lost the Democrat Primary to Joe Biden. What is more interesting is where he lost, and even, where he won.
While in the 2016 Primary Bernie Sanders won Michigan over Hillary Clinton in a surprise upset, in 2020 Joe Biden won over Bernie Sanders in a landslide.
Bernie Sanders also did poorly among non-college educated working class people, and among blacks, where his strength was with college-educated youths, and Hispanics, people whose Bernie Sanders’s message was not meant to appeal to.
So, why was it that Bernie Sanders, who did well among non-college educated working class in 2016, did terrible in 2020? Well, there are multiple theories, but one of those theories was proposed not by Bernie Sanders, nor my any modern political science theorist, but instead by Vladimir Lenin.
In 1920, Lenin wrote a book called “Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder” from which the phrase Infantile Leftism comes from. The basic message of the book was to warn people of communists to the left of Lenin; essentially saying that anyone who claimed to be a communist, yet criticized Lenin, was not a true communist; mainly directed against Julius Martov and his Mensheviks.
In essence, it was a bit of reaffirming a semi-religious cult around Leninism. But there was one thing he warned of in the book that many people don’t even know: Lenin spoke of “bourgeoisie communists”; socialist revolutionaries who don’t come from the mass of uneducated peasants, rather from the class that the movement was trying to overthrow.
Now, the notion of bourgeoisie communism extends beyond Lenin. In George Orwell’s 1937 book “The Road to Wigan Pier” he states that the reason why the working man, although in favor of socialist ideals, ultimately rejects socialism because of it’s ability to attract sandal and tweed-wearing vegetarian nudist feminists, who, although can spout Marxist dogma, have done very little, if any at all, manual labor in their lifetime. Indeed, Lenin himself was a highly educated man, who traveled all over the world and was fluent in multiple languages. Britain’s last socialist PM, Harold Wilson, graduated from Oxford and never did a day’s work of manual labor in his life, and while in public he smoked a pipe, in private he preferred cigars, the symbol of the upper-class elite. And Italy’s college-students who joined the Marxist-Leninst Red Brigades in the late 1960s all went to prep schools.
It is worth noting, however, that what Orwell concluded in “The Road to Wigan Pier” is different than what Lenin concluded in “Left Wing Communism: An Intellectual Disorder”. Lenin primarily railed against the social democrat movements of Germany and Britain for giving to heavily into capitalist demands, the Mensheviks for support of continuing the war against the Central Power, as well as anarchists and other Marxists for calling for a dissolution of parliamentary government. In addition, he railed against Labor Unions for creating “another branch of aristocracy” for going against trade unions.
Yet, Lenin’s railing of bourgeoisie communism, and Orwell’s warnings in “The Road to Wigan Pier” do present its warnings in the Sanders campaign. Ultimately, if people who benefit the most from socialism see that the socialist movement is filled with “bourgeoisie communists” and “sandal and tweed-wearing vegetarian nudist feminists”, the people that it was meant to go against, the blue-collar working class will oppose the movement.
Now, Bernie Sanders is no bourgeoisie communist. Born and raised in a rent-controlled apartment in Midwood, graduating from the University of Chicago, and spending time on a kibbutz is certainly not the path of a sandal and tweed-wearing vegetarian nudist feminist. But it nonetheless has shown in its results. Why?
One of the main reasons is that since Bernie Sander’s biggest strength was young voters who went to college, he focused heavily on them, and not the non-college educated blue-collar rust belt, leaving Michigan wide open for Joe Biden. As George Orwell wrote in “The Road to Wigan Pier”, many of these middle-class socialists are “cranks” who care more about dialectial materialism than they do about fighting for the blue-collar working class.
The truth of the matter is that as much as the notion of solidarity of races, class, and creeds sounds like a winning model, the truth is a message of solidarity of collar color workers, and even then, many of the collars, such as blue collar and white collar, are in direct conflict with one another.
But a better example to show of the dangers of infantile leftism lies across the ocean in Britain, and Jeremy Corbyn’s cataclysmic defeat in the 2019 elections. There were many reasons for Corbyn’s unlikability, but the main reason for the Labour Party defeat appears to have been caused by the Party’s inability to come to terms with Brexit. By calling for a second referendum, the appearance was given that the only people who were supporting Labour were people who would have been unaffected by the Brexit referendum, which was clearly not the British working class, proving that Labour had fallen into the infantile leftist trap laid out by George Orwell in “The Road to Wigan Pier”. The fact that the Coal-mining regions of South Wales, solid Labour constituencies, went Conservative for the first time ever proves that the Labour Party needs to do some serious soul-searching if it is to figure out whether or not it is a working-class party, or a party of bourgeoisie communist sandal-tweed wearing vegetarian nudist feminists.
Now, Bernie Sanders is no Jeremy Corbyn. And his loss in the election is not, nor ever will be, as cataclysmic is Jeremy Corbyn’s. But, more often than not, their bases overlap considerably, in particular online, via the form of “Rose Twitter.” And like the Labour Party, the Bernie Sanders movement needs to do some serious soul searching about why is lost the rural-white non-college educated, when it won them in 2016.
What is needed to fix the problem of infantile leftism ultimately stems from 5 points outlined in George Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier.” As outlined in Wikipedia:
Class prejudice. This is real and it is visceral. Middle-class socialists do themselves no favours by pretending it does not exist and—by glorifying the manual worker—they tend to alienate the large section of the population that is economically working-class but culturally middle-class.
Machine worship. Orwell finds most socialists guilty of this. Orwell himself is suspicious of technological progress for its own sake and thinks it inevitably leads to softness and decadence. He points out that most fictional technically advanced socialist utopias are deadly dull. H. G. Wells in particular is criticised on these grounds.
Crankiness. Among many other types of people Orwell specifies people who have beards or wear sandals, vegetarians, and nudists as contributing to socialism’s negative reputation among many more conventional people.
Turgid language. Those who pepper their sentences with “notwithstandings” and “heretofores” and become over excited when discussing dialectical materialism are unlikely to gain much popular support.
Failure to concentrate on the basics. Socialism should be about common decency and fair shares for all rather than political orthodoxy or philosophical consistency. (Let us be real, does the average working- class citizen care about what happens in Palestine?)
Now, there are some questions that this raises: How can climate change be told from a non-college educated working class perspective? How can America’s role in the world be told from a non-college educated working class perspective? These are, indeed, good questions.
The ultimate answer to this question is to keep it simple and straight. Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang were able to do just that, while the message by Bernie Sanders of “Are you willing to fight for someone you don’t know” is, while powerful, not simple and straight, and only falls into turgid language and dialectical materialism.
There needs to be a fundamental reevaluation of working class movements. Movements that don’t have elitist bourgeoisie lapping onto it. Movements that take the warnings of Lenin and Orwell. Then, and only then, can there be a fundamental shift in politics towards the working class and away from the privileged elite.