A few days ago, I made the argument that—however haltingly—we might just be finally emerging from the shadows of the Cold War.
And then I read Andrew O’Hehir’s [ht: sm] latest, in which he confirms exactly that:
Bernie Sanders is not going to be president. But in defeat he has accomplished something extraordinary, probably something more important than anything he could have achieved in four or eight frustrating years in the White House. For the first time since the end of the Cold War — and perhaps since the beginning of the Cold War — large numbers of Americans have begun to ask questions about capitalism. Questions about whether it works, and how, and for whose benefit. Questions about whether capitalism is really the indispensable companion of democracy, as we have confidently been told for the last century or so, and about how those two things interact in the real world.
Large numbers of Americans, especially large numbers of young Americans, are questioning capitalism in ways that were literally unimaginable for all but a tiny minority of people during the Red Scare. No, Sanders did not invent that questioning but, certainly, the unexpected success of his campaign reveals the deep cracks and fissures in capitalism’s legitimacy right now.
The rest of O’Hehir’s analysis is well worth reading. But, perhaps even more remarkable as a sign of these times, is his attempt (in this and in a previous piece) to draw an analogy from Lenin and the October Revolution—perhaps the ultimate Cold War taboo.
As O’Hehir explains,
Sanders perceived the decrepit Democratic Party roughly the way Lenin saw the crumbling Russian state, as an apparently powerful institution that in reality was ripe for revolutionary takeover.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks remain intriguing today, not to mention frightening, because of their abundant contradictions: How did a brilliant analysis of global capitalism in crisis, which seems almost eerily trenchant a century later, lead to such a dismal outcome? If capitalism is no longer to be viewed as the unalterable end-stage of history, and socialism is no longer an untouchable concept, maybe we can also get past the superstitious notion that every idea and insight that fed into the Russian Revolution inevitably produced the nightmarish Soviet state that followed. I feel quite sure that Bernie Sanders does not envision the overthrow of all political institutions or the seizure of all private property. His real relationship to the Bolshevik founder is a rhetorical and analytical one, and I find it implausible that Sanders is unaware of this. . .
Bernie Sanders served as accidental midwife at the birth of something thoroughly unexpected, the first faint glimmers of what the Marxists would have called a revolutionary consciousness. Where that will lead is anyone’s guess, but don’t be too sure that it leads nowhere and that the normative political order will soon be restored. Defenders of the system have mounted a forceful counterattack, but their confidence is too high and their vision of the future too limited. The threat of “political revolution” can no doubt be dispelled, for now. But the conditions that produced it — the intertwined failures of capitalism and democracy, as described by two socialist leaders a century apart — present problems that President Hillary Clinton cannot hope to solve.
For the old Cold Warriors who remain out there, that must really burn.