I was recently asked, "At a time when progressive ideas are just now breaking into mainstream political discourse, why challenge America's most popular politician from his left?
I am challenging Sanders because progress cannot come from the politicians, however noble their intentions. It can only come from the people organizing themselves.
For Sanders, progress means the state playing a more active role in mitigating the dysfunctions of capitalism. That is not a new idea.
The state already plays a massive role in organizing capitalist society. The important question is not what policies the state will adopt in doing so, but who controls the state, and to what ultimate end?
Socialists differ from progressives in that we seek to organize the working people to take state power into their own hands, in order to overcome the division of society into owners and workers, and to establish a society based upon universal ownership and self-employment.
Sanders, and all progressives, seek to use the state to preserve the social order in which working people are dependent and subservient upon owners of capital.
The conservative desire to preserve social order is natural and understandable. But we have outgrown the capitalist social order, and suffer for not having progressed beyond it.
True progress would be progress beyond capitalism to socialism. That would require working people organizing themselves to take responsibility for their society, to take ownership of the world on which they depend, including the power of the state.
Progressivism as a political ideology does not simply mean the desire for social betterment. Conservatives also want society to improve, but they have a different conception of what that would mean. Likewise with socialists.
Progressivism is the belief that for capitalism to progress, the state must take a more active role in managing the affairs of society and supplementing or correcting the limitations of commerce and private enterprise.
Progressivism first emerged in response to and as an explicit rejection of the socialist position. The socialists believed that capitalism could no longer progress, but had already progressed as far as it could, and had, since the mid-19th century, become a fetter on social progress.
Socialists did not seek more state control over the economy, but to change who controlled both the state and the accumulated capital of society, to use both to fundamentally different ends.
Rather than preserving a social order defined by the division of society into workers and owners by making it "better", socialists sought to overcome that division, and to thereby inaugurate a new social order and a new epoch of human history.
The socialists, in that sense, sought not progress in capitalism, but progress beyond capitalism, and they sought this not by way of demanding improvements to capitalism, but by organizing and rendering explicit the conflict within capitalism that made further progress impossible.
It's not that it is impossible for people's lives to get better in capitalism. Of course that is possible. But such improvement is never unambiguous, never secure, never adequate, and never universal. Improvement is always tainted by its opposite.
Progressivism means seeking betterment in and through the status quo. Socialists must also work within the status quo, but do not do so in order to improve upon it. They seek, rather, to overcome the status quo, to overcome the tainted character of progress in capitalism.
Overcoming the status quo means, above all, organizing the masses who are currently dependent upon and subservient to those with political and social power to take that power into their own hands. Not seeking aid from our present rulers, but overthrowing and replacing them.
Socialism would mean overcoming a social order in which the masses are subservient and dependent, and replacing it with a society in which all are responsible for their destiny, and take that destiny into their own hands.