Sanders – A Left View
I supported Harold Washington in the election for Chicago's mayor in 1983. I was a ‘global class war’ socialist but understood that Washington had no bourgeois backing at the time when he ran in the Democratic primary. Washington only had a movement, a mostly black movement. It demonstrated in the streets of downtown Chicago by the thousands on election night when the Democratic Daley machine tried to steal Washington’s victory through a technical move. That election and a few others show that to influence a movement, it helps to meet it part way. I still suspect that Washington was assassinated because of his convenient death by ‘heart attack’ while in office.
|Harold Washington, former Mayor Chicago|
That campaign showed that occasionally mass radical movements start or happen even within bourgeois party processes. This is because there is no other outlet provided by the system, so mass anger flows into channels already cleverly laid. Support for Henry Wallace’s presidential primary campaign in 1944 and his independent run in 1948 in the name of the Progressive Party played the same role. Wallace himself was not a socialist but a pro-FDR left-Democrat running against Truman both times. He was against Jim Crow and the Cold War. Wallace was supported by most leftists and even some U.S. Trotskyists in the SWP. The successful Farmer-Labor Party, of left-wing song and legend, first ran in the Republican primaries for several years in Minnesota before becoming an independent organization in 1924. That is significant too.
Sanders has opened up a political space for a form of socialism in the U.S., on a national scale – something that has not been seen for many years. He has made the struggle against Wall Street and the 1% his main slogan, taking up where Occupy left off. He has pushed for single-payer – the first well-known politician who has made that a key issue. He’s also come out for ending the racist mass incarceration state and legalizing weed, supporting Black Lives Matter and union rights, ending the deportation frenzy and coming out against anti-labor laws like Taft-Hartley. The most left-wing unions in the country have come out for Sanders, as well as locals bucking their bureaucratic leaderships.
|Henry Wallace, former Progressive Party Candidate|
Sander’s foreign policy positions are still those of a junior imperialist, though he has gone to Clinton’s left on the present situations in Iran, Syria and Libya - perhaps under pressure from his base. As Clinton cleverly pointed out in one debate, he voted to bomb Libya too. He seems to be moving towards a position that ‘regime change’ is a dangerous strategy. Sanders had no compunction, nor did liberal (Muslim) hero Keith Ellison, in supporting Israel’s invasion and destruction of Gaza in 2014. The list of other imperial votes by Sanders is long. As they say in the U.S., 'politics stops at the waters edge.' Which means imperialism is a bi-partisan effort. What is not noted is that an imperial international plan actually impacts the goals of any national movement. So Sanders cannot implement many of his ideas without confronting the imperial project.
What is key though is that Sanders, as yet, has no real bourgeois backing. The bourgeois media treats him like a pariah instead. He has not bought into enough corporate garbage. Unless you think he is a front for a certain ice-cream brand, this is significant. His idea of a ‘political revolution’ echoes Trotsky, who called for a political revolution against Stalin. A real ‘political revolution’ changes the leadership of a class state, but does not undermine its social / economic nature. In Sanders’ meaning, a ‘political revolution’ in the U.S. means gaining more or dominant power for the working class in a capitalist economy – similar to the power of the Social Democratic Party in Sweden and several other countries. Unfortunately, the leadership and funding of the Democrats is not like the Swedish Social Democracy, but more like moderate Republicans. Pursuing ‘political revolution’ by staying within the Democratic Party is a strategy bound to fail.
|1922 Farmer Labor Party convention in Minneapolis|
Sanders is a bit like a modern Father Gapon. He is telling the Capitalist Czar that the workers and peasants need more. As Oliver said, "Please sir, can I have some more?" The question is, as usual, will Sanders’ supporters continue in any sense after this election? I somewhat doubt it, as I also doubt that Sanders will ultimately win the nomination against the Clinton / Democratic corporate machine. Sanders himself has not made any attempt to form a political organization yet. And that is also key. But the possibility is there. The Green Party under Jill Stein may end up getting my vote in the general election. However the Green Party is a stagnant organization that can only grow if it unites with other forces on the left. Merely running candidates year after year on its own is not sufficient.
|Bernie Sanders in Selma, AL Recently|
In this particular primary fight, standing aside is sectarian and abstentionist. The position taken by Socialist Alternative – giving active critical support to Sanders in the primaries – is the closest position to actually moving the U.S. situation forward. (Socialist Alternative was birthed in the conditions of European Trotskyism, which is more attuned to mass organization than the U.S. Trotskyist tradition based on Cannon.) I will be voting for Sanders in the primary, well aware of his pro-imperialist Jr. foreign policy and his many limitations. I will not support Clinton in the general election, nor will many who support Sanders. Sanders is a sheep-herder, but he is also a pyromaniac – he has a dual role. We’ve seen movements and initiatives within the Democratic Party before – McCarthy, McGovern, Jackson, Dean, Kucinich, Obama – that go nowhere over and over again. This one, because of economic conditions and Sanders’ social-democratic views, is unique. It has a chance to result in something more, if only in increased disgust with the Democratic Party and U.S. conventional politics.
If Sanders is not nominated, which is likely, real socialists should have a very definite plan to offer the Bernie movement. That is asking them to work for and form an independent mass Labor-Populist party and a united left-front as a spark to win it. If Sanders’ supporters are actually serious and not just internet warriors, without these two things there will be no political revolution ... let alone the social revolution desired by socialists. It will leave neo-liberalism in place again under Clinton II or Trump I, as it did with the election of Obama.
If Sanders is nominated and by some weird chance he wins the general election, I think the only thing that will wait for him is a bullet. Knowing Amerika, that is.
January 31, 2016