Is Sanders campaign a ‘new movement’?


 Senator Bernie Sanders continues to draw large crowds to his presidental campaign rallies. Now, unfortunately, a growing wing of the socialist movement in the United States is seeking a way in.

On July 29, Solidarity published a winding statement approved by its convention entitled, “Connecting Sanders’ Audience’s Aspirations to Clear Working Class Political Alternatives.” It seems to be an effort to support the enthusiasm for Sanders without supporting the candidate himself—or the Democratic Party, whose nomination he seeks.

The paper suggests there is a movement separate from Sanders that can be continued if and when he loses the nomination and throws his support to Hillary Clinton. It calls on Sanders supporters to not “waste this moment where folks are coming together around an anti-corporate, anti-austerity program by … voting for Hillary and calling it a day. …The tragedy would not be so much people pulling the lever for Clinton, but dissipating and disbanding this mass outcry.”

Dan La Botz, a leading member of Solidarity (who won 25,000 votes as a Socialist Party candidate in 2010), posted a far more explicit piece on July 30 entitled, “Sanders for President: a Political Phenomenon that Challenges all Preconceptions.”

He concludes that Sanders’ campaign may “contribute to the launching of a new period of social movements and upheavals with a higher level of political consciousness” and that he will “work with the Sanders campaign in the primary period, hoping—like other Sanders supporters—that out of this experience we can build a new, stronger, left in America.”

Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant, who was elected as a socialist to the Seattle city council two years ago, took a further leap into the Sanders camp with an announcement that she would conduct an Aug. 8 joint rally with Sanders. She called for supporters to attend, wearing 15 Now t-shirts. Sawant solidarized with Sanders as an “alternative to corporate politics,” and concluded, “let’s greet Bernie Sanders with a sea of red supporters. Let’s show him how strong the socialist movement is in Seattle!”

The assumptions that some tendencies in the socialist movement have made to justify their support must be examined. In the first place, there is nothing new about Sanders’ rallies that “challenges all preconceptions.” Obama’s first presidential run was able to build many mass gatherings, with 10,000 to 20,000 participants at most primary rallies and far more in the general election—75,000 in Oregon and more than 100,000 in Missouri.

The excitement for the former community organizer was qualitatively greater than that for the alleged “socialist” today. Obama’s campaign was peppered with movement flavor, right down to iconic posters and  “yes, we can” slogans. The campaign (we were then told) depended upon small donations, and Obama made a few promises to his supporters to pass reforms like universal health care, a ban on torture, and a closure of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Organizations like Progressives for Obama said this was a “movement,” and “one greater than the candidate himself ever imagined,” which would “renew our economy with a populist emphasis” and “confront the challenge of global warming.”

However, the rallies for Obama did not spawn a new movement, but rather ushered in one of the lowest periods of working-class and left activity in American history. How could it have been otherwise? Support for candidate Obama naturally became support for President Obama, and with him the capitalist state that he heads. Historic rallies for the candidate produced historic support for imperialism.

In exactly the same way, Sanders’ mass rallies are not rallies for socialism, but rallies for the capitalist state. As in any election, the primary question does not turn on a handful of promised reforms, but on the advancement of the rule by one class or another—either the workers or their bosses. The question, then, is not which class supports a given party, but which class the party supports. Decades of working-class votes, for instance, have failed to change the class basis of either the Democrats or the Republicans.

As James P. Cannon, the main founder of the American Trotskyist movement, observed in regard to the 1948 third-party campaign of Henry Wallace, “the class character of [a] party is determined first by its program; secondly by its actual policy in practice; and thirdly by its composition and control.”

There is nothing in Sanders’ program that threatens the rule of business. As Sanders himself observes, every proposal of his fits neatly within the experience of imperialist states. They could be taken up by any number of other capitalist politicians.

Sanders’ practice will be fully explored in a future Socialist Action article. Suffice it to say here that with his voting record and his commentary, Sanders has thoroughly proven his loyalty to the Democratic Party and big business over 35 years in office. No serious political person disputes this.

In his career, he has graduated from small-time deals in waterfront developments to big-ticket items like F-35 jet manufacturing. When Sanders wants to know what he should do next he goes to the heads of Lockheed Martin and the Democratic Party, not to union locals.

Conservative George F. Will notes that any definition of “socialist” that includes Sanders would have to encompass most of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, Sanders caucuses with the Democrats, attends their policy lunches, and owes them his committee seats. Howard Dean says that Sanders is a liberal Democrat who votes with the party “98% of the time.” Clinton instructs her canvassers to tell voters that Sanders is a “Good Democrat” and that her votes were identical to his 93% of the time they were both in the Senate.

Managing a capitalist state means organizing society under the leadership of the capitalist class. It requires the cooperation of investors and the political parties who represent them. This has been Sanders’ job for the last 35 years.

Sanders’ call for a “political revolution against the billionaires,” which Socialist Alternative has mistakenly trumpeted, is completely hollow. Sanders’ platform and campaign rhetoric are closely restricted to issues and proposals that lie within the parameters established by the Democratic Party. It is impossible to build any effective “anti-billionaire” tendency within the Democratic Party—Sanders’ speeches notwithstanding—since the party operates expressly to further the interests of big capital.

Undoubtedly, many working people join Sanders’ campaign activities in hopes of building a movement against the big corporations. But they soon find they have no mechanism or leverage with which to alter or affect the Democratic Party’s pro-corporate politics.

Moreover, to support Sanders means to defend what he says and does—especially against growing movements that demand more than he offers. Supporters must defend his attacks on immigrants, his opposition to anti-racist politics, his support for imperialism and for Israel. They must defend his politics because they cannot offer recruits any way to change them. A person either buys the whole campaign or doesn’t participate.

Joining his campaign doesn’t change the politics of Sanders and the Democrats—it changes yours!

The forces that will create a “new period of social movements and upheavals” must come from outside the Democratic Party—Sanders included. And we can hear them already. They’re saying, “15 Now!” and “Black Lives Matter!”

Photo: Ross D. Franklin / AP



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