By JEFF MACKLER
(This is an updated and expanded version of the article we first published on May 12.)
U.S. primary election math pundits, as well as virtually the entire corporate media, insist, and with good reason, that Bernie Sanders has lost the Democratic Party presidential primary election contest. Indeed, following his nearly 13-point California primary loss to Hillary Clinton on June 7—and his losses the same day in four of the six states on this second “Super Tuesday”—few believe that Sanders’ insistence that carrying his fight to the July 25-28 Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia will serve any end other than to “negotiate” some token “concessions” from corporate America that will be sufficient to placate Sanders’ supporters and reorient them to voting for Clinton.
A June 6 Associated Press report, no doubt disconcerting to Sanders’ supporters, consciously jumped the gun in declaring that Clinton was already “the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for president.” AP based its report on its own polling of the 619 “superdelegates,” appointed by the Democratic Party hierarchy, 571 of whom presumably told AP pollsters that they were committed to Clinton.
Even before the June 7 California primary results became known late the next morning, Clinton proclaimed her victory as being the first time in the nation’s history when a major party had chosen a woman as its presidential nominee.
No corporate media outlet in the country bothered to advance the Sanders-promoted leap of faith that he might yet sway Clinton’s “superdelegates” to change their minds on the grounds that most polls indicate that he would do far better against Trump than would Clinton in the November general election.
Indeed, these lifelong hardened Democratic Party machine politicians were Clinton’s and corporate America’s pre-election insurance policy that she would prevail.
Sanders indicated his allegiance to Clinton and the Democratic Party during his parting June 7 Santa Monica, Calif., speech, stating, “We will not allow right-wing Republicans to control our country. We will not allow Donald Trump to be president of the United States.”
Sanders’ Democratic Party candidacy has sparked a wide-ranging discussion and debate in the U.S. socialist movement, and in broader circles, that reveals an extraordinary level of confusion and disarray. Most of the U.S. socialist left believes that the Sanders campaign represents some sort of “political revolution” that merits support—in one form or another. We shall review this almost bewildering situation shortly.
To be sure, the Sanders phenomenon is simultaneously a bold recognition on the part of the U.S. ruling class at its highest levels that the Sanders campaign amounted to a plus rather than a minus with regard to maintaining the credibility of the rigged U.S. electoral system.
Nearly half of all qualified voters in the United States are not registered to vote. The vast majority of non-voters are Black, Latino, youth, and the poor more generally, many of whom are consciously excluded due to reactionary legislation or are disillusioned with the entire electoral charade. Of the registered voters, only half actually cast their votes. Thus, no more than 12-13 percent of the electorate actually “determine” who will be president—that is, which of the two multi-billionaire-backed corporate candidates will occupy the nation’s top post and do their bidding. The working class, the 99 percent, have no horse in the race!
It is not the math with regard to the fact that Clinton still needs most of her “superdelegates” to win an outright majority at the July convention that motivates Sanders to “fight on.” Rather, it is Sanders’ conscious effort to lend credence to the Democrats as a viable instrument for social change at a time when this credibility is at an all-time low that keeps him in the game. “I think we are perpetuating the political revolution by significantly increasing the level of political activity that we’re seeing in this country. I think it is good for the United States of America and good for the Democratic Party to have a vigorous debate, to engage people in the political process” (emphasis added), Sanders told a National Public Radio interview last month.
Sanders insists that even if he loses the convention nomination (or perhaps declares for Clinton beforehand) he will fight for his delegates to have substantial convention representation on the Democratic Party’s “Platform Committee,” where party leaders supposedly hammer out a program with a real-world shelf life of a matter of days. Sanders’ appointment of liberal professor and civil rights activist Cornell West and leading climate-crisis activist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben to this committee are but the first of many “concessions” in the offing for Sanders’ sheepherding services.
Sanders, his protestations to the contrary, has been a welcome addition to the periodically orchestrated “lesser evil” sham employed by ruling-class leaders and their ever calculating and sophisticated think tanks. They know full well that capitalist elections are essential to promoting the myth of democracy and to orienting social movements into safe electoral channels.
Well before Sanders proclaimed his “democratic socialism,” several national polls indicated that socialism was on the minds of millions. A 2016 poll indicated that 49 percent of youth 30 years old and under preferred socialism over capitalism, up from 46 percent three years earlier. The Black population as a whole, according to this same Pew Poll, registered a 55 percent preference for socialism.
It is in this growing anti-capitalist context that Sanders, “political revolution” rhetoric in hand, has consciously stepped forward to lend legitimacy to the Democratic Party, the nation’s infamous “graveyard of social movements.”
Hillary Clinton and her advisers equally understand the political shell game and makeover schemes. One of capitalism’s most heinous pro-corporate warmongers and racist apologists has been momentarily transformed, presto change-o, into a feminist, humanist, anti-racist, and environmentally concerned politician! No doubt Donald Trump’s team will attempt a similar reconfiguration, as evidenced by the racist bigot’s scripted and teleprompter-presented performance on June 7, when he noted, “We’re going to take care of our Afro-American people that have been mistreated for so long.”
Political discontent rising in U.S. population
In the coming weeks and months, we will all “feel the fizzle” when Sanders, as repeatedly promised, stumps the nation, undoubtedly at times with Hillary at his side, hustling votes on her behalf to rescue the nation from the “greater evil”—Donald Trump. Sanders already received his first call on June 7 from President Obama, presumably suggesting that he accede to the “presumptive victor,” Clinton.
The June 9 face-to-face encounter with Sanders’ oft-proclaimed friend Obama (the “great deporter” and overseer of the present seven U.S. imperialist wars) was undoubtedly arranged to privately negotiate the terms of his surrender.
Until June 9, Obama had declined to side with either candidate, knowing full well that a premature tilt against Sanders would further distance potential voters from Clinton, whose “unfavorable” ratings have risen to near historic highs as congressional approval ratings have sunk to historic lows—11 percent.
Meanwhile, liberal media pundits like the MSNBC crew are openly suggesting that intelligent Democrats quickly find a way to coax Sanders into the Clinton fold, even suggesting that the crooked “superdelegate” scenario be dropped entirely (in future elections of course), and that Sanders be given near control over the party’s window-dressing platform committee.
“What do Sanders’ supporters do?” asked MSNBC. “While Sanders will likely endorse Clinton eventually, his supporters are another matter. Many are independent voters without strong ties to the Democratic Party, so they may continue fighting Clinton no matter what Sanders does.”
MSNBC continued, “Sanders’ task now, if he wants to help Clinton, will be to do so while avoiding being labeled a tool of the establishment by his own supporters.”
Step one in the current two-stage largely orchestrated “lesser-evil” electoral game has been Sanders’ shepherding the growing number of people with anti-capitalist sentiments back into the Democratic Party. Step two will now focus on Sanders’ efforts to do the same with those who have been drawn into his orbit but who may well decide to quit the electoral shell game in disgust—currently the Clinton-Obama team’s worst nightmare. “Be nice to Bernie” is their present scripted message.
The fact that capitalism’s higher ups felt compelled to lend an air of legitimacy to Sanders’ fake socialism is an indication of the questioning nature of our times and the deep discontent that is percolating in the consciousness of working people.
A New York Times/CBS poll last November indicated that some 56 percent of registered Democrats who were questioned said they felt positive about socialism as a governing philosophy. Twenty-nine percent had a negative view. This, in itself, goes a long way in explaining why Clinton, and in fact, most Republican Party candidates, largely refrained from the red-baiting tirades that have been the usual stock-in-trade of capitalist politics. Attacking Sanders as a socialist might well have the effect of advancing his credibility, not to mention that of socialism!
In time, when the inevitable and broad-ranging working-class fightback takes shape in forms truly independent of and against the twin parties of capital and its liberal “third-party” middle-class-based variants like the Green Party, working people will find genuine political avenues and mass organizations of struggle to express their disgust at capitalist austerity and social regression. This combination of renewed and massive mobilizations in the streets, in reinvigorated and democratically led union fightbacks, and in anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, and pro-environment struggles will undoubtedly find an expression in the political arena.
The desire for political “independence” of the two major parties, however vague this term might be in the minds of millions at the present time, is gaining ground in the United States. A full 43 percent of the electorate, according to a recent Gallop Poll, is registered as Independent, with Democratic Party registration at 32 percent, and Republican Party registered voters at 23 percent.
U.S. left collapses before Sanders
There is no doubt that Sanders’ “political revolution” and “anti-establishment” rhetoric, not to mention his self-proclaimed “democratic socialism,” has spiked interest in the current primary contests as well as in socialist ideas more generally. Again, this is the consciously orchestrated aim of the Sanders project; the U.S. ruling class and its pundits are more than capable of appealing to the best instincts and highest aspirations of working people for a better life for all in order to once again lure them into their life-extinguishing anaconda-like institutional clutches.
Tragically, many of those who claim to know better—those who seriously consider themselves socialists—have been active partisans, if not enthusiastic advocates, of today’s ruling-class-promoted Bernie Sanders brand of lesser-evilism.
Among these socialists, and perhaps the most prominent Sanders supporter in the primary contests, is Kshama Sawant, and her Socialist Alternative party. Sawant is a two-time winner in recent Seattle city-council election contests, where she ran as an open socialist and against the Democratic Party machine.
Socialist Action hailed Socialist Alternative’s Seattle campaigns, and the associated Socialist Alternative city council run by Ty Moore in Minneapolis. Socialist Action enthusiastically participated in these campaigns, contributed financially, organized public fund-raising forums, went door to door, and otherwise widely publicized this inspiring socialist effort.
This is not to say that we were not aware that Socialist Alternative originally sought, unsuccessfully, to organize these campaigns as joint efforts with the pro-capitalist Green Party. But Green Party leaders rejected those overtures, leaving Socialist Alternative with a critical decision as to how to proceed. To their credit, they took the high road in working-class politics and ran as socialists, but their penchant for the middle-class Green Party was never far from their perspectives.
Today, that road, leading to independent socialist working-class politics against the Democratic Party, has been abandoned, with Socialist Alternative and Sawant actually campaigning for Sanders in all the Democratic Party primary contests.
In an article published in the May 4 issue of CounterPunch, Sawant gives an explanation for phase two of their electoral strategy. She writes: “To endorse Hillary, even with a more progressive platform, would be the opposite of political revolution and would abandon all the vital energy and momentum we have built over this historic past year. We simply can’t afford to make this mistake. That’s why I have launched a petition calling on Bernie Sanders to run all the way to November as an independent, and to use his campaign as a launch pad for a new political party of the 99%.”
Sawant immediately continues: “If Bernie’s only concern is that running independently could open the door to a President Trump, then why could he not at least campaign in the 40+ states where it’s generally clear the Democratic or Republican candidate will win? Even in this way, while not putting his name on the ballot in the 5-10 closely contested ‘swing states,’ he could still run an historic campaign if linked to building a new party” (emphasis in original).
But Sawant’s “new party” in this case is, again, the middle-class, pro-capitalist Green Party, which has regularly urged its supporters to vote Democrat in “swing states” or simply declined to seek ballot status in these “contested states.” Sawant’s petition calls on Sanders to run on the same ticket as the Green Party’s presumptive presidential candidate, Jill Stein—perhaps to replace Stein on the ballot with Sanders.
Here it is important to remind readers that the terms “independent” and “third party” are not always clear. There are several “third parties” today, ranging from extreme right-wing expressions of capitalist politics like the Libertarians and the Constitutional Party to liberal, reformist Democratic Party-oriented outfits like the Working Families Party, to the pro-capitalist Green Party.
In the case of the Green Party, let me remind readers that Green presidential candidate Ralph Nader achieved ballot status in six states via heinous agreements with Patrick Buchanan’s incipient fascist Reform Party. Nader ran on the Reform Party’s ballot line in return for making reactionary statements limiting the right of women to abortion and restricting immigrants from entering the country. (See Nader’s June 21, 2004, interview with Patrick Buchanan in the American Conservative.)
None of these “third parties” are independent of and against the fundamental capitalist politics of the Democrats and Republicans. Or, to be precise, none seek to organize the working class to replace the capitalist system with a socialist one—in which the private ownership and control of the nation’s banks, corporations, and wealth is ended, and the vast majority, the 99 percent, act to reorganize society for the common good. None are based on, financed, and controlled by working-class organizations like trade unions or other democratic mass working-class organizations.
None, as a matter of class principle, reject voting for capitalist parties. Indeed, in local elections, as well as national, Greens routinely endorse “progressive” Democrats, and in races where the Republican is a bit too overtly reactionary, “not so progressive Democrats.”
Asking Bernie Sanders, a lifelong capitalist politician with a 98 percent Democratic Party voting record, to run as a candidate independent of and against the party he has assiduously supported for his entire career is like asking the proverbial leopard to change its spots.
Today, much of the socialist left has made this choice; some, like the Communist Party and Democratic Socialists of America, have habitually supported Democrats for many decades. The CP today supports Clinton, while the DSA supports Sanders—that is, until Sanders drops out.
Solidarity and the International Socialist Organization call on Sanders to run for the presidency as an “independent” or as the Green Party candidate. The Workers International League also speaks favorably of an “independent” campaign by Sanders.
The Workers World Party and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, both of which have called for votes for left-sounding Democrats in the past, including Jesse Jackson, are fielding their own presidential candidates this time around, but nevertheless have called for Democratic Party primary votes for Sanders.
Keenly aware of the rapidly growing interest in socialist ideas generated by capitalism’s deepening crises and sparked by the Sanders campaign, Socialist Action branches across the country have sponsored a series of well-attended public debates where most of the above socialist organizations, as well as representatives from the Labor for Bernie campaign, shared the platform for fruitful exchanges.
While the “lesser evil” syndrome was undoubtedly at work in the presentations of these socialist groups, we were heartened to see that the Marxist-grounded revolutionary socialist ideas of Socialist Action were well received and that our proud party, a consistent participant and advocate of independent, mass-action, united-front mobilizations against all aspects of capitalist racism and plunder, won new members to the cause of socialist revolution.