By JEFF MACKLER
Out of the starting gate real quick came Bernie Sanders, self-proclaimed champion of a U.S. “political revolution” and “democratic socialism.” Sanders’ initial dark horse image was quickly abandoned as the corporate media quickly granted him equal time, as soon as he affirmed that he was running as a Democrat in Wall Street’s preferred party and would support the rigged convention’s choice. Indeed, Sanders was the perfect candidate at a time when the appeal to traditional corporate politics and politicians had reached a modern-era low.
Sanders was a long-time member of the Democratic Party congressional caucus with a 98 percent Democratic Party voting record—war budgets and racist legislation included—and a professed Vermont “independent” who was without exception the priority-funded and endorsed choice of the Democratic Party hierarchy, including President Obama’s twice official endorsement.
This was exactly what his party’s spin doctors needed; 57 percent of registered Democrats, according to a New York Times poll preferred socialism over capitalism. With an ever deepening eight-year worldwide capitalist crisis in progress, Sanders was capitalism’s recipe to refurbish the Democratic Party’s deeply-tarnished image and once again channel the unwary back into the ruling class’s priority instrument, its firewall to contain social explosions.
But if there was a political tragedy in this years’ electoral scenario, it was qualitatively less capitalism’s endless and repeated variations of “lesser evil” politics and qualitatively more the socialist left’s virtual total capitulation to the two party, or three party—Greens included—capitalist shell game.
The Green Party, a largely middle-class or multi-class, and pro-capitalist reformist group, as well as a number of traditional “socialist” organizations—like the Democratic Socialists of America, the Communist Party, and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism—have been known on the left for their decades-long and near exclusive electoral focus on the Democratic Party.
The Communist Party, for example, which supported Clinton in the Democratic primaries, calls for “building a multi-class alliance that includes the Democratic Party establishment” in a campaign to “defeat the extreme right and GOP [and] its oligarchic backers.” In 2016, unfortunately, other left groups have readily joined these reformists in the Democratic Party swamp.
Socialist Alternative champions Sanders
With this year’s election cycle the once-promising Socialist Alternative party has all but broken with any semblance of working-class independence by championing the Bernie Sanders campaign and initiating the “Movement 4 Bernie,” including taking for good coin Sanders’ pseudo-radical “democratic socialist” rhetoric and empty proclamation to be leading a “political revolution” inside the Democratic Party!
Socialist Alternative’s support for the Democrat Sanders, while urging him to break with the Democrats to be the Green Party’s presidential candidate, serves to foster illusions in capitalist politics—most importantly, the notion that the leading party of the multi-millionaire and billionaire ruling rich can be magically transformed from the inside, as opposed to being defeated by a working-class-controlled party, combined with massive social struggles aimed at capitalism’s abolition.
Socialist Alternative and its twice-elected socialist Seattle city council member, Kshama Sawant, have taken grave steps toward undermining the very essence of Sawant’s well-deserved socialist election victories—efforts that Socialist Action actively supported and helped to finance.
But we were not totally uncritical of several of Socialist Alternative’s flawed campaign tactics. We strongly disagreed with Sawant’s listing of several local Democrats on her campaign literature, her acceptance of significant campaign contributions from Democratic Party officials, and her attendance at local Democratic Party fundraisers.
In our view, these were important errors that tended to undermine the central thrust of the Sawant campaigns, which aimed at counterposing a principled socialist and working-class platform to the boss class’s Democratic Party.
But Socialist Alternative went on to deepen its break with working-class political independence. In a July 31, 2016, Real News Network interview with Rania Khalek, Sawant stated: “He [Sanders] decided to run as a Democrat. We don’t agree with that, but we supported him anyway, because we feel that tens of millions of people were connecting with his call for a political revolution” (emphasis added).
In commenting on Socialist Alternative’s “Movement 4 Bernie” petition, Sawant stated, “Over 120,000 people signed that petition because they wanted Bernie to continue his political revolution outside the Democratic Party if the Democrats didn’t let him continue as their nominee. And in that petition we said that if people aren’t convinced of the idea of running in every state then let’s run in the safe states. So I think that the safe states idea can be used as a tactic, but I think fundamentally what people need to grapple with is, you know, the fact that we need to build an independent party.”
And so, Sawant lends legitimacy to voting for Sanders only in “safe states,” while impliedly urging or accepting the legitimacy of a vote for Clinton in all the rest.
Further, during an Amy Goodman “Democracy Now!” commentary immediately following the September Clinton-Trump nationally televised debate, Sawant stated that Trump needs to be “trounced” in the November elections while she bemoaned the fact that Clinton was the least capable of doing the trouncing, again implying that Sanders would have done a better job of it. While Sawant repeated her support for the Jill Stein Green Party candidacy later in the same commentary she nevertheless informed her supporters that Trump’s defeat at the hands of Clinton was high on her priority list and that there were “fundamental” differences between the two.
For Sawant, the prime example of an “independent party” is the middle-class pro-capitalist Green Party, or some such class-undefined political variant. Prior to her first run in Seattle, Socialist Alternate sought out a joint city council election effort with the Green Party, but the Greens rejected the proposal, leaving Socialist Alternative with no alternative but to run an open and credible socialist campaign.
ISO urges Sanders to run as Green
In a similar vein, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) also urged Democrat Sanders to run as the Green Party candidate, as if a capitalist party politician can be converted to a working-class champion of “political revolution” with the stroke of a pen. The ISO is no newcomer to middle-class politics, having supported Ralph Nader’s campaigns in the past.
Nowadays, Nader is urging a “billionaire” to run for president. In 2000, he negotiated a deal with Pat Buchanan’s right-wing Reform Party for ballot status in some seven states in return for a damning interview in Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine, where Nader, tit for tat, felt compelled to agree with much of Buchanan’s reactionary anti-abortion and anti-immigrant views.
Also committed to “third party” politics is the socialist group, Solidarity, whose members are often active builders and sometimes candidates of the Green Party. Taking yet another leap off the cliff of working-class politics, Bay Area Solidarity members also backed the Richmond Progressive Alliance, a Democratic Party/Green Party electoral formation that last year supported an open Democrat, Tom Butt, for mayor in order to “defeat the Chevron candidate.” Butt won.
The above socialist groups that bent to the ruling class’s move to legitimize Sanders and posture him as a socialist who was acceptable in ruling-class circles were by far not the exception. Both the Workers World Party and its offshoot, the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), not infrequently supporting “progressive” Black and Latino Democrats in the past like Jesse Jackson, called for a Sanders vote in various Democratic Party primaries even though both presented their own candidates for the presidency. Jill Stein too urged a Sanders vote in the California primaries.
One happy and welcome exception to the broad capitulation of the socialist left today is the small but important Socialist Party presidential campaign, which rejects support to capitalist and pro-capitalist parties in all their variations.
But more generally, it has virtually become the norm for often well-meaning socialists to support so-called independent parties like the Greens or the Rainbow Coalition, or even open Democrats like Sanders, as opposed to working toward the construction of parties based on, controlled by, and beholden to working-class organizations, namely trade unions.
The fact that the U.S. is perhaps the only major capitalist nation on earth with no tradition of working-class-based political independence manifested by a Labor Party or mass Socialist Party has proved to be a major disorienting factor. It has also contributed to socialist organizations’ often inventing nearly irrational reasons—“political revolution”—to support one or another “progressive” Democrat with a view to breaking the stranglehold of this party’s capitalist predators over its ranks.
In truth, the party ranks have absolutely zero control or influence in this exclusively controlled ruling-class instrument. Or more accurately, there are no “ranks” in the Democratic Party, only a diverse association of individuals who are rounded up every four years or so to pay homage to the ruling class’s proffered candidate.
Organizing the power of the working class
Simply stated, there will be no political or any other revolution in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world that is not driven forward by consciously organized working-class power.
A democratically-organized fighting labor movement, in alliance with and in full solidarity with every struggle of the oppressed, is a prerequisite for any significant challenge to capitalist prerogatives. However diminished in size and influence, highly undemocratic, terribly bureaucratized, and often corrupt the trade unions might be, the fight to transform them into fighting instruments at the service of workers is necessary to achieve future social progress.
The patient but critical struggle to build a class-struggle left wing in today’s trade unions, and in those that will be founded to defend workers’ interests in the future, is inseparable from the exercise of workers’ power for the common good.
For revolutionary socialists from the time of Karl Marx to the present, the most critical questions, indeed, the only relevant question regarding achieving social progress, is which class shall rule? The vast majority who creates all wealth, or the tiny minority who effectively steals it to perpetrate its brutal rule?
It is in this context that revolutionary parties sharply oppose any and all efforts to reform any capitalist or pro-capitalist party. All of them are the finely tuned instruments of minority rule. The capitalist class, through its chosen parties and representatives, holds a monopoly of power at all levels of government and in society more generally.
History has assigned capitalism’s abolition and the construction of a truly socialist society to the one force capable of the task, the vast working-class majority.
Socialist Action’s presidential election campaign is aimed at building a mass revolutionary socialist party deeply integrated into every struggle in which humanity strives for liberation. Join us!