Bernie Sanders’ victory in New Hampshire is a political earthquake that is rocking the U.S. presidential elections and the entire establishment. For the first time in U.S. history, a candidate who calls himself a socialist has won a major U.S. primary, and by the widest margin in the history of the New Hampshire primaries. With a decisive 22 point lead – 60.3% of the vote to Clinton’s 38% – Bernie’s victory underscores the tumultuous new era of American politics.
Combined with his virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses, Sanders’ win in New Hampshire sets the stage for a sharper battle for the Democratic Party nomination. Sanders is now seen as a serious contender for the nomination, and the presidency, fueled by the huge momentum behind his call for a political revolution against the billionaire class. The contests in Nevada, South Carolina, and then the eleven state “Super Tuesday” primaries on March 1, widely seen as less favorable terrain for Sanders, will be a decisive test.
Sanders’ surge in Iowa, New Hampshire, and national polls has fueled an unprecedented wave of small donations. In January alone, Sanders raised $20 million, with an average of $27 per donation, compared to Clinton’s $15 million, raised largely from wealthy backers. Immediately after his Tuesday night victory, Sanders received another record-setting $6 million in online donations.
Meanwhile, the “GOP stares into the abyss,” as a Politico headline put it, after New Hampshire. With 35% of the vote, Donald Trump emerged the clear winner, 19 points ahead of second-place finisher John Kasich. Ted Cruz finished third with 11%, while Marco Rubio fell to fifth place behind Jeb Bush. Effectively, there are two primaries taking place within the crisis-ridden Republican Party: one anti-establishment primary between Trump and the Iowa caucus winner Ted Cruz, and a second primary for the establishment candidates between Rubio, Bush, and Kasich.
Trump and Cruz, alongside the other “anti-establishment” Republicans, won over 53% of the New Hampshire vote. Clearly their racist, sexist, and Islamophobic agenda poses a real threat to working people. But their rise against the establishment of the GOP also reflects, in a distorted way, how fed up people are with the status quo. New Hampshire was a rebellion against “establishment politics, establishment economics, and, by the way, also establishment media,” as Sanders put it.
If the left fails to build a sustained political presence, if we continue allowing our movements to get channeled behind establishment Democratic Party candidates, the space for far-right ideas to grow will steadily increase. There’s a race against time to build a strong, independent, left alternative to cut across the dangerous momentum for right populist demagoguery.
Youth and Working-Class Voter Revolt
Bernie’s campaign, with its massive rallies and record number of individual small donations, has given expression to the deep anger in U.S. society against Wall Street and the corporate domination of politics. The enthusiasm of young people and working people for Bernie’s call for a “political revolution against the billionaire class” is what powered his victory in New Hampshire.
Typically, the primary electorate tends to be older and wealthier: factors that favor the Clinton campaign. Big turnouts of young people and working-class people were decisive in Bernie’s victory.
Exit polls in New Hampshire showed that 83% of Democratic Party voters aged 18-29 voted for Bernie, mirroring the huge support Bernie received from young people in Iowa. Voters under the age of 45 made up 41% of the Democratic Party primary, even higher than in Iowa where 35% of caucuses-goers were under 45. Sixty-five percent of voters with a family income under $100,000 and 71% of voters with a family income under $30,000 voted for Bernie. Clinton only came out on top among voters with a family income of over $200,000.
Bernie also won 55% of women in New Hampshire. What a great response to Madeleine Albright, who last week said “a special place in hell” exists for women who don’t support Clinton, and to Gloria Steinem who said young women overwhelmingly voted for Sanders in Iowa because “the boys are with Bernie.”
The Establishment Strikes Back
The Clinton campaign has been unnerved by Bernie’s success. This reflects a deeper anxiety in the ruling elite about the unfolding revolt against the establishment of both traditional parties of U.S. capitalism. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein recently called Bernie’s campaign “a dangerous moment.” They fear Bernie’s campaign is raising the expectation among millions of people that it’s possible to defeat the agenda of big business. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is seriously weighing a possible independent presidential campaign for President given the crisis facing the establishments of both parties.
Since Iowa, the tone coming from the Clinton campaign has become more negative and vitriolic. In the first head-to-head debate following Iowa, Hillary accused Bernie of waging an “artful smear” campaign by highlighting her Wall Street funding. Her surrogates stepped up their characterization of Sanders supporters as “Bernie Bros,” aiming to cut across growing support for him among young women. However, many of these attacks have backfired and focused attention on the popular distrust of Clinton’s corporate-backed campaign. Clinton backers, including the New York Times editorial board, have called on the Clinton campaign to reassess their tactics, while offering advice on more effective methods of undermining Sanders’ support.
At the same time, the threat now posed by Sanders will inevitably provoke a wider response from the ruling class as a whole, including the major media outlets and the leadership of the Democratic Party. The most serious attacks on Sanders and the movement behind him are yet to come.
Bernie has successfully branded Clinton as a candidate of the corporate establishment. Recently exposing how she took $675,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs. “It’s what they offered,” responded Clinton when asked why she took the money. Despite growing calls to make public the text of those speeches, Clinton has refused. Doing so would undoubtedly further damage her campaign by exposing the depth of her loyalty to Wall Street. According to a Politico interview with a Goldman Sachs executive who witnessed one of the speeches, “It was pretty glowing about us… It’s so far from what she sounds like as a candidate now. It was like a rah-rah speech. She sounded more like a Goldman Sachs managing director.” However, if Clinton does not release the transcripts, this damaging issue is likely to hang over her campaign for the rest of the primary.
Under pressure from Sanders, Clinton is opportunistically shifting to the left by saying that she is the candidate voters can trust to fight for working people against the banks. But, Clinton’s record is absolutely clear — she is a candidate of big business.
Clinton’s Electoral Advantages
While Bernie has the momentum, Clinton maintains enormous advantages. She has the backing of the corporate media, a $60 million corporate PAC, and the powerful apparatus of the entire Democratic Party establishment at every level of U.S. government. Over 200 elected Democratic Party Governors, Senators, and members of the House of Representatives have endorsed Clinton, while just two members of the House, and no Senators or Governors have endorsed Bernie.
Clinton also has the backing of the large majority of the liberal establishment, including people like Paul Krugman and Gloria Steinem. Scandalously, most of the trade union leadership, including SEIU, UFCW, AFSCME, and the two main national teachers unions, are backing Clinton, a former Walmart board member. In Iowa, Clinton won the union household vote 53% to 43%.
A major factor favoring Clinton is that she is a household name, particularly among likely Democratic Party voters. Up to this point, the more voters get to know Sanders, the more his support has grown, including among African Americans and Latinos who Clinton was expecting to support her as part of her “Southern firewall.”
We can expect the Clinton campaign, or other surrogates for the ruling class, to wage a vicious campaign of fear and smear in the coming weeks. With the power of the corporate media mobilized to shape the debate, this could have an impact especially among older voters and millions of workers who pay less attention to politics. They will seek to stoke fears among voters that nominating Sanders will help the Republicans win the general election in November. Meanwhile millions of working-class and young people, who would generally support Sanders’ message, have been turned off from politics because the system has completely failed them for years.
The corporate-backed establishment of the Democratic Party will do everything in their power to stop Sanders. If the “normal” institutional advantages fail to block the momentum of Sanders’ campaign, more decisive measures will be demanded by big business. Enormous pressure will come to bear on liberal figures like Elizabeth Warren to use their authority to bolster Clinton. If the divisions within the party become sharp enough, it cannot be ruled out that even President Obama, despite the tradition of neutrality among sitting presidents, could step in to support Clinton.
Overcoming these institutional barriers will require a mass social upheaval against the establishment on an even bigger scale than has yet been achieved. It will be necessary to activate millions of people who do not normally engage in politics or vote, or who are not yet convinced that Bernie’s campaign can make the needed difference in their lives. This means it would be a fundamental mistake if Bernie was to water down his message in a illusory appeal for “moderate” voters. Instead, Bernie needs to deepen his message of a “political revolution” and offer wider layers of people a real perspective for far-reaching change. It also means recognizing that the Democratic Party establishment is not on our side and that we need to build a campaign that relies on the independent, grassroots mobilization and organization of working people.
A strategy is needed to inspire millions to take ownership of this campaign in an active way. As Bernie himself says, “Even the best president in the world cannot challenge the billionaire class alone.”
The politicization around Bernie’s campaign gives us a chance to build the necessary grassroots side of the “political revolution” by using the enthusiasm to organize our communities and neighbors from the ground up. Just as important, deepening the social roots and grassroots organization of the campaign will prepare the ground for further battles against the billionaires, developers, and low-wage employers that dominate our communities.
Socialist Alternative has launched #Movement4Bernie to help build a grassroots, movement-based campaign that Bernie’s campaign will need to defeat the political representatives of big business. We want to help activate as many people as we can for the battle in front of us, and link this to the perspective of building a new party for the 99% and transforming our society. We helped organize the recent #MarchForBernie actions around the country bringing together 3,000 grassroots supporters in Chicago – including Black Lives Matter activists – and 2,000 people in New York, along with actions in many other cities.
On February 27, #Movement4Bernie is joining up with other grassroots Bernie organizations, unions, progressive groups, and leaders to organize a second #March4Bernie. Contact us to join an existing action or start one in your area. With a bold lead from grassroots organizations, unions, and community leaders, we can mobilize thousands in every major city to give a powerful and inspiring expression to the deep desire for real change.
Socialist Alternative is also active in “Labor for Bernie” to challenge the conservative union leaders who cover up for Clinton’s corporate agenda with arguments about her “electability.” Socialist have long argued that the labor movement has been betrayed by the corporate establishment of the Democratic Party, and that it is both possible and urgently necessary to run independent, genuine workers’ representatives who refuse any corporate campaign contributions.
The Sanders campaign offers a historic opportunity to popularize these arguments among workers, and to build an alternative labor leadership to stand against the cynical policy of covering up for pro-war, Wall Street politicians like Clinton. Model resolutions and leaflets can be downloaded from laborforbernie.org
A Party for the 99%
One of the appealing features of the Bernie surge has been the huge mobilizations of supporters – like the 20,000-strong rallies in Minnesota in late January. These big rallies give a concrete and visible expression to the enthusiasm and support, not only for Bernie, but for his entire message about the need for a new kind of politics to take on the billionaire class. Like the millions in donations he has received from individuals, these mobilizations point to the potential for a powerful independent social and political movement of millions of working people.
There are so many issues facing our communities: racism, sexism, low wages, skyrocketing rents, student debt, etc. But the underlying issue is power: the billionaire class has lots and working people don’t have nearly enough. Bernie’s campaign offers an opportunity to change the game.
We don’t have to accept the idea that we have to support “lesser evil” corporate candidates like Hillary Clinton to defeat the right. The corporate politics of Hillary Clinton are, in fact, a disadvantage in defeating the right, as Bernie himself points to, and the genuine excitement around Bernie’s campaign and platform are the best way to mobilize the young people and working people to win in November.
Bernie’s fundraising also shows we can raise the money needed to compete with big business politicians by relying on our independent ability to mobilize our numbers as working people. This would be even more the case if the majority of the labor movement would throw their weight behind Sanders, instead of criminally supporting Clinton.
In reality, while Sanders himself maintains the mistaken idea that the Democratic Party can be transformed, Bernie’s campaign shows that the potential exists to build our own political party, made up of the 99%, independent of big business and their two parties. Such a party – drawing together socialists, trade unionists, young people, and progressives of all stripes – would provide us with an absolutely necessary tool to mobilize millions against big business.
While Bernie is running for the Democratic nomination, many of his supporters understand the Democratic Party as a whole is dominated by the richest 1%. Many are correctly repelled by Bernie Sanders’ plan to back Clinton’s Wall Street funded campaign if he loses the rigged primary process. The dynamic of Sanders’ campaign is increasingly exposing Hillary Clinton and the limits of what the Democratic Party, as a big-business party, can offer working people.
There is a very real danger that the movement behind Bernie, the uprising against the billionaire class and its rigged political system, could be channeled into the Democratic Party. Socialist Alternative is actively mobilizing in the opposite direction. We are getting a huge echo among Bernie’s supporters as we point to the potential for running left candidates for all levels of government against both right-wing Republicans and Wall Street Democrats, independent of corporate cash. Out of this movement, we must aim to gather the seeds for a new mass party, of, by, and for working people.
We are seeing deep cracks and divisions between the working-class voters and the fundamentally pro-corporate and pro-capitalist character of the Democratic party emerge. As Michael Bloomberg’s threat to run as an independent shows, if Sanders wins the primaries, the ruling class and the corporate forces which control the Democratic Party would revolt. They would go all-out to attempt to sabotage Sanders in the general election rather than allow the movement behind him to consolidate its position.
The Democratic Party Convention even has a mechanism for blocking a potential Sanders victory through the use of their “superdelegates” – nearly 800 Democratic Party officials who make up about 20% of the total delegate vote. This means that even if Sanders wins a majority in the primaries, the superdelegates could be used to undemocratically overturn that result. However, the party establishment would strongly prefer to avoid blatantly using the superdelegates because of the tremendous political problems it would create, further exposing the undemocratic and corporate nature of the party. Therefore, at this stage they still aim to defeat Sanders in the primaries and caucuses.
The decisive fight in the Democratic primaries will unfold in the next period. Fifty-six percent of all primary and caucus delegates are up for grabs in March. We need a full-scale national mobilization of workers and young people to answer the full-scale campaign of attacks the ruling class is preparing against Bernie in the weeks ahead.
To win the election, and more broadly to win the program motivating Sanders supporters, the movement behind Bernie cannot limit itself to the traditional top-down, staff-driven campaign model created for corporate candidates. It will require the bottom-up, self-organization of the movement behind Bernie. And the stronger our self-organization today, the deeper our political independence from the Democratic Party establishment, the more capable we will be to continue the struggle for a political revolution, regardless of the outcome of the primary fight or general election.
The Sanders campaign has already opened a new era in American politics. But in the weeks ahead, the potential exists to strike an even more powerful blow to corporate politics, shaking the foundations of their corporate controlled two-party system, and opening up a new wave of political struggle for a far-reaching, socialist change.