The massive support for Bernie Sanders’ political revolution has turned the Democratic primary into a battleground instead of the expected coronation for Hillary Clinton. At each stage Sanders has fought back against big polling leads by Clinton to contest key states, sometimes winning and sometimes coming very close to achieving major upsets.
Sanders’ victory in Michigan last week was a stunning rejection of Clinton’s anti-worker, anti-environment trade policies as Bernie made the state primary into a referendum on NAFTA and the TPP. The Clinton administration’s NAFTA trade deal did more to turn the Midwest into a “rust belt” than any other single policy passed by either party.
The March 15 primaries showed some of that same dynamic of momentum for Sanders, in which he fought back from huge 30 point margins in Missouri and Illinois to almost clinch victory. In Chicago, Sanders received significant levels of support from ordinary people fed up with Clinton’s friend, Mayor 1%, Rahm Emanuel, who has covered up police killings while attacking public education and workers’ pensions.
But unfortunately it was not enough, and Sanders ended the night with a major delegate deficit, including an overwhelming loss to Clinton in the big delegate state of Florida, as well as double digit defeats in Ohio and North Carolina. While there are many states left to vote, it is increasingly clear that Sanders’ left-wing campaign will very likely be defeated if he does not break free from the narrow confines of the pro-capitalist Democratic Party and run an independent campaign in the general election. Such a campaign would be a great step towards beginning to build a political alternative for working people against the big business Democratic and Republican parties.
Continuing the Political Revolution
It is clear that, as of now, Sanders is still fighting to win and has stepped up his attacks on Clinton since Super Tuesday. Millions of people in states that have not yet voted in the primaries are waiting their turn to support Sanders’ stand against the billionaire class and we wholeheartedly identify with that.
But it is is also time to look soberly at the situation and draw lessons from the experience so far and prepare the way to break from the Democratic Party. Sanders should declare his intention to take the political revolution all the way to the general election in November, as an independent if necessary. Sanders’ supporters need a debate on how to make sure we do not end up imprisoned by the constraints of the Wall Street dominated Democratic Party.
Before Sanders officially launched his campaign last year, Socialist Alternative called on him to run as an independent candidate. While Bernie believed he could have more impact in the Democratic primaries, we made the case that the Democratic Party is hostile territory for a pro-worker, anti-corporate campaign. The obstacles include the undemocratic methods and structures the Democratic leadership imposes on the primary process, the power of Wall Street money, and the establishment media, as well as the more conservative character of the small minority of primary voters. This means it is far harder for Sanders to take over the Democratic Party than it would be to begin building a new political party.
By running in the Democratic primaries, we argued Sanders was making a fundamental mistake that would mean cutting himself off from the vast majority of people who do not participate in the primary process or even follow the political discussion until the general election and creating illusions that the Democratic Party could be used as a tool for a “political revolution.”
Despite these disagreements with Sanders that we have openly put forward at each stage, Socialist Alternative did not stand on the sidelines but instead agreed to go along with Sanders and his supporters to test out his strategy of running in the Democratic primaries. We joined with dedicated Sanders supporters to build support for his pro-worker and anti-corporate left wing campaign. We energetically helped to build rallies, meetings and marches to promote a political revolution against the billionaire class.
However, now it’s time to draw a balance sheet of Sanders’ attempt to run as a Democrat. It is true that Sanders campaign has drawn millions into a discussion about socialism. But if Sanders accepts the results of the primaries and endorses Hillary Clinton, rather than running as an independent, his campaign will end up as a transmission belt for Clinton and the same old corporate politics of the Democratic Party that alienated so many Sanders supporters in the first place.
Sanders should not allow the political revolution to die at the July Democratic Convention. Millions have been inspired by his call for a $15 minimum wage, free college, and Medicare for All. That energy must be used to continue to build the movement until November and beyond. No challenge to the billionaire class will ever be successful that begins and ends in a presidential primary. The emerging movement for a political revolution needs to urge Sanders to run independently all through November or to develop a plan B of support for the remaining strongest left, anti-corporate challenger, Jill Stein of the Green Party.
Many people are very focused on defeating the Republicans in the general election, and would be worried that an independent campaign run by Bernie could throw the election to Donald Trump. Yet there are 40-45 states which will be clearly won by the Democratic or Republican candidates and there is absolutely no reason Bernie could not campaign all out in these states until November. Bernie Sanders and his supporters should discuss whether in the small number of swing states Sanders could choose not to be on the ballot in order to avoid that concern. An encouraging result of such a campaign would prepare the ground for many more independent, anti-corporate candidacies in the near future.
A Party of the 99%
Working people not only needs to build a mass movement to fight for their interests, they also need to create a political tool to take on the billionaires – we need our own political party. The Democratic Party is tightly controlled in a top-down fashion by politicians who are funded by and indebted to big business. Working people and young people have been hugely inspired by Bernie’s refusal to take corporate campaign contributions – it shows clearly the grassroots basis of his campaign and his rejection of Wall Street’s control of politics. But it is not enough to have one candidate rejecting corporate money in a campaign based on grassroots forces. We need a new political party of the 99%, with genuine democratic structures, which completely and openly rejects corporate money and corporate influence.
We need the revolt against Wall Street to grow from Bernie’s single campaign to an organized movement of millions that runs candidates in every state and every city.
Bernie should call for a national conference of his supporters and those on the left to launch a discussion and begin making plans to run independent candidates on a pro-worker, anti-corporate platform. This conference could begin the process of building a party of the 99% in the United States.
Kshama Sawant’s victories as a socialist in Seattle shows that Bernie’s campaign is not a one-time phenomenon. There is a huge and growing interest in socialism, and young people in particular are looking for an alternative to the failed system of capitalism. Sawant was able to win re-election last year in spite of the fierce opposition of the city’s Democratic establishment because she had an organized force on her side – Socialist Alternative. Socialist Alternative was also instrumental in launching 15 Now with Kshama Sawant and building the movement that won the $15 minimum wage in Seattle. This victory helped spur similar victories in a number of other key cities, and became part of Bernie’s platform in the presidential race.
Fighting the Right
March 15 also resulted in big gains for Donald Trump, who looks more and more likely to win the Republican nomination. If Bernie does not run all the way through November, the field will be left open to Trump to tap into the massive anger at the establishment. This can cause lasting damage, as many people who could have been won over to Bernie’s platform will be repelled by Clinton’s establishment politics, and won over instead to Trump’s right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-worker message.
The corporate politics of Clinton and the Democratic Party have helped fertilize the ground on which first the Tea Party and now Donald Trump’s campaign have grown. The thoroughly pro-corporate character of both the Democratic and Republican party establishments has been completely exposed since the beginning of the Great Recession – from the bi-partisan bail outs of Wall Street, to attacks on public education and social services, and along with these policies the growth of massive economic inequalities. It is critical that those angry at the establishment have the chance to vote for someone who represents their interests, and not Wall Street, in November.
The powerful protests at Trump rallies like the one in Chicago, led amongst others, by Bernie Sanders supporters and Black Lives Matter activists, show the strong mood to fight against the right. This energy cannot be allowed to dissipate in the demoralization that will follow for many if Sanders ends his campaign by throwing his support to Hillary.
Massive, peaceful protests should be organized at upcoming Trump rallies, and used as a means to build the movement against the billionaire class. The call of leaders from SEIU, NARAL, environmental groups and many more for such protests is very welcome.
#MillionStudentMarch and #Movement4Bernie are organizing a national day of action against the threat from the right on April 13. This is the way we will keep up the momentum for the political revolution and lay the basis for the type of mass movement and political initiatives which can truly challenge the domination of the billionaire class and the capitalist system.