Seattle’s socialist councillor Kshama Sawant: “Let’s use Bernie’s 2020 campaign to launch a mass, working-class fightback”

Bernie Sanders has formally launched his 2020 run for the US presidency, vowing to mount “an unprecedented and historic grassroots campaign that will begin with at least one million people from across the country.”

In the first 24 hours, he had already raised $5.9 million in donations and has more individual donors than all other current presidential candidates combined.

Certainly, Bernie’s new campaign has a far higher starting point than when the Vermont Senator first called for a “political revolution against the billionaire class” in the spring of 2015 and was overwhelmingly ignored by the corporate media.

Sanders’ video announcement began with the declaration: “Real change never takes place from the top on down, but always from the bottom on up.”

I fully agree. And that is why Socialist Alternative (the Socialist Party’s US co-thinkers) and I will be working with others to launch grassroots campaigns in communities, unions, schools, and workplaces across the US to build a mass working-class fightback around Sanders’ campaign.

There is a great deal at stake in this election. Trump urgently needs to be driven out, and socialists and the left must take full advantage of the potential to organise alongside the millions already moving into struggle and who now will be mobilised around Bernie.

But we should also heed the lessons from 2016, when the Democratic primary was rigged against Bernie: with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) actively organising against him, manoeuvres in a series of state caucuses and primaries, the threat of the undemocratic ‘superdelegate’ system, and with the corporate media and “progressive” Democratic figures leading waves of blistering attacks.

Workers’ party

Working-class people need our own party, independent of corporate money and power – that fights alongside our movements rather than against them.

I think Bernie should run as an independent socialist, as I have, and use his campaign to launch a new mass party for working people, instead of running inside a corporate party whose leadership is determined to stop him at all costs.

Bernie has unfortunately made his decision and is running in the Democratic primary. But it is not acceptable that our political movement becomes imprisoned in this process.

The 2016 election had terrible political consequences. Prior to launching his first campaign four years ago, Sanders said he was considering running either as an independent or as a Democrat and that he wanted to hear what people thought.

This time he has bypassed that discussion and is making a fundamental mistake.While it is certainly true that Bernie will gain an enormous platform in the Democratic primary, declaring now that he was running as an independent and using his campaign to lay the basis for a new party would create a massive earthquake in American politics.

In a column in the New York Times entitled “Is America becoming a four-party state?”, Thomas Friedman attacks the new left around self-described democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But he correctly points out that “political parties across the democratic world are blowing up” and that there is the basis for a real left party as well as a far-right party.

If the Democratic establishment succeeds in once again blocking Bernie, he should continue his run as an independent candidate all the way to November 2020.

History doesn’t offer an unlimited number of opportunities to build the kind of political force working people need, and we must learn from the past. If the Democratic leadership again succeeds in ramming through another status quo candidate, there is a risk Trump could win re-election in spite of his deep unpopularity and poor standing in the polls at present.

Certainly, an establishment candidate may also be capable of defeating Trump. Many such candidates won in last autumn’s midterm elections, which were essentially a referendum on the administration’s right-wing agenda.

But we do not in any way accept that the bankrupt corporate politics of rival candidates Joe Biden or Kamala Harris are an asset in defeating the right. Nor do they represent the views or needs of working people – quite the opposite.

Popular policies

Sanders is currently the most popular politician in the country, and the working-class demands at the centre of his 2016 campaign – Medicare for all, free public college (university), and a federal $15-an-hour minimum wage – have been thrust to the centre of American political discourse.

While long popular, these policies now have overwhelming support in the polls – massively increased as a result of Sanders and grassroots forces backing them.

Many establishment Democratic Party politicians have had to at least pay lip service to them.In 2016 and since, Sanders’s self-identification as a “democratic socialist” has played a big role in creating a mass discussion about socialist ideas, a process primarily driven by the failure of capitalism and its inability to provide decent living standards for the working class or a future for young people.

As Sanders pointed out in his recent response to Trump’s State of the Union address, in the US working people are making less than they were in 1973, adjusted for inflation, and 80% of Americans are now living pay cheque to pay cheque.

Now polls show a majority of millennials view socialism positively.

In recent months, Sanders joined Ocasio-Cortez in the call for a ‘Green New Deal.’ This enormously popular demand has the potential to rally millions of young and working people, in the face of a string of new reports emphasising the looming climate catastrophe.

When asked by CBS how his new campaign would be different, Sanders responded: “We’re going to win.” But as Socialist Alternative has emphasised, none of these working-class demands – nor Bernie Sanders himself – are at all acceptable to the ruling class.

Their ferocious opposition can only be met by a programme to break their power, based on public ownership of the major corporations under the democratic control of workers and communities.

The mixed economy models Bernie Sanders referred to in his launch are not the answer.

Sanders will face an uphill fight every step of the way. All sorts of manoeuvres and vicious tactics will be deployed if they are considered necessary to stop him from winning the Democratic primary.

The echo for Bernie’s call in 2016 for a “political revolution against the billionaire class” caught the Democratic establishment and ruling class by surprise. Entirely out of touch, they expected him to be totally marginalised.

Socialist Alternative was one of very few organisations which recognised the potential to build the working-class politics Sanders represented. But this time, if Bernie’s campaign gains momentum, he will face a more immediate and decisive pushback from the elite.

What will really be needed to win our demands and defeat the coming onslaught of the ruling class against Sanders is a broad, independent campaign of millions of working-class people, with grassroots democratic structures, independent of the Democratic Party, and aimed at mobilising the strongest possible force.

As a city council member in Seattle, I have fought alongside social movements and trade unions to help win a $15-an-hour minimum wage, millions of dollars for affordable housing, and a series of landmark renters’ rights victories.

Democratic establishment

All of these gains were won in spite of the fierce opposition of the Democratic establishment, which has long run Seattle City Hall. Socialist Alternative has been the backbone of these progressive victories.

Even the most well-meaning of the Democratic Party council members bow to huge pressures from big business and the leadership of their own party, as we saw again with their betrayal of working people in capitulating on Seattle’s Amazon Tax last spring.

Rather than wait and see what’s in store in the Democratic primary, let’s start now. Let’s begin building independent grassroots campaigns in our communities and workplaces, introduce resolutions in our unions to support Bernie’s campaign, and launch student groups on our campuses. Let’s use this historic moment to launch an all-out working-class fightback.

To really defeat the right, and win the struggle for a society based on the needs of working-class people and a sustainable environment, we need to fight for a socialist alternative. So I hope you will consider joining the Socialists.

With the political establishment furious over the Amazon Tax and other progressive struggles, we will face a huge battle this year over who runs Seattle – Amazon and big business, or working people – so please give your full support to our re-election campaign!

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March 2019