The 2016 presidential election is not like most recent US elections—it is actually interesting and exciting! For the first time in US history, a mainstream candidate who calls himself a socialist and says we need a “political revolution against the billionaire class” is having a major impact.
Tens of thousands around the country have attended events to hear Bernie speak and he has received millions of votes. So far, he has won primaries and caucuses in 9 states, including Michigan, and he almost won Massachusetts and Iowa. Just one electoral cycle ago, this would have been out of the question. He has thousands of volunteers and has received more than 5 million individual contributions from ordinary workers, with an average contribution below $30. He has tapped into the pent-up anger of millions of Americans who are sick and tired of the system. Had Trump not been running as a right populist, Sanders’s left-populist message would have almost certainly received even more support. As a result of his campaign, millions of people have been awakened to socialist ideas and are engaged with the electoral process for the first time.
Headed into the primary elections on the “Ides of March,” Sanders faced a steep climb to catch up to Hillary Clinton, the preferred candidate of the Democratic Party establishment. The results are now in and Clinton won by a solid margin in Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina, by a narrow margin in Illinois, and is ahead in Missouri, though the final result is still too close to call. In order to win a majority of the remaining pledged delegates, and assuming the superdelegates accept the results, Sanders would need to win by more than 58% in the remaining contests. This means he would need to win by 16 points or more in delegate-rich states such as New York, Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey.
Though it still remains mathematically possible that he could pull off the upset, his chances of winning the nomination are much slimmer after the results of March 15. We believe it’s time for his supporters to take a sober and serious look at how the momentum and enthusiasm his campaign has generated can be carried forward.
The system is rigged!
The Democratic and Republican Parties are not real political parties in the traditional sense. Rather, they are electoral machines connected to big business and the state. Candidates for most elected offices are chosen in primaries and caucuses organized by state and local governments and the political parties themselves. Three very powerful forces influence these elections: the media, big money, and the parties’ apparatuses and elected officials.
Just six media companies in control 90% of the radio, television, newspapers, magazines, etc. There are some exceptions. The Washington Post, for example, is not owned by one of the big six—but by billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com! Essentially, the media is not owned by the 99%, but by the top 1%.
The bulk of the media packages political coverage, not on the basis of the issues that most affect working Americans, but as a sensationalist “horse race.” If more of their coverage were geared to the real issues, Sanders would have almost certainly done even better, but they have no intention of doing this. In the general elections, they do not even allow third party candidates to debate and in the past had the Green Party candidate arrested for the “crime” of trying to attend a presidential debate! Though they have been forced to cover his speeches and the enthusiasm around his campaign, their mantra from the beginning has been that “Sanders can’t win.” Sometimes subtly and sometimes not so subtly, they have worked to ensure this prophecy is fulfilled.
The second factor is big money—the mother’s milk of politics under capitalism. If you look at the candidates other than Sanders, 159 wealthy families and businesses have given half the money raised this cycle. In addition, big business funnels enormous amounts of money into unaccountable super PACs.
The last factor is the Democratic Party establishment: members of Congress and other elected officials who are in their positions precisely because of the media and money from the super rich. Take, for example, the “left wing” of the party, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown. Warren has stayed “neutral” in the race between Clinton and Sanders, and Brown endorsed Clinton. In the House of Representatives, there are 188 Democrats, with the “left” organized into the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), which has about 71 members. Of these 71, only 4 endorsed Sanders, less than 6% of the CPC and just 2% of the House Democrats overall. Among Democratic Party unelected superdelegates, Clinton has 95% and Sanders only 5%.
This is a party that is clearly stacked against him. We think Bernie made a mistake by supporting Obama and running as a Democrat. The Democrats and Republicans are both controlled by big business and the billionaires who own and control the economy. To make a real revolution, the majority needs to take control over society away from these individuals and institutions. To do this, we need to break with capitalism and the parties that defend it. For this, we need a party of our own: a mass socialist party based on the working class.
Build a new party!
Sanders’ campaign, with its money and infrastructure, could begin to establish such a party, starting this year, with Bernie as its first presidential candidate. Instead of the next few months being about beating Hillary Clinton, it could be about taking on capitalism and fighting for socialism. With the armies of volunteers it has it could easily get on the ballot line in every state.
Exit polls show that concerns about the economy are number one for both Democratic and Republican voters. Supporters of both parties feel betrayed by the establishment, but see no viable alternative outside these institutions. In addition, Sanders has done best in those states where independents can vote in the Democratic Party elections. These people are voting for him because he calls himself a socialist, and despite his running as a Democrat. The youth of all demographics are overwhelmingly in favor of Sanders. Furthermore, 56.5% of young people aged 18–35 consider themselves to be working class, far higher than any other age group, and the highest number since records began. This is the organic basis for a mass working class party’s future success.
Calling on the labor unions to join a real workers’ party to fight for socialism would have to be one of the party’s top priorities. Labor for Bernie, which calls for a president who will listen to the 99%, is just one indication of the support such a party would receive within organized labor. Unions representing nearly 1.4 million workers have already endorsed Sanders, including the Communication Workers of America, the American Postal Workers Union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and the National Nurses United. Their leaders may not go along with endorsing Sanders as an independent socialist, but this is a battle that would have to be fought by the rank and file in every union in the country. By combining the electoral struggle for socialist policies with trade union organizing drives, the labor movement would be revitalized and rapidly reverse decades of declines. If the current leadership isn’t up to the task of defending the interests of the workers by fighting capitalism, then new leaders will be needed!
A mass socialist party would be truly democratic, with its policies and leaders elected and controlled by the membership. It would have its own press, television, and radio, to combat the lies of the capitalist media. Such a party would not only run for elections at all levels of government, it would organize protests against racist police murders, support workers on strike, and help organize the unorganized to raise wages and improve working conditions. It would fight for the nationalization of the top 500 corporations, to be run on the basis of democratic workers’ and public control, not by an unelected bureaucracy, like the management of the US Postal Service. It would fight for a mass program of useful public works to rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure, guaranteeing well-paid jobs and protections or a place in education for all, not to mention universal socialized health care and the writing off of student debt. All of this would energize millions of people who are still not convinced that it is worth getting involved in politics.
The dead end of “lesser evilism”
Some will argue that Bernie should fight to the bitter end for the Democratic Party nomination, and that he should keep his commitment to support Clinton if he loses “fair and square,” since she would be the “lesser evil” to Donald Trump or whoever the Republicans put up. But Sanders has correctly said many times that Hillary Clinton is funded by Wall Street. Big business super PACs have been set up to support Hillary Clinton and to attack Sanders. Hillary was on the board of directors of Wal Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, from 1986 to 1992. This is a company that is infamously anti-union and is known for paying its workers poverty wages. On top of this, both of the Clintons have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for “speeches” to big Wall Street firms.
Does anyone really believe that as president, Hillary Clinton, would not be a servant of big business? How can Sanders say the things he has said about Clinton on the campaign trail—which is a big part of why people are attracted to his candidacy—only to back her in the end?
Eight years ago, we were told that electing President Obama and the Democrats to Congress would make things better—it did not! The instability and decline in living standards of the working class is due to the ongoing the crisis of capitalism. The Democrats have no answer to this as they support the system. After his first two years in office, many Obama supporters felt betrayed. The dissatisfaction led some to sit out the 2010 midterm elections, and others to vote Republican, as a protest against the Democrats who were in power.
In 2008, there were 257 Democrats in the House of Representatives, 57 in the Senate, and they controlled the governorships of 29 states. The Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in 2010, and of the Senate in 2014. As of today, there are only 188 Democrats in Congress, 44 in the Senate, and 18 Democratic governors. The Democrats have also lost control over many state legislative houses.
The labor leaders and the “lesser of two evils” crowd should examine the results of their strategy. How can they explain the fact that that both major parties have moved steadily to the right over the last few decades? Why have conditions for the majority worsened dramatically, while the rich are richer than ever? How can any of this be considered a success?
Time to break the vicious circle!
The ruling class is worried that Sanders is awakening forces they cannot control. They desperately want him and his supporters to remain within the Democratic Party. Though they say his candidacy is at a “dead end,” they nonetheless urge him to continue running to the convention. Their reasoning could not be expressed more clearly: “He’s done a real service, for the party he only recently joined, and for the country. Clinton is a far better candidate because of him. More than that, the Democratic Party is paying attention to the angry millions in the margins, those who may be tempted by the demagogue who wants to make America white again. Thank Sanders for that … His ideas will shape every part of the party platform, which will give Clinton what she lacks: a clear message. Eventually, he’ll endorse the woman he influenced, and Democrats will be the better for it.”
The New York Times editorial board itself is urging his supporters to “make a political revolution”—by running as Democratic Party candidates and working their way up through the system to positions of power and influence. This is the voice of the serious bourgeois, who seeks to keep the anger and enthusiasm Sanders’ campaign has unleashed within safe channels.
Sanders will be under intense pressure “not to end up as a ‘spoiler’ like Ralph Nader.” His supporters will be told that if he runs as an independent, this could lead to the election of Donald Trump. Let’s be clear: if Trump wins the presidency, the blame would rest entirely with the Democratic Party, and with the labor leaders for not building a mass working class alternative. If Trump wins, we could not simply wait around for the the Democrats to try to oust him out in a future election. The working class would have to organize, mobilize, strike, protest, and occupy our workplaces, campuses, and streets to kick him out of the White House—all while building a mass socialist labor party to replace him and both the parties of big business.
So how do we get out of the vicious circle of lesser evilism? We break the circle! It won’t happen smoothly and it won’t happen overnight, but it will surely never happen on the basis the basis of one of the “evils.” The only way to fight all forms of “evil” is with a mass socialist party and revolution against capitalism!
Join the revolution!
If Sanders breaks with the Democrats and runs as an independent, it is not guaranteed that he would win. But if the Republicans run both Trump and another candidate, then things would certainly get interesting. Even if Sanders were to win as a Democrat, he would be trapped in a hostile party, confronted by a hostile Congress and government bureaucracy. Most people would agree that it will take more than one election to bring about the kind of revolutionary change we need to fundamentally transform society. Sanders himself says that one person cannot do it alone. By laying the foundations for a new party, real change could come to the US in the near future, even if Sanders doesn’t win this year.
There is therefore no reason for anyone who supports Bernie Sanders to feel down or despondent after Tuesday’s results. Just a few years ago, even the word “socialism” was seen with suspicion by most Americans. Now it is part of the mainstream political discourse, as millions of people seek to learn more. Capitalism can’t deliver for the majority. On the basis of the experience of the next few years, millions of people will be even more politically radicalized. Support for socialism and a deepening understanding of what will be required to achieve it will grow exponentially.
But the longer Sanders plays by the Democratic Party’s rules, the harder it will be for him to break with them if and when Clinton sews up the nomination. This is the “dead end” the New York Times referred to. But the momentum around Sanders need not end up in a dead end. Thousands of his supporters should indeed run for office—not as Democrats—but as members of a new and vibrant party independent of big business and for the working class. Instead of facing the possibility of a potentially demoralizing slog over the next few months, the enormous energy could be harnessed to establish the foundations for something truly historic and transformative. The times are changing quickly. A new party of, by, and for the working class, based on organized labor and the youth, and armed with a socialist program could rapidly rise to the top.
Clinton’s supporters say that Sanders’ progressive proposals are unrealistic. In a way they are right—they are unrealistic and unrealizable within the limits of capitalism. If Sanders and his supporters break with both the system and its parties, a whole new world of possibilities opens up. It’s not too late to change course. The time is now and there is no time to waste. Far from being over, we are only at the beginning of the beginning of the revolution. But the revolution won’t be successful if we don’t start preparing for it today. This is what we in the IMT are doing in the US and around the world. Join us in the struggle for a better world—a world of socialism and revolution!