US: How can Bernie Sanders win?

By Bryan Koulouris, Socialist Alternative (our sister organisation in the US)
Bernie Sanders is experiencing a surge in the polls; he’s ahead in New Hampshire (11/26/2019) and California (LA Times, 12/5/2019) while he is consistently crushing all other candidates among young people. All of this is despite a media blackout and recent negative campaigning by both Obama and the Clintons.

Bernie’s call for a Green New Deal, tuition-free college and Medicare for All excites millions of people across the country. His speeches and slogans go even further than his 2016 campaign when he called for a “political revolution against the billionaire class.” Now, Sanders is saying that “billionaires shouldn’t exist” while even talking about a “class war” and the need for a “government of the working class.”

The echo that Sanders is getting reflects increasing anger at the injustices of capitalism. In 2018 more workers went on strike than in any year since 1986. The strike wave is continuing with union members taking action against low pay, the cuts to public education and all the concessions made to the bosses in the past. Young people across the world are walking out of school demanding environmental justice with the slogan “system change not climate change.” Around the globe, we see mass uprisings, determined ongoing protests and general strikes against oppression and exploitation. Tens of thousands of young people are getting organized as socialists.

At the same time, we should not underestimate what we’re up against. The corporate-controlled media is now “blacking out” Bernie and will eventually move to viscously attack his campaign if it continues to gain momentum. The billionaires will set up Super PACs of unlimited funds to spread misinformation. The Democratic Party establishment will use every undemocratic dirty trick in the book to try to block his nomination if needed. And that’s just to get the nomination, even before a head-on collision with the racist, sexist, reactionary “Predator in Chief.”

The Other Players in the Field

The Democratic Party establishment is struggling to find their answer to both Bernie and Elizabeth Warren. While virtually the entire ruling class thinks another four years of Trump would be preferable to Sanders, Warren is more acceptable to them than Bernie. Nevertheless, even her proposed wealth tax is too much for many on Wall Street. It would be a nightmare situation for the billionaires to see the two front-runners in the primaries both be candidates who criticize Wall Street and are broadly seen on “the left.”

Warren is trying to combine her credentials as a critic of Wall Street with an attempt to appeal to leaders of the Democratic Party. She has recently backed down on Medicare for All, and importantly she doesn’t talk about building movements like Sanders. Warren is currently not taking money from corporate donors, but has indicated she would be willing to get funding from the billionaire class in a general election. Sanders supporters need to patiently explain to those voters looking to Warren that her approach won’t win far-reaching change and will be inadequate to challenge Trump and his base.

The pro-corporate leadership of the Democratic Party has not found their chosen candidate yet. Kamala Harris was once seen as a viable candidate from the establishment who could pose left and reference her identity as a woman of color, but she is now out of the race along with Beto O’Rourke who was once seen as an establishment “rising star.” Joe Biden, despite his lead in some polls, seems to be able to do nothing right on the campaign trail and is increasingly seen as out-of-touch. The establishment is panicking, and they’ve thrown new horses into the race at this late stage.

Despite spending millions of his own money on slick ads that pop up everywhere, voters correctly see Michael Bloomberg as what he is: another billionaire looking for more power. Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick isn’t gaining traction. This may leave the establishment with Mayor Pete Buttegieg as a key option which isn’t a position they expected to find themselves in.

Driving out Trump

In gearing up for a fight against both the Democratic Party establishment and then hopefully Trump’s campaign, we should remember how we got Trump in the first place. It was not Russian interference that led to a Trump victory. It was a deep seething hatred of the establishment in 2016, and the Democratic Party nominated the very embodiment of uninspiring corporate “business as usual” politics in the form of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Trump’s three years in the White House have seen a shift to the right in the Supreme Court, ramped up immigrant deportation machine, endless corruption, separated families at the border and an economic recovery that isn’t reaching the pockets of working-class or young people. Yet, the Democratic leadership is only now putting forward impeachment and only on the limited basis of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Most people are not watching the impeachment hearings, but this could change in January when the Senate gives testimony. Bernie Sanders himself has an opportunity to change the conversation and heighten the struggle against Trump.

In his testimony, Bernie should not limit himself to the Ukraine. The bigger reasons to drive Trump out of office are his anti-worker policies and rhetoric that encourages the far right. It will take a movement to get rid of Trump, and Bernie should call for mass demonstrations and direct action across the country to bring together union activists, climate strikers and all those fed up with the Trump regime while also emphasizing a positive program to fight back against the entire billionaire class.

Lessons from 2016 and Britain

The 2016 elections show us that boring corporate Democrats have no clear strategy to defeat Trump. Having been promised “hope” and “change” in the Obama years, young people and many workers were disappointed at bank bailouts, ongoing war, and record levels of deportations. Around the world, the establishment parties are losing authority, and right-wing populists are gaining ground when the left isn’t well-organized or politically clear enough to pose an alternative to capitalism.

In 2016, Bernie unfortunately made the mistake of uncritically backing the failed Hillary Clinton campaign. Socialist Alternative and Kshama Sawant petitioned for Bernie to “run all the way to November” and build a new party that could defeat Trump. We gathered over 130,000 signatures, but Bernie unfortunately did not agree with us. Bernie running all the way in 2016 could have potentially defeated Trump at the ballot box. Even if we weren’t successful in the 2016 election, a new party could have given workers and young people an organizing center to fight back against Trump, the right wing and the system that brings them into being.

With the recent election in Britain of Conservative Boris Johnson against Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, the establishment is claiming that Corbyn couldn’t win because he was “too radical” and are using this to say Bernie can’t beat Trump. The opposite is true. One of Corbyn’s biggest mistakes was that he was unwilling to wage a struggle against the pro-business wing of his party that undermined him at every phase. Labour’s right-wing, under Tony Blair, enthusiastically joined George Bush’s drive to war in Iraq War and imposed savage budget cuts to social services across Britain, but Corbyn constantly compromised with them and refused to organize his supporters into a movement to oppose both the Conservatives and the Labour right. When the media accused Corbyn of being “unfit to govern” or “anti-semetic,” he was left without an organized force to counter this, and he had already given ground to these arguments within his own party. Now, in addition to Trump in the U.S., we have a right-wing regime in Britain that will be met with resistance.

Socialist Alternative wants to defeat Trump and the capitalist system that gives rise to monsters like him. Even if Trump were defeated in 2020 and replaced by a corporate Democrat, the right would rise again in an even more hideous form if we had another “liberal” regime that did nothing about inequality, racism, sexism and environmental destruction. Right now, we need to build the type of campaign and organization that can challenge the entire billionaire class and their politicians in both parties.

Campaign Needs to Build a Movement

It is good that Bernie talks about being an “organizer in chief” and uses his email lists to mobilize his supporters to strike picket lines and protests. More needs to be done to turn this campaign into a formidable movement in order to win.

Socialist Alternative has endorsed Sanders and will be going “all out” for his campaign over the coming months. We will be putting forward resolutions in our unions to endorse Sanders, which is part of a wider debate in the labor movement. Socialists advocate unions that are run democratically and fight for all working people rather than just trying to snuggle up to big business and their politicians. The Sanders campaign is an opportunity to bring together workers who want to fight against capitalism not just for the next few months but beyond.

We will also be organizing in our neighborhoods and campuses for Sanders. Our campaigning work needs to be a process of political education in struggle with meetings to discuss the best arguments and strategies to defeat Trump and the billionaires. To counter the lies of Trump, the media blackout and the Democratic establishment, tens of thousands of new activists will need to be rapidly educated through this campaign in the need for mass movements, class struggle and uncompromising socialist politics to win victories to improve our lives.

Toward this end, we need a conference of all Sanders supporters this summer no matter the outcome of the primaries. Such an organizing conference should discuss the next steps in  the fight for Medicare for All, tuition-free college, a Green New Deal and a revolution against the billionaire class. Socialist Alternative would advocate that this conference should lay the basis for a working-class party in this country that is vital in winning the decisive change we need and breaking the power of the billionaire class once and for all.

Socialist Alternative is Going “All Out” for this Campaign!

Socialist Alternative is building the Sanders campaign across the country, helping to set up labor, community and campus groups to fight for a revolution against the billionaire class. We will be hosting doorknocking, political discussions at “debate watch” parties, and bringing forward discussions in our workplaces and unions about the Sanders campaign and the path to victory. We bring with us considerable recent experience in winning substantial victories for working people that can help our broader movement defeat Trump and the ruling class.

In November, Socialist Alternative scored a huge victory in defeating Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, who tried to unseat our socialist City Councilmember in Seattle, Kshama Sawant. We fought back against not only Amazon executives, other corporations and rich Republicans, but also against the Democratic Party establishment and a section of conservative labor leaders in order to win re-election.

What this victory required was a tight-knit organization, constant in-depth political discussion about the changing terrain of the election and an army of doorknockers to respond to constant attacks against us. Above all, this was a political task, and our outlook of a movement-building approach, determined class struggle and the need for fundamental socialist change guided our successful tactics.

Unlike in most other electoral campaigns, hundreds of young people facing a dead-end future under capitalism got active to support Kshama Sawant because of our socialist approach. Now we will aim to link the Sanders campaign to mobilizing young people and workers into action against the injustices we face every day with skyrocketing rents, racist police, inadequate social services and record levels of inequality.

We believe that the Sanders campaign should develop democratic structures to fully engage the tens of thousands of young and working people who want to get involved. This would be a key step towards the new party we need. Working people have the potential power to shut down this system and change society here and around the world. Let’s get organized and fight for a socialist future! Join Socialist Alternative today!

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