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Sanders must keep up his Momentum until the Democratic Party is won for Socialism

Bernie's MomentumFollowing the New York primary, Hillary Clinton is “cautious but confident” says yesterday’s New York Times, and is busy picking running mates. Bernie Sanders, who lost by 16%, picking up 106 delegates to Clinton’s 139 is ploughing on. And so he should. Even the New York Times in an editorial agrees:

Mr. Sanders has voiced the concerns and energized millions of young people, many of them voting for the first time. His candidacy has forced the party to go deeper on addressing issues like wealth inequality, college tuition costs and the toll of globalization — important points of distinction with Republicans. What’s more, Mr. Sanders’s commitment to small individual contributions has put the lie to Democrats’ excuses that they, too, must play the big money game to win. This is a message too seldom heard in the party that first championed campaign finance reform.”

With 1202 elected delegates to Clinton’s 1446, Sanders is not so far behind with 1668 to be decided inlcuding 462 this Tuesday in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Conneticut, Rhode Island and Delaware. But that ignores the “super-delegates”, primarily Congress and Senate members who overwhelmingly favour Clinton. That’s in spite of most polls showing that Sanders is significantly more likely than Clinton to beat the Republican candidate whoever that turns out to be (though some argue that Sanders’ lead might suffer once he and his socialism bear the full brunt of Republican and media onslaught). If Sanders can’t win the convention to his own nomination, what should his objectives be?

President Obama warned against the danger of a ‘Tea Party of the Left’, which might “stake out positions so extreme, they alienate the broad public.”  But we know which candidate he favours. Michael Lerner of Tikkun writing at Salon argues “this is precisely what the tens of millions of people who support Sanders need to do, and they need to start building it now“, urging Sanders to call statewide conventions:

Without that kind of movement, willing to work both within and outside the Democratic Party, willing to defeat Democrats in primaries or even to run against them in a general election, the status quo will continue: subservience to Wall Street and the policies favored by the 1 percent whose money shapes elections on the national and state levels….You just might find that some of those “super-delegates” have second thoughts if they realize that their jobs may be at stake when a Love and Justice Party emerges in their own home districts.

Other grassroots activists for Sanders also see it very differently. They are sick of consensus centrism, the “pragmatic incrementalism” that marked Obama’s administration from the beginning and that of Bill Clinton’s too. They ask how long will Democratic voters remain blindly loyal to their party. According to Burke Stansbury, organiser in Seattle:

It’s not surprising that many voters, especially young ones, start to tune out. In the face of the enormous social and environmental problems, it’s not pandering to be visionary about the world we want to live in – it’s absolutely essential.”

And whilst he is encouraged to have seen Hillary Clinton “tacking left“, he adds:

But we can’t kid ourselves and think that just because some presidential candidates promise to address an issue that it will come to pass. If Barack Obama’s election taught us anything, it is that placing our hopes and dreams in the hands of a charismatic leader is not enough to bring about significant social change; to do that, we need organized people in the streets. We need powerful social movements.

Don Guttenplan, editor-at-large of The Nation, argues that it makes no sense to walk away in the middle of a debate that Sanders is winning on every issue.” However, “while the struggle continues, the goal has changed“:

Winning the White House was a thrilling dream. Winning power—durable power, the kind that makes laws and holds elected officials to account—is a longer, more grueling fight. That, however, is the task we face now. In the coming weeks, Sanders and his supporters will need to make clear exactly what he’s fighting for, both inside the Democratic Party and beyond.

He will win more states, and many more delegates. Josh Voorhees at Slate magazine sets out how he could could yet force a contested convention to push for democratic reforms as well as progressive policies. Does that sound familiar?

The Democratic Party is of course even more desperately in need of democratic reform than the British Labour Party, more hollowed out, more lacking in any internal democracy and accountability. An end to superdelegates would be a step forward just as we have removed MPs from dominating the election of our leader in the UK Labour Party. But that is the tip of the iceberg of anti-democratic practices at the lower levels of US politics.

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, a Clinton supporter, said he’d heard reports of the “purging of entire buildings and blocks of voters from the voting lists.” Altogether 125,000 were purged from lists in Brooklyn which has led to an investigation by the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Almost 30 percent of New York’s registered voters could not participate in the primaries because they were not registered with either of the two major parties, and missed the deadline to switch six months earlier (the longest such deadline in the country). Not surprisingly, New York had the second lowest voter turnout this season, worsted only by Louisiana.

Long queues, poll stations that didn’t open, and, in one case, an elections worker sleeping on the job. The Huffington Post reminds us:

Bernie Sanders is the only Democratic candidate for president not linked to an FBI investigation….voter suppression, rigged debates schedules, and overt foul play have been hallmarks of the 2016 Democratic Primary.”

Whilst US-style primaries bring their own problems, money is of course also far more important in US politics than in Britain. A ban could also be introduced on the funding of primaries by Political Action Committees (PACs – supposedly independent intermediaries but in reality an indirect method of channelling funds to support a candidate) in order, as Guttenplan puts it, to “level the playing field for the next generation of insurgents“.

Hillary Clinton is close to and financially dependent on Wall Street, making speeches for by and receiving donations from supporters at Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and J P Morgan Chase in spite of the fact that she says on her own campaign website:

We have to end the flood of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political system, and drowning out the voices of too many everyday Americans. Our democracy should be about expanding the franchise, not charging an entrance fee.”

And yet her campaign attacks Sanders for attacking corruption in the Democratic party:

The Sanders campaign’s false attacks have gotten out of hand. As Senator Sanders faces nearly insurmountable odds, he is resorting to baseless accusations of illegal actions and poisoning the well for Democratic candidates up and down the ticket…. Instead of trying to convince the next generation of progressives that the Democratic Party is corrupt, Senator Sanders should stick to the issues and think about what he can do to help the Party he is seeking to lead.

Many would argue that for candidates “up and down the ticket“, it isn’t Sanders that is “poisoning the well“. It is the corporates and financiers on whose donations they thrive. At least Clinton & Sanders have by March 2016, according to a CNN report, each raised the same amount, $182million. However, whilst Sanders has raised this with an average donation of $26.28, Clinton depends far more heavily on very large donors often channelled through the PACs of which Sanders disapproves. Billionaire currency trader George Soros, for example, donated $6million to the Priorities USA PAC whilst billionaire media magnates Haim and Cheryl Saban donated $3million – together raising as much as almost a quarter of a million Sanders donations. Fortunately, Sanders has received a staggering number of individual donations – almost 7million.

But just like in the British Labour Party,  it isn’t just money that makes for better candidates “up and down the ticket“. Guttenplan suggests that Sanders could usefully “direct a lot more of his attention and money to candidates down the ticket who share his politics.”

It cannot end at the Democratic convention. The US Left needs a movement which, like Momentum, must devote itself to a long campaign: fighting the external battles of which Burke Stansbury speaks by building “social movements”, and the internal battles highlighted by Guttenplan and Voorhees.

Fighting both inside and outside the Democratic Party is exactly what the Working Families Party has been doing for some time in New York, culminating some would say in the victory of de Blasio as New York’s Mayor.  An inside strategy alone, says Guttenplan, will never deliver political revolution. He quotes Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party:

You can’t occupy the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party will end by occupying you.”

But however it is done, Sanders and his supporters have a responsibility to build a new movement. One that will change the Democratic Party and change American politics. They have already made a fantastic start. Having raised $187million in 27million donations, they have identified many of their members and supporters. They must develop an organisation in every state, including those in which Sanders did not so well this time, pluralist and diverse, taking the message of real hope rather than the disappointingly empty promises of Obama and Clinton to Black and Hispanic voters.And of course they must ensure that no Republican candidate sees the inside of the White House next January.




  1. Charlie Mansell says:

    This phrase writen above would not have existed: “just as we have removed MPs from dominating the election of our leader in the UK Labour Party”, if people had followed your own Feb 2014 advice on this website here though!:) In saying this, it is pleasing this website still keeps items like that on it so one can see how on things like views on OMOV and Collins, people are following the example of the Leader in evolving his views as he has quite rightly done on the EU to come more into line with the Shadow Chancellor’s strong arguments. Now all we just need for even stronger party unity post-election (which we need to stop coup attempts), is for a certain mid May Momentum EC meeting to take a strong ‘party unity’ view on the EU referendum just as Dave Ward and the CWU have just done backing the Leader along with 8 out of 10 menbers, Unite, Unison and GMB:

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      The Left’s views (or most of their views anyway) changed on OMOV a long time ago now, as the trade union link decayed at a local level & especially with online voting and reduced dependence on mass media for information thanks to the internet. Only at conference is delegate democracy still essential to properly represent all parts of the movement, including the collective voice of trade unions (and in those CLPs where local TU participation is meaningful). But, although we opposed Collins, in the interests of the TU link and the interests of building an active party with a strong voice, you’ll notice we didn’t express any opposition to the removal of MPs from a vastly inflated level of influence in the college. If the Tories and Lib Dems can have OMOV ballots, so can we.

    2. Verity says:

      Momentum’s view on the EU will certainly show whether it can become a social movement reflecting wider Left positions on the EU or whether it will diminish into a temporary ‘worship the heroes – leaders’ fan club.

  2. Bazza says:

    Not sure they will win the Democratic Party to left wing democratic socialism.
    Bernie’s big problem is he also needs to appeal to black America, Hispanics, and to more women.
    But who knows-maybe the potential is there now for the birth of á US Labor?
    Could their unions come on board!
    Interesting times but Bernie’s campaign has gathered some momentum.
    I hope he will win but he is up against Hilary’s big bucks and the Democratic Party machine including the so called super delegates.
    But at last there is some real hope in the US.

  3. James Martin says:

    While the Sanders campaign has done wonders in exposing the reactionary establishment nature of the Democrat machine and Clinton, and has shown that there is a very large US audience for socialist ideas, I am not convinced that the Democrats can be the vehicle for that message outside of his campaign. It is no accident that for most of his political life and time in the Senate Sanders has been an independent socialist and not a Democrat. Of course Clinton has used that against him, but there was no alternative as the fact remains in the past he would have been unlikely to have been able to be a ‘socialist’ Democrat senator in the first place.

    That is not an accident. The Democrats are not a social democratic party and never have been. Yes, much of the trade union bureaucracy is politically wedded to it, but that was a result of the defeats suffered by the US left and socialists from the 1930s onwards, and particularly during the socialist witch-hunts of the Cold War era. The result was the continuation of tweedle-dum, tweedle-dee politics of two capitalist parties, not unlike the situation in Britain before the establishment of the Labour Party when many of the unions were co-opted into the Liberal Party as tame ‘Lib-Lab’ candidates, and just as the Liberal Party was not reformable when it came to creating a socialist/social democratic organisation in this country, the Democrats should never be seen as a potential Labour party in the US. In fact for a genuine party of American workers to be created the Democrats will need to be split and ultimately opposed, not reformed, just as we once did to the British Liberal Party.

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