Bernie or Bust? The Way Forward for the Revolution

On June 28, 2016, Bernie Sanders penned an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “Democrats Need to Wake Up.” In it, he highlighted the following facts: the 62 richest people on planet earth own as much as the poorest 3.6 billion; the top 1% owns more than the bottom 99%, and the top one-tenth of 1% own almost as much as the bottom 90%. He wrote that his campaign was a fight for a political revolution, to take political power away from the super-rich, and he correctly identified Hillary Clinton as part of the establishment.

Now, just a few days later, Bernie says the most important priority is to defeat Donald Trump, that he will vote for Clinton, and there are clear indications that negotiations are ongoing between his and Hillary’s campaign for a formal endorsement. ABC News has reported that "Sanders supporters and people close to the campaign have said quietly that if the progressive superstar officially endorses her too early, it could frustrate or dishearten some of his fans on the left who are still uneasy about backing her."

Is this how the “Political Revolution” ends up? After hundreds of thousands cheered his call to fight the “billionaire class” at rallies across the country? After millions voted for him in primaries and caucuses? After millions of Americans felt that the 99% finally had a voice in politics? Will electing Clinton really defeat the hate-filled politics of Donald Trump? Or will it actually prepare the ground for an even more vicious right wing in the years ahead? How can we end the vicious two-establishment-parties cycle once and for all? Serious activists who really want a revolution need to examine these issues carefully.

Can the Democrats be transformed? Can electing individuals bring about systemic change?

Sanders vs Clinton - ABC - Ida Mae Astute CC BY-ND 2.0Photo: ABC/Ida Mae Astute CC BY-ND 2.0Now that he has lost the nomination—due to the undemocratic rules and maneuvers of the DNC machine and the role played by the media in "shaping public opinion"—Sanders’s strategy is to change the Democratic Platform. He claims that this would somehow “transform” the Democratic Party. First, we should examine the logic of this proposition: if the big-business Democratic Party needs to be “transformed” then obviously it is not a party of the working class! As we have explained time and again, the Democrats cannot be reformed. Political parties express the interests of one or another class in society: they cannot serve two masters. The Democrats are a party of, by, and for the capitalist class, of the rich. Working class voters turn to them as an allegedly “lesser evil” only because we do not yet have a mass political party of our own. Had Sanders won the nomination despite opposition from the party machine, and the extreme right wing of the party split away, leaving Sanders supporters with the “Democratic Party” name, a new dynamic may have opened up. But that is not what happened.

We must also ask: will simply changing the Democrats’ platform “transform” the party? Historically, the Democrats have a platform which promises all kinds of reforms and “goodies.” They do this to convince the workers to vote for them. When the Democrats are in office, that is another story. For her part, eager to secure an endorsement ahead of the DNC in Philadelphia, Clinton has appropriated a handful of progressive measures from Sanders’s campaign to add to the party platform. But how these measures are to be implemented by a government controlled lock-stock-and-barrel by the 1% remains a mystery.

See, for example, the period between 1977 to 1980, when Jimmy Carter sat in the White House and the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Far from an era of progressive reforms and prosperity, this was a period of austerity and deregulation of big business, setting the stage for Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. This happened again in 1993 and 1994 under Bill Clinton. Remember all of President Obama’s promises? Yet again, in 2008 and 2009, the Democrats controlled all branches of government, and only counterreforms were on the order of the day. This has now happened three times in recent memory—it's time we drew the full conclusions.

Bernie Sanders is also urging people to run for office, mostly as Democrats. Several things must be recognized here. Firstly, it is hard, if not impossible, for anti-establishment activists to get elected without a political party to support them. Secondly, it goes without saying that establishment parties will do everything in their power to prevent anti-establishment candidates from being nominated or elected. Thirdly, if an anti-establishment individual does manage to get elected, the capitalist politicians know how to pressure and bribe these people into “playing the game.”  This is how they derail erstwhile reformers and transform them into “just another politician.”  

The only way to counter this pressure is to have a mass working class party, organized democratically, that can keep control of its own candidates and elected officials. The elected officials of a mass socialist party should only receive the wages of the average worker and the rest of their salary should be donated to the movement. They should live as the rest of us live! Such a party does not yet exist and must be built. But Sanders's campaign shows that the potential for it is enormous.

We argued from the beginning of his campaign that Sanders should have run as an independent socialist and that even at this late date, he could still do so. He had enormous momentum behind him and millions would gladly leave the Democrats and "crooked Hillary" to support him. Unfortunately, it seems clear now he has not chosen that path. We patiently explained that this was a distinct, and perhaps the most likely scenario. But those who supported him do not need to make the same mistake. Sanders may have betrayed people's hopes for real change through his candidacy, but we can learn from the experience. He himself has said that one person cannot make a revolution. To collectively fight for our political interests, workers need to come together in a mass socialist party of our own.

How and why did the Tea Party and Donald Trump rise as a force of influence?

Donald Trump - Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0Donald Trump - Photo:Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0The United States today is controlled by a de facto coalition government between the Democrats and Republicans. President Obama may have his disagreements with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, but together they run the government. In the first two years of the Obama administration, the Democrats had total control of the Executive and Legislative branches of government.  What did that lead to? Universal employment and healthcare? A minimum wage that people could really live on? Free education from the cradle to the grave? Repeal of anti-labor laws? Of course not! Not even Guantanamo's infamous Camp X-Ray has been closed.

After the deepest slump since the end of World War II, the coalition government of Democrats and Republicans has not been able to significantly lower the real unemployment rate. They have not reversed declining wages and the wealthy continue to rake it in.  This is all because the Democrats support capitalism and the system is in a deep and terminal crisis. Even if there are little blips of "recovery" from time to time, the workers do not benefit. The long-term curve of development is downward. Things may seem pretty bad now, but the past seven years has been a recovery. Believe it or not, these are the "good times!" The next slump cannot be that far away and none of the systemic problems that led to the 2008 crisis have been resolved—and cannot be resolved within the limits of the capitalist system itself.

After 8 years of George W. Bush, when the masses were faced with declining living standards and instability, they tried putting the Democrats in office. But nothing was solved and people were discouraged. Many simply stopped voting, while others looked to the demagogy of the Tea Party and Donald Trump. Trump has connected with many working class voters by attacking free trade deals and the excesses of Wall Street both of which are closely connected to Hillary Clinton. He has also used blatant racism and xenophobia, cynically playing on the fears of the most backward layers of American society.

This should not come as a surprise. Without a clear lead by the trade union leadership, without an explanation that capitalism is to blame for the problems workers face, a wing of the capitalist class can get away with using scapegoats to distract people from the real cause. Since the left is small, the labor leaders do not challenge capitalism and instead tail-end the Democrats, this was a perfect recipe for the rise of the Tea Party and Trump.

Will voting for Clinton really defeat Trump? Or make things worse?

It is understandable that many people fear the open racism and lies of Donald Trump.  Despite his populist rhetoric, he is an avowed enemy of the working class. But instead of organizing and mobilizing on a class-independent basis, the labor leaders and the reformist left insist that we must vote for the "lesser of two evils." This has been done for decades and where has it gotten us?

If Trump wins, a mass wave of opposition will sweep the country. Millions will hit the streets and the ongoing polarization will become even sharper. The working majority will need to mobilize our forces to stop his reactionary policies in the workplaces and in the streets. But on the basis of the world capitalist crisis, which includes a sick declining US capitalist system, there is no way he can deliver on his promises. He would quickly be discredited, especially among his current supporters. President D.J. Trump would be even less popular than President G.W. Bush!

However, if Clinton is elected, she too will preside over the capitalist crisis. She will do everything in her power to ensure the profits of Wall Street keep flowing. This can only lead to further austerity, cuts, and attacks on the already beleaguered working class. The election of Clinton and the Democrats under these circumstances will play into the hands of Trump and the right wing. Trump and the Republicans will go around the country saying: “I told you so!”  They will whip up anti-immigrant hysteria and embolden their supporters. Dissatisfied with yet another term of the "School of the Democrats," the basis will be laid for gains by the right in 2018 and 2020. Those on the left, including Bernie Sanders, who supported Hillary Clinton, would also lose their credibility. The bottom line is that the "lesser evil" eventually creates the conditions for the "greater evil." We need class politics, not "lesser evil" politics!

We need a socialist revolution: how do we get there?

Revolutionaries need three things to ensure success: political and theoretical education, organization, and active participation in the struggles of the working class.

Theoretical education is needed because we live in a world in which the dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. In order to change this society, we must be able to answer the arguments of the politicians, academics, and big business media. This means we need to understand how capitalism really works, why it cannot be reformed and why it must be ended before it kills off humanity. We need to study how a socialist society would bring about genuine freedom and progress in an ecologically viable manner. Studying Marxist theory allows us to learn the lessons of history, to examine these past experiences, and to draw the necessary conclusions. It serves as a "guide to action" for our intervention in the living struggles of our class.

Organization is needed because individual revolutionaries cannot change the whole of society on their own. This can only be accomplished if we are collectively linked together in a democratically run organization armed with a scientific socialist program and organizational methods based on the kind of voluntary discipline and professionalism needed to lead the working class to victory.

Activism is vital as we must be engaged in working class struggles and movements of all types, fighting shoulder to shoulder for even the most minimal gains, putting forward our ideas and perspectives for the socialist revolution, gaining points of support, and recruiting more revolutionaries for the struggles ahead. That which increases working class consciousness, confidence, and solidarity, we support!

The International Marxist Tendency bases itself on Marxist theory. We are organized and active, working to spread our ideas across the US and in more than 40 countries. We do not think we can build a mass socialist party with only our own forces, but the conditions in the US will sooner or later bring about such a party. Such a party will be a huge step forward, but it will need theoretically trained revolutionaries to fight within it against reformism and for the end of capitalism. Without the right program and leadership, a mass socialist party can have all the good intentions in the world, and still end up implementing austerity once in power. Syriza in Greece grew rapidly on an anti-austerity program, but they sought to manage capitalism, not overthrow it. Now it is Syriza itself that is imposing merciless austerity on the Greek working class. We must not repeat their mistakes!

Sanders's disappointing decision to support Clinton is far from the final chapter in the struggle for socialism. There is no reason for those awakened to political life by his campaign to be dejected. In many ways, the experience of the last few months was only the beginning. The deep discontent brought to the surface over the course of the 2016 election is clear evidence that, while it may not come next week or next year, revolution is on the horizon in the US. However, a key lesson of the 20th Century is that once a revolution begins, it is too late to improvise a revolutionary party. This is why we must prepare the foundations today!

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